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Budget Magic: $89 (7 tix) Simic Merfolk (Standard, Magic Arena)


Puiznu, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Everyone loves Merfolk, and while the tribe has been floating around in Standard ever since Ixalan block, for the most part, they've been close but not quite good enough for Standard. However, with the release of Ravnica Allegiance, the tribe got a couple of really important new additions in Benthic Biomancer and Incubation // Incongruity. In combination with all of the really powerful Merfolk lords from Ixalan block, is it finally time for Merfolk to compete in Standard on a budget? Is the plan of going wide with a bunch of Merfolk and pumping them with seemingly endless lords realistic in Ravnica Allegiance Standard?  Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Simic Merfolk (Standard)

The Deck

Simic Merfolk is a tribal aggro deck. The game plan is simple: we look to curve out with efficient Merfolk; pump them with lords like Merfolk Mistbinder, Deeproot Elite, and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca; and hopefully beat the opponent down before they find a sweeper or enough blockers to ruin our plan. Probably the easiest way to break down the deck is to start with our payoffs and then work out way through our support Merfolk and utility cards.

The Lords

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Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is the reason to play Merfolk in Standard. In a deck overflowing with Merfolk, it does everything an aggressive tribal deck could want, giving us a combination of an unblockable threat to close out games, card draw to make sure we have a steady stream of threats, and—assuming we get five Merfolk on the battlefield—the ability to repeatedly pump our team with +1/+1 counters. While not all that powerful on its own, as a 2/4 for three, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca even dodges some popular removal in Standard like Cast Down, Lightning Strike, and Moment of Craving

While it's often risky to play four copies of a cheap legendary creature, Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is the exception to the rule. It's so good in our deck that we're willing to put up with some clunky draws where we end up with multiple copies in our hand because if we manage to keep a Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca on the battlefield, we're almost assuredly winning the game by drawing through our deck and pumping our creatures. It's that good in our deck.

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Deeproot Elite and Merfolk Mistbinder give us eight backup lords that cost just two mana. While the cards work a bit differently, they are in our deck for the same reason: they help grow our small Merfolk into meaningful threats. Merfolk Mistbinder is pretty simple: it's just a two-mana lord. Meanwhile, Deeproot Elite is more unique. While it doesn't pump our entire team at once, it does allow us to slowly grow our creatures by adding counters to them as our Merfolk enter the battlefield. Even apart from tricks with cards like Benthic Biomancer, Deeproot Elite has some upside compared to a traditional lord, in that we can put all of our counters on a single creature to make it big enough to attack through our opponent's defense or even put them all on a Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, since we can make it unblockable to close out the game. All in all, this gives us 12 Merfolk that are lords or pseudo-lords, giving us a critical mass of payoffs to make it worthwhile to play a bunch of random Merfolk.

One-Drops

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In the one-drop slot are two options. Kumena's Speaker is pretty simple: since our deck has a ton of Merfolk and Islands, it's a 2/2 for one, making it a solid early-game beater that also works with our various Merfolk synergies in the late game. Benthic Biomancer, on the other hand, is the biggest new Ravnica Allegiance addition to the deck. While it looks like another 2/2 for one at first glance (which is a fine card on it own), the real power of Benthic Biomancer is that it gives us the ability to loot every turn (and sometimes multiple times each turn) with the help of cards like Deeproot Elite and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca putting counters on Benthic Biomancer for free. This is a huge deal for an aggressive deck like Merfolk, where one of the easiest ways for us to lose a game is by flooding out and drawing too many lands. Having a one-drop that can repeatedly get rid of dead lands and dig for our powerful payoffs is a huge boon for the deck and probably the biggest reason why Merfolk is so much better now that it was before Ravnica Allegiance was released.

Utility Merfolk

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Rounding out our Merfolk curve are a couple of utility Merfolk. Silvergill Adept is part of the core of Merfolk decks all the way back to Legacy—the ability to put a relatively on-curve, on-tribe creature on the battlefield without being down a card is huge. Once our deck gets going, all we really want is as many Merfolk bodies on the battlefield as possible to draw cards with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and to benefit from our Merfolk lords. Silvergill Adept is perfect for filling this role. Meanwhile, Merfolk Trickster is sort of a removal spell attached to a Merfolk body. The most common use of the two-drop is to flash it into play to tap down a blocker or attacker, but it offers some sneaky value in some matchups. For example, against a deck like Izzet Drakes, being able to make a Crackling Drake or Enigma Drake lose flying until end of turn give us a way to deal with annoying fliers that would otherwise kill us in the air (Merfolk is pretty good at blocking on the ground but a lot worse at answering fliers). Together, Silvergill Adept and Merfolk Trickster fill out our Merfolk curve while adding some unique value along the way.

The Backup Payoff

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Deeproot Waters is the highest-variance card in our deck. When we play it on Turn 3 and proceed to play a bunch of Merfolk over the new few turns, it's probably the best card in our entire deck, generating a ton of free Merfolk value by giving all of our Merfolk a kicker of a 1/1 hexproof Merfolk, while also helping support cards like Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca by giving us a bunch of bodies to tap to draw cards and grow our team. On the other hand, in the late game, after we have dumped our hand of Merfolk, Deeproot Waters is one of the worst cards in our deck, doing nothing immediately and potentially nothing for several turns if we don't draw into more Merfolk. Despite this variance, Deeproot Waters is more than worth a slot in our deck because when it's good, it's really good. We occasionally have games where we play two copies early in the game and pick up free wins by overwhelming our opponent with a massive board of Merfolk quickly. It works really well with our lords, since the Merfolk token gives us an extra trigger from Deeproot Elite, and the enchantment provides a ton of bodies to be pumped by cards like Merfolk Mistbinder and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

Utility Spells

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While most of our deck is Merfolk, we do have a couple of utility spells to round out the deck. Spell Pierce is just a two-of, but it gives us a way to protect our important Merfolk (like Kumena) from targeted removal and potentially our entire team from a sweeper like Kaya's Wrath or Settle the Wreckage. Meanwhile, Incubation // Incongruity is the other huge new Ravnica Allegiance addition to the deck, and the card is pretty perfect for Merfolk. The front half gives us the ability to dig five cards deep to find Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca (or whatever other Merfolk we might need in a given situation), while the back half gives us a bad removal spell, but in Simic, even a bad removal spell is a good addition to our deck. While leaving behind a 3/3 token isn't ideal, when the other option is losing to a massive Wildgrowth Walker, Lyra Dawnbringer, or Crackling Drake, downgrading the threat into a Frog Lizard is still a fine deal. Just be careful to think through how you use Incubation // Incongruity. It's tempting to just fire it off right away, but in a lot of matches, it's better to hold it in case we need to use it for a removal spell or until we know what Merfolk we're looking to find with Incubation (most often Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

The Mana

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One of the upsides of Merfolk is that we get to take advantage of Unclaimed Territory as a secondary dual land over Breeding Pool, which helps keep the deck under budget. While the optimal build will play four Breeding Pools (and no Simic Guildgates), Simic Merfolk can get by without a shock land better than most decks in the format thanks to Unclaimed Territory being a low-opportunity-cost untapped dual land. 

Wrap-Up

As far as our record, we finished 4-1 in our video matches, but we played Sultai Midrange a second time and lost, dropping our total record to 4-2. Either way, Merfolk felt extremely competitive. While we did lose to Gates (thanks to our opponent drawing about a million copies of Gates Ablaze), we took down Golgari Midrange, Sultai Midrange, Izzet Drakes, and Jeskai Control—a pretty solid list of top-tier Standard decks. 

In some ways, Merfolk is like the Zombie deck that was so good back during Amonkhet Standard. We can win some games just by casting a bunch of cheap Merfolk, pumping them with lords, and beating down, but we also have the ability to play the long game thanks to Benthic Biomancer and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca drawing us tons of cards and filtering through our deck. This ability to be the aggro deck but also play the long game when necessary is extremely powerful and makes Simic Merfolk a lot more fun to play than a more all-in aggro deck.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, it actually feels pretty solid as-is. While the sideboard could probably be tuned up a bit, the main deck feels about right. There's some temptation to go bigger and play cards like Zegana, Utopian Speaker or something like Tempest Caller or Herald of Secret Streams to close out the game more quickly with just one big attack, and while these cards would probably be pretty good in the deck, the problem is figuring out what to cut. I could imagine playing the deck without Deeproot Waters, but the enchantment is so good when it's good that it's hard to actually drop it from the deck. Still, feel free to experiment with some of the other Merfolk in the format if you want to give them a try.

Oh yeah, you probably noticed we played on Magic Arena this week. That's because Simic Merfolk happens to be budget friendly everywhere. Not only is it $89 in paper and just 7 tix on Magic Online, but with 12 rares and 4 mythics (and even cheaper when you consider a handful of the cards come in the Simic starter deck), it's budget friendly on Magic Arena as well.

All in all, Simic Merfolk was a lot of fun. The new cards from Ravnica Allegiance were extremely impressive and make the deck was more competitive than it was just a few weeks ago. If you're a fan of tribal decks in general or just really love Merfolk, give the deck a shot! It's fun to play thanks to the ability to win quickly or go long, and it's more than competitive enough to grind out a collection on Magic Arena or to take down an FNM.

Getting Simic Merfolk down near $50 is pretty easy: we just have to cut the mana to the bare bones, dropping Hinterland Harbor and Unclaimed Territory for Woodland Stream and more copies of Simic Guildgate. While playing eight tapped lands is far from ideal for an aggro deck, since the rest of the cards in the deck are already cheap (apart from Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, which is the reason to play the deck and not really cuttable), we really don't have another option. While the ultra-budget build should be fine for kitchen-table play and you can probably win some games with it at an FNM, just be warned that you will lose some games that you would otherwise have won when you end up with hands with multiple tapped lands forcing you to play off-curve for the entire game.

The other upside of Simic Merfolk is that it's pretty close to being optimal even in budget form. In fact, the non-budget build only gets two changes: Breeding Pool in the mana base over Simic Guildgate and some basic lands and Vivien Reid in the sideboard to help out against control. Thanks to the fact that we've got 32 creatures in our deck, Vivien Reid's +1 offers not just card advantage but another way to dig for our most important Merfolk, while doubling as a removal spell for fliers and annoying enchantments like Wilderness Reclamation. While Vivien Reid is a nice addition to the deck, by far the biggest upgrades are the Breeding Pools. As we talked about before, aggro decks really don't like having lands that enter the battlefield tapped, and with Breeding Pool added to the deck, the non-budget build of Merfolk has 100% untapped lands (and really good mana to boot).

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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