Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in your favorite formats (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to climb the competitive ladder on Arena, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
Modern is in an interesting place at the moment. With Preordain recently coming off the banlist, blue decks like Izzet Murktide got a nice addition back into their suite of spells. This, combined with the fact paper tournaments are shifting into Modern for the latest RCQ season, gives us an idea of what the true metagame looks like.
One thing is certain. After spending several months in the shadows, Izzet Murktide is back. This deck has long been a presence in Modern and players love to play this style of interactive, spells-based tempo deck. But Murktide has been overshadowed for some time now thanks to the rise of competitors that pushed it out of the meta. Still, it’s a list that can hang in almost any matchup and rarely has a game that feels like an instant loss.
Murktide players are rewarded for a high skill level and tight gameplay decisions. Functioning as both a tempo list and a pseudo-control build, there are plenty of ways to adapt to each game. The difference between a strong Murktide player and a bad Murktide player is vast. So keep this in mind when considering whether you want to invest the time in learning this deck—and whether your opponent has.
As one of the top competitors in the Modern format, it’s important to understand how Izzet Murktide works and how to beat it. With large tournaments starting to work their way back, that’s even more true.
Let’s dive in!
Understanding Izzet Murktide Decks
At this point, the so-called “stock” list for Izzet Murktide is basically solved. Players have been tweaking it at all levels of play for some time and Preordain naturally slotted back in when it was unbanned. Notably, Murktide can adapt its spell and creature packages to combat whatever is rising up in the meta. This is an important part of what makes it so dangerous. Eyeing changes to the deck week-to-week in challenges and large tournaments gives us an idea of what pilots really care about.
The list from David Frischer took 5th place in the recent $20K tournament at SCGCon Columbus. It’s a good example of a stock Murktide list and gives you a glimpse into what you can expect when battling the archetype.
Blood Moon has largely fallen out of favor for most Murktide pilots. However, you’ll still see a decklist or two with the Moon every so often. Again, this changes as the meta adapts. At the time of this writing, Rakdos Scam and Temur Rhinos are two of the top decks in Modern. Both don’t really care about moon effects, so Murktide is disincentivized from running them in the main.
At its core, however, Izzet Murktide features a potent tempo package for the early game followed by a fast clock and board presence after resolving a big Murktide. Add in a flexible suite of counterspells plus aggressive one-drops like Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan and you’ve got a Tier 1 deck. Don’t forget the pitch elementals Subtlety and Fury to cheat on mana and interact with the opponent for free.
Coming out of the sideboard, Izzet Murktide gets even better. Most lists run some combination of extra countermagic, extra evoke elementals, moon effects, graveyard answers, and flexible cards like Engineered Explosives and Dress Down.
All said, learning to play Izzet Murktide isn’t easy. There’s a great primer from Ryan (burnt_taco77) that’s a good starting place. You can find that here. Pro player Andrea Mengucci has also become a face for the deck and has several great articles and videos on it.
Despite the learning curve, Izzet Murktide rewards sharp play. Each game has countless decisions that can make or break the outcome. To come out ahead, the Murktide player needs to be thinking turns ahead while also having an understanding of the metagame and what their opponent wants to do.
High Priority Targets
As for winning the game, Izzet Murktide lists have gotten their name for a reason. Slamming a big flier onto the battlefield as soon as turn two or three is awesome. So is dropping an 8/8 with counterspell backup later in the game.
Opponents will need to answer a resolved Murktide quickly if they want to win. This is difficult since smart players will push their dragon out of reach for popular removal like Unholy Heat and Lightning Bolt. Most Murktide Regents also can’t get tagged by a Fury. Meanwhile, its seven-mana CMC lets it dodge things like Prismatic Ending, Fatal Push, and March of Otherworldly Light. This leaves opponents with few options. Solitude, Terminate, and Leyline Binding are the best options available right now for dealing with a Murktide. Of course, bouncing the dragon is also highly effective, which you can do with cards like Teferi, Time Raveler, Otawara, Soaring City, or Brazen Borrower.
Of course, Murktide isn’t the only plan in this deck. It also has a strong early game with Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan. Both of these x/1 creatures have gotten much worse since the introduction of Orcish Bowmasters. However, they are powerful threats when left unchecked. DRC’s Surveil ability fills your graveyard for a big dragon, turns on delirium with ease, and filters your draws with excellent efficiency. DRC quickly becomes a 3/3 flier that can push through big chunks of damage.
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer isn’t bad either (yes, that’s sarcasm). An unanswered monkey can instantly swing the tempo to your advantage and snowball the game out of control. Plus, its Dash ability lets you play around sorcery-speed removal and sneak through extra damage in the late game if the board is empty.
Ledger Shredder is worth a brief note. This card comes in and out of favor faster than you’d believe. It’s solid into Rhinos decks since the Cascade mechanic naturally triggers Connive. But a two-mana threat isn’t exactly where this tempo deck wants to be since it doesn’t win the game on its own and is easily answered by most removal. Shredder is very much a meta call.
Murktide decks will need one of these threats to stick to win. That said, there is plenty of action to drag out games until that can happen. Card selection and cantrips often lead to better late-game draws and threats that come down against an opponent’s empty hand. So the Murktide player is happy to take things slow and control the pace of the game and the board.
When it comes to facing a Murktide deck, focus on the big three: Murk, DRC, and Ragavan. Expressive Iteration often falls into the high-priority category as well given the sheer value it provides. However, if your interaction is limited, prioritize the things that will bring your life total to zero.
Know the Murktide player will fire off tons of spells, mainly cheap cantrips and removal. This lets them see a huge percentage of their deck each game. Ultimately, that means finding a threat is a matter of when not if. As such, putting early and consistent pressure on the Murktide deck is crucial unless you are certain to lock up the late game with a better threat.
Cards That Beat Izzet Murktide in Modern
If there’s one weak spot for Izzet Murktide it’s the graveyard. Having cards in it for both delving a Murk and turning on DRC’s (and Unholy Heat’s) delirium is huge. Yes, this deck can refill the graveyard quickly. However, interacting with it is one of the best ways to gain an advantage and ultimately win the game.
That said, many of the key cards that help beat Izzet Murktide involve the graveyard. Staples like Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace, and Leyline of the Void are incredibly good. Meanwhile, Endurance has become an all-star in the matchup. Not only does it effectively empty the graveyard, it can also be a blowout against an attacking DRC or Ragavan thanks to its flash ability. Not to mention the fact that it can be evoked for free while you continue carrying out your game plan.
Keep in mind though, shutting down the graveyard isn’t a sure way to win against Murktide. A practiced pilot knows how to navigate these roadblocks and will find a way to beat you down with alternative threats like a Subtlety or Fury while preventing you from carrying out the rest of your game plan.
Teferi, Time Raveler is worth mentioning here for two reasons. One, his minus ability can bounce a Murktide while drawing you a card. Two, turning off the Murktide player’s counterspells and instant-speed cantrips is huge. A resolved Teferi is a huge problem for Murktide and can take over the game if it isn’t answered. (Side note, little Teferi is also incredible against a large chunk of the best decks in Modern and is usually worth running if you can).
Given the prevalence of one-mana spells in the Murktide list, from DRC and Ragavan to Consider and Bolt, Chalice of the Void is also great. Dropping it with X=1 on turn two before they can get Counterspell online to stop you creates a lot of trouble. It hoses DRC, Ragavan, Preordain, Bolt, Unholy Heat, Consider, Spell Pierce… need we go on? Chalice is another card with applications in other matchups (looking at you, Cascade) so it’s a nice addition to many Modern sideboards.
Common Mistakes Against Izzet Murktide
Just as piloting Izzet Murktide is difficult, there’s a learning curve to playing against it. Beating this deck requires sharp play and few mistakes. There simply isn’t room to slip up given the pressure and tempo advantage it can build in a single turn.
That said, role assessment is huge. The Murktide player must constantly assess whether they need to press their tempo game and be more aggressive or take a step back and control the board. This can change every turn and after every spell that’s cast. While most decks playing against Izzet Murktide have a clearer idea of their role, they must also stay flexible.
One of the biggest mistakes players make against this tempo deck is playing the wrong role.
For aggressive builds, it’s important to apply consistent and early pressure to win the tempo battle in the first few turns. Forcing your opponent to deal with aggressive creatures can slow them down from deploying their own threats or smoothing their hand, giving you the advantage. Meanwhile, a fast clock forces the Murktide player to make sub-optimal (and often inefficient) decisions to stay alive.
For control decks, knowing which threats to target is crucial. An unchecked DRC on turn one can swing the game in a big way. A few cantrips and/or counterspells later and you’re facing down a huge Murktide on turn three and your opponent has drawn into exactly the cards they need to protect their position. Although this is gameflow-dependent, it’s important to find a way to stop their tempo advantage and swing it back in your favor.
Speaking of tempo, another common mistake against Izzet Murktide decks is not respecting Dragon’s Rage Channeler. This is arguably the second most important creature behind Murk when left unanswered. It lets you see an insane amount of your deck and filter cards to get the best draws. It also fills the graveyard quickly to Delve a dragon or turn on Delirium for Unholy Heat. Generally, it’s always a good idea to remove a DRC if possible. Letting it sit on the battlefield opens the door for a big Murktide and the 3/3 flier is a reasonably aggressive clock on its own.
While DRC is huge for this deck, Murktide Regent is still king. Regardless of what deck you’re playing, respecting Murktide is vital. That could mean holding up countermagic for it if you suspect your opponent has it in hand. It could mean sequencing your plays oddly so you can bounce or remove the dragon once it resolves.
Ultimately, however, dealing with a resolved Murktide is rarely easy. Most pilots won’t deploy the dragon until turn four when they can back it up with Counterspell, asking you to have two answers in hand. As we already discussed, the answers are slim, so this can be difficult.
That means stopping a Murktide from hitting the battlefield is the best choice. To do that, you’ll need to deal with your opponent’s graveyard or their hand. Hand disruption is harder to mess up. If you see a Murktide, you should generally take it. (Yes, cases exist where you shouldn’t, such as taking an Expressive Iteration when your opponent is down on lands with nothing else to do or a Counterspell when you need to resolve a game-winning card on your turn).
For now, we’ll focus on managing the graveyard. Doing so on time and effectively can swing a matchup in your favor. A common mistake is waiting for the graveyard to fill up before dealing with it. Given that a Murktide can be cast for two mana with just five cards in the yard, there is usually no time to wait.
If you have one-time graveyard interaction like a Soul-Guide Lantern, Relic of Progenitus (cracking it), or Nihil Spellbomb, you should probably use it sooner than you think. Even if it only removes a handful of cards, this can set the Murktide player back several turns from casting a dragon. That’s especially true if you’ve already dealt with DRC. Just remember, they will refill their yard eventually through soft graveyard hate. Sometimes it takes just a turn or two. So be ready to put pressure on and close the game before they have time to reset.
Finally, something that many decks fail to do is play around countermagic—especially in games two and three. Cards like Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, and Mystical Dispute are common includes in the sideboard for Murktide decks.
These can hose you if you don’t respect them, swinging both tempo and the advantage in your opponent’s favor. Although you can’t totally put your game plan on hold, you should certainly be aware of and respect these counters, playing around them when possible.
Best Matchups Against Izzet Murktide in Modern
Izzet Murktide can grind with just about any deck. However, some decks do have a slight edge in the matchup. Let’s look at a few of them.
There are a few variations of this deck. However, one thing is the same—a package of pitch elementals and efficient removal spells. The likes of Fury and Solitude hit all the threats Murktide players put down. Likewise, the pure card advantage from Omnath and The One Ring make up for a slight tempo disadvantage as the game goes on. Preordain is looking like a nice inclusion since it lets the four-color player reach their bombs sooner. In addition, Wrenn and Six and Teferi, Time Reveler are both tough for Murktide to deal with while also presenting a fast enough clock to get past Omnath and friends. Don’t forget, this deck has access to Leyline Binding to deal with a Murktide and gets even better out of the sideboard with Endurance, Chalice, and counterspells.
The Temur Rhinos vs. Murktide matchup is pretty close. But adding white to the mix gives Rhinos an edge. Thanks to the light splash, the deck can now play Leyline Binding and Teferi, Time Raveler, which are two of the best cards into Murktide. You also get access to Ardent Plea to increase your Cascade spell count and represent a Crashing Footfalls almost every turn. You also have access to Endurance from the sideboard. Note that this matchup gets much worse when Murktide is leaning more heavily into Blood Moon, so if the meta shifts, this could be a point against 4C Rhinos.
What happens when your opponent’s red removal spells just bring back your creatures even bigger than before? That’s an issue for Murktide and Yawgmoth’s suite of Undying creatures are excellent in the matchup. Plus, you now get a playset of Orcish Bowmasters to tax cantrips and punish DRC and Ragavan draws. Grist, the Hunger Tide can kill a giant Murktide and fill the board with more threats. You also have a win-on-the-spot combo with the deck’s namesake card. Sideboarding gives you access to Endurance to make the Murktide player’s life even harder.
Izzet Murktide should stay in the top tier of the Modern metagame for the foreseeable future. If you plan on playing in any major tournament, expect to see this matchup a lot. Likewise, know that you’ll probably need to beat it at least once if you want to win.
By choosing a deck with a favorable matchup, avoiding common mistakes, and prioritizing key cards, you’ll be ready to become regent of the meta.