Not all legends are that legendary. General Jarkeld, for example, is not exactly Norman Schwarzkopf when it comes to outflanking your opponent with a surprise maneuver. Stangg is an overpriced, double-wide target. And Atogatog…well, I don’t even want to talk about that one.
But while we all wait for Ayesha Tanaka to make a resurgence, we can also easily count those legends that have made us sit up and take notice. Some are just plain large like Commander Greven il-Vec or Silvos, Rogue Elemental; others are flashy like Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor or Sliver Overlord; a few others were big tournament staples like Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero or Squee, Goblin Nabob; still others are just full of flavor or nostalgia, like Tobias Andrion or Barktooth Warbeard – wait, no, that’s the opposite of what I meant – I mean, like Taniwha or Autumn Willow. (One of my favorite “flavor legends” is Skeleton Ship. Giving legend status to this creature sets a nice, ghostly image in my mind.)
And those didn’t even make my list.
Counting Portal Three Kingdoms, there are about 200 distinct legendary creatures. I’ve printed them all out and examined them. What criteria do I then use, to choose the most legendary of the legends? Well, I suppose I could give you something fairly scientific, such as:
- Is the legend worth its mana cost?
- Is the legend truly memorable to those who have played the game for a while?
- How easy is it for players to be creative with this legend?
- Does the legend have a story to tell in the broad Magic community – in tournaments and beyond?
And I wouldn’t be completely lying to say I sorta like that third one. But honestly, lists like this are subjective and you’ll all just have to accept that your differing opinions are completely invalid. I mean, I have a column. On the Internet. And we know how hard that trick is to pull off! So anyway, I’m always right.
The list is titled toward multiplayer formats. I was fairly careful to represent not just recent blocks (five cards since Invasion), but also the elder blocks (two cards predating Ice Age) and Magic’s middle age (everything in between). Also, I’m just talking legendary creatures, here. This list was hard enough without trying to place stuff like Tolarian Academy!
While I’ve bundled these into five “aspirants” and five “indisputables,” they’re not in any particular order within those bundles. Well, that’s not true: they’re in alphabetical order.
I expect these five are more subjective than the five in the next section. Three of them are extremely recent, and I’d accept any reasonable argument to replace one or more with something lovely and flavorful, like Chromium or the Joven-and-Chandler team. (And when I say “replace”, of course, I mean “leave where it is”.)
Karona, False God
This gets my “I wish I had room for Mageta the Lion!” Award for the list. Honestly, folks, I can’t devote an entire article to this gal and then dis her in the awards ceremony. I’m still working up the courage to build a multiplayer deck around her – but I think with time, this legend will gain some momentum in the casual corners of the world. Five years from now, she will blow novices away. Too few legends printed five or more years ago can do that today. She’s in on flavor alone.
A couple of high-profile players at the most recent World Championships let two of these things sit on the board staring at each other for a full turn or two before someone noticed the state-based rules violation. Honestly, if Kai Budde misses aspects of this card, how can we not admire its depth and complexity? It’s the legend that’s so much more. One of these days, the fact that it’s a Leper is going to mean something. I just know it.
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Perhaps the quickest legend onto the board – and certainly an accelerator for your mono-green deck! Both a tournament staple in its time and an elf enthusiast’s dream, Rofellos can help you call upon Silvos, Rogue Elemental the following turn. That’s a legend deck worth exploring!
Sol'kanar the Swamp King
So many of you would just kill me if I didn’t mention him. Nevertheless, I don’t feel forced – in fact, I run two copies in my Zombie deck. (No, he’s not a Zombie. But he does team well with Zombie Trailblazer, and he helps me recover from Sarcomancy damage.) I’m certainly not alone – I think any casual player who’s been in this game for more than four or five years has taken the time to get a copy of Good Ol’ Sol’kanar. He was, after all, the only reasonably costed gold creature in Legends. (*Duck*…to the message boards!)
Visara the Dreadful
If Avatar of Woe was a legend, I might prefer her here. But there’s something to be said for the less complicated Visara: you pay a perfectly reasonable six mana for a 5/5 house, and you get the only ability you really need. Visara sets the new standard for black legends – with all due respect to the venerable Baron Sengir. I like her just a smidge more than Rorix Bladewing, Arcanis the Omnipotent, and the rest of the Onslaught pit fighter cycle. But they can all live on in our hearts, right?
Let’s get to the real backbreakers.
Of course, some people will dispute these, no matter what I call the cards. But those people are just plain nuts.
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
We don’t have to wait three blocks to see how groundbreaking this beauty is. She single-handedly overshadows two black legends – Spirit of the Night, now a poor (and overcosted!) imitation; and Phage the Untouchable, her storyline nemesis and artwork companion. When you have every modern keyword ability, you get a spot in the top five. It’s that simple.
I’m not going to waste time justifying this one, either. Let’s talk rules arcana. Did you know that when you play Multani, you can bring Dragon Shadow out of your graveyard to enchant him? That’s right, the enchantment doesn’t target – and now most creatures can’t chump block your massive green smasher. If you’re really worried about chump-blocking, of course, you could always play Dragon Fangs too…
Representing the elder dragons of Legends, Nicol Bolas is just plain fierce. He still finds work in today’s casual environment, from specialized utility in Sneak Attack decks to finishing the job in discard/Megrim decks. He’s the guy dragon with the girl’s name, but you wouldn’t exactly tease him on the playground. To me, he is the 7/7 smasher who still teaches those Invasion dragon legends just who really is boss. Speaking of which…
Rith, the Awakener
It’s not just that Brian Kibler beat down Jon Finkel (and a bunch of other top-notch pros) with this card. Rith represents what Invasion did for Magic – revitalized it, beat it into a new shape, and then spread a bunch of Saproling goodness all over it. Dromar, the Banisher may have ended up with more tournament time, but Rith stuck in the casual player’s heart – and will, far longer than just about any other Magic creature.
What Magic player has not heard of Sliver Queen? While her more recent cousin Sliver Overlord is hogging a bit of limelight now, the Queen will endure – and in the end, she will prove the more resilient. First of all, women have a longer lifespan than men. Everyone knows that. Second, she’s forever paired with Crystalline Sliver in sliver purists’ minds – and the Overlord doesn’t get along well with the Crystalline. Third, creature generators are good both inside and outside of Sliver decks. (Ever try the Overlord with Death Match? Now try the Queen.) This isn’t poker, folks: Queen beats King.
“BUT WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE THOSE LEGENDS?”
Perhaps you’re unlucky, broke, or new enough that you don’t have any of these in your collection. Not to fear! While you still have to locate some rares, I have some ideas that are less expensive and elusive than some of the ones on the list. (Interestingly enough, one of the most expensive foils in Magic Online currently is a legend, Reya Dawnbringer. As good as she is, I have no idea why people value her that highly. Maybe we hope she’ll resurrect version 2.0 on her next upkeep.)
Your primary tools at the kitchen table, if it’s overrun by legends, are Empress Galina and Tsabo Tavoc. Both are considered “junk” Invasion rares. (Willow Satyr also steals legends; but this Legends rare is much harder to get your hands on than many of the legends that made my list! And it’s more fragile than Galina, anyway.)
You can also fight fire with fire – who cares if the legends you have aren’t quite as good as the ten I’ve listed, as long as you can dish them up fast enough? Invest in a couple copies of Captain Sisay, and go find your Jolrael, Empress of Beasts – or your Gallowbraid and Morinfen duo, or your Blind Seer. Each of these has their own unique advantages and quirks, as does just about every legend.
The thing I love most about legends – even the bad ones – is that Wizards crafts each one to be unique. That fits our personalities as casual Magic players: we like to create the unique deck that reflects our unique style. Whatever your favorite legend(s), play them proudly. They’re the heroes of the game.You may email Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately, he cannot give deck help. He can, however, patiently explain why your favorite legend didn’t make the list.