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Deep Tracks: Nefarious Lich ~ Lich's Mastery

Take a trip back to 2001 and behold with me the glory that was Odyssey block! It was back then that I rekindled an healthy obsession with Magic after somewhat of a lengthy hiatus. I have fond memories from back then, building janky decks with friends and dueling over and over again, simply for bragging rights! Our decks were terrible, but we loved it, and there was so much to like about Magic during that time. However, despite all the brewing possibilities at my disposal, there always was this one card from Odyssey that really made me itch:
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I remember absolutely despising the fact that Nefarious Lich was an actual Magic card! However, I would frequently find myself pausing to stare at Nefarious Lich and contemplate the possibilities. It’s just bizarre. Read over its text a few times. Check out the quadruple black casting cost. Look at the creepy, dumb-founded mage who also doesn’t seem to understand the usage of the very card it represents! I have to admit, the card actually did make me feel kind of… dumb, because I couldn’t make sense of it at the time.

So here we are, nearly 20 years since the days of Odyssey, and we are privy to a rebirth of sorts. I am speaking of a new card from the upcoming set, Dominaria! Check out this homage to not only Nefarious Lich, but also the OG Enchantment Lich:

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Lich's Mastery is upon us! Seems like a good time to explore its dark past, and try to identify hidden potential by taking a deeper look at its predecessor from Odyssey!
Now, let's turn our attention back to the mind-boggling Nefarious Lich. I mean, the card must have been developed to serve some purpose, right? Turns out, it was. Back during Odyssey block, it became an essential piece of one of the most infamous combo engines of the period. Here’s the three card combo:
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Long story short, with these three permanents on the battlefield simultaneously, you have an “infinite” loop which creates a board full of 2/2 Zombie creature tokens, thanks to Zombie Infestation and Confessor working in concert with Nefarious Lich’s text. The combo is actually quite absurd, but not unstoppable. There are obvious flaws in the plan. First, read the last line of text on Lich… riiiiight. Also, notice how fragile Confessor is. Lastly, the Zombie tokens don’t have haste (however, they could have “pseudo-haste” with end-of-turn Infestation activations). Nevertheless, the combo was a lot of fun, even if it didn’t always produce victory.
So, we now know that Nefarious Lich can do a thing, like, a good thing! But we’re just getting started. What else is out there? Here’s a look at a similar combo, but without the Zombie horde:
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Here again we see Confessor playing a role, but this time the third enabler is Skirge Familiar. The combo is self-explanatory and quite powerful, but more importantly, we discover that the core of Confessor plus Nefarious Lich means that we can abuse just about any other card that has a repeatable activated ability which allows us to discard (ideally, without paying Mana). Here are a few more examples to stew on:

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Here’s a Legacy Confessor-themed Decklist I’ve concocted:

Before we move on, there’s one card I want to mention that didn’t make my Confessor list:

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I could definitely see myself sliding a copy of “Big Mama” Emrakul in the 75, as she offers some interesting synergies. When comboing-off with Skirge Familiar, it would be possible to draw into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and, in the process, accrue enough free Mana to straight up Hardcast it! The other interaction worth noting here is with the Zombie Infestation combo. Thanks to Emrakul’s “its owner shuffles his or her graveyard into his or her library” clause, we could literally make infinite Zombie tokens by endlessly recycling our graveyard!
Next, we’re taking a voyage to the other side of the Nefarious Lich universe to explore a completely different combo that utilizes the Quad-Black (!) Enchantment. In classic form, it looks something like this:
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Simple — give the opponent control of Nefarious Lich via Donate, then destroy it with Demystify… Got’em! Interestingly, this outdated Lich combo has a semi-comparable Modern counterpart:
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Not bad either — Offer the Pact, leaving your opponent with only one option to choose… you know which one. But this is really just scratching the surface. We can start to get really weird with the “Donation” plan:
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…I like that one :)
So, I guess the big question is-how do we craft a Donation-style Nefarious Lich deck that is at the very least, semi-competitive? The aforementioned combos… work. They’re powerful and can be game-ending. But alas, the hurdle is pulling it all together into an efficient, consistent, and resilient package. We’ve already seen that redundant pieces are available (Donate & Harmless Offering, Nefarious Lich & Demonic Pact). But the colors are all over the place, the Mana costs are intense, and, did I mention, Nefarious Lich is QUADRUPLE BLACK! Seriously, it’s panic inducing! But there’s a solution…
Well, to start, there’s this thing:

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…Also Donatable and… Demystifiable. But ok, arrrrgh, what to do about the funky Mana considerations? More specifically, Lich’s ridiculous Mana cost. Here’s a Legacy Decklist I came up with that has a workaround, courtesy of Show and Tell:

Lich's Mastery

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The essence of Lich will soon be resurfacing in Dominaria​, and I've developed some early impressions. First of all, I'm a fan of Lich's Mastery, even though it makes me feel… a little sad. No more (easily attainable) donation shenanigans, nooooooo! And the casting cost is actually quite reminiscent of earlier incarnations, only being slightly less restrictive. No fourth black mana symbol, but they’ve upped the cost by two CMC! Lich's Mastery isn’t all that bad though. It protects itself, which is a plus. I could actually see it serving as a type of “prison” element in a combo / control deck. It has some similar-yet-different lines of text when compared to Lich and Nefarious Lich, and I can imagine some very sweet combo implications. And hey, it even works with Confessor and a discard outlet :)
Here's my take on a Modern MBC deck that aims to gradually drain the opponent's life total and utilize Lich's Mastery for powerful late-game card advantage:
If you couldn't tell by now, I'm excited about the possibilities! So, in celebration of the return of Lich, I have a challenge for you! Build me a deck based on Lich's Mastery! I don’t care what format; I just want to see your craziest ideas! And I want to see something with a cohesive strategy too. Simply post your Decklist in the comments or send them to me via email or Twitter. My favorite entry will be highlighted in the next installment of Deep Tracks, with credit going to the Deck Builder.
Well, that’s it for now. Let me know what you think! What else can we do with Nefarious Lich? How about Lich's Mastery — is it a stealthy combo enabler, potential lock piece, or simply unplayable? As always, all comments are welcome, thank you so much for reading, and have a great one!
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