Merfolk in Rivals of Ixalan Standard

The Ixalan block focused heavily on the vampire, merfolk, pirate, and dinosaur tribe. Merfolk, unfortunately, ended falling behind given a low member pool and limited support cards in Ixalan Standard. This article discusses how Rivals of Ixalan changes this equation.

After the release of Ixalan, not many people believed that merfolk had much of a chance at becoming a real deck. Even with the new set, Rivals of Ixalan, it was just missing too many cards. While Kumena’s Speaker, Merfolk Branchwalker and Vineshaper Mystic are decent cards, Ixalan did not provide enough merfolk to build a whole deck. Surprisingly, Rivals of Ixalan turned out to have many powerful merfolk, so it seems that there might be enough to produce a viable merfolk deck in Standard. Here are my top 10 merfolk in Rivals of Ixalan.

Top 10 Merfolk in Rivals of Ixalan

  1. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca: The mythic rare is the perfect payoff card for playing a deck full of merfolk. It costs only 3 mana, has a decent body and has 3 relevant abilities. Much like its zombie counterpart, Cryptbreaker, it can take over a game quickly by drawing many cards, but also has two other abilities that can close out a game. Kumena looks like one of the main reasons to play merfolk.
  2. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
  3. Merfolk Mistbinder: Merfolk Mistbinder is exactly what a merfolk deck wants. It's cheap, rewards you for playing a deck full of merfolk and provides fast kills.
  4. Merfolk Mistbinder
  5. Deeproot Elite: Deeproot Elite functions like a better Metallic Mimic because selection has always been good in Magic. You can build a big unblockable merfolk or you can distribute the counters among many merfolk to be safer against removal – you have the choice.
  6. Deeproot Elite
  7. Silvergill Adept: Silvergill Adept is a must play in all merfolk decks. Some decks in standard are playing Merfolk Branchwalker or Dusk Legion Zealot just for value. That shows just how good Silvergill Adept is and it is even better in a deck full of merfolk due synergy.
  8. Silvergill Adept
  9. Jungleborn Pioneer: Jungleborn Pioneer works well with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Deeproot Elite, and Merfolk Mistbinder. Having two bodies (one of them having hexproof) seems to be good against control and red decks too.
  10. Jungleborn Pioneer
  11. Jade Bearer: Bringing two power to the battlefield for just one mana sounds like a good deal. While technically being a one drop, you would rather play Jade Bearer in a turn where you can trigger his ability (for example turn 3 together with a two drop or turn 4 together with a 3 drop).
  12. Jade Bearer
  13. Seafloor Oracle: On the one hand, Seafloor Oracle looks like a card that can quickly take over a game. On the other hand, 4 mana is a lot, a 2/3 body is not that huge, and drawing a card is not guaranteed. When you play some evasion creatures, then one or two Seefloor Oracles could potentially make the cut. Other than that, it looks more like a sideboard card.
  14. Seafloor Oracle
  15. Jadelight Ranger: Jadelight Ranger looks like a decent card that happens to be a merfolk. Even though it does not synergize well with your other merfolk, three mana is a good investment in every scenario: a 2-1 that draws 2 cards; a 3-2 that draws a card with "Scry 1," or a 4-3 that has "Scry 2." Still, there might not be room for Jadelight Ranger in a merfolk deck because the other options at the 3-drop slot look stronger.
  16. Jadelight Ranger
  17. Swift Warden: Swift Warden is a nice, flexible card. It can instantly put a counter on a merfolk with Deeproot Elite in play, can protect other merfolk from removal, or it can be played at the end of the opponents turn to play around counterspells. A 3/3 is a sizeable body for three mana, too. The only problem it has is one it shares with Jadelight Ranger. There are just too many good 3-drops already. At least Swift Warden looks like a good sideboard card against control decks.
  18. Swift Warden
  19. Mist-Cloaked Herald: Mist-Cloaked Herald is more relevant in an aggressive merfolk deck. Evasion is actually quite important to close out a game and with all the +1+1 counters from other merfolk cards, Mist-Cloaked Herald can get pretty big.
  20. Mist-Cloaked Herald

A Sample Merfolk List

This deck tries to get on the board and ahead quickly with merfolk synergy while making some tempo plays in form of Blossoming Defense and Unsummon. Even though Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is legendary, playing four seems fine, since it will die most of the time to a removal spell and, if not, you are often enough in a good spot anyway. The mana base does not allow you to play many spells, because of the low land count and Unclaimed Territory, but Blossoming Defense is absolutely worth playing since it protects your important merfolk for just one mana. Unsummon looks very important for that deck too, since it gives you so much tempo by delaying cards like Glorybringer or The Scarab God. The sideboard options are mainly counterspells to fight through annoying spells like Fumigate. Having only 11 blue sources should be fine, since you do not want to use your counterspells until turn 5 or so.

Conclusions

Wizards really pushed the tribes in Rivals of Ixalan and merfolk got the biggest boost. It seems like merfolk has it all now: good, efficient, cheap creatures compared with powerful payoff cards. Still, three things complicate the viability of the deck. Firstly, the mana base looks a bit weak especially when you want to cast spells post-board. Secondly, merfolk might miss the removal spells they lack. Once the opponent resolves creatures like Glorybringer or Scarab God, it could be very problematic for the merfolk player. The game plan should definitely be to kill the opponent quickly before those cards can take over a game. Post-board, things slow down a bit. With counter backup and card advantage, merfolk can play pretty controlish. Right now, even though some merfolk decks are winning magic online leagues, merfolk only represent 2% of the metagame, but that could change quickly once a good merfolk decklist is established. It could also happen if Wizards stays on-board the ban hype train or when the powerful Kaladesh block rotates out of standard.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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