This was the Best Week Ever for little blue fish in Baltimore, with the deck placing in
five spots of the Top 16 at the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open tournament this past weekend
. Survival of the Fittest decks are still strong as well, with storm combo making appearances along the way.
The first factor contributing to Merfolk’s success this past weekend is that perennial line: “It’s cheap to build.” I suppose it’s all relative — have you looked at what Aether Vial and Wasteland cost these days? (Though they are
easily gotten from StarCityGames.com unparalleled online store… – T.F., in plug mode) But Merfolk is simple to assemble and rewards good players. It’s an unglamorous deck, for sure, because you lack those bomby cards where you draw four cards, annihilate the board, turn everything into a 1/1 faceless dork, and more. What it
have is a solid core strategy that unfolds basically the same way in each game.
The five decks that made it to the top 16 share the same core, with slight modifications. Three of those decks ran Standstill, including the winning deck. The blue enchantment floats in and out of Merfolk decks, and it appears to be popular at this point. The standard strategy is to land a threat or an Aether Vial, then deploy Standstill; the opponent can either lose to your Mutavault and Silvergill Adept attacking, or they can give you three cards and try to put something in the way.
If you were not running Standstill, you were probably stocked up on Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Kira handles a lot of spot removal problems that this deck can run into, making many cards two-for-ones (or, more accurately, one-for-twos). From blanking Maze of Ith to stopping Swords to Plowshares or Sower of Temptation, Kira is highly useful in this deck. She gives the deck an edge to Zoo, which otherwise can set up very attractive attacks and blocks, knowing that it can remove Lords and swing combat math wildly in Zoo’s favor.
To combat each other, Merfolk decks have been adopting the silver bullet used against them for the past few months. More and more copies of Llawan, Cephalid Empress have appeared on sideboards for the sole purpose of locking out another Merfolk player. The only defense against Llawan, even post-board, is usually Force of Will or mana denial. Otherwise, the opponent must hope they have enough Mutavaults and Umezawa’s Jittes to blow past it or kill the sneaky cephalid. Paul Lynch’s winning deck packed two Jittes and two Llawans on the sideboard, which is a great number — you often side out Standstills against the mirror, so being able to bring in four cards for the ones leaving your deck is a good idea.
These Merfolk decks displayed a great deal of sideboard uniformity. To combat combination decks, many packed Spell Pierce, which is a great foil to Storm decks. They also picked up copies of Relic of Progenitus, Jitte and Submerge. One conspicuous absence was the complete lack of a black splash in any deck. The
Grand Prix Columbus-winning Merfolk deck
had Perishes from the sideboard to control aggressive decks â€” and with the rise of Survival decks, it was interesting to see that nobody ran it last weekend. The only splash of note was Lynch’s Absolute Law on the sideboard as extra Zoo and Goblins insurance.
Going down the top 16, you’ll find that Survival of the Fittest was also well-represented. The Survival Madness deck is still putting up solid results…
and it’s taken some new angles. Instead of Aquamoebas, Eli Kassis ran three Intuitions to
supercharge his deck
. Intuition lets you get three Vengevines to go crazy on your opponent. It also tracks down your Survivals, so you can land them with more consistency. Need to fly over? Go get Wonder and put it in your piles!
Intuition also helps out with those common instances where you have the Survival of the Fittest, but lack a creature. Eli’s deck runs a paltry thirteen monsters, so his Brainstorms do extra duty if he needs to find a Survival enabler. He also cut the Trygon Predators and Umezawa’s Jitte, finding room for Swords to Plowshares in his list. Overall, it’s a nice-looking list that I wouldn’t be shocked to see perform well again and again.
Aside: does anyone remember when enters-the-battlefield creatures were called “187 creatures?” This was back when the first one to really do it in a capacity was Nekrataal â€” which indeed, murdered another guy. Now
a flashback to the March 1997 issue of InQuest magazine…
Anyway, Chafe’s deck will usually perpetuate an endgame where he can get a Loyal Retainers into play and then find Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. He discards the jellyfish to his Survival or Fauna Shaman, and then, with its reshuffle trigger on the stack, he will use his Loyal Retainers to bring the monster into play. Sounds cool? It’s even better if he gets an Anger with his Emrakul trigger, so he can discard it after the graveyard shuffle effect and give his guy haste!
The deck lacks the late game edge of Genesis, but it has another loop worth paying attention to. This is complicated, so you should get out some cards, Post-It notes, or something else you can represent the cards with and work it out to get it right.
Let’s say we want to recycle our Spore Frog. We first must find our Spore Frog with Survival and then get it into play. We also want Squee, Goblin Nabob handy. When we eventually crack our Spore Frog, it goes to the graveyard. We want it every turn, though, so we’ll make sure we have Squee in our hand. After we sacrifice that Spore Frog, we’ll discard Squee to find Emrakul.
At this point, it’s probably the end of your opponent’s turn. You have Emrakul in hand and Squee and the Fog Frog in your graveyard. On your turn, you’ll return Squee to your hand. Then you’ll discard Emrakul; his trigger will shuffle himself into your library, and then you go tutoring.
Here’s the trick: you get Emrakul with the same trigger!
You essentially discard him to get him back in your hand. At this point, you can discard Squee to get the Frog and play it again. On your next turn, you can simply return Squee again during your upkeep, then fire off Emrakul to loop the graveyard, then play Squee to get your Frog.
The trick here is that you’re in deep trouble if you do things out of order and shuffle your Squee into the library with Emrakul, so be careful. This trick also works for looping Bone Shredders. It is often inferior to just getting Loyal Retainers and slamming Emrakul into someone, but you need to know this trick; it comes up in many matches.
Now, let’s take a running glance at the other decks rounding out the top 16…
Team America list
is a drift away from classical lists, mutating into a deck that disrupts differently. Check out those Hymn to Tourachs; check out the lack of Sinkhole! He has Maelstrom Pulse to take out annoying permanents, and he has Predict to combine with Brainstorm and Ponder to form a legitimate card-restock engine (and periodically, to blank Enlightened Tutor).
differed on only one nonland maindeck card — Simian Spirit Guide versus Silence. Their sideboards just flipped Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast! The deck is a consistent, storm-cranking monster that hasn’t been hurt by Mystical Tutor’s exit from the scene. They can still grind the Long.dec combo of Lion’s Eye Diamond and Burning Wish or Infernal Tutor to grab their namesake Ad Nauseam or other combination card.
I think that ANT is only underplayed because people fear some of its matchups inordinately; the deck will continue to perform very well, but a top placement at one of these big events has been eluding the deck for awhile.
Nick Walters brought along
a Painter’s Servant/Grindstone deck
, angling for a controlling shell with Counterbalance. Make no mistake, though, this is a Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck as much as it is a Grindstone deck. In some ways, this reminds me of the Thopter decks that were in vogue for awhile; it packs a two-card artifact combo that shreds the board state when it gets activated. The Counterbalances save your Servants from the inevitable creature kill aimed at it, and the Firespouts stall for time while you ramp counters on Jace or get the Grindstone combination together. All in all, a very solid deck.
Finally, Alix Hatfield brought
another unique brew
â€” this time one that riffs on Madness along with Survival decks. He has Lion’s Eye Diamond to provide some truly dangerous opening turns, and he has stand-outs like Root Maze to slow down an opponent’s development. It reminds me of the less-aggressive LED Madness decks that made appearances when Legacy was first announced; it could enable cool starts like “Taiga, LED, discard Arrogant Wurm and Anger and Basking Rootwalla, clock you for five this turn.” Hatfield’s deck retains a bit of that punch, with Vengevine making it easier.
I especially like the Lumbering Satyr in the sideboard; it’s there to make all of your creatures unblockable against forest-toting opponents when you alpha strike. It was also popular in Oshawa Stompy decks of old, so I’m happy to see that someone still remembers it!
To conclude this recap: if you want to play a stable, stellar, performing deck, pack Merfolk. If you want to play something a little weirder, something a little more flashy or powerful or edgy, there are also many options in this top 16 that you can draw from. It looked like stiff competition to make it to the top, so I congratulate everyone who made it out to Baltimore to duel!
P.S. – Due to this being my last semester of law school and dealing with the work that accompanies it, I am scaling back my writing schedule a bit. Expect to see my columns biweekly for the foreseeable future!
P.P.S. – It’s “Venge-Vine” and not “Ven-ja-vine.” See, it’s a vine, right, and this vine? This vine wants
. Vengeance. Hence, Venge-Vine. It’s not a fortune-telling parlor game for teenage girls, so we don’t call it Oui-Ja-Vine.