Modern Merfolk Dragon Tribal

After a long day of watching the PT and being impressed with both Silumgar’s Scorn and Foul-Tongue Invocation I had one of those “eureka!” moments.

Mutavault is a Dragon. And since the Dragon Tribal cards read “as you cast,” the opponent can’t fizzle your effect by Bolting the Mutavault in response. Don’t think of it as adding a mana onto the cost, think of it as adding redundancy to your enablers for when you don’t naturally have a Dragon in hand.

Mutavault is one of those disgusting cards that bends how Magic works. It has a low opportunity cost and fulfills a lot of random requirements. In recent Standard, it’s existence brought about an entire season dominated by Pack Rats.

The more I thought about Dragon Tribal in Modern, the more I liked it. It’s not like you always need to have a Dragon for the Dragon-Tribal cards to be reasonable. An instant-speed edict for 3 is already close to good enough for Modern, and I’ve seen Tribute to Hunger make the cut in a few Teachings/Gifts control lists.

My first thought was to brew a URx tempo-style deck with Mutavaults and Thundermaw Hellkites. If I made it Grixis, the Thundermaws could clear away Lingering Souls to make sure Foul-Tongue Invocation hit the good stuff. I also considered a more hard-control style list with Dragonlord Ojutai and Jace, Architect of Thought.

I paused from brewing to chat with Louis “Bearman” Kaplan, and he suggested Nameless Inversion, upping the Dragon count to 8 without actually playing a real Dragon.

At this point, I asked Twitter what deck they would put “UU: Counterspell” in, and got a slew of replies that broke down into the following categories:

  • Twin/Scapeshift
  • Delver
  • Merfolk
  • Faeries
  • Control (the idea being that soft counters are better in tempo/aggro type decks, so replacing them there has less impact).

Of these decks, Merfolk and Faeries stuck out as Mutavault decks that might be able to fit in some number of Nameless Inversion.

Next, the trick was making the numbers right. Fitting all those spells into Merfolk sounds like a task, but Shouta Yasooka has already proven that you can make a spell-heavy Aether Vial deck work. I did some digging and found something along the lines of what I was looking to do:

Faerie Folk, by Shyft4 (2012)

Shyft4 is the MTGO name of Chris Davis, whom you might remember for his series of Pauper videos here on ChannelFireball.

This list is outdated, but it has a lot of interesting things going on. Between all the value creatures, Aether Vials, discard, and Dark Confidants, this is a control deck’s nightmare. On a Tribal level, Nameless Inversion helps fill the requirements for Silvergill Adept, and Mutavault helps out Spellstutter Sprite.

I like the emphasis on Coralhelm Commander. Out of all of Modern, Coralhelm is the Merfolk most likely to get there by itself, requiring very little support from his brethren. It’s also one of the better Aether Vial creatures since it gives you something to do with the mana you’re saving with Vial. Since this build is less focused around stacking lords, it makes sense to max out on the threats that are good on their own.

As you can see, my build has some strong influences from both Shyft4’s and Shouta’s lists:

Merfolk Dragon Tribal

I’ve only done a little testing, but enough to figure out the deck is competitive. Playing it feels very strange, and it’s not quite like anything I’ve played before.

Between Silvergill Adept and Snapcasting back Serum Visions, there’s a lot of cantripping going on, which helps all the pieces come together.

One of my biggest fears is that I don’t have other Dragons to bring in when Nameless Inversion is dead, and I might have to leave in some copies even when I’d rather not, say against Scapeshift. On the plus side, most combo decks (Twin, Storm) have at least one good target. Often, it sits in hand to fulfill Tribal requirements before eventually coming down to kill something or other.

Icefall Regent isn’t Modern playable on its own merits, but with 7 Dragon Tribal cards in the deck it gets a lot better. Just cantrip, play some threats, and drop him later on to tap down a ‘Goyf or a Siege Rhino or something.

The Thirst for Knowledges are slightly weaker here than they were in Shouta’s list, mostly because we’re a bit less focused around doing things at instant speed. Still, I like that they’re a way to bin the sideboard Haakon.

Speaking of Haakon, I considered it in the main deck, but it’s just too situational. Against decks where Nameless Inversion is bad, at least it’s turning on better cards. Haakon only turns on Nameless Inversion, though I still like having access to it in the 75. Note that, while you can bin it with Thirst, the more likely way to get it in play is through Aether Vial. I could also see binning it to my opponent’s Liliana of the Veil.

I don’t usually run Illness in the Ranks, as it’s rare that I want a specific hate card against the Twin combo that also hits Lingering Souls.

The Tidebinder Mages are there so you can board out Master of the Pearl Trident and keep the Merfolk count up, but it does have some anti-synergy with Foul-Tongue Invocation, which should only really come up against Zoo because that’s the only matchup where you need both. One solution is to cut back on the Tidebinders, mixing in more spot removal that works with Snapcaster Mage.

Hopefully I learn some things testing the deck out this week, and I look forward to recording videos with an updated build.

Caleb Durward


Scroll to Top