You knew this was coming, right? After all, as my boss Stybs put it, I'm basically contractually obligated to make this happen.
Welcome to Mining Standard – Merfolk Edition.
Surely you know by now that Merfolk is my favorite deck. It is life, it is love, it is happiness and all that's right with the world of Magic. If you weren't aware of all that, the short version is it started eight years ago when I was new to tournament Magic and a friend wanted to attend a StarCityGames Legacy Open. We drove all night for Legacy, and I had never played the format in my life. He had two decks, and was going to loan me the one he wasn't using. As it turned out, he chose to play Zoo, and handed me Merfolk.
The rest is history. I split the finals of that Open, and later made Top 16 of an Invitational with Merfolk – memorably beating an Emrakul attack in a feature match. Since then, I've foiled out the deck in Modern and done everything I can to make fish happen.
That included this article earlier this week on the mothership (DailyMTG). If you're interested in the history of Merfolk in competitive play, from Legacy to Modern to Standard – and all the notable finishes in between – it's worth checking out. I also included a starting point for a Standard list in the article, and the deck I played for the videos today is where I've taken the archetype since writing that.
Merfolk Branchwalker isn't the second coming of Silvergill Adept (my favorite card), but it's damn close. It gets to play somewhat above the curve as a 3/2 with scry 1 from time to time, and the other half of the time it actually is a Silvergill Adept. This would be a snap-include in Modern if it were blue, and I'm certainly considering if it (and possibly Kumena's Speaker) make it worth splashing green in the deck. You can see the fruit of those efforts in next week's Mining Modern.
But today is about Standard, and this deck is surprisingly powerful for an archetype clearly waiting on additional cards from Rivals of Ixalan to put it on the map. As is, the deck makes do with Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Verdurous Gearhulk as honorary Merfolk, while Nissa, Steward of Elements is pretty nutty as well in a fishy guest appearance.
This deck can build an army very quickly. While other Standard archetypes rely on a huge Longtusk Cub or Bristling Hydra or bombs like Glorybringer or The Scarab God, this deck is all about synergy as it builds up the board. And with access to River Sneak – which is, well, sneaky as it dives in over and over again for big damage thanks to a steady stream of +1/+1 counters – as well as Herald of Secret Streams to turn everything into a River Sneak, it's surprisingly difficult to prevent this deck from turning the tides.
Metallic Mimic is great at setting up the rest of the deck, and when you follow it up with Vineshaper Mystic or Rishkar, you end up with some pretty big creatures pretty quickly. Since the deck plays mostly permanents and the curve stops more or less at three, Nissa, Steward of Elements fits perfectly. You can play her on turn three and immediately tick her up to three loyalty by scrying. If the board is at all at parity thanks to a Kumena's Speaker or Merfolk Branchwalker – or your opponent spent their turn killing your creatures – you will have a chance to untap with her on the fourth turn. You can immediately begin activating the zero ability, and with only 10 "misses" in the deck, the odds are you'll be getting a free card out of the deal without spending any mana. That means your opponent must kill Nissa or they'll be Drowned out by the steady stream of card advantage.
Have I mentioned that all of this is even harder to disrupt thanks to Kopala, Warden of Waves? Sure, Kopala is no Kira, Great Glass-Spinner (though I'm planning on a 1-1 split in Modern), she is quite strong and great at disrupting opposing Abrade or Chandra, Torch of Defiance. When opponents do have removal, Blossoming Defense does a great job protecting your most important creatures.
Of course, the deck has its weaknesses as well. We're mainly hoping to interact in combat, because the removal in blue and green is sorely lacking – Unsummon does great work, but there's only so much bounce spells can do. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship fits both strategically and thematically – fish surround the boat – but all in all the removal aspect is clearly lacking. That means that while the deck is great in situations where your opponent is trading resources with you, it struggles in matchups where the opponent is more interested in just killing you quickly or going over the top. Much like Merfolk in Modern, not very many of the individual cards in this deck are all that powerful on their own, so it's hard to catch up if you fall behind.
The sideboard is obviously a work in progress in a fresh Standard meta, but Deeproot Waters and Shapers' Sanctuary are great to drown out control decks that want to one-for-one you, while we have our own countermagic for matchups where it's needed. Finally, Aethersphere Harvester is there for the aggro matchups, while Confiscation Coup is ideal for stealing a big Longtusk Cub or something similar. There aren't any other ways to make energy in the deck so theoretically it's capped at four, but you can easily adjust the mana base with Aether Hub – something I didn't do in these videos but can easily see being correct.
I'm beyond excited to play Merfolk in Standard again, even if we're not quite all the way there yet. We've still got Rivals of Ixalan to look forward to, and the fish are back!
Thanks for reading,