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Merfolk are Making a Splash in MTG Legacy Again!

As readers have probably deduced at this point, I really like having the opportunity to cover decks that have a long history in the format but don’t quite have the power to keep up in the modern-day metagame. This week, I noticed that Magic Online player Medvedev placed 10th in the Legacy Challenge using one of the most classic archetypes of all: Merfolk. Merfolk used to be one of the most premier decks in the format. However, while almost every archetype in Legacy received significant buffs over the past decade, Merfolk received very little. That said, one of the reasons it’s showing up now is that its primary game plan is fairly effective against Mono-White Initiative, which makes Merfolk reasonably well-positioned.

Let’s take a look at the core of the deck and see why it works in the format right now.

 

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Legacy Merfolk by Medvedev

 

The Game Plan

Merfolk is a very straightforward creature deck that attempts to curve out as quickly as possible, use its lords to buff its team of creatures and disrupt your opponent’s key plays with Force of Will. This deck is particularly effective in Legacy since your key lords grant islandwalk and Islands run rampant in this format. This deck isn’t as explosive as Elves or Goblins can be but it can play a game more akin to a Delver-style deck with a combination of threats and disruption, which is a great recipe in Legacy.

Card Choices

Vial has been at the core of creature-based decks since its printing. In this deck, Vial enables you to enact your game plan in a way that opponents will struggle to deal with. While this deck doesn’t have quite as many tricks or ways to make up card disadvantage, Vial still provides this deck with a massive mana advantage and will make opposing counter spells look silly. This deck is robust enough that it doesn’t need a Vial on turn one as much as it used to, but your opening hands with Vial will still dominate the game against enough opponents that it’s a key piece of the deck.

At the end of the day, these lords are the reason this deck has success. Not only are these lords fairly strong in a vacuum, in the Legacy context you are likely to play against Islands in any given match. This means that when either of these lords hit the battlefield, there’s a good chance that you will be able to ignore their blockers for the rest of the game, enabling a huge amount of damage output. This deck also plays Tide Shaper, which can turn your opponent’s lands into Islands to enable islandwalk. It’s important to be mindful of your opponent’s removal spells though, since if they can kill one of these mid-combat, that can really ruin your day.

One of the newer lords, Hexcatcher can make your opponent’s life pretty difficult. While it won’t have quite the same impact on combat as the other lords, tying your disruption to creatures (rather than having to play separate disruptive spells) makes the overall plan of the deck more consistent and effective. It can definitely be costly if you have to sacrifice too many Merfolk to this ability, so make sure you use it wisely, but overall, it’s a great way to shore up matches against combo decks and otherwise disrupt noncreature spells.

Silvergill Adept is the way this deck keeps up on cards. This card is relatively innocuous, simply cantripping and adding a body to the board. However, in conjunction with this deck’s synergies, Adept is one of the best cards you can draw and it really enables this deck to function with the level of consistency that it does.

In this deck, True-Name Nemesis is extremely potent. Not only can it be cast uncounterably, which is often the only way to interact with it, but combining True-Name with lords makes it a fairly quick clock. On top of this, True-Name is very well positioned at the moment, being able to take advantage of how few wrath effects exist in the format and being excellent against Initiative. Overall, True-Name adds an important dimension to this deck and at this point, it’s a core element to its success.

Phantasmal Image is an incredible card in this deck. Doubling up on almost any creature, most notably the lords or True-Name, can really put your opponent in a terrible spot. In addition, there are a ton of relevant creatures that your opponents might play that Image can copy to good effect (looking at you, White Plume Adventurer). Overall, despite not being a Merfolk, Image is a nice way to bring everything together and add a bit more consistency to your solid starts.

Merfolk Trickster is not quite as powerful as some of the other cards covered so far, but as its name implies, it can do a lot of tricky things for this deck. There are a lot of creatures in the format that live or die based on their abilities, such as Murktide Regent or Emrakul. Tapping them down and removing their key characteristics allows this deck to disrupt opponents while you get to continue applying pressure, which is exactly what this deck wants to do.

Tide Shaper is a relative newcomer to the archetype. It’s a cheap way to apply pressure and disrupt their mana, which is a nice fit for the archetype. Beyond simply disrupting their mana, it also gives them an Island, which is nice against decks that don’t play Islands naturally. This is especially important right now because of Initiative, and this will open up the door for you to kill them or take the initiative out of nowhere.

While this is relatively light on countermagic compared to Merfolk decks of days gone, with Hexcatcher in the mix, it isn’t as important to play more than just Force of Will, so I like the choice to only run the best of the free counters. 

The Mana Base

This deck almost always gets to play its cards with consistency and running 12 basics is a big reason for that.

There is almost no downside to having Cavern besides exposing yourself to Wasteland. There are some times where it may be awkward, such as with Phantasmal Image or some sideboard cards, but for the most part Cavern will just make lives pretty difficult if they’re relying on countermagic to interact with you.

This deck used to be more all-in on Mutavaults than this but it isn’t quite as important as it used to be. It also does hurt the consistency of the deck to draw too many of these since it’s is fairly heavy on the blue mana symbols. Still, it helps the deck when it starts to flood out and these can really apply a ton of pressure if you have enough lords 

While occasionally this is just an Island that gets Wastelanded, it’s better enough than an Island when you need this effect that it is definitely worth playing.

The Sideboard

There was a time when Merfolk was a dedicated Chalice deck but I don’t think it is right for this metagame. Having a single copy can help round out your plans against Delver decks and combo, which is generally pretty nice.

This deck doesn’t have many removal options and Dismember is still one of the better choices the deck has access to.

Flusterstorm is an excellent anti-combo card. There are other options here, such as Force of Negation, so you definitely want to make sure you’re picking the right one for what you expect.

Back to Basics is still a haymaker in Legacy, even if it isn’t quite as impactful as it used to be. Decks like Lands will really struggle against it if it ever resolves so I think it is overall a worthwhile sideboard card.

Submerge is an amazing card against decks like Elves and Naya Depths, so I really like playing the full set here.

Energy Flux is an amazing hoser against decks like 8-Cast. It’s narrow, but that deck is powerful enough to warrant some dedicated sideboard cards.

Graveyard decks can be problematic for Merfolk so having some intense anti-graveyard cards in the sideboard makes sense.

Tips and Tricks

  • Be aware that Phantasmal Image is not a Merfolk, thus Cavern of Souls will need to name Illusion if you plan on cast it uncounterably. 
  • Plan your clock carefully as you evaluate your turns. This deck has the ability to output a ton of damage and even if it looks like you’re losing a game, a clutch top-deck can potentially win the game on the spot.

Sideboard and Matchup Guide

Izzet Delver

Izzet Delver

Out: 2 Force of Will

In: 1 Dismember, 1 Chalice of the Void

You might want to bring in Back to Basics but I’d be a bit worried about relying on it since they bring in a ton of Pyroblasts against you. In general, I think you want to continue to play threats and force them to interact with you. Cavern of Souls is a really important card in the matchup and that will make their lives really difficult, especially when you’re working towards True-Name Nemesis.

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Mono-White Initiative

Mono-White Initiative

Out: 1 Vodalian Hexcatcher

In: 1 Dismember

The Merfolk game plan is quite good in this matchup. You play to the board really well and can engage in a winning race fairly often. On top of that, True-Name is a haymaker in this matchup, which can really swing the pace of the game. There aren’t really any better cards in the sideboard so just bringing in the little removal you can seems good enough.

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Four-Color Control

Four-Color Control

Out: 4 Merfolk Trickster

In: 1 Back to Basics, 3 Flusterstorm

Merfolk Trickster can help a bit against Uro, but I don’t think that’s enough. To be honest, Flusterstorm isn’t that good either, so I can easily see not wanting to bring those in. For the most part, using Cavern to power out your threats and constantly keeping them on the backfoot is a good way to approach the matchup and using Back to Basics as a haymaker will be quite nice. 

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Doomsday

Doomsday

Out: 4 Merfolk Trickster

In: 1 Chalice of the Void, 3 Flusterstorm

While four Force of Wills isn’t that much disruption, this deck has a good mix of pressure and disruption, in addition to having the four Vodalian Hexcatchers to keep them off-balance. Staying true to your game plan is good here and I think overall this is a totally reasonable matchup.

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