Last updated on October 25, 2022
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson
Tribal is one of my all-time favorite Commander strategies because it allows you to throw together a bunch of random cards that all share the same creature type and call it a deck. EDH also has plenty of tribal supporting artifacts and enchantments that help take otherwise mediocre creature types to the next level.
Today I’m focusing in on one of Magic’s most popular and prominent creature types: merfolk. Merfolk have long dominated the blue and Simic () tribal scenes, offering excellent lord creatures as well as top notch utility built in. It’s a great tribe with a lot to enjoy, so let’s get into the details. So it’s about time we take a look at a merfolk tribal deck for Commander.
Ready? Let’s dive into the deep end!
Simic Growth Chamber (Double Masters 2022) | Illustration by Pete Venters
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Forerunner of the Heralds
Harbinger of the Tides
Herald of Secret Streams
Kopala, Warden of Waves
Lord of Atlantis
Master of Waves
Prime Speaker Zegana
Svyelun of Sea and Sky
Tatyova, Benthic Druid
Thrasios, Triton Hero
Tishana, Voice of Thunder
Vorel of the Hull Clade
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Leyline of Anticipation
Path of Discovery
Song of Freyalise
Bident of Thassa
Coat of Arms
Talisman of Curiosity
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Simic Growth Chamber
The deck I’ve brought to you today is a Simic merfolk deck with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca in the command zone. It’s a straight-forward tribal build that seeks to deploy some early creatures while ramping up into some mid- and late-game threats. There’s plenty of tribal support to keep the deck going, and multiple ways to apply pressure to your opponents while building up resources to win the game.
While most merfolk are blue, there are still plenty of Simic and mono-green merfolk and utility pieces that make going 2-color better than mono-blue. Green opens up a lot of doors for this deck, especially in the reactive interaction department, which we’ll get to.
This is a midrange budget decklist. It’s not cEDH, but it is still a relatively high-powered decklist that fairs well against anything you’d see at the casual table.
The commander is what this whole format is about, right? Well today your commander is none other than Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, a 2/4 merfolk shaman for that does a few things. It allows you to tap another untapped merfolk to make itself unblockable, which can be good for pushing extra damage and triggering other effects.
You can tap untapped merfolk to draw a card, which keeps your hand full and your defensive lines up when you need them most. Kumena can also tap five untapped merfolk to give every single merfolk you control a +1/+1 counter. This obviously gets better the wider your board is, but it also works great as a way to build up toughness against board wipes or other creature-based decks.
While you’re not going to be making a bunch of tokens with this deck, you’re still putting your commander to use. Having a card draw, +1/+1 counter, and pseudo-direct damage engine in the command zone creates more utility than you could ask for and helps your commander be useful in more situations than it otherwise would be.
When it comes to creature decks, especially tribal ones, getting creatures on the board is the most important thing. The earlier you can do this the better. You have a decent chunk of low-cost creatures in the 1- and 2-mana range that’ll help you always have a turn 2 play before playing your commander the next turn.
Brineborn Cutthroat, Deeproot Elite, and Harbinger of the Tides are some of the best 2-drops you’ve got. Cutthroat is great hate and utility, Deeproot provides some extra counters, and Harbinger can bounce some mana dorks or other creatures to stifle your opponents’ plans.
Merfolk decks are never left wanting when it comes to lords. This deck runs Lord of Atlantis, Metallic Mimic, Merfolk Sovereign, and Merfolk Mistbinder to give some more meat to your other cheap creatures. These kinds of effects go a long way and are often what determines whether or not you can all-in attack somebody or not.
The midgame is where things get a little spicy. You’re past 2/2s for two that do something now, so let’s look at some 3-mana merfolk.
Kopala, Warden of Waves is a great hate bear that gives your opponents a rough time.
Svyelun of Sea and Sky also offers some protection, basically holding up Mana Tithe forever. This card is quite annoying to kill if you have another merfolk and often draw out the few enchantments removal other players have access to.
Vorel of the Hull Clade is probably your most powerful 3-drop. It doubles all the kind of counters on a target artifact, creature, or land, which makes other creatures like Tishana, Voice of Thunder really strong.
This deck provides a few different options when it comes to actually winning the game. First and foremost, you can win through combat damage. This deck has some great creatures, plenty of lords and tribal cards, and more than enough ways to beat your opponents down one by one. It’s the main purpose of the deck and should always be your initial goal in any given game.
Just having a wide board of huge creatures is always a good option, but there are a few bombs that make it much easier. Prime Speaker Zegana is quite strong here and provides plenty of resources and power to close games out.
Murkfiend Liege allows you to go in for beats with massive creatures without compromising your defensive integrity, which helps make victory over other creature decks much more attainable.
Tishana, Voice of Thunder is another card-drawing bomb. It gets bigger the more cards are in your hand while also giving you no maximum hand size and drawing you a bunch of cards when it enters the battlefield.
Simic Ascendancy is always there for you if beating your opponents up is out of the question. It can be a little slow to start off, but it can be a 1-turn-cycle win if you have a bunch of creatures in play with plenty of mana to spend.
This deck is a tribal deck first and foremost, which means you get to play a few other excellent cards to support your merfolk.
You obviously have more than a few lord creatures in Lord of Atlantis, Merfolk Mistbinder, Metallic Mimic, Merfolk Sovereign, and Murkfiend Liege. These offer a lot of power and toughness to your creatures and make them significantly scarier threats, even on their own. But the real fun is when you have multiple in play.
If creatures aren’t your thing (which they better be if you’re playing merfolk tribal), then Coat of Arms might be up your alley. It’s a 5-mana artifact that gives each creature +1/+1 for each other creature on the battlefield that shares a type with it. This also hits your opponents, but you have nothing to worry about unless they’re playing tribal decks. This often gives all your creatures +4/+4 or more, which turns them into monstrosities quicker than you might think.
There’s also Stoneforge Masterwork, which is an equipment that basically does Coat of Arms but on a single creature. The thing with this card is that it’s cheap, has a small equip cost, and it doesn’t benefit your opponent.
Blue has, as you probably already know, some incredible enchantments that completely take over the game if they manage to go unanswered for too long.
Mystic Remora, Rhystic Study, and Leyline of Anticipation are great cards that get stronger based on the decks you’re playing against. They’re basically auto-includes in any blue-based deck.
You also have Bident of Thassa to offer some great combat damage while also being able to lock down boards by forcing attacks from your opponents.
Deeproot Waters is a pretty underrated card. Your commander loves when you go wide on board, and this also synergizes well with just about every other card in your deck. A free body whenever you cast a merfolk? Sounds good to me.
What kind of blue deck would this be without counterspells? A bad one, that’s what.
Now since this deck isn’t a control deck, free and efficient counterspells are what you’re most interested in. Things like Swan Song, Flusterstorm, and Fierce Guardianship. These are all either cheap or free, which means you don’t need to sacrifice much on your early turns to leave them up.
While they’re not cheap, you’re still running a copy of both Negate and Mana Drain. Negate is critical because it adds an extra layer of protection against board wipes, which are your greatest enemies. The Drain is just the best counterspell out there, and you have plenty of cards to spend that mana on.
Finally there’s Cyclonic Rift, which needs no introduction.
The Mana Base
While I wouldn’t classify this as a deck that seriously ramps out, you’re still playing green, which means you need to include some of the most fundamental ramp pieces.
Cultivate, Harvest Season, Explosive Vegetation, and Merfolk Branchwalker are my choices for green ramp. I think it would be wrong to not at least include these since they don’t hinder your game plan and can often help fix your mana.
In terms of artifact mana you’ve got Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Talisman of Curiosity, and Commander's Sphere to work with. These are some of the best non-competitive mana rocks that seriously accelerate your game plans without blowing the table out and pub-stomping anybody with a precon deck.
There isn’t too much to talk about here outside of a few utility lands since this is a midrange list, both in power and budget.
Hashep Oasis is a colorless land that can still tap for green and has a sweet activated ability to buff your creature for one turn. This is specifically meant for closing out games via commander damage with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca.
Reliquary Tower is also here in case you go too crazy drawing cards with your commander or other card-draw engines. It’s a great Commander staple that you probably already have multiple copies of that works well in this deck.
The strategy with this merfolk tribal deck, like many other tribal decks, is to come out of the gates swinging and go wide. The wider your board, the more impervious you are to spot removal and the more options you have for attacking and blocking. Your whole game plan revolves around building up a formidable force of creatures that can offer value, interaction, and a swift way to reduce your opponents’ life totals.
Getting out early merfolk ahead of your commander coming into play is critical. You want to be able to tap three merfolk to draw a card with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca on turn 4 just about every single game. You’re not really losing out on tapping our creatures down that early anyway since they’re not that big yet and are probably still affected by summoning sickness.
Once you’re established on board and have a few lords out it’s just a matter of making the right attacks and killing players in the proper order. I can’t give any advice that will always be relevant, but you need to do your best as the pilot to determine what player will be the most threatening the quickest. Killing the other creature player can often be the right move, but not if it gives the control player enough time to set up their value engines or combos.
Combos and Interactions
Cyclonic Rift | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Rule 0 Violations Check
Lucky for you, this deck doesn’t have any infinite combos. There are a few cards that may be the subject of Rule 0 violations, specifically Cyclonic Rift and Fierce Guardianship, but I don’t personally see too much of a problem with these cards in particular.
When it comes to actually putting the deck together, price is the ultimate deciding factor in whether or not a card is really needed. If you’re looking to trim down on the price without compromising the deck’s integrity or power level, here are a few suggestions I’d make for cuts or replacements.
Breeding Pool is usually just over $20 , and it’s just a 2-color dual. You’re not playing some crazy 4-color deck that needs every good dual in existence, so don’t feel guilty about replacing this with some cheaper tap land. Misty Rainforest is in a similar boat: it’s a great land that helps fix your mana and shuffle your deck if needed, but it’s ultimately cuttable.
Fierce Guardianship and Mana Drain are also good cuts. They’re both spectacular counterspells, don’t be mistaken, but this deck isn’t trying to win a tournament, it’s trying to be a good creature deck. Throw in Counterspell and some other B-list counter and call it a day.
While there isn’t any other theme that could really work with this commander, a heavier focus on tokens could surely be included as a sub-theme to work with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca more efficiently. Cards like Lullmage Mentor, Parallel Lives, and Rite of Replication would all fit in and would surely spice up the gameplay a bit.
Breeding Pool | Illustration by Jenn Ravenna
That concludes everything I’ve got for you today. I love putting together these EDH decklists since I often find inspiration and some new tech for my existing decks! This one was particularly fun as I’ve always loved good ol’ Simic, and this is a great way to enjoy the color pairing.
What do you think of my take on Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca? Do you think I should’ve gone heavier on the token side? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments below or over in the official Draftsim Discord.
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Kopala does not reduce activation costs of abilites, and how on earth is Throne of the God Pharaoh a mana rock?
May want to re-read those cards.
Fixed these issues, thanks!