Merfolk For All

Easter weekend: A time to relax, see friends and try not to think about work. In England, most of us get Good Friday and Easter Monday off work and it makes for a wonderful, long weekend. It also gives those of us that want to a little more time to play Magic that usual. So,…

Easter weekend: A time to relax, see friends and try not to think about work. In England, most of us get Good Friday and Easter Monday off work and it makes for a wonderful, long weekend. It also gives those of us that want to a little more time to play Magic that usual.

So, once again I found myself round at my team mate Paul Dale’s house playing net decks against Paul and Tarik. I’d much rather play my own decks but Paul is trying to qualify for the English Nationals and needs practice against the decks we think will be there. We put together Ponza, Port Blue, and a prototype Replenish deck. With the White Weenie and Bargain decks I brought along we had most of the decks we thought would be there (we’re going to test Speed Green and Suicide Black on Wednesday).

Things pretty much went as we expected, but I had no time to practice Blastogeddon against anything, I’ll have to wait until next week for that. It did get me thinking again: Are there any other old deck archetypes that aren’t around at the moment? If so, are they viable in the current environment and will anyone want to play them? This brought back a conversation I’d had with another Bath local, Andy Smith. He wants to play a merfolk deck and we’ve been playing with a few ideas and sketching out a prototype deck.

Always keeping an eye out for something interesting to write about, I thought I’d take a look at some old merfolk decks and try to build one that might serve as a base for a half-decent, rogue, Type II deck.

As a side note, I’d just like to say that I’ve seen one or two ‘fish’ decks recently, but they’ve had (at most) four merfolk in them. I’ve seen no other decks that ever come close to the older merfolk decks, and certainly none with Lords of Atlantis in. So, if I proceed to build a deck you’ve been working on for the past few months it’s a case of parallel evolution – like the invention of calculus, I’m not trying to rip anyone off. On with the show…

Once again I’ve trawled the ‘net, this time for some older merfolk decks and come up with three (from the archives of The Dojo) that I think are worth looking at. The earliest is from just over two years ago in February 1998, when Mirage, Tempest and Fifth Edition were the staple cards in Type II:

“Merfolk Massacre” by R.Hidalgo

Creatures (22):

4 Rootwater Diver
4 Manta Riders
4 Lords of Atlantis
4 Coral Fighter
4 Man-o-War
2 Tradewind Rider

Other spells (18):

4 Memory Lapse
4 Counterspell
4 Legacy’s Allure
4 Winter Orb
2 Dissipate

Land (20):

2 Undiscovered Paradise
2 Svyelunite Temple
16 Island

This is a very controlling deck. With Man-o-War and Tradewind Rider keeping undesirable creatures and permanents off the table and Legacy’s Allure stealing the most attractive, your opponent is going to have a problem blocking your merfolk. As everything is so cheap Winter Orb is almost always going to be more of a disadvantage for your opponent and also makes Memory Lapse a more powerful spell. Finally the creature rush is backed up with Counterspells and Dissipates to stop those game-swinging spells like Wrath of God or Earthquake.

I was surprised that this was the earliest deck I could find, as I assumed merfolk had been around forever, but Merfolk of the Pearl Trident and Lord of Atlantis (and him not even a merfolk) were the only Merfolk around until The Dark. We were only given a lot of merfolk to play with in Fallen Empires (the Vodalians). I was also surprised at how controlling the deck was. My memories were of the Cursed Fish decks around the end of Tempest, and those only had a few counters in, rarely more than just Counterspell itself.

Anyway, back to the past decks. The next deck is from June 1998, only four months later. The cards in Type II hadn’t changed, but the deck has:

“Fish!” by M.Linde

Creatures (24):

4 Rootwater Diver
1 Tidal Warrior
3 Merfolk Traders
4 Lords of Atlantis
2 Vodalian Illusionist
1 Merfolk Seer
4 Man-o-War
4 Tradewind Rider
1 Waterspout Djinn

Other spells (15):

4 Counterspell
3 Impluse
4 Legacies Allure
4 Cursed Scroll

Land (21):

4 Quicksand
1 Svyelunite Temple
16 Islands

While looking around, the first reference to a deck called”Fish” I can find was a deck from April 1998: J. Nguyen built a similar deck to the one above called simply”Fish.” I don’t know whether this was the origin of the deck name, I suspect it’s been around for a while, but if anyone can let me know I’d be grateful.

The most important difference of the deck above is that Cursed Scroll has been added. This has meant that Winter Orb had to come out of the deck, or the scrolls could never had been used at all. With this important change the designer looks to have realised that he can support a few, higher casting cost creatures and has upped the number of Tradewind Riders, added a Waterspout Djinn and some more 2/2 merfolk: The Vodalian Illusionists. The number of counterspells has come down too, being left to counter really important threats while the Man-o-Wars, Tradewind Riders, Illusionists, Allures and Scrolls deal with any creatures that might get in the way of the creature rush.

Quicksand has also been added as it was to many decks around this time, mainly to deal with the two clerics, Soltari Priest and Monk and Ball Lightning as six points of damage brought you right into Fireblast range most of the time.

The last deck I’d like to look at is one from last year, after the Mirage block had rotated out and Urza’s Saga had come in. Surprisingly this is one of the latest deck lists for a merfolk deck I could find and none of them were late enough to include any Masques or Nemesis cards:

“Cursed Fish” by Nill Stark

Creatures (20):

2 Rootwater Diver
4 Tidal Warriors
4 Manta Riders
4 Coral Merfolk
4 Lords of Atlantis
2 Cloud Spirit

Other spells (18):

4 Unstable Mutation
4 Force Spike
4 Counterspell
2 Legacies Allure
4 Cursed Scroll

Land (22):

4 Wasteland
18 Island

As can be seen we’ve lost Quicksand, Dissipate, Impulse and importantly, Man-o-War. The number of counterspells has been increased, but the Force Spikes are only really effective in the early game and so Unstable Mutation helps us speed it up a little with an extra 6 points of damage here and there. Curiously, this deck doesn’t have any Tradewinds in, at a time when they were amongst the most feared creatures played, again this reinforces the ‘early game’ feel of the deck. If you get to four mana and can use a Tradewind, this deck is on the slippery slope to loosing, which is at odds with the Cursed Scrolls – well known for mid and late game action.

Again, on a side note the very latest mention of a Fish deck I could find was from the States 1999. Ian P.McDonald played a deck called”Wheel of Fish.” In my book, it doesn’t really count as it has NO merfolk in at all.

So, three decks. How can they help us and what do they all have in common? Each deck had some degree of creature control: Tradewinds, Man-o-War, Legacy’s Allure and Illusionists. Each deck had some amount of counterspells – even if they looked almost a token inclusion towards the end. Each deck had a low-mana cost creature base and counted on the Lords of Atlantis to boost them up. The first deck relied on controlling its opponent’s mana, whilst the last relied on doing damage before its opponent had the mana to respond.

Keeping this in mind lets have a look at the merfolk we might choose to play with today. Each is listed below with its power/toughness and casting cost:

Merfolk of the Perl Trident p/t: 1/1 cc: U
Sandbar Merfolk p/t: 1/1 cc: U

Coral Merfolk p/t: 2/1 cc: 1U
Darting Merfolk p/t: 1/1 cc: 1U
Rootwater Thief p/t: 1/2 cc: 1U
Saprazzan Heir p/t: 1/1 cc: 1U
Voldalian Soldier p/t: 1/2 cc: 1U

Rootwater Commando p/t: 2/2 cc: 2U
Saprazzan Raider p/t: 1/2 cc: 2U

Blockade Runner p/t: 2/2 cc: 3U
Jolting Merfolk p/t 2:2 cc: 2UU

Saprazzan Bailiff p/t: 2/2 cc: 3UU

We should also take into account Lord of Atlantis and Seahunter from Nemesis. Lord of Atlantis gives all merfolk +1/+1, he’s not a legend either so we could have lots out at a time. Seahunter costs 2UU and can put merfolk into play for three mana as an instant.

Of the merfolk above, Sandbar are strictly better than the Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, as they are exactly the same but have cycling. Darting Merfolk can be an excellent blocker – but have to be recast all the time. Rootwater Thief can be made to fly, evasion abilities are very important, and can also ‘steal’ cards from your opponents library giving you foreknowledge of your opponent’s deck and removing a potential threat from the game. Saprazzan Heir gives you three cards whenever it’s blocked, excellent in a deck that plans to cast lots of small creatures.

Finally Blockade Runner can be made unblockable but is expensive and Jolting Merfolk can tap up to four creatures on the turn it comes into play, a very useful ability mid-game.

So, what should we play? If we look at the previous decks they all have between 20 and 24 creatures. Lets start with 24 and try to pick creatures along a low mana curve:

4 Sandbar Merfolk 1/1
4 Coral Merfolk 2/1
4 Lord of Atlantis 2/2
4 Rootwater Thief 1/2
4 Saprazzan Heir 1/1
4 Rootwater Commando 2/2

The problem with this little lot is that most of them are no good in the mid to late game. The Heir is ONLY ever good if your opponent has a blocker – something the earlier decks tried to avoid. So let’s drop the Heirs for now, assuming we’re going to find a way to keep our opponent’s creatures occupied. That gives us 20 creatures. I haven’t played with the Jolting merfolk or the Seahunter so I’m going to add two of those. I know that they’re four mana EACH, but I’d like a chance to playtest them.

With 24 creatures, we need to work out how many spells and land we’re going to have. I don’t like putting less than 22 land in a deck, so we’ll head for that as most of the spells so far have quite a low mana cost. That leaves us 14 spells.

I’d like some control so I’ll add four Counterspells straight away, leaving ten to go. We also need some way to control out opponent’s creatures, we could steal them with Treachery or Dominate, or bounce them with Seal of Removal or Boomerang. Finally it’d be nice to be able to control the opponent’s mana. As in my last article, Rishadan Port springs to mind immediately and there’s an even better card too: Parallax Tide. With the Ports and Tides we could cast a few cheap creatures, tide out their land and bounce their blockers for the win. If this is the case, it’d be nice to have a few Waterfront Bouncers to help us out – so I’ll drop four Sandbar Merfolk for three Bouncers, freeing up another slot for a spell or a land.

So, Parallax Tide, Counterspell and some bounce cards. Seal of Removal is cheap, but Boomerang would allow us to bounce out own Tides when we need to. Let’s try:

4 Counterspell
4 Parallax Tide
3 Boomerang
3 Annul

That’s 14 spells, and we use the one free slot for an extra land, as the Parallax Tides have upped the average cost of the deck. With the number of Islands we can probably add a pair of Dust Bowls to help us control our opponent’s land even more.

This gives us:

“Parallax Fish” (Version 1.0)

Creatures (23):

3 Waterfront Bouncers
4 Coral Merfolk
4 Rootwater Thief
4 Lord of Atlantis
2 Seahunter
2 Jolting Merfolk
4 Rootwater Commando

Other Spells (14):

4 Parallax Tide
4 Counterspell
3 Boomerang
3 Annul

Land (23):

4 Rishadan Port
2 Dust Bowl
17 Island

Looking at this deck I can see a few problems before we’ve even begun to playtest. The creatures are all substandard unless a Lord of Atlantis is in play and so if our opponent concentrates on the Lords things could go badly. We don’t have a way to get to the Tides or the Seahunters when we want them. We don’t have any way of filling out hand up and so might get into a situation when we’re trying to play every card we draw. Also, without counterspells the deck doesn’t look fast enough to beat Replenish or Bargain, and there aren’t that many counterspells.

So, changes straight away: I’d take out one of each of the Commando and the Coral Merfolk to add in two more spells, and change the ones we have a little:

“Parallax Fish” (Version 1.1)

Creatures (21):

3 Waterfront Bouncer
3 Coral Merfolk
4 Lords of Atlantis
4 Rootwater Thief
3 Rootwater Commando
2 Jolting Merfolk
2 Seahunter

Other spells (16):

4 Counterspell
4 Parallax Tide
3 Boomerang
2 Annul
1 Stroke of Genius
2 Misdirection

Land (23):

4 Rishadan Port
2 Dust Bowl
17 Islands

I like this version a little better. It can handle creature removal a little better with the Misdirections, and will also handle Bargain and land destruction decks better out of the box (even though I’m sure Chill in the sideboard will help). The Stroke will turn up sooner or later and let us draw a few cards.

The deck still has problems, Replenish still looks a tough match-up, probably coming down to who casts Parallax Tide first. Rebel White will be hard, but we should be able to control their land a little and bounce the cheaper searchers back to their hand, I’d consider Dominate in the sideboard against them. Finally green: this deck’ll probably get run over in the first game but, with only a few Hibernations or a couple of Submerges, it should hold it’s own.

So, the end of another article and we’ve delved into deck history and pulled out another doubtful rogue deck. I’ll give it to Andy and he can see if he likes it and I’m sure he’ll make changes that I can report back to you. I’ll also try to get some playtesting in on Blastogeddon for next week and maybe even think up another deck you might want to try out.

If you’d like to send suggestions for the main deck or sideboard, tell me about your own playtesting sessions, or even tell me the results of playtesting one of my decks, feel free to write me.

Anyway, I hope you all manage to remain happy and calm out over the next few weeks and remember, if you’re bored and you’d like to surprise your opponent: Play something rogue!

Cheers, Jim Grimmett
Team PhatBeats