Advice From The Fae – Under The Sea

Friday, March 18 – Alex Bertoncini is our first Level 6 in the SCG Player’s Club after his win last weekend in Memphis with his trusty Merfolk deck. Read about a major deck to beat for this weekend’s Dallas/Fort Worth SCG Open.

FISHIES! Well it sure does feel good to finally have won a StarCityGames.com Legacy Open, that’s for sure. I was really holding my breath (heh) in the
finals when I had a pretty commanding board position, and I finally got a handshake from my friend AJ Sacher. Since I won the last trophy many, many
moons ago, I’ve seen that trophy slip away from me in the finals five times since, so it felt good to finally close.

The deck I used to crush the Legacy Open in Memphis was none other than my trusty mono-blue Merfolk deck! I put up a second-place finish with it in the
past as well as a string of Top 16s over some time, but closing out an entire tournament without dropping a match all day felt insane.

Merfolk is a deck I’ve played in Legacy for many years now, since I started experimenting with the format. It was the very first deck I picked up, and
I haven’t put it down since. Casting the fishies over and over has made playing the deck second nature to me, and I feel that gives me a huge edge over
other Merfolk players. Some decisions with the deck can be game altering, starting from the beginning of the game. Important decisions on turn 1 can be
whether to play Mutavault or Island, whether to play Aether Vial or wait until turn 2 to play around Daze, and whether to play Cursecatcher or Aether
Vial. These are all decisions that are not immediately obvious for newcomers to the deck and to me have become intuitive from playing hundreds of

For all of you who are new to Legacy, let me tell you that it’s an extremely diverse format that houses many different decks and archetypes at any
given time. You can play against a deck with as few as one land or as many as 43. There are decks that revolve around Enchantress’s Presence, Show and
Tell, Goblin Welder, Wild Nacatl, and Aether Vial. You can have fun playing virtually any deck you’d like, while still having a competitive edge. Build
your decks well, and play them tight, and you can play cards like Gaea’s Cradle and Crimson Kobolds or cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond and Painter’s
Servant. There isn’t a sanctioned format that’s more fun and rewarding.

Now if your preference is strictly competitive and you want to play a mainstream deck, there are certainly many decks to choose from that define the
current Legacy format. The field is littered with Merfolk, Zoo, Goblins, Team America, Counterbalance, Ad Nauseam Tendrils, and NO Show decks along
with a dozen other fringe archetypes. Many of these decks have obvious advantages over others; however, most decks still have glaring weaknesses to a
particular deck.

The easiest way to gain an advantage in Legacy is by playing a lot of games against various decks. The gauntlet is huge, and the variance between
decklists is vast, but going through these matchups is by far the fastest and most efficient way to improve your Legacy game. It allows you to really
understand critical cards in particular matchups, while allowing you to understand the nuances of your deck. Understanding your opponent’s decks can’t
be overvalued. Not everything in Legacy is as intuitive as Standard, so testing becomes more crucial, as it allows you to determine which spells
require counterspells and which creatures demand removal.

Merfolk generally preys upon blue decks and has a rougher time dealing with red decks. Luckily, Legacy players tend to play more Islands and Force of
Wills than Mountains and Lightning Bolts. Merfolk takes the role of an aggro-control deck, and the more aggressive a start you have, the less
permission you generally need. Merfolk has far more aggressive threats than counterspells and little in regards to hard-counters, so you want to apply
a fast clock to race your opponent before the game goes too long. You want to force them into corners where they can’t really afford to play around
cards like Daze, Spell Pierce, and Submerge and punish them for it.

Most Merfolk lists all look the same. Some versions splash another color because it’s easy to splash for cards like Perish and Swords to Plowshares.
However, there’s a steep price for the two-color decks that the monocolor versions don’t suffer from. Making yourself susceptible to big cards like
Wasteland and Stifle is the price, so to speak, of playing another color. I don’t believe such risks pay off enough in the end. Blue is the best color
in Magic, so you should be able to find more than enough sideboard cards to tackle any problem in just blue. There are some standout cards in my list
that certainly give me an edge over the stock lists.

Sower of Temptation — One of my favorite cards ever printed. It gives you outs that you wouldn’t normally have and is a great curve-topping one-of that
gives you a little bit of reach in your single-color deck. I found myself boarding in the Sower so often I decided to maindeck one and sideboard the
other. I’ve taken control of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and “small” things like Tarmogoyf with it, and it’s just a quality answer/threat that becomes
better after they’ve used their removal on your lords. It also works well with Kira, Great Glass-Spinner.

Mishra’s Factory — Having lands that count as spells of sorts in your deck is a great way to get value and avoid the occasional flooding. Merfolk has
no way to generate deck manipulation and has little card drawing, so a way to minimize mana flood is to have more lands that attack. Sometimes you even
get your opponent with the pump-the-old-Mutavault trick ;)

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner — Kira, is a tricky card. While it lacks synergy with Umezawa’s Jitte, it otherwise provides a huge advantage against tricky
cards like Grim Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt, and the omnipresent Swords to Plowshares. Kira also makes your Sowers of Temptation better.

Lack of StandstillStandstill is a card that falls in and out of my favor depending on the format. In this current metagame, I feel that overloading
on Merfolk lords and Kira is sufficient for beating even the blue decks, so I don’t want to have a card like Standstill clunk up my draws. On top of
being a bad late-game topdeck and having little use against aggro decks, it’s just generally a gamble. I feel safer playing additional threats rather
than sitting behind Standstill. The decks in Legacy currently have stronger late-games now, and drawing poorly off Standstill will punish you.

During the course of the day, I played against all blue decks and had a relatively easy time, only dropping a single game in the Swiss. Round 3, I
played against Jacob Baugh playing a U/B homebrew of his, with Mox Diamond, Trinket Mage, Crucible of Worlds, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Thoughtseize,
Engineered Explosives, and three copies of the pricey The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. I lost game one with him at one life after he stabilized with
recurring Engineered Explosives and Academy Ruins. Game two, I got him with Back to Basics. I beat him in a close third game when he flooded out.

Round 4, I played against Drew Levin playing Team America and crushed him in two games that were not close. Team America is one of mono-blue Merfolk’s
easiest matchups. Their Stifles and Wastelands are at their worst, and they have a hard time managing a massive amount of fish.

Round 5 I beat a Belcher player. I had the crucial Force of Will for game one to stop him at his Seething Song. I got through his Xantid Swarm game two
as he had an inferior draw.

Round 6 I beat the newest StarCityGames.com Man on Fire, Edgar Flores, playing Team America in two quick games. This allowed me to intentionally draw
rounds 7 and 8 into Top 8, and there you have it, another Top 8 with the little aquatic men.

In the Top 8, I played Drew Levin again in a much closer match, which resulted in an anticlimactic game 3 where he got a game loss for presenting a
59-card deck for game 3. In the semifinals, I was paired against Lukas Parson who was playing a very good version of aggro-Affinity, and I beat him
when he got a little land-flooded in game 3.

My finals appearance guaranteed me Level 6 in the StarCityGames.com Player’s Club for the remainder of this year as well as the 2012 season. I’d now be
awarded $100 at each Open Series Weekend just for attending, and being the first Level 6 in the Series felt exceptional. I wouldn’t let my elation
deter me from giving it my all in the finals.

I hadn’t lost a match yet on the day, and despite my opponent being the formidable AJ Sacher, himself a Level 5 mage as of his finals appearance, I
wasn’t ready to lose a match yet. Thanks to a few good Submerges and a timely Llawan, Cephalid Empress on my side, I was able to take down my first
Legacy trophy.

Sideboarding is pretty straightforward in Legacy. You want to take Daze out when you’re on the draw against most non-combo decks. You almost always
want it on the play. Back to Basics is sort of a one-shot deal, so if you draw it and cast it in game two, you may just board it out for game three,
since the jig is up. Sower of Temptation comes in for all creature decks as well as decks with Emrakul. Hydroblast and Submerge are also obvious
inclusions. Llawan, Cephalid Empress can come in for the mirror as well as a way to deal with opposing Llawans. Spell Pierce comes in for combo
matchups and control decks, and Jitte comes in for the mirror, as well as Zoo and Goblins. Cards you often board out include Cursecatcher, Merfolk
Sovereign, Daze, Spell Pierce, Sower of Temptation, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, and even the Mishra’s Factory or an Island when the land isn’t too

I plan to attend every StarCityGames.com Open Series event this year, and the appearance fees are going to help me pay for the trips. Making Level 6 is
just the next step on the ladder for me, and I fully expect the StarCityGames.com ringers to be hot on my tail. Gerry Thompson, Drew Levin, Edgar
Flores, AJ Sacher, Ben Wienburg, Lewis Laskin, Nick Spagnolo, Caleb Durward, and Michael Pozsgay are all going to level up in the Player’s Club
rapidly, and the field will soon be littered with a dozen players with two byes.

Merfolk is going to be my deck choice for most of the season, so I hope this will just be the first of many trophies. As long as you play competently,
Merfolk is a deck that thrives off of a field full of Show and Tell, ANT, and Team America. Decks like Zoo and Goblins are just difficult because their
creatures generally do more or are cheaper. They also have removal spells whereas Merfolk does not. Merfolk specializes in punishing slow or clunky
draws from your opponents as well as mulligans.

Before I go, I’d like to give a big shout out to my travel buddies, Adam Cai for driving me around and Drew Levin for keeping me company on my travels.
Gerry Thompson also gets props for being good company and generally a funny dude. Maybe he can give me some competition for Player of the Year.

The metagame is rewarding for Merfolk right now, and if you prepare a good list and become familiar with the wonderful format of Legacy, you can send
your opponents to sleep with the fishies too.