Merfolk Assassin

It dawned on me that it was the end of April, and I'd only posted one blag update in the entire calendar month. Can't have that kind of nonchalance towards the eternal duties of the blagosphere. But Jesus, time moves strangely these days. Like, I'm pretty sure that March 2020 lasted fourteen weeks while March 2021 was ten days long. And on the note of relative time, it also occurred to me that I started playing oldschool around 14 years ago; a point in time when Alpha was less than 14 years old. Does that somehow mean that sets released in 2007 could possibly appear oldschool for the 20-somethings of today? Like, do people think that Future Sight or Lorwyn - with all its new-fangled planeswalkers - are old sets? Did some once-kids start playing around Alara block or Zendikar, and think back to Morningtide or Time Spiral Block as some golden era before-time? I mean, WotC did after all release Time Spiral Remastered recently as a "nostalgia-driven product", all while Time Spiral block was released like twelve months ago. Right?

I guess whatever happened before you started somehow automatically becomes your personal oldschool. Maybe most players today consider anything before planeswalkers as oldschool, rather than think of things like Mirrodin as "modern era" and planeswalkers as full new school. Which somehow brings me to the coolest MF on the block:


This whole card just oozes iconic. Dennis Detwiler's art is spectacular in telling a story, and the lack of flavor text somehow just makes it more flavorful. That rules text tell a story better than any random italicized quote could. Don't go fucking swimming here.

Merfolk Assassin perfectly captures what an individual of that "race and class" looks like. And it joins an exclusive group of those summons; the creatures with the same name as creature type. In traditional oldschool, the Merfolk Assassin is joined by Atog, Camel, Cockatrice, Goblin Wizard, Juggernaut, Leviathan, Scarecrow, and Shapeshifter. If we add Fallen Empires to the mix, we also get five more in Homarid, Homarid Shaman, Homarid Warrior, Orgg, and Thrull Wizard. That means that in all sets from 1993 and 1994 only about 3.5% of all creatures "define" their race and class, acting as some sort of baseline. Though that may seem like a small number, if we would extract it to all the 11,500 different Magic creatures that exists today, we'd only find an additional 30 creatures to fit the criteria. So looking at all Vintage legal creatures, the number drops to 0.4%.

I could say something about how Merfolk Assassin is one of only three Merfolks legal in traditional oldschool, and how its very existence helped create Merfolk as more of an archetype in Magic (not the least as Lord of Atlantis wasn't considered a Merfolk himself back then). That was a bit of a selling point when it was first printed, what with the then-new "play only four copies of each card"-rule. But the core USP of Merfolk Assassin was not the race, it was the profession. And its ability to assassinate the entire board of an opposing mage by luring their creatures onto boats.

This two-card-punch from The Dark was one of the first universally recognized "killer combos" at kitchen tables around the world. In an era before the common man had access to the internet, finding these two cards in boosters of The Dark presented a puzzle that a myriad of young mages were delighted to solve. When the nostalgia-driven Time Spiral set hit the shelves some fortnights (?) ago, this deadly combo was a perfect fit to represent the wildest tech from the summer of 1994.

Wait, are these cards old now? That's sounds like some monkey's malarkey.

That combo played an important role in the 93/94 format. Not as a tier strategy, but more as a format definer. Because when I first cut my teeth by finding the combination of Breeding Pit and Lord of the Pit - with no The Dark cards to be found in any store nor on the playground - Kalle had already started to play a few months earlier. We didn't cross paths until ten years after that of course, but when we did eventually sit down to form some sort of rules on our "oldschool magic" idea, our perceptions of "oldschool" did differ a bit. I believe that most everyone in Sweden would agree that The Gathering (i.e. ABU), Arabian Nights, Antiquities and Legends are oldschool. These sets were pretty much unavailable in the country, with many of them having actual zero packs sold here. These were always treasures from a before-time; olden artifacts from before Magic became popular that only the most veteran mages would have their hands on. They were never non-mythical. On a related note, Revised and Fallen Empires were readily available and almost everywhere for years. It was clear to us that these cards didn't fit in our sense of oldschool (at least at the time). But The Dark was a discussion. Kalle was an early adopter over here, and as such he had seen The Dark in stores and bought them like any other expansion. They were not as special to him as they were to me, and we were after all going for feeling and flavor with our new format. But my first deck looked like this:

My idea for pure nostalgic casual outside the realms I could reach in middle school involved four Merfolk Assassin and three War Barge in the maindeck. And at that point in time we were the only two guys that played the format, so it was hard to try to vote for majority rulings when we disagreed. But if we were to go forward, passionately luring a few more nerds to this idea, I really didn't want to cut my Merfolk Assassins. Kalle, always the gentleman, obliged to my wishes, and so The Dark became a part of the 93/94 format. Today that feels like a good decision, but it's kinda interesting to think back and consider that it was basically all due to Merfolk Assassin.


Around the time Merfolk Assassin could still be found in packs in stores, another creature of pure badass wrapped up his scenes on the cult classic Desperado. Today the kids may know him best for his lead role in the greatest grindhouse movie this side of the millennium:

Danny MF Trejo. I have no joke seen this movie 30 times.

And hey, he almost kinda looks like Merfolk Assassin. Wait a minute...

Hah! Yep, that is god damned Danny Trejo signing Merfolk Assassins.

Double face.

The other day I got a surprise package in the mail from turtle-man and bling black belt Gerard Siatkowski. It was way too generous of that glorious man, and my only hope is that I'll get a chance to pass some of his kindness along in the future. But regardless, I am now the proud owner of this playset:

Just so much face.

Mg circa 2007 would fully lose his shit over just the fact that these cards exist. Like, drop out of school and become a wandering shaman in search of their scent. And now Mg 2021 holds them in his hand. And, I mean, you could too, as Danny Trejo is selling signed Merfolk Assassins on his web page. Being a nerd today is surely different than it was in 1995. I like it better now.


  1. I started playing Magic a couple of months after Homelands was released and in Linköping Sweden, you could still buy italian Legends for 100 sek (10 sek aprox 1 euro), eng The Dark for 70 sek, Italian The Dark for 45 sek. Revised starters were not available but the few boosters sold for 70 sek. (one store sold german fwb 4th starters for 55 sek, a bargain!). Fallen empires later sold out for 10 sek. As I was a kid with no cash, I only ever bought one eng The Dark (rares came first in the pack and when no blood moons or Ball Lightning came up, I hastly leafed through the pack, dissapointment rising until the last card was the "chase-rare" Maze. Man, what I would give to get that rush of happines again! The closest I´ve come to the sensation was when I finally pulled a Primal Order after 25 packs of Homelands chaff.) I´ve never seen a revised Starter or any earlier products. Bought some sweet FBB boosters in Germany and Italy/San Marino in 97 (4000 for a the dark booster anyone! :)).

    TL:DR 25 year old price rant. Nevermind

    1. Haha, nice rant :) We also had quite a bit of italian legends and the dark in my area, well into 96/97 for the prices you mention. Fallen Empires were 3 packs for 20 sek. But for some reason I never really came across english The Dark, at least not for "normal booster prices". Though I've bought a few english TD boosters since I started with oldschool (I mean, they were like $15 up until recently), and I did manage to open a Blood Moon :D

      I assume those fbb booster prices were in lire? ;)

    2. yes, lire indeed! sweet currency that accidently was very easy to translate to sek.

      I remember vivily that longhaired dude who run one of the stores in Linköping. He somehow let us kids "screen" through The Dark boosters (they are semi-transparent) and I said to my buddy, Hey look, Amnesia! The store owner just grabbed the booster out of my hand and then tore into the pack. Me and my buddy just stared at him, awazed at the endless possibilities of a store owner!

      you west coasters had it Easy with them low low FE-prices. You must have been wading through Goblin Flottila and Vodalian War Machines!

      A Blood Moon pulled from a The Dark booster today is a find! I thought they were all screened.

      I have not opened an old booster since before 2000 except when we did a german Renassiance rochester draft like five years ago. Lost the finals due to Lost soul (never thought I would ever say that...) . Won games with Bird Maiden and a gaseous-formed Bee that became a powerblocker with my timely Venom (...or that). Good times!

    3. Haha, that's a wild store owner! I tried out scanning a few TD and LG packs a few years ago to write a blogpost about the concept, but then figured that it might be a bad idea with an online tutorial of sorts on scanning ;) Last time I opened a TD booster was around two years ago (found a Mana Vortex in that one!), but I don't believe I'll ever get any more old packs. It was a different story a few years ago when LG was $100 and TD was $15, but today sealed product feels more costly than tasty.

      And yeah, the amount of FE in our group back then got pretty wild. I managed to collect a full set just by opening discounted packs and trading for the last card (a Rainbow Vale) with the local play group. Had a similar experience with Homelands a year or two later, though I remember that the magnitude of excitement of pulling a Primal Order was well beyond what any card in FE could offer, at least in the early days of HL.

      Renassiance rochester sounds crazy! So much sweet chaff in that small set :D

  2. I also have a fondness for the merfolk assassin. I was the black mage in our group and traded an early Royal assassin and an Ice Age Icy. The combo was awesome! I friend later bought a The Duelist and in it was a card list for every card printed up to the most recent set (Homelands). There were also a strange concept called card rarity that we had no idea what it was. My buddy realized what it was and started trading offensive to get our Gravebind and Formation, cards even we realized was bad. When he showed me the magazine and I found that there was an Assassin in a set called The dark! We speculated heavliy what powers it might possess. When I finally saw one (from the instant-booster-ripper-store owner I think) I was a bit disappointed. Art was awesome (never realized the likeness to Danny Trejo though, now it cant be unseen, like the Jayemdae Tome face. Thanks I guess) but the ability was a bit "meeh"! Never used the war barge assassin combo either which saddens me a bit.


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