Dig Through Time — Mercadian Masques

Today’s Dig Through Time brings you some of my top card picks from 1999’s Mercadian Masques. This set is unique because it didn’t introduce new mechanics but new creature types: Mercenary, Rebel, and Spellshaper. I won’t talk about Mercenaries or Rebels, because they’re a touch too parasitic; however, Spellshapers, I believe, don’t get the credit they deserve. While most people know the value of a good sac outlet, discard outlets are less-discussed, but can be just as, and in some cases, more valuable. Before going through my picks in WUBRG order, I want to highlight a few stand-out Spellshapers. After the picks I have another concept deck to show off some of these cards in a more practical light.

Spellshapers Are Go!

Do you like Dark Ritual? Would you like it if, once per wheel of the table, you could turn any card in your hand into a Dark Ritual, at instant speed? I thought you might. Seeing play in 144 decks, Bog Witch does that for you, all the while filling up your graveyard with excellent reanimation targets. This card is great in decks with black-greedy mana costs. Think about running it in Sheoldred, Whispering One or Chainer, Dementia Master, to name a couple.

Now that red/x artifact reanimator decks are an archetype, I have absolutely no idea how Hammer Mage sees play in just 34 decks. This card should be a staple in decks like Feldon of the Third Path, Daretti, Scrap Savant, and even Breya, Etherium Sculptor. Discarding a Mycosynth Lattice, Darksteel Forge, or Furnace Titan and then reanimating it is just the best feeling ever. You will almost always be able to activate this for X=1, 2 or 3 to blow up your opponent’s mana rock packages. You might hit some of your own artifacts in the process, but that’s not a real problem if you’re running Hammer Mage with cards like Trash for Treasure, Scrap Mastery, Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast and Goblin Welder.

Seeing play in 85 decks, Silverglade Pathfinder was made for GBx Commanders. This card is great in decks that want to ramp aggressively, and then reanimate their graveyard for profit, fun and value. Run it in Damia, Sage of Stone, Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Karador, Ghost Chieftain. She also pairs nicely with The Gitrog Monster, as the Frog God negates the card disadvantage of her ability, if you can discard a land to it. Try pairing it with cards like Dryad Arbor, Dakmor Salvage and Life from the Loam.

Dawnstrider is one of those psychological pillow fort cards like Spike Weaver, Moment’s Peace and Spore Frog. The threat of activating it is often enough to keep your opponents from attacking into it, but it’s too insignificant to actually waste spot removal on it. Cards like this can absolutely win you the game. (As a strategic aside to anyone playing against any of these cards, you absolutely should make your opponents burn through these cards.) At 142 decks, I would say Dawnstrider is being seriously underutilized in EDH. Try running her in Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, or other political, group hug, or pillow fort style decks.

Pulling Off the Masque

Any card that has a “free” casting cost is probably playable at least. Getting played in 36 decks, Reverent Mantra is much more than just playable. It can make your team partly or completely unblockable, save your board from damage based boardwipes, or save your creatures from bad blocks. In corner cases, it can save your creature from Pacifism effects. All at instant speed, and while you’re completely tapped out. If you’re in red and white you have the option of casting Blasphemous Act for R, and casting this for its alternate cost to save your board. It may be a bit of a magical christmasland scenario, but getting a one-sided board wipe for a red and three cards is a great deal. This card goes best in creature based decks versions of decks like Saskia the Unyielding, Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa+Tana, the Bloodsower, Roon of the Hidden Realm, and Jazal Goldmane.

Fountain Watch is doing a decent impression of Privileged Position in 343 decks. 343 is higher than most other cards in this article, but with the amount of artifact and enchantment-based decks about, I’m surprised this card doesn’t see more play. Think about running this card in Heliod, God of the Sun, Karametra, God of Harvests (or any Wx god deck that runs any amount of other enchantments or artifacts), Daxos the Returned, or Breya, Etherium Shaper. Giving those permanents Shroud and costing 5 is a slight downside that makes Padeem, Consul of Innovation slightly more appealing for artifact decks, but even if you run Padeem, Fountain Watch is nice for redundancy.

[Editor’s Note: Shroud does not stop Breya from sacrificing your artifacts to her ability, because she doesn’t target them. Yes, she is that good.]

I mentioned some prison cards in my last article. Embargo is played in only 162 decks and it shuts down so many archetypes. From artifact combo to aggro overrun, nothing escapes Embargo’s grasp. Two life is nothing in EDH (especially if you’re playing Oloro, Ageless Ascetic), and there are a ton of different ways to untap your permanents. Play this with cards like Paradox Engine, Intruder Alarm, and Seedborn Muse and watch your opponents cry.

Rishadan Brigand is played in 211 decks, and is the rare in a vertical cycle that includes Rishadan Footpad and Rishadan Cutpurse. It’s fun for four reasons: 1) It’s a pirate. 2) Brago, King Eternal. 3) Roon of the Hidden Realm. 4) Did I mention that it’s a pirate??

This whole cycle is great in flicker and blink decks, stax decks, or decks with heavy reanimation. Run it with stuff like Kaya, Ghost Assassin, Mistmeadow Witch, Ghostly Flicker and Life // Death.

I love cards that give my whole team a really nasty ability. That’s why I don’t think 269 decks running Larceny is nearly enough. Obviously, you want to be either swarming your opponents with tokens, or have a high degree of evasion. For token swarm you’re probably looking at Ghoulcaller Gisa, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf or maybe Queen Marchesa, if you build her that way. Some options for evasion are Vela, the Nightclad, Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa+Tymna the Weaver, and Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa+Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper, both of the partner combos are especially nasty since you gain extra value from combat damage, while your opponents lose it. Another fun card to pair with Larceny is Pain Magnification, for double the punishment. This card takes a little bit more set up, though, since you have to hit for at least 3.

Only 96 decks play Forced March, which is a nice Black Sun’s Zenith (BSZ) variant. It’s a little more expensive, but we’re running Bog Witch, so triple black doesn’t phase us. Forced March allows you to keep your indestructible creatures like Yahenni, Undying Partisan, and Avacyn, Angel of Hope, where BSZ could potentially kill them due to zero toughness. There’s also the corner case where an opponent has a board full of tokens, and you can just cast Forced March for 0. This is another card for big mana black decks like Sheoldred, Whispering One, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

Liability is played in 44 decks and is totally awesome! It shuts down pesky decks like eggs and death and taxes tout suite. The oracle text does specify non-token permanents, but that’s still fine. All of those fetchlands and sac outlets cost an extra one life. Board wipes also become extremely punishing. Especially board wipes like Chandra’s Ignition and Deadly Tempest. The next time you build a Mogis, God of Slaughter or Shattergang Brothers punisher deck, try running Liability with cards like Tainted Remedy and Wound Reflection.

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No one expects very much of the mono red player, especially when that player is tapped out. So, let’s take a look at Crash and Pulverize which see play in 26 decks and 28 decks respectively. Tap out and let your resident artifact combo player think that it’s safe to start going off; then sac a mountain and Crash their combo piece. Of course, you also have the option of holding up mana to cast it that way, but if you really need to tap out, or you’re trying to bluff out their threats, Crash can get you where you need to go.

Pulverize is a sorcery, so it’s not going to do much on your opponent’s turns, but it’s still a great effect if they’ve cluttered up the board with mana rocks, since you’ll lose less tempo if you can time it right. I know Nate Burgess from the Commanderin’ podcast (and fellow EDHREC article author) is a big fan of cards like Crash and Pulverize. On January 5th he included Mogg Salvage in his Vial Smasher the Fierce deck, and having personally been on the receiving end of his Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder deck, I can tell you that these effects are not to be underestimated.

Most people aren’t aware that red has cool stax-y kinds of cards in its history. Seeing play in 83 decks, Uphill Battle is half of an Urabrask the Hidden for three mana. Recently, white has come out with a slew of cards with similar effects:Authority of the Consuls, Blind Obedience, Imposing Sovereign, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar to name a few. If you’ve never seen these cards in action at four player pod it’s hard to describe just how good they are. They shut down haste for both attacking and tap abilities, and they leave your opponents wide open with fewer blockers, which can completely save your game (and ruin theirs)! Having it on an enchantment is an added bonus, as enchantments are one of the harder permanent types to interact with in EDH. Give this a try in your Grenzo, Havoc Raiser, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden, or Thromok the Insatiable decks.

Next up is Close Quarters, which sees play in just 18 decks. At four mana it seems like a more expensive, less effective Repercussion. Until you read it again and see the magic phrase “target creature or player.” At the very least this gives all of your creatures an extra point of power that hits before first strike against defenders. On top of that you can point all of your points of damage at one big problem creature, send the damage at your opponent’s faces, kill planeswalkers, and wipe out tokens. This card is excellent in decks like Iroas, God of Victory, Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, Aurelia, the Warleader, and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. Throw in some combat support like Odric, Master Tactician, Brutal Hordechief, Carnage Gladiator, and Boros Battleshaper, and you’ve got a stew going!

How much is a one-sided board wipe worth? An overloaded Cyclonic Rift costs 7. Plague Wind and In Garruk’s Wake cost 9 each. Dread Cacodemon costs 10. That’s too much! How would you like to wipe your opponent’s boards for six? That’s right…six. Volcanic Wind sees play in 22 decks, and, while it might require a little bit more set up than the other board wipes I listed, is a perfectly viable one-sided board wipe. Volcanic Wind is probably best in decks built to pump out lots of tokens like Thromok the Insatiable, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, or Queen Marchesa. Consider supporting it with cards like Tamanoa and Soulfire Grand Master for added bonus.

After lands and creatures, artifacts are probably the most populous permanent type in EDH. Seeing play in only 77 decks, Caustic Wasps could potentially blow up an artifact on every turn. From mana rocks to artifact creatures to sac outlets, the wasps eat them all! It may not be quite as versatile as Trygon Predator, but it is one less color, and it’s a nice redundant effect. Try this bug in your next Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician, or Xira Arien build.

Natural Affinity is a crazy card run in 243 decks. My friend Oliver from my paper meta runs this card in his mono green Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury deck. I have had this card used against me in the following ways: in response to me casting Sunblast Angel, at the end of my turn while another opponent had out Archfiend of Depravity, in response to Wrath of God while he had Freyalise on board and Gaea’s Cradle in hand, cast just before Overwhelming Stampede with Altar of Dementia on board so he could kill me with combat damage and then mill out the lifegain player. Needless to say, the card is somewhat legendary in our playgroup. Try it in any weird, tricky deck green, or in a lands-matter deck like Omnath, Locus of Rage or The Gitrog Monster.

Mercadian Lift is currently played in only 10 decks because it’s a strictly worse Aether Vial. At least it was until Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice came along. This isn’t really a budget card series, but I will point out that Aether Vial costs about $40, while Mercadian Lift costs just $0.32. Very often Atraxa runs additional proliferation support in the form of Contagion Clasp, Contagion Engine, Inexorable Tide, etc. Which means you’ll probably be able to get 2-3 winch counters a turn without even having to pay for it. Mercadian Lift comes down early and starts pumping out some creatures. The advantage it has over Vial is that it doesn’t have any restriction based on the creature’s converted mana cost. If you have enough counters you can put it out. Definitely something to try out.

Those are some of my top picks from Mercadian Masques. The set has a very cool feeling of converting unconventional resources into value, whether that’s discarding cards to Spellshapers, or sacrificing lands to pay alternate casting costs. Many of the cards give you unusual options to choose from that can catch your opponents off guard. There are more Spellshapers that I didn’t talk about from this and other sets, so I definitely recommend you check those out.

A Practical List

Let’s take a look at some of our cards in theoretical action. To showcase this set I picked a more recent commander who enjoys playing some political games herself: Queen Marchesa. I’ve built her with politics and board manipulation in mind. Let me know if you try the deck out, and what changes you make that work for you. And I hope you’ll join me in two weeks when we take a look at our next set.

Dean is a husband, father, writer, and long-time fan of Magic and gaming in general. He co-hosts the Commander Time! podcast with Nate Burgess and Patrick Sippola. Currently located in Rochester, NY; he loves playing with new people, so if you're ever in the area, shoot him a message. You can find him on Facebook, or tweet @GrubFellow.