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Much Abrew: UG Merfolk (Standard)

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Much Abrew About Nothing. Whenever a new set is released, there is a weird lag with Instant Deck Techs, since they are based on tournament results, and Rivals of Ixalan just officially became legal in the paper world yesterday. As a result, this week, we have a special episode featuring one of the Ixalan tribes that people have been asking for the most: Merfolk. Before the bannings and Rivals of Ixalan, Merfolk weren't quite powerful enough to compete in Standard, but a lot has changed in the past week, with a ton of powerful new Merfolk cards and a wide-open format. Do these changes mean that Merfolk suddenly have what it takes to become a tier deck in Standard? That's what we're trying to figure out today!

Along with evaluating Merfolk as a whole, we'll also be keeping a close eye on individual Merfolk because the deck list is far from set in stone, and as people playtest thousands and thousands of games with the tribe, we'll start to hone in on the best possible Merfolk list. As such, the article part of our Much Abrew this week is going to be more about evaluating both the tribe and the individual tribe members, so regardless of our performance today, hopefully we'll learn something that makes the next build of Merfolk even better! Anyway, let's get to the videos so you can check out how Merfolk work in Rivals of Ixalan Standard!

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UG Merfolk (Deck Tech)

UG Merfolk vs. Esper Gift (Match 1)

UG Merfolk vs. UW Cycling (Match 2)

UG Merfolk vs. Jund Explore (Match 3)

UG Merfolk vs. Madcap Gift (Match 4)

UG Merfolk vs. UW Cycling (Match 5)

UG Merfolk (Wrap-Up)


  • As far as our record, we played a league and ended up going 3-2, which is a winning record, although I was hoping for a slightly better mark.
  • If we look back on the matchups, we crushed two very different builds of God-Pharaoh's Gift while also running over the UW Cycling control deck. On the other hand, we got smashed by the removal-heavy Jund Explore list (although partly because of a surprise Golden Demise from the sideboard, which is very good against Merfolk) and simply couldn't find our Negates (even though we dug through half of our deck) to stay alive against Approach of the Second Sun
  • As for Merfolk as a tribe, I came away from our league convinced they are real and have a chance to be a legitimate tier deck in Standard. The power level was high, and even in the games we lost, it felt like we were competitive and had a chance to win.
  • One of the biggest problems with Merfolk in Standard is many people seem to be misunderstanding what the tribe is about, probably because of the comparison to Modern Merfolk, which is very aggressive and looking to stack lords and close out the game early. Thanks to a ton of cantrip Merfolk and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Merfolk is actually very similar to Zombies from our past Standard. While we do occasionally get aggro hands where we play three one-drops and a couple of lords, most of the time, we're actually a strange midrange, card-advantage deck.
  • Probably the best example of this is the best Merfolk in Standard: Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. As far as I'm concerned, what we want to be doing is finding Kumena and then drawing cards while slowly adding to our board. Even if we have a chance to chip in for damage, we choose not to because drawing cards is more important. Not only does this keep our hand full in case our opponent finds a wrath, but we draw eventually two extra cards a turn, which buries our opponent in card advantage quickly. Then, after we get a reasonable board, we start adding counters to our team, use Tempest Caller to tap down all of our opponent's blockers, and kill our opponent in one big attack. These are the games where Merfolk feels the most powerful and unbeatable.
  • Supporting the slower, grindy Merfolk plan are Silvergill Adept and Merfolk Branchwalker, which give us Merfolk we can add to the battlefield for Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca and don't cost us a card, since they replace themselves when they enter the battlefield. These cards let us feel safe expanding our board, even into a potential wrath, since even if they die, we are left with another card in hand.
  • Rounding out the foundational Merfolk are the lords: Deeproot Elite and Merfolk Mistbinder. Deeproot Elite is the Merfolk I misjudged the most—the card is very good, and maybe the best comparison is a slightly powered-down version of Thalia's Lieutenant but for Merfolk. Meanwhile, Merfolk Mistbinder is just too efficient not to play and is important to the random games where we get a hand that wants to be aggressive. 
  • These 20 cards are what I would consider the foundation of the Merfolk deck. If you are building Merfolk, you start with a playset of these cards and then build up from there. Kumena's Speaker might deserve to be on the list too, mostly because cheap Merfolk are important to supporting Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, which needs a critical mass of Merfolk to really work, and Tempest Caller is a great finisher if you are on the slow, grindy plan (basically a better version of Herald of Secret Streams, since if the opponent kills Herald of Secret Streams after we attack, our opponent can block and blow us out, while with Tempest Caller, the damage is already done when it enters the battlefield), but having playsets of Merfolk Mistbinder and Deeproot Elite as lords, Silvergill Adept and Merfolk Branchwalker as free Merfolk, and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca because he's insane will be the foundation of Standard Merfolk for the rest of the season.
  • After adding the foundational Merfolk to your deck, the other 10 or 15 slots are where the brewing comes in, and I'm not completely solid on the rest of the deck. I'm still really interested in testing Deeproot Waters, which seems great with the slow Merfolk plan. Jadelight Ranger offers another card-advantage Merfolk, as does Riverwise Augur, although four mana is a lot for a Brainstorm. Swift Warden should also be in the conversation, since it offers a way to protect Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca at instant speed.
  • Of course, it's also possible I'm completely wrong. You could go the other direction and try to build all-in aggro Merfolk with River Darter and more one-drops, but after playing our matches, I'm 100% convinced that Merfolk is actually a midrange card-advantage deck hiding in a traditionally aggro tribe.
  • So, should you play UG Merfolk in Rivals of Ixalan Standard? I think the answer is yes. While we certainly don't have the optimal list yet, the tribe felt powerful enough to have a real chance of being a tournament-worthy option in the format. If you enjoyed playing Zombies over the summer, Merfolk is likely the perfect Rivals of Ixalan Standard deck for you!
  • One last thing. Have you been brewing with Merfolk in Standard? Leave me your list in the comments—I'd love to see how other builds are working out. Perhaps with our powers and testing combined, we can come up with a solid list for a tribe that has a shot of being among the best in Standard!


Anyway, that's all for today! Don't forget to vote for next week's deck by liking, commenting and subscribing to Instant Deck Tech videos! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggestions in the comments and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at

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