The Merfolk Ad Nauseam matchup is one that is generally thought to be in Merfolk’s advantage. However, I don’t really think that’s the case. The Merfolk deck does have pressure to back its disruption, but it has a lot less disruption than a deck like Team America or Counterbalance (which are much tougher matchups).
One of the reasons people think that Merfolk is good against Ad Naus is because the pressure means that even if you get an Ad Nauseam off, you are often at low enough life that your odds of winning aren’t that high. Between Duress, Thoughtseize, and Xantid Swarm post board, it’s not hard to get in a situation where you can resolve an Infernal with some mana floating, but if the thing you’re getting doesn’t win it for you, it doesn’t matter. However, what people fail to realize is the power of Ill-Gotten Gains. Against aggressive draws from Merfolk, you can use Infernal to find Ill-Gotten Gains instead of Ad Nauseam. If they are pressure heavy, they are by definition disruption light, meaning you should be able to either make an additional mana to play around a returned Daze, or set it up so that you can return a Thoughtseize and still combo against Force of Will. Figuring out whether to go on the Ad Nauseam or Ill-Gotten Gains plan is one of the keys to the deck, and is even more important in this matchup.
I played against Luis, who was using Merfolk, and this time, we both recorded:
My favorite play in the set of games is the one where I used Lion’s Eye Diamond to cast Ad Nauseam. Normally, the only way to do this is with Infernal Tutor. However, if you know the top of your deck from either Ponder, Brainstorm, or Preordain, you can stack another cantrip and crack LED in response. This strategy allowed me to cast Ad Nauseam and take down a tight game.
A couple notes on general strategies that apply in this matchup:
Playing around Daze effects: One of the most important things to be careful about are their Force Spikes (Daze and Cursecatcher). Merfolk plays more of these effects than any other deck, and if you don’t play around them effectively, you will get punished. First of all, on the turn you are going off, it is generally better to play cheap Rituals first. Prioritizing [card lotus petal]Petal[/card] ahead of Dark Ritual ahead of Cabal Ritual will help avoid getting wrecked by Daze. Another thing to keep in mind is that LED can pay for Daze. In the last game, I used this to my advantage by cracking LED in response to IGG. Luis had the Daze, but playing it wouldn’t help him since I had three mana floating. Lastly remember that Aether Vial for one can cast a Cursecatcher at instant speed.
Playing around Wasteland: One of the reasons Merfolk’s Dazes are so good is Wasteland. With at least two of each basic, you can usually just live off of an Island and a Swamp. If you happen to draw one of the two Underground Seas, it is generally correct to just sit on it until the turn you are going off, essentially using it as yet another ritual. However, there is one card that makes you bite the bullet and leave yourself open to getting Wastelanded…
Playing with Xantid Swarm: Xantid Swarm is quite the pest, for your opponent. However, playing with it is not always as easy as it seems. First of all, I don’t think the fact that this makes you run into Wasteland is that relevant. Sticking a Xantid Swarm is awesome enough that you will be in good shape even after losing a Trop (unless your hand is a one-lander). Second, always attack with Xantid Swarm! It may seem like forgetting to attack for one turn isn’t a huge deal if you’re just Pondering or doing something small, but it can really hurt sometimes. Your opponent will simply snap counter your Ponder and basically have gained free card advantage, since their counters weren’t going to do anything anyway. When I said always attack, I didn’t really mean always attack… If your opponent has a flier up like a leveled Coralhelm Commander in Merfolk, you should simply wait to attack with Swarm until the turn you can combo. You’ll lose your Swarm in combat, but somehow I think that won’t be a huge problem if they lose 20 life.
Lastly, I thought I should touch on how I think Mental Misstep affects the matchup since I think most Merfolk decks will be playing three or four. If Misstep ends up replacing a disruption spell like Daze, I think it will only help Merfolk’s odds a tiny bit. Their disruption will be a little better, but it still won’t really affect the matchup that much. If they instead simply swap out creatures for Missteps, the matchup’s dynamic will change more, but I don’t think the percentage will. Instead of using Ill-Gotten Gains against disruption light draws, it is probably better to rely more on Ad Nauseam. However, I still think the matchup can be favorable after New Phyrexia comes into play.
LSV’s Take on the Matchup
Since I was the punching bag this time, I figured I could share a few things I learned. Much like Matt said, this matchup wasn’t as bad for Ad Naus as is commonly thought, and in fact seems to favor it. Obviously that can change depending on the build of Merfolk, but Xantid Swarm does a very good job of making all Merfolk’s answers and potential sideboard cards blank. It’s like a super-Duress: unless you have the Force right away, it negates all the counters you have or will draw. I don’t think the matchup is horrible or anything, and I certainly wouldn’t put in specific Swarm hate, especially since Mental Misstep will help in that regard.
Most of the games were pretty straightforward, and as you can see in the video, disrupting them is generally better than doing anything else. I’d rather Wasteland than cast a threat (though Matt plays around Wasteland about as completely as he avoids wearing pants, which is to say 100%), and I’d Spell Pierce, Daze, or Cursecatcher most cantrips he plays.
Overall this seems to favor Ad Naus, though Misstep will help somewhat, and Merfolk is much easier to pilot, meaning that “in the wild” the matchup may differ.