Historic Merfolk Deck Guide: Going Back to School

mh2-69-svyelun-of-sea-and-sky
Svyelun of Sea and Sky Art by Seb McKinnon

It’s been a while since Merfolks was a viable archetype, and by viable I mean a tier 1 deck, capable of facing the strongest opposition. From time to time, we usually see one of our fish brothers achieve some top 8 in eternal formats such as legacy and modern, but as for Historic, the archetype has never been able to take off (or swim off) properly.

Today everything has changed thanks to three cards that Jumpstart: Historic Horizons has brought to us:

At first glance, none of them might seem like a game changing card on its own, but the same happens with fish in the waters of the seas and oceans. A single fish could just be food for a dangerous predator, but when congregated, forming gigantic masses of hypnotic movement coordinated in the same direction, precise and elegant, even the biggest predator is in trouble.

These three merfolks were what our school of fish needed to be able to gracefully swim through the most powerful archetypes and get ahead of even the fiercest enemy. 

After a lot of testing, let me present to you, the list:

Simic Merfolks by Bohe 

Creatures (33)
2
Benthic Biomancer
4
Kumena's Speaker
4
Shoreline Scout
4
Master of the Pearl Trident
4
Merfolk Mistbinder
4
Merfolk Trickster
4
Silvergill Adept
4
Merrow Reejerey
3
Svyelun of Sea and Sky
Spells (4)
4
Collected Company
Lands (23)
4
Botanical Sanctum
4
Breeding Pool
2
Hinterland Harbor
9
Island
4
Unclaimed Territory
Cards (60)
Sideboard (15)
2
Grafdigger's Cage
2
Relic of Progenitus
2
Spell Pierce
2
Aether Gust
2
Decisive Denial
2
Inscription of Abundance
1
Negate
2
Mystical Dispute

Card Choices

Merfolk Trickster Art by Jesper Ejsing
Merfolk Trickster Art by Jesper Ejsing

One of the things that makes this deck work is the capability of having a power curve. The best way to take advantage of playing lords on turn 2 and 3 -Lord: A creature that gives +1/+1 to all other creatures of the same type- is having enough 1 drops. This is the reason why we play a full set of Kumena’s Speaker, Shoreline Scout, plus a pair of Benthic Biomancer.

Kumena’s Speaker is our strongest opener. It can be a 3/3 on turn 2 thanks to our 8 turn two lords, something that is extremely relevant in this new Historic metagame. Shoreline Scout is incredible and certainly one of the missing pieces of the puzzle. It lets us keep hands that without it, would be impossible. Being able to keep 1 or 2 landers make this deck rarely have to mulligan and it can hit for 3 on turn 2 as well. Finally, to round up our first drops, a pair of Benthic Biomancer solidifies our opening hands. There are other one drop Merfolk to consider, but the Adapt 1 ability of Benthic Biomancer is really good. It lets us do something on turn two if we miss a second drop or it can fix our hand when we get mana flooded in later stages of the game.

Merfolk are viable in eternal formats like Legacy or Modern because they can play 12 lords. Now we can do that in Historic too thanks to the arrival of Master of the Pearl Trident, a 2/2 lord for UU that also gives all other Merfolk islandwalk. This might seem irrelevant, but nowadays and after a lot of games into the BO3 Historic ladder, I can say that Islandwalk is extremely important, even if we don’t have Spreading Seas in Historic. There are a lot of decks playing islands or any non-basic land with the Island subtype, making this ability something that could win us many games.

Merfolk Mistbinder is a card that justifies playing green in this archetype. If this card didn’t exist, we would probably have to play this deck in a mono blue fashion, and I’m not sure that it would work. It’s simple, but trust me, this lord is vital for our success. Continuing with our two drops, Silvergill Adept is a creature present in all iterations of Merfolk in eternal formats and this is no exception. A 2/1 body that draws a card for just two mana makes this almost a “free card”, and that’s why we play four. Merfolk Trickster is our last two drop, a creature that on many occasions is usually absent in the lists of this archetype, but combined with one of our three drops, Merrow Reejerey, lets us tap two potential blockers for two mana, hit hard, and keep the pressure up. Having the ability of “blanking” the text box of an opposite creature is a plus that could save us in many situations, so keep this in mind while playing against creature base combos.

In our three drops we have an old acquaintance and one new card. Merfolk Reejerey is a three mana lord, something that could be slow in some instances, but when it has an amazing ability that lets us tap or untap any permanent, it justifies that extra mana paid for it. It not only can tap blockers or untap attackers for blocking later (amazingly combined with Merfolk Trickster as I mentioned before), it also lets us untap our lands, making powerful plays with just 3 or 4 lands on later turns thanks to our high amount of cheap creatures.

The new fish in the school and the last creature we play is Svyelun of Sea and Sky. It’s an incredible new card that protects all our team by giving ward 1 to all our other Merfolk and gains indestructible while being with at least two other merfolk which will make our opponent struggle to stop our curve. That’s not all, either, she draws a card when attacking giving us gas and unlike Kira, Great Glass-Spinner (an old card that tends to be in old merfolk builds for the same purpose as Svyelun), she is a Merfolk, gaining +1/+1 from our lords. I play 3 in the presented list, but playing 4 could be great if preferred. I really like to play 10 one drops, solidifying our curve and our % of having a creature go onto the battlefield on turn 1, but having 4 Svyelun could be preferred against some matches. Once the meta solidifies, it will be easier to make the decision on the right number.

Our only non-creature card is Collected Company. In a deck with 12 lords and 33 creatures in total, it’s really easy to get two high impact creatures to end the game almost instantly. Since Company is an instant, there are a lot of discussions about the proper way to play Merfolk in Historic right now. Many people think that playing only creatures in the mainboard is the right choice while others think that playing a few counterspells plus a set of Collected Company could be doable.

In my opinion, I think that in early metas going all in on the creature plan is better. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to play counterspells at all. We have a varied selection of them in the sideboard, but playing 33 creatures + CoCo gives us a very good selection of Merfolk and most of the time we are going to find what we need in game 1. Playing counterspells in the mainboard in other eternal formats is viable thanks to the existence of Aether Vial, a very powerful artifact that lets us play our creatures while having open mana for reactive blue spells. The lack of this tool makes us build our deck differently, having a full creature plan in game 1, and the ability to adapt, with countermagic and removal into game 2 and 3 when needed.

Notable Exclusions

Kopala, Warden of Waves Art by Magali Villeneuve
Kopala, Warden of Waves Art by Magali Villeneuve

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is one of the cards that people immediately think of when we talk about this archetype. Overall, Kumena is a good card, 2/4 for three mana with three abilities that let us break stuck board states. However, that functionality is what makes me think that Kumena,doesn’t have what we need in an aggressive strategy. It’s similar to my reasoning behind playing 3 Svyelun. If I have a Merrow Reejerey and Kumena in hand, I would rather play Merrow over Kumena 90% of the time. Making a slot in the sideboard for Kumena is doable, but is somewhat dependent on facing a heavy aggressive creature based metagame. If that happens, playing a pair of Kumena on the sideboard could be a very good option.

Kopala, Warden of Waves is a three drop that gives ward 2 to all our Merfolk, something that is useful in many cases, but when competing directly against Svyelun in the three drop slot, it falls behind without a doubt. Our sideboard is really tight and every slot has been carefully thought out, but if the metagame stabilized into a heavy spot removal one, playing a copy of Kopala could be something to think about.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner was on many eternal format Merfolk lists in the old days, and I think it’s incredible even now. Hard countering spells and abilities is clearly better than giving ward to our team, but the printing of three mana Merfolks that have similar abilities to Kira make this spirit unnecessary (actually, the existence of cards like Kopala or Svyelun are behind the heavy use of Kira in Merfolk back then).

Jadelight Ranger was one of the key creatures of the old Golgari Explore deck. Its solid design makes it really good in a vacuum. If Jumpstart: Historic Horizons would have brought us Master of the Pearl Trident without Svyelun of Sea and Sky, I probably would have played 4 Jadelight Ranger instead of the Merfolk God.

Glasspool Mimic aims to emulate Phantasmal Image, a great card for copying lords used by Legacy and Modern merfolk players, but it has one big problem. If we play Collected Company with an empty board and we choose Glasspool Mimic and any other merfolk, we are going to lose Glasspool Mimic. Having a creature on the battlefield before Glasspool Mimic comes into play is mandatory, even if it enters at the same time with another creature. This is why I didn’t consider this creature, but if for some reason, anyone plays this deck without Collected Company, playing 2-4 of this creature could be a good idea.

Deeproot Elite is considered by many players to go in Merfolk builds because it’s a pseudo lord. It works well with Collected Company, but in my opinion is too slow for what we are aiming to do. Having Merfolk Trickster to complete our second drops makes Deeproot Elite unnecessary.

Pauper players would recognize Jungleborn Pioneer without a problem. I want to mention it here because even if I didn’t test it, in my mind it can be a very good option if the meta goes aggro in the next few weeks. Just imagine having 1 lord on the battlefield and then playing Jungleborn Pioneer. That means a 3/3 and a hexproof 2/2 for three mana… now imagine that with two lords into play. Maybe someday this creature could be in our 75.

Mistcaller is an amazing card, but the problem with it is that it stops our opponent’s strategy just one time. I prefer Grafdigger’s Cage for stopping graveyard interactions like Vesperlark combo, Faithless Looting, Arclight Phoenix, and many others. The problem with Cage is that it doesn’t stop Indomitable Creativity (because it exiles the creatures first before putting them into play) while Mistcaller does and Mistcaller can be searched with Collected Company. Nevertheless, we have a wide variety of counterspells in our sideboard to stop Creativity decks, making this creature fall behind in effectiveness. Maybe, when the metagame stabilizes, we can reconsider if we want to play 2 of these little Merfolk in our 75. A good example of this is if the Scurry Oak combo became popular.

Memory Lapse is a great card and one of the best counterspells available in Historic, but we have to remember that this is still a creature deck at heart. All permission we play has to be really cheap so as to not disrupt our game plan. That’s the reason why we have Spell Pierce and Mystical Dispute on our sideboard. We play a few other two mana cards there, but besides Memory Lapse, they cover a wide variety of situations making them more flexible for a wide open metagame like the one we are in now.

Barkchannel Pathway could be an obvious inclusion in any Simic deck, but we have one big reason for not playing this land (and for just playing 2 Hinterland Harbor). Kumena’s Speaker needs an Island to get +1/+1. Having 33 creatures and 4 Collected Company makes Unclaimed Territory a really good option for us. Having 4 of it plus 4 Botanical Sanctum fills our non island slots. With the help of Shoreline Scout we don’t even have to play a single basic forest to function.

Faceless Haven was in the initial versions of the list. Hitting with a 5/4 or a 6/5 for 3 mana feels amazing, but we have too many early colored mana sources to afford colorless. Maybe some time when we get Lord of the Atlantis and a mono blue version becomes possible…

Sideboard Guide

Spell Pierce Art by Vance Kovacs
Spell Pierce Art by Vance Kovacs

When I built the sideboard for this deck, it gave me the feeling that I was building a Modern sideboard. There’s so many viable strategies right now and we have to be able to face a very wide open metagame with just 15 sideboard slots. The best way of doing this is by dividing our sideboard plan into three smaller groups: permission cards (counterspells), removals and handbrakes (something that stops strong strategies while being on the battlefield).

Counterspells

Removal

Handbrakes

In this precise moment where the young Historic metagame is still evolving, it would be pretentious to make a sideboard guide just taking three or four decks into consideration as the clear tier 1 options. Instead, we are going to point out the cards that we should always try to keep, the ones that could come out if necessary, and how our sideboard plan works.

Cards we have to keep almost in every situation

Cards that could come out if necessary

Sideboard Plan

The first big step into proper sideboarding with this deck is to learn when we have to keep Collected Company and when we want to take it out. The best way to recognize this is asking yourself if you want to side in your countermagic. If the answer is “Yes”, then the proper move is to take out the 4 Collected Company plus many needed Merfolk. I try to keep Benthic Biomancer most of the time as having 10 one drops lets us put pressure on as fast as possible. As far as Merfolk Trickster and Silvergill Adept are concerned, it depends on two points. We prefer to keep Merfolk Trickster against creature based decks (aggro or combo ones) while we prefer to keep Silvergill Adept when facing attrition matches like midrange or control strategies.

If we are facing creature centered decks and we want to pack in our removal (2 Decisive Denial + 2 Inscription of Abundance) we could keep Collected Company without a problem. This is because 29 remaining creatures tend to be enough.

There is a situation when we could cut the 4 Collected Company even if we don’t want to play counterspells. This happens when Grafdigger’s Cage and Relic of Progenitus are good against our opponent. +4 removal spells and +4 artifacts cuts our creature count to 25, something that could make our CoCos weak from time to time. A good example could be any Vesperlark + Davriel’s Withering deck.

We want to play Spell Pierce, Decisive Denial, and Negate against board wipes like Wrath of God, Anger of the Gods, Languish, etc.

The single copy of Negate substitutes Arasta of the Endless Web. In the old Historic I played this spider against Phoenix decks, and for many matches I had a copy in my sideboard. Arasta could single handedly defeat Izzet Phoenix, but after testing for a while and never crossing paths with a Phoenix strategy, I decided to change it for a Negate. This is because of the necessity of a hard counter against Indomitable Creativity decks, a strategy that’s really popular right now. Our other countermagic works well, giving us enough time against them, but if they can stall the game and start getting a lot of lands, a super late game Indomitable Creativity could steal the game. Lastly, if Phoenix gets popular again, they probably would play Unholy Heat, a removal that can now take care of Arasta for only one mana.

Examples of Sideboard Plan Execution

Based on the first relevant tournament of this new format, Hooglandia Historic Open, I will present the following quick sideboarding examples:

Izzet Creativity

INOUT
+2 Spell Pierce-4 Collected Company
+2 Aether Gust-4 Merfolk Trickster
+2 Decisive Denial-1 Benthic Biomancer
+1 Negate
+2 Mystical Dispute

Selesnya Hardened Scales

INOUT
+2 Decisive Denial-4 Silvergill Adept
+2 Inscription of Abundance-2 Benthic Biomancer
+2 Aether Gust

Selesnya Company

INOUT
+2 Decisive Denial-4 Collected Company
+2 Inscription of Abundance-4 Silvergill Adept
+2 Grafdigger’s Cage
+2 Aether Gust

Mono Black Vampires

INOUT
+2 Decisive Denial-4 Silvergill Adept
+2 Inscription of Abundance

Jund Midrange

INOUT
+2 Relic of Progenitus-4 Merfolk Trickster
+2 Aether Gust-4 Collected Company
+2 Decisive Denial
+2 Spell Pierce

Gruul Aggro

INOUT
+2 Decisive Denial-4 Silvergill Adept
+2 Inscription of Abundance-2 Benthic Biomancer
+2 Aether Gust

Tips and Tricks

Merrow Reejerey Art by Greg Staples
Merrow Reejerey Art by Greg Staples

Deciding your first drop depends on a variety of situations. Kumena’s Speaker is the best play overall. If you have just 1-2 lands, Shoreline Scout is preferred. Benthic Biomancer is good when you don’t have a second turn play.

If you are playing against a heavy removal deck, try to offer Merfolk Mistbinder first, leaving Master of the Pearl Trident safe in your hand for the right time.

The Merrow Reejerey + Merfolk Trickster combination is extremely powerful against other creature decks, letting us tap two blocker for just two blue mana.

Don’t forget Merrow Reejerey can untap permanents too. This matters when we want to untap one of our creatures for blocking or when we have another relevant spell in our hand and want to untap a land for casting it. Technically, A Merrow Reejerey could mean that playing a merfolk spell cost one less mana when needed.

Svyelun of Sea and Sky could survive wrath effects if we have two or more merfolk with her. Attacking alone with Svyelun for drawing is good enough even if we get chump blocked.

When playing Shoreline Scout, I try to pitch another one drop if I have a good curve in my hand. If I have 3+ lands, then I would probably prefer to upgrade one of them to a Tropical Island. If we have a Collected Company in hand, securing your four land drop with Shoreline Scout is mandatory.

Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t stop Indomitable Creativity. This sorcery exiles the card first before playing it, so it doesn’t play the creature from the library.

Final Notes

Merfolk was my first deck when Modern became a format back in the day. It makes me feel very happy to be able to make a guide on the archetype even in a different format.

For a long time, some tried to make this tribe work in Historic, but for one reason or another, fishies always fell short against the tier 1 decks.

Now, with Shoreline Scout, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Svyelun of Sea and Sky, everything feels different. After many matches on the BO3 Historic ladder, I can assure you that we are facing a different situation. We are capable of hitting hard and consistently, something that makes us a deck to fear. If our opponents stumble for just a second, our aggressive curve can stomp them easily. Without a doubt I will keep playing this deck trying to figure out the best sideboard configuration. Cards like Run Afoul or Forced Landing can help us if Serra’s Emissary becomes a problem, and Mistcaller can come in to help us against Selesnya Scurry Oak combo. Being a blue/green deck makes us have great sideboard options to adapt our plan.

Having a stable creature approach when metagames are shifting always works well, and once the metagame stabilizes (something that is just a matter of time) we are going to keep hitting hard. And after that, we just need little tweaks to our sideboard to keep the school swimming. 

Till next time, keep it safe and remember to smile.

Bohe

A full time MTG content creator. Started playing Magic in 99’ with the release of Urza’s Destiny, 3 times Grand Prix attendant (1 as a player ending #78 and 2 as a judge). Mexican, lover of coffee, Korean culture, languages and ex-LoL coach. Follow me on Instagram, Twitch, or Twitter.

9 Responses

  1. Jon says:

    I’m not seeing how Mistcaller interacts with Scurry Oak at all aside from countering a CoCo. In the combo what non-token creature is entering the battlefield without being cast?

    • Jon says:

      Oh, and thanks for posting this guide. I’ve been jamming Merfolk in Best-of-One with mixed results. I may try a little Best-of-Three.

      • Bohe says:

        Hi, Jon. I mentioned Mistcaller as a card we want to play against Scurry Oak combo just because like you said, it makes us slow down the Collected Company attemps. Heliod Company plays almost no removal, so, letting Mistcaller sit there threatening to counter a CoCo give us enough time to hit hard and get the game.

        Playing Merfolks in BO3 could give you better results. Against certain matchups, be on the play give us the upper hand. In BO3 we can assure start at least once. n _n

  2. Parmenion says:

    I love merfolks, ty for the guide

  3. Keith says:

    “Merfolk Mistbinder is a card that justifies playing green in this archetype. If this card didn’t exist, we would probably have to play this deck in a mono blue fashion, and I’m not sure that it would work.”

    Merfolk Mistbinder isn’t what’s forcing you into green. Collected Company and no depth at the 1 & 2 drop slots is. Collected company is the deck’s strongest catch-up mechanic which is especially important against any opponent running 3-4 mana wrath effects. The only thing keeping you from running this deck in mono blue + CoCo is a lack of playables in the 1 & 2 mana slots. It’s true that you can’t cut Merfolk Mistbinder but not because the card is too important to the deck. That’s not to say that the card isn’t good here the deck likes 2 mana lords and this is your 2nd best one of those but you could get by with 1 if you had something decent to replace it with (elves only has one 2 mana lord). The reason why you can’t get rid of the card is the fact that you have to replace It with cards like Cleric of Chill Depths, Merfolk Looter, Tazeem Roilmage, or Thieving Skydiver. But since your already in green for CoCo and Shoreline Scout helps you fix green why would you want to?

    “Glasspool Mimic aims to emulate Phantasmal Image, a great card for copying lords used by Legacy and Modern merfolk players, but it has one big problem. If we play Collected Company with an empty board and we choose Glasspool Mimic and any other merfolk, we are going to lose Glasspool Mimic. Having a creature on the battlefield before Glasspool Mimic comes into play is mandatory, even if it enters at the same time with another creature. This is why I didn’t consider this creature, but if for some reason, anyone plays this deck without Collected Company, playing 2-4 of this creature could be a good idea.”

    CoCo is the reason you run Glasspool Mimic not a reason not to. The card is mostly replacing lands in the deck not creatures so it’s upping your probability of a good CoCo hit. If you have an empty board and your CoCo only hits 2 creatures and one of those is Glasspool Mimic, you’re no worse off than if that card was an island, you get one creature either way. So in the worst case scenario you’re no worse off for having it in your deck and the potential for far more impactful CoCo hits is a huge upside.

    I think not running Mistcaller in the sideboard over Cage is a mistake. Cage shuts off CoCo which is a card the deck leans heavily on and Creativity decks are quickly becoming the meta. Jeskai creativity decks have access to Wrath of God, Anger of the God, & Lightning Helix which are going to make it a tough matchup considering that you need your counter spells both to maintain board pressure and stop their combo.

    I also like a single copy of Kumena somewhere in the 75. It’s so useful at breaking board stalls and there are a lot of creature only agro decks in the format to create those board stalls. You don’t really want a bunch copies since it doesn’t really fit into what the deck is trying to do but in the games where the board stalls out you general have time to find your one of a decent enough percentage of the time.

    • Bohe says:

      Hi, Keith.

      Let me break my answer in three parts:

      1.- I think you said the same as I was saying but with other words. I never said Merfolk Mistbinder forces us to play green. I said it justifies playing that color, something that is clearly not the same.

      The mere existence of Collected Company doesn’t force us to play green when playing a creature base deck. For example: If we have Lord of Atlantis/Cursecatcher/Tide Shaper/True-Name Nemesis/Tidebinder Mage and/or Master of Waves, we could easily play a mono blue version without Collected Company, even if the metagame was filled with wrath effects.

      Something that makes me think about playing CoCo or not is if Aether Vial was available. It’s this little artifact that makes Counter-Merfolks work, letting you play creatures with it while spending your mana on counter magic and tempo plays. Fighting against wrath effects is easier with a 1 mana counter spell like Spell Pierce than a 4 mana instant like CoCo (but that doesn’t mean is a bad move).

      Lastly, comparing Merfolks and Elves doesn’t seem appropiate. Both decks works extremely differently from one another. Even if elves just have 1 two mana lord, most of them try to ramp you out, something that differs strongly from what Merfolks try to do.

      2.- From my point of view, CoCo is not the reason we could play Glasspool Mimic, it’s the fact that it could stabilize our oppening hands working as a land when needed. Yes, like you said, replacing lands is great for better CoCo hits, but when we play a EOT (end of turn) CoCo after a wrath effect… if our two hits were Glasspool Mimic + other creature… it wouldn’t be enough. Besides, if we want to curve aggresively enough, we couldn’t afford a tapped land, so in my mind, more than just being a possible land (that could be good from time to time), it’s more like a 3 mana clone effect. Good for our purposes but unlike Phantasmal Image that tend to be played in a CoColess core, I don’t like the possibility of Glasspool Mimic doing nothing when hit by a Collected Company on an empty board.

      3.- Mistcaller is really a good card, and playing 2 in the sideboard could be a good choice. Like I said in the column, having the Cage against matches like Vesperlark combo saved my life many times, something that made me decide using the Cage over Mistcaller. Yes, Jeskai Craetivity is heavily on the rise, but even then, trying to stop a Creativity attempt playing a CoCo, praying to hit a Mistcaller is something that I personaly don’t like. When I face Creativity decks I side in 9 non creature cards and I take out 5 creatures, something that makes me take out CoCo.

      I tend to play the deck in two main ways:
      a.- Creatures plus CoCo
      b.- Creatures plus counters

      This makes me optimize Collected Company attempts. Side in 4-6 counters plus 0-2 other cards maintaining CoCo is something I don’t like. A lot of players don’t like CoCo to miss… Keep the CoCos while siding out 4-6 creatures tends to do that.

      Finally. Yes, Like we both think, Kumena would be a great breaking out creature stall boards easily. It’s just a matter of time to know if decks like Shamans (for example) became tier 1 and other strategies fall in popularity to probably make a slot for it in the sideboard.

      Ty for your comment, it’s always appreciated when someone gives their points of view clearly and consistently, allowing both of us to build on our ideas, something that ultimately makes us all better players.

  4. Jeremie Petot says:

    Why are you not considering realm Walker ? I play 2 in the main and one in my sideboard and it’s an amazing catch up mechanic on top of coco. I board in the third one against control decks.

    • Bohe says:

      Hi, Jeremie. Realm Walker is a good card, but like you said, is more like a sideboard card against attrition matches. The main approach of the deck is being aggresive. Curving a lord into Real Walker instead of Reejerey (for example) would put our main plan a little bit behind.

      Play 2 against removal would be great! ^ -^