Dig Through Time — Nemesis

We already covered Mercadian Masques back in February. Today we're going to dig back in time to cover the second set in the Mercadian Masques block—NemesisNemesis came out in 2000, and brought back Spellshapers, alternative casting costs, Mercenaries and Rebels from the previous set. Mercenaries and Rebels are still too parasitic to be very interesting, but the other mechanics are still great. Nemesis also introduced fading which was the precursor to Future Sight's vanishing mechanic. Let's take a look at some of these cards which have largely been forgotten in the 17 years since their printing.

Avenger en-Dal is a repeatable Resounding Silence on a stick that sees play in 38 decks. Just like Swords to Plowshares, even though your opponents gain some life, this effect is worth the price. This card is great in any deck running white, but Aikido decks, which seek to turn your opponents' attacks against them, may benefit from this even more. Aikido decks tend to run cards like Goblin Spymaster, Warmonger Hellkite, and Avatar of Slaughter while pillowing up with Ghostly Prison and Crawlspace effects. Usually, an opponent won't be able to attack an Aikido deck with more than one or two creatures, and Avenger can ensure that those creatures never connect. Always keep in mind that the creature you exile doesn't have to be attacking you, and that a creature is still attacking right up to the End of Combat step which is after the Combat Damage step. This allows you to exile a problem creature that has already attacked and dealt its damage to another opponent.

Alesha, Who Smiles at Death plays this card the most at three decks. Alesha doesn't mind stacking her graveyard with the corpses of tiny dudes, as she'll just make them come back and fight later on. Some Orzhov decks, like Athreos, God of Passage or Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim tend to run some reanimation packages, allowing you to recur your discarded creatures with ease. Even without reanimation, running this in a white deck as a threat of retribution against attackers is great. Put it in Jazal Goldmane or Kytheon, Hero of Akros just as a rattlesnake, and don't be afraid to follow through.

Seeing play in 178 decks, Spiritual Asylum is one of the best protection enchantments in the game. Even though it does a little bit less than Asceticism, and shroud is slightly worse than hexproof, with a converted mana cost of four, it comes down a whole turn earlier. If you're running a creature combo build then you probably aren't terribly interested in attacking anyway, and if you are interested in attacking, you can always save your combat up for when you decide to alpha strike someone. And, this has the added benefit of protecting your lands! Nobody is going to be able to casually Strip Mine you out of your only blue producing land and Terastodon is not going to hit the board and blow up your Homeward Path. This card is great!

Zedruu the Greathearted, who (apart from certain specific builds) doesn't really attack anyone, plays this card the most at 22 decks. Death and Taxes decks tend to win via draining the opponents and/or combo, so run this in Selenia, Dark Angel, Teysa, Orzhov Scion or Kambal, Consul of Allocation to protect your combo pieces. This is also good for prison-type decks like Selvala, Explorer Returned, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, or certain Captain Sisay builds. And that's not all, there are tons and tons of decks running white that are trying to win without attacking. Try it in your favorite white build.

Do you play against lots of combo decks? Well, Rootwater Thief sees play in 368 decks and does a great job of shutting down combo. For two generic and a blue you can hit an opponent for one point of combat damage, and remove a combo piece, a big creature, a nasty enchantment, or even a problem land from their deck, not to mention that you gain perfect knowledge of their deck. This card is fantastic value.

Sygg, River Guide plays this card the most at 92 decks, mostly due to tribal synergies, I'm guessing. Circu, Dimir Lobotomist and Oona, Queen of the Fae play a janky exile/mill strategy, but they tend to just go for whatever is on top. Rootwater Thief can offer a more pinpoint tool for getting rid of what needs to be gotten rid of. This card also works with commanders who try to play into giving their creatures unblockability like Sun Quan, Lord of Wu, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, and Kaseto, Orochi Archmage.

You know that combo your opponents dread? The Isochron Scepter+Counterspell combo that lets you counter one thing per wheel of the table for just two mana? Well, Stronghold Machinist and Stronghold Biologist are basically Isochron Scepter with Negate or Remove Soul, and they see play in just 78 decks and 53 decks, respectively. Yeah, okay, you have to discard a card, but come on, you're turning that card into a counterspell! Any deck running blue has the capability of gaining massive card advantage, so if you discard an extra land or a surplus draw spell to counter someone's game-winning spell, it's no great loss.

Damia, Sage of Stone, who loves discarding lots of cards, plays both of these scientists the most at twelve and nine decks respectively. Commanders like The Scarab God and Sedris, the Traitor King will let you bring back the creatures you pitch to these counterspelling Spellshapers. The new wizard Kess, Dissident Mage will let you cast any instant or sorcery that you discard to counter a spell this way. I've also seen some Kess brews that focus on reanimation, so the Stronghold Scientists have added synergy in that build as they're creatures.

Seeing play in 182 decks, Aether Barrier slows creature decks down immensely. Even mono-green decks that dial the ramp up to 11 can get stuck in tricky situations when they want to go off and cast lots of dudes in a single turn. This card can buy combo and control decks precious time and resources by forcing faster opponents to delay their critical turn until the late game where you're more prepared to deal with them. Also, being an enchantment, this card is slightly more resilient against board wipes than cards like Spelltithe Enforcer.

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, the king of feel-bad prison decks, plays this card the most at 35 decks. Throw this in Baral, Chief of Compliance or Talrand, Sky Summoner who cast very few creatures themselves. A spell-based Kess, Dissident Mage could also find an easy home for a card like this. Really, if your commander rewards you for slinging spells that are anything but creatures, you might want to slot this in.

Mind Swords is a nasty symmetrical discard effect that sees play in 24 decks. Except it exiles instead of discards, so there's no way your opponents are getting those cards back. Setting yourself back two cards is hard, but in a four-person pod, you're going to get rid of six cards that aren't yours. In a very fast deck, it's even possible to be hellbent by the time you cast this on turn two or three. If you're running a more unorthodox deck, you can use this to fuel your Eldrazi Processors, or gain lots of mana advantage with Oblivion Sower.

Mogis, God of Slaughter, who hates everyone equally, plays this card the most at two decks. Neheb, the Worthy doesn't mind losing a couple of cards anyway, and making your opponents do it too is just an upside. Putting this in Maralen of the Mornsong can get your opponents to find their best card, only to see you exile it right out of their hand before they can use it, though running a flash enabler like Vedalken Orrery might be necessary to pull that off. I've actually been debating with myself whether it's worth throwing this card into my Athreos, God of Passage/Shadowborn Apostle deck, as I'm usually able to accrue value pretty quickly, even if I do lose two cards.

Seeing play in 101 decks, Flowstone Slide is one of the strangest Overrun/board wipe spells ever printed. If your team has a high enough toughness, it is possible to kill all of your opponents' creatures while simultaneously cranking up your team's power, and just wrecking face. Since it shrinks toughness, this card gets around both indestructible and regenerate, which is huge for red.

Since she already runs lots of X spells, it's not surprising that Rosheen Meanderer plays this card the most at 26 decks. Red/green as a combination doesn't have a ton of ways to deal with indestructible creatures, but is great at ramping out of control. Commanders like Omnath, Locus of Rage and Thromok the Insatiable both have some pretty nice synergy with Flowstone Slide, and have a decent chance of surviving it if that's what you want. In mono-red, Neheb, the Eternal generates lots of mana, and has a pretty big butt, enabling him to abuse this card.

This week's weird fog effect is Fog Patch which sees play in 49 decks. Notably, this won't prevent damage from creatures with trample, since the damage will trample over the nonexistent 0/0 body that's blocking it. One weird thing that it will do, though, is trigger creatures that have an effect when they become blocked, so five-color samurai decks can trigger bushido by casting this on their own combat step. It can always be fog, but sometimes it can be more. Like if there's an Everlasting Torment or Leyline of Punishment in play preventing your normal Fogs from working properly.

Selvala, Explorer Returned, who often pillows up, plays this card the most at four decks. Isao, Enlightened Bushi can run this as a modal Fog/Giant Growth for himself and other Samurai. And of course, any green commander can run this as a generic goodstuff-type fog effect.

Kill Switch is an unorthodox piece of artifact hate that sees play in 165 decks. The nice thing about this card is that it's repeatable which helps to make up for the fact that it doesn't actually remove the artifacts. It also doesn't do anything about artifacts with static effects like Vedalken Orrery, but it does stop artifacts with old templating like Winter Orb.

Talrand, Sky Summoner plays this card the most at 13 decks. I'm sure Sharuum the Hegemon and Breya, Etherium Shaper would not be happy to face one of these, but they might not mind running it if they have lots of tap/untap tricks. Padeem, Consul of Innovation could also run this for similar reasons. Running this in a voltron commander like Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist with lots of equipment can work as well, since it doesn't matter if equipment is tapped or not.

The Action

This week we're going to showcase Stronghold Biologist and Stronghold Machinist in my Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck. This is a more recent deck of mine that combos out with either infinite pings or infinite pingers, but all without running Curiosity, Ophidian Eye or Tandem Lookout because that combo is boring as hell. There are at least three infinite combos of three or more cards, along with a few weird interactions. Can you spot them all?

I hope you like the deck, and today's sampling of cards. I'll see you again in two weeks for another Dig Through Time.

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