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By: jay85, Jay Nelson
Apr 16 2015 12:00pm
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"Great watery spaces opened out before me, and I seemed to wander through the titanic sunken porticos and labyrinths of weedy cyclopean walls with grotesque fishes as my companions... I was one with them." -H.P. Lovecraft (The Shadow over Innsmouth)

I’ve always wanted to try out Merfolk in Modern. I can’t say I have ever been a huge fan of tribal decks so I don’t really know what it is about it, but the deck has always seemed interesting to me. Maybe it’s because of Aether Vial. I try to lean toward the draw-go strategy in general when I play Magic and the Vial gives all the creatures flash, so that probably has something to do with it.


So I can see just by looking at the decklist here that it will be very consistent. A lot of playsets in this deck. It looks like there isn't a ton of interaction against other creature decks so I figure in that case there will be a lot of racing involved. I do like that there seems to be a sufficient amount of card draw for me. I do like to draw extra cards. With a glance over the list I think I'll enjoy playing this deck. I just hope it's good enough for the current meta.


Aether Vial

This is the most powerful card in the entire deck. Save for Abrupt Decay, in game one your opponent usually won’t have an answer for it. What makes Merfolk so good is Aether Vial allows you to advance your board on your opponent’s turn instead of your own. Why is this good? Well, it can screw with your opponents' thinking and game plan. He'll have to constantly be wondering, "Can I attack or will I get blown out if he cheats out Lord of Atlantis?" Or, "Why didn't he play anything on his turn? What could he possibly be holding in hand?" It can really keep your opponent in the dark.


Lord of Atlantis Master of the Pearl Trident Phantasmal Image

These guys are your generals, commonly referred to as Lords. They pump your creatures into sizable threats. Without them, the deck just won’t work successfully. It should be noted that Lord of Atlantis will pump all Merfolk, not just your own. It’s something to consider when playing the mirror match.

What makes Merfolk the best tribal deck is not only the fact that it is very consistent, but Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident grant your creatures Islandwalk. Most times when a player is facing down a swarm of creatures and they have no wraths in hand, their instinct is to lay down blockers. Merfolk eschews this dilemma of such a stalemate with Islandwalk. With a couple Lords out and a school of fish, you can bring your opponent from a healthy 14 life to dead in one fell swoop, and there’s not a whole lot your rival can do about it.

Phantasmal Image is added into the deck as a way to cheat the rule in Magic that you can’t have more than four copies of the same card in a deck. The Image is basically your 9th and 10th Lord. But that doesn’t mean you should always copy one of them with it. A good play may be to use Phantasmal Image to copy one of your opponent’s creatures instead. I don’t recommend this except in the most narrow circumstances, like if you don’t have a Lord out or you can’t use Islandwalk efficiently. In most games it is in your best interest to just stick with your deck’s game plan and boost your Merfolks’ power and toughness as high as possible. I’ve never really come across a situation where an opponent’s creature looked more tempting to copy than one of my own. I guess Wurmcoil Engine may be one of the exceptions.


Merrow Reejerey

Merrow Reejerey also pumps the Merfolk, but instead of blessing them with Islandwalk he does something a little different. Whenever you play a Merfolk spell you may tap or untap a permanent. It should be noted that his ability only triggers when you CAST a Merfolk creature. It won't trigger if you cheat out Merfolk with Aether Vial. This guy reminds me of Pestermite, and I believe you should adopt the same strategy Splinter Twin players use for their creatures. Tap down opponents' lands, untap one of your lands so you can keep Remand up, untap a creature after combat so you have something to block with, or just tapping a potential blocker are all good plays. A lot can be accomplished with Merrow Reejerey if you keep an open mind. 

I like Merrow Reejerey, but I do believe having only three in the deck is the correct number. You really want the majority of your creatures to be two drops so you can tick up Aether Vial and leave it on two counters, increasing your chances of activating the Vial each turn. 


Cursecatcher Spreading Seas Spellskite Vapor Snag

This is your disruption package. Cursecatcher can counter a removal spell aimed at one of your Lords if your opponent isn’t careful. Spreading Seas not only enables your Islandwalk to function against nonblue decks but also provides you with a way to deny your opponent of his resources with a soft lock. Spellskite is great in the main and I wouldn’t leave the pond without it. This little baby can soak up removal and allows you interaction between some of the popular unfair decks like Splinter Twin and Infect.

Vapor Snag is our only real interaction against opposing creatures and I like the card a lot. It allows for some great tempo play. The only downside is you don’t really want to use this against creatures with ETB (Enter the Battlefield) triggers. Siege Rhino and Primeval Titan spring to mind.


Silvergill Adept

Silvergill Adept, along with Spreading Seas, is your card draw for the deck. He can become a pretty sizable threat with a couple Lords at the helm. The only downside to ol' gills is that most games you will be revealing information to your opponent with him. When revealing Merfolk cards with Silvergill Adept I try not to reveal a Lord or a Cursecatcher if I can help it, because if your opponent doesn't know these guys are in your hand then in response to them casting an instant or sorcery spell you can flash in Cursecatcher with Aether Vial and counter said spell. Or if they declare an attack you can flash in Master of the Pearl Trident and eat one of their creatures with a freshly pumped Silvergill Adept.


Thassa, God of the Sea Master of Waves

These two are great finishers. I’ve always loved Thassa and I believe she is a close second to Keranos, God of Storms as the best god to come out of Theros Block. Being able to scry every turn is amazing, and you’ll be able to get her devotion high enough that she can become a creature in most games. Also, she can make your creatures (including herself) unblockable if your Spreading Seas gets destroyed.


Cavern of Souls Oboro, Palace in the Clouds Minamo, School at Water's Edge

These are the utility lands in the deck. All three of these cards can play around things like Choke and Boil. Against Control, Cavern of Souls is just great. There is a little bit of synergy between Minamo, School at Water's Edge and Thassa, God of the Sea. If Thassa is tapped and your opponent attacks you can activate Minamo, untapping Thassa, and block with her.



Mutavault is such a great land in this deck. It counts as all creatures so it benefits from your Lords’ abilities and it can play around wrath effects like Damnation and Supreme Verdict quite nicely. I’m a big fan of Mutavault because it allows you to not over commit to the board if you are fearing a sweeper.



One thing I would probably change in this deck is replacing Remand for something else like Spell Pierce. I like that Remand draws you a card, but I just think Spell Pierce is a better option. In some games I would like to cast a creature and keep counter magic up. It's a little harder to do that with a counter spell with a cmc of 2 than with a one drop like Pierce. Not only that, but I think Spell Pierce would help out in the Burn matchup more.


Kira, Great Glass-Spinner Monastery Siege Coralhelm Commander

There are some Merfolk decks floating around that utilize some of these cards. The reason why I chose not to use them is because I don't think Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is a very good option here. First of all, she can't save your Phantasmal Image from removal because they only need to be a TARGET of a spell, so even if Kira counters Lightning Bolt the Phantasmal Image still has to be sacrificed. Secondly, there is a little bit of conflict between Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Thassa, God of the Sea. If you target a creature with the god's ability then Kira will counter it. The same is true with Minamo, School at Water's Edge if you want to untap Thassa with it when Kira is on the battlefield.

Monastery Siege seems like a good addition, but I feel this deck already has enough card draw as is. You could replace a Master of Waves or even Thassa, God of the Sea for it. I do believe Monastery Siege would make the Burn matchup a cake-walk. It's kind of like having Leyline of Sanctity out. I figure Burn would have a hard time getting through if you chose Dragons. Run Monastery Siege if you want, I would not disagree with you.

Coralhelm Commander is one of the cards I really wanted to play with when I decided to build Merfolk. You can flash him in with Aether Vial on your opponent's end step and tap out, levelling him up as much as possible before your turn. Seems good to me. I also like the fact that he gives you something to do with your mana when you got nothing else to do. The problem was I didn't know what to cut for it. 




Dispel Negate Spell Snare

Your sideboard gives you access to a nice counter spell package. All three of these are good to bring in against Control so you can properly fight a counter war on the Stack.

Spell Snare is particularly good against decks that are running the most dangerous creatures in Modern (I’m looking at you Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and Eidolon of the Great Revel).


Steel Sabotage Echoing Truth

I don’t own Hurkyl's Recall. If I did I would run it over these spells. So for budget reasons my Affinity hate is Steel Sabotage.

Echoing Truth also works well against Affinity, but I also found myself bringing it in during most matches. You can never really be certain what kind of hate your opponent has for you in the form of permanents, so I always felt a little safer having a versatile card like Echoing Truth somewhere in my deck post-sideboard.


Tidebinder Mage Vendilion Clique

Tidebinder Mage is sweet against Junk. Being able to tap down Tarmogoyf or Siege Rhino can be huge for you. Vendilion Clique is not a Merfolk creature, I know. But she is so good I think if you're a blue deck then you should be using her. Vendilion Clique is good against Midrange, Control, and Combo decks. Not only that, but you can also beat down your opponent with her. Faeries are a close relative to Merfolk, right?


Relic of Progenitus Dismember Shadow of Doubt

These are kind of leftovers. It’s hard to find good sideboard cards for a monoblue deck and I think the cards already in the sideboard are the best we can get. So basically I wanted to use the last remaining sideboard slots for some fringe archetypes I might face. Relic of Progenitus is good against dredge decks like Vengevine, Reanimator decks like UW Gifts, Storm, Snapcaster Mage, and other random things like decks that rely on cards in their graveyards for Delve.

There’s not a whole lot in this deck that can deal with some of the more gruesome creatures you may come up against in a tournament. For that we have Dismember. In some matches you aren’t really in the position to benefit the most with Vapor Snag since it’s only really great when you are already pulling ahead. Vapor Snagging a creature like Glistener Elf isn’t all that great. You’re basically just delaying the inevitable at that point. You need removal. That’s where Dismember comes in.

Shadow of Doubt lost a lot of its power once Birthing Pod was banned, but I still wanted something that I could bring in against Tron, Scapeshift, and Amulet of Vigor decks. I advise against bringing Shadow of Doubt in just to be used on opponents' fetchlands. Sure, there is the potential of mana-screwing your opponent with it, but I believe it should be brought in only when “searching your library” is part of your opponent’s strategy to win. Being able to counter Eye of Ugin’s ability so your opponent can’t search up Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is really what you want to be doing with it.

So, now knowing a little more about the deck, let's get to the videos of me playing in an 8-man tournament!

Round One:

Round Two:

Round Three:



This deck is sweet! I believe the greatest thing about Merfolk is its ability to control the pace of the game so well. If you need to outrace your opponent you can very easily. And if you need to slow things down then that’s where Vapor Snag and Spreading Seas truly shine. Like, for instance, you can disrupt your opponent by casting Spreading Seas on a Mountain so they can’t play Boros Reckoner on turn three. Or Snagging an infect creature to buy you some time. Burn typically wants you to die as quickly as possible so it’s great when you take the steering wheel away from them and shove ‘em into the backseat. The power of controlling the pace of the game should not be underestimated.

Yeah, Merfolk is a definite option right now, and it will be as long as the metagame doesn’t shift more toward Control. I think Merfolk would have some serious trouble if it had to deal with a bunch of sweepers like Wrath of God and Damnation.

All-in-all, great deck. I recommend it if you like turning creatures sideways and want to play something a little more viable than Zoo.



My last article was about Spellskite and all the cool things you can do with him (you can read the article here). There was some confusion on a particular scenario I wrote about involving Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Spellskite. I thought a video may help in understanding what I meant when I said you could redirect all the Valakut triggers to it. I hope the video can clear up the misunderstanding.  

Anyways, thanks for reading. And thanks for watching!


I used to play a Merfolk by Joe Fiorini at Sun, 04/19/2015 - 16:37
Joe Fiorini's picture

I used to play a Merfolk deck, back in 1997ish (I'm a Dinosaur in the modern Magic world). I always liked the deck. Back then, you didn't have eight or more lords. We ran Sunken Sea for God's sake! The Crusade that eats up your mana, very underpowered by today's standards.

Phantasmal Terrain, I believe was the main way you gave someone an Island for Islandwalk. My little brother came up with a better way, which was to use Political Trickery to exchange control of one of your lands for theirs. That way, you could steal a utility land from them, and they'd get a useless island. Plus, you couldn't reverse the effect with a Disenchant.

Keep up the good work.

Thanks for the comment, Joe! by jay85 at Sun, 04/19/2015 - 22:16
jay85's picture

Thanks for the comment, Joe! Back in '97 I didn't know of any "real" decks. My friend and I would just build something and try to play, and when I mean try, I mean play and if we didn't know a rule we'd make it up. But it is crazy how Magic has evolved since then. I wonder if we will be looking back in another 18 years and think about the decks we are playing now and how they wouldn't stand a chance against the ones we will be playing with. Boggles my mind to think about that.