Going in, a lot of people were disappointed that Griselbrand wasn’t banned. I still have friends that think the card is too powerful, as it’s a Yawgmoth’s Bargain for two more mana that’s easier to cheat into play. However, with creatures getting better every year, having the combo decks in the format get a boost in power is a good thing. So long as “Llanowar Elves, go” is a viable turn one play, I’m going to call the format healthy and applaud Wizards for leaving it be.
When GP Hulk Flash happened, the format didn’t have Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, Snapcaster Mage, or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Creatures were worse, and [card aether vial]Vialing[/card] in Serra Avenger on turn three was one of the more powerful things a fair deck could do. Can you imagine one of the old Flash decks consistently fighting through modern day Team America, or RUG, or turn two [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] into turn three Scavenging Ooze on the draw? We don’t have Mystical Tutor anymore, and people actually play Spell Snare these days. I’m not saying the format needs Flash, but unbanning some hot brokenness with the idea to ban again if things get out of control, similar to how they handled Gush in Vintage, sounds both reasonable and exciting.
As for Land Tax, it went mostly unplayed, only breaking the Top 32 in the hands of Ian Duke’s UW Miracle list. I’m sure either of the Duke boys are capable of Top 32′ing with a ham sandwich, but I’m also sure they had good reason to run the cards they did. Perhaps the card advantage generated from Land Tax breaks the UW mirror, and the lifegain from Zuran Orb crushes the aggressive red decks.
Thumbs up for niche playability!
At Grand Prix Atlanta, I practiced what I preached and played Elves!. I left the tournament with the same thoughts on the deck that I had coming in: It’s a consistent, powerful deck with a turn three kill that has good matchups against most of the field. In short, a perfect deck for a Grand Prix. Some rounds I ran hot to win bad matchups, and other rounds my opponents ran well to beat me, and I ended barely in the cash.
Most of my matches were routine, but I had a sweet game three against Reanimator where my opponent cast Show and Tell, putting in [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card], while I put in Humility. Several judges were watching, and one of them had to tell me to contain myself. What can I say? Something about a creature deck boarding in Humility and using it to trump one of the most broken plays in the game hits my funny bone. At least now I have confirmation that the card is worth the slots.
One Elf deck Top 32′d in the hands of Ryan Leverone, with a fairly stock list. Ryan dropped the third Priest of Titania from the main deck for an 18th land, and switched the main deck Viridian Shaman with the sideboard Scavenging Ooze. I like both of these changes, since RUG is popular and Ryan’s configuration is better against burn. After deciding to up the land count, I’d have a hard time not including a Horizon Canopy, though.
While I was X-4ing the GP with Elves, my buddy Ian was busy Merfolk’ing people with my list in Seattle. Now, there’s a few things you should know about Ian. I’ve known him for years, mostly through IRC. He’s a good kid, and he has faith in me. While I’ve had a lot of friends play my decks, he has played more of them than anyone, and it isn’t close.
You can imagine how happy I was to log in on Sunday night, after a long day of grinding, to see him in the Top 8.
I was even happier to watch him crush his opponents and take down the trophy. Ever see someone cheer and fist pump while watching a sports game? That guy was me.
This would be a good time to write about Merfolk, if I hadn’t already done a primer on the deck a few weeks ago. However, at the time of that article the new Lord of Atlantis remake, Master of the Pearl Trident, hadn’t been spoiled yet.
Here’s my updated list:
I won’t be playing this deck after M13 is legal, or at least not immediately. I’ll be playing the BUG deck I wish I’d thought of for the Grand Prix.
Here’s what Jessie Hatfield got 13th with:
Daniel Signorini won a trial with a similar list right before the Grand Prix, with the main difference being Hymn to Tourach instead of Thoughtseize. I’m not entirely sure which is better. Hymn is weaker to Misdirection and Spell Snare, but a more powerful card when it hits. I think the Hatfield list looks better on paper, which is why I posted it, but I would go back to the -1 fetchland and +1 Bayou that Signorini ran.
I’m sure some of you are questioning if cantripping to set up Temporal Mastery is really what you want to be doing in Legacy. My answer to that is: Do you not realize how much fun taking a pile of extra turns is? In this deck, you get to do that with a giant monster bashing in, turning Mastery into a cantripping spell that untaps your lands, gives you another land drop, and domes them for five. Racing a Tombstalker has never been so difficult.
Don’t make the mistake of writing this deck off as a BUG deck with a pile of situational cards thrown in. The addition of Temporal Mastery changes it, sure, but not in a way that makes the deck worse. It has an engine now, meaning there’s more to consider when sequencing plays. Time, Magic’s trickiest resource, has become more malleable.
If I play this deck soon, I plan on boarding at least one Virtue’s Ruin for the Maverick matchup, which doesn’t look stellar on paper. After testing some games, I like most of the numbers a lot. Portent was surprisingly not terrible, and I even used it on my opponent to good effect. Liliana looks strange, but it’s one of the stone best cards in the format, and taking extra turns with a planeswalker in play feels great.
This deck has a slightly favorable RUG matchup, due to Tombstalker being larger than Tarmogoyf, and it retains a lot of the good combo matchups that typical BUG lists have. Even the matchups that used to be bad for BUG, like ‘Folk, have improved an incredible amount. Of course, I’ve mostly tested preboard games, which might be clouding my perspective. Getting a Tombstalker Submerged is just about the worst feeling ever.
Coming back to Merfolk, that deck is only as good as the blue decks around it. With the GP results indicating a decrease in Sneak and Show, as well as a Goblins deck Top 8′ing, the field might become too hostile for the blue tribe — but the deck always has the chance to run hot and ‘Folk people anyway.
For its part, Master of the Pearl Trident should make some waves in other formats.
Currently, Merfolk is a rogue strategy in Modern, with a mere seven players piloting the archetype at GP Yokohama. Still, we’ve seen in Legacy how much the deck improves with the addition of another lord (Coralhelm Commander). Since Master of the Pearl Trident sits right in the sweet spot on the Vial curve, you can bet a lot of people will be considering this deck for the upcoming Modern GP in Columbus.
This is the list I’m currently testing:
I prefer the red splash for several reasons. By maindecking Lightning Bolt, Merfolk has access to actual removal and reach, which is something it doesn’t typically have. Despite how good the card is, it’s important to retain a critical mass of Merfolk and countermagic, so I only have three Bolts for now. If I decide the metagame is too aggressive, I’ll probably switch decks, but adding the fourth burn spell and a Dismember or two is an option.
Path to Exile is the best removal spell in the format, but I’m not running it for a few reasons. It fixes the opponent’s mana, making cards like Blood Moon and Spreading Seas weaker, and it also ramps the opponent, making Cursecatcher, Spell Pierce, and Mana Leak worse. In short, the card is a nonbo with most of the other disruption I want to be running.
Echoing Truth is a tempo card, and a very good one, with blowout potential against the token decks that saw some success at GP Yokohama. I keep it in against most decks, even Jund, where it can clear away multiple blockers. Plus, post-Blood Moon it can become the best removal spell of all time.
Out of the sideboard, Combust does a lot of work in the Splinter Twin matchup. When combined with some pressure, Twin can rarely win through the red instant. It has further application in the ‘Folk mirror, where it can one hit anything through opposing countermagic or Kira shield. When I consider its usefulness in random Delver and Restoration Angel matchups, Combust is a must.
Blood Moon is an interesting one. In Legacy, ‘Folk has access to Back to Basics, so the card has never seen serious consideration. In Modern, however, Blood Moon is one of the best tools for fighting Jund. It shuts off our own manlands, sure, but being able to still cast spells and Vial in threats breaks parity nicely. Unfortunately, I am forced to include a high number of basics in the mana base, which can make finding red difficult, and restricts sweet options like Ghost Quarter.
That said, Spreading Seas is a better card for the main deck, especially since we now have eight islandwalk effects. The card replaces itself, shuts off manlands, and gums up opposing mana bases. While Modern has some of the same powerful interactions as Legacy, it lacks the free countermagic and nonbasic disruption (especially Wasteland). As such, decks are free to depend on cards like Windbrisk Heights and the Urzatron. By maindecking either Spreading Seas or Blood Moon, Merfolk is positioned to attack the format in a new way, which might just be the [card tectonic edge]edge[/card] it needs against the field. Note that Lybaert ran three main deck (and the fourth in the board) on his way to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Amsterdam, which had similar levels of Jund.
As for the rest of the sideboard, both Grafdigger’s Cage and Torpor Orb have utility against the Birthing Pod decks in the format, with Cage also being good against random Reanimator strategies, and Orb being another hoser for Splinter Twin. Having a diverse set of answers to the various combo decks in the format is important.
Note that, in Modern, we have the tools to run any color combination we choose, without the threat of Wasteland. As such, almost any card that fits the strategy can be included, and off-color splashes in the board are up for consideration.
While I like where I’m at right now, I’m not going to lock in my deck list this far away from the tournament. These are some cards I’m considering for the deck:
•Path to Exile
•Sower of Temptation
•Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
•Rule of Law
An incredible amount of options, and I’m sure I’m missing some good ones! Even in a deck like Merfolk, where many of the slots are locked, the potential for viable variations is staggering. While this is great news for brewers, it makes preparation difficult. This should change as the format becomes more and more solved.
Good luck with your preparation!