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We know blocks can have one transaction: the coinbase. Some call this an "empty block". But I'd argue technically there is a transaction.

Question: is a block WITHOUT A COINBASE a valid block?

The merkle root would be calculated on NULL so I am guessing no [?]

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No, consensus rules require a block to have at least one transaction. It also requires transactions to have at least one input and at least one output.

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