Legends Legends - Johan

Jeff Dunn • July 9, 2024

Johan by Mark Tedin

Welcome back to Legends Legends, our wild and weekly trip back to 1994's Legends and all of its gloriously bad legendary creatures. Today, we're taking a look at another one of the more playable three-color rares from the set, Johan.

Johan was a powerful and evil mage (a villain in Naya? weird!) bent on the conquest of Jamuraa; obsessed with the occult and the arcane, Johan battled at the front lines with his army of northern barbarians at his back, and he almost conquered the entire continent if it weren't for Jedit Ojanen tackling him off the edge of his skyship and into an 80-foot drop directly into the maw of a sand wurm. Let's hope our Johan Commander deck can perform a bit better!

General Thoughts

Johan (not to be confused with Johann, Apprentice Sorcerer) is a six-mana 5/4 with a pseudo-vigilance anthem that requires he not attack. Basically, at the beginning of combat on our turn, Johan can gain "Johan can't attack" until the end of the turn. If we do, attacking doesn't cause our creatures to tap until the end of the turn. While the combat benefits of gaining vigilance are obvious, letting us keep blockers untapped to mitigate the punch-back, board presence alone won't win the game.

We'll instead use that vigilance anthem from Johan to capitalize on a slew of exert creatures, skipping their "doesn't untap" clause by never tapping them in the first place! In addition, we'll use a number of creatures with valuable {T} abilities in place of a Commander deck's traditional removal and card advantage. Finally, we'll end the game with good ol' combat damage from a board of creatures buffed by anthems.

Strenuous Exertion

The exert cards weren't very popular when they were released, and they've fallen from favor in Commander since their release. This Johan Commander deck is probably one of the only builds where they really belong anymore, but a lot of them are really still too weak to bother. 

Probably the most popular and most valuable exert creature is Combat Celebrant. For three mana, we're getting an extra-combat-enabler with a fairly fragile body. That said, with Johan in play, we get basically infinite combat steps until the Celebrant dies. Since we can exert a creature anytime its trigger would allow us, even if it's already been exerted this turn, we can effectively exert the untapped Celebrant forever and ever. This combo gets even crazier with Helm of the Host:

csb logo

Angel of Condemnation takes the place of the typical Banisher Priests/Oblivion Rings in white decks. With a repeatable three-mana removal ability, we'll use this Amonkhet Angel to control the board and remove dangerous blockers from our opponents' battlefields. It comes stock with vigilance, too, so it's useful even before we cast our six-mana commander.

Champion of Rhonas is the next-best exertion creature in this deck. Whenever this 3/3 attacks and exerts, we get a Quicksilver Amulet for free. This is one of the best ways to sneak our big, actually threatening creatures into play, like Themberchaud and Moraug, Fury of Akoum.

Finally, let's talk about Rohirrim Chargers. There are only four Equipment in this deck, namely Lightning Greaves, Helm of the Host, Blackblade Reforged, and Dragon Throne of Tarkir. Of these, the Dragon Throne is the real one we're searching for. The Blackblade is nice, and it can greatly increase the damage we put on the board, and while digging for the Greaves is always useful for protecting Johan, Dragon Throne of Tarkir is the best thing we can equip to our commander. Since Johan can't attack if we want the benefit of our pseudo-vigilance, we're wasting his five power unless we can go ahead and grant it to our entire board, turning our relatively weak creatures into +5/+5'd trampling monsters.

The Anthem of Naya

While our exerting creatures certainly get stronger with Johan on the battlefield, they aren't necessarily huge threats in combat. Rather than try to strike a balancing act between buffing certain creatures or playing combat tricks, we're going plain Jane with it and just slap down as many anthems as possible for the 30-odd creatures in our deck.

Classic Glorious Anthem is our most basic anthem, followed closely by In the Trenches. I don't necessarily think In the Trenches's removal ability is exceptionally useful, but it's nice to have the option in the late game to zap somebody's commander.

Rhythm of the Wild lets us use the tap or exertions on newly played creatures immediately, or it gives a much-needed power buff to weaker creatures, like Loran of the Third Path and Tah-Crop Elite.

Marshal's Anthem is our only real recursion outside of Naya Charm, so it might be best saved for a later play. 

Knotvine Paladin is sort of an inverse-anthem: instead of giving +1/+1 to every creature, it gets +1/+1 for each untapped creature you control (in most cases, this reads as "for each creature" we control).

Beastmaster Ascension and Legion Loyalty are our game-ending anthems. Dropping these on a board of five or more creatures should put enough damage down to destroy your opponents, or at least force them to block with all of their valuable combo pieces.

Finally, Maja, Bretagard Protector is a standard anthem with a triggered effect to help us go wide and trade up into token decks. 

Tapping in Combat

With a wall of vigilant creatures at our side, we have the opportunity to use abilities that require tapping to activate after we've declared those creatures as attackers. Oldheads will recognize Thundersong Trumpeter from Ravnica: City of Guilds as an effective way to get around problematic blockers or lock problematic attackers out of damage. 

I've never seen anyone tap to activate Arashi, the Sky Asunder, but if anyone ever was going to, this is the deck to do it in.

Heartless Hidetsugu is a crazy threat to send at your opponents, and it can make for some really funny declare blockers steps as you threaten to tap him to cut an opponent's life total in half.

Pentarch Paladin is great at obliterating that mono-colored deck, and it can be bounced with Angel of Condemnation to reset the choice of color. 

[e]Saryth, the Viper's Fang[/el] and Samut, Voice of Dissent are both here to help untap our tapped utility creatures, and Kamahl, Pit Fighter is here because I just like Lightning Bolts on six-power creatures. Sue me.

Mana Base

Naya mana bases are a lot of fun to build, since you have access to the best ramp spells in the game thanks to green! At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm going to repeat myself by shouting out the five standard mana rocks (Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and the Ravnica signets in our colors) and classics Rampant Growth, Cultivate, and Kodama's Reach. The ubiquity of these spells in Commander is undeniable. They technically can be replaced with other ramp sources, but it hurts the overall efficiency of your Commander deck for no reason except the smug satisfaction of saying "I don't run Sol Ring :)"

36 lands make up our mana base, with the expected split of duals and basics and cheap fetches. The only interesting choice for us is Arena of Glory, which can exert itself (and sadly, not untap since Johan can't give lands vigilance) to give the creature we cast haste. 


The strategy here is fairly straightforward: we ramp into Johan while playing exert creatures and holding them back until our commander arrives. Then, we'll unload on our opponents in combat, either digging for Combat Celebrant to go infinite, or dropping countless anthems on our never-tapping creatures to threaten our opponents in both ours and their combat steps. 

Early game plays for this Naya Commander deck look similar to most others: we'll keep hands with access to ramp, like Llanowar Elves and any of our Signets, and the cheaper exert creatures. Thundersong Trumpeter is much more useful for controlling the early game than you'd expect, and I've seen a lot of value off of Clockwork Droid

We'll try to keep the anthems in our hand until we've built up our board a bit. +1/+1 across five creatures that can attack this turn is exponentially better than slowly forming an army of slightly buffed creatures a turn at a time.

We really want to play Johan by turn five, but we can stomach playing him later if the situation calls for it, in case we need to wipe the board with Themberchaud, for example. Once Johan's on the field, our gameplan switches to all-out attacks. Drop the anthems now and just attack, attack, attack. Use Wrap in Vigor and Heroic Intervention to save yourself from board wipes, and use Don't Move as an asymmetrical board wipe.

There are two main win conditions that you'll use most of the time. The first is attacking infinitely with Combat Celebrant, removing any player without blockers immediately. The second is just bombing the board with anthems and swinging for lethal with Legion Loyalty, or using Naya Charm or Master Warcraft to effectively Sleep an opponent's board.

Budget Options

Archidekt estimates this deck's total cost at about $235. Not too bad for an EDH deck, all things considered, but definitely too steep to purchase all at once. Let's take a look at some cuts to bring this deck down to a manageable price point.

Themberchaud is a Secret Lair exclusive card, so it makes sense that this chonky boy sells for around $40 on its own. Really, it's only here to provide an on-theme bomb for our top end, and could easily be swapped for something like Inferno Titan or Sun Titan.

Next is Bloom Tender which, while an excellent mana dork for decks with three or more colors, is also about $17 for what could easily be an Elvish Mystic

Finally, Don't Move is the best one-sided wrath we could possibly run in this Johan deck, but at $8 we could just avoid the pain and run Wrath of God instead.

Johan Decklist

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
View this decklist on Archidekt

Wrap Up

Johan is definitely one of the more playable commanders from Legends. His useful anthem and fair statline make him more on-par with modern Magic's design, even if he is a bit overcosted for what he does. 

This is definitely not the only possible build for a Johan Commander deck. Others might want to focus in on creatures with tap abilities, while it might also make sense to run a "toughness-matters" deck with a ton of Walls and defender creatures and Assault Formation as your win condition.

How would you build around Johan? How does he stack up compared to the other three-color rare legends from Legends? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Jeff's almost as old as Magic itself, and can't remember a time when he didn't own any trading cards. His favorite formats are Pauper and Emperor, and his favorite defunct products are the Duel Decks. Follow him on Twitter for tweets about Mono Black Ponza in Pauper, and read about his Kitchen Table League and more at dorkmountain.net