»6th November 2018
Here is a deck tech for the merfolk deck I've been playing on Magic the Gathering: Arena. This is my merfolk deck. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My merfolk deck is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my merfolk deck is useless. Without my merfolk deck, I am useless. I must play my merfolk deck tr- [joke is old. abort.]
[sigh] So now you think you can write a deck tech? What are you even on about, you've been playing MTG:Arena for six weeks and now you're Luis Scott Vargas? ('Who?')
Seriously, there is nothing for you here. You don't even play Magic, right? Just leave, there are far better things to be doing with your time.
Okay, don't say I didn't warn you...
Welcome to my merfolk deck tech. As of writing we're in the Guilds of Ravnica Standard environment, so in another six months or so not only will no one who visits here want to read this, but in six months time when the meta shifts or whenever the next rotation is and 95% of this deck rotates out, it will be completely useless even to the people who might be interested in reading it! Ephemeral!
2x Mist-Cloaked Herald (U)
3x Kumena's Speaker (G)
4x River Sneak (1U)
3x Silvergill Adept (1U)
4x Deeproot Elite (1G)
3x River Herald's Boon (1G)
4x Merfolk Mistbinder (GU)
2x Deeproot Waters (2U)
2x Jungleborn Pioneer (2G)
2x Swift Warden (1GG)
3x Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca (1GU)
1x Seafloor Oracle (2UU)
4x Tempest Caller (2UU)
1x River's Rebuke (4UU)
4x Hinterland Harbor
4x Unclaimed Territory
In ideal circumstances, the deck casts a bunch of merfolk before the opponent can get set up and win with three or four big attacks.
In slower games, the deck chips away at the opponent's life with unblockable creatures before mounting a massive attack after Tempest Caller taps the opponent's board. At the same time, accruing card advantage with Silvergill Adepts and Kumena keeps the deck from stalling in the late game.
Against aggro, the deck wants to sit back, avoid trading in combat and build up enough power on the board with Mistbinders and Elites to take over the late game. The strong cards here boost the strength of your merfolk, giving them the edge in combat and letting you present a stronger defence. The weak cards here are simply the slower cards that bring more advantages in the late game.
Strong cards: Deeproot Elite, Merfolk Mistbinder, Kumena
Weak cards: Seafloor Oracle, Deeproot Waters
Against control, the deck wants to carefully get enough presence on the board to steadily win the game through attrition. Holding back Swift Wardens and River Herald's Boons is a must against control. Making sure not to overextend is important too, a Settle the Wreckage cast against a mass merfolk attack will almost surely close out the game. The aim should be to keep a slim profile on the battlefield that can still attack, and holding back creatures to recover from the inevitable removal. Equally, holding back the real threats until removal and counters have been wasted on earlier plays. The weaker cards in this match-up are the low-impact creatures that would be played early and generally play a supporting role to the later threats like Mistbinders and Kumena.
Strong cards: Deeproot Waters, River Sneak, Tempest Caller
Weak cards: Kumena's Speaker, Jungleborn Pioneer, Mist-Cloaked Herald
Against combo, the deck wants to race the opponent and do enough damage with explosive plays like River Sneak and Deeproot Elite before the combo machine gets going. The stronger cards in this match-up put early pressure on the opponent and get their life total low quickly. The weaker cards are the slower, more defensive cards which the opponent is likely uninterested in dealing with.
Strong cards: River Sneak, Kumena's Speaker, Deeproot Elite
Weak cards: Tempest Caller, Kumena, Swift Warden
The deck is weakest against control. If the opponent has enough removal or counters to stop the key pieces coming out, the deck is left in the mid-game with underpowered 2/1s and 2/2s that can't attack profitably.
Ideally on turn 1-2 the deck wants to be casting merfolk and developing a board to attack with. Mist-Cloaked Herald and River Sneak can start chipping away at the opponents life total right away.
Turn 3-4. the deck wants to get out some lords or more merfolk to further develop the board. Keeping all merfolk tapped and attacking and goading the enemy into trying to counterattack only to flash in a Swift Warden can also start to swing the game in your favour. The game can be won on turn 4 with an ideal starting hand and a slow opponent.
Turn 5-6. Ideally, the deck should be winning now, the opponent should be on the backfoot and overwhelmed by merfolk. In slower games, this is the time when Kumena and Seafloor Oracle can refill your hand to get things moving again.
Turn 7-8. The longer the game goes, the worse it gets for merfolk. Every big creature that hits the board stops merfolk from attacking profitably and can close out the game. The only way out at this point is going to be Seafloor Oracle or Kumena netting you enough card advantage to squeeze out a win.
A good opening hand is incredbily important for the deck. The majority of creatures in the deck only cost 1 to 2, so 2-land hands are ideal. The deck has no deck filtering or scry so is vulnerable to land flood. A 3-land hand needs to have a good spread of 2 and 3 mana threats.
The sequence of plays is important for getting the most out of some creatures like Deeproot Elite, so the deck does not top-deck well. A Deeproot Elite is a terrible top-deck and wants to come out as early as possible, preferably immediately before another creature, whilst a Tempest Caller is just a dead card in hand until at least turn 4.
The mana base is another weak area. Until we get Breeding Pool back with the Simic guild in the next Ravnica set, the deck is stuck with only 8 (if you count Unclaimed Territory) dual lands. As a result, UU or GG opening hands are a frequent problem. When faced with mulligans the deck can come undone as it lacks card draw or filtering.
Opponents with a lot of removal can be very difficult to beat, losing three creatures in a game can be enough to stop the deck getting a critical mass of merfolk before the opponent can begin casting truly powerful creatures. Siding in counterspells and keeping mana available would lose the deck far too much tempo.
Carnage Tyrant represents many of the problems the deck faces. Firstly, at 7/6, it could easily take three merfolk to kill the Tyrant the hard way. Equally, the Tyrant is easily capable of killing any attacker in the deck with the exception of River Sneak. Secondly, having Trample means that Deeproot Waters 1/1 tokens are ineffective as chump blockers. If you are having to use two, three or more creatures to block and kill a Carnage Tyrant, then you are on the way to losing.
Similarly, unless you're wanting to sideboard in Plummet or Shaper Apprentice there's nothing you can do about big flyers. It's nothing to be too worried about, many decks have major problems with big flyers. To be honest, most of the time you don't want to be blocking anyway.
A 1/1 unblockable. I really don't see why everyone hates this.
An ideal first-turn play that can become a 2/2 as early as turn 2. Great value.
A pseudo-lord for 1G, yes please.
This guy wants to come down as early as possible so that subsequent merfolk can benefit from the +1/+1 tokens. Generally, it is best to spread +1/+1s around on different creatures so as not to create an obvious target for removal. The Elite attract enough remove as it is. With two of these on the battlefield and some more creatures in hand, things will get out of control for the opponent very quickly.
When facing lots of removal, it is a better idea to put the +1/+1 counters on hexproof Merfolk tokens if you have a Deeproot Waters on the battlefield.
Less experienced players tend to ignore this unassuming 1/1 unblockable, but it's the +1/+1 effect when Merfolk enter the battlefield where things can quickly get out of control. There won't be many turns where you can't cast a merfolk, so this nearly always attacks as a 2/2. If Elite, Mistbinders or any other pumpers are out, this can easily become 3, 4 or 5 unblockable damage each turn. It attracts less removal than the other big hitters thanks to the fact it drops back to an unassuming 1/1 at the end of your turn.
The deck's one and only true combat trick. This can give any creature up to +2/+2 which can give a lot of reach when faced with difficult blocks. On the offence, opponents can easily be caught off-guard by blocking say a disposable 1/1 token only to find it trading or even beating a far more valuable creature.
What I have found on Arena is that I can often make a sub-optimal attack (such as where I am expecting to have to trade a creature, for instance, attacking with a 2/1 and the opponent blocking with a 1/1) and just drop this in and gain the advantage. It doesn't pop up in many Merfolk decks, with the exception of the starter version of the deck. For this reason I think a lot of players dismiss it as 'weak, starter-deck filler'. More fool them.
This deck needs to be drawing cards but cannot afford to take a turn off to cast a Divination. Silvergill Adept gives you an extra card for giving away a little information about what's in your hand. Top tip, multiple copies of the Adept should wherever possible reveal the same card, preferably a low impact card like Kumena's Speaker.
Another lord, this time for the slightly more problematic cost of UG. This is a prime target for removal so it is worth putting one or possibly two of Elite's +1/+1s counters onto it to bring up its toughness a bit. This one is harder to protect than Elite purely because of the anthem-like +1/+1 effect and the fact that even with two Mistbinders out, they'll both only have three toughness, not enough to put them out of reach of the likes of Lightning Strike.
For 2U you get an enchantment that does nothing right away, this feels like losing a step but in subsequent turns you can get massive value from this and take over the board. Firstly, this doubles up any merfolk creatures you cast, vastly speeding up the assembly of your army. Secondly, these tokens have hexproof which is incredibly valuable against any removal-heavy or control-leaning decks that want to stop you from casting creatures. In such match-ups, dumping Deeproot Elite's +1/+1s onto your hexproof tokens gives you beefy creatures that cannot be interacted with. When you're behind in a game, the tokens can act as cannon fodder, happily chump blocking whatever ground-based threat is bearing down on you.
This combos with Deeproot Elite, giving you two triggers. It also gives you a reasonable 2/2 body and a 1/1 hexproof token. The hexproof token is obviously far more valuable when facing a lot of removal.
This guy is better in the slower match-ups where you have to wait more and build up your forces. He is a good blocker, at 2/4 he has the highest base stats in the deck.
His second ability is the one you will find yourself using the most, when holding back blockers to stave off enemy attacks. Tap three untapped merfolk at the end of their turn and draw a card, good deal. In very late games, you could tap multiple trios of merfolk to restock your hand and win through card advantage.
His third ability is an effective finisher, giving you an extra five power spread across five creatures, and can often put you permanently ahead in games where the opponent can match your merfolk tit-for-tat, or in mirror matches.
His first ability has some utility, but just isn't something I use often. The deck rarely has trouble getting some attackers through, seeing as it has so many unblockables, but it could definitely give you the edge where you absolutely must get an attacker through.
The deck's other combat trick. Flash lets you drop this creature into combat on your opponents turn and take out a small creature. Giving Hexproof to another merfolk lets you save a Mistbinder or Elite from a Murder, Vraska's Contempt or Lightning Strike. Once the dust has settled you are left with a solid 3/3 body, the best natural attacker in the deck. A typical worst case scenario for this creature is passing the turn on turn 3, keeping the mana up for removal directed at a turn 2 Mistbinder or Elite, then dropping him onto the battlefield at the end of the opponent's turn to have him ready to attack on turn 4.
An option for slower games where you are struggling to get to a critical mass of merfolk to attack with. River Sneaks or Mist-Cloaked Heralds are this guy's natural allies, slipping through for damage and netting you cards. Although it rarely matters in the games where you want to use him, his 2/3 body is one of the better blockers in the deck although by the time he comes down on turn 4, 5 or 6, you're hoping to already have something out to make this guy bigger.
Here's a finisher. This should be the last merfolk you bring to the battlefield so as to maximise the number of attackers that can get through after her taps out the opponents blockers.
Okay this is me getting a bit silly now, I just like big effects like this.
In a game that has gone long, or stalled for whatever reason, (common in the mirror match) this is basically a 'win target game'. This is a massive swing in your favour whenever you cast it and is unlikely to be something that opponent is expecting from a Merfolk deck.
Until the next Ravnica set, this is the only dual land the deck wants to be running. A deck which depends so much on curving out cannot afford to be down one mana for a turn in the early game.
An obvious inclusion for any tribal deck. This is effectively a dual land for every card in the deck besides River Herald's Boon and Deeproot Waters.
Control decks are going to counter your merfolk and they are going to remove them, aside from a couple of combat tricks, there isn't much you can do about it. What you can do is hold back the real threats, hoping that the opponent will waste spells on red herrings. You absolutely want to be holding onto Swift Warden as long as possible, as it's effectively a counterspell to any spot removal that the opponent might be directing at a Kumena or a Mistbinder.
Deeproot Waters can absolutely carry you in these sorts of games. Even if your spell is countered, casting a merfolk will still net you a 1/1 hexproof that control finds difficult to deal with.
Kumena's first ability makes him unblockable, this needs to be used before attacking for him to get through. Activating this ability once he has been blocked will not let him subsequently get through.
Jungleborn Pioneer will only trigger Deeproot Waters once. The trigger is 'Whenever you cast a Merfolk spell' not 'Whenever a Merfolk enters the battlefield under your control'.
Here's some cards I've tried at some point and stopped using for whatever reason.
This fits into the same role as Tempest Caller. The question is, do you want the opponent tapped out for two turns, or just one but with you having an extra creature. Either card is reasonable. If you apply quadrant theory to this. I think Sleep is far better when you are ahead but not as good when you are behind. As I often find myself behind in games, I prefer the Tempest Caller. It's up to you.
This is a fine card but doesn't make it into my list for a number of reasons. One, the deck already has 14 cards in the 2-drop slot. Two, the UU casting cost can frequently cause problems in a Green-Blue deck with a weak mana base. Three, the ETB effect just doesn't seem useful enough in the early game or powerful enough in the late game. Lots of people seem to swear by this guy though, so give it a try, maybe I'm just doing it wrong.
Two powerful effects, but far too slow. On turn 4 you'd rather be casting two spells or a Tempest Caller and closing out the game, not casting a slow removal magnet.
I used this when starting the deck before I had more of the other better cards and before I realised I needed to keep the curve as low as possible. This is a weak body for a 5-drop and the effect is rather slow. Can you see wanting to hold onto this until turn 6 just so you can combo it with a land drop after casting to get 1 life and an extra card?
There was a pre-Rivals of Ixalan version of this deck that leant heavily on +1/+1 counters. I'm sure that deck is still possible, and in that case, this guy would be a 4-of. Not in this deck, though.
There's lots of interesting ways to play Merfolk besides what I have described here:
Mono-blue Merfolk. I've tried this out on Arena, it plays very different, and is mostly about spinning wheels until you can cast an enormous blue creature and win on the spot.
Mono-green Merfolk. I haven't tried this, but want to. I have no idea how it would play and haven't seen it on Arena. Maybe it would lean on the Explore mechanic, after all, Jadelight Ranger is really hot in the meta right now.
Low-curve variant. Very similar to this deck but entirely dropping the more controlly elements. This version doubles down on the early game aggro win. You don't want anything over three casting cost. I've tried this deck out a bit on Arena and it wins quick and loses quick too. Somewhat less satisfying to play since if your one strategy doesn't work, that's it, game over.
There isn't a sideboard because I just play quick games. I'm sure if you're bothered about sideboards you'll be better at making one than me. To be fair, if you're better at making sideboards than me, then this whole deck tech will probably be beneath you anyway, why have you read this far? Out of politeness? Did you just skip to the bottom to read the little one-liner underneath?