Deckbuilding With (& Against) True-Name Nemesis

If you want to be successful in Legacy these days, you need to build your deck with the Nemesis in mind. Drew provides you with a number of options for playing with and against it.

This will define the scope and effectiveness of Legacy decks for years.

Three-color blue midrange and tempo decks have always been a staple of Legacy metagames, and the Nemesis will appear in many of them for years to come.

Like Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, Delver of Secrets, and Nimble Mongoose before it, True-Name Nemesis is a creature that requires consideration during deckbuilding.

The two first questions that you should ask yourself are "how do I beat Nemesis?" and "should I play Nemesis?"

The first question may be easy to answer for you. If you’re playing Rite of Flame, Cabal Ritual, Reanimate, Natural Order, Flame Rift, Show and Tell, or Golgari Grave-Troll, your answer is "execute your primary game plan and mostly ignore their invincible Trained Armodon."

Of the decks I just mentioned, Dredge is the only one that interacts with True-Name Nemesis via combat, and it is reasonable to argue that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is more damaging to Dredge than True-Name Nemesis. Both creatures block and kill any Ichorid or Zombie, but Thalia is a two-drop that also taxes Cabal Therapy, Dread Return, and every draw spell. Nemesis just kills or bounces off of the best creature.

The above two paragraphs are also why True-Name Nemesis will never get banned in Legacy. It is a powerful card that has no relevant card text against 20-25% of the format. Contrast with Mental Misstep, which had relevant game text against 95%+ of the format, or Survival of the Fittest, which was a resilient, proactive, and occasionally disruptive strategy all on its own.

So True-Name Nemesis is here to stay, and combo decks are the only things that beat it?

Well, not exactly.

Dedicated control decks have a lot of ways to beat the Merfolk Rogue. Liliana of the Veil, Terminus, Golgari Charm, Moat, Humility, Meekstone, Ensnaring Bridge, Supreme Verdict, and Engineered Explosives can all answer the troublesome 3/1 heads-up. If you want to grind out a resource-advantage game, there are a lot of ways to tweak your removal suite to answer True-Name Nemesis.

One of the many reasons that I chose to play Miracles at Grand Prix Washington DC was because I perceived Terminus to be especially high value in the tournament. Nobody cast True-Name Nemesis against me in the tournament. I lost to a Cloudpost deck, to a Merfolk deck with an abundance of Swan Songs, and a match against Dredge where game 3 saw me keep a hand with two lands and Enlightened Tutor for Rest in Peace and die with one land in play.

I played against one Delver of Secrets deck on the day and won easily. Serves me right for trying to metagame.

I would happily replay the tournament, as the day 2 metagame was very favorable for a Miracles deck, but we don’t get to live in the past. So what should you do at your next Legacy tournament?

If you don’t want to play combo, you have to decide if you want to beat True-Name Nemesis or play True-Name Nemesis. You cannot ignore the card and expect to win.

It pressures your Jace, the Mind Sculptor better than Nimble Mongoose.

It blocks all of your dinky little creatures.

You can cast as many Baleful Strixes as you want, but none of them can block the 3/1.

It is clear that we have to approach any combat-oriented deck with healthy respect for True-Name Nemesis. Let’s talk about how to beat it, and then let’s talk about how to maximize it.

How To Beat True-Name Nemesis

Congratulations! You’re the good guy—sticking with Old Faithful, not playing the Flavor of the Month card, and mining Legacy’s untapped riches for the perfect answer to the format’s newest addition.

What’s your name by the way?

>> Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

>> Delver of Secrets

>> Shardless Agent

>> Jace, the Mind Sculptor

>> Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

I see. So you’re commanding your ragtag legion of diminutive role players, and you don’t love the idea of fighting through an unkillable blocker that can pick up an Umezawa’s Jitte. That is a problem.

Your strengths are clear. You have Mother of Runes to get a ground creature past their True-Name Nemesis each turn, but taking that risk opens you up to pinpoint removal.

You have Rishadan Port and Wasteland to slow down their mana development—after all, three mana is a lot in Legacy!

You have a Stoneforge Mystic package that can add value against a Nemesis if you put a Sword of Fire and Ice in your armory.

But most importantly, you have access to a lot of white fliers. Flickerwisp, Serra Avenger, and Aven Mindcensor are all powerful ways to evade a ground-dwelling 3/1. Mirran Crusader, while a fine card, may not be what you’re looking for in a three-drop if you find yourself surrounded by blue creatures with protection from you. Mangara of Corondor is clearly not suited for a mission involving a lot of hand-to-hand combat.

As far as sideboards go, you want cards that directly fight their Equipment plan. Wilt-Leaf Liege, while a great answer to Liliana of the Veil and Hymn to Tourach, is weak in a combo- and creature-midrange field. You may want to replace it with Seal of Cleansing since holding up Disenchant mana for turns at a time is at odds with your plan to use all of your mana each turn and activate Rishadan Port when you don’t. Aura of Silence is a worse Seal of Cleansing in this cost-conscious deck.

If you want to go super deep, feel free to recruit a Devout Witness.

To circle back around on a point for a second, Aven Mindcensor excels both at being a flying attacker and at shutting off Stoneforge Mystic. In a world where you’re looking for flying attackers that happen to also beat Green Sun’s Zenith, Natural Order, Stoneforge Mystic, and the dizzying array of fetch-land strategies in the format, Aven Mindcensor’s stock has rarely been higher.

Consider undertaking the following battle plans:

I’m sorry; I thought you said you were Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. What did you say your name is?

>> Delver of Secrets

Ah, of course. Your plan of casting inexpensive spells, keeping your opponent tight on mana, and beating them with undercosted creatures is well documented.

I see that you can cast True-Name Nemesis. Have you considered recruiting the enemy general to fight alongside you?

. . .

No, no, of course, I completely understand. I won’t bring it up again.

If I may be so bold, your strengths lie in your ability to restrict access to mana. Why not emphasize that?

If they’re playing three or four colors, sideboard Ghost Quarter or Life from the Loam on top of your Wastelands. If they’re playing a bunch of mana creatures, play Forked Bolt.

You have a real problem. You’ve never been good at breaking through on the ground, and while you’ve managed to fake it for a while by playing Submerge, the truth is that you were never good at attacking on the ground. The world has finally changed enough that you need to reevaluate.

If you can’t restrict their mana development, might I suggest playing a 1UU 3/1 with evasion?

. . .

I know, I know, you won’t call him. But what about Vendilion Clique?

Vendilion Clique also excels against combo decks where you lack a strong disruptive strategy outside of mana interaction and counterspells. Cycling their best card at the end of their turn or in the middle of their combo turn can be devastating. Vendilion Clique also happens to fly, so you won’t have to worry about getting blocked by you-know-who.

As another added bonus, you occasionally get to snipe a lazy Stoneforge Mystic player. You know the type—loud as a motorbike, wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight, passes back to you when he could’ve gotten Batterskull into play because he always activates Stoneforge Mystic at the end of your turn?

Clique him in your end step, take his Batterskull, and race.

If you really, really don’t want to get aggressive, might I suggest overloading on Pyroblasts? It’s not great against Stoneforge Mystic or Deathrite Shaman, but this is the fourth plan I’ve suggested to you so far. They’re not going to get better from here.

If you happen to hang out with Tombstalker more than Nimble Mongoose, you could sideboard Sinkholes. It’s an extreme measure, but Sinkhole primarily excels against fair strategies that want to tap out for three- and four-drops. Some Nemesis decks fit the description.

If you’re committed to Deathrite Shaman and Tombstalker, you may also want to stay tuned for my advice to Shardless Agent.

>> Shardless Agent

So you’d rather be Shardless Agent? I don’t blame you—a lot of Delver of Secrets decks are better off teaming up with their sworn enemy. But you? You don’t need that scrub.

You’ve got Ancestral Vision.

What does True-Name Nemesis get? Some kind of Equipment? Real good joke.

Your goal is clear.

Act like a real control deck and kill all of their stuff.

Time your discard to snipe their Batterskull, Abrupt Decay their Umezawa’s Jitte, and Liliana of the Veil their True-Name Nemesis. Just because you can Thoughtseize on turn 1 doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re worried about losing on turn 1, sure.

In the other cases, you can get more information and disrupt a committed plan further down the line. Think about it before you just fire off your pinpoint discard spell.

After sideboarding, get a bunch of Golgari Charms in. The card is incredibly strong right now—here is a short list of what it kills in Legacy:

It also kills:

And I suppose it saves your team from a Supreme Verdict.

As Swiss Army knives go, this one is the real deal. I would play at least three and strongly consider a fourth. What other card do you want at least one or two copies of against Sneak and Show, Miracles, Death and Taxes, Storm, Elves, non-RUG Delver, and a bunch of random decks like Enchantress and Back to Basics control?

In a format where sideboard space is at a premium due to extreme diversity, Golgari Charm really does just do it all.

Okay, advertisement over, Professor Oak hat back on.

So you’re Shardless Agent. Right.

Play Golgari Charm and maybe some Liliana of the Veil, apply discard spells to Equipment, and grind them out. Make sure not to lose to Zealous Persecution. Deathblade decks tend to play two.

You want it all spelled out, huh? Well, here’s what you should play:

I would recommend against adopting some number of True-Name Nemesis in a Shardless Agent deck, as the deck doesn’t support a three-drop that doesn’t immediately generate value and just attacks for three. Tarmogoyf gets to have no other abilities because it’s a four-power two-drop. Everything else draws a card when you cast it, shuts down a wide range of decks, or both.

If you want more three-drops, I recommend Liliana of the Veil and Vendilion Clique in that order.

So who’s left?

Ah yes. Of course. How could we forget about the great Jace, the Mind Sculptor?

>> Jace, the Mind Sculptor

You do know that you’re getting pretty high maintenance these days, Mr. Mind Sculptor?

Yes, of course I know you’re worth it. I’m just saying that it was hard enough when we just had to deal with Nimble Mongoose. This Sneak Attack nonsense and this new True-Name Nemesis problem are a bit of a headache is all.

Since this really is all about you, how can we best protect you?

This is a Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck. You have the ability to curve Vendilion Clique into Jace, the Mind Sculptor against other control decks. You can miracle seven cards that are all excellent against tempo decks. You have a clip full of silver bullets against the format.

If you want to play a Jace-focused control game, this is what I would recommend playing.

The answers to True-Name Nemesis are obvious: Terminus, Moat, Pyroblast, and Red Elemental Blast, not to mention the possibility of Counterbalancing it with one of your eight (realistically ten) three-drops. After all, you will board in Enlightened Tutor, Aura of Silence, and Blood Moon against the jokers playing eight-color True-Name Nemesis midrange decks.

As always, play to your strengths. Sweep their board, establish a Jace, set up your miracles, and close them out with a clean Entreat the Angels for five tokens.

But what if you don’t want to hide behind your thin wall of specifically chosen answers? What if you want to get out there and get down with the format’s favorite Rogue?

How To Maximize True-Name Nemesis

For starters, congratulations on acknowledging the sheer diversity of Legacy as a format. Nowhere close to all of your opponents will be playing Nemesis strategies, and it is a fair criticism to argue against warping one’s own deck to fight a strategy that you may not even play against.

So what are you supposed to pair this thing with?

Well, we have an overcosted 3/1 with evasion. What did people do with Invisible Stalker, the overcosted 1/1 with evasion?

Well, in Limited, they equipped Butcher’s Cleaver and Silver-Inlaid Dagger and went to work.

In Constructed, they enchanted it with Rancor and went to work.

The same should hold true here.

First up is Stoneforge Mystic.

It is not a coincidence that every True-Name Nemesis deck that made the Top 8 of Washington DC did so alongside Stoneforge Mystic and Umezawa’s Jitte. If you want to win with True-Name Nemesis, it’s clear that you should enhance it.

But which is the best deck of the Mystic/Nemesis decks: Bant, Esper, or U/W/R Delver? As always, that depends on what kind of game you want to play.

If you’d prefer to play a creature-heavy deck with a lot of tutoring, moving parts, and complex attack steps, play Bant. You have a ton of crazy-looking one-ofs that are almost certainly correct since Reid Duke built the deck. Your True-Name Nemesises will come out earlier and hit harder thanks to seven green one-drops and five exalted creatures.

If you’d prefer to play a creature-light deck with a lot of cantrips, stack interaction, and straightforward attack steps, play U/W/R Delver. Your decklist is streamlined and a testament to Owen Turtenwald sheer mastery. True-Name Nemesis doesn’t play an integral role in the deck, but it does provide a reliable breakthrough endgame.

If you’d prefer to play a more disruptive deck with a mishmash of everything good in Legacy, play Esper Stoneblade or Deathblade. All of your cards are individually powerful, you can probably win games as long as you don’t cut good cards for bad cards, and it’s nearly impossible to hate you out. Your True-Name Nemesises are going to be versatile. In some matchups, they play defense while Jace, the Mind Sculptor fate seals them. In other matchups, they play offense against an impenetrable wall of Nimble Mongooses. In yet other matchups, they pitch to Force of Will.

But what if you want a more immediate plan of attack? Something more single-mindedly aggressive, perhaps?

Remember this?

Yeah, that actually won a Legacy Open. No joke.

At first glance, it’s pretty hideous. The numbers look wrong. Psionic Blast is powerful nostalgia but also can’t be right, and the 2/3 split on Spectral Flight and Unstable Mutation just looks weird.

But there’s a lot to love about the deck underneath the hood.

Qasali Pridemage is an exalted body that happens to solve the Batterskull problem, the Umezawa’s Jitte problem, and the random artifacts and enchantments problem in one.

Noble Hierarch gets us from one to three while providing another point on every attack.

Daze lets us tap out for threats and still pick up useless lands to Brainstorm back.

Spell Pierce is likely worse than Flusterstorm in a deck that ignores Jace, the Mind Sculptor better than most others, but that’s forgivable.

So what can we change? For starters, the Troll Ascetic / True-Name Nemesis swap is easily made. This also gives us more blue cards, so we can consider Force of Will if we end up wanting more countermagic.

Deathrite Shaman tagging in for Birds of Paradise is another easy call. We can play enough fetch lands to keep Shaman fueled and also have the ability to shut off a ton of graveyard interactions while chipping away for two a turn without breaking up exalted. Big upside.

The Spectral Flight / Unstable Mutation / Psionic Blast slots all feel wrong to me. Given eight creature enhancers, I think we can do better.

I want Berserk in the deck now that we have a legitimately unblockable creature.

In most cases, it’s going to be at least a one-mana Psionic Blast—you can target an Angel, you can target your exalted Nemesis, or you can target your double-exalted Pridemage. In many other situations, it will be far better than four points of damage. If you have two, for instance, they stack very positively for you.

After spending an hour scouring Gatherer for Auras, I’m confident in asserting that Unstable Mutation is in fact the best rate available for a one-mana Aura. Since we’re getting through a lot more, we can afford to play more of them. Spectral Flight is worse now that it’s only really targeting Geist, so we can cut those. Mutation is simply the best card we can play for killing an opponent quickly.

The mana base can get cleaned up a lot, and we can add more Wastelands now that we have a bunch of hungry Deathrite Shamans and nothing to do with our fourth mana, ending up with the following:

The sideboard for this deck has a number of goals.

First, it doesn’t want to lose to combo. Force of Will and Grafdigger’s Cage cover a good spread of decks, and our plan against a miraculously resolved Show and Tell involves putting a True-Name Nemesis into play, untapping, and killing them through whatever they have.

Second, it has a real plan against Delver of Secrets. Their deck either has to cast Rough // Tumble or counter a lot of creatures. Voice of Resurgence counteracts both plans and doesn’t mind getting Berserked at some point—indeed, in a race situation Berserk both adds damage and creates a blocker.

Third, it can augment its core game plan against certain decks with Armadillo Cloak. The deck wants Armadillo Cloak and not Unflinching Courage because Armadillo Cloak works when you put it on their creatures and also doubles up your life gain if you happen to have two copies on the same creature.

The Dryad Arbor is for Liliana of the Veil—as you’ll note, the mana base has all green fetch lands. This makes the Tundra less than perfect, but I would rather be able to find Bayou and Dryad Arbor all the time than be able to find Tundra all the time.

The Bayou, of course, is for Deathrite Shaman’s activated ability.

It’s unclear whether this is just a worse version of [author name="Tom Ross"]Tom Ross’s[/author] Infect deck, but I like that its "bad" cards—Berserk, Qasali Pridemage, and Unstable Mutation—are better than Infect’s bad cards—Blighted Agent, Invigorate, and Vines of Vastwood. Berserk can act as a pseudo Dismember against opposing attacking creatures, Qasali Pridemage is a Real Legacy Card, and Unstable Mutation provides six damage for one mana.

At the end of the day, though, Infect is just another fast combo deck that doesn’t want to play Magic. The above Hexproof deck gets to play cards like Deathrite Shaman and True-Name Nemesis in addition to having eight maindeck counters and a number of possible turn 3 kills. In a format as diverse as Legacy, it’s worth sacrificing a little speed for a lot of power.

Speaking of sacrifices, you and I need to have a discussion about what to do about Magic Online. You see, True-Name Nemesis isn’t out on Magic Online. It won’t be online until December 20th. There are two ways we can do this: either I can keep making Legacy videos on a platform that doesn’t yet have an important card available or I can stick to writing articles until that stupid 3/1 hits the digital scene.

What say you, dear reader?