Modern Merfolk is arguably the fastest and most effective deck in the Modern format. Merfolk is a blue-based aggressive deck that aspires to rout their opponents with heavy hitting creatures backed up by counter-magic and disruption. Merfolk’s Modern application is based upon it’s big brother in Legacy and Vintage formats. The deck has been making a splash in the Magic: The Gathering scene since Merfolk were first printed in Alpha. The recent reprintings of Aether Vial (Modern Masters) and Mutavault (Magic 2014) have made the deck more accessible to the greater Magic community. Characterized by swift victories and frustrating disruption, the deck pumps on all cylinders when all of its components work together like clockwork. Merfolk can be mono-blue or U/W depending upon personal preference and budget, but the core engine remains the same. Merfolk’s engine is made up of three components: disruption, evasion, and power. The goal of this article is not only to educate the reader upon the modern format, but to empower Merfolk players to tailor their deck to their specific meta-game and create something they can call their own.
The deck runs a couple types of disruption. The most effective tool in its arsenal is the use of Spreading Seas. Spreading Seas can single handedly steal games. The ability to turn an Overgrown Tomb into an Island as early as turn two is a very underrated form of disruption. Without the proper manabase, many of the three-color decks of the format struggle to even cast threats, let alone spells in general. The ability to disrupt a deck’s precious manabase can often mean the difference between a turn four kill and a turn five kill. Granting all Merfolk the ability to swim past defenders with Islandwalk is the second brilliant function of Spreading Seas. This enables the deck to alpha strike without much worry of losing creatures.
The deck also has access to counter-spell, running four copies of Cursecatcher, two copies of Spell Pierce, and a singleton Mana Leak. Cursecatcher functions excellently as a 1/1 that can be as big as a 6/6 with islandwalk while threatening to be sacrificed to counter a troublesome instant or sorcery unless the controller pays one. The two copies of Spell Pierce and the Mana Leak are match-up dependent. The deck has more options post-board against Jund, Storm, and UWR control, bringing in counterspells such as 3 Thassa’s Rebuff, another Mana Leak, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. The sideboard also has access to Spellskite, a great card that disrupts burn, twin, and Storm. All in all, the deck’s options post-board solidify Merfolk as one of the most underrated and powerful decks in the Modern format.
The evasiveness of Islandwalk enables the deck to swing without worry of being blocked nine times out of ten. This is accomplished through the deck’s “lords:” four Master of the Pearl Trident, four Lord of Atlantis, and four Merrow Reejerey. The “lords” traditionally grant Merfolk an ability in addition to a +1/+1 buff. The Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident grant all Merfolk Islandwalk, while Merrow Reejerey allows the deck to abuse Aether Vial in order to dump countless Merfolk onto the battlefield. These Merfolk can typically swing for massive damage on turn three through six due to the buffs and unblockable. The rest of the deck’s creatures (Silvergill Adept, Master of Waves, Corahelm Commander) and Mutavault help to keep the tempo alive as the deck moves past the early stages and takes on the late game. Master of Waves shuts down burn, UWR, and any other deck using Lightning Bolt to kill your creatures. Silvergill helps you to dig for your threats, and Coralhelm is a 2/2 that has the potential to become a “lord.” At the end of the day, the mechanics of Merfolk evasion are another quality of the only tier one tribal deck in the Modern format.
Merfolk is characterized by its massive damage output. The deck can do as much as 40 to 50 points of damage by turn six and promises to keep smashing throughout the late game. The only card in your deck that “doesn’t really do anything” is Coralhelm Commander. Coralhelm can serve as another “lord” with flying added on to give him the evasion to get in the red zone if you have yet to establish Islandwalk. Silvergill helps you draw into more power and the singleton Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx helps the deck create enough mana to cast all of its threats even if it does not have more than three lands on board. The swift nature of the Merfolk deck also makes it powerful. Unlike burn, Merfolk has the power to attack and keep building damage time and time again. The deck also has ways to cast creatures at instant speed in order to trick your opponent into attacking. Aether Vial synergizes perfectly, enabling you to attack and put lords into play to stack damage and bait out blocks. Aether Vial can also be activated multiple times in one turn if you have a Merrow Reejerey in play. His trigger can cause Aether Vial to put your whole team on the board and ready to strike at the end of an opponent’s turn. The fact that you can pay one mana to put most creatures in your deck into play over and over again makes Aether Vial the glue that holds Modern Merfolk together.
Also, we need to talk about lands. I run 8 non-basics, and I will explain why. In control matchups, we really want Cavern of Souls. Since I am only running one, a good way to get it is to transmute a Tolaria West. Tolaria West also serves as a great way to get that last Mutavault you need in order to punch through extra damage. Oboro, on the other hand, is a great way to keep our Mutavaults and Cavern of Souls from getting blown up by Tectonic Edge or Fulminator Mage. However, we don’t want more than one in the deck to keep from getting flooded with Oboros. We already talked about Nykthos, but I will add that floating a bunch of mana is always good in a locked up board state and can help our Coralhelm Commanders reach their max levels.
In conclusion, Modern Merfolk is a tier one deck that is characterized by decisive disruption, anklebreaking evasion, and splintering attacks. The consistency of this deck far outweighs its problems. It is fairly mulligan resistant due to the low land and high creature count and has very good match-ups against every blue deck of the format. The match-ups that cause problems are answered out of the sideboard, most notably Jund, Mono-Red, and Junk, with Tidebinder Mage, Spellskite, and additional counter-spell. The deck’s pros far outweigh the cons, making it one of the best and most consistent decks of the modern format. I would recommend Modern Merfolk to any magic player that likes consistency, aggressiveness, and mermaids.
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