One of the many aspects of the Ixalan plane that plenty of people enjoy is emphasis on a handful of cool, but often underrepresented Creature types. Dinosaurs, Vampires, Pirates, and Merfolk together make up a big part of what makes The Lost Caverns of Ixalan such a cool set. Each of these Creature types have not been overly abundant throughout MTG’s history, which has often made it tougher to build elite Constructed decks around them.
We’ve seen Dinosaurs have a small amount of success thanks to Marauding Raptor in Standard in 2020. Vampires have had brief Pioneer success with the power of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. However, compared to more heavily printed Creature types, like Humans and Elves, these decks haven’t had nearly the level of consistent competitive viability.
The one exception, though, is Merfolk. Merfolk has been around in Modern for quite some time. Combining Merfolk “Lords” like Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident with other cheap Merfolk and Aether Vial was a recipe for success. At least, for a while. Merfolk fell out of favor over time, especially with the printing of elite, cheap interaction like Fury and Solitude. In Standard or Pioneer, the archetype has been essentially non-existent. For Merfolk lovers, times have certainly been tough as of late.
Fortunately, thanks to The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, it looks like the strategy might be ready to make a huge jump in Standard. There are tons of powerful new Merfolk getting introduced to the format, as well as some strong Merfolk from previous sets that may finally have a home. Let’s take a closer look at these cards and how a deck built around them should fare against Standard’s top archetypes.
New Merfolk in Standard
All the way up the curve, there are solid Merfolk additions to Standard at each mana slot. One of the biggest things the Merfolk deck was missing was a good one-drop. Now, we have Cenote Scout. Cenote Scout is an excellent card on rate. If you reveal a non-Land card with the Explore ability, you end up with a one-mana 2/2 with some card selection built in. If you reveal a Land, instead you get a 1/1 that draws you a card for one mana. Either way, you are getting a great deal. Don’t let this card’s rarity fool you, it’s a big piece of the puzzle.
At two mana, we have Nicanzil, Current Conductor. Nicanzil is a 2/3 that benefits a lot from Exploring. Not only does it help ramp you when you reveal Lands when Exploring, but Nicanzil can continue to grow when you reveal non-Land cards. This happens to pair incredibly well with Jadelight Spelunker, which nicely fills out any necessary point in the curve. It’s an excellent mana sink, helping to make good use of extra Lands you might reveal with other Exploring Merfolk.
At three mana, you have Sentinel of the Nameless City and Tishana’s Tidebinder. Sentinel generates value both from casting it and attacking and is a rather beefy body. Tishana’s Tidebinder can counter enters-the-battlefield effects from cards like Leyline Binding or Atraxa, Grand Unifier[/toolttips] out of multi-color ramp decks. That’s not all, though. Let’s say you counter the life gain ability associated with drawing cards from [tooltips]Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. Sheoldred now loses all abilities as long as Tidebinder sticks around! In this sense, this card can help you beat otherwise problematic cards, all on a 3/2 with Flash.
Of course, sticking to playing mostly Merfolk does come at a cost. By restricting yourself to one Creature type, you are greatly reducing the range of powerful cards that you have access to. Luckily, there are a handful of excellent payoffs for sticking with the clan.
Likely the biggest prize is Vodalian Hexcatcher. Vodalian Hexcatcher is an extremely powerful Merfolk that buffs your other Merfolk and can completely take over the game. Being able to sacrifice Merfolk to counter board wipes like Sunfall at Instant speed is a game changer.
One new card that pairs really well with Hexcatcher is Deeproot Pilgrimage. Deeproot Pilgrimage has the ability to generate lots of Merfolk tokens that become increasingly more threatening with Hexcatcher in play. Not only do they all get pumped, but this Enchantment can singlehandedly make it tough for an opponent to resolve any impactful non-Creature spell for as long as you have Hexcatcher. Hexcatcher can also help protect Tishana’s Tidebinder when you are shutting off something important, like Sheoldred.
Finally, any deck built around a specific Creature type gets to maximize Cavern of Souls. Cavern of Souls both fixes this deck’s mana well and also makes your Merfolk uncounterable. Make Disappear is one of the premier pieces of interaction currently in Standard, and getting to completely blank it is very strong. There are clearly plenty of solid options to build a Merfolk deck, but can it keep up with other potential top-tier archetypes?
Highs and Lows
The Merfolk archetype appears to have the necessary tools to fight against most of current top cards and decks in Standard. This deck can play a strong, tempo-style gameplan against control and ramp decks. Vodalian Hexcatcher not only completely blanks opposing board wipes, but it can prevent opposing ramp pieces like Invasion of Zendikar or win conditions like The Wandering Emperor from resolving. It can also provide a buff to your Creatures at Instant speed, potentially acting as a blowout against mono-white Humans or Azorius Soldiers.
Deeproot Pilgrimage is excellent against midrange decks, especially because the Merfolk created have Hexproof. The problem comes when Esper midrange decks play cards like Dennick, Pious Apprentice or Raffine, Scheming Seer that are elite blockers. Without Lord of Atlantis or Master of the Pearl Trident, evasion is hard to come by. For Creatures with low power like Raffine, though, Vodalian Mindsinger can be backbreaking, opening the door for a big attack and letting you Connive a bunch. This deck can also make solid use of Make Disappear, too, helping to make sure devastating cards like Sheoldred don’t resolve.
All of the Exploring this deck can do also helps a lot with consistency. Whether you are digging for Hexcatchers or trying to hit your land drops, Exploring helps keep you on schedule. The biggest downside to this archetype in Standard currently is the lack of lord effects. Draws with Hexcatcher and draws without may very well be night and day. Still, the rest of the Merfolk in the deck are solid, and getting to abuse such a powerful card in Hexcatcher can go a long way. If you’re looking for a way to get started, look below at the sample decklist. The archetype may finally be getting its due, so Merfolk players rejoice!