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By: JXClaytor, Joshua Claytor
Jul 14 2008 9:58pm
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I love Block Constructed.  Every year in the Magic world there is nothing that makes me more excited than getting to play the most recent Block.  Sure some blocks have been miserable (Does anyone remember the days of Madness and Mono Black control or Affinity against the field?) while other blocks have seen a lot of creativity. (This is where the current block would fit in at.)  

The Lorwyn Shadowmoor block constructed format has been in full swing for a couple of weeks.  PTQ results are coming in from across the world, and we have a pretty good picture of the metagame, and how it has shaped up.  The White Weenie Mirrorweave decks are a huge threat, while greedy mana control decks like Ten Commandments pretty much allow you to play the best spells in the format without the fear of getting mana screwed.  

If you were to take a look at the Block Constructed Deck Database, you would see these decks.  At any given PTQ you could expect to play one of these decks.  Some of them are a lot better than others; could you really imagine someone picking to play Mono Black Rogues over Faeries?  That just seems to be the worst decision that someone could make!  Let’s take a look at what makes up the field, as of Tuesday, June 24th.   

Elemental Control
Ten Commandments
Barkshell Blowout
Elves (This would include the Black Green Version and the Persist heavy Green White version.)
Shamans (Both Chapin’s Four Color version and the Red Green version.)
Mono Black Rogues
Green White Ramp
The Rock

For a block format, it is very exciting to me to see thirteen different playable decks in the format!  What is even more exciting for me is to see a Merfolk deck in any top eight lists.  I remember coming into the game, and battling with Merfolk when those fish with the Pearl Tridents were among the good ones to have in your deck.  I actually played in a PTQ with those guys when I was a young lad.  Finding the block fish deck was pretty awesome for me, as I enjoy playing the tribe, and if it is competitive I will play it all day long.  

To be honest though, I was not really sure the Fish deck in block could be playable.  Every forum post I see on the subject declares the deck to be belly up when people say Lord of Atlantis can not be played in it.  I mean having EIGHT lords makes the deck appealing in Standard, so having to play fair in block with the four that we have could be a little less appealing.  Of course many forum goers are wrong, there are those who speak only in theory and never test an idea to see if it has merits or not.  Thankfully, someone ignored the trend of Kithkin and Faeries being the only aggressive decks in the block, and the Merfolk tribe has recently placed in the top eight of two American PTQs.  Let’s take a look at the builds that have done so!  

as played by Matt Langford
4 Cursecatcher
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Stonybrook Banneret
3 Sower of Temptation
2 Sygg, River Guide
17 cards

Other Spells
4 Merrow Reejery
4 Cryptic Command
4 Sage's Dousing
3 Negate
3 Ponder
2 Mirrorweave
16 cards
8 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Wanderwine Hub
3 Plains
2 Reflecting Pool
2 Mystic Gate
23 cards

sower of temptation

What do I like about this deck?  

Main deck Negate!  That spell is such a blow out in the field.  It counters the two best spells that Kithkin can cast, and it does it  for two mana (Spectral Possession and Mirrorweave are of course, those spells.) It counters Planeswalkers, Nameless Inversion, Bitterblossom, and Cryptic Command.  The main point that I am trying to make is for the low price of two mana, you get an answer to specific cards in each deck that wreck you.  From Firespout to Austere Command, to Pollen Lullaby to even Morsel Theft, Negate gives you a catch all counter spell of sorts.  It reminds me a lot of Remove Soul.  It’s not going to break any particular match up in general, but you are going to be glad that you have it when you blow someone out with it.  

Of course one card does not make a deck worth playing.  Sure Negate is great and all, but there are fifty seven other cards in the deck.  Another reason the deck caught my eye was the amount of control elements the deck has.  Here we have a deck that packs eleven situational counterspells (I say they are situational because every so often someone is going to have the three mana to pay for Dousing or, are just going to run Bitterblossom out while you have Cursecatchers in play.  Besides, it’s not like Cursecatcher can actually do anything about the blossom except sit there, wishing it were an instant or sorcery spell.)  and four more hard counters in Cryptic Command.  That amount of counter magic is unparalleled in the block format, and helps to keep some matchups in your favor.  

The creature base is pretty much your standard fare deck list.  You’re going to have your four lords.  You’re going to have some cheap men that have some killer abilities.  Some of these range from the mundane, like drawing a card whenever it comes into play.  Others will reduce the cost of your most of your creature spells.  Sower of Temptation has the often game changing ability to steal a man of your opponents.  Really the only thing that this deck is missing outside of Lord of Atlantis is Venser, Shaper Savant.  (You could make an argument about Tideshaper Mystic not being in the main sixty, but the Standard version really wants your opponent to have an Island, while the block version can do without.)  
I want to move on to the matchups part of the article now, we are going to take a look at Kithkin, Faeries, 5 Color Elementals, and 5 Color Control.  These four decks are what I feel make up the bulk of the metagame right now.  Of course there will be some decks that emerge from the recent PTQs that I will miss out on, and chances are I might miss out on the matchup analysis of your favorite deck (I’m really sorry, I just can not take Mono Black Control seriously.)  however, I feel that this article is better served in looking over these four decks.  I have played at least ten matches against these decks on MTGO (and in some cases more!) so I think I have a pretty good understanding of how the matchups work.  

Kithkin - I’m going to start off with Kithkin because I feel it is the most popular deck.  There is a good reason for that.  This deck can goldfish wins with Mirrorweave as quick as turn four (Hitting a Stalwart turn one, Wizened Cenn turn two and Procession turn three.  They do have to have the Mirrorweave to actually win on turn four.) and has proven since the first PTQs for the format at Hollywood that is has some serious staying power, even though the format has began to evolve.   

On paper the matchup between the two looks to be in favor of the Kithkins.  I mean, they have a cheaper lord than you do, and then they actually have more lords with the inclusion of the liege (I’m pretty sure the correct liege is of the Thistledown variety, but I am sure I am wrong.)  Their men are just as cheap as yours, and in some cases more powerful (I shudder every time some one plops a Knight of the Meadowgrain down on the table against Merfolk.  It’s like a two mana Moat!)  The Kithkin deck also has better evasion than the Fish people as Spirit and Rangers alike just fly over to dome you.  

Of course if games were played on paper, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Lakers would be world champions right now.  This matchup is not one of those cases.  The Kithkin deck really is a terrible matchup.  

The likelihood of actually winning game one is very small and it hinges on the die roll.   If you win the roll with the Merfolk deck you actually get to start off on the right foot instead of fighting an uphill battle the entire game.  They still come out fast, but the difference between playing and drawing is having counterspell magic open for their more expensive threats.  I’ve felt on the draw that the correct play sometimes on turn three was just to not make one, and counter their turn four spell, which is often times a game breaker, be it Spectral Procession or Mirrorweave.  

In fact, having the counter magic main in this matchup may be the greatest curse.  In some games, I would have a few creatures to start off, and then a grip full of counter magic.  Negate is not very good at countering Mirror Entity for example.  I would keep drawing counter magic in test games, and they would overwhelm me with the threats in play.  Let’s just say that Cursecatcher does not matchup well with Goldmeadow Stalwart.  

Regardless of this, the Kithkin matchup is underwhelming.  You’re the underdog in game one, and even though you are siding in Pollen Lullaby and Oblivion Ring for some of the useless counter magic (I’m always siding out Sage’s Dousing in the matchup.) you’re just playing catch-up for most of the game.  Cryptic Command is your best friend here in the battle, as you get to tap their men, and counter a threat with it.  

I guess the main bullet point that I am trying to present is that Kithkin is the worst possible matchup you can face in a PTQ.  In fact, if you show up early to your local event with this deck in tow, and scout the field, and see more than thirty percent Kithkin, I would recommend that you play an alternative deck.  You’re going to be facing an uphill battle all day.  

I played Merfolk at the PTQ during Grand Prix: Indianapolis.  In my first three rounds, I played against Kithkin.  I managed to go 2-, but believe me, I did not earn the wins.  In the first round, I drew three men in both games, and just got ape smashed while my hand filled up with multiple useless counter spells.  In the second match, my opponent won game one with a Mirrorweave on my Cursecatcher while I was attacking for lethal.  He conceded the match though so he could go home.  Round three, my opponent and I went to turns, and although I had cast a Pollen Lullaby, he just conceded.  Had I won the clash of course I would win, but if the clash went in his favor, I was dead on the board.  I did not actually earn any of those victories, and am very fortunate that my opponents just packed for whatever reason it was.  

Of course, I went 2-2 and went home soon afterwards as well.  

If you show up to the PTQ with Merfolk in your deck box, and see that there is a ton of Kithkin, and insist on playing the Not running into Kithkin gambit, the least I can do is show how I sideboarded.  

In:  4 Ring, 3 Lullaby.

Out: 4 Dousing 3 Cursecatcher

Yes I am siding out some men, and keeping Negate in.  Negate is just going to be a hard counter for their hard to deal with cards after board, like Ajani, Mirrorweave, Procession, and Lullaby.  I felt it was better to keep in the hard counter than it was to keep in the situational countering chump blocker.  


In my estimation this is the second most popular deck in the format, and actually, I feel like we have a pretty good match up here.  I know in Standard it’s pretty good because we have the Islandwalking Lord of Atlantis in the deck, but in Block we lose that guy.  Then why do I feel like this match up is bordering on favorable for the fish player?  

Our men are slightly bigger.  Faeries have no one drop.  Cursecatcher at least swings for a point or a two. (But he DOES NOT counter a Bitterblossom.)  Our Two Drops are bigger than Spellstutter Sprite and Bitterblossom tokens.  (Okay, Silvergill Adept has one toughness, and I guess technically Bannerett is the same size as the Sprite, but Silvergill gets through because of Islandwalk.)  Even our three drop is bigger than theirs!  (Unless they play Vendilion Clique, than I guess that is a push.)  

So our men our slightly bigger, which helps us win the combat step.  Faeries also has the Bitterblossom factor, like if they drop it on turn two, does it actually help them win, or are they going to be on the back foot for the remainder of the game?  Is the blossom going to contribute to them losing the game?  

Faeries in my mind has very few most counter threats.  Those would be Scion of Oona (You really want their team to be smaller than yours.) Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command. (If they get to fog, they could catch up in the damage race.)  Because of the small amount of must counter spells, you can stockpile your own counter magic to ensure you do not lose a counter battle over them.  

I like the Faerie matchup, I feel like you are a slight to heavy favorite here.  For Sideboarding, I have been taking out the following

Out:  3 Negate 2 Cursecatcher, 2 Mirrorweave
In:  4 Wispmare, 3 Pollen Lullaby

I am bringing in Wispmare over the Oblivion Ring for one reason.  Wispmare not only kills a Bitterblossom, but it also block one of their men.  Even if Scion is in play, Wispmare at least gets to sit around and block.  This also allows me to take out a couple of the weaker men in the matchup, but still have more than what is in the main.  Negate is not as important in this matchup as it is versus Kithkin, so it can sit on the sidelines as well.  

5 Color Elementals

This matchup depends really on one key element. (heh) Do they have the second turn Smokebraider?  If so the game is going to be over pretty quickly.  You have no removal for that guy, and sadly if he comes out on turn two, and the elemental player starts to pump out fatty monsters on turn three, you’re not long for the game.  

The game goes much easier if your opponent is not firing out idiots on turn three.  Sadly this matchup is not very good in the first game either.  Mirrorweave actually helps out in the combat step, it can turn their dominating board position into one that is a little more fair, as they trade their board of Shriekmaws, Horde of Notions and Mulldrifters for your board of Curse catchers (I do not think I made this clear, before blockers cast Mirrorweave targeting your own man, it shrinks their attackers and allows you to trade their team for yours.  You also only really want to block their key men.  If you can block their weaved Horde, Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw while saving your best men then go for it.  Unless you are facing down lethal you do not have to be very tight with the block.)  

If you get a favorable Mirrorweave you can catch up, they are typically relying on the top of their deck after this play, and you will have an amount of counter magic to make sure they struggle getting back into the game.  

Negate is pretty much a dead draw as they have seven non creature spells in the deck.  Firespout is one of those spells, but it really is among the least of your worries.  With that being said, I realize that Elementals is another poor matchup.  Frowns.


In: 4 Forge-Tender, 4 Ring
Out: 3 Negate, 4 Cursecatcher, 1 Ponder

Forge Tender is just as good as Negate in this matchup.  It counters Firespout for a low cost, and it messes up some combat that involves their red men.  O Ring is just the best possible card you can bring in, it deals with Smokebraider, (Hopefully before that guy comes online.) and Soulstoke. (again hopefully before it comes online.)  

This matchup is pretty bad in my mind as well.  It seems the more I write about the deck the less I find good about it.  

5 Color Control

Now, we have another good matchup.  5 Color control is a slow lumbering mana hungry beast, while you are a quick beat down deck.  5 Color control relies on hitting the six mana mark, you rely on hitting four lands, casting a couple of men, and countering their answers.  If you run out of counter magic then you are not going to win here, but your counters that ask them to pay more mana are really good against them.  Often times they are just not going to have the mana to do it.  You have to come out of the gates strong against them, and then be able to play around Firespout in the early game, and in the later game, Firespout and Austere Command.

In fact, I’m pretty close to going on autopilot whenever I am sure that my opponent is playing this deck.  It feels to me that the Merfolk deck was built to crush this on!  You have to be careful about Firespout, that is pretty much their only cheap answer to your team, so have some sort of counter magic in mind when you get to the third turn. (Fourth if they are playing around Cursecatcher.  If they play Firespout on turn three and walk into the man counter than the possibilities of them having another on turn four are pretty high.)  It sometimes feels like you are preboarded against them!  

Sideboarding for the five color control matchup looks a lot like the boarding for the 5 color elementals.  You’re bringing in the same spells (Forge-tender and Ring.)

In:  4 Forge-tender 4 Ring
Out:  2 Mirrorweave, 3 Ponder 1 Cursecatcher, 2 Sygg.  

Sygg is being taken out because he eats a lot of mana up that you would rather have for countering spells.  Forge-tender pretty much does the same thing as Sygg does, which is keep you from getting wrecked by Firespout.  

So let’s recap what I just wrote

Kithkin: Really crazy bad for you.
Faeries:  Pretty good for you.
5 color elementals:  Not so good for you
5 color control:  Good for you.  

Because Merfolk has a terrible match against the most popular deck in the format and one of the emerging decks in popularity, I can not in good conscience recommend that you play the deck in a PTQ.  Merfolk is a metagame deck in my mind, and it takes a certain type of metagame for it to be successful.  For instance, the 300 person PTQ at GP Indy was not the right metagame!  If you field is heavy in Fae and 5 Color control, I would run it.  If you are dead set on playing Merfolk though, here is the list that I would play.

4 Cursecatcher
4 Merrow Reejery
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Stonybrook Banneret
3 Sower of Temptation
2 Sygg, River Cutthroat
2 Mirror Entity


4 Cryptic Command
4 Sage’s Dousing
4 Ponder
2 Mirrorweave


11 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Wanderwine Hub
3 Mystic Gate
1 Plains


3 Wispmare
3 Last Breath
3 Reveillark
4 Burrenton Forge-tender
2 Pollen Lullaby

The sideboard looks to be a bit better, and addresses a couple of issues within the Elemental matchup.  Having access to Last Breath is pretty good against Smokebraider and Soulstoke.  

It will more than likely be a long time before I get to write again here at Starcity.  I miss you guys a ton, and I hope you enjoyed the article.  Thanks for reading and good luck in the PTQs!  

Post Script:  While I was writing this, PTQ results started to come in.  Merfolk were not limited to just the two previous top eights that they had.  In fact, in Philadelphia the deck finished fourth, and had a really cool board that included Plumeveil and Leech Bonder to help out in some of the weaker matchups.  Portland also had a version of the deck in its top eight as well, but this actually took out the White and played black main.  It looks to be very innovative.  I will include both of these lists.  

I guess the moral of the story is this, if people are still succeeding with a list that I feel could not get it done, than it is worth taking another look at the deck.  I still have a lot more to learn!  

As played by Dennis Hixon
Portland PTQ
5th place

8  Island
4  Mutavault
4  Secluded Glen
4  Sunken Ruins
4  Swamp
4  Cursecatcher
4  Merrow Reejerey
4  Silvergill Adept
3  Sower of Temptation
4  Stonybrook Banneret
3  Bitterblossom
4  Cryptic Command
4  Nameless Inversion
3  Ponder
4  Sage's Dousing


2  Consign to Dream
3  Faerie Macabre
4  Murderous Redcap
3  Negate
3  Thoughtseize

As played by Nicholas Spagnolo
Philadelphia PTQ
4th place

10  Island
4  Mutavault
3  Mystic Gate
3  Plains
4  Wanderwine Hub
4  Cursecatcher
4  Merrow Reejerey
2  Mirror Entity
4  Silvergill Adept
2  Sower of Temptation
4  Stonybrook Banneret
2  Sygg, River Guide
2  Crib Swap
4  Cryptic Command
4  Ponder
4  Sage's Dousing


2  Crib Swap
4  Leech Bonder
3  Plumeveil
3  Reveillark
2  Sower of Temptation
1  Sygg, River Guide


by iceage4life at Wed, 07/16/2008 - 15:32
iceage4life's picture

Faeries are 2/3rds of the room is the thing.  They are maybe one third.

by Salgy at Tue, 07/15/2008 - 21:14
Salgy's picture

faeries decks are strong and they are the top deck.  reason when 2/3 of a tournament is running faeries then yes faeries will have the most wins.  just like if a tournament had 2/3 merfolk decks that would make merfolk the new faeries of block! just my opinon

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 07/15/2008 - 00:46
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

Well good article...but I fail to see how there are a) 13 playable decks in block and b) how kithkin are the most popular.

With Faeries having claimed a total 58.62% of PTQ wins and Kithkin a very very distant second at 13.79% of envelopes.  Not too mention faeries have twice the top 8 showings that kithkin do.

If I had to name the playable block decks it would go Faeries, Kithkin, Merfolk(10.34%), Quick n' Toast(6.9%), Elementals(3.45%), and Rock(3.45%)      Stats from: http://sales.starcitygames.com//deckdatabase/season_summary.php?event=19

So you are definitely right in the fact that merfolk can contend its the third best deck based on wins so far....and I do believe its a strong deck.  Though with faeries so dominant I dont know if people will take the chance often.

by JXClaytor at Tue, 07/15/2008 - 20:04
JXClaytor's picture



Fae is the deck to play, it's the deck to beat, and it is that way for at least this weekend, and maybe the weekend that Eventide is first legal.              

by iceage4life at Tue, 07/15/2008 - 15:40
iceage4life's picture

This article and reality don't really seem to have much connection.  Faeries is THE deck of this format.  Only unlike PT Hollywood it is putting up the numbers expected of it.  Playing a non-fae deck at a PTQ is pretty much a choice to not run the best deck.

In a PE today I faced three mirrors in the swiss which is only slightly above what I would expect.  Last PTQ I played 5c control and probably would have top 8'd if I rememered Cryptic Command was an instant.  That said there is no way in hell I would not play faeries this weekend.

by JXClaytor at Tue, 07/15/2008 - 10:20
JXClaytor's picture

There may not be 13 playable decks, but for the season so far, those are the ones that have at least one top eight credit.

Merfolk is not a fluke, that much I do know.