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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Aug 13 2013 11:32am
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Welcome to another Becoming A Modern Man! In this article I will be looking at Merfolk.  I've actually been planning to cover this deck for some time but never had access to Mutavault thanks to it being a 15+ ticket card.  The reprint of Mutavault in M14 has brought that price down considerably and there never seemed like a better time to play Merfolk.

Here is one of the most recent successful Merfolk decks in Modern:

2nd Place Deck Modern Premier #5712188 by everynameistaken
4 Coralhelm Commander
4 Cursecatcher
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
2 Merfolk Sovereign
4 Merrow Reejerey
2 Phantasmal Image
4 Silvergill Adept
28 cards

Other Spells
4 AEther Vial
4 Spreading Seas
4 Vapor Snag
12 cards
16 Island
4 Mutavault
20 cards

Coralhelm Commander


My list is primarily based on the list above but I've made some tweaks and changes. So here's the decklist I'm currently running:



The Merfolk

Cursecatcher is a fantastic one-drop in this deck.  It's a great way to protect your guys from early removal and also makes it much harder to get blown out by cards like Electrolyze or even early board sweepers such as Pyroclasm.

Silvergill Adept
Silvergill Adept
SIlvergill Adept is a great two drop as it has aggressive stats as a 2/1 but is a bit more expendable compared to your other two drops as it cantrips.  Against Control decks I like dropping the Adept out and forcing them to respond to the pressure it puts on them, that then gives me an opening to land more significant creatures and limits the removal they have for the bigger threats.

Coralhelm Commander
Coralhelm Commander
Coralhelm Commander isn't my favourite two drop in the deck but it works very nicely with AEther Vial.  You can drop it in then spend your mana leveling it and then follow up with another Merfolk which is going to be bigger thanks to Coralhelm.  Coralhelm is also good as it's the only flying creature we have in the deck and so can protect us in the skies or fly over our opponent's creatures.

Lord of AtlantisMaster of the Pearl Trident
Lord of Atlantis/Master of the Pearl Trident
These two lords basically do the same thing but it's so powerful it's hard to see this deck existing without them.  Islandwalk is a very relevant ability that means most of your creatures will be unblockable in a lot of matches.  You want to see these guys often as they are the real power behind the deck.

There are some subtle differences between Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl TridentLord of Atlantis pumps Merfolk on both sides of the board, which can be a problem in the Merfolk mirror match - I also once gave my opponent a 2/4 Islandwalking Augur of Bolas funnily enough.  Master of the Pearl Trident is a bit more of a team player giving out his pumps a little less indiscriminately.

Phantasmal Image
Phantasmal Image
Phantasmal Image is generally an extra lord.  Obviously the more Lords you have the better and Image can copy any of them to give a boost to your whole squad.  Obviously Image is a bit more fragile than the real Lords and that's something you need to be conscience of when attacking, as getting blown out by something targeting your Image is pretty rough.  Of course, Image isn't limited to copying creatures on your side of the battlefield and if your opponent has something nice to copy then you can do that too, which makes Image quite versatile.  However, generally you will be copying a Master, Lord or Reejerey and pumping the squad.

Merrow Reejerey
Merrow Reejerey
Reejerey is our final lord and our only 3 drop in the deck.  Reejerey is very powerful not only as a Lord but also thanks to it's ability to tap or untap a permanent every time you cast a Merfolk.  This ability can be used to untap your lands to play extra spells or activate a Mutavault, tap down blockers or untap an AEther Vial for another use.  Sadly, Vial isn't completely synergistic with Reejerey as dropping Merfolk into play isn't the same as casting them but you can't have everything.

Other Spells

AEther Vial
AEther Vial
Vial is a really powerful card as it basically says that your creatures are uncounterable and have flash.  There is a little work to set it up but it really is a very powerful card once it gets going and the fact you can leave mana up for counterspells while still dropping creatures is great.  It's also great in the Control matchups as it lets you drop in creatures past countermagic.  On the downside, drawing multiple copies of Vial is pretty redundant and it's less useful in the late game.

In this deck it's usually best to keep your Vial set to two counters as most of your creatures cost two mana.  I do occasionally tick it up to 3 if I have a Reejerey if I want to flash that in but generally two counters is where you want to keep your Vial.

Vapor Snag
Vapor Snag
Snag is a great tempo card allowing you to set back your opponent a creature as well as drop them a point of life.  Snag is great in a race situation and also any situation where your opponent taps out to drop a threat.  Also, although it will cost you 1 life you can use Vapor Snag to save your own creature from a removal spell.

Mana Leak
Mana Leak
It seems a lot of the successful Merfolk decks recently have been cutting Mana Leak and instead going for a more aggressive tempo-based strategy.  Personally I still like playing Mana Leak in the deck and decided to keep it in but I haven't really done enough testing to say which one is the best way to play the deck.  The people taking down tournament probably know best but personally I like my Fish decks to have counterspells in them.

Spreading Seas
Spreading Seas
This one might seem a little bit odd and in a lot of ways it is.  Spreading Seas is a two cantrip that makes one of your opponent's lands into an Island.  However, there are a couple of good reasons to play Spreading Seas.  The first is that there are a lot of powerful lands in Modern from Tron pieces to Mutavault to Celestial Colonnade.  Spreading Seas turns these lands off which means you don't have to worry about them later, you can also punish an opponent's greedy manabase by turning one of their duals into an Island and leaving them stuck with a not very useful land.  Spreading Seas goes quite some way in forgiving us for not playing Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter, which is good.

The second reason to play Spreading Seas is perhaps a bit more important and it relates to the use of Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident.  Both of the Lords I mentioned give your creatures Islandwalk which means that against any opponent with an Island your creatures are unblockable.  Somewhat oddly this means your matches against blue decks are slightly better than those against Jund for example which doesn't run any.  Spreading Seas forces an Island upon your opponent which then means you can attack with immunity.


Mutavault is the only non-basic land in this deck which is certainly a positive thing, at least in terms of budget.  Mutavault is a really great manland and does a whole lot of work here, giving you a threat post-board wipe and adding significantly to your clock, particularly once you have a Lord in play.

Being a mono-blue deck our sideboard options are somewhat limited but there is still a considerable amount of choice available.  Here's what I'm running with currently:

DispelSpell PierceUnified WillTorpor OrbRelic of ProgenitusKira, Great Glass-Spinner

  • Dispel, Spell Pierce and Unified Will is your sideboard counter suite.  These come in against Control decks where cards like Vapor Snag aren't so useful.
  • Torpor Orb is a hate card against Birthing Pod combos and Spliner Twin as well as decks running Snapcaster Mage and friends.
  • Relic of Progenitus is a powerful graveyard hate spell to prevent degenerate graveyard combos, including the Melira combo as well as various others.
  • Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is a really great card for matchups like UWR Control that are very heavy on spot removal.  The amount of resources required to kill Kira usually buys you enough time to win the match.

So as I mentioned this deck is easier to build thanks to the price drop for Mutavault, though it still is the most expensive card in the deck.  Some of the other cards in the deck seem to be on the rise in price probably because people are taking the opportunity to build a Merfolk deck now they've acquired Mutavaults for Standard.

Main Deck

4 x Mutavault= 27.04
4 x Lord of Atlantis= 16.44
4 x AEther Vial= 15.96
2 x Phantasmal Image= 3.68
2 x Coralhelm Commander= 2.20
4 x Cursecatcher= 2.20
4 x Merrow Reejerey= 1.00
4 x Silvergill Adept= 1.00
4 x Master of the Pearl Trident= 0.96
4 x Vapor Snag= 0.60
4 x Spreading Seas= 0.32
4 x Mana Leak= 0.12
Total: 69.32 tix


2 x Torpor Orb= 5.54
2 x Kira, Great Glass-Spinner= 3.52
3 x Spell Pierce= 0.24
3 x Unified Will= 0.15
3 x Dispel= 0.15
2 x Relic of Progenitus= 0.12
Total: 9.72 tix
Grand Total: 79.04

I actually really enjoyed playing this deck so I've gone a bit video crazy.  I just had a lot of fun matchups so I thought I might as well share them.

Our first matchup is against a UR Control deck.  This deck seems to be forgoing a third colour for a more powerful Vedalken Shackles and easier access to Ghost Quarter/Tectonic Edge.  An early Shackles in Game 1 presents a tough challenge but fortunately with some help from Vial I am able to keep presenting threats and the Islandwalk means they are unblockable.  Game 2 I mount the pressure on my opponent (though I could have been a bit more aggressive) and eventually he is forced to wipe the board with Firespout, fortunately I still have plenty of action and finish the game from there.

Our second matchup is against a rather interesting RBW Burn deck featuring Young Pyromancer.  The deck has burn but also some interesting creature-based threats.  In Game 1 an early Young Pyromancer ends up overwhelming us as we are unable to mount too much in the way of defence.  Game 2 goes more favourable for us as we can get down some Lords and some beats in early which allow us to overpower our opponent.  Game 3 is a very close affair but a bit of luck on our side manages to wrap things up in our favour.

Here I have a couple of matches against a UWR Control deck.  UWR Control is a very popular deck and a very difficult one to play against, particularly if you are a creature deck.  However, having played this matchup quite a few times I think you might actually be favoured, though perhaps only marginally.  AEther Vial is amazing in this matchup as it lets you drop creatures onto the battlefield past their counters.  This then allows you to hold up your countermagic and dodge around their limited removal spells.

This match was against a Melira Pod deck.  This matchup seems really tough.  They don't have islands and clog up the ground with creatures that are hard to deal with.  I think your best chance to be aggressive and try and use your disruption to prevent any combo shenanigans.  I don't think this is the most favourable of matchups overall.

This matchup is against Mono-Blue Tron.  This matchup seems to be quite good.  Their islands turn on your Islandwalk which is always an advantage, also Spreading Seas is a useful way to turn off Tron.  You need to be aggressive as once they start dropping Wurmcoil Engines and so on you're in trouble but provided you have a good draw you should be able to win the game before anything too threatening comes down.

This matchup is a Merfolk Mirror.  This is kind of an awkward matchup largely because of Lord of Atlantis who is equally capable of losing you the game as he is of winning it for you.  The best thing to do is be aggressive in this matchup as the match will probably come down to trading unblockable islandwalking haymakers.  Vapor Snag is very good in this matchup as it can give you a big tempo swing and also shrink their creatures by bouncing a Lord.

Here we have another Tribal battle with my Merfolk taking on the Fae.  This was an interesting matchup with our decks actually being rather similar but Faeries being slightly more Control orientated.  I don't play many matches against Faeries and this was quite a close one.  Sadly we lost out to our opponent's superior sideboard plans.

This matchup is against the Amulet of Vigor combo.  People seem to really like this deck and I guess it does have quite a high cool factor.  Dropping a Primeval Titan on turn 2 or 3 and attacking for ridiculous amounts is pretty awesome.  Sadly, in my experience of playing against the deck it's not quite as consistent as you'd like it to be.  My opponent had some pretty good hands though and this was pretty competitive.

The final matchup I have for you is against UB Mill. This is an increasingly popular deck online, with Glimpse the Unthinkable taking a considerable price hike as a result.  I have to say the deck seems very weak to any deck that has multiple Eldrazi in it but otherwise the premise seems solid.  Triple Jace's Phantasm coupled with a Glimpse the Unthinkable finished me off in Game 1 pretty swiftly.  In Game 2, I got off to a much better start and managed to counter my opponent's key spells to win through.  In Game 3, my opponent didn't get off to the fastest of starts and I was able to punish that flooding the battlefield with Merfolk and holding counterspells to finish the game.

I've had a surprising amount of fun playing this deck and I actually really enjoy the Merfolk archetype.   It finds a nice balance between being an Aggro deck and having elements of Control too.  It's generally just a pretty fun deck and AEther Vial is a card that's very fun to use too.

In terms of how it fairs in the Modern metagame, I found quite a bit of success playing against Control decks which seems good considering the prevalence of UWR Control in the format.  Matchups like Jund and Birthing Pod though seem considerably less favourable, as Islandwalk is less relevant and your opponents can clog the ground with superior creatures.  I didn't play against a lot of Combo decks but the deck certainly has the tools to deal with those decks through it's counterspells and bounce.  Overall, I feel the deck performed well and I think the deck is a pretty good contender.

That's all for this article!  I hope you enjoyed this article and please leave your comments and suggestions below.  If you want to check out past editions of this series then please follow this link.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)


Those damn fishes that got me by Kumagoro42 at Tue, 08/13/2013 - 15:34
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Those damn fishes that got me on the last Eurodrive! :P

But the replays now ALL have the weird detached hand/player on top setup? It's very annoying, aren't they going to fix this?

Yes, all fell to the fishes by olaw at Tue, 08/13/2013 - 16:58
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Yes, all fell to the fishes last Eurodrive! :) Also, I'm thinking the Birthing Pod matchup might not be as bad as I thought after taking down two Pod decks on the way, but I still don't think it's a matchup I'd choose to go up against.

Yeah, the replays have been bugged for a very long time now. I don't understand how they could possibly have broken such a thing or how they haven't addressed it. The conspiracy theorist in me makes me think it's just a ploy to get us to use Shiny - let's break a few things that worked fine to make our new version look better.

I almost believe you on that. by Paul Leicht at Tue, 08/13/2013 - 23:58
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I almost believe you on that.

Pod is not the worst match up by JXClaytor at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 00:15
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Pod is not the worst match up ever, but jund just might be.

Yeah, I didn't get a video by olaw at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 05:53
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Yeah, I didn't get a video playing against Jund but the matchup seems very miserable. They have no Islands, tons of removal, Tarmogoyf and Huntmasters clogging up the board, not ideal for a Merfolk deck.

I hate leaving in spreading by JXClaytor at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 07:00
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I hate leaving in spreading seas after board because it means I am either playing Tron or Jund (tron it's fine) but jund if your game plan is to try to color screw them you're gonna have a bad time.

I've seen lists that ran seas claim, I've just accepted the matchup is miserable and not in the merfolk decks favor.

Yeah, I really don't like the by olaw at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 08:33
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Yeah, I really don't like the idea of running Sea's Claim seen as though it really does nothing against decks already running Islands. At least Spreading Seas is a cantrip if a slightly expensive one.

It does deal with manlands. by Paul Leicht at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 12:39
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It does deal with manlands.

Fighting Jund by Procrastination at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 13:22
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Threads of Disloyalty is probably one of the better choices, but it's rather pricey these days.

You could test out SB Tidebinder Mage? While not a magic cure-all, it might let you keep tempo against them long enough to pull out the win? Otherwise more Kira to blank most of the removal might up the % a tad.

If Pod is worriesome, Shadow of Doubt in the SB would be good, but it also went up in price recently.

Threads is a good shout for by olaw at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 16:40
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Threads is a good shout for the Jund matchup. Seems like a solid sideboard option for quite a few other matchups too. Shadow of Doubt is an option I really hadn't considered for the sideboard, seems worth a try.

I have yet to try Tidebinder Mage but it doesn't really excite me as an option. I feel like Jund is the only real matchup you would want it for, so it's probably not worth a lot of sideboard slots. Even then it's a Grizzly Bear with a pretty circumstantial ability. Perhaps I'm being too dismissive but it's not a card I'm super keen to put in the deck.

Threads of Disloyalty is one by Kumagoro42 at Wed, 08/14/2013 - 21:38
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Threads of Disloyalty is one of those cards that perfectly represent building trends and the hysterics of the micro-economy we have to dealt online (and to a lesser extent, the strangely hidden power level of Kamigawa block). For a long time people looked at it and saw a bad Control Magic worth no more than 20 cent. Then it's like someone realized that, hey, wait a minute, that thing steals Tarmogoyf! Oh my God, oh my God, it's super-powerful! And Threads went from 20 cent to $10 in, like, a week.

But that's not the end of the story, because the graph from mtgGoldfish is really something to contemplate. See the two giant mountains at the end? It's because somehow Threads was almost $12 last March, then fell to $3 in June, and now it's nearly $12 again!
All that while the paper price was and still is around $5.