Push Back: Merfolk List and Sideboarding Guide

By Roland F. Rivera Santiago

Hello everyone, and welcome to Push Back. This week, we’re taking an in-depth look into the archetype I am most experienced with, and that is Merfolk. I’ll be talking about the list I’m currently piloting, and how I approach most common matchups (which for the purposes of this discussion will be Tier 1 and Tier 2). Let’s start this off with the list itself:

Merfolk, by Roland F. Rivera Santiago

 

I pilot this deck regularly on MTGO, and I’m comfortable with where it currently stands regarding the current Modern metagame. Let’s take a look at some common matchups and how to approach/sideboard for them:

Tier 1 Decks

 

BGx (Abzan and Jund):

This is a matchup I feel pretty comfortable with – we have more guys than they do Bolts, and the postboard land hate plan hurts them pretty bad. Aether Vial and Spell Pierce are not always helpful here due to the attrition nature of the matchup, so we’re going to go ahead and cut them. We bring in the Seas, a dash of graveyard hate, and Kira to protect our team.

In:
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+4 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-4 Aether Vial
-1 Harbinger of the Tides
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Affinity:

This is one of the matchups that we’re hoping to dodge with this list – we don’t have much in the way of dedicated hate, and even that’s no guarantee. Trim a couple of things here and there, but overall you’re not going to devote much space to this. If you’re expecting tons of Affinity, some sideboard editing is in order.

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Out:
-1 Cursecatcher
-2 Master of Waves

 

BGx Death’s Shadow:

This is one of the decks our sideboard is most prepared for – extra Seas effects do a number on their fragile manabase, and Relic is very handy against a deck as dependent on its graveyard as this one is (the card draw is also helpful). Vials and Pierces come out due to the attrition nature of the matchup, and Dismember often falls short of dropping their creatures.

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+4 Relic of Progenitus
+4 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-4 Aether Vial
-2 Dismember
-3 Merrow Reejerey
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Burn:

This is the matchup that I feel the most comfortable with (so much so that I can maindeck Dismember), and my record reflects it – the current configuration of my deck is a prohibitive favorite against Burn (even with Dismember main). This is the deck that is perhaps the most vulnerable to the Seas plan, and Master of Waves is very difficult for them to beat. Swap Dismember for some more countermagic and go to town.

In:
+2 Dispel
+4 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-2 Dismember
-4 Merrow Reejerey

 

Eldrazi Tron:

This is a matchup where the postboard land hate plan shines, both as a way to evade their blockers and slow down their deployment. Here, it’ll be replacing Master of Waves, which is very difficult to protect from Dismembers, Ratchet Bombs, and Walking Ballistae. Echoing Truth is generally more useful than Spell Pierce (especially against the aforementioned Bomb), and Kira helps ward off some of their removal.

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+4 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-1 Cursecatcher
-4 Master of Waves
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Elves:

Another matchup you’re mostly hoping to dodge. Dispel is mostly an upgrade to Spell Pierce in this context, Echoing Truth can help you buy a bit of time, and Sea’s Claim is extra evasion. While Master of Waves is great if he manages to hit the battlefield, 4 mana is a bit slow against a deck this fast. If you expect lots of this, consider some sideboard edits (namely for Tidebinder Mage).

In:
+2 Dispel
+2 Echoing Truth
+2 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-4 Master of Waves
-2 Spell Pierce

 

GWx Company:

While the fast combo hands this deck is capable of can be scary, aggroing them out is a real option on the table for us. Most of their creatures are individually weak, and Merfolk’s ability to evade blockers means that a race is tilted in your favor. Relic comes in to stymie some of their value plays, Sea’s Claim is extra evasion/utility land hate, and Dispel stuffs Company and Chord more reliably than Spell Pierce. On the outgoing side, Harbinger’s bounce effect is often less-than-ideal against a deck full of enters-the-battlefield effects, and Master of Waves is a bit slow for a deck where you want to pin your ears back.

In:
+2 Dispel
+4 Relic of Progenitus
+4 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-4 Harbinger of the Tides
-4 Master of Waves
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Storm:

This is a matchup in which you’re looking to fulfill the quintessential tempo role – pressure them while holding them up and using disruption. You can disrupt their combo in various ways (bounce/removal for the cost reducers or the Goblin tokens from Empty the Warrens, countermagic, and graveyard hate), and you’ll have all of them postboard. On the outgoing half, Spreading Seas is next to useless, and Master of Waves is just too slow.

In:
+2 Dispel
+2 Echoing Truth
+4 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-2 Harbinger of the Tides
-4 Spreading Seas
-4 Master of Waves

 

UBx Death’s Shadow:

Because this deck has a blue-based manabase, you have to attack it in a slightly different angle than BGx Death’s Shadow. The land hate plan is of questionable utility, so I cut it in favor of more countermagic. Dismember can stay in due to its utility against Tasigur or Angler. Apart from that, the standard operating procedure applies – side out Vials because it’s an attrition matchup, and bring in Kira to protect your team from removal (and maybe sneak in a flying swing or two).

In:
+2 Dispel
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+4 Relic of Progenitus

 

Out:
-4 Aether Vial
-1 Merrow Reejerey
-4 Spreading Seas

 

UW Control:

The first thing I’ll say is settle in – you’re likely in for a long match, in which you’ll have to leverage Merfolk’s remarkable ability to bounce back from removal. Postboard, you’ll trade in your Seas and removal (which are marginal at best) for more countermagic and some graveyard hate. Lastly, shaving a Harbinger (which has few palatable targets) for Kira is also a savvy move.

In:
+2 Dispel
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-2 Dismember
-1 Harbinger of the Tides
-4 Spreading Seas

 

Tier 2 Decks

 

Ad Nauseam:

Another deck where you need to be executing the tempo strategy in order to win. Your counterspell suite is more limited in Game 1, so you’re mostly looking to race and hold up whatever countermagic you have on hand. Postboard, you bring in all of the countermagic you can in for Master of Waves (who’s a bit too slow), swap Dismember for Echoing Truth (which can hit Phyrexian Unlife), and side in a Kira because of its amusing interaction with Lightning Storm (in short: if Kira is ever targeted by Lightning Storm, it will counter it in a way that is all but impossible for Ad Nauseam to interact with). Note that Spreading Seas stays in, despite the lack of blockers – the main reason why is Boseiju, but you can occasionally cut them off a color when they’re light on ramp.

In:
+2 Dispel
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-2 Dismember
-4 Master of Waves
-1 Spreading Seas

 

Bant Eldrazi:

This is a deck against whom your mainboard shell works well. Spell Pierce is kind of medium, though, so you can swap it for an Echoing Truth. Swapping a Cursecatcher for Kira also works well in my experience.

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Out:
-1 Cursecatcher
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Death & Taxes:

Merfolk is in a pretty good spot against Taxes decks to begin with, so major sideboarding is unnecessary. Echoing Truth prevents any “gotcha!” wins like Worship and can wipe out multiple tokens, so you bring it in. Swapping a Cursecatcher (which is usually medium) for a Kira (which all but makes their Paths useless) makes sense.

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Out:
-1 Cursecatcher
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Dredge:

I find that Merfolk’s mainboard lines up pretty well against Dredge to begin with, so I don’t need to make drastic edits postboard. You obviously want graveyard hate, and Echoing Truth’s mass bounce effect can significantly set back Dredge’s board state. Merrow Reejerey is the riskiest creature in this matchup, so we’ll bench it.

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+4 Relic of Progenitus

Out:
-2 Dismember
-4 Merrow Reejerey

 

Knightfall:

This is a matchup where Sea’s Claim is mostly there to shut down utility lands and grant you evasion while you aggro hard. Dispel also comes in to address Blessed Alliance/Company/Path. Play through your Vial and start fast, and you shouldn’t have much trouble with this matchup.

In:
+2 Dispel
+4 Sea’s Claim

Out:
-4 Master of Waves
-2 Spell Pierce

 

Living End:

Your Plan A is here to kill your opponent before Living End resolves – Cursecatcher and other types of countermagic are critical to make sure your rush gets there in time. Failing that, you should aim to recover quickly – Master of Waves helps you generate an instant board state (and block the likes of Desert Cerodon), and Harbinger of the Tides can set back their clock as well. Postboard, you should look to reinforce your counterspell lineup and pack as much graveyard hate as you can carry.

In:
+4 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-2 Dismember
-4 Merrow Reejerey

 

Merfolk Mirror:

The mirror is obviously a crapshoot, but overall you want to trade things with very limited utility (countermagic and Seas effects) for bodies and interaction. Remember that Lord of Atlantis pumps your opponent’s team, and that Cavern/Minamo/Oboro/Wanderwine Hub aren’t Islands.

 

In:
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Out:
-2 Spell Pierce
-1 Spreading Seas

 

Scapeshift:

One of the sneaky secrets about Scapeshift is that it’s a blue deck splashing other colors to make its combo win condition work. With that in mind, Spreading Seas will not be very useful for you here, and should be cut in favor of more countermagic. Bringing in Kira and a bit of graveyard hate instead of removal and the 4th Harbinger is also something you won’t regret.

In:
+2 Dispel
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-2 Dismember
-1 Harbinger of the Tides
-4 Spreading Seas

 

Sun and Moon:

Because this deck has few to no creatures and a relatively stable manabase, the way I prefer to attack it is to take the land hate plan out and focus on keeping my creatures alive. Thus, I bring in all of my countermagic along with Kira, and swap my removal out for Echoing Truth.

In:
+2 Dispel
+2 Echoing Truth
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-2 Dismember
-1 Harbinger of the Tides
-4 Spreading Seas

 

Titanshift:

The key to this matchup is trying to slow down their development – if the Titan hits the battlefield, you’re going to have a hard time winning. Cutting them off green postboard is a legitimate strategy that has won me several matches – the deck doesn’t have that much to do with red mana, and almost none of it can beat you. Countermagic to catch Titans or Scapeshifts coming in is also handy. On the outgoing side, Valakut triggers can kill Master of Waves, and Harbinger is often just a Merfolk bear with an expensive flash rider.

In:
+2 Dispel
+4 Sea’s Claim
+2 Unified Will

Out:
-4 Harbinger of the Tides
-4 Master of Waves

 

Conclusion

This is all I have for you this week. Let me know what you think of my list, as well as the sideboarding advice for the various matchups. I can say that I would be very confident taking this list to any tournament right now. I’ll be taking a bit of a break from publishing weekly articles, so until we meet again.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roland F. Rivera Santiago, also known as Rothgar13

Roland F. Rivera Santiago, also known as Rothgar13

Roland F. Rivera Santiago is our senior modern analyst, a longtime paper Magic player, and a recent MTGO convert that is fascinated by grinding competitive play. Roland's academic prowess spills over to his MTG analytics and dissections of competitive metagames that help us understand what to play and why. He focuses most on Modern, and can usually be found in an MTGO league under the username Rothgar13 with his trusty Merfolk deck.

Zac Pinales