Looking at Merfolk in Rivals

Written by Joshua Claytor on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Looking at Merfolk in Rivals

Joshua Claytor

Joshua is the current content manager of Legitmtg.com and Puremtgo.com.

Legacy has not been working out the way that I wanted to. Last time I wrote about Eldrazi Stompy, and I really enjoyed the deck. I couldn’t leave well enough alone afterwards though, as I promptly borrowed a copy of Belcher, and did pretty okay with it too. I went 3-2 in both leagues I played with it. The losses came from the deck loading its diaper and reminded me that playing Belcher in the format on MTGO is nothing more than a fun distraction. I intended to play Black Red Reanimator, because that also seems like my style of deck, but couldn’t find the time to do so, but did find the time to suck out loud with Turbo Depths. For a deck that seems so incredibly straight forward, I punted a million times and messed up interactions a ton. I also missed the proper sequence for things multiple times, and decided that I needed to take a Legacy break. Besides maybe I already found the decks I like to play? Stompy is fun, Belcher is fun, why fix what may not be broken?

What I want to talk about today is Rivals of Ixalan and how it helps my most favorite tribe in all of Magic, Merfolk! I took Merfolk to my first PTQ way back in the 90s, and did very bad with it. It was a fine deck for the Extended format, but very matchup dependent, and sometimes the deck had a real issue with Cursed Scroll. My last paper PTQ top eight was in Lorwyn Block constructed, the last weekend of the season, when everyone knew to play Faeries, because it was the best deck, and there was no real close competition to it. I played a deck that featured Stonybrook Banneret and somehow managed to dodge Faeries until the top eight.

It was a huge bummer to not qualify for Berlin.

When Modern became a format, I quickly decided that Merfolk would be the deck I would play, because it at least gave me a path to other formats. Sure I could play Merfolk in Legacy and it’s not the worst thing in Vintage, but dedicating all that play time to one deck across three different formats quickly became boring, and as Modern grew I wanted to do other things, blowing up lands, taking all the turns, reanimating monsters, you know, the things.

All of them.

With the release of Ixalan and Merfolk coming to back to a fully supported tribe Modern fish fans (which is different from a modern Phish fan) were excited to see a few new creatures for the deck. Kopala, Warden of Waves got a lot of hype initially, but it appears that Kira, Great Glass-Spinner was the protective three drop that players wanted. Under the radar though, cards like Kumena’s Speaker and Merfolk Branchwalker added a green twist to the normally Mono Blue or Blue White deck. There is nothing wrong with Speaker, it’s a fine card, typically a 2/2 for G, and it does give the deck a nice turn one threat. Merfolk Branchwalker has been called by at least one person replying to a message I sent on Twitter as Silvergill Adept 5-8.

I call the card an another thing, and that’s unplayable.

With Rivals of Ixalan getting fully spoiled after an accelerated spoiler season, we get to see what new cards the UG Merfolk decks get to play with now, and we have some spicy ones. I’m mainly going to look at these cards with an emphasis on the UG deck, but will mention any potential ones for the more traditional Mono Blue deck. Let’s have a look at a sample UG list.

This is a pretty tight deck here. 29 creatures makes the most of Aether Vial and Smuggler’s Copter. We have 11 lords with a full playset of Lord of Atlantis, Master of the Pearl Trident and three copies of Merrow Reejerey. Spreading Seas does what it normally does, attacking the opponent’s mana and helping ensure the fish friends attack unimpeded. We’re missing Master of Waves, but to make up for it, Cursecatcher comes in to mess up the mana for spells, and as a super cool crew member for the Copter. It’s a fairly stock list from what I have seen recently on MTGO, and it’s one that I enjoy playing a ton.

With that said, let’s take a look at the new cards that could be considered for the deck. Well, the decks.

Mist-Cloaked Herald: Not great, it’s a 1/1 for U that can’t be blocked. It’s not going to see play.

River Darter: This can’t be blocked by Dinosaurs, but also costs three mana for a 2/3. Even if Dinosaurs became the best deck in Modern, I’m pretty sure that this would not see play.

Riverwise Augur: Four mana for a 2/2 that filters cards. If Master of Waves is not getting played, this sure ain’t.

Seafloor Oracle: Interesting card, reminds me a ton of Bident of Thassa. Costs the same and is easier to kill in the format. Pass on this.

Sworn Guardian: The only thing this card is sworn to guard is *insert LSV style pun here*.

I’m not counting stuff like Aquatic Incursion or Crashing Tide, but they are to expensive to see play in the format.

Ok so the best blue Merfolk in the set is a reprint, and honestly the best thing about that is the super great promo art for Silvergill Adept. Let’s take a look at the Green Merfolk now.

Deeproot Elite: I like this Merfolk a lot, to me it acts almost as another lord for the deck, and while it’s not a true lord by any means, it can grow creatures quickly thanks to Aether Vial. I would consider playing this card.

Forerunner of the Heralds: More like, costs Four running away from this card of the Heralds. It’s actually not a terrible card, but with the deck running away from the four mana slot, this Merfolk Tutor seems a bit slow for the deck.

Giltgrove Stalker: a 2/1 for 1G, can’t be blocked by creatures with power two or less. With a lot of lords in play this Merfolk could hit hard quickly, but it is not good enough.

Jade Bearer: If it could put it’s counter on itself, it would be better than Speaker in my opinion. Needing an additional Merfolk to get value of it is too much to bear though.

Jadecraft Artisan: At four mana, the price of Merfolk in Rivals of Ixalan seems to be too damn high.

Jadelight Ranger: It’s interesting for sure, but I feel like if you are going to play a three drop in the deck, you either want a lord, or a protective creature. This is neither.

Jungleborn Pioneer: 3 mana for 3 power across two creatures, and this feels like a very good Hearthstone card.

Swift Warden: This flash 3/3 for 1GG was on my maybe list for a long time, giving a Merfolk Hexproof is pretty solid, but in the end, it’s a three drop and that slot I think is pretty much spoken for.

World Shaper: No, it will not be shaping any Modern worlds.

So green Merfolk are not really that much better for Modern than the blue ones, but at least Deeproot Elite is not a reprint!

Moving on to the gold Merfolk, hopefully there is something to see here!

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca: I love this card so much it hurts, but it’s probably really bad for the deck. It’s like the Merfolk Planeswalker I always wanted but never really got. Kiora is fine, I guess, but meh. Anyways, Kumena has three abilities, the first one makes it unblockable, the second one draws a card, and third one puts a +1/+1 counter on each Merfolk you control. The downside to each of these abilities is that you have to tap 1, 3, or 5 fish, respectively, for the card to work. For a deck that wants to send it’s swimmers into the red zone, this is not a really a super great idea. However, it’s another playable three drop for the Merfolk deck. I just don’t think it’s going to work out in this Merfolk deck.

Merfolk Mistbinder: This is the best Merfolk in the set for this deck, it’s another lord, a 2/2 for UG, but lacks the Islandwalk ability. I guess 12 lords that granted Islandwalk would have been to many, or one lord that did in Standard would have been to good. I have seen a lot of people suggest taking out Reejerey for this, and that’s a fine suggestion, as an Aether Vial deck, setting as many Vials to the most impactful casting cost in the deck is a great idea, and not having to set them past 2 allows you to take full advantage of the artifact. While I am hesitant to drop the Reejerey, it may be time for it to go, we can go through most of the blockers in the format thanks to Islandwalking, and while it can do some absurd things with it’s tap or untap ability, it may be pushed out due to cheaper options.

And that is it for the Merfolk in Rivals of Ixalan. There are 16ish (still not counting the spells) that matter to Merfolk, and only two of them might see play in the deck. Deeproot Elite and Merfolk Mistbinder are where I am going to start with main deck testing, and Kumena is a card that I would consider for the board, at least in the future. If the format becomes a bit more control heavy I could see it being great, but in such a wide open and diverse metagame as Modern, we really want our sideboard cards to do great things.

So what would I start testing with?

Glad you asked, because I have a list already in mind!

It’s basically the same list as before, but I took out the Branchwalkers, because I do not think that the card is very good. While it does a serviceable Silvergill Adept impersonation, it did not play well for me when I was testing the UG deck, and I quickly grew to dread the card even being in my hand. Yes, a 3/2 for two mana can be super good, but I want to pack this deck full of lords! Having the Mistbinders in here makes that possible. I cut the Vapor Snag for the fourth copy of Speaker, as that card did overachieve in my testing. Deeproot Elite takes the place of Reejerey, as I believe it’s worth seeing if the card is playable.

That’s it for this week, next time I plan on looking at the rest of the cards from Rivals of Ixalan for Modern play, and I hope we have some interesting ones to talk about! Thanks for stopping by the site and have a great day!

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