Looking at the Tribes, Part III

Posted in Serious Fun on November 13, 2007

By The Ferrett

For the past two weeks, we've been looking at the first six tribes of Lorwyn, grading according to several criteria:


  • Strategy: What the tribe wants to do, and how well that would fare in multiplayer.
  • Versatility: Can the tribe win in more than one way, or is it restricted to only lockdown or only attacking?
  • Individuality: How much are you going to have to commit to the table before your tribe becomes a real threat?
  • Recyclability: Can the tribe bring back its members once they fall in battle? Or can they draw you more cards to make up for it once they go?
  • Antiquity: Hey, Lorwyn's cool and all, but some of us kids have older cards. What does this tribe's pre-Lorwyn members bring to their game plan?

With that in mind, let's launch into the final two. They're biggies:

Tribe #7: Merfolk



Merrow Reejerey
Get a bunch of Merfolk down and abuse their tapping and islandwalk effects to slowly starve the player of resources and life.

Rating: The new Merfolk tribe is a little schizophrenic: what does it want to do when it taps? Does it want to gain life? Mill cards? Get +1/+1 tokens? Draw cards? Take turns?

Sadly, there's no coherent strategy here aside from "Give someone an Island, then islandwalk the heck out of them." The Lorwyn-centric Merfolk are flexible, but perhaps too flexible; there aren't enough redundant cards to give, say, a Millstone-style strategy enough focus, making your entire deck collapse if someone Extirpates your Drowner of Secrets. What we have here is a loose collection of Blue's Greatest Hits, but nothing to tie them together.

It's better than many of the other tribes, especially the Kithkin, but it's not great.


As I said, this is what the Merfolk are good at—they do many things, as long as you can tap them, which you almost certainly can. In fact, the only thing they can't do is block fliers—which is, sadly, a huge problem in multiplayer.

Rating: Medium to high.


It's hard to say how many Merfolk you need. The answer is, of course, "As many as you can get," since cards like Drowner of Secrets get a lot better when you have a ton of Merfolk to abuse. But at the same time, the potency of Summon the School makes creating other Merfolk tokens fairly easy, as long as you have two Merfolk on the table already.

But it's getting those two Merfolk that might kill you—giving us a tribe that really needs a minimum of four Merfolk to function well. That's a lot, since it's pretty easy to pop any given individual Merfolk. And one of those Merfolk needs to be the specialty guy; once the Judge of Currents goes, the rest of them become vanilla tokens.

Ultimately, this means that you can't count on a lot of Merfolk, making their "individuality" rating conditionally low.

Rating: Low.


Summon the School is very powerful for a long game, assuming you can build back up to two Merfolk. But one card does not a recursion engine make—when it works, it works wonderfully, but a Wrath of God can send it all back to zero.

Rating: Low.


The Merfolk of old? Oh, there are many; they're one of Magic's oldest and best-supported tribes. Unfortunately, the tribe itself is at odds with the Merfolk of today; the new, upgrade Merfolk are more controlling, whereas the old-style Merfolk were much more about "Lay quick beats, attack, counterspell or bounce the interference."

So while we have a lot of Merfolk, they almost all bounce or Islandwalk, and that's about it. Notable exceptions are:


Rootwater Thief
Rootwater Thief (which is shown attacking a human in the form of former pro Mike Long, an Invitational Winner) is probably the strongest of the lot, sucking the right cards out of peoples' decks. But let us not forget Empress Galina, who is incredibly potent in a format where people love to pull out their big ol' legends—the Empress takes 'em with a single tap, and she takes 'em forever. (Failing that, try the less impressive Seasinger or Rootwater Matriarch.)

We can't forget Ambassador Laquatus, of course, that infinite Millstone in combo decks that produce infinite mana.

Lord of Atlantis is the standard Merfolk booster, whereas Merfolk Assassin has been the centerpiece of numerous War Barge decks that never really work all that well. But interestingly enough, while the Merfolk have a Lord, they don't come calling when he yells for help—but Tidal Courier does. Vodalian Illusionist can help protect all of your Merfolk if you don't mind a) losing your guys for a turn and b) answering all sorts of questions about how phasing works.

Merfolk Looter and Merfolk Traders help you filter through your deck. Rootwater Diver fetches lost artifacts. Waterfront Bouncer, a newly minted waterbreather after the Great Creature Type Shift of 2007, bounces guys and works surprisingly well in multiplayer-themed madness decks.

Saprazzan Legate is that rare Merfolk with flying, and the good news is that you'll almost always be able to play it for free.

Rating: Medium. There are a lot of 'em, but most of them are redundant.

Standard-Legal Hole Fixing

Now. The Merfolk in Standard have three routes to go:


  1. Beatdown
  2. Milling
  3. Other

The "beatdown" strategy is best exemplified by this Merfolk deck, which took second place at West Virginia States:

Stephen Bumgardner

Download Arena Decklist

And it's not a bad deck, coming blazing out of the gates and relying on tempo and early threats to power through people's defenses. But there are two problems with it.

Deeptread_MerrowFirst, as I've said so often I feel like having it Xeroxed onto people's foreheads, quick beatdown doesn't work in Chaos multiplayer. You can take down one or two people (which makes it a decent choice for a three-player game), but you'll run out of gas before toppling people on pure speed alone. This deck relies on doing a quick 20, but a quick 60 is probably out of its league.

Second, this is the only Merfolk beatdown deck that I've seen place anywhere in the Top 8 at States. I'm just going on instinct here, but my suspicions are that if Merfolk decks were routinely potent, we'd have seen them everywhere—it's not so unusual a deck idea that people didn't try it. So what we have here is a deck that most likely made its way into the top 8 by either a miracle set of good matches, or flawless play skill. We don't want to rely on either of those for a deck.

(Me? I fully admit my play is not flawless. I'd rather have a deck that was better than I was, know what I'm sayin'?)

So beatdown? Probably not a great option. You could then go for the potential Millstone deck to punt everyone's library straight into their graveyard, featuring the all-star Merfolk hits of Jace Beleren, Scalpelexis, Shelldock Isle, Ambassador Laquatus, and Drowner of Secrets.

What's that? Only two of those are Merfolk? Why, gosh, then that's not only a boring strategy, but it's not a real Merfolk deck. It's probably fairly easy to build, but hey. I want to have a deck stuffed to the gills with Merfolk!

(Get it? "To the gills"? That's even better than my Treefolk pun from last week! Don't you—aw, forget about it.)

In any case, the third option strikes me as a good choice for the sneaky Merfolk—be sneaky. In this case, you want to come up with an under-the-radar deck that doesn't look like much of a threat, but ultimately sneaks wins while more blatant people draw the heat.


Sneaky Merfolk

Download Arena Decklist

The idea with this deck is simple: Gain as much life as you can with little guys. By now everyone knows the Limited combo of Judge of Currents and Summon the School, which gets you mondo life and a bunch of little weenie threats—this is replicated large here, as with Soul Warden you get even more life as you tap four Merfolk and gain 4 life and then the tokens come into play and you gain 2 life. And then, when you eventually whip out the Beacon of Immortality, you get double the life. Ajani also helps with this.

Judge the Currents, Summon the School, and Soul WardenBasically, this is a modified lifegain deck that doesn't look much like a lifegain deck. It's designed to sit in that midrange between "no threat at all" and "difficult to mess with," where hopefully you sit back and don't launch attacks. Be sure to point out, loudly, that you're not even running Lord of Atlantis. Try to think like a Merfolk and live under the sea; this deck can gain 20 life without coming up for air.

If someone comes after you? Sure they will. Eventually. But hopefully you'll have enough life to absorb a blow or two, and if not, then you can whip out the Crib Swap or (even funnier) Ovinize. Hey, you're playing Ovinize, for gosh sake! (If the people at your table don't laugh when their big fat Akroma becomes a bleating sheep who gets gobbled by a Soul Warden, you're playing with the wrong people.)

Then, when you feel ready to lay the hammer blow, drop either Mirror Entity or Streambed Aquitects and start going to down. Hopefully, you'll have played it well enough to get other people hammering at each other, and clean up the mess.

Does this deck have gaping holes? Sure it does. No fliers, for instance; you might want to think about some flying defense. A shame blue doesn't have a raft of fliers to choose from, huh?

(Get it? Raft? Merfolk? At sea? Aww, you guys....)

And oh, I probably should have slipped a Cancel or two in here, but counterspells are so last week's Merfolk. Also, Body Double would be an awesome add to play mop-up after the blood has rained down, but I'm not sure where to squeeze it in.

(There's a part of me that's sure there's a slow (sorcery-speed) infinite life combo in Extended-legal decks with Intruder Alarm, Judge of Currents, and Summon the School—but alas, I'd need some way of throwing infinite mana into the loop, getting to repeat the process. Springleaf Drum requires you to tap it to tap a creature for mana, and alas! Otherwise, it would be truly broken. I've been looking for a card that allows you to tap creatures for mana without sacrificing them, but the best I can come up with is the too-inefficient Birchlore Rangers. Which might be doable with Mirror Entity, but then that's a five-card combo and still too little mana. Boo.)

A Note on Wanderwine Prophets

It's a good card. It's also completely wrong for a deck that wants to stay under the radar, since once it pops out everyone will do their best to remove you from the game. For a beatdown Merfolk deck, you probably want to consider it strongly.

A Note on Stonybrook Angler

"Tapping a creature" is, unfortunately, one of the worst mechanics in multiplayer. The problem with tapping is twofold:


  1. You have to tap a creature before someone declares attackers;
  2. By the time they've declared that they're attacking you, it's too late.

That's not horrible, but tapping a creature usually makes someone go, "All right – I have to kill this guy before I can get my Dragon on-line again." Which isn't bad if he was planning on attacking you already – but if he wasn't, guess who just made a new enemy?

Plus, generally there are too many guys to hold off all at once with an activated tap effect. Goldmeadow Harrier is good, but paying every turn to hold off four creatures is going to stunt your development. (However, cards without mana activation costs, like Glare of Subdual, can be awesome.)

Too bad. I love it in duels.

Tribe #8: Goblins



Wort, Boggart Auntie
Let's be honest and say that the Goblins of old have always had problems in multiplayer. The speed and brutality of Goblins could always kill at least one player, but it often was running dangerously low on gas by the time it eradicated player number two. Barring some other infighting where the Goblin deck could pick off the lowest life totals, Goblins didn't fare well in a large-table environment.

The new Goblins, however, seem a little more resilient for the long game—they come back when you ask nicely. In fact, Devin Low has already explained the Goblin Circle of Death.

So how does that work? A little better. A strong recursion theme never hurts, and cards like Boggart Shenanigans and Knucklebone Witch can really take advantage of your guys dying. Wort, Boggart Auntie can recurse Tarfire—or better yet in multiplayer, Fodder Launch—which is very nice.

Unfortunately, the Goblins of Lorwyn aren't quite ready for Prime Time. The Goblins chip away at your life total for the long game, and they have some devastating removal, but by and large they're not good on defense. What we have here is a tribe that is better for the long game, but not really great at it.

(Though this changes once you add in some of the old cards. Stay tuned.)

It's hard to actually judge it here—they're weaker on the offense, but they have a better chance of staying around for the long game.


They ping things, they occasionally destroy things, and they return each other from the graveyard. That's not a wide range of effects, but it does consist of about 70% of what you'd like to do outside of attacking. I'll take it.

Rating: Medium to high


As a bunch of little 1/1 and 2/2 dorks, they're not terribly impressive on their own. You really need at least three or four Goblins out on the field, and good Goblins, to work well with each other in Lorwyn.

Rating: Low to medium


Between Boggart Birth Rite, Warren Pilferers, Wort, Boggart Auntie, and the there's-a-goblin-in-the-artwork Footbottom Feast, it doesn't get any better. If you can't get your man back from the graveyard with this tribe, you might as well just lie down in the coffin yourself.

Rating: In-sane!


Aw, mom, do I have to?

Let's be honest: If Magic has a marquee tribe, Goblins are it. There is no better supported tribe. So I'm just gonna hit the absolute highlights.

If you're looking to build your butt-standard Goblin deck—the one that's terrorized Extended and the Casual rooms for years—then you want the combined power of Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Lackey, Goblin Warchief, and Siege-Gang Commander, optionally spiced with Mogg Fanatic and/or Goblin Matron and/or Goblin King and/or the probably-more-broken-than-Fodder-Launch-but-not-by-much Goblin Grenade.

This is the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.

Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit is fragile but can serve as a ward against attacking. Feral Animist is also fragile, but if you can give him trample and some mana he can become a terrifying swinger. If you have the mana hanging around and don't want to use the Animist, then Flamewave Invoker can use extra mana to just deal 5 to the face.

This is the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.


Goblin Sharpshooter
Gempalm Incinerator destroys other creatures. Goblin Sharpshooter is borderline broken in multiplayer if he gets active, destroying all 1/1s in a single sweep and doing 1 to the face any time anything dies. Goblin Goon is good against control decks that only have a handful of finishing creatures, as is Goblin Grenadiers. Goblin Swine-Rider is just awesome.

This is the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.

Goblin Recruiters also gets you more Goblins, if Goblin Ringleader wasn't enough. Goblin Marshal and Mogg War Marshal give you tokens to sacrifice. The new Goblins like this. (I should note that Siege-Gang Commander does this, but I already mentioned him.) Goblin Wizard can put down any Goblin at instant speed, which can be really funny if your opponent is attacking with something huge and non-trampling and you fling a Mogg Maniac in his way.

This is the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.

Festering Goblin fits right in with the new Goblin tribe, giving bonuses for being destroyed. Goblin Chirurgeon, in addition to being a point on the SAT quiz, can protect your other guys—again, for the cost of a sacrifice.

This is the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.

Goblin Welder is broken in many Vintage decks. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, is used in many Tooth and Nail-style decks but rarely plays with his Gobbo brethren. Squee, Goblin Nabob usually shows up in Solitary Confinement decks. Zo-Zu the Punisher makes showings in land destruction decks. None of these guys are invited to the good Goblin parties.

This is the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.

Goblin Snowman will stand fast against all enemies.

That was the litany of Goblins. Hear me growl.

And I have to say that my favorite Goblin card of all time? All right, ya got me; it's Goblin Balloon Brigade. It's terrible, but I love the art and the flavor.

Rating: Frickin' nuts.

Standard-Legal Hole Fixing

Let's take a look at a couple of Goblin decks that did well at States:

Chris Harris

Download Arena Decklist

Skyler Gonzales

Download Arena Decklist

Hmm. A lotta differences between the two—and in fact, if you look at all the Goblin decks at States, you'll find quite the variance between them all. Apparently, the metagame hasn't settled upon the Goblin build, which is both a good and a bad sign.

For multiplayer, though, I'd be worried about two things: the long game and creature removal. As the game goes long, as it usually will barring some quick combo, you'll find yourself further in the hole. The answer? Fodder Cannon, which is both creature removal and a player finisher.

My deck might be a slight tweak to an overall good strategy—something more like this:

Multiplayer Goblins

Download Arena Decklist


That's a three-card change, but a significant one. With an additional Threaten, you now have more ability to yank people's biggest creatures out from under them—a nice thing in multiplayer, where you can slam Player One's biggest creature into Player Two's biggest defense. (Word of Seizing is even better, but I'm not sure the mana here can support it consistently.) And you can make your army slightly bigger with Mad Auntie, who helps in the long game more than the Gargadon.

Rift Bolt isn't quite as good here, since removal at sorcery speed is a liability in multiplayer—you'll need it on defense sometimes. (I know, the duel Goblins just flings it at someone's head as a one-drop.) Fodder Launch is, sadly, sorcery speed, but it's able to handle creatures of up to five toughness, which is anything short of a Dragon. And for the Dragons, you just Threaten 'em.

(The question of whether Incinerate should be in this deck at all, given that you'll be facing larger threats, is a valid question. Perhaps it should be a Terror effect to ensure that the largest creatures die. But on the other hand, a) it would have to be a Terror effect that hits black creatures, and b) Terror doesn't go to the face in the long game.)

But—and this is a large but—you can assume that some jerk will play Wrath of God or Damnation before the game is over. That's why Footbottom Feast is here. Sometimes it's just a Raise Dead, but it gives you the out to get back the slow recursion of Wort, Boggart Auntie if it's needed.

Is this the best multiplayer deck? Not by a long haul. But I'll be curious to see your Standard-legal attempts at Goblin mauling in multiplayer in the forums!

('Course, if you can add Goblin Piledriver and Goblin Ringleader to that deck, it would sing. But what Goblin deck can't you say that about?)

Reader Challenge Update

Submissions for "The Most Powerful Multiplayer Card in Lorwyn" reader challenge officially ended last Friday. The week after that? Well, I'm on call for a theme week. So the answer will be revealed the week after that!

Stay tuned!

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