Last updated on June 22, 2021
Elspeth Conquers Death | Illustration by Ryan Yee
Magic: the Gathering has always had a wide range of mechanics and card types that serve to diversify gameplay and interaction between players. With Kaldheim‘s recent release, more Sagas have found their way into the game. WotC is definitely fond of designing new card types, though not too often.
Originally introduced in Dominaria as a new type of enchantment, Saga cards were very well-received. So much so, in fact, that they returned in even before Kaldheim in Theros: Beyond Death. With their continued inclusion in the game we all love, I figure it’s about time we sit down and go over Sagas.
Let’s take a look at what makes them tick and bring you up to speed on these fancy pieces of cardboard. Anyways, why don’t we get started?
The Bears of Littjara | Illustration by Randy Gallegos
All About Sagas
Sagas are a type of enchantment. They’re permanents, meaning that once a Saga resolves it sticks around on the battlefield and continues to affect the game. Until it doesn’t, that is. More on that in a second with a proper example to review!
What Do Sagas Do
Alright, let’s start at the beginning here. To elaborate on Sagas, we’ll be using Elspeth Conquers Death which I’ll be referring to as “ECD” for the sake of word flow. So let’s say you’ve paid the mana and cast ECD and it’s resolved. It hits the battlefield and that’s where our journey begins.
The text in the top right states: “As this Saga enters and after your draw step, add a lore counter. Sacrifice after III.” This means that when ECD enters the battlefield, you’ll put a lore counter on it. After your draw step on each turn, you put another lore counter on it. These lore counters trigger chapter abilities.
Niko Defies Destiny | Illustration by Bastien L. Deharme
Chapter abilities trigger whenever lore counters are placed on a Saga. The chapter abilities are defined by the roman numerals on the left of the card, with text explaining those abilities to the right.
The chapter ability that activates is based on how many lore counters are on the Saga when a new lore counter is placed on it. This means the second chapter ability (roman numeral II) will take effect that when a Saga gets its second lore counter. This doesn’t activate previous chapter abilities that have already been triggered, so each chapter ability only triggers once.
In the case of ECD, when the card enters the battlefield and you put a lore counter on it, its first chapter ability triggers and exiles an opponent’s permanent with a total mana cost of three or greater.
When your next turn comes, you put a second lore counter on ECD after your draw step. Its second chapter ability then triggers, making your opponent’s non-creature spells cost two more to cast until your next turn.
Sacrificing a Saga
The Binding of the Titans | Illustration by Adam Paquette
We’re almost through this, just another piece of the puzzle to go! “sacrifice after III” sounds a little bit vague, so let’s clear it up really quickly with an example.
Your turn starts and you draw a card and then place a third lore counter on ECD. This triggers its third chapter ability, returning a creature or planeswalker from your graveyard to the battlefield with an extra +1/+1 or loyalty counter, depending on the card type chosen. Immediately after this ability resolves, you sacrifice the Saga. It’s a state-based action, and it doesn’t use the stack.
There’s not much more to be said, but we’ve got a list of things to keep in mind when playing with Sagas.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when you bounce a Saga after the last chapter triggers but before it’s sacrificed?
This is a fun thing. While the requirement to sacrifice the Saga after the last chapter ability resolves doesn’t use the stack, the chapter ability does. If you can bounce your own Saga before its final chapter ability resolves, it returns to your hand before it’s sacrificed and can be cast again. It won’t retain the counters that were already on it, so you’re safe to cast it again and reap all the benefits a second time. Plus you get the original effect from the 3rd chapter!
The Bloodsky Massacre | Illustration by Livia Prima
What do you do when you miss a saga trigger in paper play?
Missing triggers isn’t something you need to worry about in Arena, but playing paper Magic means you could mess up. It happens to the best of us.
If you miss a trigger, your opponent gets to decide if it resolves or gets skipped by default. There are other factors in deciding these things, but it all depends on the type of interaction the trigger causes and the atmosphere you’re playing in. If you’re in a competitive setting, call a judge for assistance. In a kitchen table setting, it’s whatever you and your opponent decide on. Remember, it’s illegal to intentionally miss a trigger.
What happens if you add or remove a counter from a Saga using a different ability? What about the proliferate mechanic?
This is actually another fun interaction to keep your eye on. Removing a counter from a Saga doesn’t re-trigger the previous ability, but putting another lore counter on it triggers the corresponding chapter again. If you were at two lore counters, removed one, and then put a second lore counter on the Saga, the second chapter would trigger again.
You can accelerate your Sagas and make them work their magic a little faster, especially with the proliferate mechanic that’s meant to put more counters on permanents.
Are Sagas Legendary?
No. Simply put, they’re not. This might change in the future, but as of right now there are no legendary Sagas.
Ascent of the Worthy | Illustration by James Arnold
History of the Sagas
Sagas originally debuted in Dominaria in April of 2018. They tell the tales of key story events on the plane of the set they’re printed in. In this case, they told the tales of Dominaria’s historic events. Players had a blast with Sagas as a new and interesting take on enchantments.
In January 2020, Theros: Beyond Death released and more Sagas came with it. Once more, happiness resounded within the community as these cards told epics of the Theros story. After the success with that release, Sagas came back again just a year later in February 2021 with the release of Kaldheim. Telling Norse Sagas to players with fun mechanics and flavor, I’d venture to say they were also a big hit this time around. Kaldheim is also the first set where Sagas were printed as multicolored cards rather than just mono-colored.
Song of Freyalise | Illustration by Min Yum
List of Sagas
All right, here we are! Time for the big list of Sagas in MTG. Here they are in all their glory.
Theros: Beyond Death
The Top Ten Sagas
You’ve been through a lot if you’re still with me, so let’s have some fun. Everybody loves a top ten countdown, right? I’ll be ranking these cards based on their value and impact alone. For example, unique but powerful tribal effects won’t put a card higher on the list than consistent hard removal.
I’m not here to tell you to build specific decks, I want to give you suggestions for cards that you can make use of in your own deck building. So, without further ado, let’s start the countdown!
10. Arni Slays the Troll
Arni Slays the Troll comes in at number ten for various reasons. Gruul colors are already strong and like to see fights and ramp. When you cast this for just RG, you’re getting a potential creature removal spell with the fight effect right off the bat. The fact that it’s not hard creature removal puts it lower on the list, but don’t sleep on this card.
Gruul fights are usually one-sided with your creature being bigger. Not only that, but you’re getting an extra red mana to your pool, some extra muscle on your second turn, and conditional life gain on your third turn before sacrificing this Saga. For just two mana, in colors that universally welcome all of these things, that’s fantastic value.
9. Binding the Old Gods
Binding the Old Gods hit the number nine spot on the list for good reason. Getting some quick negatives out of the way: it’s in two colors, has a total cost of four, and its last ability will fall flat in some cases. But that’s a hard removal spell on any nonland permanent your opponent controls, which is huge.
It’s dwarfed by Assassin’s Trophy if you’re playing in any format other than Standard, but Binding’s second chapter gives you a Forest to help you ramp. I really value the concept of paying four mana to destroy something and ramp across two turns. It’s even possible to get this out on turn 3 if you’re ramping, which isn’t hard to do if you’re playing any green.
It’s a tad clunky to play sometimes because of its cost, but it’s going to do its job well when it hits. It definitely earns its spot, and just because it’s number nine doesn’t mean I won’t slam it in a list if the opportunity arises.
8. Showdown of the Skalds
Alright, number eight shows us a utility effect in Boros colors. Showdown of the Skalds is interchangeable between eight and nine for me, but it’s here at eight because having ways to get through your deck is fantastic in both red and white.
Showdown’s first effect gives you four cards off the top of your library in an exiled hand that you have access to through your next turn. Your opponent can’t make you discard those cards, and you can let your hand build up again while you’re playing them to keep yourself from running out of steam. I don’t mind opening up my options like that for four mana, especially when the next two turns buff a creature every single time I cast a spell.
It’s sitting just barely ahead of the two previous Sagas solely because being able to “draw” cards in red or white enhances each colors’ ability to perform well in later turns. You have options and avoid relying on the top of your deck against opponents who might still have a hand that’s almost full.
7. Kiora Bests the Sea God
At number seven is one of my favorite cards, Kiora Bests the Sea God. For seven mana you summon an 8/8 hexproof kraken which is already better than a lot of creatures out there in terms of bang for your buck. Then it taps down everything your opponent controls that isn’t land, leaving them wide open for damage and shenanigans. If they somehow aren’t dead yet, you steal a permanent that you previously tapped to rub salt in the wound.
Everything that this card does is awesome. Its big issue is that it costs so much when you’re not even guaranteed to have a game last long enough to be able to cast something this big all the time. It can also get countered if you tap out for it and go shields down. It would be last if its effects weren’t so massive on the board. In fact, you could make a lot of arguments for swapping around numbers seven through ten pretty freely.
Oh, also this card is completely unbeatable in limited.
They’re all really close, some more consistent than others and some more powerful than others. But it’s time to get out of that grey zone. On to number six!
6. Waking the Trolls
Number six sees a more definite and universally positive effect. Waking the Trolls has the right effect for its cost, and it’s in colors that sometimes get cards out early. It’s land destruction with extra sauce.
For six mana you destroy a land, any land, but ideally a dual land. Then you get a chance to steal that land for yourself, after which you summon a few (or a lot of) trolls. You might be thinking, “this seems like a bit of a build around,” but no. It’s actually just a good-stuff card when you think about it.
You can get this card on the field early with green, and it slots well in a land destruction build. You also don’t need to have it out early and it provides fine value in any deck. If you and your opponent are even with lands when you cast this, you wind up being ahead by two lands once it’s done.
This also results in two 4/4 creatures with trample. That’s 8/8 worth of power. Worst case scenario, you limit your opponent’s mana pool and make yours better. At the top-end of your curve, the worst part of this card is you pay six mana to destroy one land.
I wouldn’t go running four copies of this, but a copy or two can easily be justified in a pile of good Gruul cards that are meant to get big and do powerful things.
5. The Birth of Meletis
Number five sees a familiar card from Theros: Beyond Death. The Birth of Meletis is a very simple but good card in white. You get to fix your land for the next turn by finding a Plains, which can prevent you from missing a land drop. You make a body chump for incoming attackers, and you get a sip of life at the very end.
It’s not some major impact on the board with a wacky effect like the previous pick, but it’s reliable and consistent early game support.
4. Phyrexian Scriptures
Here at number four we have Phyrexian Scriptures. You might be thinking that this card is only good in artifact builds, but I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. It’s a board wipe. An advantageous board wipe. In black.
You start by buffing a creature to make it an artifact creature. Then it kills everything that isn’t an artifact creature. If you didn’t already have one, you do now because of the card’s first chapter, and that board wipe more than likely leaves you with a creature against an empty field. After it’s all said and done, you get to make sure that your opponent can’t get anything back from their graveyard or even use it for utility since you exile their graveyard.
That all sounds like a pretty good deal for just four mana. You can slam this thing in any black deck in my opinion, at least one copy. It’s an emergency board wipe that leaves you with a creature to keep board presence. What isn’t there to like about it?
3. Elspeth’s Nightmare
Elspeth’s Nightmare is nice and simple. You destroy one of your opponent’s early creatures to keep them from snowballing, and then you get to hit them with some hand hate and follow it up with grave hate. It’s Defeat, Duress, and Tormod’s Crypt all rolled up into one package for a slightly heavier down payment. You can now do other things during later or earlier turns.
I see no immediate downsides. It’s a solid card.
2. The Eldest Reborn
The Eldest Reborn was a very hated card in Standard for a while. Or maybe that was just me. This comes down and forces your opponent to sacrifice a creature or planeswalker and then makes you discard a card. Finally, you revive a creature or planeswalker from the grave. That’s right, not just yours. Your opponent’s sacrificial lamb is a valid target as well.
Black decks run removal pretty well, so pairing this with a good removal placed on a creature or planeswalker you think would look nice on your side of the field is pretty powerful. Just be wary of the cost to cast this card, as you can catch yourself with your shields down from time to time.
1. Elspeth Conquers Death
At number one is our example from earlier. It’s Elspeth Conquers Death here for an encore performance!
This is a solid card. Five mana exiles an opponent’s permanent with a mana cost of three or higher. That’s just solid removal. It then makes it harder for your opponent to cast non-creature spells and rounds everything out by bringing back a creature or planeswalker from your graveyard with a little extra buff.
It’s a fantastically reliable card with its only weakness being that you need to be mindful of your open mana as it can get countered. This card thankfully slots in well in control builds, which means you could hold your own counterspells open to make sure this thing hits the field safely. That said, it’s still just phenomenal on its own. Elspeth Conquers Death is the epitome of a reliable Saga.
Bonus Round: Sagas Deck
I hope you aren’t burnt out just yet. I’ve got one more thing before you leave! A fun little Sagas deck:
Fabled Passage x3
Faceless Haven x3
Castle Locthwain x2
Snow-Covered Plains x4
Snow-Covered Forest x3
Snow-Covered Swamp x4
It’s based on using Sagas to enhance a Doom Foretold build with an angel theme. We’re going to be using Eradicator Valkyrie and Rampage of the Valkyries to get more bang for our buck when we sacrifice our own creatures to Doom Foretold. Tergrid, God of Fright is another supporting card that lets us snag up the permanents we’re forcing our opponents to sacrifice in this vicious cycle.
We’re rolling with shapeshifters that have changeling as well to up our angel count. Masked Vandal lets us pitch our dead creatures into exile to bust up any artifacts or enchantments our opponent controls, and Realmwalker allows us to potentially extend our hand by looking for angels on the top of our deck.
We’ve got Youthful Valkyrie to round out our creatures and get buffed just by playing our other creatures to act as foot soldiers while we set up our enchantments and Sagas. Legion Angel artificially adds cards to our deck by allowing us to store three of them in the sideboard and just pull them out of there one at a time.
Forging the Tyrite Sword | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
In terms of removal, we’re running Heartless Act and Mythos of Nethroi along with Elspeth Conquers Death and Binding the Old Gods. Other supportive cards we’ve slotted in are Firja’s Retribution, Search for Glory, and Omen of the Hunt.
While not a large portion of the list, the Sagas in this deck work wonders in support of the build. All three types of Sagas included in this build act as removal somehow, and they also each do their own little things to perpetuate our board state by ramping, recurring, and creating more angels in addition to their unique removal methods. Our sideboard is filled with some good utility cards and a couple of extra copies of Elspeth Conquers Death, too.
I won’t claim this is some highly competitive deck, because it isn’t. It’s a fun little list that showcases some really powerful and super fun Sagas in this particular synergy. If you take the chance to try it out, I hope you enjoy it!
And So, Our Tale Comes to An End
It’s been a long ride, but we finally made it to the end! I’ve had a blast going over everything about Sagas with you today, and I hope you enjoyed the story as well.
What Saga is your favorite? Do you have any other questions about the mechanic that need answering? Do you have other Sagas you wish would’ve made the top ten? If there’s anything you want to say or ask, feel free to do so in the comments below!
The Mirari Conjecture | Illustration by James Arnold