Kethis, the Hidden Hand is a very intricate card. On the face of it, it’s an engine, it’s a value card, and in the very worst situations, it attacks for 3. The Historic format on MTG Arena is one that has seen some turmoil over the past couple months. With multiple bannings, the format has seen a churn of the top decks. Nexus of Fate? Gone. Fires of Invention? Nope. Burning-Tree Emissary? Pour one out for the homies. That left me with a choice to make to rank up in the ladder on Arena. Should I play Standard and be miserable playing against either jank brews or Growth Spiral decks? Or try out some new technology in Historic?
That choice was easy. I chose Standard. End of Article. You got clickbaited, this is about Standard.
I picked Historic and it wasn’t close.
I like playing creature combo decks in Magic. They give you an easy win against the other, let me call them, “unfun”, decks like Tron. Against decks with interaction, you have to piece together a puzzle of attacking with bad creatures or finishing the combo. It’s rewarding to piece together that combo when your opponent keeps leaving up interaction or has a Grafdigger’s Cage (more on this card later) out. So I found a Kethis list that I liked and tweaked it to fit my own Magic proclivities.
Hey Idiot, I’m Here For The List, Not The Word Proclivity
Here’s the list for those of you out there that want to copy it. The Scryfall link is right here! As for the actual deck, it got a couple new toys in Jumpstart, but there’s only one that shows up in this deck currently. Chromatic Sphere is the secret glue to this deck. You’re playing four full colors, so you need all the mana fixing you can get.
Like the rug in The Big Lebowski, it really ties the room together. You need fixing? Chromatic Sphere. You want to draw that last combo piece you need? Chromatic Sphere. It also helps mill you with Dilligent Excavator.
How Do You Combo With This Deck Though?
The combo with this deck sounds really arbitrary and hard to do, but in practice, it’s really easy. You need to get a copy of Dilligent Excavator, Kethis, and have two Mox Amber in either your hand, play, or graveyard. There are other cards that help this process, but as long as you hit enough legends off the mill, you can keep combo’ing. So you cast Mox Amber and target yourself with the Excavator’s ability, and then using Kethis, you exile two legends from your graveyard, and cast a Mox Amber from your yard. You do this until you hopefully mill your whole deck. Once you don’t have a deck, you cast Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and activate his ability to mill two and draw a card. Then you win!
NEVER EVER EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EXILE YOUR JACE, WIELDER OF MYSTERIES
There are other cards that speed that process along like Emry, which mills over 6 cards when you cast it. Tamiyo, which hits 4 cards, and maybe more Mox Amber or another card. You can also use the static ability of Kethis to cast Teferi, Time Raveler mid combo to bait out a counterspell or stop any sort of interaction from your opponent.
If you do happen to lose out on your Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, it’s harder to combo, but you can try to mill out your opponent with Excavator. In this situation, it’s a lot easier to do if you have multiple copies of it in play.
Differences From Other Lists
Generally the main difference between this list and others is that some other lists are playing Fblthp, the Lost instead of Oath of Kaya. I don’t think this is correct because against aggressive decks, the 1/1 and an extra card isn’t going to do much, but Oath of Kaya buys you time against myriad decks and also picks off problematic planeswalkers.
I’m not playing Kaervek, the Spiteful anymore because Urza’s Ruinous Blast is just better against the decks that he would come in against. Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle is a card that I’ve considered, but I feel like the bigger planeswalkers are better at fighting the removal heavy decks than the 2/2 bird.
Yeah, But Is Kethis Actually Good Or Are You Blowing Smoke?
Against the wide variety of decks that see play in Historic, there are a couple pillars that stand in the format. Goblins, Field of the Dead, Gruul Aggro, Rakdos Sacrifice, and various midrange/control shells are the top decks right now. There are other players like Mono Blue Tempo, Mono Red Aggro, Mono-White Lifegain, and Boros Feather, but those don’t see as much play on the higher parts of the ladder. Four Color Kethis is very well set up to beat Goblins, Field of the Dead, and the control decks of the format. Where you run into issues are the faster starts from Gruul, Mono Blue, and Mono Red.
Your creatures block pretty effectively, but you rarely want to block, so you don’t lose to some combat trick or damage spell. Gruul has fast starts plus Questing Beast that stymies your defenses. That’s where the sideboard comes into play. Also being a combo deck, you can sometimes win out of nowhere against these decks. The matchups are not easy, but they’re winnable. The aggro decks are not favorable though.
Field of the Dead, however, is a cakewalk. They don’t do anything for the first 5 turns of the game, and their endgame doesn’t actually do anything to you. Make 4 zombie tokens? Cool, I’ll kill you. We’re not playing Jund or Sultai midrange here, that plan isn’t good against us. Depending on the variation of the deck, but sweepers aren’t even that great against us, because we have so many ways to recur threats from the graveyard.
Goblins Can Be Tough For Kethis
The Goblins matchup is really the one that everyone is focused on right now. Can you beat a Muxus off the top? Most likely not, unless you get lucky on their flips. But there aren’t too many good decks in the Historic format that can beat some of the draws to Goblins. The problem that Goblins has against this deck is that their most commonly played interaction isn’t great. Sure, they can tag your graveyard with Soul-Guide Lantern or Tormod’s Crypt, but that isn’t usually a death sentence, but a minor annoyance.
If they have a fast start, you’re going to need Urza’s Ruinous Blast. If not, you can usually stop their aggression enough to win. Oath of Kaya and Teferi go well here.
The Almighty Sideboard Guide For Kethis
Against Goblins like I said before, you do need to combo them still, but you have tools at your disposal.
-2 Emry, Lurker of the Loch, -1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, -1 Lazav, the Multifarious, -2 Teferi, Time Raveler
+2 Aether Gust, +2 Heartless Act, +2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
You just want to interact with their one big spell like Muxus or Goblin Warchief/Chieftan, and then kill them. Extra copies of Teferi and Lazav come out here because you don’t really want to draw multiples. Emry is not great here, he doesn’t block well.
Field of the Dead Decks
This match is a joke, like I said before. But if they have sweepers or walkers those can sometimes be bad news. Oath of Kaya isn’t usually killing anything relevant, so it comes out. You can handicap them pretty hard with Ashiok.
-4 Oath of Kaya
+2 Negate, +2 Ashiok, Dream Render
This one is hard, they come out of the gates swinging, and your sweeper doesn’t kill Questing Beast. It stops nearly everything else though, so you should be good once you cast it. You want to just stymie their aggression enough to win or cast the Blast. Emry doesn’t block well at all here, but you need copies to mill through your deck with. It’s not in your favor especially if they’re on the play.
-2 Emry, -1 Teferi, Time Raveler, -1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, -1 Lazav, the Multifarious, -1 Dilligent Excavator, -1 Lurrus of the Dream Den
+2 Aether Gust, +2 Heartless Act, +1 Noxious Grasp, +2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
This one is a new kid on the block thanks to Crokeyz on Twitter. It’s basically a straight port of the Standard version of the deck, but sometimes they also play Field of the Dead. It’s a bit tougher than the normal Field decks because they play more interaction for you. The two Ashiok’s come in as ways to either stop Uro or to give yourself a hammer to win with or bounce Shark tokens or Reclamation.
-2 Emry, -4 Oath of Kaya
+2 Aether Gust, +2 Negate, +1 Ashiok, Dream Render, +1 Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
Mono Blue Tempo
I haven’t played against this deck too often on the ladder, but it’s one to watch out for. They have an aggressive gameplan, but Teferi, Time Raveler is the best card in the history of mankind against them. If you shut off their ability to play at Flash, they have a really bad limited deck. If they counter it, you don’t have a lot of recourse against flying creatures. But it feels pretty good against them because of Teferi alone. Tamiyo is too expensive and is slow. Lurrus isn’t what you want to be doing here, because the life gain doesn’t matter, and recurring spells isn’t going to cut it.
-2 Tamiyo, -1 Lurrus
+2 Heartless Act, +1 Negate
This matchup is one that I also haven’t played a lot, but it’s highly dependent on the flow of the game. If they have Priest of Forgotten Gods and a fast start, you’re toast. But if they don’t, their gameplan isn’t fast or good enough against you. Like Field of the Dead, trying to nickel and dime damage isn’t going to do anything. Urza’s Ruinous Blast murders everything they want to be doing.
-2 Emry, -1 Lazav, -1 Lurrus
+2 Heartless Act, +2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
Mono White Lifegain
This deck has two types of draws. The one where they punk you out with Ajani’s Pridemate plus Soul Warden, and the other one. The other one is not good enough to beat a wet paper bag, and the first one usually gets a “w” for them. Depending on how they build their deck, they usually have Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which is something you need to kill on the spot to win through. Kethis does a nice job of just negating that restriction from Thalia though. Oath of Kaya is just a bit expensive and you don’t want to draw too many. The harder removal spells that are cheaper do the trick here.
-2 Emry, -1 Lurrus, -1 Oath of Kaya, -1 Lazav
+2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast, +1 Noxious Grasp, +2 Heartless Act
Random Mono Black Discard, Sultai Piles Of Garbage, Or Midrange/Control Decks
You might be thinking to yourself, he hasn’t boarded in Ashiok, Nightmare Muse or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria a lot. That’s because this section is just for general control decks or decks like Mono Black that have a lot of discard spells. You aren’t likely to be able to combo through these decks, so you want some beef in your sideboard to hit them over the head with. Teferi doesn’t really hit them over the head, but it lets you draw cards and hold up Negate. These are the games that are the most fun because you get to use Kethis as a value engine to recast planeswalkers from your sideboard.
-2 Emry, -4 Oath of Kaya
+2 Negate, +2 Teferi, +2 Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
The dreaded mirror match. It’s an interesting one, unless they’re playing Ashiok in the maindeck, and then you just lose. It’s a race to try to combo first, and there isn’t much disruption to speak of. Just be faster than them in game 1 and draw Ashiok, Dream Render in game 2 and 3. The bigger stuff comes in because it lets you interact with their board and getting to attack or block with the 2/3 tokens with Ashiok might hurt them from combo’ing. None of the other interaction is more than a fleeting thing, but tucking or exiling permanents does something.
-4 Oath of Kaya
+2 Ashiok, Dream Render, +2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Overall Kethis Is Here To Stay
The deck is very good, make no mistake. If people concede when they can see that the combo is in effect, it’s a less miserable experience for all. But the deck is not invincible. Graveyard hate like Scavenging Ooze, Tormod’s Crypt, or Soul-Guide Lantern make like difficult. Removal spells and early aggression are also hard to fight through. But what you do get with Kethis is a deck that rewards lots of play, has interesting lines of play, and is something that is completely different from the rest of the format.
Overall I thought that historic would be just some gimmick format that is a placeholder for when Pioneer makes it’s way to Arena. Some might say that it’s just suped up Standard, while that’s true in some cases, there wasn’t a Kethis deck in Standard that was this good. With Pioneer coming to Arena later this year, and Amonkhet: Remastered coming in August, we could be in for a lot of fun with the Kethis deck coming up very soon.
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