Merfolks at 2019 Mythic Championship I

Raphael Levy

Raphael Levy

Introduction

Hi everyone! Raphael Levy here. You probably know me for my Magic achievements, and if you don’t, I invite you to check my resume on this very site.

Raphael Levy

It’s an honor for me to have joined Hareruya Pros and to write my first article for the site. In fact, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. I’d been going through a rough patch Magicwise, as even though the birth of my son was one of the happiest moments in my life, the fatigue related to it took a huge toll on me. But I managed to get my sleeping schedule back together, and I’m back baby!

I started noticing the difference at Grand Prix Strasbourg 2019 when I reached the top 4 of the tournament, needless to say that being on the winning side again feels good. But I know you’re not here to read about my mental health, you’re here for the fishes.

Fine, let’s get right to it.

Our Testing Process

I flew to Cleveland from Strasbourg on the Monday following the tournament to join the rest of the playtest team for a two-day preparation of the Standard portion of the Pro Tour… I mean Mythic Championship. For my 100th Pro T… Mythic Championship, I wanted to do well. So I went over the potential decks I could play.

Hostage TakerHydroid KrasisVivien Reid

I had played Sultai for a bit and hated the deck. I knew it was going to be popular and most of us (8 or 9 players) had settled on the deck already but I was just not winning with it, in addition to being a very frustrating deck to play. With little confidence and not enough experience, I ruled the deck out right away. The results and feedbacks from the team after the tournament comforted my feeling about the deck (the results were just mediocre). As it was going to be the team deck, I would therefore not receive much support for any other choice I would make.

Skymarcher AspirantTithe TakerHistory of Benalia

Jeremy Dezani and I tested White Weenie for some time, something very close to the version Marcio Carvalho took to the top 8. While it was performing well, I didn’t like the Sultai matchup at all. I wouldn’t be happy playing a deck that has a bad matchup against what I believed would be the most played deck of the tournament.

A Stroke of Genius from Australia

Anthony Lee, our Australian advisor, told Jason Chung to take a look at Merfolks. He did just that and went from Silver to top 100 Mythic on MTG Arena in just over a day.

I decided to try it and was doing fairly well. With very little time left, and with Jason’s claim that Merfolks was favorite against Sultai, I decided to settle on the deck.

Decklist

Merfolk Deck Tech Video at 2019 Mythic Championship I

Strategy

This Merfolk deck is a little different from other known Merfolk decks. Traditionally, they tend to be overly aggressive decks with a bunch of lords to pump the team and cheap blue spells to support the team.

Merfolk MistbinderBenthic BiomancerKumena's Speaker

Sure, you’ll find blazing fast draws that involve a pair or more of 《Merfolk Mistbinder》s that along with 《Benthic Biomancer》s or 《Kumena's Speaker》s will close the games quickly. But most of the time, especially against a live opponent, it won’t work that way.

Deeproot WatersKumena, Tyrant of OrazcaDeeproot Elite

Instead, you’ll try to go wide first by flooding the board with creatures with the help of 《Deeproot Waters》 to make tokens, and of course 《Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca》 which allows you to draw into more creatures. Once you have enough creatures on the board, you can consider pumping your team with 《Kumena》 and attack for lethal.

Another option is to go big. 《Deeproot Elite》 allows you to put a counter on a Merfolk you control every time a Merfolk comes into play. Along with the blue enchantment, you’ll be able to make a huge creature, that can even have Hexproof if it’s a token. Every creature you play will grant you two +1/+1 counters, given that you don’t miss any trigger.

Important Addition

Incubation // Incongruity

One of the most important addition to the deck from “Jungle Secrets”, the beginner’s deck on MTG Arena, is 《Incubation // Incongruity》. 《Kumena》 is the most important card of the deck and everything is built around him. 《Incubation》 allows you to look at the top 5 cards and look for it in case you don’t have one already. It also works if you need just any Merfolk. With 50% of your deck being creatures, the odds of whiffing are quite low (about 3% I believe).

The 《Incongruity》 side of the card deals with flying creatures (《Hydroid Krasis》, 《Rekindling Phoenix》) and most importantly, 《Hostage Taker》. You usually don’t care too much about a 3/3 Lizard Frog (compared to whatever you killed).

Play Pattern and Interaction

Deeproot WatersDeeproot Elite

The deck offers a lot of different play options that will require a lot of brain power. The basic play is to have 《Kumena》 on the board with other Merfolks in play on turn 3 and start drawing cards.

But there’s a lot of sequencing to be planned if the initial plan isn’t working. Do you want to play your one-drop on turn 1, or do you want to wait until you have 《Deeproot Waters》 in play to get an extra token or 《Deeproot Elite》 to have another +1/+1 counter somewhere?

The answer depends on the matchup you’re facing and the dynamic of the game you want to play. It’s usually right to get the most value off your small creatures and wait, but that means you can not draw a card on turn 3 with 《Kumena》.

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

The most important decision you’ll have to make is whether to draw or pump your team with 《Kumena》 when you have five or more Merfolks in play. It will take a little bit of practice to do when to do what as every game is different.

Benthic Biomancer

There are a few interactions that need to be studied before you can play the deck. 《Benthic Biomancer》 allows you to loot whenever it gets a +1/+1 counter, that means whenever it Adapts, or when you add a counter with 《Jade Bearer》, 《Deeproot Elite》 or 《Kumena》.

Remember that you might want to Adapt before you add a counter through any other way as you won’t be able to Adapt if it already has a +1/+1 counter. That also means you’ll have to manage your resources (mostly land drops) wisely as you don’t want to loot away active cards… but you don’t want to be short on mana either. You’ll also want to manage your hand size, meaning you’ll have to tap your creatures to draw with the Legendary creature then you don’t have to discard a relevant active spell.

Incubation // Incongruity

《Incubation // Incongruity》 is a tough one to play as well, as you should plan ahead what you want to do with it. Do you want to keep it to turn something into a 3/3 or try to find the missing piece of what is very close to be a combo. Again, it depends on the game you’re playing. If you don’t have a turn 2 drop, or if you’re looking to have a turn 3 or 4 《Kumena》, you should probably play it on turn 1. If you already have creatures to play on the following two or three turns, it’s usually better to keep it to replace one creature that died and which is relevant to your game plan.

Problem of the Deck and Matchup Guide

So is the deck actually good? The deck can have impressive draws, but it’s not adapted to all tournaments. In an environment full of red aggro decks, it’s probably better to not sleeve up the fishes.

Mono Red

Runaway Steam-KinGoblin ChainwhirlerExperimental FrenzyRekindling Phoenix

Mono Red, for example, has weapons you can’t really deal with. 《Runaway Steam-Kin》 on turn 2 means they will attack you with an uncontested 4/4 for the rest of the game while giving them mana.

It’s also hard to play around 《Goblin Chainwhirler》 in the early game. Your 《Merfolk Mistbinder》 rarely survives and your X/1’s fold to the Goblin Warrior. Its 3/3 first strike body is also a problem as you can’t really sneak in some damage, and in the later game, if you have some board presence, you can’t attack with 《Merfolk Mistbinder》 as it would die in the First Strike damage step (and your team will shrink before they deal their own damage). But if it was only for these creatures, it would still be fine.

The big problem comes from 《Experimental Frenzy》 that you can’t deal with in the main deck. You can’t race because they shoot most of your guys, and you’ll have set up a huge board that you’ll pump with 《Kumena》 before they can burn you out.

And after sideboard, you’ll have to deal with 《Rekindling Phoenix》

Suggested Sideboard Plan Against Mono Red:

Out

Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters
Incubation // Incongruity

In

Negate Negate Merfolk Trickster
Kraul Harpooner

《Deeproot Waters》 is usually too slow and pretty weak against 《Chainwhirler》. You won’t really have time to set everything up properly and drawing two in the early game is a disaster. You’ll need 《Negate》 to counter an 《Experimental Frenzy》. 《Kraul Harpooner》 is just a fine blocker, but nothing really exciting here.

Mono Red is the nightmare matchup, but except for that, you have game against most creature decks (the more 《Chainwhirler》s they have, the worse the matchup is). Most of the time, as long as they don’t have reach (ways to deal direct damage for example), you can stall the board long enough to establish a stable dominance with a stream of cards.

《Nexus of Fate》 Decks

Against 《Nexus of Fate》 decks, game 1 is mostly about being aggressive, and if they can go off before turn 5, you’re dead. The story is different after sideboard when you can bring in 7 countermagics and disrupt their game plan.

Suggested Sideboard Plan Against Nexus of Fate:

Out

Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters
Incubation // Incongruity Incubation // Incongruity Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Silvergill Adept Silvergill Adept

In

Negate Negate Negate Negate
Disdainful Stroke Disdainful Stroke Spell Pierce
Crushing Canopy Merfolk Trickster

The plan isn’t really to go wide here. You want to have some board presence and protect it with countermagics. I like to keep my mana open for that matter during my opponent’s turn and that’s reason why I like 《Merfolk Trickster》 in this matchup.

Sultai

The Sultai matchup is about keeping your 《Kumena》 around. Making him a 3/5 thanks to its third ability or a 《Jade Bearer》 is a good start, as it will survive a 《Finality》.

Suggested Sideboard Plan Against Sultai:

Out

Kumena's Speaker Kumena's Speaker Kumena's Speaker Kumena's Speaker

In

Tempest Caller Tempest Caller
Disdainful Stroke Disdainful Stroke

Your game plan after board is still the same. They often believe you’re the aggro deck and will keep their 《Wildgrowth Walker》 package, making your early aggression irrelevant. 《Kumena's Speaker》 will have a very low impact, therefore you can easily cut them. You bring in 《Tempest Caller》 that will win you the game on the spot, given that you have enough power on the board. The Merfolk is better than 《Sleep》 as it can be taken with an 《Incubation》, and you can at times play it as a 2/3. Not super exciting, but sometimes relevant to give you additional triggers.

Also remember that they can’t play 《Cast Down》 on 《Kumena》 as it’s a Legendary creature. If they have to kill it, it will most likely cost them 4 mana or more.

Mono Blue Tempo

The Mono Blue matchup is mostly a race, they don’t interact too much with you and you interact too much with them, at least in game 1.

Suggested Sideboard Plan Against Mono Blue Tempo:

Out

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters Deeproot Waters

In

Kraul Harpooner Kraul Harpooner Kraul Harpooner Kraul Harpooner
Crushing Canopy Spell Pierce Tempest Caller Merfolk Trickster

This matchup also won’t be about going wide and you turn into a more controllish deck. 《Kraul Harpooner》 gives you a great way to destroy their creature and/or block 《Tempest Djinn》s or 《Curious》 creatures. With a set of four Insects, the matchup should become favorable.

Other Matchups

As for the other matchups, Jason and Zen Takahashi came up with a detailed sideboard guide (a few things might differ from what I explained above) that you can find here.

Be Careful of 《Tithe Taker》

Tithe TakerKumena, Tyrant of Orazca

Just a quick note about White Weenie. If you play on MTG Arena, it might occur that you want to try to activate 《Kumena》 at the end of your opponent’s turn, but for an obscure reason, it won’t let you do it. It’s not a bug. It’s just that if they have a 《Tithe Taker》 in play and you don’t have any mana available, you won’t be able to use 《Kumena》. It’s as simple as that, just keep in mind that you might want to activate the 《Tyrant》 on your turn or in response to a 《Tithe Taker》.

Tournament Result

If there was a metagame call to be made, it was this one. I predicted there was going to be a lot of Sultai, and over the course of the 10 rounds of constructed, I faced seven of them. Six of which I beat. Is the matchup favorable? I believe it is. Is it unlosable? Far from it. Games against Sultai are long, draining and unforgiving, for you and your opponent. I can say that out of my 6 wins (all 2-1’s), my opponents made a lot of mistakes.

I also beat Gruul, and a Gate deck – which is a very favorable matchup, just make one creature huge and they won’t be able to deal with it and unsurprisingly lost once to Mono Red.

Opponent Deck Number of Macthes Result
Sultai 7 6-1
Gruul 1 1-0
Gate 1 1-0
Mono Red 1 0-1

While I did really well with the deck (8-2 is a notable success), I believe I got a bit lucky this time. My teammates Jason and Zen, the other two players in the room playing the deck weren’t so lucky as they went respectively 0-3 and 0-4.

I’m also not saying it’s a bad deck as no bad deck would have carried me that far. Take this more as a warning. As Sultai will probably lose in popularity -it hasn’t put a single player in the top 8 in that event and Black-Green didn’t put one in the previous PT either- the metagame call to play Merfolk might be a bit harder to make. Mono Red is still lurking and that’s definitely something you don’t want to see.

Changes for the Future

Merfolk TricksterDive Down

I wouldn’t change much in the main deck. I could see playing an extra 《Merfolk Trickster》 in the main deck, but I’m not sure what I would take out for it – probably a 《Jade Bearer》 or a 《Kumena's Speaker》.

One thing for sure though is that I would add one or two 《Dive Down》 in the sideboard (replacing the 《Spell Pierce》 and the 3rd 《Trickster》 that would move to the main deck) to add cheap protection for your 《Kumena》. Being able to dodge a 《Lava Coil》 is important, and so it is against 《Hostage Taker》. You won’t always have two mana open to counter the removal with a 《Negate》 or 《Disdainful Stroke》, and I really like the way it can also save your creatures in combat.

Conclusion

With everything that I said, I encourage you to give the deck a try (it is a lot of fun to play), but be extremely careful about picking it up for a tournament.

Raph@raphlevymtg

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Raphael Levy

Raphael Levy Raphael Levy is a veteran player from France. His Pro Tour debut was 1997 and he is unstoppable since then. He played 91 Pro Tours continuously and became the very first player who reaches plying 100 Pro Tours at 2019 Mythic Championship I. During the long career he also achieved so many great results like 3 PT Top 8, 23 GP Top 8 with 6 wins, and won World Magic Cup 2013 as a French captain. He was elected Pro Tour Hall of Fame at 2006 and earned over 750 Pro Points. Read more articles by Raphael Levy