Do you want to own a Kindred Merfolk deck? Do you like +1/+1 counters? Did you love the Explore mechanic in original Ixalan? If you can say “Yes” to any of those, you are going to love Explorers of the Deep.
But alright, let’s say you’re not a fish enjoyer, have your fill of counters and don’t rate Explore any better than any other mechanic. Are you looking for a pre-con that does not need any changes at all to be fully functional at many tables come Commander night? You are also in luck, this deck does it all!
Take a look at this commander from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Lenoire, Autumn Sovereign. It does not take much to see that they are functionally related. Of course, Hakbal of the Surging Soul blows the Coven mechanic away because it applies to each Merfolk and not just one creature. This is the kind of scaling (pardon the pun) that a modern Commander deck requires to be functional. It could be considered shocking that just a couple of years have produced this kind of drastic power increase, but this is not power creep; Lenoire was weak when it was made.
Hakbal, though, is just right. If you get a few Merfolk on the table and land Hakbal, you’re going to start taking control of the game. That is essentially what Commander is all about, i.e., if you’re “doing the thing” you’re probably winning. More so than any of the other The Lost Caverns of Ixalan pre-cons, Explorers has tons of different ways to “do the thing” and they all work well!
While there are plenty of blue/green Merfolk commanders you could use, Hakbal is just great. Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood might be good for an entirely different deck, but you really get so much more synergy from Explore that it’s not even a question. This is really a deck that thrives as-is, and doesn’t need much to run very well.
Finally, you have Swiftfoot Boots, a very normal Commander staple, to protect Hakbal while you do the thing.
No Glaring Weaknesses
Afraid of counter magic? Want to bluff interaction of your own? This deck deals with both! Not only can you flash in Singer of Swift Rivers to play your Merfolk at instant speed, the deck also features Alchemist’s Refuge so you can play the entire deck in response or at end of turn. This keeps your mana open to address the most crucial threat. You have so many instants, naturally, and great removal both single target and mass. You always have something to do, every turn, even on an opponents turn.
Furthermore, this deck also includes Karn’s Bastion and Merfolk Skydiver, so you can grow if nothing else needs to happen. Once you have an Evolution Sage, just playing a land puts you ahead, which allows you to keep your mana open. Sure, you don’t have strict counter magic outside of Commit and technically Quandrix Command, but the idea is you can always respond with something, and your responses are quite good!
Most Kindred decks are afraid of removal and board wipes in particular. Not Explorers! Not only do you have Inspiring Call which can easily draw you cards alongside indestructibility, you have the absolutely deck defining Ripples of Potential. This card beats pretty much all mass removal, and that is saying something! Heroic Intervention cannot beat commonly played cards like Cyclonic Rift or Toxic Deluge, yet Ripples does and it also advances your board state! Sure, you need to proliferate the permanent to phase it out, but this entire deck “does the thing” and easily gives everything a +1/+1 counter, so this is virtually perfect. This is another reason why Hakbal is important as they are a +1/+1 enabler.
Almost too Much Card Draw, and Combos Aplenty
This deck has engines. Hakbal with Nicanzil, Current Conductor, Topography Tracker and Tatyova, Benthic Druid, results in twice your Merfolk in Explore triggers, and each land explored potentially getting an ETB trigger, which then draws you a card and gains you a life. Yes, you’re looking at drawing cards equal to twice your Merfolk every turn, landfall all those cards which can give you proliferate triggers, and add some life gain on top of that just because.
Alright, what if you don’t get those creatures? How about Hakbal with Herald of Secret Streams and Seafloor Oracle? This essentially boils down to Explore for each Merfolk, then get in your unblockable attacks and draw that many cards. Did you not get those creatures? Alright, how about Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca or Prime Speaker Zegana? The fact is, you are going to draw a gazillion cards, and you are going to see the cards you want most games.
What about raw number of bodies? Emperor Mihail II finally gives us a better three mana Merfolk than Realmwalker by also being a source of tokens. We also have Deeproot Waters and Reflections of Littjara for even more extra Merfolk. Each of these tokens Explores and gets us that deeper into our deck to hit our powerful Merfolk.
Powering up our Merfolk is a simple task with multiple lords and multiple +1/+1 counter effects. The deck is well-made, and features the cards Hardened Scales, Metallic Mimic, Sage of Fables and Branching Evolution among others to pump up your fish at a variety of mana values.
Lots of removal? Don’t get to your protection spells? At least you have Simic Ascendency as an alternate win con! As a card that “just sits there,” this was one of the cards that drew the most aggro from tables, so beware! It’s a nice trick once you have plenty of mana to slap it down, move to combat and see how much Exploration, and counters, happen. You can quite easily surprise a table with this as a one or two turn clock, and it’s worth the include.
Many decks have the problem of drawing a particular “half” of the deck. For example, an Aura or Equipment based deck where you only draw Equipment and don’t get any pay off effects. Hakbal, Explore and raw card draw guarantees you are going to see cards you want every time and you’re not going to only draw your counter effects or interaction, you’ll get it all!
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There were many games when I wished Mist Dancer was Lullmage Mentor. Giving a pile of Merfolk +1/0 and Flying was decent at killing off one player, but not two or three. Meanwhile, if I had the ability to sit back and not get wiped and stop big spells, I’m sure I would have won another game or two.
You can reach a critical mass with this card and Xolatoyac, the Smiling Flood that legitimizes the Salamander’s inclusion. At three mana, you’re just better off than many higher mana spells and Lullmage Mentor also really allows you to commit to the board and not be that fearful.Hindervines feels like another copy of Wave Goodbye or Aetherize, so adding a third one sided board wipe to the deck, that costs even less mana, is really attractive.
A card that is hard to beat in raw flexibility, Simic Charm does enough different things for only two mana that it can be a legitimate include in many decks. I think Bygone Marvels is a better card for another deck, and I’d much rather have this charm in my hand for two mana at instant speed.
I’m not sure why neither Forerunner of the Heralds or Merrow Harbinger were not included in the base deck. They have nice synergy with Explore if you want to guarantee +1/+1 counters, and obviously give you your pick of almost anything in the deck in a fair way. A different idea is to run Step Through which can Wizardcycle for many of your Merfolk.
In most Commander decks, I generally like to include at least one or two older cards. Her,e Lord of Atlantis is a fairly easy include. Of course Vodalian Hexcatcher is equally as free an include and likely makes every list that modifies the pre-con.
In most of my games, I felt extremely safe. If I ever had Commit in hand, I felt pretty unstoppable. Just one or two more counters would feel nice, however. I would include Counterspell, Disallow or Voidslime based on your preference.
In terms of my first cuts, it would likely be Tishana, Voice of Thunder for being too much mana, Tributary Instructor for the same reason and Cold-Eyed Selkie for being a three mana 1/1. You can’t remove too many bodies for spells, though, so further replacements need to be balanced.
The Final Verdict
When I compare Explorers of the Deep to the other Ixalan pre-cons, what strikes me the most is the balance. You have some low drops like Benthic Biomancer, Kiora’s Follower and Merfolk Skydiver who do enough early to be helpful, but also have a use in late game to legitimize their inclusion.
After your early drops, you run out Hakbal and get two or three Explore triggers. If that goes off without a hitch, you are off to the races! If not? Well, you can recover because you have enough ramp and draw, Hakbal will be back, and you may have some interaction to protect them this time.
The deck plays naturally, and feels like it was built by a human being that enjoys playing Magic and likes Merfolk. It’s relatively rare for a pre-con that can simply do its thing, and well, to also have plenty of tricks and upgrade possibilities. Stock or upgraded Explorers has enough going for it that you should not feel out of your depth at any level of Commander table.