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Merfolk Mistbinder Art by Clint Clearley - Rivals of Ixalan

Historic Simic Merfolk Deck Guide: Fish Is Back on the Menu!

Looking to play one of Magic's most iconic decks in Historic? Learn how Vodalian Hexcatcher has further elevated Merfolk and how Skura approached each of Historic's most common matchups!

Merfolk, also known as Fish, has been a fan favourite for a long time, regardless of the format. There is something about a tempo Flash-style creature deck that gets people excited. It’s a combination of playing instant speed, having lords that exponentially grow your board presence, and neat tricks that lie beneath all of it.

Today, we will revisit the archetype which has been brought back into the spotlight thanks to the recent Dominaria United addition in Vodalian Hexcatcher.

Merfolk
by Skura
Buy on TCGplayer $394.61
Historic
best of 3
5 mythic
29 rare
24 uncommon
2 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Instants (4)
Lands (21)
2
Island
$0.50
4
Breeding Pool
$119.96
60 Cards
$494
Sideboard
3
Spell Pierce
$0.75
2
Aether Gust
$1.58
3
Savage Swipe
$0.75
15 Cards
$58.41

Deck Tech

The main deck consists of 35 creatures, lands and just 4 spells. Let’s look at the creatures starting from the lower end of the curve.

As any aggro deck would want, there have to be some one drops. Shoreline Scout has great utility in that it allows you to keep more speculative hands that are light on lands and it will conjure a copy of Tropical Island for you. If your hand already has a healthy number of mana sources, it’ll act as fixing since no land is going to be better than the original dual land.

Even if you have a reason not to exile any card from your hand, it’s still a may ability so you don’t really have to do it. In addition to the mana stability that it provides us with, it will usually be our Savannah Lion. The condition stipulates that you need either an Island or a Merfolk to have entered play, but rarely will you have a turn that neither occurs.

One scenario when that wouldn’t happen is if you played Botanical Sanctum as the land for the turn and passed to hold up Petty Theft. It’s still a relatively niche case, so by and large it’s going to be a 2/1 for {U}.

The other one drop is Kumena's Speaker, which is a huge reason to play Green in the first place. In this deck, it will be a one mana 2/2 which will put reasonable pressure on the opponent. It will really shine in multi-one-drop openers when the opponent is faced with two or three of them and then a lord that buffs them further.

Now, let’s take a look at the lords, which is the magic slang term for a creature that buffs all creatures if they meet a given condition. In this deck, the condition is being a Merfolk.

In the recent post-DMU build, there are as many as 16 lords! They all do what you’d expect from a lord effect, but each has its peculiarities.

Two-mana Islandswalk-giving Master of the Pearl Trident is arguably the most legendary of the lords as it’s been played for years in Modern and Legacy builds of the deck. Its power lies in the aforementioned Islandswalk. Making your creatures substantially bigger and potentially granting them evasion can swing games.

The only lord that requires green to be cast – Merfolk Mistbinder. Other than that, it’s a simple card that does the buffing and nothing else.

The new DMU addition shines in this deck. Vodalian Hexcatcher has a lot going on for it. First, it’s the only lord that is base 1/1 and not 2/2.

Second, it has Flash that will change the dynamic of games immensely. Usually, players are afraid of Collected Company, but now they will have to play around an instant speed lord effect. It’s also possible for you not to have the appropriate mana for CoCo, but still be able to double flash in two of those.

Last but not least, it makes all the Merfolks, including itself, into Cursecatcher. Actually, this is a better version of it as it does not limit you to instants and sorceries, but any non-creatures which includes those but also gets some enchantments, artifacts and planeswalkers on top. It can be a surprise counter if you flash it in and sac your Shoreline Scout as fodder.

The only three-mana lord is Merrow Reejerey, however, it’s relatively high cost is offset by its triggered ability. In practice, all your Merfolk spells are cheaper as you can always untap one of the lands used. Once you’re at the end of your Merfolk-casting chain, you can tap an opponent’s blocker. If you want to get more tricky, you can flash in Vodalian Hexcatcher on the opponent’s upkeep to tap down a land of theirs.

While the strategy so far is clear, there is more to it than casting creatures and buffing them. Silvergill Adept is our card draw as it itself is a reasonable body, especially with a lord on the battlefield, and draws a fresh card on top of that. There will be CoCos when you find two of those which helps you build a board on top of refueling your hand. There might, however, be some longer games where you have to pay the full retail price of 1U + 3 to play it.

Brazen Borrower is our catch-all answer of choice. It being able to bounce any nonland in invaluable. Frequently, it’ll remove a blocker to push through more damage or a key piece of the opponent’s deck like an expensive planeswalker or engine card like Paradox Engine. It’s also a flying flash threat that can be CoCo-ed into or just hardcast. It’s not meant to be blocking but rather making the opponent have an answer. It’s particularly good at killing off walkers.

Svyelun of Sea and Sky is arguably the best Merfolk ever printed. It heavily bolstered the Modern version of the deck so it’s bound to make waves in Historic as well. It does literally everything that you’d like from a tribal creature. It’s three mana so it can be put into play from CoCo which is very relevant as there have been Merfolk payoffs that you wouldn’t be able to CoCo into like Master of Waves.

It draws cards upon attacking so provides a steady stream of cards. On top of that, it will frequently have indestructible which makes it able to attack recklessly into the opposing board to draw the card and not die. It protects all other Merfolks through Ward 1. In difficult situations, it boasts 4 toughness so it block pretty well too. It’s a Merfolk utility knife of a creature. The only reason why one wouldn’t play full four copies is the legendary rule. You always want to draw one, you rarely want to draw two.

With all the creatures mentioned in the article, Glasspool Mimic can copy any of them. It can be used as a reduntant lord or copy Silvergill to draw a card. While copying Svyelun does not make sense as you’d need to sac one of them, it would make sense if you CoCo into it in response to a removal on Svyelun. Then you can copy it and sacrifice the removal-targeted one to the legend rule. It can obviously be played as a land if need be.

Our top end and the card everybody hates to see. It can be devastating if you find two lords off of it. Much to the opponent’s dismay, you can also chain CoCos e.g. one played on their end step and one on our turn for huge swings. The strength of the card lies in a few aspects.

First, you play two creatures off one card, cleanest way to obtain card advantage. On top of that, it’s card advantage that affects the battlefield. Four mana draw three would be worse as you haven’t really affected the board. You also get ahead on mana as you’re probably putting 4-6 mana worth of creatures onto the battlefield, but you paid only 4. Last but not least, you give all your creatures in the deck virtual flash which makes combat math a complete mess for the opponent. All in all, very powerful card.


Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Shapers' Sanctuary Art
Shapers' Sanctuary Art by Zezhou Chen

Izzet Wizards

INOUT
+3 Savage Swipe-2 Brazen Borrower
+3 Shapers' Sanctuary-2 Glasspool Mimic
-1 Merrow Reejerey
-1 Collected Company

On the draw, it’s going to be pretty tough. The worst draw for us is if they can deploy a one drop and then keep casting removal on our creatures. However, even then, Collected Company is a way for us to come back. Savage Swipe is going to be a very strong and efficient removal spell. Shapers' Sanctuary dropped on turn one will make all of our creatures cantrip if killed. At which point, we can aggressively trade in combat as, at the end of the day, we will be up on cards.

A single Collected Company which puts two creatures onto the battlefield with Sanctuary on the table is an immense card advantage if the opponent wants to kill them one by one. However, clearly them playing control wouldn’t make sense so they will go all in on aggro – and you have to adapt accordingly.

Whenever I side in so many noncreature spells I tend to trim on Collected Company as we’ve diluted the creature base.

Selesnya Lifegain

INOUT
+3 Savage Swipe-4 Silvergill Adept
+2 Aether Gust-1 Collected Company

We assume a tempo-control role. We want to put pressure on the opponent, but be interactive along the way to kill off some key creatures. In the early game, kill the two-mana lifegain payoffs, later use Aether Gust for Collected Company or when they try to go off with Scurry Oak.

The game does not revolve around card advantage, hence I cut Silvergill Adept.

Mono Red Aggro

INOUT
+3 Savage Swipe-1 Collected Company
+2 Aether Gust-4 Silvergill Adept

The dynamic between this match-up and Wizards is different. Here, I do not want to play a long card advantage game so I side in interaction rather than for example Shapers' Sanctuary. Look out for Goblin Chainwhirler. If they play it, make sure to play around it by deploying threats in the right order. However, if they have Soul-Scar Mage, all the creatures would permanently get a -1/-1 counter.

Humans

INOUT
+3 Savage Swipe-2 Silvergill Adept
-1 Svyelun of Sea and Sky

The game can easily get out of hand. Thankfully, we’re not affected much by cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. There might be a bit of board stalls and combat math. Both players might be holding up Collected Company to play it in combat which will create an interesting impasse.

Meerow Reejerey’s tap ability can be game-changing when we turn off some key blockers.

Azorius Control

INOUT
+3 Spell Pierce-2 Glasspool Mimic
+2 Mystical Dispute -3 Merrow Reejerey

This is a cat and mouse game. We’re mostly afraid of mass removal so I do not side in Shapers' Sanctuary. The best case to set up is a board that needs to be Wrath of God-ed, but we’re holding up Collected Company to immediately deploy more threats. Vodalian Hexcatcher‘s and Brazen Borrower‘s flash are going to prove very effective as we can play around with the timing. However, if we keep slamming stuff on the main phase, we will be way to easy to be taken advantage of control’s countermagic.

The power of Collected Company is so high in this match-up that I do not trim it as an exception.


Tips and Tricks

Merrow Reejerey Art by Greg Staples
  • You can use Otawara, Soaring City to bounce Glasspool Mimic that copies something in order to recast it as a copy of something else.
  • You can entice removal for Svyelun of Sea and Sky and then flash in a Merfolk to meet the indestructibility condition e.g. by playing Vodalian Hexcatcher or Collected Company.
  • If you Collected Company into Glasspool Mimic and another creature, you cannot copy that creature. Clone effects do not work with permanents that enter play at the same time.
  • Brazen Borrower is not a Merfolk.
  • You can strategically use Vodalian Hexcatcher‘s ability when the opponent can indeed pay for it just to tap them out.
  • If you CoCo into Silvergill Adept, you draw a card. You do not need to pay the {3} or reveal a Merfolk.
  • All the lords say ‘other’ so none of them buffs themselves. They would, however, buff each other.
  • You won’t trigger Merrow Reejerey if Merfolk enter play via CoCo. They have to be cast from hand.
  • If you want to try to get as much damage as possible against a blue deck, cast CoCo before blocks. You might hit a lord that gives your creatures Islandswalk, and they will, therefore, be unblockable.
  • If you cast CoCo in response to removal and hit Svyelun, the Ward 1 ability won’t trigger. In order for it to work in your favour, Svyelun would have to have been on the battlefield before the removal spell was cast.

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Skura
Skura

Also known as Skura or IslandsInFront on Twitter and YouTube, Filip started his career upon the release of Gatecrash and has been passing the turn in all formats ever since. He coaches and creates written and video content, mainly centered around the control archetype. He is passionate about Magic game theory and countering spells. Outside of Magic, he is a fan of snooker/pool, chess and Project Management.

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