Why Unsettled Mariner Will Revive Fair Creature Beatdown In Modern

Magic’s most disruptive changeling, Unsettled Mariner, seems poised to make its mark in the new Modern. Tom “The Boss” Ross shares several brews to consider, plus his latest Infect list!

A Lion! A Tiger! A Bear!

Oh my.

Unsettled Mariner is unsettlingly good. It’s a changeling, which means it’s all creature types and goes into any tribal deck. That is, any tribal deck that can produce a blue and a white mana on the regular. It can dress up as a Human, a Merfolk, a Knight, a Soldier, and even grow a single long talon and do a great Sliver impression.

Or pass for a jar of grape jelly on Halloween.

Unsettled Mariner is literally a Bear, and one of the best “hatebears” around. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has long been used to slow down the opponent from using their removal efficiently and stop combo decks from Grapeshotting you too soon. Thalia is legendary and still commonly a four-of in decks of all formats. You can stack up Unsettled Mariners on the battlefield to really put the squeeze on your opponent. It even has an extra toughness.

It’s also reminiscent of Kira, Great Glass-Spinner in that it counters spells and abilities on your creatures. Unsettled Mariner only taxes for one, so it’s weaker in that regard. One plus in comparison is that Unsettled Mariner only affects your opponent’s spells and abilities, so you can still target your own creatures freely by, say, equipping them or saving one with a Vapor Snag.

Unsettled Mariner taxes spells and abilities that target you as well. This is useful against discard spells like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek as well as burn spells like Skullcrack and Boros Charm.

Remember that they must pay a mana for each target and each time they target, so cards that target you and your creature get doubly taxed. Ad Nauseam will have a tough time going off if you have lands to pitch to Lightning Storm to send it back a time or two and exhaust them of mana.

Unsettled Mariner is especially disruptive to cards that target many times in small numbers. All copies of Grapeshot cost one more, as do the triggers from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Walking Ballista can mow down the Unsettled Mariner eventually, but it’s going to take a lot of mana.

It’s not only creatures that Unsettled Mariner protects. All your permanents are under the veil of the seafaring changeling, so artifact destruction on your Aether Vial and a mean Field of Ruin on you Cavern of Souls all cost an additional mana. This is very easy to miss, so don’t get your spells or abilities countered accidentally!

I think Merfolk, Slivers, and Humans are all solid places to start slotting in Unsettled Mariner. I imagine there’s a white-based Death and Taxes deck that wants to load up on taxing effects irrespective of creature types. Spirits and Faeries tend to want all their creatures to have flying, so a ground creature is a tough sell there. Soldiers and Knights are always looking for a boost, but I don’t know if Unsettled Mariner is enough to move the needle.

So what’s the best home for Unsettled Mariner? It’s unsettled. Let’s start with what Unsettled Mariner looks like with a pair of fins.

Kopala, Warden of Waves was once a consideration in Modern Merfolk. How far we’ve come in so little time. Merfolk no longer needs a three-drop like Kopala or Kira, Great Glass-Spinner to shield the fishy friends when Unsettled Mariner is doing its job.

This build of Merfolk drops some of its noncreature spells in favor of more creatures since it’s going down on colored sources when it adds Cavern of Souls. The sideboard is also heavier on creatures. Fourteen blue sources and twelve white sources are a touch on the low end for Spreading Seas and Path to Exile and I don’t want to push my luck too far.

Splashing white gives access to some of the best sideboard cards in the format, as good interaction plus a fast clock has always been a recipe for success. Unsettled Mariner in tandem with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a headache and it’s possible for Cursecatcher to make a return to fully enable a Merfolk’s final form: “Fish and Taxes.”

Next up we have everyone’s favorite hive – Slivers:

Modern Horizons introduces new Slivers to the hive mind, positioning them to be a formidable tribe in Modern. So long, pet deck… incoming, a fearsome threat.

Lots on one-ofs here, just how I like it. The effects of Slivers don’t always stack well so I’m pretty low on the Slivers that aren’t simply great, like Cloudshredder Sliver, or have stackable effects like Predatory Sliver or Unsettled Mariner.

I like Slivers, but never liked Diffusion Sliver. The body is just too small for a creature that may or may not affect the game. 2/2 is a nice starting rate to get the beats going, so Unsettled Mariner is a welcome replacement in the Diffusion Sliver slot. Frenetic Sliver and Dregscape Sliver pull weight in terms of added resilience as well.

I’ve always found Sedge Sliver to be a house. It takes some manabase gymnastics to pull off, but the rate is worth it. The biggest sacrifice is not having enough green mana to support Collected Company. Those builds take more of a controlling posture and need to develop their mana with Gemhide Sliver oftentimes to function.

The sideboard is full of the most impactful Slivers in my opinion – Harmonic Sliver and Darkheart Sliver. Harmonic is great in multiples when they’re relevant and Darkheart is the best possible against Burn. Grafdigger’s Cages join the mix as easily castable graveyard interaction.

And now, the beneficiary of the Grand Creature Type Update of 2007: Humans.

Humans is currently a Tier 1 deck that will only improve. After all, will Wizards of the Coast ever stop printing strong Humans? Every set can’t be a non-Human plane like Lorwyn.

People have bounced back and force with the flex slots of Humans with various three-drops like Kessig Malcontents; Thalia, Heretic Cathar; Militia Bugler; and Anafenza, the Foremost. Unsettled Mariner will be the test Human in those slots for the near future.

Waterlogged Grove comes in from Modern Horizons as Horizon Canopy five and six. The touch of added flood protection is one reason I like a couple more two-drops in the flex slot instead of three-drops.

There’s some competition with Ranger-Captain of Eos for the immediate inclusion of said flex slots. It’s going to take a somewhat reimagining of Humans to fit it in, as I’d want at least one Thraben Inspector and probably another good tutor target. I think Unsettled Mariner and Ranger-Captain of Eos will find their way into a new build of Humans after the world tunes their Humans decks in the upcoming weeks.

…yo, ever hear of White Jund?

Ghostly Prison is a card I wasn’t much of a fan of previously. Now it seems like graveyard strategies aiming to put a lot of small creatures onto the battlefield are running rampant. Prized Amalgam, Bloodghast, Narcomeoba, and various Zombie tokens don’t look as good when it costs two mana for each of them to attack.

Gaining a pile of life and attacking for six as early as Turn 2 is a viable way to outrace the new crop of aggressive creature decks. After sideboard, a pile of Rest in Peaces allows for enough time for your white creatures to give the business.

Archangel Avacyn has always been good with Martyr of Sands and an occasional Walking Ballista. Ranger-Captain of Eos grants you another means of sacrificing a creature to turn on Archangel Avacyn’s “mad mode” on demand without one of your creatures needing to die after she’s been cast. Of course, Ranger-Captain of Eos has many other applications, mainly being a solid body that finds both parts of your Martyr of Sands and Serra Ascendant combo.

The Silence ability gives you percentage points against the combo decks or anytime you need to stay safe in a given situation. Ranger-Captain of Eos is basically a one-time Teferi, Time Raveler static that you can invoke on the optimal turn.

The best creature deck, though? Gotta give Infect a fighting chance.

No Tom Ross Modern article would be complete without a look into Infect after an impactful set like Modern Horizons drops.

I must’ve gotten 30 people ask me about Scale Up at SCG CON. It’s a situational, sorcery-speed +5/+3 in many situations, and a little more than that if you’re really trying to get the win with Noble Hierarch. Scale Up will mostly take the place of Become Immense and we’ll see many Infect builds shy away from fetchlands in favor of Waterlogged Grove.

This particular build is dabbling in white for Teferi, Time Raveler maindeck as well as some choice sideboard cards. This time around, mana-fixing is at a premium versus the new Horizon land. Still, an actual factual Horizon Canopy made the cut because I wanted another white source while also wanting a touch of flood protection.

White gives a boatload of awesome sideboard options, which I want to try all of. Once we sign up for Teferi, Time Raveler, the floodgates are open to play some heavy hitters now that the manabase can support it. Still, winning on Turn 3 is a high priority, so we can’t make a ton of sacrifices without compromising the speed of Infect.

I’ve not been responding to a key Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, or Path to Exile as much as I used to with Infect. My opponents have been on point about knowing that if a green mana is left up, even an uncracked fetchland, a Vines of Vastwood, Spell Pierce, or Blossoming Defense is something to be played around. In the near future I’ll be testing a lower number of protection spells for more proactive elements.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is all the talk after everyone’s first taste of Modern Horizons Modern. It’s trendy, but not unbeatable. My pick (unsurprisingly) would be Infect to take it down. Mono-White Martyr looks good to me too.

However, once the dust settles and Hogaak is put back into the grave as a normal-tier deck, we’ll see a resurgence of fair decks. That’s when Unsettled Mariner will shine: when people have loaded up on proper answers and get themselves stuck with a pile of graveyard-hate cards that do nothing and a pile of removal spells that are clunky.