Root for the Funky Fish

Posted in Feature on December 19, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

When the changes to the Extended format were announced, I wrote an article brainstorming some fun deck ideas in what was then a completely uncharted format. At the time, I only had enough space to feature four cards from the entire Tempest block, so I ended the article with a list of other kooky potential feature cards.

Two of the cards from that list -- Rootwater Matriarch and Rootwater Shaman -- have continued to tickle my brain. I knew that when we decided to do a Tempest Week here at, I would jump at the chance to focus on these two quirky beauties.

First, though, because it's Tempest Week, I'll let you in on why Tempest holds a special place in my heart. Put simply, I played my first competitive Magic tournament soon after Tempest became legal in Standard. I had been playing since Ice Age, but it took me a while to go from theme-deck building with my wife to facing off against the pro players in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I can still remember showing up at The Underworld with my black-blue Sliver deck. That's right. Black. Blue. Slivers. None of those Muscle Sliver wimps for me (heck, this was even pre-Hibernation Sliver). Instead, I was somehow attracted to the combination of Winged Sliver, Mindwhip Sliver, and Metallic Sliver. I predictably ended the day 1-3, but I had loads of fun. I don't play in many competitive tournaments, but that first one was memorable.

Someday I'll talk about my second Constructed tournament, where I battled Randy Buehler with my red-black Vampire Hounds - Revenant deck. Maybe when we do Stronghold Week.

Anyway, somehow amid the Tempest set's focus on Slivers, shadow creatures, and quick kills, I completely overlooked Rootwater Matriarch and Shaman. In fact, I never built a deck around them while they were legal in Standard. Today feels a bit like making up for lost time.

Rootwater Shaman

Rootwater Shaman

As Aaron so recently reminded us, creatures with nontapping and nonmana abilities are a tremendous luxury. Rootwater Shaman is a bit like True Believer, Meddling Mage, or Nightscape Familiar in its effect. That is, the rules of the game change in your favor as long as these creatures are alive -- they're sort of like enchantments on little cardboard legs. Add to the fact that Rootwater Shaman isn't a horrible deal as a 2/2 for , and you have a very intriguing medicine man.

The ability to play creature enchantments at instant speed might not curl your toes at first. But think about the implications. You can play Rancor on whichever creature it will most help after blockers are declared. Abduction nabs an opposing creature as surprise defense. Ghostly Wings becomes an emergency creature-pumping-flying-Unsummon whenever needed. The list goes on and on. Pariah and Pattern of Rebirth, in particular, have evil implications when played as instants.

Probably the most impressive effect you'll find with the ability to play creature enchantments as instants is that Rootwater Shaman makes a typical Enchantress deck even wackier. Sure, the deck needs to support a lot of enchant creature cards instead of more global enchantments, but a Whip Silk played several times for several cards during an opponent's end step sounds pretty tasty to me . . .


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Rootwater Matriarch

Rootwater Matriarch

Meanwhile, the Matriarch of the Rootwater clan has a different love for creature enchantments. With a flick of the wrist (or a tap . . . whatever), Rootwater Matriarch can steal a creature as long as it's enchanted. The enchantment doesn't need to be your own. You can steal your opponent's Steadfast Guard after it's been suited up with a Serra's Embrace, or you can drop Curiosity on the Guard yourself to steal it. Either way, the creature is coming over to your side of the table for the foreseeable future. Note that Rootwater Matriarch doesn't need to stay tapped for the effect -- each turn it can steal a newly enchanted creature.

Of course, the ability presents a dilemma: Do you risk playing good creature enchantments on opposing creatures so you can steal them, or do you play with crippling enchantments like Mourning and steal a diminished creature? Having your opponent Parch your Matriarch in response to dropping Armadillo Cloak on his or her creature would suck, but a stolen Masticore with Arrest on it is no good either. Some creature enchantments ride a middle ground nicely -- the aforementioned Pariah and even something as seemingly innocent as Private Research can be the Matriarch's best friend.

Personally, I think Tempest provides another solution to Rootwater Matriarch in the Licids. With Gliding Licid, for example, you have a creature that can combine with the Matriarch to steal any opposing creature and give it flying. When the creature is about to die -- or if a better creature to steal comes along -- the Licid can always hop off and aim at another opposing brute. Something like this . . .

The Bunny Hop

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Unfortunately, Rootwater Matriarch fits relatively poorly into a modified Enchantress deck, and Rootwater Shaman doesn't help at all when using Licids. As both are blue and center around using creature enchantments, though, it stands to reason that several decks can support both members of the Rootwater clan.

For example, both creatures are Merfolk. Merfolk decks have long used creature enchantments like Curiosity and Sigil of Sleep in them, so a Merfolk deck is a natural place to find both the Shaman and Matriarch. In particular, I like the use of Mistform Mask in a deck like this -- you can steal opposing creatures at instant speed and then turn them into Merfolk for +1/+1 and islandwalk thanks to Lord of Atlantis. The ability to turn the Lord itself into a Merfolk to benefit from its own ability is an added bonus.

Funky Fish

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If a deck is going to be focusing on creature enchantments to support both Rootwater Shaman and Rootwater Matriarch, white provides a few juicy cards to help out. I've sung the praises of Nomad Mythmaker before, and to me, a deck with an enchant creature focus feels incomplete without it. Add Faith Healer to the mix, and you have almost exactly one bazillion combat tricks you can perform to bewilder and amaze opponents. And because your deck is blue-white, you get to use Hanna, Ship's Navigator! Wheee!

Big Butt

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Are there other decks that can support both Rootwater Shaman and Rootwater Matriarch? Yes indeedy. Try a blue-green deck with cards like Merfolk Looter, Careful Study, Iridescent Drake, and (insert sounds of heavy footsteps here) Mythic Proportions! Or build a deck around Winds of Rath. Or use cards like Dying Wail, Gaseous Form, Laccolith Rig, Treacherous Link, and Druid's Call -- cards that are hard to justify in most decks but that can become a hilarious and rude surprise for an opponent thanks to the Rootwater Duo. And Magic is fundamentally about hilarious and rude surprises, right?

Both the Shaman and the Matriarch are great examples of cards that can go overlooked in a set for a long while. As I said, I completely missed both of them until recently, and I'm someone who usually stretches the boundaries of viable cards for my decks. I'm confident that every set contains cards like this -- cards that'll blow your friends' minds -- if you use some creativity. Be daring, and explore the (hoo boy . . . bad pun coming) waters of your imagination.

Next week: Enjoy the holidays. Spend time with loved ones.

-- j

Jay may be reached at

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