It’s been rather a long time since I have written a Magic article, and there is an excellent reason: for all intents and purposes, I have quit playing Magic, and had quit over a year ago. There are, however, two exceptions to my quitting: the first is that for however long my Team Limited team of myself, Seth Burn, and Kevin An remain qualified for the Team Pro Tour, I will have to buff myself back into shape to practice for and play in said Pro Tour. In a way, it’s sad that my most notable Magic accomplishment besides having a big mouth and typing really fast came just this past September, at Pro Tour Boston, when Scarecrow made Day Two – nine months after I quit the game, that is. I didn’t even write a tournament report – I’d effectively stopped writing a year before that, when my enchanted dance with Neutral Ground and Brainburst came to a sudden halt.
The second is that while I have quit playing Magic, I have not quit playing Fish. I own seventy-five Magic cards, not counting stuff I haven’t managed to sell off yet because they are junk rares left over from our Team Sealed experience, and drafting to practice for the Pro Tour. And if Geordie thinks he’s being cute and rogue, well, I was in line first.
I played this deck at last weekend’s Neutral Ground NYC PTQ, to a finish that would be unspectacular, if it didn’t come about for strictly unlikely reasons. 2-2-1 is not really something to write about, but the deck itself is.
“Fish” – formerly known as The Masochism Tango for no good reason.
I’ll say right out that this deck doesn’t beat Red Deck Wins. Now stop asking. Sideboarding in the Chills and Masticores helps enough to maybe steal one game out of three, but getting two out of three is a Fish player’s wet dream… it’s not going to happen, but you keep imagining that one day it will and that will be the best day ever.
That said, there is no other deck in the metagame that this deck is worried about – and some of the best decks in the metagame, that every deck has a hard time beating, are easy wins. The fact that I went 2-2-1 the last time I played this deck was due to the freak occurrence of a Red deck in the draw bracket, interrupting my Psychatog-destroying festivities. I followed the game-plan of kicking a ‘Tog deck in the junk round one and then offering the draw to get into the”Red Deck Somewhere Else” bracket, snuffed out two more Tog decks in short order to be churning along with my plan just fine at 2-0-1, when I slammed into a Red deck in the draw bracket… he got paired against a friend round one, and was looking forward to trouncing my plans. He played a Mountain, and I did my best Bruce Campbell impression:”Oh No, Not Again…”
The second loss was a close one against The Rock, where it came down to a tempo matter, as I tried to push the last few points across with a one-power Merfolk racing a Ravenous Baloth, which had already forced the Rock player to eat a Spiritmonger or die. It was even going to work, until he sacrificed the Baloth to fuel Vampiric Tutor, got one Living Wish, and Wished for Laquatus’ Champion when I didn’t have a counter or bounce spell.
Sort of embarrassing, sort of out of left field, sort of, but not really at all like what usually happens against Rock decks. Aside from the Red deck, though, the deck is pretty straightforward: quickly establish a clock, use free (or at least cheap, in the case of Counterspell) countermagic to prevent your opponent from stopping you, and use card advantage to make sure other methods of attack (such as exhausting your resources) won’t beat you.
Take Psychatog, for example. We follow the simple rule of thumb: decks with Islands lose to Merfolk. Admittedly that wasn’t so very true before the bannings, as the decks with Islands were doing too many unfair things too fast, and several of them involved the attack phase – their Islands were strictly incidental. But Tinker is dead, and a few friends went out with it, so the rule is true.
I’ve faced off Tog decks imprinting Smother on Isochron Scepter turn 2 and not cared (though I was happier the games I Dazed it instead). Doctor Teeth has no game against Merfolk; its counters are fewer and worse in general, its creature removal is nice, but not plentiful enough to be a real problem, especially with the recent upgrade from Curiosity to Mask of Memory. They are backpedaling from turn 2, and the war of card attrition and selection is fought on even terms (except that the Merfolk deck is cheating on mana, while the Tog deck is cheating on consistent strength). I’ll admit to having occasionally dropped a game to Tog. I’d be lying if I said I ever dropped two in the same match, or that Tog isn’t the best possible match-up to face off against.
Sideboarding plan: You’re set to go. Shuffle them up, unless you think that they will be bringing in Engineered Plague in significant numbers, which means you should remove the two Waterfront Bouncers and replace them with Masticore, so that you have something sizable if your main creature plan gets hosed.
The next deck with Islands is Blue/Green Madness. This is an interesting one, as the biggest swing card in the match-up is in both decks: Daze. Both decks start with roughly the same plan against each other; the Merfolk deck is slightly faster, while the Blue/Green deck is slightly beefier. The important difference is that one deck is better able to run Daze (no Forests or Yavimaya Coasts to get in the way), and that same deck also has the ability to use Foil as an additional means to keep spells in check as quickly as possible.
That said, the Merfolk deck is also better at drawing and sorting through cards, but it shouldn’t make a big difference: the match-up is much too tight to waste time on Mask of Memory, hell it’s even too tight to keep up mana for Counterspell most of the time, further proving that Counterspell is the worst card in the Merfolk deck’s arsenal. Keep the fast-acting Madness outlets off the table and you’ll have an easy time of it; see a Wild Mongrel, Merfolk Looter, or Aquamoeba stick, and things get trickier, as their deck turns on. Islandwalk is better than Flying, however, so the swing potential is there on both sides.
Sideboarding plan: -4 Mask of Memory, -4 Counterspell (you thought I was kidding when I said this was the worst card in the deck, didn’t you!) for 4 Aether Burst, 2 Waterfront Bouncer, 2 Gilded Drake.
After sideboarding, it’s a little bit better off for the Merfolk deck, as it at least gets a little bit more focused, but the same general gist of the match remains true: if they start going early, they are better able to carry the football, so the U/G tempo has to be shut down aggressively.
Now, I’ve said enough good things about the deck to make people not believe me, when I say it’s pretty retarded in a control-heavy metagame, which is what you get when most of the decks in the field are playing some discard spells, some countermagic, or perhaps both. Let’s talk about Red Deck Wins, or any deck that intends to play Mountains and Jackal Pups, whatever their plan may be. It’s bad, but there are variances of bad: there’s Jackal Pup turn 1 bad, which isn’t so bad, and then there is Grim Lavamancer turn 1 bad, which is pretty much awful all around.
For a while, the Red decks didn’t have Cursed Scroll, so you could almost hope to beat them! The more creatures they have, the better it gets for you, as the key to the first game is to keep a few creatures alive long enough to actually do something to them, which never works if they keep using one-mana kill spells and Cursed Scroll and Grim Lavamancer.
The sideboarding plan requires four copies of Chill, and three Masticores as a catch-all plan, now that you’ve bought the time to use him. Brainstorm helps dig a little deeper for that turn 2 Chill that can make or break the game, but it’s really the second Chill that does the work for the match-up. I tend to take out the two Waterfront Bouncers for sure, two Foils (because you can’t afford to give up card advantage like that), and one each of Daze, Mask of Memory, and Gush.
As nice as these things all are, you haven’t got time for everything; Mask of Memory has to stay because it’s one of the key ways of taking advantage of a few turns distraction while they are trying to get around Chill that will actually, y’know, matter later in the game. Occasionally you squeak one out, but it’s the other end of the Fish versus Tog match-up: just because it can be squeaked out, doesn’t mean it should ever happen.
With everybody and their brother playing The Rock again, though, that is probably the biggest match to talk about. You’d think Pernicious Deed would have to be awful, but it’s only sometimes so. A lot of times when it does resolve, they can’t take enough advantage of it (such as developing their board position so that other things stop my creatures (like Ravenous Baloth), before the Deed gets popped) or a bit of card drawing saved up in the hand can recoup the losses in time to allow for the tempo to shift back in your favor.
Admittedly, game 1 is hard, if they get a Deed off. Hopefully that can be planned against, as they have to respect Daze, and you have the largest quantity of effective countermagic at your disposal in the format. Yes, Spiritmonger and Ravenous Baloth are large men. Sure, I agree that no creature in my deck sizes up to compare with any creature in their deck (besides Birds and Walls, but you get the point). A speedy control deck squaring off against a slow control deck will nonetheless lean in favor of the speedy deck every time the slow deck can’t prevent it from taking off, as catching up is hard to do.
As before, the sideboarding plan is to put in the Bursts, Bouncers, and Gilded Drakes, with a slightly different aim here: Aether Burst allows you to come back from Pernicious Deed by saving multiple creatures, and all of these combine nicely with Gilded Drake, to prove that if Spiritmonger is so good for them, why is he on your side of the table? Something has to get taken out, and that is usually replacing Coral Merfolk (he’s”nice,” but still the most vanilla creature in the deck), two copies of Daze, and one each of Foil and Mask of Memory. The fight stops being two control-ish decks trying to stop each other (one fast with small cards, and the other slow but with much more effect per card invested as the game progresses), to a fight between a slow control deck, and a fast tempo deck.
A lot of matches fall into similar categories, depending on whether they are aggressive, tempo-based, combo-based, or control. Control decks and combo decks can pretty much call it quits at the die roll, because they won’t want to be sitting there very long, and they probably won’t be for that matter. Aggressive decks are only a problem if they are good at removing your creatures from play, which is why Sligh and Ponza-based decks are awfully good against you, while more traditional aggressive decks, such as Green, White or Black-based attack decks, have a much harder time of things. Tempo-oriented decks are difficult to place, especially since the Merfolk deck has the ability to transform from aggro-control to aggro-tempo pretty handily.
Sooooo… if”normal” Extended decks have got you down, and you don’t mind doing something strange and fun that still”wins games,” so long as your opponent doesn’t play Mountains,* well… go fish.
“But there’s something else they didn’t know:
You can change your shape and you can grow
Out of nothing into something new,
Something made up into something true,
Though it happens quite impossibly,
The impossible turns out to be
— They Might Be Giants -“Impossible”
* Opponents playing only one or two Mountains is not, in fact, cause for concession.