Modern Merfolk Primer

A few years ago I was playing a lot more magic and managed, in 2010, to get on the Canadian national team and was invited to three Pro Tours in a row. Then, my teaching career and becoming a dad got in the way of my magical aspirations and I stopped playing competitively, focusing on my family and my work. However, ambitious dreams of Pro Tour glory kept on creeping back in, titillating me with unfulfilled desires. Seeing my friends Alexander Hayne and Pascal Maynard doing so well convinced me to get back on the horse, and try, once more, to reach for the stars.
This story has been told countless time, but it remains a classic. It is the story of a “has been”, desiring to be a “real contender” again. Not that I was someone special or a big name, but I was playing well and winning often.

KYT asked me recently if I wanted to write again for ManaDeprived. I was the very first writer on his website a few years ago and enjoyed it. I was hesitant at first, but now that I won a PPTQ and have a shot at the Pro Tour again, here I am, writing for you.

Let’s get to the report.

Last Saturday I decided to try to qualify for the RPTQ playing Modern. That was the second time I fought with Merfolk and I went 4-0-2 in the Swiss rounds and then won in the top 8. Here is the list I went to battle with:

Merfolk – Vincent Thibeault

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Cavern of Souls
11 Island
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
4 Mutavault
3 Wanderwine Hub
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Dismember
2 Monastery Siege
4 Spreading Seas
2 Vapor Snag
4 Aether Vial
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Cursecatcher
2 Harbinger of the Tides
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
4 Master of Waves
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
3 Tectonic Edge
2 Sea’s Claim
3 Spell Pierce
2 Relic of Progenitus
3 Tidebinder Mage
1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
1 Hibernation
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I was missing an [card]Oboro, Palace in the Clouds[/card], but its importance was really marginal as its only function was to protect me from Choke post-sideboard and, as I was to discover that in the final, to increase my chance of not playing an island in the mirror match. [card]Wanderwine Hub[/card] and [card]Minamo, School at Water’s Edge[/card] are in the deck for that exact same reason. People do not usually side in [card]Blood Moon[/card] post-board, so there is not really any drawback from playing non-basic lands.

The deck is solid and has good or even matchups versus most of the metagame. The truly bad matchup is Affinity, but there is a lot of hate versus that deck in the Montreal metagame and I decided to give up on this one, not wanting to reserve precious sideboard slots for [card]Hurkyl’s Recall[/card], [card]Steel Sabotage[/card] or even [card]Stony Silence[/card] with more white sources maindeck. I had to hope, if I was paired with it, to draw the nutz and for them to draw a slow hand. Against the rest of the metagame I was quite confident, as I had very good sideboard plans against everything. One more reason I wanted to sleeve Merfolk was that it had a slightly favoured matchup versus Twin, which was considered the best deck and the deck to beat.

I came up with that decklist, tuning Richard Adams’s list from SCG Invitational Columbus, cutting a [card]Dismember[/card] and a [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] to have the new fish on the block, [card]Harbinger of the Tides[/card]. Great against green based deck, Delvers or delve creatures, this bounce on legs (or fish tail) works well with [card]Aether Vial[/card] and increases your Merfolk counts, which is never a bad thing.

The deck is like a regular aggro deck but your guys are often unblockable thanks to [card]Lord of Atlantis[/card], [card]Master of the Pearl Trident[/card] and [card]Spreading Seas[/card]. Aether Vial with 2 or three counters threatens to put a Lord mid-combat which complicates combat math. [card]Cursecatcher[/card] slows down some decks and works well in conjunction with [card]Spell Pierce[/card] post-board. [card]Merrow Reejerey[/card]’s tap or untap ability triggers when you cast a Merfolk spell, so your spell does not need to resolve and you can be cute sometimes and tap an opponent’s creature and then bounce it when your Harbinger of the Tides resolve. You can also untap the Vial for more fun time. With two [card]Merrow Reejerey[/card] in play, most of your Merfolk can be played “for free” as you untap the lands you used to cast them. You can also untap a creature that attacked that turn if you need an additional blocker. [card]Master of Waves[/card] is very strong against the slower decks, putting an army on its own. Do not forget to count the blue symbols of [card]Spreading Seas[/card] when you cast it. Protection from red is great versus Zoo, Burn and Jund. This card can aksi give you plenty of chump blockers while your own islandwalk fish can race the opponent. [card]Master of Waves[/card] boost your [card]Mutavault[/card]s too and playing a second one is often enough to win the game.

Vapor Snag and [card]Dismember[/card] are efficient removal spells and, with the Harbinger of the Tides, they allow you to deal with almost any threat, giving you enough time to win the race. They are especially great versus Twin, as you can stop their combo for very cheap. Make sure you keep two mana up though when the opponent has three lands so they do not end of turn play a [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] and tap your only land, and then start the combo.

Monastery Siege was surprisingly good against slower matchups, as you do not need more than four lands or late Aether Vials and it acts as a one-way [card]Howling Mine[/card]. I always used it on Khans mode but I guess the Dragon mode can be useful in very specific situation.

As for the sideboard, I came up with it after looking at different lists and wondering what I wanted to do post-board. As I usually removed the Vials post-board versus green based decks as it becomes an attrition war and I do not need to kill as fast, I needed some lands in the board to make sure I did not get manashort too often. The deck can do well with a one lander and a Vial, but without the Vial I need at least two lands to keep my starting hand. Moreover, [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] is just amazing in some matchups, like Tron and [card]Scapeshift[/card], and they allow me to side in a mana denial plan with [card]Sea’s Claim[/card] and the maindeck [card]Spreading Seas[/card]. [card]Spell Pierce[/card] is a great card, very flexible and is at times backbreaking, and it comes in many matchups where there is a sufficient number of non-creature spells. It is great versus Twin too as it gives you another one mana solution to an early [card]Splinter Twin[/card]. It also came in handy as a way to counter [card]Living End[/card] with the help of a [card]Cursecatcher[/card] and some [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]s. [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] is very polyvalent too, as it helps against the new dredge deck, but also the delve cards/Snapcaster Mage that are very popular in the metagame. It can shrink a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] for almost no cost and it helps against reanimation strategies like UW Gift/Tron decks and Grishoalbrand. You can always cycle it if it does not do anything at the moment.

Tidebinder Mage shines versus, you guessed it, green-based or red-based creature decks. You can tap a Birds of Paradise, a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] (even a foiled one), a [card]Monastery Swiftspear[/card] or a [card]Glistener Elf[/card]. Playing it instant speed with the Vial before their combat phase is also sweet. [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card] comes in when you need more guys and the opponent’s deck has plenty of spot removals. [card]Hibernation[/card] usually allows you to race green decks and helps you not get overtaken by Collective Company decks like Naya Coco or Elves Coco.

I played versus WU Tron first round, then RUG [card]Scapeshift[/card], [card]Living End[/card] and Junk Coco Melira Combo. I drew into the top 8, finishing second seed. Then I beat Grixis Twin in the top 8, UG Infect in the top 4 and the mirror match in the final. The deck is fun to play, it kills fast enough, the sideboard helps greatly most of your matchups and the deck is well-positioned right now in the metagame. After some years of not playing, I wanted to get back on the horse of competitive magic, so we can say that I managed to get back on the seahorse (mandatory dad joke here).

General guidelines for sideboarding:

UR Twin, Grixis Twin

In : 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 1 [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card], 2 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card].
Out: 4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card], 2 [card]Master of Waves[/card].

The matchup is good pre-board and even better post-board. You want to put some threats early and then keep mana open in case the opponent tries to start the Twin combo. Even if you do not have the answer in your hand, the opponent will have to respect that you could, and with two mana up you make sure you play around a Deceiver Exarch end-of-turn. Relics are great versus [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and even better versus Grixis with its Tasigur. If you see several [card]Kolaghan’s Command[/card], you can side out Aether Vials for [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and a [card]Master of Waves[/card]. Siding in [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] can also force your opponent to try to go off without playing around [card]Spell Pierce[/card].

Affinity

In : 1 [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card], 1 [card]Spell Pierce[/card].
Out: 2 [card]Monastery Siege[/card].

This is the toughest matchup. Their deck is usually at least a turn faster, so you need a good draw and your opponent a very average one. [card]Monastery Siege[/card] is too slow here as you are in a racing situation.

RG Tron

In : 3 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], 2 [card]Sea’s Claim[/card], 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card].
Out: 2 [card]Dismember[/card], 2 Harbinger of the Tides, 2 [card]Monastery Siege[/card], 1 Island, 1 [card]Mutavault[/card].

Remember that [card]Pyroclasm[/card] maindeck can be backbreaking so play around it if you can. Your non-basic lands maindeck can protect you partially versus their Boil post-board. If they bring artifact removal second game you can side out your Aether Vials. Even if they play [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] in their deck, you have to try to race them before they cast it, and your [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] should help with that.

Burn

In : 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 3 [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], 1 [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card].
Out: 4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card], 2 [card]Dismember[/card], 1 [card]Monastery Siege[/card].

You usually have enough guys to block theirs and [card]Master of Waves[/card] can seal the deal, even if it is a bit slow. Remember that they are the beatdown so you block and trade as much as you can.

UG Infect

In : 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 2 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], 3 [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], 1 [card]Hibernation[/card].
Out: 4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card], 3 [card]Master of Waves[/card], 2 [card]Monastery Siege[/card].

This deck is extremely fast and can kill third or fourth turn with an unblockable guy. You trade when you can and hold on to [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Vapor Snag[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] so if they try to go for the kill you have several answers. Hopefully you get an Aether Vial early so you can play creatures and keep mana up to avoid the fast kill. They usually play 3 [card]Become Immense[/card] so that is why you bring in Relic. A Relic in play may incite them to jump the gun and try to go lethal even if you have mana up. This is your chance to have a 2 for 1 with your removal. [card]Master of Waves[/card] and [card]Monastery Siege[/card] are too slow here.

Living End

In : 3 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], 2 [card]Sea’s Claim[/card], 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 2 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card]
Out: 2 [card]Vapor Snag[/card], 4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card], 2 [card]Dismember[/card], 2 [card]Monastery Siege[/card].

This matchup is difficult and your goal is to stop them from resolving [card]Living End[/card] off a cascade spell. If you can cut their red sources with [card]Spreading Seas[/card], [card]Sea’s Claim[/card] or [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] they will not be able to cast [card]Violent Outburst[/card] or [card]Demonic Dread[/card]. Remember that when they have four lands you can activate both [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and destroy two lands if you keep priority. Also, do not forget that they can play [card]Living End[/card] instant speed with [card]Violent Outburst[/card], so keep your counters up if you can afford it. Relic is just the cherry on top, stopping them completely. Just make sure they cannot respond with [card]Violent Outburst[/card] when you activate them. Your creatures will be unblockable so by the time they get to the point of hardcasting their creatures they are probably dead.

Coco Melira Combo

In : 3 [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], 2 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], 1 [card]Hibernation[/card], 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card].
Out: 2 [card]Monastery Siege[/card], 4 AEther Vial, 1 [card]Cursecatcher[/card], 1 [card]Master of Waves[/card], 1 [card]Merrow Reejerey[/card].

They may kill you with the combo, or just with plenty of quality creatures. Relic stops the combo when the persist trigger is on the stack and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] or [card]Murderous Redcap[/card] is in the graveyard. It takes time to assemble the combo, so you can remove the Vial to have more answers to their creatures and their spells. [card]Spell Pierce[/card] is great at stopping [card]Collected Company[/card] or [card]Chord of Calling[/card]. As usual, you will win with a horde of unblockable merfolks. [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] on a Bird of Paradise or a [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] on your second turn is also quite brutal.

Jund

In : 3 [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], 2 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], 1 [card]Hibernation[/card], 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 1 [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card].
Out: 2 [card]Monastery Siege[/card], 4 AEther Vial, 1 [card]Vapor Snag[/card], 1 [card]Merrow Reejerey[/card], 2 [card]Harbinger of the Tides[/card].

Master of Waves is amazing here, as it dodges [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Terminate[/card] and [card]Kolaghan’s Command[/card]. You remove the Vial because you want to go the attrition plan and want to avoid a backbreaking [card]Kolaghan’s Command[/card]. [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] is great versus [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and can remove potential food for [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]. They usually have more than 20 non-creature spells so [card]Spell Pierce[/card] is very useful.

Grixis Control

In : 1 [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card], 3 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], 3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 2 [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card].
Out: 4 AEther Vial, 4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card], 1 [card]Harbinger of the Tides[/card].

This deck is getting a surge of popularity but you do not mind as your matchup is not too bad. Keep in mind that [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] may come in from the sideboard. In that matchups your [card]Vapor Snag[/card] is often used on your own guys so you can save them from removal. [card]Spell Pierce[/card] helps you to win the counter war and [card]Master of Waves[/card] is really hard for them to deal with. Your [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]s can kill their [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] and keep them off from having three blue sources, which stops their [card]Cryptic Command[/card].

Mirror

In : 2 [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], 1 [card]Spell Pierce[/card], 1 [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card].
Out: 4 [card]Spreading Seas[/card].

The [card]Spreading Seas[/card] are useless so at least [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] can make sure you mulligan less often as well as getting you to 4 mana to cast [card]Master of Waves[/card]. You may as well kill their [card]Mutavault[/card] with it. Kira is great, and it flies over all the fish and give you enough tempo to get ahead in the race. [card]Spell Pierce[/card] is sketchier and is better on the play than on the draw. You can counter a Vial, a [card]Vapor Snag[/card] or even a [card]Dismember[/card], but that is about it, unless they are also playing [card]Monastery Siege[/card]. [card]Spell Pierce[/card] will be unexpected for sure. While playing this match I even considered siding in a [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] or two just to have a higher creature counts. The player getting an early Vial usually wins. Also, make sure that when you play [card]Lord of Atlantis[/card], you are hitting for lethal, as you are also boosting their team and giving them Islandwalk.

In the next weeks you can follow my progress here on ManaDeprived as I train and try to become a living god and better player. I will have to master standard for the WMCQ coming in September, so I will expose the strategies I plan to use to succeed.

Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best.

Shoutout to Martin Brunet, for the brainstorming sessions we had on the deck, as well as lending me most of the cards, shoutout to KYT, congratulations on your new job, and shoutout to Franky Richard for telling the most interesting stories during the PPTQ final in the background about Jace’s early years of relentless bullying.