Something Fishy


As a deck name and archetype, Fish has been around for a while. Though it has not seen a level of tournament success that Legacy's more popular decks have, Fish is nonetheless a deck that many people are familiar with in one way or another. In prehistoric times Fish did indeed run fish. To be specific, Merfolk. It is from this tribe that the archetype received its name. Back in Old Extended the deck had cheap beaters that were backed up by control magic and land disruption.

As with any deck, there are requirements the cards must meet or beat to warrant inclusion. For Fish, it must be cheap while offering a unique and substantial effect. Examples are the pump and Islandwalk evasion provided by Lord of Atlantis, the card filtering given by Merfolk Trader, the free counter that is Force of Will, and so on. Overtime, Fish adapted as newer cards became available and metagames, or climate if you want you real-world evolutionary analogies, changed. Combined, these allowed cards that didn't fit or work well previously to become worthwhile additions. And so Fish took on the guise of a proto-Landstill deck with Standstill and the manlands, Mishra's Factory and Faerie Conclave. The creatures were changed, and meet the requirements for inclusion. They all have low mana costs. Grim Lavamancer turns your graveyard into a pile of burn to send to your opponent's dome of remove their creatures. Spiketail Hatchling is an evasive Force Spike on legs. Cloud of Faeries is also an evasive beater that allows you to play an additional spell or two early on with the lands you untap.

This brings us to what was the current Legacy Fish. It packs utility creatures such as Meddling Mage, Dark Confidant, and Mother of Runes. Some versions run creatures with a high power and toughness for a low mana cost, such as Jotun Grunt. The heavy-duty beater list has grown to include Tarmogoyf and Phyrexian Dreanought. Powerful non-creature spells that are staples in other decks are also used by Fish. Force of Will and Daze help stop anything threatening from resolving, Swords to Plowshares efficiently removes troublesome creatures, and Duress/Thoughtseize preemptively take out problem cards. Brainstorm and Ponder help find that next land, creature, or counter. The latest update is the soft lock that you can find almost anywhere: Sensei's Diving Top and Counterbalance.

With the release of Lorwyn, Morningtide, Shadowmoor, and Evendtide, the Merfolk tribe has received a healthy handful of playable creatures. These new additions will push the archetype into a competitive spotlight. Fish and Merfolk will once again become synonymous, and the imposters disposed of.

Triton's Minions
The first competitive Fish deck to surface was Triton's Minions by Finn.

The early version has a heavy emphasis on mana denial through Rishadan Port, Wasteland, Stifle, and either Tidal Warrior or Reef Shaman. The first two cards, run by Goblins, deny your opponent needed colors or set their manabase back in number and color. Stifle is an all around useful card, finding targets in fetchlands, Storm cards, and activated abilities like Pernicious Deed. Tidal Warrior/Reef Shaman fulfill multiple roles. The first is a Port-like function. While they don't completely shut a land down for the turn, they can still color screw your opponent without tying down two of your own lands. With a lord out, either Lord of Atlantis or Merrow Reejerey, they become decent attackers. They also enable Islandwalking under Lord of Atlantis if needed.

Merrow Reejerey is another creature that is both strong and versatile. As a Lord, he makes your creatures bigger. Additionally, he allows you to tap or untap a permanent of your choosing when you play a Merfolk spell. You can tap down a blocker if you can't Islandwalk past them, or untap your own creatures and lands. The ability will trigger even if your spell is countered by a counter, Counterbalance, or Chalice of the Void.

Silvergill Adept is usually a cheap (though sometimes hard to cast) cantripping creature. You can get the Adept into play with an Aether Vial set to two counters. This way, you draw a card of Silvergill without having to reveal a Merfolk in your hand. Force of Will, and Daze are at home in a blue aggro control deck where tempo, board advantage, and card quality are important. Playing Aether Vial Turn 1 with Daze or Force of Will backup is a powerful opening.

The next evolutionary step for Triton's Minions came with the release of Morningtide. Stonybrook Banneret ushered in minor card changes to the list that had a large impact on how it performed.
Banneret is important for its cost-reducing ability. Much like Goblin Warchief, Banneret lets you play out your merfolk faster, allowing the deck to incorporate Tidal Courier, Merfolk's version of Goblin Ringleader. As Finn explains, "this deck has utterly explosive turns, even more so than Goblins ever did. And it is not dependent on the Lackey connecting to do so. There is a lot of card advantage, and enough disruption that you should be able to delay the game enough turns to get Aether Vial counters where you want them before the opponent gets going in earnest. That is important because it will likely be about two turns slower than Goblins since its guys don't have haste. But the creatures get very big, and your guys will be unblockable in most games, either by Islandwalk, tapping their blockers with Reejerey, or possibly even flying Tidal Couriers."

Finn made an attempt to remedy the lack of creature removal by adding in Nameless Inversion, a removal spell that also counts as a Merfolk. Tidal Warrior was dropped to make room for Nameless Inversion, and the manabase was reworked to accommodate the splash. The addition of black also gave strong sideboard options in Thoughtseize and Extirpate. However, Nameless Inversion has trouble killing the creatures. It also boosts Tarmogoyf's power and toughness with the Tribal spell type. This version made a Top 4 appearance(Link), but Nameless Inversion played no part in making it that far. So Triton's Minions will step back to the Post Morningtide version, and take another step forward with the release of Eventide.

Something Fishy

There are multiple flavors of Fish, much like there are for many decks. Triton's Minions is more along the lines of aggro control, while the next deck to be covered, Something Fishy or Fishy for short, evolved more along the lines of control aggro. The name was an accident of sorts. When I posted the deck on the Team Chimera board, I put Something Fishy down as the deck name in the absence of a better one, and the name stuck.

The first list was one that tried to take advantage of the synergy between Patron Wizard, Stonybrook Schoolmaster, and Sage of Fables. The idea was to create a soft lock while amassing an army of creature tokens. Schoolmaster would tap to the Patron, providing a 1/1 token that, being a wizard, could also be used for the Patron's ability. If Sage of Fables is out, then the tokens get a +1/+1 counter that can be pitched for a card. Summon the School was included because of how well it worked with Sage of Fables, and because it could be recurred, making it harder for control decks to keep the board clear. Sadly, it didn't play out well. In testing, Patron Wizard never came down early enough to make a difference.

The next version used both Lord of Atlantis and Sage of Fables. The two mana lands, Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors, were to provide the mana to play out the merfolk with higher mana costs and to fuel the card draw from Fable's counters. Merrow Harbinger was to meant to act as Goblin Matron. Something Fishy was tested against UGr Thresh to expose major deck flaws, such as the mana base or which cards weren't holding their own. Out of six games, Fishy won three. The losses were entirely due to mana base problems, particularly the lifeloss from the Tombs.

JeroenC suggested moving down a control aggro path instead of the aggro control route that Triton's Minions took. The two mana lands were dropped, and Rishadan Port and Wasteland were added. Merrow Harbinger and Tidal Courier were cut. With no high casting cost creatures to support, Stonybrook Banneret was dropped. Against the same Thresh list, Something Fishy won two games out of five. The wins came from racing Threshold with Lord of Atlantis and friends. The losses came from not having white mana available for Swords to Plowshares, or Rishadan Port being in play when a colored mana source was needed. Without Aether Vial, the Ports made casting creatures early difficult.

In additional testing, Sage of Fables and Summon the School were found to be too slow and mana intensive. In their place, Merrow Reejerey and the CounterTop package were added. Daze was also dropped to make room. A mere 15 creatures was on the low side for Aether Vial, so it was not included. Umezawa's Jitte was added to give the deck a versatile and powerful card. Ponder was to give the deck a cantrip, something that had yet to be added.
I placed in the Top 8 with the list at MtGSalvation's Fourth MWS Legacy Tournament, beating Landstill twice and one RGB Aggro Loam deck only to lose to UGr Thresh and RGB Aggro Loam in the last rounds and to the same RGB Aggro Loam deck in the quarterfinals. Link. The white splash, a hold over from Stonybrook Schoolmaster and Summon the School, earned its keep. Swords to Plowshares solved the lack of creature removal, and Meddling Mage helped fight the creature hate that some decks packed. Sygg, River Guide worked well as a cheap beater with independent Islandwalk. It also allows you to 'colorwalk' past blockers, and is the closest card Merfolk has to Crystalline Sliver. Mutavault was a good addition. It doges sweepers, for one. When animated, its Changeling ability lets it receive the P/T boost from your Lords and Islandwalk from Lord of Atlantis. Prior to Eventide, Puresight Merrow was being tested as a replacement for Silvergill Adept, and Cursecatcher as Spiketail Hatchling in place of the Jittes, a Top, and a Counterbalance. The idea behind Puresight Merrow is that it can provide continuous card quality by removing unwanted or dead cards from the top of your library, where as Silvergill Adept is a cantrip creature. Tapping Puresight can be a bit difficult, as the only way to tap it is to attack with it or tap it down with Merrow Reejerey.

The Next Step

What's is the next step for Fish? Eventide was kind of enough to give us two new Merfolk to try out. The one that has most people's eye is Cold-Eyed Selkie. Costing three mana, our companion almost looks like the drowned girl from The Ring. Or Gollum with a head full of hair if you dislike horror movies. It can hit Thresh and Landstill independent of Lord of Atlantis with its Islandwalk. It can also draw pinpoint removal away from your Lords. No one wants to take damage from a creature that has boosted damage while giving the opponent cards. Cold-Eyed Selkie will most likely compete with Tidal Courier as the card drawing creature of choice. While the pros and cons of each can be argued back and forth, there is one important advantage Col-Eye has: deck design. With Tidal Courier, you have to run more Merfolk cards to make the most out of the four cards it reveals. Cold-Eyed Selkie doesn't put those kind of number restrictions on Fish. Sygg, River Cutthroat, has been pushed off to the side. If you can cause the needed loss of three life and keep him alive past the end of your turn to draw a card, you should be able to draw more than just a card off Cold-Eyed Selkie. You can also have more than one Cold-Eyed in play, unlike the River Cutthroat.

The second is Wake Thrasher. While he might seem small for three mana, just like Cold-Eyed is, his ability is just a strong in a combat sense. When you untap for your turn, he can easily match Tarmogoyf in size just from your lands. Add in the other creatures under you control, and you have a monstrous fish. If you have Islandwalk, your opponent is in for an uphill struggle. The closest competition Wake Thrasher has is Shapesharer. As a changeling, Shapesharer counts as a Merfolk. His abilty may be somewhat costly and limited, but it can be used to create a blocker in a pinch. something Wake Thrasher is poorly designed to do.

Wistful Selkie gets an honorable mention. For three blue/green hybrid mana, you get a 2/2 that draws you a card when it comes into play. It sounds alot like Silvergill Adept. The major difference is the mana. The Adept requires you to reveal a Merfolk or pay five mana, unless you have an Aether Vial with two counters on it. Wistful Selkie will always cost three.

Have any of the older Merfolk been made playable by the new cards that have come out, much like Lord of Atlantis has and Tidal Courier was? For those who might have missed it, Waterfront Bouncer is now a Merfolk. This makes a powerful ability available. A dead card or an extra land can be pitched to bounce Tidal Courier for card advantage, or to save a creature from targeted removal or a board sweeper. And if you run Aether Vial, things only get better. You can also bounce an opposing creature if it's too troublesome.

There is also the question of how many slots a paticular card or cards deserve. With a good number of playable creatures, deciding which ones to run and how many takes effort to nail down. There are also the non-creature spells to consider. How many Aether Vials and counters, and how many Sensei's Diving Top and Counterbalances, if they're included. Fortuanately, you won't have to worry about the blue spell count for Force of Will, so that makes these decisions a little easier to make.

Individual cards are not the only avenues of growth and exploration left for Fish. There are still different flavors to try out. Perhaps someone will surprise us with a working version of the extinct dual Merfolk/Wizard tribal deck. Maybe something with Standstill to really take advantage of Mutavault, Aether Vial, and the low mana curve of the Merfolk Tribe. Next time, we'll take a look at three various Fish builds, and how they stand up to a gauntlet of decks.


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