Down By the River

Posted in Feature on December 24, 2008

By Chris Millar

Chris Millar's run on House of Cards was the longest of all the previous Housekeepers. As a longtime reader of the column, I delighted in reading the different styles and thought processes of the authors. In picking this article, I debated amongst Chris's quiet tournament discoveries (both the Painter's Servant + Grindstone combo and the dominant Elves! deck were discussed in this year's crop) and his excellent single-card strategy columns.

I thought Down By the River, from the title to the end, was a breathtaking piece of Magic strategy and great use of a forgotten rare. My personal favorite of the decks was Kelpieside Crusher, which highlighted another strength of Chris's: the deck description. Elsewhere, Psychatog was complemented by Wall of Kelp, and Soaring Hope was slapped on Augury Adept. A great day at the office—er, House.

Hey, gang, it's good to be back. The aches in my Johnny muscle have largely subsided and the pipes that drain into my bottomless well of puns have been unclogged. My instinct for tortured metaphor is keener than ever, and I'm ready to go. I trust nothing too dramatic happened during my absence. Either way, a hearty round of applause for Noel deCordova who quite ably filled my shoes two weeks ago, and a round of boos for that curmudgeonly ne'er-do-well who took my place last week. What a jerk he turned out to be (although he seemed more bored than evil). At least the deck ideas were cool.

For those of you still reading after my grumpy doppelganger attempted to suck all the fun out the game, I have a shocking announcement to make regarding the future of House of Cards: In the next several paragraphs, I'm going to talk about, and build decks around, River Kelpie!

A River Kelpie Runs Through It

It seems to me that River Kelpie is a card with a lot of potential that hasn't been talked about very much. One more in a long line of wacky blue card-drawers for (See: Fathom Trawl, Tidings, and company), River Kelpie allows you to fill up your hand in two different, but similar, ways. First of all, when it's in play, you get to draw a card "whenever River Kelpie or another permanent is put into play from a graveyard." Given that it came from the set with persist, and, indeed, has persist itself, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it works very well with the rest of the creatures with this mechanic. It's annoying (or awesome) enough when these creatures come back into play for another go around, and even more so when you also get a double dose of their comes-into-play abilities. Throw in an extra card on top of all this and make a complete mockery of most removal spells.

River Kelpie

Of course, there are many other ways to put a permanent into play from a graveyard besides persist. Creatures are the easiest to get from point A to point B. Some can do it more or less by themselves. Ichorid, Necrosavant, Chronosavant, Reborn Hero, and Gangrenous Goliath are just a few examples. Other creatures will need a little help from spells like Makeshift Mannequin, Torrent of Souls, Proclamation of Rebirth, or Dread Return. Note that River Kelpie will draw you a card even if the permanent being put into play is not your own and that it triggers once for each permanent put into play. This means that, in a duel, your Zombifys become cantrips, your Exhumes come with a free Inspiration attached, and you'll get a near Biomantic Mastery tacked on to your Twilight's Calls. There are many more ways to put a creature into play from the graveyard, and you can do the same with artifacts and enchantments. Myr Servitor and friends become a nice card-drawing engine with a River Kelpie in play. Argivian Restoration, Salvaging Station, Bringer of the White Dawn, and Roar of Reclamation are other options if you want to pair the Kelpie with artifacts. Meanwhile, Replenish is the poster child for returning enchantments directly to play, and Crucible of Worlds and Planar Birth can accomplish the feat with lands. As far as I can tell, there is no straightforward method to return a planeswalker directly to play from your graveyard, but I'm sure there are plenty of complicated ones.

The second thing River Kelpie lets you do is draw a card "whenever a spell is played from a graveyard." The most obvious class of cards that can be played from a graveyard is the series of flashback spells from the Odyssey and Time Spiral blocks. With a Kelpie fighting on your side, your Lava Darts, Firebolts, and Think Twices will all cantrip the second time you play them. Recoup and Dralnu, Lich Lord can turn any of your used instants or sorceries into cantrips as well. As before, there are tons of other ways to play spells from your graveyard. Black offers many of them, with cards like Yawgmoth's Will, Yawgmoth's Agenda, Toshiro Umezawa, Memory Plunder, and Sins of the Past all doing the job. Bösium Strip is another possibility. Haakon, Stromgald Scourge allows you to play Knight spells from your graveyard, which of course includes creatures with changeling, like Mirror Entity, and spells with that ability, like Crib Swap.

Memory Plunder
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge

There are many other options, some of which I'll get to shortly.

I guess I'll start things off with a pretty simple Standard deck that aims to take advantage of a couple of the cards in that format that allow you to put Auras directly into play from your graveyard, namely, Retether and Nomad Mythmaker. The former does the job all at once, while the latter does it slowly over time. Any way you slice it, you'll be drawing a bunch of cards with River Kelpie. Of course, for either of those cards to work, you'll have to get some Auras into your graveyard. Your opponent will help out to some extent by killing your guys, but I included an octet of looters to speed things along. Looter il-Kor's evasion makes him a particularly nice target for the power-enhancing Auras in the deck. Speaking of which, the bulk of them (Griffin Guide, Serra's Embrace, Steel of the Godhead, and Soaring Hope) also grant evasion to the enchanted creature, which is handy since so many of the creatures in the deck are eminently blockable.

Another such creature is the controversial Augury Adept. It's pretty nasty with Steel of the Godhead and pretty hilarious with Soaring Hope. The vigilance from Serra's Embrace (and Auramancer's Guise) is also nice with Merfolk Looter and Nomad Mythmaker, since you can use their abilities while maintaining your offense. Both Fool's Demise and Reveillark work well with both River Kelpie and each other. While you can return the Kelpie with Reveillark, you can certainly draw two cards when you return any of the other non-Reveillark creatures in the deck.

Looter il-Kelp

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There are certainly others ways you could take this. You could always add the Auratog / Spirit Loop combo, other Auras like Daily Regimen or Battle Mastery, or something like Glamer Spinners. You might also alter the creature suite to make room for more creatures with persist. I'm thinking mainly of Safehold Elite and Kitchen Finks. As I discussed when I previewed Retether, the card has some potential to backfire (or simply do nothing) if your opponent can kill your creatures while it's on the stack. Persist creatures make this possibility much less likely.

If you leave Standard, you gain access to all kinds of other goodies. Besides the aforementioned Replenish, cards like Iridescent Drake and Hakim Loreweaver will also return your auras from your graveyard to play. One thing you could do would be to use Replenish (or Retether) to return Empyrial Armor and Flight of Fancy. The cards drawn from Flight of Fancy as well as those from River Kelpie would provide an insane boost to whichever creature got the Empyrial Armor.

No Kelp on the River

Screams from Within

Forget about using "other cards" to return your Auras to play. Why not let them do all the work themselves instead? Now, not every Aura has this capability, but some of them do. There's Traveling Plague, for starters, but it seems likely that it'll just end up on your Kelpie after it kills its first creature. Infectious Rage is another Aura that can bounce back and forth between your graveyard and the in-play zone, but again, you don't have much control over where it ends up since you have to put it on a random selected creature. No, for my money, the best option is one of multiplayer pet cards, Screams from Within. If your opponent is playing some deck with a lot of 1/1s—saproling tokens, say—you can kill them all for before the Screams ends up on some creature with more than one toughness. For each X/1 creature that hits the bin, Screams from Within will go to your graveyard and come back into play enchanting a creature of your choice. Each time it does this, you'll get to draw a card with your River Kelpie! As you can imagine, this can get pretty ridiculous if your opponent cooperates and plays a deck vulnerable to this kind of board sweeper.

Naturally, your opponent will not always cooperate. There are ways around this, however. We could make our X/1 creatures to kill, but that seems like a lot of work when there are good cards that produce such creatures as a drawback. I'm talking about the usual suspects, Hunted Phantasm and Forbidden Orchard. Genesis Chamber will also do the trick, as will Warren Weirding to some extent. Once you play your Screams from Within, wipe the board clean, and draw a bazillion cards with River Kelpie, all that remains is to kill your opponent. If Hunted Phantasm doesn't go all the way, and in my experience, it often does, then my second choice is the powerful, but slightly lame, Psychatog. Most of the non-River Kelpie components of the deck can be found with various transmute cards, cards which gave me an excuse to squeeze in Haakon and Nameless Inversion.


Download Arena Decklist

Kelp! I Need Somebody

For the next deck, we return to Standard to use of the less obvious cards that combo with River Kelpie, like Sword of the Meek and Thunderblade Charge, as well as one of the more obvious ones (Crucible of Worlds). How can all of these cards possibly fit together? Well, here's one way.

Sword of the Meek

The key card is Greater Gargadon. Sword of the Meek needs to be in the graveyard before it can be return to play, and sacrificing it to Greater Gargadon is as good a way as any to get it there. You can also sacrifice it to Perilous Research or discard it to Cloudseeder. Once your Sword is in the graveyard, you will want to play some 1/1 creatures. Cloud Sprite tokens will do, as will the Crucible of Worlds-friendly Dryad Arbor, but Mogg War Marshal is the best option. Why? Well, the fact that it will make a 1/1 Goblin token whenever it comes into play or leaves play gives you a couple windows to return and resacrifice your Sword of the Meek. Imagine you have a River Kelpie in play, a suspended Greater Gargadon, and a Sword of the Meek in your graveyard. Play Mogg War Marshal, and its "comes into play" ability will trigger as will your Sword's. Make sure your Sword comes into play first. Once it has, sacrifice it and the War Marshal to the Gargadon. The War Marshal's "leaves play" ability will trigger. Let it resolve. You'll get a 1/1 and be able to return the Sword to play. Sacrifice the Sword to the Gargadon and then let the original Mogg War Marshal "comes into play" ability resolve, returning the Sword once again. End result: You have a 1/1 Goblin token and a 2/3 Goblin token, you've removed three suspend counters from your Gargadon (four if you sacrificed the Sword to get it into the graveyard to begin with), and you've drawn three cards with River Kelpie.

The other half of the deck is built around Crucible of Worlds. It's no secret that Countryside Crusher makes nice with the Card You Made, filling your graveyard with lands to play. The Crusher also plays nice with cards that allow you to sacrifice land, like Greater Gargadon and Perilous Research, or lands that you can (or have to) sacrifice like Terramorphic Expanse and Gemstone Mine. Crucible of Worlds almost demands some creature-lands, so to that end I've included the Dryad Arbor from above, as well as a trio of Faerie Conclaves. The evasive Faeries in the deck are the easiest way to trigger Thunderblade Charge. Here's where I ended up:

Kelpieside Crusher

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Here's one last deck. It takes advantage of River Kelpie's Beast-liness and persist to kill your opponent with Aether Charge. Greater Gargadon, being a Beast as well, provides the sacrifice outlet, while Vigean Hydropon and Llanowar Reborn provide the -1/-1 counter-negating +1/+1 counters that allow River Kelpie to continue to persist. The trio of Changeling Titans combine with Aether Charge to deal an arbitrarily large amount of damage if you champion one with another and then champion that one with yet another.

Kelp Attack

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Until next time, help me kelp you.

Chris Millar

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