Czech Mate – Merfolk in Modern

GP Boston is in a couple days and I’m sure many of you still aren’t sure what to play. I have two or three decks that I really like and that I’ve been playing for a long time, and I want to talk about one of them today. Playing a deck you are familiar with is very important, especially so in Modern because there are so many decks and interactions. I got this list from Petr Sochurek, who has been playing it forever and taught me all the important things you need to know about the deck. It might very well be the best deck in Modern but it’s exceedingly difficult to play correctly. There are decisions every turn, so you need to make sure you play it well and are prepared for the current metagame. It might seem like a deck where all you need to do is play ABC Magic and curve out 1-2-3-4, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here is the deck list:

I’ll try to explain all the numbers and card choices.

4 Cursecatcher: Some people are replacing this guy with Cosi’s Trickster but that’s just wrong. It gives you a lot of flexibility against many cards. Against UWR Control it lets you resolve a key spell like Adept or Kira, or helps you protect a lord from Electrolyze on turn 3. It’s also very important against Tron, because on the draw you are very vulnerable to Pyroclasm and it usually helps you kill your opponent before he’s able to clear the board with Oblivion Stone. Cursecatcher might look like it doesn’t do much, but that’s just because your opponent will not play his important spell into it. So even if it looks like his ability isn’t very relevant, it actually influences the game every turn.

2 Kira: Kira is very good against the current metagame and I’m even considering adding a 3rd copy. There are a lot of fair decks like BG(X), UWR, and to some extent even Twin where she’s really good. The reasons why I’m only playing 2 are that she’s not that important in game 1 and I don’t want to have a Wind Drake against something like Pod or Storm. She’s also legendary, so you don’t want to be stuck with a second copy in your hand.

One thing to keep in mind is that for Kira’s ability to trigger, she has to be in play when your opponent plays something that targets your creature, so putting her in play with Aether Vial in response to your opponent playing a removal spell doesn’t do anything. So unless you are afraid of a sweeper, you should usually get her into play on your turn.

There are a lot of cool things you can do with her. For example if you are in a damage race and you’ve decided that you will block something with Mutavault on your opponent’s turn, you should activate the Mutavault in his upkeep. If he draws a Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter, he won’t be able to destroy it, because it’s already a creature. With the new legendary rules, in response to a second spell that targets Kira, you can Vial out another Kira and keep that one, which is relevant against something like Electrolyze or Lightning Helix.

2 Merrow Reejerey: Reejerey is very good in the matchups that are about tempo and where your opponent doesn’t have a lot of removal (Pod, Storm, Hate Bears) and it could be correct to just play 4 instead of Kiras if the metagame is better suited for it. Sometimes if you have a hand with two of them and a lot of two-drops (for example 2 Reejerey, 2 Lords, Cursecatcher, 2 Island), it can be correct to not play the Cursecatcher on turn 2. There is a good chance you will only draw one more land and this will allow you to play a second Reejerey on turn 4, untap an Island, play the Cursecatcher, untap two Islands and then dump the rest of your hand in play. Also don’t forget you can untap other things than just lands with him, like Vial or a creature after it attacked.

2 Remand: The usual question is whether cards like Mana Leak or Spell Pierce aren’t better alternatives. There are a number of reasons why I think Remand is better. Merfolks is a synergy deck where every creature gets better with another creature so you don’t have room for many non-creature cards. On the other hand, you can’t really afford to not have answers against game-winning cards like Living End, Scapeshift, or Sphinx’s Revelation. Remand is the best choice because it replaces itself. Even though Mana Leak usually counters the spell for good, it doesn’t mean that it’s better than delaying it and drawing a card. There are exceptions like Birthing Pod, which is so key that you would gladly exchange the extra card to see it go to the graveyard, but most cards in Modern aren’t that strong and the game is usually about tempo, card advantage, and who has more relevant cards.

If that’s true then it doesn’t really matter whether you counter a card and next turn your opponent replays it or has another one that does pretty much the same thing. Remand creates tempo and sometimes can even create card advantage when your opponent tries to counter one of your spells and you Remand your card back to your hand. In this situation you actually lose tempo but those matchups are usually about attrition so it doesn’t matter that much, not to mention when their counterspell is Cryptic Command.

1 Relic of Progenitus: This card doesn’t exactly look like maindeck material but it’s solid against most of the decks in the current metagame. It’s good against Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Scavenging Ooze and great against decks like Pod or Living End. You often have one unused mana on turn 1 or 3 so even if it’s not good in the matchup you will just cycle it. In most situations you use Relic in your own turn to give your opponent fewer options. Sometimes you can sacrifice Relic in your own upkeep with the Vial trigger on the stack when you are not sure whether or not to add a counter.

4 Master of Waves: At first I was very skeptical about this card. It’s pretty bad against Thoughtseize. If your opponent can’t kill it, he will discard it, and when he doesn’t mind (you don’t have enough lands or he has a way to get rid of him) he will just take something else and leave you with a dead card in hand. It’s also slow enough that it can sometimes turn what would otherwise be a dead draw against you (Thoughtseize on turn 4+) into a very relevant card. It also isn’t very good against cards like Mana Leak, Path, Cryptic Command, or Orzhov Pontiff. But despite all those things, it’s still an overpowered card with way more upside than downside that wins games on its own.

If you have a Vial and 2 Masters in hand, its usually correct to play the first one and then wait for your opponent to tap out or try to kill it, and then Vial out the second one so you can keep all the tokens. Also don’t forget that you get extra devotion from Spreading Seas, and that its ability pumps Mutavault.

4 Spreading Seas: One of the key cards in many matchups that makes your guys unblockable (in combination with Lord of Atlantis) which is your plan against most of the green decks, especially against Pod or something like Hate Bears. It’s not that important against non-green decks though, so you usually side it out, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless in those matchups. Even against something like Twin it’s still a very strong card if you draw multiples. When and what lands to spread the seas on is very important and difficult because you don’t know what other lands your opponent has in hand. I usually play my first Seas on turn 4 or 5 so that I don’t lose tempo at the beginning of the game. Basically it’s usually not worth it to play it early and hope to color-screw them unless there were some mulligans involved. Of course, if you have a bad hand or no other play, then just play it on turn 2 and hope it screws them. Same holds for those times when you have multiples, then the chance obviously gets higher.

Against something like Jund, it’s usually better to put it on a manland unless they have been searching for basics, thinking saving some life is more important. Most opponents think Merfolk is some super aggressive deck and play defensively like they would against Burn, but it’s actually just a relatively slow (but very resilient) midrange aggro deck, capable of playing a long game with the potential of some very explosive draws or kills out of nowhere. Of course when they have been fetching a shockland every turn then it’s probably better to try to cut them off a color needed for Anger/Courser/Liliana instead of being concerned with a Treetop Village. It just depends on the specific situation. You can also play it on your land if you don’t have a second blue mana. You should also keep in mind that your opponent can surprise you with an Abrupt Decay , Golgari Charm, or even Chord of Calling for Qasali Pridemage or Harmonic Sliver in combat, destroy it, and blow you out by being able to block.

3 Dismember, 2 Vapor Snag: If it weren’t for control decks I’d play 4 Dismember and 1 Snag, but being able to bounce your own guy to save it from removal is sometimes useful, especially against Electrolyze. In game 1 you are also more aggressive than after sideboard because they don’t have much removal yet, so being 1 card behind isn’t that important.

4 Aether Vial: The most complicated card in the deck. Most people put lords into play on their own turn, which isn’t always correct because it allows your opponent to use mana to play removal in your turn and then untap again for next turn. If you wait until the end of their turn then they face a decision of whether to use the removal spell on a less important creature like Adept or not use mana at all. It’s just not always worth the extra point of damage or two and you also play around sweepers this way. You can also activate Vial in your upkeep and then add a counter, which actually happens quite often, when you go from 2 to 4 with Master in hand. Sometimes you should activate Vial even when you don’t have a creature if there is a good chance your opponent might respond with something like Vendilion Clique. But definitely don’t try this when you have a lord in play and your opponent might kill it with Electrolyze. If you have a Lord in hand and 2 Vials out, one at 4 and one at 2 counters and you are expecting a Vendilion Clique, it’s better to activate the one on 4 first because they will expect a Master and will respond to it, which lets you put your lord into play and show them an empty hand.

If you aren’t sure how many counters to leave your Vial on with an empty hand, 2 is usually a good number. Most of your creatures cost 2 and you can draw Silvergill Adept which you won’t be able to play and even if you have 5 mana you still want to put it into play with Vial and just play whatever spell you draw from it. You can also draw Spreading Seas into Adept. If the game isn’t going very well and Master is the only card that could save you, just put it on 4 and hope. Same thing when you think your opponent has Mana Leak and you can pay 3 more for a 2-drop but not for Master.

4 Lord of Atlantis, 4 Master of the Pearl Trident: You should try to play the lords as late as possible because they have pseudo-hate, and are also the most valuable. In a lot of games against control decks you are attacking with Cursecatcher, Adept, and Mutavault and your opponent has to either keep taking damage or start playing removal on them and risk not having answers to your Lords.

Every game is different of course, and there are exceptions to everything. It’s turn 2, you have an Island in play and you just drew a Cursecatcher, and the rest of your hand is Lord, Adept, Island, and Mutavault. In this case it’s better to play the Lord because next turn you will be able to use all your mana by playing Adept and Cursecatcher instead of only being able to play the Lord. It’s also better to play turn 2 Lord against Tron or any other deck with Pyroclasm or Infest-like effects, because next turn you can play another Lord and all your creatures have 3 toughness so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. If you go Adept into Lord they will wipe your board and you are too much behind. I also play turn 2 Lord against Pod because they have Orzhov Pontiff and more importantly Murderous Redcaps. If your creatures have 3 toughness then they don’t have a good creature to search for that will kill your guy (besides Shriekmaw).

Whether you play Lord of Atlantis or Master of Pearl Trident on turn 2 is usually irrelevant, but it does matter against decks with Mutavault, Vedalken Shackles, or Threads of Disloyalty, so try to play accordingly.

Minamo, School at Water’s Edge and Oboro, Palace in the Clouds are in the deck just as a small protection from Choke. The only downside can be drawing them when your opponent has Blood Moon, but no one really plays them maindeck now and I doubt anyone would want to side them in against you.


Before I start with the sideboard cards I should mention that the way this deck is built means you basically concede against Affinity. It’s unfortunate, but Modern is a format with too many decks and you just can’t reasonably expect to beat everything. Affinity is such a bad matchup that you would need to devote too many sideboard slots to beat it and I just don’t think that it’s worth it. Playing only something like 2 Hurkyl’s Recall is bad too because it’s just not enough and it would just be a waste of space.

1 Dismember: Your best card against any midrange creature deck like Jund or Pod. Confidant on the draw is really hard to beat so I want at least 4 answers.

2 Swan Song, 3 Spell Pierce: Basically anti-combo cards, mainly against decks like Living End, Scapeshift, Storm, Ad Nauseam etc. By the way, don’t sideboard Swan Song in against Twin, it’s horrible.

1 Kira, 3 Tidebinder Mage: Kira dominates all the grindy matchups where your opponent brings in a lot of removal, it’s especially good against UWR Control. Tidebinder is for decks with red and green creatures (shocking, I know) and it’s nice that it’s an answer to Grim Lavamancer.

4 Tectonic Edge: For some reason most people don’t like this card, probably because they don’t want to “waste’’ sideboard slots with cards that could be in the main deck. I don’t think playing them main is a good idea, its effect isn’t very relevant in a lot of matchups as too many times you are going to screw yourself by not having 2 blue mana on turn 2. Besides, in matchups where Edge is good, playing 1 or 2 wouldn’t change that much. Its power lies in having and drawing multiples, which is why I think you should either play 4 or 0.

This deck isn’t just an aggro deck and you should play accordingly. It’s much more important to maintain a board presence than push some damage through by losing creatures early. If you aren’t sure whether to play around something that could blow you out or just hope they don’t have it, I recommend the more conservative approach.

For example, imagine your opponent being at 14 life, you have 2 lords in play and another one in hand. You suspect your opponent might have a Supreme Verdict in hand. In this situation it’s better to keep it and just attack for 6, play it next turn and attack for 8 which kills them. If, on the other hand, they are at 15, it’s probably better to just play it because it shortens your clock by 1 turn.

Cards That Didn’t Make the Cut

Spellskite: Most people who play this deck have Spellskites in the sideboard but it’s only good against Splinter Twin, which I think is already a good matchup if you do everything correctly. It’s also good against Auras, but that’s not a very popular deck, so I don’t think you need to devote any sideboard slots to it. It seems like it would be good against UWR Control because they have a lot of cards like Bolt and Electrolyze, but it’s not because it doesn’t attack and it just dies to Supreme Verdict eventually.

Phantasmal Image: I cut Image because there are too many cards like Electrolyze, Pestermite/Deceiver Exarch, and Murderous Redcap in the format. You also can’t reveal it to Silvergill Adept, it doesn’t trigger Reejerey, and sometimes there is no creature to copy. It doesn’t work very well with Kira either. On the other hand it’s really good with Master and you only need to have Vial on 2 so maybe it deserves to be in the deck, but as long as Twin remains as popular as it is now, I’m not going to play any in my 75.

Thassa, God of the Sea: When it’s good it feels like a win-more card, when it’s bad it’s basically a 3-mana Time Walk for your opponent.

Coralhelm Commander: Everyone plays a lot of removal and you don’t want to spend your turn leveling it and then watch it die for one-third of the mana you invested.

Sygg, River Cutthroat: I think this card could be good in Merfolk in Legacy where True-Name Nemesis is legal and you usually have Vendilion Clique in your deck as well, but not in Modern.

Mana Leak: As I mentioned earlier, I think Remand is just better overall, especially with Snapcaster in the format.

Gut Shot/Hibernation: I prefer cards that are good against a large variety of decks. By having cards that are slightly worse against specific matchups but could be brought in against more decks, the numbers in sideboarding add up better. Against Jund you need to have 6 cards because Remand (especially on the draw) and Vial are horrible, and the matchup is so close that drawing even one card that doesn’t do anything is the difference between winning and losing.

As for splashing another color, I don’t think there’s a good reason for it. Path to Exile is worse than Vapor Snag or Dismember and Thoughtseize doesn’t seem like it would be very good in a synergistic deck like this. Dark Confidant is nice, but when your opponent doesn’t have removal you are winning anyway. Lightning Bolt doesn’t kill Tarmogoyf and Blood Moon is just worse than Tectonic Edge. Also, the aggro matchups are pretty close and you don’t want to take any damage from your lands.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover how to sideboard in each matchup—make sure to check back then!

As usual, thanks for reading.


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