I’ve been tinkering with merfolks in Cockatrice lately and it’s not as bad as what people think they are. Even if the Simic colors are not predominantly associated with ‘blast out of the gate aggro’ decks, it compensates its more sluggish starts with better resilience and access to some control elements.
Ixalan’s merfolk tribe has 2 things working great for them: Curve and Resilience.
It has very high value creatures in every stage of the curve that have extremely relevant abilities. And with any tribe, Metallic Mimic absolutely shines in this deck giving you even more power per card, which reduces the effectiveness of damage-based removal.
Having a ‘Lord’ that makes your creatures more difficult to remove not only saves you slots for protection spells but its sort of resource advantage as well because your opponents would have to over-invest to get the same effect, reducing the efficiency of their deck. And unlike other Lords, Kopala’s ability actually includes himself (or herself).
Another great card which this deck has in its possession is Deeproot Waters. Every creature card in this deck is basically worth 2 bodies and the free 1/1 also has hexproof. It would be a common occurence for decks to pack more mass removal with Carnage Tyrants running around and Deeproot Waters gives us the ability to re-establish the board very quickly after a sweeper.
Simic colors also give us access to standard’s sleeper planeswalker, Nissa, Steward of Elements. She doesn’t look like much but she helps us filter through our decks really fast, helps us put more creatures or lands into play faster, and her ultimate can end games unexpectedly. Casting her on turn 3 automatically gives her 3 loyalty counters which is not much and dies to Lightning Strike but getting a scry 2 off of her can translate to an awesome come back or a very flooded or screwed draws.
To replace removal spells, simic colors give us some better alternatives to help punch through some damage, or foil our opponent’s plan of capitalizing using a sweeper or hard to deal with planeswalkers. Spell Pierce, Blossoming Defense and Unsummons are conditional and sometimes temporary remedies but they sometimes allow you to do two swings instead of one if a Fumigate or Bontu’s Last Reckoning was cast.
Unsummon can easily time walk an opponent who relied to casting his huge impact spell on a certain turn in his curve. A ramunap red player casting Hazoret on turn 4 hoping to deal a ton of damage can be suppressed for a turn. Bouncing a Winding Constrictor while the opponent attempts to cast Verdurous Gearhulk can save you from a lethal back swing. Blossoming Defense is great against exerted Glorybringers, or just about anything Kopala cannot prevent. Spell Pierce is also a super star against clutch spells like sweepers, enchantments or planeswalkers.
Here’s my 75 card list for a competitive Merfolk Deck.
3 Kumena’s Speaker
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Metallic Mimic
4 River Sneak
2 Kopala, Warden of Waves
3 Vineshaper Mystic
2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
1 Shapers of Nature
2 Herald of Secrets
3 Verdurous Gearhulk
3 Blossoming Defense
2 Nissa, Steward of Elements
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
4 Botanical Sanctum
3 Unclaimed Territory
1 Endless Sands
3 Deeproot Waters
2 Spell Pierce
3 Shapers’ Sanctuary
3 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Essence Scatter
The mainboard is very similar to my initial merfolk decklist but I added Nissa and Skysovereign to give us a different angle to the deck. A pure creature approach just won’t cut it with so many removal in our current meta.
We are running 2 important vehicles in the deck and they have specific functions that bind the deck together.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is our only flying creature, solution to a resolved planeswalker, and probably the only card left on board after a sweeper resolves. What’s good with this vehicle is that our deck does not have a problem crewing it even if we don’t have naturally 3-power dudes. With Mimic, explore mechanics, and the +1/+1 counter distributions from Vineshaper Mystic and Rishkar, we can crew the ship with ease. No one stops us from crewing it with 2 smaller creatures either to punch 6 damage in the air.
Aethersphere Harvester from the sideboard works well with Deeproot Waters. Each 1/1 hexproof merfolk token we generate can crew it easily. And since all these 1/1’s have hexproof, we are almost certain there’s someone to crew it. The lifegain is a bonus but we don’t have other means to generate energy.
My favorite sideboard card is Shapers’ Sanctuary. It basically makes all our creatures into Ripjaw Raptor. Fatal Push? Sure, thanks! Lightning Strike? Alright, draw a card! Unlicensed Disintegration? Take 3, draw a card.
This card allows us to win the attrition game with so much card draw. Dropping this on turn 1 is like having a one sided Howling Mine against removal-heavy decks.
If you get to pick up merfolk as your Ixalan tribe, you won’t regret it. Take the list for a spin, I really like it and I hope you will too!