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Top 8 with Merfolk: SCG Indianapolis

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Scott Muir gives us an event report on how he earned 3rd place at this past weekend's StarCityGames Legacy open event, including how he sideboarded for each matchup and what he would consider for future changes in the deck.

I have been running Merfolk for the past two years. While some might question my logic for staying with Merfolk for so long if it hadn’t produced any real results, the truth is that it is the only deck that I completely understand. I know exactly when to mulligan, when to get into a counter war, how to correctly play Force of Will, and how to sideboard.

In short, it is the deck I am comfortable with.

3rd place at a StarCityGames.com Legacy Open
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States on 2011-06-05

I was asked to write this tournament report two days after the Legacy Open. Combine that with the fact that I was pretty much off in my own world the entire day, I simply can’t remember everything that happened. While not every detail is still with me, I would like to share with you the matchups I played against and any significant plays that stuck around in my head.

Round 1: U/W Stoneforge

Game One: I came into this tournament being told only two things: That Goblins was dead and, thanks to [card]Mental Misstep[card], my matchup against Zoo was reasonably winnable. I wasn’t aware of any other changes in the metagame.

So when I saw my opponent play a Stoneforge Mystic fetching up Batterskull, I knew I had no idea what this deck was. After the initial surprise, the deck just seemed like a basic Legacy control deck. It played Swords to Plowshares/Path to Exile, 10+ counterspells, and some Mishra's Factory.

Fortunately for me, Merfolk thrives in control-heavy matchups. I was able to pump out more creatures than he had removal for while outracing his Batterskull.

Sideboard:
-1 Umezawa's Jitte
-1 Echoing Truth
-4 Aether Vial
+3 Null Rod
+3 Pithing Needle to keep Stoneforge Mystics, Equipment, and Mishra's Factory in check.

Game Two: He still managed to play a turn two Stoneforge picking up a Batterskull. After that, I started drawing my sideboard and slowly worked my way around the singular threat of Batterskull to start the day off with a 1-0 record.

Record: 1-0

Round 2: Naya Stoneforge

Game One: A pretty standard Merfolk beatdown. My opponent got up Stoneforge/Batterskull, but I had too many lords on the field to care about a 4/4.

Game Two: He assembled the Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire combo turn 3. I missed my third land drop, which prevented me from getting a second lord onto the battlefield to protect my guys. I saw no Relics or Wastelands to stop the combo. I scooped shortly after.

Game Three: I drew ten lands while he beat me down. Again, saw none of my sideboard. Wasn’t looking good for the rest of the day.

Record: 1-1

Round 3: Death and Taxes

Game One: My opponent played Karakas into Mother of Runes. I instantly knew what he was playing and hoped I could kill him before he got anything going. My deck granted me my wish and set me up with a single Daze for his Stoneforge Mystic and every other draw being creatures. I swung in for around 40 on turn five.

Game Two: My opponent kept a one-land hand and drew dead.

Record: 2-1

Round 4: Tendrils Storm

Game One: He played Underground Sea into Ponder, so I knew I was up against Storm. Fortunately I had Daze and Force of Will for his critical spells. He scooped on turn four.

Sideboard:
-4 Aether Vial
-2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
-1 Sower of Temptation
-1 Merrow Reejerey
+4 Relic
+3 Null Rod
+1 Umezawa's Jitte
I didn’t know if he played Empty the Warrens, which is why I left the Echoing Truth in the Deck.

Game Two: He just couldn’t get around a turn one Cursecatcher. (It was my only counter) He lost four turns later to my creatures.

Record: 3-1

Round 5: Zoo

Game One: Mental Misstep was my hero, countering a turn one Grim Lavamancer. After that I had a very creature heavy hand which allowed me to outrace Zoo.

Game Two: A little less tricky as I stole his Qasali Pridemage with Mind Harness and was able to overpower all his subsequent creatures.

Record: 4-1

Round 6: Merfolk (Feature Table)

This was my first ever feature table and I was pretty nervous, more so than average for the day.

Game One: I landed both Aether Vial and Umezawa's Jitte. It wasn’t long before I overpowered his defenses.

Game Two was an absolute blow out. I, again, got a turn one Vial. By turn three I had three Lord of Atlantis on the battlefield. The fourth one was in my hand which I pitched to a Force of Will to stop his Sower of Temptation.

Record: 5-1

Round 7: U/W Stoneforge

By this point I had a strong urge to burn every single Stoneforge Mystic I could get my hands on. I dislike Standard and I sort of hate that fact that it’s becoming the new Legacy.

But I powered through three Stoneforge decks before this, so I decided I could do it again.

There was very little variation between what happened here and in round one.

Sideboard:
-1 Umezawa's Jitte
-1 Echoing Truth
-4 Aether Vial
+3 Null Rod
+3 Pithing Needle to keep Stoneforge Mystics, Equipment, and Mishra's Factory in check.

Record: 6-1

Round 8: Merfolk (Feature Table)

Again, playing against Merfolk at the feature table.

Game One: Kind of one-sided. We both got out Vials, but I had twice as many creatures as he did. I top decked a Lord of Atlantis to get all my guys through for the win.

This game came down to the wire.
We again both got Vials.
We both had creatures.
I eventually drew into my Sower of Temptation, tipping the scale to let me win.

Record: 7-1

Round 9: UWGR Ancestral Visions

Since I lost in Round 2, my tie-breakers were bad and there was no way I could draw with my opponent into Top 8. I felt bad for my opponent because his deck gave him the worst two games he had ever seen.

Game One: He suspended Ancestral Vision turn one and then just played land turns two and three and died on turn four.

No sideboard.

Game Two: Almost the exact same thing. I didn’t see a single creature or counterspell either game.

Record: 8-1 and onto Top 8!

Quarterfinals: RUG Tempo

A very detailed coverage of this match can be found here.

Record: 9-1

Semifinals: Reanimator

My opponent this round was the same person that I rode to the tournament with.

We were both sad that we had to face each other before the finals, but being friends didn’t deter us from playing our best and at our luckiest.

I won game one.

Then he won games two and three.

I didn’t see a single Relic of Progenitus, also having his own counter backup for every reanimation combo he fired off.

Again, more detailed coverage can be found here.

Record: 9-2

Overall...

I ended the day in 3rd place. I felt pretty good about my first Top 8. After eleven grueling rounds, I think I can discuss potential changes to the deck.

First off, I’m sure many of you noticed the Echoing Truth in the mainboard. It replaced one of the maindeck Jittes (the equipment that’s ALWAYS good) and pushed it to the sideboard. That was, literally, a last-minute change. The reason for this is because Merfolk absolutely LOSES to Ensnaring Bridge. I didn’t want to lose any games that way. It also gives you a maindeck chance at "counterspelling" a Llawan that hit the board earlier in the game. It can also be an Unsummon when you need it. That being said, I saw neither Llawan, Cephalid Empress nor Ensnaring Bridge the entire day. It was an experiment that didn’t hurt the deck. That spot would have been equally filled by a Merfolk Sovereign, another land, or the second Jitte.

There have been a few popular changes to Merfolk that I’ve copied myself. The first are the two mainboarded Kira, Great-Glass Spinners. They were amazing all day. She probably won me four games because my opponent couldn’t kill my creatures, or simply because of her 2/2 flying body.

The second popular change is the addition of a Sower of Temptation. This card won me the game two out of three times it was played. I don’t think I really need to explain this. The creature advantage is just too good. I could reasonably see someone playing two in the deck, but no more. It is too hard to cast Sower of Temptation reliably, so you only want to draw it once in a while.

Now to talk about my sideboard. Relic of Progenitus is the best graveyard removal spell available for Merfolk. I qualify it as such because it deals with some of Merfolk’s biggest threats (Tarmogoyf, Grim Lavamancer, and Knight of the Reliquary) while also providing great use against Dredge, 43 Land, Stax, and Reanimator.

Null Rod is also an auto-include in any good sideboard. It beats equipment, Mishra's Factory, Affinity, MUD, Storm, and Belcher.

Pithing Needle is another card that is just plain good against most of the metagame. Important cards I named with it this tournament were Mishra's Factory, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Mother of Runes, and Grim Lavamancer.

Mind Harness is there simply to help win the Zoo matchup. The second Echoing Truth and Umezawa's Jitte were to be sided in as necessary.

With the growing popularity of NO RUG (and now probably Reanimator) I would throw in a couple Llawan, Cephalid Empress so that you can bounce Progenitus, Jin Gitaxias, Core Augur and Stormtide Leviathan, on top of being great in the mirror.

Thanks for reading!

5 thoughts on “Top 8 with Merfolk: SCG Indianapolis

    1. Mind harness and Vedalken shackles are played for very different reasons. I bring in Mind Harness in order to win the Zoo matchup. Since speed is a very big factor in this matchup, it goes without saying that I can't spend all of my mana for a turn on Vedalken Shackles without any immediate benefit. Turn three/four is the critical point against Zoo that determines if I can survive or lose. Mind Harness can also target a Quasali Pridemage, and there's nothing they can do about it (unless you have another artifact out).

      Vedalken Shackles is a card that would be good for longer games (i.e. versus control, where you're guaranteed to lay down a relevant number of islands), but Merfolk is already good in the control matchup.

      – Scott Muir –

  1. We've playtested that matchup a thousand times against each other, and I frequently lose to him Wastelanding me even one time. The Pithing Needles would have been like 3 more Wasteland for him— I run just 17 land, and his Cursecatchers+Dazes already trip me up.
    It was a gamble on Scott's part, but it could have wrecked me.

  2. I'll be honest with you, I really don't know what I did against the U/W Stoneblade decks. Sunday was the first time I had ever seen it, so I can guarantee you that I tried several different sideboarding options throughout the day. The main reason I suggested taking out the Aether Vials is because Force of Will were still in the main deck, and I wanted to make sure I could always use it. The second reason is that they become dead once Null Rod hits the field.

    I also know that some games I kept in my Echoing Truth (even siding in my second one), and they provided a fair amount of benefit against a Batterskull or a turn two Stoneforge (yes, they got a second equipment, but it slowed them down an entire turn.)

    To answer your second question. I wish I could take the credit for what Kyle Kloster said about my Pithing Needles. The truth is that the other cards I took out do absolutely nothing in the Reanimator matchup. I decided that hoping for a turn 1 or 2 Pithing Needle was strictly better than having a dead card in hand.

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