Singleton Shmingleton - Merfolk Looter

A green scaled merfolk swimming to a woman who seems to be unconscious underwater.
Merfolk Looter | Art by Ron Spencer

Love That Loot

Hello, and welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. Up this week is Merfolk Looter, which has made it into an exclusive club of cards that are the namesake of a mechanic, official or otherwise, alongside such staples as Millstone, Demonic Tutor, and Rummaging Goblin. Ever since Exodus, the word "loot" has meant "to draw a card, then discard a card." The printing of Cephalid Looter and Looter il-Kor cemented looting as an officially sanctioned phrase, but it had already taken hold.

Merfolk Looter and its descendants have proved themselves as perennial Limited all-stars. They can stop mana screw and flood, they dig for answers, and in any set with even a hint of graveyard synergies, they open up combos. In constructed formats, looters themselves are sometimes too slow to be reliable, but that doesn't mean players are eschewing looting entirely. Careful Study long had a home in Legacy Dredge, Faithless Looting wound up on the Modern ban list after almost a decade of shenanigans, and Smuggler's Copter broke Standard. Looting is powerful, and players love it as well.

As such, there have been a lot of looters printed over the years. Thirty-five, in fact, at least by my personal criteria. Here's a list of creatures that can tap to draw and then discard. I've also added a couple creatures like Looter il-Kor that loot when they hit a player and also have evasion.

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This list contains some of my favorite creatures of all time. From true menaces, like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, to sleepers, like Bonded Fetch and Lore Broker, this is the kind of deck I want to build. Thirty-five looters is too many to build a functional deck, but many of these cards are easy cuts. We want to prioritize free-to-activate looters, so we can say goodbye to Research Assistant and Pilfering Hawk.

Of the remaining looters, the most played is Looter il-Kor, at 15,535 decks, followed by the original Merfolk Looter, at 13,524 decks. Beyond these two best-known versions of the effect, I'd count a lot of these cards as sleepers. Thought Courier is just as good as the OG unless you care about Merfolk, but it's in less than a quarter as many decks. Deal Broker is probably the best three-mana looter, but it only sees play in 876 decks, probably because most people assume it doesn't do anything outside of Draft. Inspired Sprite fits well into any Faerie or Wizard deck, but it only gets 606 decks. These looters deserve to see the light of day!

We even get two great commanders out of the pile in Vohar, Vodalian Desecrator and Rona, Herald of Invasion. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is also an option, but limits us to mono-blue.

What Do We Do With All These Loots?

Because of their versatility, looters lend themselves to so many different deck types. I considered building a Madness deck that tried to build card advantage by using the likes of Broken Concentration and Ichor Slick to stop the downside of discarding. I considered a reanimator deck that used looters to put big creatures into the graveyard and dig for ways to Reanimate them. I considered a control deck that played very powerful, very narrow answers like Rebuild and Gather Specimens, and used looters to trade out whatever was useless at any given moment for a new look at something better.

I realized that by picking up new cards and putting down old cards, what I really wanted to do was play "Spoons". Spoons is a card game usually played by kids. It takes about three to five people (sound familiar?), and two to four spoons (oh, maybe not). To start, deal each player four cards and put a number of spoons on the table equal to the number of players minus one. The player closest to the deck draws a card, passes a card to their left, then repeats this as fast as possible. The next player on the left takes their new card from the first player, passes a card to the next player, and so on. All players are passing as fast as possible, because they're trying to match four-of-a-kind in their hand before anyone else. When they do, they grab a spoon, and the other players race to grab the other spoons whether or not they've assembled all four cards. The one who can't is out.

Spoons: the Lootering

Looters replicate this gameplay by drawing and throwing away cards. Every turn, we can tap all our looters, look at a bunch of cards one at a time, and try to construct a good hand. How do we know it's a good hand? Well, in Spoons, a good hand is four-of-a-kind, and it ends the game on the spot. In Magic, we can put together game-ending hands using infinite combos. Combos get a lot of flack in Commander because they can nullify everything leading up to them in a game, but this is no ordinary deck. This is a deck doing its best to play an entirely different card game. If that's not for you, worry not: here's a looters reanimator brew for you. I'm also interested to see whether we can use redundant effects which evoke other games to make a deck that plays similarly.

What combos should we play? Classics in this color pair include Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood, Deadeye Navigator and Peregrine Drake, and Mindcrank and Duskmantle Guildmage. Yikes. Most of these cards are expensive, and none of them do very much on their own. Luckily, the goal of our deck is to toss away most of the cards we see and hope to keep the right ones. We'll often guess wrong, but that's just Spoons, and we can always keep trying.

There are steps we can take to make our combos easier to assemble. The combo of Phyrexian Devourer plus Walking Ballista plus Necrotic Ooze requires the first two pieces to be in the graveyard, where our looters can put them without wasting space in our hand. This combo also has redundant pieces in the form of Triskelion for Walking Ballista and Trazyn the Infinite for Necrotic Ooze. Triskelion also forms a combo with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, like Phyrexian Devourer can combo with Thassa's Oracle. By trying to layer combos onto each other like that, we can improve our odds of having everything in the right place at the right time.

To truly feel like Spoons (and to make fewer enemies), I've built this deck with another stipulation: no tutors. If we could just loot into Demonic Tutor plus any random combo piece, suddenly our goal is to assemble one card: not a combo at all. In addition, we would always tutor for the best, cheapest combo. How would we ever stumble upon the combo of Necrotic Ooze with Pili-Pala and Omen Hawker in the graveyard, or Wake Thrasher with Pemmin's Aura and Paradise Mantle attached to it? With a stack of some of the most breakable cards in the game, you're probably not as far away from a combo as you think.

Card Spotlights

Dread Return: It returns a discarded combo creature to play, and we don't even have to hold it in our hand to do so! We don't mind if we need to sacrifice the looters, since we're hopefully going for the win that turn.

Standstill: This is a perfect Standstill deck. Once we get a couple looters in play, we don't need to cast any spells until our combo turn. Standstill will either slow our opponents down and give us free time to keep digging or give us three cards for cheap. All but one of our opponents will get to draw as well, so we might even make some friends along the way.

Unctus, Grand Metatect: Almost all of our looters are blue, so with Unctus out they all tap to loot twice. We also have a couple possible combos that result in infinite taps and untaps but no payoff, and this guy can dig for the piece to turn our loop into a win.

The Decklist

Spoons, featuring Merfolk Looter

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This is a fun deck to play if you like finding weird four-card loops in cards that don't look like they do anything together, or if you want to end the night on a quick game without too many hard decisions. It definitely doesn't feel like playing Magic, and it passably replicates the frantic scramble of playing Spoons. This was a new experiment in the realm of building decks with redundancy: mimicking the mechanics of another game. Commander, being the format of individual expression, is the only place where strategies can be viable because we like how they feel, not because they win. Most decks focus on what players like within the game of Magic, but by using redundant copies of the same effect, we can create a deck that mimics gameplay we enjoy outside of Magic. I find that pretty neat, and I'm excited to keep thinking about how redundancy can change deckbuilding in Commander and create new experiences.

Until Next Time

This week we got a little bit far out, but next time we're getting right back to creature combat and raw stats. Let's see if we can create enough synergy to make one-drops scary, because our card is Servant of the Scale.

Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.

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