Well, here we are again. It's time for Merfolk and I'm hyped! I know, it comes as a surprise to all of you, but I'm excited to share the latest updates to the Modern Merfolk archetype.
Ixalan was good to us – Kumena's Speaker and Merfolk Branchwalker gave us a legitimate reason to play green in the deck, even if it wasn't clear it was the absolute best build. Now Rivals of Ixalan has arrived and eliminated all question – we now have yet another lord in Merfolk Mistbinder! Branchwalker had to go, but this is a big upgrade in that spot, because no matter how much I liked exploring in Modern you can't top another lord.
I know that on the surface it doesn't look like much has changed. And in some ways it hasn't – but make no mistake, this Merfolk deck is unlike any that came before it. The mono-blue build of Merfolk has always been a great mix of aggression, tempo and interaction. The more green you play – now in the form of Kumena's Speaker and Merfolk Mistbinder – the more the deck leans toward the aggression side of things. In some ways I think it makes the deck less unique and fun, but simply from a competitive standpoint this feels like the current direction to go in the current Modern format. Because, while I enjoy "going off" with Merrow Reejerey or making a million Master of Waves tokens, the reality is playing one-mana 2/2s and then playing a million lords to pump the team is simply better in a world of Death's Shadow and UrzaTron.
Mistbinder kicks that aggression up to the max, and thanks to some of the more unique Merfolk we still have interaction. Cursecatcher is even better in a deck where we are a turn faster than we used to be, and Harbinger of the Tides is even more of a backbreaking play against other creature decks.
Spell Pierce is again an all-star. Basically, Merfolk now has about five or six flex spots, where you can choose from a number of options to adjust to your meta – Dismember, Spell Pierce, Kopala, Warden of Waves, Smuggler's Copter, Merrow Reejerey, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, the 19th land and so on. What you choose should be dependent on the expected meta, but over the course of a tournament those slots can really make the difference in how the deck plays out.
Access to green mana in the sideboard is also very important, mainly for Natural State but also possibly for other options. Natural State is huge against several important and previously bad matchups – Affinity and Lantern Control. You still don't want to play against them, but it's no longer quite so impossible.
Is this enough to make help Merfolk swim to the top of Modern again? To be honest, I think it depends a lot on the natural ebbs and flows of the Modern metagame. Merfolk has been on the downswing for about six months now, but I'm sure things will swing back around again – and Merfolk is stronger than ever when it does.
Thanks for reading, and happy fishing!