Updated: Apr 18
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!
With the ban of Lurrus still looming large, Modern is in an interesting place at the moment. This, combined with the fact that paper tournaments are starting to make a comeback, we're getting an idea of what the true metagame looks like.
One thing is certain. Izzet Murktide has remained in the upper echelon of decks since the release of Modern Horizons 2. One could argue that it's now even better without the nightmare cat in the format. 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.
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 nearly a year. Arguably the latest innovation came from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt when Consider became a four-of cantrip for the deck.
The list run by Jujubean_2004, runner-up of the latest Modern Super Qualifier on MTGO, is a good example of a stock list.
There are two predominant versions of the deck—one running several maindeck Blood Moons and one that favors Archmage's Charm and more interaction.
Both versions have proven themselves successful, often taking interchangeable spots at the top of any given Challenge or 5-0 League drop.
At its core, however, Izzet Murktide operates the same. It 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.
Coming out of the sideboard, Izzet Murktide gets even better. Most lists run some combination of extra countermagic, Jace, the Mind Sculptor to grind out longer games, and answers to graveyard decks / aggressive lists.
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. Meanwhile, its seven-mana CMC lets it dodge things like Prismatic Ending, Fatal Push, and March of Otherworldly Light.
Of course, Murktide isn't the only plan in this deck. It also has a strong early game with Dragon's Rage Channeler. Some argue that it is the best card in the deck behind Murktide. Not only does its surveil ability let you fill your graveyard for a big dragon, it also turns on delirium with ease. 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). A quick monkey can instantly swing the tempo to your advantage and snowball the game out of control.
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. For instance, Blood Moon can lock things up until a Murktide resolves. Plenty of removal can clear the board for a dashed Ragavan to close things out. Card selection and cantrips often lead to better late-game draws and threats that come down against an opponent's empty hand.
When it comes to facing a Murktide deck, focus on the big three: Murk, DRC, and Ragavan. On occasion, Expressive Iteration should fall into the high-priority category as well. 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. Relying on 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.
As mentioned, another issue when dealing with a resolved Murktide is removal. That's where Solitude comes in. Since it can exile any creature upon entering the battlefield, Solitude takes care of Murktide cleanly. Your opponent does gain a sizeable amount of life, but it is almost always worth the trade.
Outside of Solitude, few answers are viable against a large Murktide. Path to Exile is still a one-for-one answer. However, it is seeing little play due to the rest of the meta's focus on efficiency. Terminate (yuck) is another decent answer but is also a bad to terrible card in most other matchups.
Fortunately, bounce effects are fairly decent against Murktide due to its high mana cost. Delve is generally only great the first time around, especially in a faster game. Cards like Brazen Borrower's Petty Theft and the channel ability of Otawara, Soaring City can offer temporary relief. It can be difficult for your opponent to recast a Murktide (or at least as large of one) after dipping into their graveyard the first time).
Teferi, Time Raveler is worth mentioning here for two reasons. One, his minus ability can also 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 meta right now and you should be running it).
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 on turn two before they can get Counterspell online creates a lot of trouble. Although Chalice isn't seeing a ton of play right now, it is certainly a solid choice in this matchup.
Common Mistakes Against Izzet Murktide
Just as piloting Izzet Murktide is difficult, there's a learning curve to playing against it. Beating this deck takes 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 take them away from their main game plan, giving you the advantage. Meanwhile, a fast clock forces them 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. 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 card behind Murk. 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. It could mean sequencing your plays to bounce or remove the dragon once it resolves.
Ultimately, however, there is no great way to deal with a big Murktide. In terms of tempo, you're almost always at a disadvantage or neutral.
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).
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, or Nihil Spellbomb, you should probably crack 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.
Finally, something that many decks fail to do is play around countermagic---especially in games two and three. Things 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.
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.
Four-Color Money Pile / Blink Elementals
There are a few variations of this deck. However, one thing is the same---a dense package of pitch elementals. The likes of Fury and Solitude hit all the threats Murktide players put down. Likewise, the pure card advantage from Risen Reef and Omnath make up for a slight tempo disadvantage as the game goes on.
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.
What else can be said? Murktide doesn't run any graveyard interaction in the mainboard and typically only one or two pieces in the side. Its many counters are ineffective here, leading to a race on board. It's one that is difficult for Izzet to win without a big dragon on turn two or three. Even then, the flood of Amalgams and small recurrent threats is often too much to overcome.
Hard control is also a difficult matchup for Murktide. It can certainly get under UW with a couple of quick DRCs or Ragavans. However, the late game offers better card advantage and more counterspells to lock things up. Teferi (big and little) is a huge threat, as is Jace. The Wandering Emperor is also a new include that can deal with a resolved Murktide while also providing a clock. Extra graveyard hate, Chalice, and targeted counterspells out of the board tilt games two and three in UW's favor.
Of the favored matchups, this one is the most dependent on your play. Burn can overwhelm Murktide decks before they have time to set up. However, choosing whether to send burn spells at an early threat like DRC/Rag or face can make or break the game. That said, counterspells alone aren't usually enough to deal with Burn, making it a strong answer to Murktide. That said, a resolved dragon can pose issues if your clock isn't fast enough.
Without a surprise ban, 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.
What are your favorite tips for dealing with Izzet Murktide? Do you have a sneaky way to get an edge in this matchup? Let us know what works for you in the comments below and on social media!
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