Targeting Merfolk Looter: U/G In Today’s Standard

I have a confession to make: I am Adam Prosak and I have an addiction to Wild Mongrel. I also have an unholy love for Quiet Speculation, which was so good to me that it placed me 5th at Grand Prix: Cleveland and won me the Kentucky Open (sorta), so you know I’ve been playing U/G since it began. And though I’m qualified for Nationals on ranking, here’s a complete listing of the U/G build I would play if I were to go to Regionals, the sideboarding strategyes, and what to watch for in each matchup.

First off, a little disclaimer: In my tournament report, I called it the Kentucky Open, which is a bit of a misnomer. There’s an annual tournament that’s actually called the Kentucky Open, and it’s run by the premier events people in Kentucky in July or something. Also, if one more native Kentuckian tells me that there’s actually a Kentucky River, I’ll get my shotgun and shoot off your mullet or something. Or maybe I’ll just paint your grass green.

A short while ago, I heard of a conversation on IRC. This conversation was about the”mungrel addicts” – in short, people who would cry once Wild Mongrel left Standard. People like Cole Swannack, Antonio de Rosa, and Jeff Cunningham were found on this list, due to their affection of everyone’s favorite two-drop. My name was on that list until Tim Aten (tag! you’re it!) brought up that I actually won Magical games playing islands and forests without the aid of the Mongrel.

I have a confession to make: I am Adam Prosak and I have an addiction to Wild Mongrel. Consider me a convert.

You see, once upon a time, Psychatog decks didn’t have 80 billion removal spells. At Regionals last year, people would have laughed at you if you told them you boarded in Compost against Psychatog; Compost was for all those really bad Braids/x decks, which meant if your opponent played a Turn 1 Salt Marsh, your turn 2 Merfolk Looter could expect to stick around for awhile. So when I wanted another creature to play in addition to my beloved Nimble Mongoose and Werebear, I played Merfolk Looter, so I would have a real threat against the Zevatog decks. Even the mostly black decks used Chainer’s Edict as its primary removal, meaning that you could easily have a Looter working for you the entire game – something that is quite desirable, and much better than a 2/2 beater in a format without Wonder.

That was then. This is now.

If you play that Looter on turn 2 against a deck with swamps or mountains, it will often die a horrible death before seeing an untap phase. This can leave Roars and Wonders in the unhappy territory of your hand. I often find that even if a Mongrel dies, it was better than Looter ’cause you could pitch all your madness-based cards before it dies. In a format where you are often lucky to have any madness outlet in play, the bad Mongrel – namely, Aquamoeba – becomes much better than Looter against a lot of decks. This is why many people have followed Jeff Cunningham lead in playing Quiet Speculation over Looter as its primary card advantage engine. Last time I checked, Quiet Speculation can’t be Firebolted or Smothered. People started with Cunningham’s list, made some changes to the decklist for personal taste, which gives us the best deck in the format a few days before Regionals.

So what we’re working with is the most customizable Tier 1 deck in the format – which, unfortunately for many people, leaves lots of room for error. I’ve seen some awful decklists; decks that can’t beat Ensnaring Bridge, decks with Aether Burst. The most important flaw with many of these lists is that they can’t sideboard very well at all. No matter what I do, I can’t figure out why certain cards are in some sideboards. For example, I’ve been told that Gigapede is good in the mirror, and his list already had four Looters, no Quiet Speculations, and lots of Equilibriums. Basically, you had to side in twelve cards and you didn’t have that much to take out. I think that player took out Wonder or something in the mirror. What I’ve been playing on Magic Online – and what I would play if I were to play in Regionals (I’m Q’d on rating and stuff) – is this list:

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Wild Mongrel

3 Aquamoeba

2 Merfolk Looter

3 Arrogant Wurm

3 Roar of the Wurm

4 Careful Study

4 Circular Logic

3 Quiet Speculation

3 Deep Analysis

1 Ray of Revelation

3 Wonder

2 City of Brass

11 Island

10 Forest


3 Stupefying Touch

2 Equilibrium

2 Upheaval

3 Ravenous Baloth

2 Turbulent Dreams

1 Ray of Revelation

2 Merfolk Looter

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!??!?!?!! Wasn’t there just a long spiel about how Looter is bad? But I didn’t say that; all I said is that it couldn’t be relied upon as a madness outlet. Also, Looter is the second-best card in the mirror (Wonder being the first). If it goes unchecked, you better win that game. I’m not going to explain to you why we play four Wild Mongrels and four Circular Logics, but I will go over some of the more important card choices.

3 Aquamoeba, 2 Merfolk Looter, 3 Quiet Speculation:

I’m a huge fan of Quiet Speculation. At Grand Prix: Cleveland last year (OdBlock), Quiet Speculation loved me back. (What he’s not mentioning is his 5th-place finish in the land of Cleve – The Ferrett) I’m still one of those people who believe it’s broken beyond belief and it gives this deck a solid backup plan to the madness game. However, I can see playing four Aquamoebas and two Quiet Speculations if you aren’t as big a fan of Speculation as I am. Two of the Merfolk Looters are in the main deck primarily to give you an edge in the mirror match game 1. Most decks have to use a card to kill a Merfolk Looter, so they’re not awful in most matchups – just unreliable.

3 Arrogant Wurm, 3 Roar of the Wurm:

Cutting the third Roar is a huge mistake. It makes the second Quiet Speculation against control decks much better (trading one spell for three removal cards seems fine, even if it is slow), and drawing one is usually not awful. This deck likes to discard cards, and a 6/6 is a fine card to discard. That being said, this is a really bad card when you are playing aggro-control. It’s very hard to sit on Circular Logic and play this card when you want to.

The better place to cut a Wurm is in the Arrogant department. Despite my arrogant personality, I’m just not a fan of this card. Maybe it’s just that I never get to put this into play on turn 3 or whatever, but this card is like Simian Grunts; despite being undercosted, it was still good late in the game because of its instant speed. With only seven reliable madness outlets, four seems like a lot. Granted, you can cast this off Careful Study – but that’s at sorcery speed, where it’s just not as good.

On Arrogant Wurm vs. Phantom Centaur: with all respects to the people who like Centaur in U/G madness, it’s just plain awful. It feels like Arrogant Wurm without a madness cost. Phantom Centaur is at the same casting cost as Roar of the Wurm, cannot be discarded for profit, and it can be killed by Psychatog almost as easily as Arrogant Wurm – and only hits for one more. If your opponent knows you have Phantom Centaur, then they can stop playing against the possibility of 4/4s for 2G when you can discard spells. Results do not always speak for themselves. The Dutch Nationals-winning deck may have had Centaurs, but that deck is really bad (three-mana Circular Logics, anyone?) and was just piloted extremely well. Arrogant Wurm is better in a madness deck.

4 Careful Study:

If you want to top 8 Regionals with forests and islands, may I suggest drawing this card very frequently? It’s not infrequent for me to draw Careful Study and say,”Damn, I’m glad this is not Ancestral Recall.”

3 Deep Analysis:

Any number other than three of these is the wrong number to be playing. Four is too much pain to safely Speculate for, and two doesn’t give you enough cards to win exhaustion wars. Don’t get me wrong; this is an aggressive deck, but it can win exhaustion wars with control decks if you cast Careful Study well and have access to three Deep Analysis. Often times, especially against black decks, it’s better to discard a worthless spell and keep Deep Analysis off a Study/’Moeba/whatever just so you can hard-cast it. Hard-casting Wonder is often a good play, too.

0 Unsummon, 1 Ray of Revelation:

I had a version that I liked that involved maindeck Unsummons, but it was difficult to sideboard with. On top of that, I have to set up a board situation for Unsummon to be worth damaging the madness/Spec engine. You know a card is bad if you justify it by saying,”It’s broken when you have x and y and I have z” Go into #apprentice when they’re talking about Magic and you’ll see what I mean.

Granted, there are more situations where Unsummon is good than I care to admit, but I didn’t like the feel of the deck with Unsummon in it. I’m not saying that you are bad if you like Unsummon; I just don’t like it.

A card that I do like is Ray of Revelation. While it’s not broken against anything but Astral Slide decks, it still has its uses. Spec + Ray on an Elephant guide is good against R/G, and it can often be used to hit Compulsion against Wake and Tog (if you aren’t attacking for lethal damage when Wake plays their Mirari’s Wake, you need a lot more than a Ray of Revelation). Plus, you don’t have to lose to idiotic maindecked Worships and other such gibberish.

2 City of Brass 11 Island 10 Forest:

The deck can run on twenty-two lands (and a City), but you get to cast spells a lot more often with twenty-three land, and cheating on land seems like a bad idea when your worst enemy is color/mana screw. The extra City is just gravy, allowing you to cast Ray from the hand a lot more often, and it also makes Baloths from the sideboard a lot easier.

The sideboard is very very important to a U/G deck simply because U/G is the best (or at least the most popular) deck in the format. This means everyone is going to come with a game plan for you, which means putting in countermeasures or simply changing the focus of your deck. Simply putting in hate for other decks doesn’t always help, because they’ll hate you right back. The goal of this sideboard is to make your deck better in matchups after sideboarding. If you notice in the matchup plans below, you get to side a lot of cards in and out.

3 Stupefying Touch:

Mise well get this one first. This card is not broken; it’s simply quasi-cantrip creature removal against so much in the format. This card is key to the game plan against Psychatog (as the Callous Oppressors and Togs themselves are generally what gives them a lot of game against you). It’s also very good in the mirror – everyone has played with or against U/G when they couldn’t discard spells, and U/G isn’t very good then. It’s also important against R/G, as it stops Lavamancer from being a recurring source of damage – although it’s not as good here as it against the rest of the Big Three. When you side in a card against every single Tier 1 deck, it’s a good card, right?

2 Equilibrium:

Unlike the Stupid Touch, this card is broken. This is by far the narrowest card in the board, but its one of the few cards that trump Wonder in the mirror match, and it’s equally broken against Beast variants. Games with the Equalizer generally involve them desperately trying to keep creatures on the table. Eventually, they manage to do so – but by then you either killed them three turns ago, or have a ridiculous creature advantage. It’s especially broken if you have Looters to keep creatures coming.

2 Upheaval:

Let’s assume we’re not gonna board in both Gigapede and Upheaval, as they’re good in the same matchups (MBC, Tog, Wake, and Slide), and four infacosters is a bit too much for an aggressive deck like U/G. Which would you rather have against Tog? Okay, you win; the ‘Pede is much better.

But which would you rather have against MBC? How bout Wake? Slide? Yeah, add it up; I win. Let’s not forget that you can lose with recurring ‘Pedes, but you generally don’t lose if you resolve Upheaval in the appropriate matchup.

2 Turbulent Dreams, 3 Ravenous Baloth:

This is your game against R/G. The reason that there are three Baloths is that you only want one Dreams, and Baloth helps you stall for the Dreams, as well as being a beater when they don’t draw Bridge.

The Matchups:


Never before has a pure control deck had such good game against aggro control. I could rant on and on about how Wizards should print good spells so that creatures and counterspells beat counterspells because the control deck can’t afford to play billions of creature removal spells… But I digress.

Don’t play around Force Spike unless it’s really easy to early on, as you can often get a lot of pressure, especially if a Rootwalla is involved. Rarely will you get the draw that keeps a creature on the table the entire game – but if you do, those games are easy. If the game isn’t aggressive enough in your favor, then we have to win a war of resources. Given a bunch of time, they will probably beat you with Concentrate, and possibly Compulsion. This being said, you still have plenty of other ways to get an advantage, provided you aren’t as slow as molasses and lose to Upheaval. If you can, counter Concentrate, hard-cast Wonder (Wonder is a surprising nuisance; I’ve drawn plenty of counterspells with Wonder, which is definitely a good thing), and hold Careful Study until you can discard profitably. Hard-casting Roar, while card advantage, would fall under the category of too slow to beat Upheaval. While there are times where you can do this, it’s not that good.

Sideboarding: +2 Merfolk Looter +3 Stupefying Touch +2 Upheaval -3 Roar of the Wurm -3 Quiet Speculation -1 Ray of Revelation

Roar dies way too easily and Deep Analysis would rather be hard-cast. I found that Spec for Deep Analysis could easily be answered by Concentrate and then you would be left without card drawing. And it’s slow.

Sometimes the Ray of Revelation is good, as some people still leave in the slow-as-molasses Compulsion as well as bring in Engineered Plague (for the Gigapedes you don’t have, but it still hits Merfolk and Lizards) and Persuasion… But without Quiet Speculation, it’s not that good. What you do get is a way to punish them for tapping out (madness creature + Arrogant Wurm is the best you can do otherwise) for mid-late game Concentrates, as well as a way to not lose a quick game in Stupefying Touch. Tog used to play some stalling tactics and then quickly have a lethal Tog which Edicted you every turn; now they have to kill all your creatures the old-fashioned way, or play Upheaval, both of which are hard to do.


Game 1 is essentially between two cards: Elephant Guide and Roar of the Wurm. If one player has one and the other can’t answer, the game is usually over quickly. Sometimes they can deal with one 6/6, but not if it flies and not if you have a decent draw in addition to the Roar of the Wurm. Quiet Speculation is very good here, too, as it both gets your Roar of the Wurms, but fetches the Ray of Revelation as well to deal with Elephant Guides. I think that if you play a creature on turns 1-3, as well as a Roar of the Wurm on turn 4, you’ll be hard-pressed to lose. The easiest way to lose game 1 is for them to pump Rootwallas and play Mongrels early, and then burn you out from double-digits.

Sideboarding: -2 Merfolk Looter -4 Circular Logic -1 Deep Analysis +3 Ravenous Baloth +2 Stupefying Touch +2 Turbulent Dreams

You can’t side all your bad cards out (Arrogant Wurm isn’t the greatest unless you somehow get a madness outlet to live), but your good cards are so good that you are still the favorite. If they don’t have Ensnaring Bridge (and something like Threaten), then the match is heavily in your favor. I like game 1 because of all the ways I have to get Roar of the Wurm, and game 2 I even get Ravenous Baloth, which is bad to Threaten. If they do have an Ensnaring Bridge, then it’s a race to Turbulent Dreams. Don’t forget that Aquamoeba is a beast, which helps if they get in early beats before dropping the Ensnaring Bridge. If you start at a healthy life total, the race to Turbulent Dreams is in your favor, as you have some stalling tactics in Baloths as well as a bunch of card drawing. Remember: All you need is one Turbulent Dreams to deal with every single Bridge. This makes Naturalize bad.

U/G Mirrors

Merfolk Looter is key game 1. If you draw a Merfolk Looter and neither player has Wonder advantage, play very defensively and milk your Merfolk Looter for all it’s worth. Against another deck without them, you will win most of the time. Even if they play Unsummon and get your Roar of the Wurms, you can still team-block theirs and eventually you’ll just reach a critical mass of people. Or you could just draw Wonder and make them not draw theirs. That also works.

Sideboard: -3 Aquamoeba -1 Deep Analysis -3 Quiet Speculation -1 Ray of Revelation -1 Roar of the Wurm +3 Stupefying Touch +2 Equilibrium +2 Upheaval +2 Merfolk Looter

There are about a billion cards that you can sideboard in the mirror. Given the dependence of Wonder in the mirror match, the fourth should probably be in the board, but I’m too lazy to make a coherent sideboard involving Wonder. The problem with the mirror matchup is that your sideboard cards need to trump Wonder advantage. Callous Oppressor does not do this and is therefore a bad sideboard card. Equilibrium and Upheaval both trump Wonder – something that only Krosan Reclamation and Silklash Spider can do effectively. But Krosan Reclamation requires you to keep in the slow Quiet Speculation engine, and Silklash is only really good in the mirror. Since everyone is bound to have some sort of bounce, Roar isn’t that good here, but it’s not a bad card to discard profitably. Equilibrium is idiotic. If they don’t have an answer (namely Ray of Revelation or Spellbane Centaur), they’re done for. It’s almost impossible to keep up with Equilibrium. Upheaval is also very good, especially considering Basking Rootwalla is the first card to get cut in most mirror matchups. This configuration helps the matchup revolve more around your knowledge of how this matchup works as opposed to who outdraws the other.

An aside on Spellbane Centaur: The fact that this is a creature is almost irrelevant. The goal of this card is to lock down blue spells, which I admit are plentiful in the mirror. This card is similar to siding in Naturalize against Ensnaring Bridge: You basically need to draw both the Centaur and one of your other sideboard cards to get an edge in the mirror. It can’t die, else your creatures are vulnerable again. It’s good when it works, and it’ll often be annoying, but targeted blue effects are never a core part of U/G strategy. This means that your Spellbane Centaur may be the nuts against me, but you failed to stop my primary plan of attack, while you went out of your way to play what amounts to a three-mana effect.

Other matchups: Outside of the big three, you run into decks that are very cut and dry. They often have one focus of attack, or play with suboptimal cards for a greater effect. All of the tier 1 decks have all good cards for the most part, then some synergy on top of that. These decks play with bad cards (like Lay Waste or Nantuko Husk) for a more impressive effect.


The best way to win is an early Roar with cover for Innocent Blood/Chainer’s Edict. Time is on their side, as they have Visara the Dreadful, which is a mean bitch for you.

Sideboard: -1 Ray of Revelation -3 Arrogant Wurm -3 Wonder +3 Stupefying Touch +2 Merfolk Looter +2 Upheaval

Stupefying Touch lets you not lose to Visara the Dreadful or Nantuko Shade, and Upheaval makes them kill you quickly, or at least Duress you. Arrogant Wurm is bad because it still dies to Mutilate and you don’t often have a madness outlet in play. Exploit their lack of real card drawing and you’ll be fine. Hard-casting Wonder and Deep Analysis, especially after sideboarding, is very good.

Astral Slide:

They can’t do anything until their third turn, and everything you have to worry about doesn’t come online until the fourth turn. You basically fear three cards from this deck: Astral Slide, Exalted Angel, and Wrath of God. Any one of the three would be fine, but together they’re really bad for you. Lightning Rift and a cycled Slice and Dice aren’t nearly as good, and easy to play around, provided you don’t walk into anything. The Wild Mongrel/Circular Logic draw is tough for them to beat if they’re on the play, and Quiet Speculation is absolutely insane. Arrogant Wurm is also very very good, as you can play around Wraths and stuff.

If you have another turn 2 play and you’re on the draw, play a Wild Mongrel on turn 3 and bluff Circular Logic. This is good for two reasons – the first being that they’ll be hesitant to walk into a 5/5 flying Wild Mongrel with Exalted Angel, the second being hesitant to get spells countered by Circular Logic.

They often have to cycle into their good cards, which buys you a ton of time. Play aggressively, without extending into a cycled Slice and Dice. You often have to push the envelope when playing into Wrath of God, but sometimes you just have to hope they don’t have it, as waiting often puts you on the wrong end of Astral Slide or Exalted Angel – or, heaven forbid, both.

Sideboard: +1 Ray of Revelation +2 Upheaval -1 Merfolk Looter -2 Roar of the Wurm

With Upheaval, this matchup becomes very very easy. Just don’t die to Exalted Angel, keep Astral Slide off the table (preferably with Rays, save your Logics for wrath effects and Exalted Angel), build up your mana base, then Upheaval and drop a bunch of creatures. That’s if you don’t get the aggressive draw with Circular Logic backup.


Do the following two things and you’ll win:

#1 Draw Wonder in a timely fashion

#2 Keep cards that are Wished for from becoming active

Sideboarding: -1 Deep Analysis -1 Ray of Revelation -3 Aquamoeba -1 Quiet Speculation -2 Circular Logic +2 Equilibrium +2 Stupefying Touch +2 Upheaval +2 Merfolk Looter

Touch is basically there for Intrepid Hero and Silklash Spider, and it has its uses on random Ravenous Baloths and Anurid Brushhoppers, but don’t waste them. The Equalizer is broken here. You don’t even need to draw Wonder if you draw Equilibrium, they still can’t block your Roar of the Wurms.


I’ve played this matchup a decent amount, and Wake always loses. I really can’t explain why, but a lot of things have to go right for Wake to make it into the late stages of the game. When they try to develop their board, U/G can often put enough pressure/disruption to win. Exalted Angel + Moment’s Peace is the easiest way to lose, other than slow-rolling it. Hit hard and hit often.

Sideboarding: +1 Ray of Revelation +2 Upheaval +2 Merfolk Looter -2 Roar of the Wurm -2 Aquamoeba -1 Quiet Speculation

Looter digs you into Upheaval, which outright wins the game if it resolves, as well as Circular Logics for Wrath of God. They can’t change much, maybe just a Chastise or something.


Don’t hold anything back, attack when you can, and hope they don’t draw Sparksmith. If you wait for Wonder, they’ll probably just burn you out and/or attack you with a lot of guys and Goblin Sledder.

Sideboard: +2 Turbulent Dreams +3 Ravenous Baloth +3 Stupefying Touch -2 Merfolk Looter -1 Ray of Revelation -2 Deep Analysis -1 Arrogant Wurm -2 Circular Logic

You can keep a few Logics in, just because there are more cards that are worth countering in a stable situation than against R/G. An Arrogant Wurm gets cut because you have too much fat for this matchup, which is not always a good thing. Contrary to popular belief, this is a really bad matchup. Sparksmith owns you.

I guess that’s all I got. I wouldn’t advise picking this list up and running it at Regionals. If you make changes to the list, make sure you can sideboard coherently. Ravenous Baloths aren’t the best sideboard card ever, but they are good in matchups when you have a lot of bad cards, and therefore need to side a bunch of them out. I don’t think the deck is extraordinarily hard to play, but you can’t just pick it up and expect to do well. If you do well at Regionals, either send me an email, catch me on Magic Online, or post in one of the billions of forums StarCity has and tell us all what worked for you and what didn’t. I will be in Columbus, chillin’ and laughing at 500+ poor, unqualified souls. Good luck and hope to see you in San Diego (if you are American; if you are not, you most likely already had Regionals. Heh).

Adam Prosak

[email protected] (Also, put”Magic” in the subject to avoid my filters)

Ihatepants on modo, captain of Alcoholics Anonymous