Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering. To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.
Previously, we looked at Mercadian Masques, the first entry in the maligned Masques block. This time around, we take a few minutes to look back at Nemesis, the block's second set and (arguably) the most powerful of the three.
You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).
The second set in the Masques block, Nemesis was released in February of 2000.
Considered the strongest set in the block, the 143-card set’s design and development were both led by Wizards of the Coast veteran Mike Elliot.
The set showcases the places and events found in the Nemeses novel by Paul B. Thompson. For the most complete story experience, we recommend you give the book a read. Otherwise, here’s the condensed version:
When the Weatherlight escaped Rath at the end of the Exodus storyline, it left behind two surviving crew members: Crovax and Ertai. The latter found himself on board of the Predator, Volrath’s flagship on Rath piloted by the vicious Greven il-Vec. The former, having transformed into a violent, bloodthirsty vampire, was captured and brought to Phyrexia to be further enhanced. Upon completion, he was returned to Rath with plans to have him take over as Evincar due to the disappearance of the plane’s former Evincar, Volrath.
Of course, there were others who would just as easily assume the role of Evincar. Due to that, the Phyrexians sent Belbe, an agent of Yawgmoth made from the corpse of the daughter the Rathi resistance leader, Eladamri, in to supervise so that Phyrexia’s dark lord can see through the “survival of the fittest” method who is most worthy.
Crovax quickly proves the favorite as he uses his newfound mastery of flowstone control to quell Greven who, quite simply, preferred servitude over the responsibilities of ruling anyhow. Belbe suggests that Ertai could challenge the vampire for the throne, citing his ambition to take over Rath as ruler. Ertai, though, always seemed a step or two behind Crovax and was constantly playing catch up – and that’s even after he began using the stronghold’s rejuvenation chamber to increase his own physical strength to better match Crovax’s despite the complications and alterations it could have on his body.
In an attempt to flex his political muscle, Crovax leads an attack on the rebellious Skyshroud Elves as retaliation for Eladamri’s attack on the stronghold during the Weatherlight crew’s jailbreak some time prior. The attack fails, however, and Crovax teleports back to the stronghold and has many of the rebels killed as a symbol for what would happen to those who would oppose Phyrexian rule and his authority.
Meanwhile, Ertai and Belbe have been getting quite fond of one another and, ultimately, fall in love. The wizard uses his magic to blind Yawgmoth’s all-seeing eye implant and, bit by bit, she begins to rebel against her Phyrexian makers by altering the production of flowstone so that it could never reach critical mass overlay with Dominaria.
While that was occurring, Eladamri and Lin Sivvi, the granddaughter of the Vec leader, lead a band of rebels into the stronghold to destroy the Predator as the simple fact that the powerful airship was damaged and taken out of commission for repairs was the only thing that is giving the rebels a fighting chance against the Evincar and his forces.
Unfortunately, the mission fails as all they were able to do was cause some minor damage to the ship and free Takara (the real one – not the Takara that Volrath was masquerading around as during the events of Mercadian Masques) from the stronghold’s prison. They were picked off one-by-one until only a handful remained with the final few being captured in the stronghold’s dream halls.
Between the slowdown in flowstone production and the rebel incursion, Crovax began to figure out that something fishy had been going on behind his back. He captures Ertai and, then and there, all but forces Beble to name him Rath’s evincar. Just as all this is happening, Volrath appears back onto the scene. Having escaped from the events on Mercadia, he immediately challenges Crovax to regain his role as Evincar.
The two fight it out and Crovax quickly gets the upper hand. Sensing the inevitable, Ertai uses his magic to Volrath’s detriment hoping that in securing Crovax’s win, the vampire would look favorably upon him with the wizard’s ultimate goal is he and Belbe escaping the artificial plane and live peacefully together someplace far away.
That’s not to be, however, as Belbe takes Eladarmi, Takara, and Sivvi out of the dream halls and to her personal planar portal with plans of them all escaping to Dominaria. Takara makes it through to safety, as does Lin Sivvi. Eladarmi, however, holds back. He’s disgusted that an agent of Phyrexia wears his daughter’s face. He throws a vial of harsh poison at her, killing her on the spot, before he, too, escapes. Unfortunately for Ertai, Eladarmi’s exodus drains the portal’s power, leaving it permanently inoperable, meaning that the wizards would never be able to use it to leave Rath as the others had.
Once the dust had settled, Crovax ascended to the throne as the new Evincar of Rath. Volrath’s Phyrexian implants were removed and his body injected with flowstone. Ertai is then forced to take the fallen Evincar apart piece by piece and, ultimately, becomes Crovax’s metaphoric lap dog, doing his bidding.
Over time, Ertai’s overuse of the stronghold’s rejuvenation chamber causes physical changes to the wizard, including the graying of his skin, the addition of an additional set of arms, and the corruption of his mind. Rath’s flowstone production also returns to its normal capacity, setting the stage for the Rathi overlay of Dominaria that is just now beginning…
And that pretty much wraps up the story of Nemesis. As for the set itself, Nemesis features the spellshaper, rebel, and mercenary themes of its predecessor, Mercadian Masques, despite taking place on a different plane – Rath rather than Mercadia. Alternative casting cost spells also return from the block’s large set and flowstone, a concept from the original Tempest block.
Unlike Mercadian Masques, however, which had no new named mechanics of any form, Nemesis introduced the “fading” mechanic. The ability limits the number of turns a permanent is in play. A number of cards with fading were found to have a legitimate tournament impact such as Blastoderm, Parallax Wave, and Tangle Wire – a key component in Stax decks.
Other impactful cards from this small set include Lin-Sivvi, Defiant Hero, Accumulated Knowledge, Daze, Submerge, and the set’s cycle of “seal” enchantments: Seal of Fire, Seal of Doom, Seal of Strength, Seal of Removal, and Seal of Cleansing.
The set also features the card Rootwater Thief, which was a card designed by Magic pro Mike Long after winning the 1998-99 Magic Invitational tournament, as well as Kor Haven, a legendary land showcasing the refuge the Kor race established after they were abducted to Rath from their home plane of Zendikar.
An interesting thing of note with Nemesis has to do with the card Ascendant Evincar as it was the first time that a Magic card ever presented the same legendary permanent as a previous card following a major change in the character’s storyline. In order to avoid confusion with the legend rule, the name “Crovax” was omitted from the card as there already was a legendary creature card by that name in the Stronghold card Crovax the Cursed. This policy would be dropped a few sets later with the printing of Ertai, the Corrupted in Planeshift (a storyline-progressed version of the Exodus card Ertai, Wizard Adept).
And another interesting thing of note about Nemesis is that one of the creatures in the set actually wound up being featured in a Magic: The Gathering television commercial. Let’s just say that the creature isn’t too fond of focus groups.
So, is Nemesis among your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets? If so, let us know in the comment section below.