Back Under the Sea

Posted in Feature on June 26, 2008

By Noel deCordova

As if the Merfolk tribe needed any more bolstering of their egos, here we are in the middle of a theme week dedicated to them. Fresh off recent Top 8 finishes in Pro Tour–Hollywood and a PTQ in Burlington, those feisty fish people are certainly savoring the moment. It would appear, however, that a lot of the Merfolk combos have been either used up or already explored. Fortunately for Johnnies around the net, Shadowmoor has served up a couple of delectable strategies and build-around-me’s.

Just in case where you’re wondering where Chris is, he went on a submarine adventure to Atlantis to catch the live concert by the legendary Merfolk hero Bob Gillan. Unfortunately, his aquatic transportation device ran out of fuel and he wound up trapped in one of those paranoid kithkin douns. Since his dramatic escape by rock hammer has yet to come, I’m happy to fill in once again.

While we’re still in the beginning stage of this article, I’d like to take some time to thank everyone who posted in the forums of my last fill-in article for their comments and thoughts. Feedback means a lot to me (as it does to Chris and every other writer on, and I’m glad for a diverse and friendly community on the boards.

Speaking of boards, grab onto your surfboards and prepare to wipe out, because we’re about to dive into the shadowy trenches of Shadowmoor‘s rivers. Onward!

No One Blocks In Constructed... Or Against Merfolk

For today’s first deck, I went for the approach known as “straightforward.” This concept was slightly hard to grasp for a loopy Johnny such as myself, but most times it really helps churn out a fine list. Unblockability seems to be a common theme among the Merfolk of Shadowmoor. We’ve got the simple implementations (Inkfathom Infiltrator, Wanderbrine Rootcutters) and the “lords” (Inkfathom Witch, Deepchannel Mentor).

Inkfathom Witch
Deepchannel Mentor

Since most of those creatures are multicolored, the scaly Gravelgill Duo can often benefit. And since many of the creatures I’ve already named are Rogues, the prowl mechanic from Morningtide works effectively here.

I noticed that many of Shadowmoor‘s Merfolk have abilities that dovetail with the recurring “color matters” theme of the set. A couple of them have fear, Deepchannel Mentor only affects your blue creatures, and Wanderbrine Rootcutters has such an aversion to green that it cannot be blocked by the forces of nature. To this end, I added a set of Scuttlemutts. Besides having one of the coolest made-up words ever for a name, Scuttlemutt can pull up Scarecrosoft Paint and change the color of any creature you want. It also accelerates your mana, and in a pinch it does its best Gray Ogre impression. If it only had a brain....

The aforementioned Inkfathom Witch can make your unblocked army instantly lethal, but as Mark Gottlieb pointed out in his Shadowmoor combo article, it’s not as one-dimensional as it seems. Let’s say you swing with your unblocked team, leaving yourself vulnerable to a similar swing from your opponent. A neat trick is to activate the Witch on your opponent’s creatures, then either pick off creatures with Piracy Charm or blow them all away with Festercreep (who deals with Elf tokens on the side).

Lord of Atlantis pumps your creatures out of Festercreep range while also granting unblockablity to creatures like Riptide Pilferer, who can quickly put the hurt on your opponent’s hand. The deck itself is, besides the 4 Lord of Atlantis (who can be easily replaced with Merrow Reejereys), entirely sans rares, or as its called in House of Cards-ese, Lite!

Cross-Unblock Synergy

Download Arena Decklist

Besides all of the not blocking going on, there’s a subtheme of discard lurking in there. Piracy Charm performs its triple threat role with charm (naturally), and Noggin Whack nails your opponent’s hand with a brick (fish included). As always, feel free to shift around the numbers or even add completely new cards to the deck!

Get Syggy With It

Sygg, River Cutthroat
Speaking of cards I nearly added to the above deck, let’s take a look at Sygg, River Cutthroat, one of the more interesting build-around-me’s to come from Shadowmoor. Though he was once Sygg, River Guide, the Aurora must have transformed Sygg into a bloodthirsty, no-holds-barred cutthroat! I guess he wasn’t paid enough. Yes, it seems ol’ Syggy took one of those pirate self-help classes (Discover the Inner Seafaring Cutthroat Within You!) and transformed his life. The program was offered to Throat Slitter, who seemed a perfect fit, but he turned it down. I wonder why!

Sygg, River Cutthroat is an interesting card mechanically as well. It seems to enforce a high-damage strategy by providing the cards those decks usually need. Unlike the similar (and tournament-proven) Dark Confidant, Sygg can potentially draw you cards every turn, not just on your turn. You just need a way to “Lightning Bolt” your opponent every turn.

Encouraged by my analysis, I turned to Gatherer to search for creatures that could deal damage on other players’ turns. I began with creatures rather than, say, enchantments because, when you come down to it, it’s not much easier to hit someone for three than to just attack. I stumbled upon two relatively unused creatures to achieve my desired ends: Stormscale Anarch and Lavaborn Muse. I threw a deck together based around the odd couple, but the deck evolution that followed was odd to say the least. Lavaborn Muse wanted discard, while Stormscale Anarch wanted multicolored cards and a full grip to discard from. After fiddling with some combination of Blazing Specter, Recoil, Dimir Cutpurse, and Consult the Necrosages, I gave up. Stormscale Anarch’s random discard hurt me too much, and it was clear that a successful deck would have to focus on only one red four-drop.

Stormscale Anarch
Lavaborn Muse

I fell back on Lavaborn Muse, which got me excited because I love building red-black decks. For my discard suite, I went with Oona’s Blackguard, which can pump up all your Rogues (including Sygg!) and turn them into mini-Specters. I enlisted Thieving Sprite and Marsh Flitter to join my rogue troops, since the former helps with the discard and the latter pops three Rogues onto the table at once. Plus, one swing with the Flitter with a Goblin token on the board is good for one Sygg trigger. Noggin Whack only helps the discard antics.

I added a set of The Rack to keep the pressure on your opponent as well as provide Lavaborn Muses 5–8. The pesky artifact can certainly help with Sygg’s trigger, and it’s often a win condition as well. Dream Salvage seems fine here. Imagine swinging with three Blackguard-enabled Rogues; Dream Salvage becomes Ancestral Recall! Of course, those situations don’t always happen, so I only threw in two. To round off the deck, Spiteflame Witch can help Sygg out if the board is locked up, as well as provide an early beater.


Download Arena Decklist

The single Void is there not only because it’s one of my favorite cards, but also because it’s a board-sweeper (kind of) and a hand sweeper (kind of) at the same time. Okay, I just really like Void. It was either that or Tyrannize, which seems perfect in this deck but sadly didn’t make the cut. If this deck were to be moved into Extended, I’d suggest Pain Magnification, which seems perfect for this strategy.

If anyone likes the idea of the Stormscale Anarch deck I described above, here’s where I left off. The deck can be a blast to play with, but is inconsistent most of the time. I left it chock-full off random ideas so you guys can shape it into something you like.

Anarchy in the mUltiKolors (with Sygg Vicious)

Download Arena Decklist

For further reading on Sygg, River Cutthroat, I’d recommend The Ferrett’s The Plays You Remember, which briefly discusses Sygg’s effectiveness in multiplayer.

Merrow Grimeblotter and the Prophets for Hire

Wanderwine Prophets
Ever since Lorwyn hit the shelves, Wanderwine Prophets have been the subject of jokes around the Magic community, cruel jokes like “Why did the Merfolk cross the road?” (So the Prophets have nothing to champion!) It’s definitely true that Wanderwine Prophets needs a lot of things to go right to become game-winning, but as a qualified endorser of reject rares, I figured I’d give it a place to stay for the week.

The Prophets must have foreseen their usefulness, because Morningtide and Shadowmoor bring enough combo pieces to build a Standard legal deck centered around them. Shadowmoor is obviously the biggest player here with the persist ability (for twice the sacrifice), but unfortunately Gravelgill Axeshark is the only Merfolk with the graveyard-hopping ability. At least, not until you introduce Cauldron of Souls to the mix. Now any scaly schlub lying around can become persistent Prophet fodder. Leech Bonder (another Merfolk) can siphon -1/-1 counters to other creatures, creating an infinite loop: use the Cauldron to give a random Merfolk persist, hit your opponent with the Prophets and sacrifice that Merfolk, then when it comes back, remove its fresh -1/-1 counter with the Leech Bonder. Repeat on your next turn!

Choosing my Merfolk was a challenge, as they’re all effective in many different decks. Summon the School was an auto-four-of, as it’s a mainstay in blue-white Merfolk decks. The Stonybrook Wizards (a new Major League Soccer expansion team in 2010) are fine fits here also: Stonybrook Angler is the tap-master of the underseas, while Stonybrook Schoolmaster spawns even more Merfolk for championing or sacrificing purposes. Avian Changeling is cheesy, but it does a great fish impersonation.

Most of the above creatures are also Wizards. Actually, all of them are. Why does that matter? Because of Morningtide‘s key contribution to the deck, Sage of Fables. This master Wizard negates the -1/-1 counters from persist with +1/+1 counters, thereby offering an alternate and easier way to go infinite.

Sage of Fables
Cauldron of Souls

The deck really needs to find Cauldron of Souls to work, so to that end I added some card draw. I considered Silvergill Adept (who puts the Mer in Merchant of Secrets) but because of its low toughness, I couldn’t pull off any persist shenanigans with it. I went with Ghastly Discovery, which can tap down Leech Bonder if necessary.

I always like to add singletons to decks. They make playing the deck more fun (it might play differently every time, which sounds fun to me!), and sometimes they inspire completely different decks. For this deck, I was looking for a way to abuse Sage of Fables’s second ability when I came across Mindless Automaton, which seems abusable alongside the Sage. Likewise, Grim Poppet plays well with Leech Bonder, upping the counter craziness while acting as an ace-in-the-hole of sorts. Here’s the deck.

Grim Prophets

Download Arena Decklist

Hmm, a blue-white Merfolk-based deck that likes to take infinite turns! Something’s fishy here...

Well, that’s it for this week of House of Cards. Chris will be back next week (I promise) with some goofy ideas and decks. Johnnies everywhere should be on the lookout for interesting card interactions during Eventide spoiler season. I know I will!

Until next time, swim in seas of synergy!

Noel deCordova

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