Ixalan’s effect on Modern is just now starting to be realized. One or two cards are individually making an impact, but so far the biggest change that Ixalan has brought is to one specific archetype, Merfolk. In Ixalan, the Merfolk are blue and green, a departure from the almost solely blue Merfolk from Magic’s past. As it turns out, green has brought new tools that have reshaped, and certainly strengthened, how Modern Merfolk operates. The success has been immediate, with U/G Merfolk making back to back Open top 8s in Charlotte and Cincinnati these past two weekends.

Today I’ll be looking at those two decklists in order to arrive at a U/G Merfolk list that I believe to be the best option going forward. Let’s dive in, first with the decklists.

U/G Merfolk by Jeremy Bertarioni at SCG Cincinnati – 4th

Creatures (31)
4 Harbinger of the Tides
1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
1 Kopala, Warden of Waves
4 Kumena’s Speaker
4 Lord of Atlantis
1 Master of Waves
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept

Non-Creature Spells (10)
2 Dismember
4 Aether Vial
4 Spreading Seas

Lands (19)
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Breeding Pool
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Island
4 Mutavault
1 Unclaimed Territory

Sideboard (15)
3 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Deeproot Waters
1 Dismember
2 Dispel
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
3 Relic of Progenitus
2 Spell Pierce

U/G Merfolk by Alan Cummings at SCG Charlotte – 8th

Creatures (30)
4 Cursecatcher
3 Harbinger of the Tides
1 Kopala, Warden of Waves
4 Kumena’s Speaker
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
2 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept

Non-Creature Spells (11)
2 Spell Pierce
4 Aether Vial
1 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Spreading Seas

Lands (19)
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Breeding Pool
3 Flooded Strand
4 Island
3 Mutavault
3 Polluted Delta

Sideboard (15)
3 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Dismember
3 Dispel
3 Natural State
1 Negate
3 Relic of Progenitus

When looking at these two decklists, there’s not a lot of difference between them. Both feature very similar creature bases and 19 lands, with either 10 or 11 non-creature spells in the mix. Both play a playset of Ixalan stars Kumena’s Speaker and Merfolk Branchwalker, which add aggression from the green side of this deck. They also play an almost identical suite of old Merfolk favorites, such as a playset each of Silvergill Adept, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Master of Waves, as well as at least 3 Harbinger of the Tides and at least 2 Merrow Reejerey.

While these lists are very similar, the differences between these lists should be looked at to better understand the positioning of these two decks.

Dismember vs. Spell Pierce

Both of these decks have a 2-of non-creature slot that is reserved (usually) for kill spells or counter spells. In this situation, Bertarioni elected for 2 Dismember, a reliable kill spell that can be cast by this blue-green deck, while Cummings chose to run with 2 copies of Spell Pierce, adept at countering many troublesome cards for this deck in this format.

In this format, I’d lean towards the 2 copies of Dismember. Dismember is usually the better option against creature decks while Spell Pierce is good against control and combo. In this format, control feels almost nonexistent, with Storm being the dominant combo deck. While kind of counter-intuitive, Dismember is actually solid against Storm, as getting either Baral, Chief of Compliance or Goblin Electromancer off the board in an instant is a great tool for this deck to have access to, especially because overall the game plan against Storm for this deck is to put a bunch of creatures on the board and limit the time they have to assemble their critical mass of spells.

Merrow Reejerey #3/#4, Kira, Great Glass Spinner, Master of Waves vs. Cursecatcher

While Cummings stuck with the more traditional option of a playset of Cursecatcher, Bertarioni took this slot and added more explosiveness with the third and fourth copies of Merrow Reejerey, a copy of Kira, Great Glass Spinner to help with protecting the fish army, and a Master of Waves, which puts an impressive amount of power on the board when it lands.

In my opinion, I don’t think it’s a wise idea to play even 1 copy of Master of Waves when even with good draws it’s very possible to only see 1 or 2 elemental tokens. The addition of green creatures in this deck makes Master worse and probably isn’t good enough to warrant a slot. Kira is also not at its best in this format, as the classic Jund style decks have been pushed out of the format, so there are considerably fewer removal spells than normal. Merrow Reejery is a high upside creature against decks that are looking to fight the midrange fight with Merfolk. However, I’m not sure that this deck really needs the third and fourth copies.

Cursecatcher, on the other hand, is looking fairly promising now, especially with the rise of Storm. The 1 mana tax and the turn it usually buys is perfect for Merfolk, which tends to aggressively deal damage in large chunks. Because of this, I think having the rather frail 1 mana 1/1 is a good inclusion for the time being.

Harbinger of the Tides vs. Smuggler’s Copter

Harbinger of the Tides has become a go-to option for Merfolk in this slot, due to its ability to act as a solid 2 mana attacker and a 4 mana tempo play. Most lists play a minimum of 3, and when looking at this comparison, Bertarioni opted for the fourth copy of the Merfolk, while Cummings went with a singular Smuggler’s Copter. The Standard banned vehicle has seen a little play in Modern here and there, and could be a fine addition to this deck.

That being said, I’d rather have the fourth Harbinger. Smuggler’s Copter effectively turns one of your creatures into a 3/3 flyer every turn. This sort of effect isn’t that exciting for Merfolk, as its creatures frequently get bigger than Copter and evasion can be easily obtained through Islandwalk.

Cavern of Souls + Unclaimed Territory vs. Fetchlands

I won’t dive too deep into this one, but Cavern of Souls and Unclaimed Territory, as well as the Fetchlands are in the deck to help with color fixing. While there aren’t too many counter spell-heavy decks in this format, I think Cavern adds a ton of value, and I’ve never quite felt that Fetchlands were at their best in this deck.

Now let’s look at the list that I would use going forward:

U/G Merfolk by Jonah Gaynor

Creatures (30)
4 Cursecatcher
4 Harbinger of the Tides
1 Kopala, Warden of Waves
4 Kumena’s Speaker
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
2 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept

Non-Creature Spells (11)
2 Dismember
4 Aether Vial
4 Spreading Seas

Lands (19)
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Breeding Pool
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Island
4 Mutavault
1 Unclaimed Territory

Sideboard (15)
3 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Dismember
3 Dispel
3 Natural State
2 Spell Pierce
3 Relic of Progenitus

If you’re looking for some more Modern analysis, check out this article from Riccardo Monico, where he examines some new Modern decks that he think could impact the format in the months to come.

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