Good Game: Sing 'Em a Lullaby, Put 'Em to Sleep

Good Game: Sing 'Em a Lullaby, Put 'Em to Sleep
by Andrew Hanson

Hello readers, and welcome back to Good Game, where I apparently discuss Merfolk decks almost exclusively. Maybe I should have come up with something evocative of the fish for my column title...

Last time I showed you how I evolved my Standard Merfolk deck to its most current form, and that hasn't changed... sort of. There was one facet of that deck that a number of people, both in the forums on this site and at the local card shop, didn't like. They thought I was trying to be cute, or that I was leaving my deck underpowered. What am I talking about? Pollen Lullaby over Sleep.

For those of you unfamiliar with my deck, here's the list:

My Murmaider!Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Glacial Fortress
8 Island
4 Mutavault
2 Mystic Gate
4 Wanderwine Hub

4 Merfolk Sovereign
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept
2 Sower of Temptation
4 Stonybrook Banneret
2 Sygg, River Guide
2 Wake Thrasher

4 Cryptic Command
4 Harm's Way
4 Ponder
4 Sage's Dousing

So, so many games...
Now, Sleep is obviously a beating. You tap down their force, jack them in the face, don't have to worry about a counter-swing, then jack them again. It's savage. So why wouldn't I play with it?

Well, let me explain. I've been playing this deck, in its varying forms, for a long while now, continuing even after Lord of Atlantis rotated out of Standard—when a lot of people called the deck dead. It wasn't.

And during this time, I cannot tell you how many games against white and/or green decks came down to a Pollen Lullaby. I would be staring across the board at a monster force of Kithkin and Spirit tokens, or a horde of angry—and big—Elves, and on my turn, I'd play out a fish or two, leaving two land up, one of which could produce white mana. My opponent would then swing for what was most certainly a win, I'd play Pollen Lullaby, and then I'd get to witness disbelieving or disgusted expressions before being offered a concession.

So, again, why not run Sleep? I mean, I don't have to wait for them to attack, right? I just get a few fish down, hit them with a Sleep, and march to victory. I don't have to be tricky; I don't have to wait for them to attack. Well, it all comes down to timing, which is tied to mana cost. Sleep has a converted mana cost of 4, while Pollen Lullaby's is only 2. In those games where I had to throw down some Merfolk and Pollen Lullaby, I could do it because it's not that hard to play a few guys and have two lands up. But play some guys and still have four up? Yeesh.

One R up is a scary thing.
Of course, why do I have to play Merfolk and Sleep in the same turn? Are opponents really killing me that fast that I need to play Sleep by turn four? Not usually, no. But that doesn't mean my opponents aren't killing my Merfolk off as the game goes on. Typically, if I get to develop my board for the first four turns unmolested, things are ending badly for my opponent anyway. But with the advent of Lightning Bolt, it's become very easy and efficient for my opponent to sizzle my turn three Merrow Reejerey. Thus, against some decks, it becomes important for me to be able to play Merfolk and stop their creature rushes at the same time.

Which brings us to the crux of the argument: what decks am I going up against that I prefer the Lullaby over Sleep? That question is actually a lot harder to answer. In fact, I wasn't able to answer it, so I decided to do the scientific thing: research. Of course, for us Magic players, that means playtesting.

Over the course of two tournaments at the local shop, I ran two different versions of Merfolk (only two tournaments due to a friend's bachelor party in Las Vegas). In the first tournament, I ran the list above. In the second, I switched the three Pollen Lullabies for Sleeps. In both tournaments, I kept track of when I used each card, and which card I would have preferred when I drew whichever one I was using at the time.

Tournament One, Running Pollen Lullaby

For my first matchup, I went up against a four color ramp deck that culminates in Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. I think I might have mentioned this deck before. Either way, it's irrelevant for this article because I didn't board in the Lullaby, and I wouldn't board in Sleep.

My second matchup was against Jund Aggro. In fact, it was the deck I built for my wife (for a decklist, see the bottom of this article). She wasn't playing it, though. A friend from out of town was visiting that weekend and she let him use it.

Back to the matchup. This one is tricky, let me tell you. Jund Aggro can play like two different archetypes, beatdown or control, which is why some people call it midrange—though I think that's a bit of a misnomer. This deck starts its beats early and keeps them up all game, using its removal to keep its creatures, which are already the best ones in Standard, top dog on the board. And those creatures all tend to be great topdecks, too, giving the deck a good late game. Makes boarding tricky.

Turns out, it loses to Harm's Way
I won game one. His hand was creature light, but fairly burn heavy (two Volcanic Fallouts and a Lightning Bolt), which was terrible against my hand: a heavy fish draw which included a pair of Silvergill Adepts that helped me draw into all four Harm's Ways. His Fallouts never cleared my board.

For boarding, I pulled out the Sower of Temptations (too easy to burn away), the Sage's Dousings (they play stuff too quickly for this to hit important cards), the Stonybrook Bannerets (without the Dousings and Sowers, she's just a 1/1 for 2), and one Wake Thrasher (easy to kill three-drop, even if he can be awesome). I put in my Burrenton Forge-Tenders (he can block about half their creatures as well as stop a Bolt from killing me), my Reveillarks (er, duh), my Path to Exiles (Putrid Leech, Kitchen Finks, Anathemancer, Demigod of Revenge?!), and a pair of Pollen Lullabies.

Why the Lullabies? This is what I was talking about above. They can come out quickly, use efficient burn to screw with my board, and put creature-pressure on. I figured I needed to be able to play out my Merfolk willy nilly (assuming I was safe from a board sweeper) and still be able to stall them for a turn.

Game two, he was on the play, saw the perfect blend of creatures and burn, and I didn't have a prayer. It was a total blowout. Game three, he had to mull to five, and we both had decent starts. I had two Adepts, which he took out with a Maelstrom Pulse. I didn't mind though, as I had a third Adept and a pair of Reveillarks. I actually just did Lark beats that game for the win.

I never saw a Pollen Lullaby, so I can't say for sure which card I would have preferred at the time. I do think that, in the abstract, it is better against Jund Aggro than Sleep. Of course, then there's the argument that neither should be played against Jund Aggro, and I really can't refute that. I'm beginning to think it myself.

This cards has been in Standard forever.
My next matchup was against the Giantbaiting deck, which really tickles me as I tried to make it work back when Time Spiral was still in Standard. You know, before Bloodbraid Elf and Lightning Bolt made it good.

These games didn't go well for him. I think he didn't mulligan when he should have, because both games (I won, 2-0) he played a turn one Nettle Sentinel and nothing on turns two and three. That makes it kind of easy for me.

But, for boarding, I put in my Forge-Tenders and Pollen Lullabies, pulling the Dousings and Sowers. I did see a Lullaby this time, but it didn't matter; I didn't need to play it. However, I would have kept the Lullaby over the Sleep in this matchup. Sleep doesn't do much against Giantbaiting, while Lullaby can be a trump to it. That said, I kind of wish I'd had more challenging games here, as it would have yielded better data.

My next matchup was against Jund Aggro again, but this one was a little different from my wife's, as it didn't run the Demigods and it ran Blightning. Game one, I got hosed on a white mana source until too late, and he wrecked my face. My boarding was the same as above.

Game two, I got to open with a Forge-Tender, and came into double Reveillarks at turns five and six. It was a good game for me. Game three was a close one. Again, I got a bit screwed an a white source, but not as bad as game one. When I finally did get it, I started to make plays that kept me alive, and when I got a second one, I was able to start rebuilding my board.

At one point, he swung out with two Putrid Leeches, a Bloodbraid Elf, and a Kitchen Finks. I blocked a Leech and the Elf with my two Adepts (my only creatures) and he pumped both Leeches. That put me from 9 life to 2, and he tried to finish it with a Lightning Bolt. I used my Harm's Way to kill the Leech that I blocked. He followed up with a second Finks.

On my turn, I had no creatures out (except a Mutavault) and I played my sixth land, which gave me a third white source. That left me a Sygg, River Guide, a Harm's Way, a Reveillark, and a Pollen Lullaby in hand. I played Sygg and had to pass turn. Now here's where I again would rather have Pollen Lullaby. Why?

I needed to get creatures down to block his guys. Granted, I could have played Sygg and Sleep, but that would have left me tapped down and open to a Fallout, or left Sygg open to a Maestrom Pulse. With a Pollen Lullaby, I was able to nullify his attack, and still have a W up to activate Sygg or play my Harm's Way.

Turns out, it deals just as much damage as a
Lightning Bolt.
He hit a few blank draws, and I drew a land, played Lark, then drew another land. On my last turn, I drew a Wake Thrasher and played it, praying he was going to hit anything but a Lightning Bolt or Anathemancer (I hadn't seen him play a Blightning yet) on his next turn, as my Thrasher would be lethal. He drew, tapped three mana, and laid a Blightning down. Argh. My Harm's Way couldn't keep me alive, though he only had me at 2 life on his sheet (instead of 1 life), and were it a Competitive REL, I may have shown him the Way and tried to bluff him into conceding before the Blightning resolved.

My next match after that was against a monogreen ramp-aggro deck. It uses turn one accelerators to get to a turn two Boggart Ram-Gang, and early turn other bigguns. Game one, I came out fast and he got land-flooded. As for boarding, I pulled my Dousings, as his deck is the poster child for decks that come out too fast for Dousing. I also pulled Harm's Way, as all his creatures are massive, and Harm's Way will never kill them. I put in my two extra Sowers, my Path to Exiles, and my Pollen Lullabies.

He came out with a turn two Great Sable Stag into a turn four Primalcrux. I didn't see any Sowers so I didn't last long. The worst: I had a lord-heavy hand. If I could have drawn a Pollen Lullaby the turn before he killed me, I could have dropped my hand and still had enough to stop his game-winning swing. I could have won.

The same is true for Sleep, though. I already had a Reejerey and a Merfolk Sovereign on the board, so instead of dropping my hand I could have made him Sleep and hit him for a good chunk. Then, on the next turn, I could have gone nuts, used Reejerey to tap down the one or two creatures he would have played, and finished him off. Either one would have been nice.

On the one-lander!
The third game, neither card mattered. Here's why: I kept a hand that was two Silvergill Adepts, a Merfolk Sovereign, two Sower of Temptations, a Ponder, and an Island. Wait! It's not over yet. I played my turn one Ponder and saw a Mutavault and two non-lands. I put the Mutavault on top and drew it. His turn one, he played a Noble Heirarch.

My turn two, I drew the first non-land, played the Mutavault and the Adept, drawing up the second non-land. His turn two, he laid a Forest, played Rampant Growth to get another Forest, and didn't attack with Heirarch. My turn three, I drew a non-land. Poop. I played my second Adept and drew a land. Yah. I played it, hit him for 2 with the Adept, and passed turn. His turn three, he dropped a fourth Forest, tapped all the land and his Heirarch, and dropped a Deus of Calamity.

If I didn't rip the land, I could have dropped the Sovereign and traded the two Adepts for his Deus. It'd suck, but it'd be necessary. I needed to buy time to get to my fourth land.

Of course, on turn four, I drew and saw an Island. I slapped that thing down and threw down my Sower, taking his Deus and hitting him for 4 with the fish. He groaned, drew, and played a Boartusk Liege on his turn. When I stole that with my second Sower, he conceded. Go go one-lander!

That was my run with Pollen Lullaby. I never needed a card to break a stalemate, and the two times I saw it, I would have taken it over Sleep. Of course, there was that theoretical tie, but does that count? Probably. Either way, that's not enough testing, right? I had to run with Sleep.

Tournament Two, Running Sleep

Like I said before, the only difference between the decklist above and the list I ran for this tournament was that I traded the three Pollen Lullabies for three Sleeps.

My first matchup was against Faeries, which means it's irrelevant for this article. Neither Pollen Lullaby nor Sleep go in against the Fae. I up my Sower count to fight them, and it turns out when you play back to back Sowers, both of which get killed by an Agony Warp, it's pretty strong to evoke a Reveillark and bring them both back.

My second matchup was against Elves!, and let me tell you... well, you'll see. Game one, I kept a one-lander with a Ponder in it. I didn't see any lands so I shuffled, and drew a Wanderwine Hub off the top. But I didn't see anymore land after that. Hey, you play with fire, and you're bound to get burned once in a while. Do the pros play with fire?

For boarding, out came the Sage's Dousings, as they are awful in this matchup; and the Harm's Ways. In came the three Sleeps, the three Paths, and the two extra Sowers. Game two, he was pretty pleased with how good his hand was, but I'm not one to get scared by talk. When they drop a turn-two kill, I get scared. But that didn't happen. I opened with a turn two Banneret, and he didn't have anything on turns one and two. What the heck was he so pleased with?

It loses to Sleep!
Turn three, I dropped a Reejerey and hit him for 2 with my Banneret. His turn three, he dropped a Great Sable Stag. Ah. Now I get it. My turn four, though, I dropped a Merfolk bomb. He played a second Stag on his next turn, and I ripped Sleep on turn five. Game! No way I'd take a Pollen Lullaby over Sleep in this case.

Game three, he opened with a Llanowar Elves. On his turn two, he pinged me for 1 and played a Nettle Sentinel. I played a turn-two Banneret. He played a turn-three Sable Stag. That thing is annoying. I played some more 'Folk on turn three, and he played Garruk Wildspeak on turn four, making a Beast token. So on my turn four, I played a free Adept, a second Reejerey, and stole the Beast token with a Sower. Then I killed Garruk, as his Stag was tapped from hoofing me. I think he blanked on his next turn, and when it came back to me, I played Sleep. Game, again.

Damn, that card is like Cryptic Command, but better (okay, okay, it's better than one-quarter of a Cryptic Command).

My next matchup was against, um, I'm not sure. It was Esper-colored, but not Esper. I'm really not sure what it was. The only creature he played was a Deft Duelist, and he used a few Unsummons to mess with me. But it was slow, and it ran Islands, which make Bannerets and Sygg a lot better. I didn't bother boarding against it.

My last matchup was against the Warp World deck. That deck is cool, and kind of scary. But you don't board Sleep in against it, so it isn't really relevant.

Final Tally

And the winner is...wait, what?
Damn Gatherer for being down!
Well, that was two votes for Pollen Lullaby, one for Sleep, and a draw. However, Sleep won 100% of votes while it was in my deck, while Pollen Lullaby only won 66% (if we count the theoretical draw). The verdict? I like both cards. Really, though, I think the verdict is going towards Sleep.

Why? It broke the game. Pollen Lullaby can steal a win, but Sleep made it so it wasn't even a steal. It was just mine. Plus, as I said before, against decks that don't mess with my board much, Sleep is better because I'll have time to develop and then drop the Sleep on my opponent. Also, it punches through Stag defenses.

Against the decks that mess with my board in the early game, I'm probably better off boarding in Larks and Path to Exiles and trying to beat them at the attrition game than trying to use the Lullaby. Of those two times I had Pollen Lullaby, it never actually won me a game.

I only have two more articles before Zendikar hits the streets (though the last one will be published the day of the release). If you want me to take some more notes on Sleep vs. Pollen Lullaby, or you just want more fish, let me know. If you want something else, I'm game. Oh, and just so you know, the Orb of Insight has twelve instances of the word "Merfolk" in Zendikar. If you figure once in the type line, and once in the name, and/or one in the text, that could be anywhere from four to six new Merfolk. Maybe more. Who knows? Maybe the fish will carry on...

Extra Stuff

Both because I referenced it in my article, and because a poster in the forums was right that our site really doesn't have anyone talking about/exploring Standard (aside from Merfolk), I'm giving you a little extra at the end of this week's article. Consider it seasoning for your fish.

Kari's Jund AggroMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
2 Dragonskull Summit
2 Forest
4 Mountain
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Rootbound Crag
4 Savage Lands
2 Swamp
4 Twilight Mire

4 Anathemancer
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Great Sable Stag
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Putrid Leech

2 Jund Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Maestrom Pulse
2 Volcanic Fallout

The core of this deck is solid. And by that, I mean its creature base plus Lightning Bolt and Maelstrom Pulse. Maindeck Stag is cool, but could be put in the board. Most decks like this don't run the Demigod and run Boggart Ram-Gang instead, but I really like the Demigod. He is one of the best topdecks, and can miraculously end a game that you were going to lose.

Now, White Weenies and Merfolk are pretty popular at our store, hence the abundance of board sweepers in multiple colors. Also, Makeshift Mannequin has recently become a bit popular, hence the addition of both Jund Charms and Thought Hemorrhages, the latter of which is also good against combo decks and 5CC (hitting their Broodmate Dragons or Baneslayer Angels should buy you the time you need to win).

This deck does really well and (I think) doesn't have any bad matchups. If I'm missing something out there, let me know in the forums.

I wanted to show one more list before I go:

Giantbaiting, as suggested by Mike FloresMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
8 Forest
8 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag

4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Bramblewood Paragon
2 Imperious Perfect
4 Nettle Sentinel
2 Twinblade Slasher
4 Wren's Run Vanquisher

4 Giantbaiting
4 Flame Javelin
4 Lightning Bolt

This deck is nice in a format dominated by blue, especially Faeries and 5CC. It's fast; its god hand knocks an opponent down to 6 life by turn three. Although the Jund Aggro deck above is also good against the blue decks, and has better game against pretty much all other decks than this one, Giantbaiting is much much much much much (get it yet?) cheaper to make. It sports only eight rare lands, none of which are above double digits in price, and the maindeck is all commons and uncommons. It's a nice alternative to the billion dollar decks that seem to dominate Standard right now.


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