Last updated on October 25, 2023
Bribery | Illustration by Andrew Robinson
Mercadian Masques will likely be our only opportunity to explore Mercadia, a plane full of Black Markets, Bribery, and Misdirection, where many things are (literally) upside down and goblins, unlike their counterparts from other planes, are highly intelligent and civilized. In spite of several interesting themes, the Mercadia plane is unlikely to be the focus of another MTG set.
There are plenty of Mercadian Masques cards that have made quite a splash in the more than two decades since the set was released (this is actually a set from a previous century!), and several of them see plenty of play in Commander. Masques also caused quite the stir as the first large expansion released under the new Magic rules at that time, which included a novel concept: the stack.
So, please fasten your seatbelts: We are, as the Weatherlight did, about to crash into Mercadia!
Ramosian Sergeant | Illustration by Don Hazeltine
Back at that time, MTG blocks consisted of one large expansion with about 350 cards, followed by two smaller expansions of about 140 cards each; this convention would last until the Onslaught block in 2003. As the first set in the Masques block, Mercadian Masques is a large expansion.
There are two notable things to mention about Mercadian Masques:
MTG saw the largest rules change in the game’s history during the 6th Edition Core Set in April 1999. As told by Magic's head designer Mark Rosewater, “The rules of early Magic were a mess. The Sixth Edition rules were the largest rules change the game had ever seen. The stack was introduced, numerous rules went away, and the sequence of the turn was tightened up. It fundamentally changed the way the game was played.”
While the rules changes were made effective during the 6th Edition Core Set, Mercadian Masques was the first large expansion released using the new ruleset.
Second, Mercadian Masques would later become the cut-off point for MTG's Reserved list, that's to say a list of old, very powerful cards that Wizards of the Coast has promised never to reprint. All cards in the Reserved list were printed before Masques, and according to Wizards of the Coast's Official Reprint Policy, “No cards from the Mercadian Masques set and later sets will be reserved”.
|Number of Cards||350|
|Rarities||110 commons, 110 uncommons, 110 rares, 20 lands|
|Mechanics||Mercenaries, Rebels, Spellshapers, Alternate Casting Costs|
|Set Release||October 1999|
|Available on Draftsim's Draft simulator||No|
Buoyancy | Illustration by Jeff Miracola
The Mercadian Masques story is part of the Weatherlight Saga, a storyline that started with the Weatherlight expansion in 1997 and lasted until the Apocalypse expansion in 2001. The saga follows the crew of the legendary Weatherlight ship as they battle the evil Phyrexians who are trying to invade Dominaria.
In Mercadian Masques, the Skyship Weatherlight crash-lands in the Mercadia plane, which is for them a strange land. The ship is stolen by the Cho-Arrim warriors while Orim, the ship's healer, is still aboard. The rest of the crew is left stranded and then found and arrested by soldiers from Mercadia City.
Orim, the Weatherlight's healer, discovers that the Cho-Arrim suffer greatly under the Mercadians, and she befriends and eventually falls in love with their leader, Cho-Manno.
Meanwhile, the Weatherlight crew is driven to Mercadia City, a bustling metropolis sitting atop an inverted mountain. They discover that many things work in this plane differently than in others, including Mercadian goblins being larger and much smarter than their counterparts from other planes. In fact, in spite of looking like servants, goblins seem to be running the city.
Gerrard Capashen, one of the Weatherlight's crew members (and one of the main protagonists of the Weatherlight saga as a whole), strikes a deal with the Mercadian magistrate to lead an army of soldiers and mercenaries to recover their ship. The army clashes with the Cho-Arrim, and the mercenaries slaughter several of the Cho-Arrim rebels.
After several adventures, the Weatherlight crew reunites and they’re able to return to Dominaria, preparing to face a Phyrexian Invasion.
Much of the Mercadian Masques story is told in the MTG novel of the same name, written by Francis Lebaron and published in September 1999.
The Mercadia story and setting didn't resonate too much with players, nor did the Mercadian Masques block as a whole. According to Mark Rosewater, the Mercadian plane is a 9 on the Rabiah scale, an informal scale that measures how likely it is an existing plane will be the focus of a future Magic set. The scale goes from 1 for “very likely” to 10 for “highly unlikely” (Rabiah, the setting for MTG's Arabian Nights expansion, is a 10 in this scale).
The whole Masques block was a bit unusual in that there were almost no new keyword abilities added to the game: Mercadian Masques and Prophecy added zero new keywords and Nemesis added a single one, Fading. While each set did introduce several new game mechanics, some players found the lack of keywords confusing… something which, in turn, confused the MTG designers themselves.
“When Mercadian Masques first came out,” Mark Rosewater wrote in an article published three years later, “I was often asked why there were no new mechanics in the set. I was very confused. Mercadian Masques had rebels, spellshapers, and brought back cards with alternate casting costs. But because none of the mechanics were keyworded, many players didn’t count them as mechanics,” and something similar happened with Prophecy. Since Masques, R&D makes a point to include at least one new keyword, and most often two or more, in every large set.
The Masques block was also designed to have less powerful cards when compared to earlier sets. The Urza block had been overly powerful and many of its cards had to be banned, and this time WotC wanted to make sure that the mistake was not repeated. “In seventeen years,” Mark later wrote in his personal blog, “[the Urza block] was the only time I was ever chewed out by our CEO. He threatened if we made another broken block like Urza’s Saga block we’d be fired. And now you know the origin of Mercadian Masques block.”
Following the set's storyline, in which Cho-Arrim rebels face the Mercadian mercenaries, Mercadian Masques introduced the “Rebel” and “Mercenary” creature types. Both rebels and mercenaries let you “recruit” other fellow-minded rebels or mercs by letting you search your library and put them into play – in MTG parlance, they all provide a tutor effect.
Rebels, like Ramosian Captain, are an enthusiastic bunch and let you tutor other rebels that are more expensive than themselves.
Another mechanic introduced by Mercadian Masques, spellshaper is a creature type focused on providing a variety of effects that mimic various classic instants or sorceries.
- Devout Witness destroys target artifact or enchantment,
- Diplomatic Escort counters target spell or ability that targets a creature,
- Kris Mage deals 1 damage to any target.
All 23 spellshapers from Mercadian Masques, and the 30 or so spellshapers added to MTG in later sets, require you to tap them, discard one card, and pay a variable amount of mana.
Masques reintroduced spells with alternate casting costs, a returning mechanic not seen since the Visions expansion two years prior. This is one of the most variable mechanics in the set, as the alternate cost can be pretty much anything, not just mana.
For example: Misdirection, in blue, lets you exile a blue card from your hand rather than pay this spell’s mana cost. Snuff Out, in black, allows you to pay 4 life rather than pay this spell’s mana cost, but only as long as you control a Swamp. In green, if you control a Forest, you may have an opponent gain 3 life rather than pay Invigorate‘s mana cost.
Eight of the Mercadian Masques creatures have one or two abilities that any player can use.
For example, by paying 2 mana any player can activate Squallmonger‘s effect and deal 1 damage to each creature with flying and each player. Likewise, Wishmonger provides target creature with protection from the color of its controller’s choice until the end of the turn, and any player may activate this ability.
Mercadian Masques is a pre-Modern set; the Modern format would be sanctioned by WotC more than a decade later, and it allows MTG cards printed after the 8th Edition core set in July 2003 (the format is called “Modern” because that's when cards started using what at the time was the modern card frame).
Quite a few cards from Mercadian Masques saw later reprints, so about 60 cards are playable in Modern and 11 in Pioneer at the time of writing.
Black Market is Mercadian Masques' most popular contribution to the Commander format, with about 5% of decks making the necessary sacrifices to get it rolling. 5 mana is a bit on the expensive side for an enchantment that doesn't affect the game until at least one turn later, but once you get it rolling Black Market starts ramping and snowballs very fast.
High Market can conveniently cosplay as a budget Phyrexian Tower, and is almost as good for non-black decks looking for creature sacrifice outlets. For example, it's a card you can throw into the Fae Dominion preconstructed deck from Wilds of Eldraine for an extra bit of punch. The lifegain is usually not the objective, but is always a nice little plus.
Notice that “target” can be anything that can be targeted, which includes spells on the stack: You could redirect a counterspell to a different spell altogether.
Speaking of Wilds of Eldraine preconstructed Commander decks, Ancestral Mask just saw a reprint in the latest MTG expansion. EDH decks are always on the lookout for cards that scale with the number of players at the table, and Ancestral Mask can provide exactly that for an enchantment-matters, go-tall, Voltron-style EDH deck.
Snuff Out provides a harsh lesson in market dynamics, and how scarcity affects prices: Having seen nearly no reprints after Mercadian Masques, Snuff Out sits in the Top 10 of most expensive commons for the whole game (when you look at the amount of money you have to pay to buy one, not the mana to cast it…). It should be clear why: When you consider its mana cost, Snuff Out can cost literally zero.
You do need a Swamp in play, though, so keep that in mind when building your mana base.
If your deck is going for the Falter or Bedlam game plan (in MTG lingo, falter effects are those that prevent blockers from doing their blocky job; they tend to be a red specialty) and/or you’re playing a high density of flyers or unblockable creatures (the latter being something blue is fairly good at), Coastal Piracy is the sort of payoff you’re looking for.
Since Food Chain is a permanent you can activate as many times as you want in a given turn, it's the foundation of several infinite-mana combos, for example with any creature that you can cast from exile, like Squee, the Immortal.
Once a four-of staple in a tier-one deck, and frequently seen in several others, Rishadan Port can still provide its (admittedly annoying as heck) mana-denial ability.
While Rishadan Port can be repetitively annoying, Dust Bowl is ruthlessly definitive. The most expensive card from Mercadian Masques at the time of writing (currently fetching about $20), Dust Bowl provides one of the best colorless land destruction effects, by sacrificing your own lands. It’s not a card most decks will want, but precisely the effect that’ll delight those decks capable of putting extra lands on the board with effects like Azusa, Lost but Seeking, and/or return them from the graveyard via cards such as Crucible of Worlds and Ancient Greenwarden.
One of the most infuriating tutors in MTG (at least as long as an opponent's library has some big guns to steal), Bribery is the sort of card that can turn a game around… or misfire comically and spectacularly.
As long as you know that there are enough juicy targets for it, though, Bribery is a good way to keep your foes on their toes.
Mercadia was Squee's chance to shine!
As the smartest legendary goblin from Dominaria, the Skyship Weatherlight's cabin boy proved crucial during the crew's forced stay in Mercadia City, where goblins were unusually smart and had a big role in the city's affairs.
Lore note: Due to events too long to detail here, in MTG's storyline Squee is literally unable to die. That's why his cards have return-from-graveyard/exile mechanics.
Mercadian Masques was sold in 15-card boosters (back at the time, there was a single type of booster pack available), and in tournament decks that came with 75 cards. In spite of a name that may make you think they are preconstructed, competitive-ready decks, these tournament decks were like much bigger boosters, with an assortment of random cards that included several copies of basic lands. Tournament decks were phased out after the Shards of Alara expansion.
Mercadian Masques would also be the first expansion with a “fat pack“, a bundle that came with three boosters, a tournament pack, two premium cards, and the Mercadian Masques novel. Unlike tournament decks, bundles came to stay and are still a mainstay of every MTG expansion, though with different contents.
Lastly, Mercadian Masques had four preconstructed decks:
- Deepwood Menace, a red-green deck,
- Disrupter, a black-red deck,
- Rebel's Call, a white deck,
- Tidal Mastery, a white-blue deck.
It goes without saying that unopened product for such an old set is really hard to come by. If you're after some cards from Mercadian Masques, either printed in the set or from later reprints, your best bet is to buy the specific singles from online stores.
Snuff Out | Illustration by Mike Ploog
That concludes our review of Mercadian Masques, the first expansion of a 3-set block that was purposefully designed to be a bit on the low end of the power spectrum, after the problems of the high-powered Urza block. The set was also pivotal in Magic: The Gathering's history as the first large expansion under the new 6th edition rules, for being the cut-off point for the Reserved list, for introducing bundles (called “fat packs” back then), and for teaching MTG designers to always include at least one new keyword in every expansion.
Masques will likely be our only opportunity to get to know the strange Mercadia plane, populated by smart goblins and upside-down mountains. Due to relatively low interest from players, Mercadia is one of MTG's planes that’s least likely to make a return in future sets. But if your deck is after a bit of Bribery, Misdirection, and Black Market dynamics, Masques provides a few bargains you may enjoy.
And good luck out there!
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