Good Game: Swimming with the Fishes

Good Game: Swimming with the Fishes
by Andrew Hanson

This past weekend, I made the trip up to Phoenix to attend the last PTQ of the season (for me, at least; I won't be able to make any others). Riding so close on the heels of U.S. Nationals, the metagame was set for us: lots of Five Color Cruel Control. Well, the players in Phoenix did not disappoint - that deck was well represented on Saturday.

Of course, that's not what I brought. I battled with my pet deck: Merfolk. Why? Because it's the deck I'm most familiar with and, as I've stated before, I'm not an inherently good Magic player. I need lots of practice with a deck to be able to compete with it. And what with judging at Comic Con, then having to make a road trip up to Flagstaff to help a friend move to Kingman from upper Michigan (I had to pick him up from the Amtrak station there), I didn't have much time to playtest a new deck, much less Merfolk with the new M10 changes.

But, here's the decklist I went with for the PTQ:

My Merfolk DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Glacial Fortress
8 Island
4 Mutavault
3 Mystic Gate
4 Wanderwine Hub

4 Merfolk Sovereign
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Stonybrook Banneret
3 Sygg, River Guide
4 Wake Thrasher

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

Two people that day called this the best card
in my deck.
Okay, there's a few things here that probably need explaining. Let's begin with the land base. Only 23 lands? Yup. I needed an extra spot, and so I cut a land. Normally, that's only done by the insane and the brand new. So how could I justify it? The Ponders. The way they dig is so huge, and it smoothes out my plays like nothing else.

I only need four lands to be operational, though six lands is best. I figured the Ponders will ensure that I hit those four lands, and will help me get to six as well, even with the "low" land count. Plus, I absolutely hate land flooding, as it's just about impossible to come back from a land flood. But the same is not true for land drought (not real jargon...yet).

I know, no Sower of Temptations in the maindeck. That made me sad, too, but I just couldn't find room for them. And I'm not sure if I liked the Merfolk decks that made room for other stuff by cutting the Stonybrook Bannerets. The Bannerets are what let Merfolk explode on turns three or four. And they're one of my best creatures against Faeries. Islandwalk is that important in that matchup. So the Sowers got shunted to the sideboard.

As for Harm's Way in the main, well, it's as good as everyone says. I know there are skeptics out there (I was one of them for a bit), but after playing in one small, unsanctioned four round tournament on Tuesday before the PTQ, I realized this card is nuts for the 'Folk. It not only protects them from Volcanic Fallout (if that's all it did, it'd just be a sideboard card), but it lets them dominate on the battlefield, too. You can actually swing willy-nilly into your opponent's creatures because, if they block, you two-for-one them with the Way.

Onto the sideboard. Silence? I only got to play against Elves! once before the PTQ, and it was rough. Sage's Dousings can't counter stuff that needs to be countered, as the opponent simply has too much mana available. But Silence, well, that card buys me a turn. And that's what seemed most important against Elves!. I always seemed to lose to the deck one turn before I could kill it. With Silence, they won't get that last turn to combo off. Oh, and it also works well against the other combo-ish deck in Standard, the Time Sieve deck.

Not having Burrenton Forge-Tenders in the board made me kind of nervous, but I was running low on room, and I figured that between the Harm's Way and the Reveillarks, I had red decks covered.

That brings us to Sleep. I'm not sure what to say about this card. It's pretty good against Elves! as it lets you whack them, then keeps most of their dudes tapped down to prevent the comboing. But they can still mess with you, or even combo if they have a pair of Nettle Sentinels in play. I don't think it's playable against the mirror, as it's meant for the late game as a finisher, and tapping four mana for something like that on your main phase—your precombat main phase—seems like a bad plan against a deck running Cryptic Commands.

So that leaves monowhite decks, which it is just great against; green; and green/white decks, the latter of which run Gaddock Teeg. Trust me when I tell you that nothing makes me wish I ran Pollen Lullaby over Sleep more than when my opponent drops a Gaddock Teeg.

Doesn't that sound like something that might have happened at the PTQ? Right you are. Let's get to the report: 129 players showed up, which meant we were at the bare minimum to do eight rounds of Swiss.

Match One, vs. Black/White Sanguine Bond

My opponent's deck here was based around Sanguine Bond. The End.

Game one: win.

Game two: win.

Match Results: 1-0-0

Really, I could elaborate, but it was just me beating him with Merfolk while he gained life through Soul Wardens. Wake Thrasher makes him lose that race.

Match Two, vs. Cruel Control

I won the roll here, and had to mull to six. My hand was iffy, but playable. It was something like a Banneret, a Harm's Way, a counter, and three lands. If I hit lands off the top, I would be screwed. But if I hit gas...

I drew a bunch of lands. I tried, I really did. My Banneret got in there for 5 points of damage (I drew a Merfolk Sovereign on turn six). I even had the Harm's Way for his Volcanic Fallout. But he still managed to clear my board, play an Ajani Vengeant, lock me out for a few turns with counter spells while Ajani got to seven, then wasted my lands. Then he played a Cruel Ultimatum. I conceded to save us some time.

Game one: loss.

For boarding, I brought in my Reveillarks and took out my Sage's Dousings (mistake) and one of my Thrashers. Really, I should have been boarding in the other Dousings, too, not taking any out. I'm not sure why I was so dumb this match. Maybe it's my inexperience playing against 5CC, as not many people at our store run it. Maybe I was just brain farting. I don't know.

So much for Reveillark.
I had to mull again, but my hand was decent this time. I came out with a turn two Silvergill Adept into a turn three Merrow Reejerey, and got to hit him for 3 damage. Then he dropped a Great Sable Stag. Turns out, it's a good blocker against the 'Folk. So I played my second Reejerey on my next turn and passed. He played a Jace and passed. I played my Cryptic Command to tap his creatures and then I swung out, killing Jace and dealing 7 to my opponent. Then we kind of stalemated for a few turns.

I had seven lands out and two Wake Thrashers with a Reveillark in hand. I was afraid he was going to play an Ultimatum next turn, so you know what I did? I played out my hand. That way, even if he had a board sweeper, my 'Lark could get back a couple Merfolk. I forgot about Hallowed Burial. Also, I should have rushed him after I played out the Thrashers to at least ensure something was in my bin. But no, I walked into the Burial. Wait, scratch that. I sprinted into that Burial at full speed with my head down.

Needless to say, I lost the game not long after that. I totally blew it. As soon as that Lark was in my hand, I should have been rushing with my 'Folk, accepting the loss to deal just a few more points of damage. Or as soon as the Thrashers were in my hand, I should have ran them out, as they force the Stag to block them. I honestly don't know what I was thinking that game.

Game two: loss.

Match Results: 1-1-0

Well, no more losses if I want a shot at the top eight...

Match Three, vs. Green/White

I hate catching hate for other decks.
I won the roll and, against my better judgment, kept a hand that was a tad bit slow. It didn't have a play until turn three. But that was a Wake Thrasher. My opponent, though, opened on turn two with a Steward of Valeron, and then played a turn three Great Sable Stag. That card is kind of annoying, especially when I'm not running any Path to Exiles.

The game didn't go too poorly for me. I made some lord plays, he Pathed my Thrasher, and I thought I had a good chance at winning. Then he played two more Stags, back to back. Nice. Without a Mutavault, I can't block a Stag, and they cut me down pretty quick.

Game one: loss.

Well, time for boarding. As a white/green deck, Paths will be his only removal, so in go the Sowers. Also, Sleep seems pretty well positioned against this deck, so that went in as well. Out came the Dousings (which was not a mistake here, as he comes out too fast for the Dousing to be much good); two of the Sygg, River Guides as once one is out, it'll probably be untouchable; and a pair of Bannerets, as she would be the worst top deck imaginable in this matchup.

I had a turn two Silvergill Adept into a turn three Merfolk Sovereign, which got in for 3. He came out really slow, and didn't play anything until turn three, though what he played was a Spectral Procession. My next turn, I dropped another Sovereign and swung in for 7 damage. He took it, as he wanted all his tokens to activate his Windbrisk Heights. So he swung, and played a Kitchen Finks from the Heights.

Well, that was a relief. On my next turn, I made the Adept and my Mutavault unblockable and hit him for 8 damage, putting him at 4 life. He drew for his next turn, conceded, then proceeded to complain to the guy next to him that Sovereign could make things unblockable. Did he never play against Merfolk when Lord of Atlantis was in Standard?

Game two: win.

Says no to Cryptic and Sleep.
No change in boarding. He opened with a turn two Steward of Valeron, and I played a Banneret. He had to use the Steward to drop a Stag. Yeesh. But I had a turn three Sower to steal his Steward, which gave me extra mana and a chump blocker against the Stag if I needed it (or I could kill the Stag if I drew a Harm's Way). The game progressed a little slowly, and he eventually landed a Gaddock Teeg, which nulled the Cryptic Command in my hand.

Then he played a Cloudthresher to kill my Sower. But guess what? I had drawn that Harm's Way. Gaddock Teeg died, not my Sower. Also, over this time, I drew well, and over the next two turns, I managed to get three Sovereigns and a Sygg down. But he managed to get down a Cloudgoat Ranger and another Gaddock Teeg, which nulled the Sleep I was about to draw thanks to a Ponder. Screw you, Teeg. So after I dropped my 'Folk, he alpha-struck. He was dead if he didn't, and he could win if I biffed my blocks.

But I didn't. Maybe he thought my Merfolk were small or something, or maybe he was just really desperate, but I took a hit from the Ranger and the Stag, putting me at 6 life, and I killed his Teeg, a Kithkin token, and his other Steward. I let my Banneret die to the Cloudthresher, which meant I still had enough mana up for a Sygg activation should I need it. He knew it, but his only hope was that I'd screw up, and tried to Path one of my guys. Sorry.

My next attack was lethal, so he scooped.

Game three: win.

Match Results: 2-1-0

That one was close, and made me really hate Sleep. If that had been a Pollen Lullaby, I wouldn't have been sweating at all. Instead it felt like my heart was trying to tear its way out of my chest like some alien.

Match Four, vs. Jund aggro

Hard to fight an attrition war against her.
He won the roll here, and had to mull once. But he still opened with a turn two Putrid Leech and a turn three Kitchen Finks. I had a turn two Banneret into a turn three Wake Thrasher, then threw down a Reejerey on my next turn. He didn't see much else for action, and I ran him over. Bad luck on his part.

Game one: win.

As for boarding, in came the 'Larks and the Sage's Dousings, and I pulled all the Bannerets and one of the Thrashers, figuring I'd win this match by a battle of attrition. He opened again with a turn two Leech, but missed a turn three play. His Leech still hit me for 4, though. On turn four he played a Bloodbraid Elf, managing to pull another Leech, and hit me for 7 damage, putting himself down to 16 life.

This whole time, I was just building my board, which consisted of a Reejerey on three, an Adept and another Reejery on four, as well as a Mutavault somewhere in there. When he swung on his next turn, I traded with a Leech and an Elf. Then he dropped more critters, and I followed suit on my turn. I countered his kill spells and set up blocks to be trades; it turned into a war attrition that came to a head on his turn eight.

I had a Reveillark and a Wake Thrasher in play, with four lands untapped. He had three creatures on the board, who had been held off for a turn by the 'Lark. He was still at 16 life from his own Leeches. He had six lands in play, and played a Maelstrom Pulse on my 'Lark. I let it go, and brought back both Reejereys. He tried another Pulse on my Reejereys. I played the Cryptic Command in my hand, countering the Pulse and tapping down his board. The Wake Thrasher, the two Reejereys, and the Mutavault swung in for lethal.

Game two: win.

Match Results: 3-1-0
Match Five, vs. Red/Black Burn

Well, these games went pretty fast. I had to mull to five, which is really bad in this matchup, and then I got stuck on two lands all game. He opened with a turn one Figure of Destiny, a turn two Jund Hackblade, and turn three Boggart Ram-Gang. I managed to last until turn six, making trades and the like, so he got to kill me with a Figure in full Voltron configuration.

Game one: loss.

This + Flame Javelin = 7.
In came the Reveillarks and the Dousings, out came the Bannerets and one Wake Thrasher. I'm still unsure of this. Dousing can be good, but four of them? It may be wiser to pull out just a pair of the Bannerets, and only put in the 'Larks. Of course, I really want Forge-Tender to put in...

I had to mull to six this time, and I opened decently with a turn two Adept. Then I missed land drops again, until turn five, where I hit a three land pocket. I managed to take over the board then (I had a 'Lark down while all he had was a Ram-Gang), but he still had a five card grip and I was at 7 life. So my options became: 1) play a Merfolk and hope he can't burn me out, then go nuts on my next turn with triple Reejerey; or 2) hold back my counters until I could hit one more land, play out a Banneret, and then the rest of my Merfolk a turn later, all the while still having mana up to counter the whole while. I went with the latter.

Five turns, three Cryptics, and eight draws later, I still never saw a sixth land, and he managed to burn me out without ever killing my 'Lark. Here's the one moment where I questioned my 23 lands.

Game two: loss.

Match Results: 3-2-0

There went my hopes of top eight, most likely. It was the bare minimum for 8 rounds, so who knows, maybe some X-2s would make it. Probably not me, as my losses were in the early and middle rounds, but hey, why not try?

Match Six, vs. Time Sieve

A clear signal of what he's playing.
We both had to mull to six, and he won the roll. He just opened with a Borderpost on one, and then an Elsewhere Flask on two. I opened with a Banneret on two, a Reejerey on three, and two Sovereigns on four. So, by the end of that turn, after I attacked with my Banneret, Reejerey, and Mutavault, I had him down to 5 life.

He fogged my next attack (leading with a Silence to stop any counters), then tried to Cryptic Command my guys tapped the round after. But I had a Cryptic for his and he scooped.

Game one: win.

Out came the Harm's Way (does he run anything that can deal damage to my creatures?) and two Syggs; in came the Silences and the extra Sage's Dousings. My opening hand was Banneret, Merrow Reejerey, Sovereign, Silence, Silence, Ponder, Island. Screw it. I ain't scared. I kept.

He opened the same way as last game, and I drew a non-land and played my Ponder. What do I see on top? A third Silence, a Mystic Gate, and a Glacial Fortress. Hello, land. He played an Elsewhere Flask again, so I played my Banneret on turn two. On his turn three, he dropped a Time Sieve and missed his land drop. I played my Reejerey, poked him for 2, and passed turn. On his upkeep, I played Silence. He drew, looked at his hand for a minute, and conceded.

I didn't even make it to my turn four.

Game two: win.

Match Results: 4-2-0

Match Seven, vs. Mirror

The fuse for the bomb.
It was bound to happen. There were quite a few Merfolk decks floating around (hah!) that day. He won the roll, and we both kept our seven. When he opened with an Island and passed turn, I got suspicious. When I did the same, he groaned. He played a Banneret on turn two, and I did the same. Then he dropped a Sygg, and for some reason didn't poke me. I dropped Merrow Reejerey next, and hit him for 2. Then I played two Silvergill Adepts that same turn. God, you have to love the Banneret.

He played a Sower and stole my Reejery, then hit me for 3. I swung out, hitting him for 5 (he could only block Adepts, which would have traded), and then played my own Sygg to kill his. On his turn, he dropped a Thrasher and another Sygg, then came in with the Reejerey, the Banneret, and the Sower. I played Harm's Way, killing off his Sower.

On my next turn, I played another Sygg to kill his, then another Sygg to have my own, and swung for a bunch. He counter-swung with his Thrasher, which hurt, but I took it rather than blocking and leaving any of my fish vulnerable to a Sower. He dropped a few 'Folk to play defense with then and passed turn. On my turn, I went to declare attackers, and he played Cryptic Command, choosing to tap my guys and bounce my Mutavault.

Now, some of you may remember this from my States report a while back, as something similar happened in the finals. Only this time, I caught it. In response to the Cryptic, I animated Mutavault and had Sygg give him protection from blue. As the Command's only target was now illegal, the whole spell fizzled. My guys didn't tap down, and I killed him.

Game one: win.

Great if you have Merfolk out. Otherwise, not so much.
As for boarding, I wanted the Sowers in, so two Wake Thrashers came out and one Sage's Dousing. I really didn't want to pull a counter in case he was putting Sleep in (he was), but at the same time, I didn't want to yank a Sygg, either, as my own Syggs functioned as spot removal. So out came a counter.

He mulled once and kept a hand that he showed obvious displeasure with. I liked my seven. Turn one, he dropped Mutavault. He hit me with the 'Vault on his next turn. I just played an Adept on turn two. He played a Glacial Fortress tapped on his next turn and held his land back. I played a Reejerey and got in for 3. He did nothing on his next turn.

Ah, I know those hands that he kept. I won't keep them. They're all counters, which means you don't actually play Magic with your opponent. You just get beaten by their early drops while you hold counters. Well, on my next turn, I played another Adept to draw out his Dousing, and it did. I followed up with a Merfolk Sovereign (gotta love that Reejerey) and hit him for 7. He played a Sygg on his next turn to block with, and I played my own on my turn, killing his only blocker and leaving him open for the 10 I had on the board.

Game two: win.

Match Results: 5-2-0

You just can't keep those no-Merfolk hands. It's bad.

Match Eight, vs. Jund

He won the roll and we both kept seven. He opened with a turn two Leech, and played a Hellspark Elemental on his next turn, plus a Lightning Bolt to kill my blocker (a Banneret). I took 7 on turn three. Ouch.

I also got stuck on two land. He played a Sign in Blood and another Hellspark Elemental (not unearthed the first one) and came in. I used a Harm's Way to send two damage to him. Next turn, he just unearthed both Elementals and punched me in the face.

Game one: loss.

Still awesome, even with the M10 rules change.
I did the same boarding as I did for the other Jund matchup (pull the Bannerets and one Wake Thrasher, put in the 'Larks and the Dousings), and got to keep my seven. I had my turn two Adept; he had his turn two Leech. I dropped a lord and had to wait a turn for him to hit me with the Leech so I could get in with my Adept. Sadly, he had the kill spell for my lord. Whatever. I played a Sovereign and passed turn. On his turn, he dropped a Bloodbraid Elf and cascaded into a Fallout. He pumped the Leech so as not to kill it, but I used a Harm's Way to save my Merfolk and finish the Leech off anyway. His Elf still hit for three.

I played another Sovereign and let him go. He hit me with an Anathemancer for 4 and attacked with his Elf into my Adept. I traded. He played a Thoughtsieze after, but my hand was almost spent by this point. The Thoughtsieze, though, brought him to 10 life. I couldn't really do anything on my turn, as I didn't want to swing into his 'Mancer and kill it, making it unearthable. He played another Anathemancer on his turn (bringing me down to 3) and swung with the first one (down to 1). My turn, I called it: Cryptic Command off the top. It was. I tapped down his blockers and swung for 10 with my two Sovereigns and a Mutavault.

Game two: win.

Game three, he had to mull once, and neither of us made a turn two play, though I did get to hit him with my Mutavault. He dropped Ram-Gang on turn three. I dropped a Reejerey. He hit me with the Ram-Gang again, and dropped Anathamancer. I played a Sovereign and another 'Folk on my turn, and hit with the Reejerey for three. He came in with the Ram-Gang again, and I traded with my non-lord Merfolk. Then he dropped a second 'Mancer, putting me at 8 life.

I dropped a Thrasher and Banneret on my next turn and held my ground. He dropped a sixth land and played a Blightning followed by a third Anathamancer, putting me down to 2 and draining his hand. Then he passed turn, and I forgot to tap my one untapped land to pump the Thrasher some extra, which mattered.

Three is a lot.
So I untapped, and my Wake Thrasher became a 9/9 instead of the 10/10 it should have been. I also had a 3/3 Sovereign, a 3/3 Reejerey, and a 3/3 Banneret down, plus a Mutavault that could become 4/4. He was at 15 life. My draw: Silvergill Adept. Now, if my Thrasher had been 10/10, I could have made him unblockable, played the Adept for four, untapped my Sovereign, making the Thrasher 11/11, then made my Mutavault unblockable, which would have been lethal. But instead, I was one short.

Well, maybe I could draw into the win. I made my Thrasher unblockable, chose to untap my Sovereign for whatever reason, and left myself with a Mutavault and a dual land up. Had I been thinking, I would have realized that the only way to get to lethal would have been by drawing another lord—my Thrasher was 10/10 now, and another lord would have not only made him 12/12 (the +1/+1 and the untap from the Reejerey), but it would have made the Banneret or the Reejerey a 4/4. Thus, I should have at least left two colored up, but really I should have untapped a land with the Reejerey, not the Sovereign, to leave three colored mana up. If I needed another lord, the lord play would have recharged the Sovereign.

I drew a Ponder. Well, whatever. I hit with my Thrasher for 10 damage, and then played Ponder. You know what was in those top three cards? Another Sovereign. I could've won that turn. Grr.

But, my opponent didn't have the game just yet. If he drew a land, it was all over, because he could just swing in with his Anathamancers, watch them all die, play a land, then unearth one to kill me. So I crossed my fingers while he drew his card all slowly and with a flourish. Putrid Leech. Yah.

He couldn't kill me that turn, and my Thrasher was more than enough to finish him off on his next turn. Talk about your all time luck-sacks.

Game three: win.

Match Results: 6-2-0

I felt a little bad. Really, he deserved that match off my horrid misplays at the end of the third game. I mean, it was like I was trying to pitch that game.

When the Swiss rounds ended, I was 15th place. Not too shabby, though I was still a bit sore that I didn't make top eight. Especially since it was my last chance to do so with Merfolk in Standard. But, that said, I wouldn't have switched deck choices if I could do it all again. The only thing I think I would have changed is I would have swapped Sleep for Pollen Lullaby, and maybe tried to fit at least a pair of Burrenton Forge-Tenders into the sideboard.

So what do I do for my next article? Well, for those of you who still have a PTQ or two left in the season, I could keep playing with Merfolk, as I play in two Standard tournaments a week, and let you know what changes I make to it (that article would be coming out on the 21st of August). Or, I could do some drafting and tell you about that. Let me know what you want to see in the forums!


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