Does MTG’s Legend Rule Have Too Many Exceptions?

Cards that bend Magic’s “legend rule” make fans of many Commander players. But how much is too much? Chase Carroll looks at the impact of these decadent delights.

Nanogene Conversion
Nanogene Conversion, illustrated by Miklós Ligeti

If two or more legendary permanents with the same name are controlled by the same player, that player chooses one of them, and the rest are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “legend rule.”

The legend rule has long been a basic tenet of Magic. It’s one of the first rules players learn when picking up the game: you cannot control more than one legendary permanent with the same name at the same time. If you were to have two, you would have to sacrifice one.

This rule is firm throughout every format in Magic and remains a steel pillar in the minds of players, yet we see this rule bending ever so slightly. As sets come out and years go by, more and more exceptions to the legend rule appear.

The Start

It started out small with Mirror Gallery, a five-mana artifact from Betrayers of Kamigawa (released in February 2005) that simply stated the “legend rule” doesn’t apply. It was short and succinct and rather expensive at the time. In the following set of Saviors of Kamigawa, we got the infamous Sakashima the Impostor.

Mirror Gallery Sakashima the Impostor

What makes Sakashima so interesting is that, while it becomes a copy of any creature you choose (even a legendary one), it still gets around that rule because it keeps its own name. These two cards were the first blips of the bending of the rule, and they inspired many great and exciting brews, their scarcity sparking ingenuity among Commander players. Weird changes to rules like this allow a certain creative freedom. It feels almost as though you are sneaking a cookie when no one is looking. 

The Evolution 

But is there such a thing as eating too many cookies? When does it stop being a treat and start giving you a tummy ache? It has been eighteen years since Betrayers, and the number of cards that ignore the legend rule in some shape, form, or fashion has increased, with many of them being released in the past two years, in Modern Horizons 2, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Strixhaven: School of Mages, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, Wilds of Eldraine, Commander Masters, and Doctor Who Commander.

This isn’t to say each set had dozens of these cards. In fact, there was a small sprinkling of one or two in these sets, except for Doctor Who, which gave us six.

Mirror Box

And while this might seem insignificant, each set has contributed to this evolution. In fact, we even see a jump in power level of these cards. After all, people are a bit more afraid of a Helm of the Host than a Mirror Gallery. In 2023 Magic, we see cards that not only allow them to stay, but facilitate the production of these facsimiles. 

Where We Are Now

Double Major, The Apprentice’s Folly, Quantum Misalignments, and Irenicus’s Vile Duplication are temporary producers, blips of spells that essentially allow you two of the same commander (and one of them with flying to boot)! The newer Nanogene Conversion, while still a blip of a spell, is much, much stronger. It turns every single creature on the battlefield into target creature you control, legendary or not.

Nanogene Conversion

Both Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm and Sliver Gravemother are creature-specific ways to get token copies of your legendary creatures. The Sixth Doctor and Storm of Saruman give you copies of things when you cast spells at particular times. Spark Double; Osgood, Operation Double; Auton Soldier; and Sakashima of a Thousand Faces can enter the battlefield as a copy of a legendary creature (and even a planeswalker in the case of Spark Double).

Osgood, Operation Double

Cadric, Soul Kindler and The Master, Multiplied make it so that the legend rule doesn’t apply to your tokens. We even have an enchantment-specific play on this trend through Yenna, Redtooth Regent.

The Master, Multiplied

The legendary recipe has changed ever so slightly set after set, delivering us new batches of cards to taste test. But is it too rich? 

Too Many Cookies?

I don’t think this is a bad trend, but seeing so much of it pop up in short succession is interesting. In the past two years, we have seen an increase in cards that skirt around one of the most fundamental rules of the game. We are currently in the midst of a great Commander boom, and we are getting many amazing new cards and products made for a format beloved by many. Picture your most recent pod and try to recollect if there weren’t any new commanders leading the way. It’s exciting, isn’t it?

Epic Struggle

But have we reached the point of a tummy ache? I’m a firm believer that Commander players like to struggle, and by that, I mean they work hard to make their concept or plan succeed. We like to feel as though we’ve climbed the summit and reached a pinnacle, completing our own Rube Goldberg machine. What sparked Commander as a popular format was how people could take weird or janky legendary creatures and make something (fun)ctional out of them.

Those days are largely gone. Of course, we still have the ability to do that, but who can resist more streamlined precons, brews, and sets with higher-powered legendary creatures? It is the natural evolution for Magic and for Commander, and it is exciting to see these designs grow and change with the game.

Time Out

While I find these “legend rule” cards to be tasty, though, they are starting to seem a bit decadent to me. My tummy isn’t hurting, but this might be a sign for me to try a different cookie for a while. Maybe something a little less ‘hot out of the oven’?