More Fish In The Sea

Faeries have been making their return to old form in Modern, but Glenn Jones has his eye on another Blue tribe! Check out his reference lists, his analysis, and his current build before the IQ at #SCGDC!

Recently, Martin Juza put together a really excellent Merfolk primer on
the version he’s been running, including an article just for sideboard plans. I’d already been
revisiting the archetype idly, but seeing such a comprehensive look got me right in the mood to start researching.

I’d encourage anyone interested in playing this archetype in Modern to thoroughly read Martin’s articles, as not only is the list solid but he explores a
lot of ideas about how to play the deck that might not immediately come to mind for inexperienced pilots. With such a great primer, I’m going to try and
turn my attention toward the diverse range of deckbuilding and sideboarding choices players have been making with Merfolk.

Martin put his money where his mouth with a solid GP finish in Boston, while Jonathon Zaczek played a nearly identical list into the Top 4 of a German PTQ.
Here’s Jonathon’s list, which is different essentially by a card (and some Choke insurance):

Martin and supporters of this list seem to be in love with Dismember, and the card certainly began the month excellently positioned with Splinter Twin
among the top decks and Jund rising to prominence. I’m wary of its continued power, however, as I think that Burn decks will be seeing more and more
success in coming months and this particular “Mono-Blue Devotion” strategy doesn’t boast a particularly solid win percentage against Modern Burn, in
contrast to the Standard iteration. However, there are miles to go before we sleep…

The most novel part of Martin’s decklist for me is his decision to abandon the Affinity matchup and his willingness to play headlong into the fair decks
with those Tectonic Edges in sideboarded games. It’s noteworthy because Martin correctly identifies the fact that you “can’t beat everything” and has
simply decided to allow Affinity to be a matchup he loses. That choice seems decent enough for Grand Prix events; while Affinity will often constitute a
large percentage of the field, you have losses to give and can still finish well if you fail to dodge. I’m less excited about this plan for PTQs; in my
experience, Affinity is both very popular at PTQs and a favorite among skilled and unskilled players alike.

Giving an edge to someone like Alex Majlaton in this way is dangerous, so if you know that your area has some strong Affinity pilots, be wary–it’s rare
that PTQs are won without going through some end bosses. You’re also giving up % against those bad players who showed up with one of Modern’s cheaper
options. Affinity is a complex strategy and rewards experience, but when you’re a huge underdog you can certainly drop games to worse players. In double
elimination events, having a matchup that bad is a bit dangerous, though one could alternatively argue that biasing your worst matchup toward worse players
is net favorable.

In sum, I like Martin’s approach for Grand Prix events and recommend his decklist there, but I’m personally interested in exploring more options,
especially in a PTQ metagame. It’s difficult to dodge anything out there, and if you know your opponents well enough you can earn a significant margin with
your deckbuilding choices.

One of my favorite Magic cards of all time, Spellstutter Sprite, has made a few guest appearances in recent Modern Merfolk lists. It’s been a small
substitution, just removing some interaction for more dinky creatures. WoOtoO, one of Merfolk’s resident masters on MTGO, has actually been developing a
lot of different builds, and this one was his June work.

I’ve actually seen people succeed with Changeling before, but stapling Sprite in is especially adorable. Turn 1 Vial can pave the way for a turn 2
Spellstutter their two-drop with Changeling also in your hand, and an additional aggressive drop is valuable in most combo and control matchups for early
damage. The dangers come against decks like Jund, where Spellstutter is marginal at best and the Changeling is rarely getting through on the ground. I’m
not a big fan of Image in the format, but it gains ground with Sprite in the mix at least.

This sideboard is pretty wonky. Only one Seas in the 75, Torpor Orb when the best cards in our deck all trigger on the battlefield, and Squelch? While a
thoroughly adorable solution to Oblivion Stone, Tron is frequently also accessing a pile of Pyroclasms and Wurmcoil Engine after sideboarding, so this
doesn’t seem like a great plan. You can’t just cycle it so I’m not a fan. You really want your non-haymaker interaction to be really cheap and really
specific, otherwise you can draw too many reactive cards and fail to mount an effective offense in the meantime.

This sideboard, like Martin’s, also ignores the Robot Menace, although Sprite is probably better slightly better against them than Dismember. Affinity has
become somewhat notorious for being a bit of a glass cannon itself these days–the Facebook posts lamenting yet another Top 8 loss to Stony Silence have
been plentiful for me and from a variety of talented pilots! There are plenty of solid white sideboard options–I’d go so far as to say it’s the best color
in the format when it comes to sideboarding, especially against Affinity.

I saw just that from WoOtoO as well, though I’ve seen it in a lot of places so it’s hard for me to know where the strategy really originated. Here’s his
list, from the Top 8 of a Modern Premier Event (rest in peace).

I like this setup in the main, although the singleton Cryptic looks really weird, and I’m pretty sure that the fourth Mutavault is a better card than
either of the other colorless singleton lands, but I’m not totally sold on that. I can at least rest safe with the knowledge that WoOtoO knows what he’s
doing! Phantasmal Image is handy, but right now I’d probably veer away from the Illusion because it’s much weaker in those grindy attrition games that are
becoming more common. Drawing one when you’re trying to just have a body left over isn’t going to work out very well against Jund, and it’s only a decent
dude when you already have a decent dude.

Of course, the reason we’re here in the first place is that sideboard. I’m surprised to see only the pair of Stony Silences, but keep in mind that you do
have to plan to remain functional sans Aether Vial if you’re bringing them in. Personally I’d prefer three Silences, but my area has a lot more Tron and
Affinity than average.

I like a singleton Spellskite for sure, as having the ability to sneak it in via Vial against Twin is pretty cool. If you subscribe to Juza’s plan, he
prefers to blank their Ancient Grudges and play against attrition, so you’ll want zero Spellskites in that case. That doesn’t appear to be WoOtoO’s plan,
of course, which demonstrates how flexible you can get. He’s packing Mark of Asylum and Ghostly Prison as high-impact curve balls and just focusing on
avoiding death by combo rather than concerning himself as much with the U/R midrange deck Twin can sometimes present. I’m wary of it, because he’s trimmed
so much of the removal that the combo is live once again, but I do like Ghostly Prison.

I’m curious to see Eidolon of Rhetoric, but hey–MTGO is pretty weird sometimes. I’m reasonably sure it’s just not what you want against Storm, but if you
really want to try and “get” Living End then it’s among the many options. Of course, Spellstutter Sprite is pretty great in both of those spots as well,
and it’s also very strong against Burn.

Another player’s take on the same: rbnfv’s list from another Premier.

A singleton Sygg is pretty cool, but that trio of Coralhelm Commanders raises an eyebrow. It’s a mediocre creature right now considering your goal in most
matchups is to outlast their removal… and he dies to everything! I’d much rather be packing more Masters–especially with Sygg available to perhaps protect
them. I’m not a big Thassa fan, though one doesn’t seem horrible. I’m not sure how good it is in the Jund matchup, which is a pretty important
consideration in today’s world. My intuition is that it’s a good card there, but if I’m wrong then it should likely go entirely.

Here, rbnfv went with Kataki out of the sideboard in addition to the main Path to Exiles. Kataki has more synergy with Aether Vial than Stony Silence has
synergy with Aether Vial, though it’s still awkward. The trouble is that Affinity can both win through Kataki and sometimes even remove it, so if our goal
in adding White is to be actually winning that matchup sometimes then Kataki may not be worth much more than his potential to mise. For example, is the
first Recall better than the second Kataki? Maybe, but at that point why are we here?

Rest in Peace is probably just worse than Relic. It’s certainly better against Storm and Living End, but there are a lot of fair matchups where I don’t
mind seeing Relic of Progenitus, and the combo decks are beatable with either one, especially if you play additional disruptive elements. It’s powerful
enough to merit a single, I suppose.

The Spheres seem a little expensive, and I’m not sure what they’re really for. Between cards like Dismember and Spell Pierce, I like being able to just
have very efficient spells that handle a variety of jobs, and Sphere isn’t efficient at all. It’s not even an especially good card against the top of the
metagame, alternately lacking targets or playing into their removal.

I’d rather have WoOtoO’s sideboard between these two, but I’d want some plans for boarding out Vial and increasing my threat density post-board. That’s the
primary advantage to playing a deck like this one, with twenty lands and four that can attack. You don’t want to try and be some sluggish reactive deck
after sideboarding, you want to destabilize the opponent and attack within that window. Stony Silence is often a one-card win, so I don’t mind it, but the
mass of other reactive cards are less exciting.

Alternatively, you could really get some peanut butter in your chocolate.

While I’m confident WoOtoO actually didn’t like this deck as much as the U/W list above–this one predates that one–I actually like this one a lot more!
Those Commanders are still not remotely interesting to me; I’d rather pop in Kiras or a Sygg in those slots as I’ve stated previously. But the sideboard
cards are a range of high-impact singletons with some redundancy in dealing with creatures against those Jund decks. Ghostly Prison is quite solid against
Affinity, though I’d still want to run a couple additional hammers for that matchup here.

In sum, I decided the following:

– I’m not willing to give up on the Affinity matchup at the PTQ level.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner into Master of Waves is a great curve I’d like to emphasize.

Spellstutter Sprite is adorable, but it’s probably not good enough without a warped metagame. Mothdust is a 1/1, after all.

– The white enchantments are very powerful out of the sideboard, and seems worth the splash in contrast to playing something narrow like Hurkyl’s Recall.

Coralhelm Commander, Phantasmal Image, and Spellskite are mediocre, although a singleton Spellskite is at least interesting.

– I don’t know if Thassa is good, but I don’t really want her to be.

Here’s where I’ll be starting:

This list is designed to test out the elements I’m most attracted to from all of the above decks. The sideboard is just a placeholder but not far from what
I’d hope to land near on those fifteen cards. There are other cards worth considering–like a simple country Disenchant or Aegis of Honor–but I’m content
to begin with the above. It’s nice that if I’m dissatisfied, I can at least audible backwards into Martin’s list and have a complete reference available!

I’ve only got one Modern PTQ on the horizon, and Merfolk is among the few decks I’m considering. It’s a tough racket in SoCal due to a strong number of
Jund and Affinity players, but I like the Magic it’s playing. If I can’t find a Faeries strategy I prefer, I’ll likely be swimming with fishes for the
foreseeable future.