Under the Sea

Posted in Feature on February 6, 2002

By Ben Bleiweiss

I'm feeling blue. I'm all washed up. The tide is turning, so don't even think about selling me down the river just yet, or you'll end up all wet.

Had enough cliché yet? It might be fishy, but unless you're a fish out of water, you'll have to go fish for relief elsewhere.

Welcome to blue race week here at Uncommon Knowledge. As you may recall, I took a good long look at black during week three. Over the next coming weeks, I plan on exploring different elements of each color one by one, and what better time to begin than with blue during Cephalid Week?

So, since no man is an island, let's take a (sea) cruise through Atlantis and see what we can find.

THE THALAKOS

Introduced as part of the Tempest storyline, the Thalakos are shadow creatures trapped in the plane of Rath. Although they weren't a 'summoned' race (they are Soldiers, Townsfolk, Wizards, and Illusions), they definitely had their own subset across the entire Tempest block. They seemed like a very sneaky bunch, always having tricks up their wet little sleeves, give or take the Thalakos Sentry, who stood as a guardian against other small (read: one toughness) shadowy invaders.

For instance, the Thalakos Seer allowed you to draw cards every time he left play. You could imagine this as if when he died, he would leave behind little scrolls of knowledge that you, as a wizard, could read for further knowledge. Or, should you Capsize him, he'd report back to your hand, with new magic (draw a card!).

The Thalakos Deceiver and Thalakos Dreamsower both used their powers of subterfuge almost like spies. The Deceiver would recruit enemies to your team, while the Dreamsower kept an enemy occupied so it could not attack you.

The Thalakos Mistfolk and Thalakos Scout were the warriors of the bunch, able to continue fighting with guerrilla tactics (no, not the card!). They'd strike at their enemies from the shadows, then disappear as quickly as they came (shown by returning to the top of your deck or to your hand, respectively).

Lastly, the Thalakos Drifters might be the most interesting, walking the line between the solid and the ethereal. Able to move in and out of phase (not phasing!) with Rath, they could step between the worlds in order to do battle with those who had shadow, as well as those who did not.

THE HOMARIDS

Fallen Empires saw merfolk at war with the homarids. These lobster-like beasts from the depths formed their own communities, with a definite hierarchy established. Although homarids only spanned two sets (Fallen Empires and Alliances), they debuted something very important to Magic: the untargetable creature.

Sure, the Homarid itself may have grown or shrunk depending on the height of the tide. The Homarid Shaman had a definite grudge against those pesky elves and thallids. But the Homarid Warrior and his amazingly large crustacean friend Deep Spawn (also a homarid!) were the first two creatures in Magic to have built-in untargetability. Even though it came at a slight drawback, it was revolutionary at the time. Plus Deep Spawn is just a really large trampler, anyhow.

My personal favorite homarid came in Alliances. It was the Viscerid Drone, capable of killing anything that stood in his path. (The naming team felt that Homarids were unpopular enough to warrant a name-change in Alliances, hence "Viscerid." Their reasoning? "They evolved.") I just love the image of this little guy throwing his friends in front of him to kill Force of Nature or Shivan Dragon.

And speaking of sacrifice, all hail the Homarid Spawning Bed! If the Drone was a mean guy, get a load of the Bed. All the sea denizens were fair fodder for this processor, their very energy converted into making baby homarids (called Camarids for some reason). Even a Leviathan sits lower on the food chain than a gaggle of hungry homarids making babies.

MERFOLK, MERFOLK, MERFOLK

Of course, no article about blue races would be complete without a mention of everyone's (judging from player response over the years) favorite race of undersea dwellers, the Merfolk. Players identify certain races hand-in-hand with certain colors (red for goblins, green for elves, black for zombies), and the defining race for blue has been merfolk. It wasn't always this way.

Way, way back in Alpha, Wizards printed Lord of Atlantis (not a merfolk himself, keep in mind), and Merfolk of the Pearl Trident. Then came the Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends sets, without a single merfolk to be seen. The Dark only introduced a sole merfolk (Merfolk Assassin), bringing the grand merfolk total to two. It wasn't until Fallen Empires that a Merfolk Deck became viable, with the available number of fish-men burgeoning to quadruple its former total!

Merfolk decks have been piloted to several high tournament finishes (including a 2nd place showing at Pro Tour - Rome in 1998, see below), and continually show up time and time again in multiple formats. Their legacy might astound even the most die-hard of trivia fans: of the three sets of lords/minions in Alpha (Lord of Atlantis/Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, Zombie Master/Scathe Zombies, and Goblin King/Mons's Goblin Raiders/Goblin Balloon Brigade), only the merfolk pair have survived every printing of the base set!

Merfolk

Nicholas Labarre, 2nd Place, Pro Tour - Rome

18 Island 4 Wasteland 4 Lord of Atlantis 4 Merfolk Raiders 4 Manta Riders 4 Suq'Ata Firewalker 4 Man-o'-War 3 Waterspout Djinn 4 Force of Will 4 Counterspell 2 Force Spike 3 Nevinyrral's Disk 2 Curiosity 2 Phyrexian Furnace 2 Bottle Gnomes 2 Force Spike 2 Disrupt 4 Hydroblast 2 Serrated Arrows 1 Nevinyrral's Disk

Some of the more famous of our fishy friends include:

Sea Scryer: One of blue's few mana-producing creatures, the Scryer saw extensive play during the MirViLite (Mirage/Visions/Weatherlight) round of Pro Tour qualifiers.

Merfolk Looter: Originally printed in Exodus, the Looter became a mainstay of many "Miracle Grow" decks during the 2002 PTQ's for Osaka.

Galina's Knight: The first (of a pair) of multi-colored merfolk, this creature played an integral part of the winning deck at Pro Tour - Tokyo.

Lord of Atlantis/Vodalian War Machine/Seahunter: A triumvirate of non-mermen that all interact directly with merfolk. The Lord pumps them up, the Seahunter catches them, and then they all go for a ride in the War Machine.

Rootwater Thief: Mike Long's Invitational card (he got to design this Merfolk after winning the Duelist Invitational in Barcelona).

Of course, dozens of other merfolk have seen play in every format imaginable (raise your hands if you are old enough to remember Merfolk Assassin/War Barge decks taking Type 1 by storm?), and will continue to be well-loved in the hearts of Magic players across the world for years to come.

THE CEPHALIDS

These squid-like creatures populate Otaria; their society seems based upon diplomacy, skullduggery, and trade. Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor used to rule over the race, but then he died. His successor married him only for the power it brought. She is Llawan, Cephalid Empress, current ruler of the lands beneath the waves (at least, at the start of the storyline for Torment. I don't honestly know if she lives through the novel.)

Just look at how efficiently mercantile the cephalids are as a race:

The Cephalid Scout scours the land looking for treasure.
The Cephalid Looter takes the haul brought by the Scout, and sifts through it for booty.
The Cephalid Broker takes the goods, and trades it off for even more valuable merchandise.

Pretty nifty, eh? Torment introduced the intellectual cephalids, including the Cephalid Sage (who does some pretty fine research, but takes time to find what he's looking for), the Cephalid Aristocrat (all that money has to go to somebody!), and the Cephalid Vandal (who gets rid of unwanted items and knowledge).

Then, of course, there are the lines of defense for the cephalid realms. The Cephalid Retainer uses his powers to keep invaders at bay, while the Cephalid Illusionist simply uses subterfuge magic to protect. Lastly, the Cephalid Snitch is a fine spy, capable of backstabbing allies at a moment's notice.

Well, we've come to the end of the underwater edition of Uncommon Knowledge for this week, but before you go, I'd like to pose to you, the reader, a couple of questions:

1) (Overheard at the Magic Trivia show at Pro Tour - San Diego): If Ambassador Laquatus is the only merfolk in Otaria, what does he do for women?

2) What exactly DOES go on in that Cephalid Shrine?

Next Week: You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!

ExpansionMerfolkHomaridsThalakosCephalids
AlphaLord of Atlantis*, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident---
The DarkMerfolk Assassin---
Fallen EmpiresRiver Merfolk, Seasinger, Svyelunite Priest, Vodalian Knights, Vodalian Mage, Vodalian Soldiers, Vodalian War Machine*Deep Spawn, Homarid, Homarid Shaman, Homarid Spawning Bed*, Homarid Warrior--
AlliancesBenthic ExplorersViscerid Armor*, Viscerid Drone--
MirageCoral Fighters, Merfolk Raiders, Merfolk Seer, Sea Scryer---
WeatherlightMerfolk Traders, Vodalian Illusionist---
TempestManta Riders, Rootwater Diver, Rootwater Hunter, Rootwater Matriarch, Rootwater Shaman-Thalakos Dreamsower, Thalakos Lowlands*, Thalakos Mistfolk, Thalakos Seer, Thalakos Sentry-
StrongholdTidal Warrior-Thalakos Deceiver-
ExodusMerfolk Looter, Rootwater Mystic-Thalakos Drifters, Thalakos Scout-
Urza's SagaCoral Merfolk, Sandbar Merfolk---
Mercadian MasquesBlockade Runner, Darting Merfolk, Saprazzan Bailiff, Saprazzan Heir, Saprazzan Raider---
NemesisJolting Merfolk, Rootwater Commando, Rootwater Thief, Seahunter*---
InvasionGalina's Knight, Shoreline Raider, Vodalian Merchant, Vodalian Zombie---
PlaneshiftArctic Merfolk---
ApocalypseGaea's Skyfolk, Razorfin Hunter, Reef Shaman, Tidal Courier, Vodalian Mystic, Whirlpool Rider, Whirlpool Warrior---
Odyssey---Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor; Cephalid Broker; Cephalid Looter; Cephalid Retainer; Cephalid Scout; Cephalid Shrine*
TormentAmbassador Laquatus--Cephalid Aristocrat; Cephalid Illusionist; Cephalid Sage; Cephalid Snitch; Cephalid Vandal; Llawan, Cephalid Empress

Ben may be reached at uncommonknowledge@wizards.com.

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