Trials and Tribal-ations- Merfolk

My first article on tribal decks covered Elves, so (with apologies to purists) it should be apparent that I’m not following the color wheel.  I do plan to hit each color at least once, though.  This time we’re hitting blue, with the extremely popular choice- Merfolk.  Like Elves, Merfolk is such a deep tribe in Magic’s history that an extremely competitive tribal Merfolk deck is ever-present at top tables of high level Legacy events.  I’ll list that deck, and the Elves deck (referred to as Combo-Elves) at the end of this article.

The Blue slice of the color pie is almost as far as you can get from green in strategy.  Green likes to empty its hand fast, laying down creature after creature, each bigger, more primal, and scarier than the last.  Where green says “this is what I have, deal with it or lose” blue says “do you think you can win with what I have in my hand?”.  Blue thrives on counterspell, control, and the ability to bluff and/or back up either with card advantage.  Somewhat ironically, another plan that Merfolk are quite good at is old-fashioned beatdown.

Merfolk have existed in the Magic multiverse since the beginning.  Merfolk of the Pearl Trident was printed back in Alpha, and in retrospect is pretty unimpressive.  Back when Magic was invented as something to pass time between panels at gaming conventions, Merfolk were among the numerous tribes wandering in the design wilderness.  Later on as they got more nods, and the tribe’s mechanics began to mature along with blue’s place in the design color wheel.  When Wizards went full-on tribal with the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block, Merfolk got the push up the evolutionary chain that they needed.  The block solidified Merfolk as the team that could draw cards, mill, tap, untap, and beat down.  They got new Lords, they learned new tricks, they garnered respect.  And with The Aurora, when Lorwyn changed into Shadowmoor, they got an attitude problem.  Merfolk are sleek and shifty as the undercurrents they ride, and they can be downright mean.  While one of the most effective routes to victory is the tried-and-true beatdown plan, Merfolk have too many moving parts to play with for me not to get tricky.  Let’s get double the bang for our tribal buck, and try some Merfolk Wizards.


Coastal Erosion



4 Stonybrook Banneret

4 Ink Dissolver

4 Sigil Tracer


2 Drowner of Secrets

Azami, Lady of Scrolls

2 Murkfiend Liege



4 Counterspell

4 Sanity Grinding



4 Jace’s Erasure

2 Memory Erosion

1 Time Warp

1 Mind Over Matter


Basic Land:

24 Island


This deck exemplifies what’s fun about Magic decks for me- moving parts.  I love a good wind-up toy.  Every creature but the Murkfiend Liege hits with Ink Dissolver‘s Kinship trigger, every creature can tap to mill the opponent with Drowner of Secrets, or draw a card with Azami (ignoring summoning sickness!), which triggers Jace’s Erasure.  With Azami and Jace’s Erasure, Mind Over Matter turns into a milling machine.  By the time Mind Over Matter hits the table, your opponent should have significantly fewer cards in his or her library then you, allowing you to draw most of your deck until they run out of cards.  To help you along, you have Sanity Grinding, a great little card that can hit very hard, in the right situation.  With Sigil Tracer, you can tap any two of your creatures and double it!  And when Surgespanner taps for Azami or Sigil Tracer (or attacks), you can use his ability to remove one of your opponent’s threats.  To turbocharge this list, you could exchange the six-shooter Counterspell for the rocket propelled grenade launcher Cryptic Command, and exchange the two of Memory Erosion for Jace, Memory Adept.


Don’t get me wrong, “more abilities” does not mean “better deck”.  The more complicated the strategy, the more chances you have to foul things up.  If you think your opponent is holding a handful of counterspells, don’t tap out to play enchantments or Sanity Grinding, get in there with those Wizards!  Any deck with creatures in it can win by attacking.


Speaking of attacking, there are lots of Merfolk who are great at getting in there. With the amount of Lords Merfolk boasts, the tribe can go toe-to-toe with Goblins and Elves in the attacking department.  Lets look at a list of aggressive Merfolk.




Creatures: 24

4 Inkfathom Infiltrator

4 Coralhelm Commander

4 Silvergill Adept

4 Merfolk Sovereign 

4 Wake Thrasher

4 Merrow Reejerey


Instants/Sorceries: 12

4 Counterspell

4 Into the Roil

2 Frost Breath

2 Sleep


Basic Lands:

24 Island


It doesn’t get much simpler than this.  Drop dudes, counter threats, and attack in.  Sleep and Frost Breath get your team through when your opponent starts “chump blocking” (throwing smaller creatures under the bus to block).  Every time you untap your lands, your Wake Thrasher becomes a monster.  Merfolk Sovereign can assure that he connects.  This list shows the straight-forward, aggressive side of the Merfolk tribe.


I mentioned before, and many of you are probably already aware, Merfolk are strong force in competitive Legacy.  Here’s the list a our friend Alex Bertoncini made famous on the Star City Games Open circuit:


Aether Vial

Coralhelm Commander
Lord of Atlantis
Merfolk Sovereign
Merrow Reejerey
Silvergill Adept
Sower of Temptation

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Force of Will
1 Spell Pierce

Basic Lands:
13 Island

Non-Basic Lands:
Mishra’s Factory

deck list courtesy of

This list illustrates the point we made last week- a lot of times your tribe is better off with a little help from outside the tribe.  Instead of destroying threats, Sower of Temptation simply steals them. And the spirit Kira, Great Glass Spinner counters the first spell or ability that targets each of your creatures each turn.  It’s not hard to see why this deck has been on top for as long as it has.  Elves also have a powerful deck in Legacy.  Here’s a list from a Magic Online event:


Birchlore Rangers
Elvish Visionary
Fyndhorn Elves
Heritage Druid
Llanowar Elves
Nettle Sentinel
Priest of Titania
Quirion Ranger
Regal Force
Viridian Shaman
Wirewood Symbiote

1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Summoner’s Pact
Glimpse of Nature
Green Sun’s Zenith

Basic Lands:
8 Forest

Non-Basic Lands:
Wooded Foothills
Dryad Arbor
Gaea’s Cradle


This deck takes the Heritage Druid/Nettle Sentinel combo we visited in the Elves article, and straps a pair of jet engines on it. It makes tons of mana very early, draws as many cards as you can play creatures (hint: a lot), and uses this mana and card draw engine to draw and hard-cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.  Sound scary? Think about this- the deck can usually do it on turn three.

These decks illustrate the power level Legacy plays out on.  Suffice it to say, Legacy is more than “all the old cards”.  It utilizes the best of the old, combined with cards that are being designed and released every three months.  New combinations are discovered constantly (often in ways designers didn’t expect), and power shifts between decks.  Single cards like Survival of the Fittest (combined with Basking Rootwalla and Vengevine) and Mental Misstep become so powerful that they change the way an entire format is experienced, for better or worse.

That’s it for Legacy talk for now.  Next time we’ll cover another color and another tribe.  Until then here’s another set of tribesmen and tribeswomen to browse:

Card Name Set Name Function 1 Function 2 Color
Merfolk Looter M11 Draw U
Merfolk Sovereign M11 Lord Evasion U
Merrow Rejeerey LRW Lord U
Lord of Atlantis Core Lord Evasion U
Coralhelm Commander ROE Lord Beats U
Silvergill Adept SHM Draw Beats U
Cursecatcher SHM Countermagic U
Ambassador Laquatus TO Legendary Mill U
Cold-Eyed Selkie EVE Draw U/G
Cosi’s Trickster ZEN Beats U
Deepchannel Mentor SHM Evasion U
Drowner Initiate SHM Mill Becomes Tapped U
Drowner of Secrets LRW Mill U
Enclave Cryptologist ROW Draw Level-Up U
Fallowsage LRW Draw Becomes Tapped U
Grimoire Thief MOR Mill Becomes Tapped U
Halimar Wavewatch ROE Level-Up Beats U
Harpoon Sniper LRW Removal W
Ink Dissolver LRW Mill Kinship U
Inkfathom Infiltrator SHM Beats U/B
Judge of Currents LRW Life Becomes Tapped W
Lullmage Mentor ZEN Tokens Counter U
Merfolk Mesmerist M12 Mill U
Merfolk Skyscout ROE Untap U
Merrow Commerce LRW Untap Enchantment U
Sage of Fables MOR Counters Draw U
Scroll Thief M11 Draw U
Sigil Tracer MOR Copy Spells U
Stonybrook Banneret MOR Value U
Surgespanner LRW Removal Value U
Veteran of the Depths LRW Beats W
Wake Thrasher EVE Beats U
Wanderwine Prophets LRW Control U
Whirlpool Rider AP Draw U




Adam Willson







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