Sagas return to Magic: The Gathering to tell tales of the past in the new Theros: Beyond Death set.
First introduced into Magic via the Dominaria set, sagas are enchantments that tell a story through a series of chapters. The Theros: Beyond Death (THB) set features a total of 10 sagas, a cycle of five that are of the Rare or Mythic Rare rarity and five that are of the Uncommon rarity.
Both cycles contain a saga assigned to one of the colors in Magic. The color White, for example, is represented by the Elspeth Conquers Death (Rare) and The Birth of Meletis (Uncommon) sagas.
How does a saga work?
Upon entering the battlefield, a saga receives a lore counter that’s attached to the first chapter. Another lore counter is placed each turn during a player’s pre-combat main phase upon the next chapter in the series. Once all the chapters are complete in a saga, the enchantment is sacrificed.
Lore counters applied to a saga don’t go on the stack but the trigger for each chapter from the lore counter does. Chapters are only triggered once upon receiving the lore counter. Once the final chapter is triggered, the saga-enchantment is sacrificed.
Rare and Mythic Rare THB sagas
Only one saga in the THB set is a Mythic Rare, the other four are Rares. Previously, in the Dominaria set, there was also only one Mythic Rare, History of Benalia. It was popular in White Aggro Standard builds and is still used today in formats like Pioneer, Commander, and Historic.
Elspeth Conquers Death
The Elspeth Conquers Death saga has two strong chapters and one weak, with a CMC cost of five (two White). This Rare saga is expensive, but it should still see gameplay in Constructed and Limited because of its first and third chapters.
The first chapter is removal via exile of a permanent with a mana cost of three or greater. This includes Gods, who are vulnerable to exile, and other permanents like Fires of Invention and Nyx Lotus. The third chapter returns a creature or planeswalker from your graveyard, not any graveyard like The Eldest Reborn. But that creature or planeswalker does return to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter or loyalty counter.
Elspeth Conquers Death combos with Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis in that the planeswalker can return without paying her Escape cost via the saga’s third chapter. The third chapter can also return creatures with an enter-the-battlefield effect, such as Heliod’s Pilgrim, to search for an Aura card in your library.
Kiora Bests the Sea God
Kiora Bests the Sea God is the only Mythic Rare saga in THB and tells the story of how Kiora beat Thassa, the God of the sea. The saga has a whopping CMC of seven, two Blue, but is worth playing nonetheless.
Ideally crafted in a Simic Ramp build, Kiora Bests the Sea God has three strong chapters.
- Create an 8/8 Kraken with Hexproof.
- Tap down every nonland permanent an opponent controls, similar to Sleep.
- Steal an opponent’s creature, similar to Agent of Treachery.
Hexproof is extremely difficult to deal with, especially in Standard at the moment. If used in a Fires deck, a combo with Kenrith, the Returned King can give the 8/8 Kraken Haste. But the true damage takes place during the second chapter, tapping down all of an opponent’s creatures and swinging in for a minimum of eight damage. Be wary of Flash decks, however, since they can work around the second chapter of Kiora Bests the Sea God.
The Akroan War
The Akroan War is more of a saga meant for Limited play, rather than Constructed. It has a CMC of four, one Red, but isn’t useful until its third chapter. The Akroan War is best played when there’s a board stall or you’re at a severe advantage over your opponent.
Chapter one steals a creature, similar to Claim the Firstborn, while the second chapter forces your opponent to attack. This all leads to the third chapter, which is essentially a mass Justice Strike.
The First Iroan Games
The First Iroan Games is another Rare saga that’s great in Limited but niche in Constructed. It’s a slow saga that pays off when it reaches chapter three. The first Iroan Games has a payoff with chapter two via powering up a creature with three +1/+1 counters, but it’s the card draw that matters most.
The final chapter in The First Iroan Games isn’t nearly as important, producing a Gold token that’s essentially the same as a Treasure token, sacrificed for any color mana.
Tymaret Calls the Dead
Tymaret Calls the Dead is a Black saga that fuels the THB mechanic, Escape. It’s a self-mill saga that will dump six cards from your library into the graveyard over the course of two turns. When playing multiple key cards with Escape or a reanimation style deck, Tymaret Calls the Dead is worth its CMC cost.
There’s also room for a possible zombie tribal theme within Tymaret Calls the Dead, but it’s too early to know if it’ll work in Standard. In Limited, however, exiling a creature or enchantment for the zombie tokens in conjunction with the third chapter is worth running in a slower tempo or Control build.
Uncommon THB sagas
Uncommon sagas rarely make it into a sideboard in Constructed, but they can be beneficial in THB Limited and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Elspeth’s Nightmare is the ideal example of an Uncommon saga with an abundance of potential. Chapter one was designed to weaken an Aggro or Midrange deck early in a match. This also ties into chapter two, allowing a player to remove a nonland, noncreature card from an opponent’s hand.
Chapter three of Elspeth’s Nightmare is where she strikes home the hardest, exiling everything in an opponent’s graveyard. It’s a strong saga to play against reanimation and self-mill decks and it has the ability to remove key cards from play, especially those with Escape.
The Binding of the Titans
The Binding of the Titans is similar to Tymaret Calls the Dead but slightly weaker. It’s a self-mill for Green, dumping three instead of six cards into the graveyard. It’s second chapter is unique, however, in that you can exile from any graveyard.
The third chapter of The Binding of Titans lets you bring a creature back from your graveyard, but not to the battlefield. It’s way too slow for Constructed but has potential in certain Limited builds. At its worst, The Binding of the Titans fuels your graveyard for cards with Escape.
The Birth of Meletis
The Birth of Meletis is an Uncommon saga that might see consistent Constructed gameplay and its a top pick for Limited. Its first chapter provides ramp, which is rarely seen in the color White. The second chapter produces a 0/4 wall.
The Birth of Meletis is a great saga to include in Control builds and slower tempo decks like Fires. Its first two chapters are the important ones and the third with lifegain is simply the icing on the cake.
The Triumph of Anax
The Triumph of Anax is perhaps the weakest of all the THB sagas. It’s in the color Red and fuels an aggro style of play. But in Constructed, it works against Cavalcade of Calamity.
Medomai’s Prophecy is a low-cost CMC saga in Blue that’s worth including simply for its Scry two trigger in chapter one. It also produces card draw with chapter three after naming a card, likely one already in your hand.
This isn’t a top play in Constructed but is advantageous in Limited. Medomai’s Prophecy also contributes toward Blue Devotion, a single pip, which works with Callephe, Beloved of the Sea and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling.