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Magic 2014 Exclusive Preview – Tidebinder Mage

Over recent months, the Merfolk tribe has hit a rough patch. It’s no longer quite the force it used to be in Legacy, and even though it’s starting to see a resurgence in Modern, it has never really found a firm foothold. Luckily for fans of fish, the tides have brought a new ally, and one that neatly solves many of the deck’s weaknesses. Take a look at Tidebinder Mage:

This card is not weak. Not only is it a 2-cost Merfolk, which is almost a prerequisite, the ability is exactly what the deck wants. Take a look at some of the potential targets:

[draft]tarmogoyf
grim lavamancer
deathrite shaman
bloodbraid elf
heritage druid
knight of the reliquary
progenitus
goblin lackey
goblin guide[/draft]

There are certainly a ton of targets, but the most relevant are [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], which cause Merfolk more problems than the rest of the list combined. Instead maindecking the likes of [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], or having to [card]Force of Will[/card] the opponent’s 1-drop, Merfolk now gets to play or Vial in a 2-drop and ignore the threat. Granted, a single [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] later and the monster gets unlocked, but especially in the case of something like Tarmogoyf, a permanent answer isn’t necessary. If Tidebinder Mage can lock down a ‘Goyf for 2-3 turns, that’s often enough to win the race handily. [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] presents a slightly bigger problem, but protecting Tidebinder Mage with [card]Force of Will[/card] is not only permissible but recommended.

I could see Legacy Merfolk playing anywhere from 2-4 of this main deck, with the rest potentially in the board, which is a strong endorsement. The double-blue cost probably makes it a little harder to play elsewhere, such as BUG or the like, but finding a home in a solid deck is already an accomplishment.

Of course, Legacy isn’t the only format where this will be good. As I mentioned before, Merfolk has been making waves in Modern (small waves), and as it turns out, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] exists there too. Deathrite and [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] are a bigger part of the format than in Legacy, and having a relatively free way to disrupt the opponent is always valuable.

Lastly, we have Standard. This is the only format where the creature type of the Tidebinder isn’t all that relevant, but luckily, the ability still very much is. No Tarmogoyf, perhaps, but the list is populated with creatures that show up way more often, considering just how many Standard decks play them:

[draft]Thragtusk
arbor elf
avacyn’s pilgrim
thundermaw hellkite
falkenrath aristocrat
acidic slime
ghor-clan rampager
boros reckoner
experiment one
varolz, the scar-striped
young wolf
voice of resurgence
flinthoof boar
burning-tree emissary
rakdos cackler
stromkirk noble[/draft]

All of these cards see a lot of play, and locking them down is very valuable. Granted, some have haste, some can be sacrificed for value, and some still do things while locked down, but the vast majority of the list is nullified by the Tidebinder.

As a straight-up removal spell, it’s not ideal to let them unlock their creature by killing your 2/2, so in order to really get value from the Mage, you have to want a 2/2. There are definitely decks that do, and those decks are often also interested in running [card]Restoration Angel[/card], which is also very good with this particular Merfolk. Getting to lock down their Elf early and switch to a [card]Thragtusk[/card] late is nice, and adding 3 power to the board at the end of their turn and tapping multiple creatures down is pretty sweet.

For those reasons, my first inclination would be to fit this into UWR, either in the main deck or sideboard. It is at its best against Junk Reanimator and Naya Aggro/Humans, especially if the aggro deck is light on removal. A 2/2 for 2 that essentially just kills a creature is awesome, and against removal-light decks, that’s basically what this is. Against Jund or the Naya decks with more removal, the Mage isn’t quite as permanent an answer as one would hope, so make plans with caution.

Tidebinder Mage also seems like an awesome sideboard card against the decks that are light on removal, and even better if your deck is creature-light, and prompted the opponent to side out their removal.

I expect this card to turn the tide often, and as a Legacy card, will have a very long shelf life.

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