Last week we got a new set in Rivals of Ixalan, and potentially even more exciting, four new bans in Standard, taking down the power level of Mono-Red and green-based energy strategies. What these bans and a new set have led to is a completely new environment and a new landscape to explore!
When Rivals of Ixalan was being spoiled, I first saw Silvergill Adept, and it gave me the urge to play some Merfolk. It was one of the first decks I started playing in Modern. I really like the deck. It rewarded you for tricky lines of play and knowing the deck, but most of all, having your creatures grow quite large from small beginnings and swimming over the opponent’s lands. It just made it all worth it!
Thus, I chose to start my exploration through our new format with Merfolk. I started working on this list on day two of the Standard format, and it’s still a work in progress, but I think it has a place in the metagame.
Standard U/G Merfolk
Starting with the early game (and in Merfolk, that means turn 1), you have 4 copies of Cryptbreaker and 3 copies of Jade Bearer. I was trying out Mist-Cloaked Herald, it wasn’t really effective. The card looked good with Curious Obsession (a card I’m still thinking I might want in this deck as a 1- or 2-of. It’s a nice way to get your creatures larger, but was weak to the 1-mana removal in the format) and Seafloor Oracle, but wasn’t good enough otherwise unless you wanted a reason to cut down to, say, 20 lands as opposed to 22. The Jade Bearers, on the other hand, have proved somewhat useful. The extra triggers for the Deeproot Elites, sizing your Merfolk Mistbinders above Shock/Lightning Strike/Abrade, or moving all in on an unblockable Kumena, all come up. Having a card that can distribute some +1/+1 counter shenanigans is actually a fair amount better than I expected.
The biggest reason for 22 lands is that the deck is playing a pair of Tempest Callers to tap opposing boards full of Vampires, Servo tokens, and hoards of green creatures. In reality, this is another card in the deck on the chopping block as it’s not the most impactful spell of the bunch. Another angle of attack, like Nissa, Steward of Elements in the main deck or Jace, Cunning Castaway would be more effective.
I’ve played many matches with Nissa in the past, but haven’t played as much with Jace yet. His looting ability will be well loved in this deck, as the most common way Merfolk loses is by getting flooded out or being stuck on two lands. I haven’t tried Jace in Standard Merfolk yet, but is something I’d recommend to players looking to delve deep on this archetype.
The 2-drops (and Kumena) are the real payoffs. Silvergill Adept and Merfolk Branchwalker are already seeing play in other decks. Merfolk Branchwalker has seen some play in Modern Merfolk, and is seeing play in some Jund/Sultai/R/G/and Naya decks in Standard.
MeanwhileSilvergill is right at home in any Merfolk deck in any format ever. Merfolk Mistbinder and Deeproot Elite are where the tribal components of the deck really begin paying off. A Standard-legal lord makes many of the weaker Merfolk (I’m looking at you, Jade Bearer and Jungleborn Pioneer) have stronger incentives. It’s as if you’re paying 1 mana for a great 2-mana spell, or in the case of the Jungleborn Pioneer, a 4-mana creature for 3 mana.
These dividends and increases in power are what allow the Merfolk deck to keep pace with decks playing raw, more powerful cards. Deeproot Elite might be the hardest card in the deck to play with. Trying to figure out when to hold your early Merfolk and when to give up board presence to enable more powerful turns down the road—these are tricks and tactics you need to learn with this deck, and your counter placement is key in terms of what creatures and removal you’re going to be playing around.
Finally, we talk about Kumena. It’s the real deal, well worth it’s price tag, and the new Cryptbreaker. Not playing 4 of this card is a severe mistake—end of story. I think the days of people registering 3 of a legendary creature or planeswalker are behind us as the removal and the threats have both become so good in Magic that players know their awesome 3-mana lord is going to be answered sometimes. Thus, drawing multiple Kumenas is not that big of a deal! You seldom use the +1/+1 your team mode, but the other two modes are exceptional and are activated almost every game you draw it. Against opposing aggro/midrange decks, you’ll want to start giving it counters with Deeproot Elite and Jade Bearer, chumping and making it unblockable each turn. In some midrange and controlling matchups, you’ll want to draw more cards and find more Merfolk to power out an army. I didn’t realize the power level of Kumena before getting to play with it. I could read its abilities and make some comparisons to other format staples like Gavony Township and Cryptbreaker, but I didn’t think it’d be this amazing.
The sideboard is mostly a mix and match of remaining blue and green cards. Jadelight Ranger is an amazing midrange card, and we’re already seeing it in many different base-green decks in Standard. Thus, having 2 more copies of those for grindy matchups is nice.
Nissais also awesome for the control decks with sweepers. She’s both an amazing followup and a great spell to play the turn before a sweeper to tax your opponent’s ability to react. Temur Energy used a suite of countermagic (Spell Pierce and Negate) in its reign of terror over the format in post-sideboard games and Merfolk also uses these well.
The Naturalizes are mostly for white-based decks as they’ve picked up Baffling End to pair with Cast Out. Herald of Secret Streams is mostly for green-based creature strategies as well as tokens decks. Seafloor Oracle, I think (keyword: I think, as this card has been really hit and miss by the time I’m writing this) is a great card to have on the play, and also exceptionally good against decks low on sweepers and cheap removal. If you think you’re likely to have a number of creatures on the battlefield, the Oracles will be great cards, but I’d recommend possibly trying out Jace, Cunning Castaway again in this and maybe the sideboard Jadelight Ranger slots.
I’ll be getting into the thick of Standard these next three weeks! But, if you want to see some Merfolk action, I’ll have some videos going up with this deck later on this week!