On Nemeses, especially those of the True Names

Since English is not my first language, I had to google the plural form of nemesis. Turns out, it’s nemeses, and not nemesi, as I was hoping. How unfortunate.

The first Commander product (henceforth known as Commander 2011) brought with it 51 new cards, and although some of them are now effectively EDH staples, like Spell Crumple or Stranglehold, mflusterstorm.hqost failed to make a splash even in the intended format, let alone Vintage or Legacy. The sole exception is Flusterstorm, a humble single-mana Instant which found its way to many sideboards in the formats, and it’s even played in a few maindecks, most of the time as an alternatve or a complement to Spell Pierce.

The 2013 edition of Commander, or Commander 2013, is most more of the same. It contains a few cards that are great even in “competitive” EDH decks (though that should, in my book, be considered an oxymoron and really going against the spirit of the format), like Bane of Progress. It also contained three cards that has seen at least some serious Legacy play, and this is not counting Order of Succession. The latter was used briefly on MTGO to exploit a game-breaking bug: if you cast it with no creatures in play, your opponent was still forced to try and select one of your non-existant creatures. Since this can’t be done, his timer will tick down, giving you a free game win. The bug has since been ironed out, and anyone who was caught using it when it did work was suspended for a month.

Two of the other three cards have seen moderate play in the format. Unexpectedly Absent, an XWW instant, gave Miracles and similar decks who could afford the double-white in the mana cost, an answer to problematic non-creature permanents. It has since been more or less replaced entirely by Council’s Judgment, who is essentially a more effective version. The other is Toxic Deluge, who’s had a bit of a slow start in the format, but is well-suited in BUG Midrange decks. It has been increasing in popularity slightly every high-profile tournament since its release, and it is a card one needs to be prepared for if one’s playing Elves, Death and Taxes, or other decks that rely on winning with creatures.

The final card is the most controversial of them all, and easily the one that has had the most format penetration (pun intended). I am, of course, talking about True-Name Nemesis:

true-namenemesis.full

The truest of nemesi… nemeses…

True-Name Nemesis was included in the Commander 2013 Grixis-coloured deck “Mind Seize”, and the deck quickly became the most sought-after of the five. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see stores selling “Mind Seize” at twice the price of either of the other decks, nor was it uncommon to see stores more or less isolating their walls with copies of horrible “Nature of the Beast” decks. Ironcially, “Mind Seize” is probably the worst of the five decks out of the box, at least when played against the other four, but since it came with True-Name Nemesis and a copy of Baleful Strix (then a pretty expensive uncommon only printed in one of the Planeshift decks), it easily became the most desireable one. Another obvious irony is that True-Name Nemesis is laughably bad in the inteded format – in a multiplayer game of EDH, where he only has protection from one opponent, he’s perhaps more flavourful, but a 3/1 effectively vanillia creature will never do anything in a format full of board wipes and other opponents.

In Legacy, however, he’s very very good. He’s often dubbed “mini-Progenitus” for his game-breaking ability, and if you pair him with Stoneforge Mystic to find him an Umezawa’s Jitte, he gets even worse. What True-Name Nemesis umezawasjitte.hqeffecitvely does is that he breaks open any match-up between two “fair” decks, i.e. between decks that are not cheating the mana system by paying 2U for Emrakul, nor playing nine spells and then a Tendrils of Agony in a single turn, but between decks that are paying full price for their creatures and then try to win with them like Garfield intended. In these match-ups he’s strictly un-fair because he breaks the rules for combat – he can’t be blocked for sure, and he can block the biggest of threats without dying himself.

Conventional removal spells in the format, Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, or Abrupt Decay, does nothing to hinder his spirit, although the latter can be used to answer Umezawa’s Jitte at least. As such, the decks in the format has been forced to adapt their strategies in order to account for the Nemesis. Examples of this include the fact that Storm-based combo and other decks that genuinely regard True-Name Nemesis as a vaniallia 3/1 have been re-taking ground ever since last fall, and decks like Death and Taxes have been playing more fliers to race him, and decks like RUG Delver have upped the number of Red Elemental Blast in thte sideboard, since they can’t interact with him outside the stack. Spells like Golgari Charm and even Marsh Casualties (in case you play True-Name Nemesis too) have surged in popularity. Even with all of these effects, there are still a bunch of naysayers who call for his banning.

All in all, is True-Name Nemesis bad for the format? I’d say definitely “no”, and that’s not just because I play him in DeathBlade. I honstely believe he’s far from the most oppresive creature in the format (he’s in fact, nowhere close to even the most oppresive blue creature – Delver of Secrets), and the fact that’s he’s complete garbage compared to say Vendilion Clique against anything that don’t want to win with creatures on the ground makes him alright in my book. All the proper tier 1 decks have shown ways of dealing with him effectively. It’s a matter of adapting, like all other cards, and it’s nice to see a new release shake up the format. The one frustration to me, initially, was that he was too hard to come by, but the prices of him have stabilized now and dropped like $15 between what I paid for the first one and what I paid for the last one.

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