Feature Article – Kelpie in Block and Merfolk in Standard

On Saturday, September 6th, StarCityGames.com will be exhibiting at Your Move Games' 5K Magic Day in Boxborough, Massachussetts!
Thursday, September 4th – Manuel Bucher returns to StarCityGames.com to bring us his take on River Kelpie in block Constructed, just in time for this weekend’s 5k event in Boxborough. And if that’s not enough, Grand Prix: Copenhagen Top 8 competitor (and Italian National Champion) William Cavaglieri brings us the lowdown on his Standard UG Merfolk deck!

After I finished my Nationals, at which I did badly — yes, I would have liked to defend the Team World Champion Title, so I am a little disappointed about the result, but I wish the Swiss Team all the best in the defense of the title – the next big event on the screen is Grand Prix: Rimini and Block Constructed. As I haven’t played Block Constructed for a while, I had to check if there was something new… and I really liked the idea of the UB Kelpie Deck:

4 Mulldrifter
3 River Kelpie
4 Shriekmaw
4 Soul Snuffers
2 Puppeteer Clique
2 Broken Ambitions
4 Cryptic Command
4 Makeshift Mannequin
4 Nameless Inversion
3 Raven’s Crime
7 Island
3 Mutavault
3 Reflecting Pool
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
5 Swamp¨

After playing some games with the deck as listed above, I was pretty disappointed in several cards.

Raven’s Crime: The card felt so much like a “win more” card. It was only good when I had a Kelpie in play, and it doesn’t help too much to get it there. With a Kelpie in play, I didn’t care too much about the cards in the opponent’s hand, as I tended to outdraw him anyway. And as some Kithkin lists started to run Wilt-Leaf Liege, making Raven’s Crime a blank in the matchup, I was sure I didn’t want to run them in the main deck.

Soul Snuffers/Nameless Inversion: These cards go pretty much hand in hand, as when you run the Snuffers you need to run more spot removal so you can be sure of killing any Lords. I don’t like the anti-synergy of Soul Snuffers and River Kelpie at all. Both of the cards don’t do a lot in several matchups, such as against the Assassin/Doran deck (which is played a lot on MTGO) or Alex Kim Red deck.

After cutting the only reason to run a two-colored deck (Raven’s Crime), I decided to go with Vivid Lands and Reflecting Pools. This is the list I am currently using, and doing pretty well with, on MTGO.

Stillmoon Cavalier: After I faced several Doran/Scarblade Elite decks on MTGO, I was sure I wanted some answer to those cards, and any such answers shouldn’t be useless in other matchups. The first idea was to add White removal (Unmake, Crib Swap, Oblivion Ring, or Runed Halo), but they seemed pretty useless in the Control Mirror or versus Faeries, and also pretty slow versus Kithkin. Stillmoon Cavalier fits this slot pretty well: it is obviously pretty good versus Kithkin, and even better versus the Doran/Scarblade Elite decks, as they are not able to swarm you like the Kithkin. It is better than Firespout in each other matchup, so I decided to run the Cavalier over Firespout main.

Puppeteer Clique: It has an awesome synergy with River Kelpie, and it is really good in the Mulldrifter mirror. In each other matchup the card is no more than passable. Sometimes it shines when you can steal a Mistbind Clique, Demigod of Revenge, or a Cloudgoat Ranger, but most often it’s a 3/2 flier with persist. When there are not a lot of Mulldrifter decks around, you should definitely swap the card out to the sideboard.

Guttural Response: Resolving Kelpie in the Control matchup is pretty much game, so I added Guttural Response to the board. While other players suggested playing Negate in this slot, I really like to go with the cheaper spell — as it is better at forcing through the Kelpie.

I think those cards are the only special choices I need to mention… if you are curious about any other choices, feel free to ask in the forums.

I am pretty happy with the list, as I am posting good results versus some of the most popular decks — Kithkin, Quick ‘n Toast, and Assassins. The Faerie matchup feels a lot like a coin flip, and the only real danger comes from Alex Kim Red deck.

Here are the sideboard plans I currently use:

Versus Kithkin:

+1 Shriekmaw
+4 Firepsout
-3 Puppeteer Clique
-1 Oona’s Grace
-1 Cloudthresher

In game 1 they don’t know if you are running Firespout or not, so this might give you an extra turn or two… unless you have the turn 3 Cavalier, as then they have to overextend anyway. The matchup is really different depending on the list they are running. There are the lists with Wilt-Leaf Liege and Ajani Goldmane which are much easier to play against than the list with the Thistledown Liege and Mirrorweave. Playing around Mirrorweave is pretty hard, as the list doesn’t run any instant removal besides Mannequin on Shriekmaw. Leaving four mana open for Mannequin or Cryptic Command each turn costs a lot of tempo, and you should only do it when Mirrorweave is the only way for them to win the game. As you are not running any mass removal main deck, you should try to stay on as high a life total as possible, as they can squeeze through damage in the mid or late game with cards like Cloudgoat Ranger and Spectral Possession. You still can evoke Cloudthresher to deal with the latter, but you should do it during your turn or in their end of turn step so not to see the Cloudthresher Mirrorweaved.

After sideboard you have access to the Firespouts, which are really good in the matchup, and Kithkin has a big problem in fighting both Stillmoon Cavalier and the three-mana sweeper. Most of the time you can let the Cavalier survive the Spout, as you don’t need to clean ground and air when you have a Cavalier on the board, so make sure you don’t spend both colors of mana accidentally.

Versus Faeries:

+1 Cloudthresher
+3 Guttural Response
+3 Whispmare
+3 Raven’s Crime
-4 Stillmoon Cavalier
-3 Shriekmaw
-3 Puppeteer Clique

This matchup is pretty tough, as the list is running lots of high-mana sorcery-speed spells, and depending on the draws of each deck, you don’t know if you are the beatdown deck or not… unless they have the turn 2 Bitterblossom, of course, as then you know you are the control deck. It’s really hard to give any advice in this matchup, as the games can progress in lots of different ways. If you plan to run the Kelpie deck, you should play this matchup pretty often, as it is pretty complex.

Versus Quick n’ Toast:

+3 Raven’s Crime
+3 Guttural Response
-4 Stillmoon Cavalier
-1 Shriekmaw
-1 Cloudthresher

This matchup is all about card advantage. In game 1 you should have a big advantage, as Puppeteer Clique is somewhat good against them. Make sure that they can’t respond with a Mannequin to your Puppeteer Clique… but remember you can also Mannequin a Clique in response to theirs! Your goal should be to get a Kelpie on the table, but it shouldn’t be too hard, as they are running a maximum of eight counterspells and you don’t care if the Kelpie has a Mannequin counter or not. After sideboard they have a big threat in the form of Mind Shatter, so you either need to be able to counter the Shatter or to resolve a Kelpie before they can Shatter you.

Versus Assassins (Scarblade Elite/Doran):

+1 Shriekmaw
+2 Firespout
-3 Cloudthresher

If you have a turn 3 Stillmoon Cavalier, the only real threat left in their deck is Chameleon Colossus, but you shouldn’t have any problems dealing with it as you are running infinite cards to stop it dealing damage to you. Preboard, it’s pretty simple… the only cards you care about are Profane Command and Chameleon Colossus (and Doran if you don’t’ have a Stillmoon Cavalier). After sideboard it gets more complex, as they probably have Puppeteer Cliques. This match pretty much plays out like Quick n’ Toast matchup… they have a better solution to the Kelpie, but they are not running Blue spells.

Versus Alex Kim Red:

+1 Shriekmaw
+4 Firespout
-1 Oona’s Grace
-4 Cryptic Command / Stillmoon Cavalier

Depending on if they are boarding Guttural Response or not, you want to take Cryptic Command out so you leave them with blanks. This is probably the worst matchup you have, as you have a hard time dealing with Black 4/4 and 5/4 creatures supported by Red removal. You shouldn’t play Stillmoon Cavalier until they tap out for a Gouger, or if you know that Demigod is coming the turn after, as you really want them to skip their turn dealing with the Knight. Your best shot is if you can avoid early damage and you can chump in the midgame with your persist creatures, drawing cards with the Kelpie. If your metagame features a lot of these decks, you should either run a good sideboard versus it, or dismiss the deck.

Next up, we have a review by William Cavaglieri, on Blue/Green Merfolk in Standard. After losing several matches when playing for Grand Prix Top 8s, he finally managed to get there in Copenhagen, right after he won Italian Nationals. Enjoy!

Manu B

My name is William Cavaglieri and I’d like to talk to you about my UG Merfolk deck from GP: Copenhagen:

My predictions for the GP metagame were something like 15% Demigod Red, with the next most populous strategy being Faeries. I also expected lots of Reveillark, Quick n’ Toast, and Swans Combo, as they have good matchups against Demigod Red. I also thought Demigod Red was going to be successfully hated out, so I didn’t expect it to do too well on Day 2 (hmmm….). “My” Torrent deck wasn’t a good choice for this tournament, as you can’t stretch it to beat everything reliably. On the other hand, aggro-control seemed a good fit for this metagame. Faeries wasn’t an option, as I don’t like it when people know your deck card by card, and there’s still a lot of hate for it out there. UW Merfolk seemed okay, but it’s too dependant on the eight Lords, and the Demigod Red matchup is really bad… you can’t win when half of your creatures suck and the others are killed with value (like Skred on Merrow Reejerey). Firespout was also a problem.

Enter the fatties!

With the fatties, the deck gained ground against almost every deck: against Q&T they’re very good, as they give you a good threat after a sweeper and they’re hard to handle. Against Elves you start to have too many targets for their removal, and we all know how good Colossus is against them. Stalemates are more common, and Cryptic Command gains more as a Falter effect. Against Reveillark you’d rather have Cursecatcher, but it’s still hard for them, especially if you show some respect by having some sideboard as I did. By playing fewer small Merfolk, you “go off” a little less frequently with Merrow Reejerey, but you tend to win those games anyway.

The Demigod Red matchup was still bad. I tried various (odd) sideboard plans:

– The “Faeries” plan (Flashfreeze, Bottle Gnomes, Razormane Masticore). Meh.
Pongify plus Sower of Temptation. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but it was a bit too random for my taste. Still, winning with Pongify is priceless, and I collected a good amount of insults on MTGO (note: obviously you never play Pongify on their creatures, unless you’re desperate).
Snakeform plus Serrated Arrows. Too slow (obviously), even with mana acceleration. Good enough against slower decks like Doran.
Wall of Roots plus Spectral Force plus Loxodon Warhammer, the plan I chose in the end. I guess I’m the first guy ever to play Wall of Roots in the sideboard, but the card does it all: it slows them down, it accelerates your fatties, it helps a bit against Magus of the Moon, and it’s nice to have extra mana for the slow Warhammer. Unfortunately, now people will play Greater Gargadon plus Threaten, so it’s not a good plan anymore.

For a while I played with 4 Psionic Blast. The card is okay, as it fills a big hole in the deck. You can even kill some stuff with value (Mistbind Clique, Teferi, Demigod), not to mention the surprise effect. In the end, the card is only good when you’re already winning, or against easy matchups, so it got the axe. While I’m at it, I’d like to thank Manuel for suggesting that I cut them, and for using all my tickets on Magic Online (selling SSE for 12). Heh.

These are my sideboard plans. Actually, they can vary if you go first or second, or on what your opponent is playing and so on, so take them with a pinch of salt.

Versus Reveillark:

+3 Remove Soul
+2 Squall Line
-3 Chameleon Colossus
-2 Tarmogoyf

Versus Faeries:

+1 Chameleon Colossus
+2 Squall Line
-2 Venser, Shaper Savant
-1 Wake Thrasher

Versus Q&T :

What you take in and out depends heavily on their version of the deck. Some will play Crovax, Mulldrifter, and so on, so you want your Remove Soul in. Some will have Condemn, so Colossus is less appealing. Some will have lots of cheap mass removal spells like Pyroclasm, so removing some of the smaller merfolk is a good idea, or even running Venser.

Versus Demigod Red (this plan is obsolete):

+4 Wall of Roots
+1 Chameleon Colossus
+3 Spectral Force
+2 Loxodon Warhammer
+3 Remove Soul
-2 Stonybrook Banneret
-3 Sage’s Dousing
-4 Merrow Reejerey
-4 Silvergill Adept (it hurts, I know)

Versus GB Elves:

Again, adapt accordingly. Against slower versions with Bitterblossom and Damnation, Spectral Force is nice. Against very aggressive lists with loads of creatures, Wall of Roots is a must. Remove Soul is nice against Nakamura’s version, as it plays Shriekmaw and Redcap. Warhammer and Sage’s Dousing are a bit clunky going second, etc.

Versus Swans Combo:

+3 Remove Soul
-3 Chameleon Colossus

Don’t forget that sometimes, with Cryptic Command, it’s better to counter the Lotus plus bounce a land rather than waiting for the combo piece (this is more relevant against Storm).

The deck is very good against control and Swans combo, and I guess it’s the only one in the meta to have a 70% matchup against Faeries. Results against GB Elves and BR Tokens vary depending on what they play, but they’re more like 50%. Mono Red is hard, but it’s winnable after sideboard (or at least it was). And UW Merfolk is a coin flip in game 1, but they have a sideboard and you don’t.

Also, you lose the luxury of surprise. For example, I won one game because my opponent didn’t return a Magus of the Moon with his Reveillark. Obviously I drew the Squall Line, and that was it.

Take care!