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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Feb 07 2019 12:00pm
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When Rivals of Ixalan came out I promised to write a series of Tribal EDH articles. Ixalan is a world where Pirates, Vampires, Merfolk and Dinosaurs (Humans) race to find and control the Immortal Sun. I already covered the fairly new tribes because they got way more creatures and thus a fully tribal deck could be build - Pirates and Dinosaurs. When talking about Vampires I decided to write about what bugs me about the format itself and how bad Edgar Markov is if we want to keep a format healthy. Merfolk though was a mystery to me and no matter how hard I tried nothing came out of it. See, in the past when I was playing 100 card singleton a UG Fish deck was actually something that was able to win games. Most of the creatures in the deck were Merfolk and I thought that this kind of a deck could be recreated. The power of the creatures wasn't good enough for today's standard so I abandoned the idea (the final deck was a 4 color Thrasios/Tymna the Weaver partner deck) and I tried something else. Merfolk could also be just an aggro deck, right? I was so wrong about that. While Edgar Markov's army of 1/1s was able to deal 30 damage in no time Merfolk could hardly deal 20 damage in 5 turns and unlike the very weak Pirates I built they weren't sneaky enough to actually deal the remaining 10 damage. They lacked any kind of control and couldn't keep up tempo in any way. Next attempt I put together was a deck that tried to take advantage of counters. Unfortunately I felt that I was missing cards to make that fully work. I needed more cards. I even built a Merfolk ramp (totally useless in my opinion) and a Merfolk combo deck (which was surprisingly good but really boring and not fun to play against, Ambassador Laquatus mill) but neither of the decks satisfied me. After several few days of torturing myself over it I just abandoned the whole idea and left the series unfinished, leaving the victory to Merfolk with whom I was never a friend with. I failed and it was painful. Later I forgot about it.

More sets came out in the meantime and I'm not sure whom or what I should thanks for reminding me that Merfolk exist. It may be combination of several things. First, on Magic Arena, I got a quest play 20 blue or green spells. Since I don't want to spend much time playing Arena in general I usually just put together some deck which makes more or less sense and play with it. Since there is a Merfolk precon I opened it and tweaked it so it would have a set of two lords and cheaper creatures and less noncreature spells. I crushed my opponents with it and hoped not to touch the deck again. Next time I played Mono Blue Tempo and the newest addition to the deck was Merfolk Trickster. The card performed really well but it wasn't until it was my opponents who used it on my creatures. One used it on my Trostani Discordant which made my attack with 1/1 (2/2 with Trostani around) creatures suicidal (my whole board died thanks to this) and the other one used it on my Hydroid Krasis which was the only possible attacker against a board full of Merfolk. Krasis was forced to walk on the ground and died to some Merfolk blocking it. In Ravnica Allegiance I played with Zegana, Utopian Speaker and killed many unsuspecting opponents with it. The card performed so well in sealed deck that I even put it in my Gruul/Simic decks where to my surprise it also overperformed even though I wouldn't still call it a bomb or anything. An idea crept into my head, maybe I should give Merfolk another chance in EDH.

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

There are 17 legendary Merfolk and many of them are good generals for a certain type of deck be it a competitive deck (for example you can build a Talrand spell based deck) or a casual one (for example Vorel proliferate deck). My original intention was to play blue-green Merfolk and probably do something with +1/+1 counters while keeping the deck fair. That left me with only several possible choices Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Thrasios, Triton Hero, Vorel of the Hull Clade and Zegana, Utopian Speaker. When playing with the first draft of a deck I put together I decided not to run Vorel because it was slow and required too much mana. The deck obviously needed to be build around Vorel and required also a lot of acceleration which as you probably know is something I wanted to avoid. Decks working with counters and profiting from Vorel's ability can work but they are not going to be Merfolk tribal decks. Zegana, Utopian Speaker is quite expensive, draws a card and gives your creatures Trample if they have a +1/+1 counter. That is not bad but not great either. Thrasios, Triton Hero made it to my list because it is a two-drop and can be easily played - it can be the 1 Merfolk trigger one needs to win the game. Thrasios's ability is a good one but this deck should never get to use it ... if it comes to that it means something is very wrong. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca does everything one needs. It costs 3 mana, can draw cards, can be unblockable and it can also make your Merfolk ridiculously big.

Kumena most of the time is an unblockable 2/4 creature because there usually isn't time to draw cards or make other Merfolk bigger. From this you can understand that the deck I will talk about today is aggressive. In ideal case it wants to play creatures on a curve and from time to time play a noncreature spell that will deal with opponent's general or will make the Merfolk bigger and/or evasive.

Card Choices

Since this is a tribal deck I had to go through creatures with the type Merfolk. At first my curve ended with a 6 drop that makes blue creatures unblockable but it was also one of the cards I cut first. The deck needed cheap aggressive and elusive creatures in order to win the game before it would face some big Eldrazi monsters (or anything else, I just mentioned this because my first game featured Kozilek very early in the game).

Evasion
I started looking for Merfolk with evasion abilities, relatively good bodies or good abilities. Several Merfolk are unblockable on their own - Triton Shorestalker, Mist-Cloaked Herald, River Sneak. I wasn't a fan of these creatures in the past but the more and more I played with Mono Blue Tempo in Standard I started to appreciate this ability. Then there are creatures that have some kind of evasion ability, either flying like Shaper Apprentice or Gaea's Skyfolk or Islandwalk (Thada Adel, Acquisitor, Cold-Eyed Selkie, Stonybrook Banneret). There are more cards that grant evasion abilities and the general can make himself unblockable as well. Then there are Thassa, God of the Sea, Aquatic Incursion, Merfolk Sovereign or Lord of Atlantis that can give unblockable or Islandwalk.

Power
The creatures in the tribe also need to get bigger fast and Merfolk have many lords. Apart from the ones I named already there are for example Merrow Reejerey, Merfolk Mistbinder, Master of the Pearl Trident. Deeproot Elite is giving other Merfolk counters which works nicely with Herald of Secret Streams. The other cards that can make Merfolk bigger are mostly artifacts and enchantments which don't usually last long but most of the time they are needed for a turn or two. There are two artifact creatures - Metallic Mimic and Adaptive Automaton, one which puts counters on creatures of the chosen type when they come into play and the other one that pumps the creatures of the chosen type. Vanquisher's Banner, Obelisk of Urd and Door of Destinies are the noncreature artifacts that will make your Merfolk bigger. I decided to play Curse of Predation (mainly because I was curious how effective the card is). This card enchants a player and whenever the player is attacked by a creature, that creature gets a +1/+1 counter. Surprisingly this card has a huge impact on the game. While it may not be as overwhelming as Beastmaster Ascension it is cheaper and affects the board immediately (when there is at least one attacking creature).

The less efficient cards or one time effect cards I added to the deck are Shapers of Nature which can put a +1/+1 counter on a creature for 4 mana. The ability is rather expensive so you will most likely use it very rarely. The second ability though is more useful. Hadana's Climb is a card I discovered thanks to this deck and immediately fell in love with it. This card is stronger than it looks at first glance. It puts +1/+1 counter on a creature during each of your combat phases, when it transforms it can give a creature Flying and +X/+X where X is the creature's power. This does not necessarily need to be used when attacking, it can be used in defense as well even though that is usually not the case with Merfolk. While the card is not used to its full potential in this deck it still proved to be good enough. Retreat to Kazandu is from a cycle of enchantments with Landfall. I used to draft these a lot and I thought that the green one could find a place in this deck. It underperformed each time but it is one of the cards that can distribute counters 'for free (land drop)'.

Utility
Other creatures try to gain value or double as combat tricks. There are cards that can draw cards. Silvergill Adept being the most known creature for doing that. It costs two mana if we can reveal another Merfolk card, otherwise we can still cast it but for 5 mana. Then there are Explore creatures. I play only Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger because they are efficient for their mana cost. They may draw a land or they can filter the library which comes close to drawing a card. Cold-Eyed Selkie is a card I was never fond of (also the illustration is really scary), but since it is a Merfolk with an evasion ability and usually is in play with a lord or two it can draw lots of cards. Seafloor Oracle and Bident of Thassa are also capable of drawing many cards but they require your creatures to hit the opponent. The last card that draws many cards (if I omit Kumena) is Vanquisher's Banner.

The creatures that do some tricks are just a few. Merfolk Trickster is my favorite creature out of those. The creature has Flash, when it comes into play it taps a creature opponent controls and the creature also loses all abilities! I have to say that this created very funny situations in many games. Harbinger of the Tides is not as good as the Trickster but it can be rather cruel sometimes. It can be either played at sorcery speed for 2 mana or at an instant speed for 4. It bounces a tapped creature which can come in handy in defense. Tempest Caller used to be a limited bomb, it said 'I win the game' and that is also what it usually does in this deck too (even though there are no ways how to blink it). Tempest Caller taps all opponents' creatures which means the Merfolk can win the game in one swing. That is a but more difficult in a game of EDH than in limited, often it still works out. Herald of Secret Streams can do similar wonders, all creatures with a +1/+1 counter on them become unblockable!

There is several very strange Merfolk in the deck and I'd also like to talk about them. Mistcaller is a card that I didn't originally want to put in the deck, but after I played against several decks cheating creatures into play be it just thanks to the general like Meren of Clan Nel Toth or Mayael the Anima or simply decks that play few tutors and cheat something into play I decided to include it. I was looking for one drops that would be attackers early in the game but later their abilities could possibly impact the game (I was naive). That one turn the Mistcaller can buy you is often all you need to win the game, the problem is that this is one card out of 99 in the deck. Originally I wanted to play Cosi's Trickster but I thought that a casual game of EDH may not require that much shuffling. I was wrong though, all the decks I played against not only played fetchlands, they played many tutors. Searching for a card is very common, it may not be always Vampiric Tutor but cards like Farseek or Cultivate count too. Worth the inclusion.

Rootwater Thief is a fun card and I have to say that when it hit the opponent it was good. I was looking for yet another cheap creature that has  evasion and an ability that could protect me from losing against combo decks. Some decks run two card combos or are based around one single card and this card can find it and extract it. It requires quite a lot of mana though and the decision whether to go all out or hope you can afford a turn extracting is something to be pondered about. The creature in worst case can fly which is not bad even if it costs 1 mana (since the power of the creature usually changes).

Getting rid of Dark Depths, my opponent's fastest win condition

Thada Adel, Acquisitor is a card I used to play a lot almost a decade ago. The environment in which I played used to be very blue and often the win conditions where artifacts. This was one of the very few creatures that I put into my mono blue deck and I never regretted that decision. Thada Adel might not be as great as it was for me years ago, but it will almost always find something to play and it has Islandwalk. The thing is, artifacts are very strong, many cards many decks can't deal with are artifacts and this way you can prevent these cards showing up on the other side of the table. This is singleton deck afterall.

Muddle the Mixture is the only counterspell in the deck which is most probably not correct because this deck really needs 1 counterspell per game. I was trying to avoid those since real life opponents don't usually like those much. The reason why I chose this one in particular is that it can be transmuted into Lord of Atlantis (or other 2 mana cards, but this is what it is supposed to be looking for).

Tutors

This decks doesn't run black so it doesn't have access to cards like Imperial Seal or Vampiric Tutor which makes me go crazy every time I see them on Magic Online. Similarly to other tribes though Merfolk have creatures that can look for Merfolk cards. Seahunter is not a Merfolk but it is a very strong card if it sticks in play. By tapping this creature and paying 3 mana you can look for any Merfolk permanent and put it into play. The card I usually look for with either of the Merfolk tutors is Merrow Rejeerey because it can tap down opposing creatures (or untap lands so I can play more Merfolk) and offers the most value over turns. Otherwise these can also find a Merfolk that allows us to instantly win (Tempest Caller).

Removal
There is a bit of removal in the deck. Pongify and Rapid Hybridization destroy a creature that can't be regenerated. The controller of the creature puts a 3/3 token into play though. This is usually fine since what I expect of the spell is to get rid of a specific ability rather than a body I don't usually care much for. I also put in Beast Within and Song of the Dryads to deal with any permanent. None of these cards are bad but they could be replaced with counterspells to some extent and some artifact and enchantment hate could be added. I used to play more removal but later found out that I need (way) more threats than answers.

Island!
Merfolk can gain or have Islandwalk and not all players play islands. For this we have a solution in two cards (which is not many) - Aquitect's Will and Spreading Seas. I included these cards because that Island comes in handy sometimes and the cards replace themselves unlike Convincing Mirage. If you'd need more ways how to turn an opponent's land into an Island there are Merfolk creatures capable of that and might be worth playing. I never needed it though.

Lands
As for land, I decided to run creaturelands. They are kind of a double edged sword though. Merfolk are bound to die since they don't have much protection (like Heroic Intervention or countermagic) and often there is no way how to recover from this unless we already anticipated this would happen and we were in the position to be actually able to keep some Merfolk in our hand. When the board gets wiped lands stay in play and those can sometimes deal the remaining damage. Sometimes the one additional attacker is all the deck needs and that is why I decided to keep them in the deck. On the other hand they come into play tapped with the exception of Mutavault and that can hurt a lot from time to time. Same goes to colorless lands. One is already mentioned Mutavault and the other one I decided to try is Novijen, Heart of Progress. I have to say that I never got to use it and it always messed up my mana base (I'd gladly cut it, but I'll continue observing how it performs). I would not add more comes into play lands in the deck because I can't really see how they would help with one exception and that is Path of Ancestry. I played this card only in Edgar Markov where it performed very well.

This concludes the description of my Ixalan Merfolk deck and thus also ends the 4 article series on Ixalan tribal decks. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make Merfolk work and my problem was that I wanted the deck to work the way I wanted and that was a mistake. Simply there aren't enough Merfolk creatures I would really like (Merfolk Trickster). I had to give up on trying to force Merfolk do something they can't and embrace the nature of Merfolk which means being aggressive and tempo at best (which doesn't work well in EDH). After that I tried to find Merfolk I could be ok with in a deck and finally a deck that wasn't losing games was born! Merfolk may do fine in Vintage, Legacy, Modern and even Standard but EDH is not where this tribe would shine. It is outclassed by many other tribes and the deck is very weak to any deck decks that do unfair things be it combo or not (and Planeswalkers!). Merfolk still have a lot to offer to a player who likes aggressive decks. I have to say that combat wasn't easy, I played badly and counted incorrectly and sometimes simply didn't see lethal in few turns which I usually do with less creature heavy decks. Playing aggro is not as easy as it may seem, especially for someone who is used to have answers for everything and suddenly playing a deck that doesn't have them. It was a nice change and after this long journey I think I understand Merfolk a bit. They are not as alien as they used to be to me.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)

Decklist

Kumena
by STsung, 100tix

Creatures
1 Adaptive Automaton
1 Cold-Eyed Selkie
1 Coralhelm Commander
1 Deeproot Elite
1 Forerunner of the Heralds
1 Gaea's Skyfolk
1 Harbinger of the Tides
1 Herald of Secret Streams
1 Jade Bearer
1 Jadelight Ranger
1 Jungle Delver
1 Jungleborn Pioneer
1 Kiora's Follower
1 Kumena's Speaker
1 Lord of Atlantis
1 Master Biomancer
1 Master of the Pearl Trident
1 Master of Waves
1 Merfolk Branchwalker
1 Merfolk Mistbinder
1 Merfolk Sovereign
1 Merfolk Trickster
1 Merrow Harbinger
1 Merrow Reejerey
1 Metallic Mimic
1 Mist-Cloaked Herald
1 Mistcaller
1 River Sneak
1 Rootwater Thief
1 Seafloor Oracle
1 Seahunter
1 Shaper Apprentice
1 Shapers of Nature
1 Silvergill Adept
1 Simic Fluxmage
1 Stonybrook Banneret
1 Swift Warden
1 Tempest Caller
1 Thada Adel, Acquisitor
1 Thassa, God of the Sea
1 Triton Shorestalker
1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Vineshaper Mystic
1 Wake Thrasher
1 Watertrap Weaver

Noncreature Spells
1 Beast Within
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Pongify
1 Rapid Hybridization
1 Aquitect's Will
1 Aquatic Incursion
1 Curse of Predation
1 Deeproot Waters
1 Hadana's Climb
1 Retreat to Kazandu
1 Song of the Dryads
1 Spreading Seas
1 Bident of Thassa
1 Door of Destinies
1 Obelisk of Urd
1 Vanquisher's Banner

Land

1 Botanical Sanctum
1 Breeding Pool
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Command Tower
1 Faerie Conclave
1 Flooded Grove
1 Flooded Strand
7 Forest
1 Hinterland Harbor
12 Island
1 Lumbering Falls
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Mutavault
1 Novijen, Heart of Progress
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Treetop Village
1 Tropical Island
1 Unclaimed Territory
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Yavimaya Coast