Forgotten Harvest – Water Polo
(Sigiled Starfish | Art by Nils Hamm)
Krakens on Horseback with Swords
Welcome back, everyone, to another iteration of Forgotten Harvest, the article series where I highlight cards in 300 decks or less on EDHREC. This week will be all about sticking to a challenging deckbuilding restriction, and the underplayed cards that can look great with those restrictions in mind. I'm also super-excited, because this means I can talk about my most favorite deck ever!
Travel back with me to the year 2015. It's a Saturday morning around 10:00 AM. Past-Kyle has popped into his local gaming store, Gabi's Olympic Cards and Comics in Olympia, WA, to take in the goings-on. He has a reputation at the store for adoring the jankiest builds, and for hunting through box after box for a copy of some obscure card that he looked up on Gatherer the other night. Scott, the gentleman tending the Magic counter, brings up his latest Commander build for sale at the store, called Water Polo. The premise of the deck hearkens back to a previous conversation about how much fun it would be to put Equipment on creatures that obviously wouldn't be able to use the item, like putting Champion's Helm on a Stillmoon Cavalier. This lead to thoughts of an Octopus wielding a Loxodon Warhammer while riding on horseback, and thus the deck was born. After a quick peek at the contents, Kyle decides Water Polo will be coming home with him.
I've spent the last 4 years improving, tweaking, and "fancifying" the deck. When Kaladesh introduced Vehicles, they were quickly slotted in. When I finally landed a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, it was an immediate add. All the while, I've held true to three rules:
- Water Polo must be about Krakens on horseback with swords. There must always exist the themes of big sea creatures and Equipment in the deck.
- Water Polo isn't a control deck. I can't run a bunch of Counterspell variants. Some removal is okay, but always keep the deck about Rule #1.
- With the exception of it's general, Water Polo can't have anthropomorphic creatures. No Humans, no Merfolk, no Pirates, no Spirits. Every creature in the 99 must look ridiculous when equipped, or on horseback, or crewing a Vehicle.
Rule #3 is the big challenge. I've had to make some very interesting design choices in order to keep Merfolk out and still manage a decent mana curve. We'll get more into that later, but first I should get into some of the heavy-hitters in the deck.
Denizens of the Deep
Commanding the Water Polo team is Sun Quan, Lord of Wu. I grant him a special exception on the anthropomorphic rule, as he is the only way I can get all my sea creatures on horseback. While this is primarily there for the gimmick, it also greatly affects my choice of which big bubble-blasting beasts to include in the 99. In Commander, Horsemanship essentially keeps my creatures from being blocked in all instances, so already-unblockable creatures like Deep-Sea Kraken, Scrapdiver Serpent and Tidal Kraken are no longer necessary. It also makes Stormsurge Kraken far worse than normal, hence its exclusion from the list.
Tromokratis technically falls into that category as well, but it has proven to be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of opponents' misplays. Those on the other side of the table have been so focused on making sure they have a way to stop this big'un that they avoid the red zone or hold off on activated abilities.
Swords and Hammers and Boots, Oh My!
I want to make sure my Water Polo crew has only the best polo equipment, so a good chunk of the deck is filled with the best attachable artifacts I could find. This also serves a second purpose of helping to drop the mana curve. It isn't enough on its own, which is why there are plenty of mana rocks to help.
Equipment generally serve one of three purposes: protect the team, do something great when attacking, or provide help when blocking. There's not much need for additional pump or making my creatures unblockable, but keeping something alive with a Darksteel Plate is more along the lines of what the deck needs. The same is true of Sword of Feast and Famine untapping lands. The Vehicles work better with the smaller sea creatures, and potentially offer something on their own, like Cultivator's Caravan.
Those in Under 300 Leagues
The cards mentioned above are classics of the genre, but the deck is also full to brimming with underused cards that show up in less than 300 decks on EDHREC. Let's see what gems lurk beneath the depths.
One of the critical pieces this deck struggles with is removal. There's plenty of bounce from the Leviathans above, and from Whelming Wave and Cyclonic Rift, but repeatable removal is lacking. Offering some support with this, Giant Oyster (174 decks) can help tap down a problem creature and slowly crush it to death. Another creature tapper is Sand Squid, an oft-forgotten gem from Mercadian Masques, only appearing in 105 decks. It fills a similar role, just without the -1/-1 counters, trading them for a 2/2 body capable of crewing a Vehicle, not to mention the very relevant Islandwalk, given the Stormtide Leviathan in the deck.
These creatures not only aid in removal, but they meet the non-anthropomorphic requirement and drop the mana curve slightly. I've found these cards to be just powerful enough to provide removal without drawing the ire of the table. I've never had either removed before getting to use them at least once, and usually they stick around far longer. There's also nothing like throwing some Equipment on either of them and swinging in with a bizarre Jitte-wielding Oyster.
Talk about weird abilities in blue! Spiny Starfish from Alliances is one of the hard-to-find aquatic regenerators. Not only that, it also makes baby starfish when the regeneration triggers! What a kooky three-drop that slots perfectly into the sea creatures theme. Found in 121 decks on EDHREC, Spiny Starfish provides some excellent hard-to-remove defense while the deck ramps up to dropping its first Kraken.
Another three-drop helping out in the early game is Chambered Nautilus. With its "when blocked" trigger, this mollusk is an excellent target for Equipment. When the Nautilus is holding a sword, it becomes a lot harder to just let it on through. It's only seeing play in 10 decks right now, but I think that number could be much higher.
I expect to get so much grief for including Dandan in a Commander deck, but hear me out: it's a cheap sea creature, it's a threatening blocker, and it can Crew any Vehicle in the deck. Somehow, it sees play in 42 decks right now. Honestly, I think that number is high, likely due to some Islandhome-themed builds. In this specific instance, I've had trouble finding something as effective as this two-drop, especially since I'm not running any Merfolk or Wizards.
One of this deck's (many) faults is difficulty recovering in the late game. To help keep life totals from dipping too low, I've included Kraken's Eye. All of these life-gaining artifacts tend not to see much play, with the Eye only included in 245 decklists. As a bonus, I get some life from other players' blue spells as well. The only hard part is remembering the trigger.
Another weakness for this deck is facing down flyers. Luckily, the world enchantment Mystic Decree helps out a bunch! Sure, lots of sea creatures will end up losing their Islandwalk, but the ability isn't very relevant when they already have Horsemanship. I especially like dropping this right after Stormtide Leviathan hits the battlefield. The break from combat can be a big help, and serves as a political play as well.
Finally, I've found it necessary to prepare for spot removal against the big Leviathans. Blue doesn't offer much in the way of recursion, but Homarid Spawning Bed does offer something before the beastie hits the bin. The Camarid tokens it generates function as great chump blockers, or can be used to Crew vehicles. While it's only in 165 decks, I think this is a great option for most blue/black reanimator builds.
Let's have a look at the full list:
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The Tide's Going Out
Well, that's about it for this time on Forgotten Harvest. Got a question, comment, or snide remark? Leave it for me in the comments. What are some interesting restrictions you've used when building a deck? Are there any neglected cards in 300 decks or less on EDHREC that you'd like to see featured? Or maybe there's a less-than-popular deck idea that you'd like to see fleshed out, like Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis enchantress or Muldrotha, the Gravetide Voltron. Let me hear all about it below!