Ulvenwald Hydra

Posted in Card Preview on March 24, 2016

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

Shadows over Innistrad is all about solving puzzles and finding clues to help you figure out the solution to a problem. In that spirit, I'm going to give you a clue, and if you can figure it out, you'll get to see my preview card.

Clue (shh, press the button!):

Click to reveal

I give pretty good clues.

So take in all that Hydra-licious goodness for just a moment. Swanland loves some tooth-loaded Hydra! When this thing comes crashing into a clearing in the woods, you had best make yourself scarce. Have you seen Fargo? That was a single wood chipper that didn't move! Ulvenwald Hydra looks like a snake the size of a house with multiple wood chippers for heads!

After looking at this, I suspect you have some questions.

A Hydra on Innistrad?

I was a little surprised, too. I didn't remember any Hydras from the first time we were here! (There weren't any. I checked.) However, that really isn't all that surprising. With Werewolves, Vampires, and Angels around in abundance, there were more predators who could take down a Hydra, so it made sense that there would be fewer of them and they would stay deep in the Ulvenwald forests. Now that Humans are more abundant and the predators are more scattered, there is more prey for a toothy Hydra to eat. This would suggest there were fewer of them previously than there are now. Besides, not every dangerous beast on a plane has to be shown on a card the first time we get there. Pace yourselves!

How Big Will It Be?

Let's look at the actual gameplay. With a creature that costs six mana, you assume that it will take six lands to get it into play. When you add the land that it puts onto the battlefield when it arrives, that would make Ulvenwald Hydra a 7/7. However, in the world of Eldrazi and the Scions that come with them, playing a Hydra with only four lands on the battlefield doesn't seem at all outrageous. It also means that our Hydra would be a "paltry" 5/5.

For now.

The new Standard format still includes all sorts of Eldrazi and plenty of ways to get the mana needed to cast them. Your Hydra can easily grow into an 8/8 without much effort. And as far as casual games, every self-respecting mana-ramping deck should be able to get ten lands onto the battlefield without much effort at all. Ulvenwald Hydra is going to be freaking huge, people!

What Lands Will It Be Finding?

The new Standard format doesn't include the fetch lands any longer, so you won't be looking for those. You'll be looking for Cinder Glade, Fertile Thicket, Hissing Quagmire, and the like. Many of the lands you'll be looking for already enter the battlefield tapped, so the drawback from the Hydra isn't so bad.

When you step into casual land, the world is your oyster. Maze of Ith, Kessig Wolf Run, Vesuva, Stomping Grounds! With lands able to do so many more things than just tap for mana, Ulvenwald Hydra will often seem like it gets you a creature, mana, and a bonus ability all at the same time!

Is This a Card That Aids Your Ramping or a Card That Is Aided by Your Ramping?

In Standard, Ulvenwald Hydra likely works only if there is a ramp deck that is looking to ramp beyond six mana. Given that the Eldrazi are still here, this just makes sense. Scions are handy, but you can only sacrifice them once. Sacrificing them to get the Hydra into play just makes sense, since the Hydra brings a source of mana that you can tap every turn to get you to six mana. It also works well later in the game when you want to move past six mana into Eldrazi territory or just make your Hydra bigger. Drowner of Hope tapping down defenders to leave the Hydra to rumble in unencumbered, while heavy on the mana curve, just sounds delightful!

Consider Gaby Spartz's Red-Green Ramp list. The list loses Map the Wastes and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Moving Nissa, Vastwood Seer and adding Ulvenwald Hydra more than makes up for the loss of Map the Wastes. Losing Ugin is a serious hit, but given all the red and green cards coming into Standard from Shadows over Innistrad, I'm confident you can supplement the loss.

Gaby Spartz's Red-Green Ramp, SOI Style

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In Commander land, the first place I looked was Nissa. Ulvenwald Hydra slots right into my Nissa, Vastwod Seer deck. Play Nissa with five lands in play, then use her ability to find a sixth. On the next turn, you put the sixth into play, cast Ulvenwald Hydra, find a seventh, and put it into play tapped. This causes Nissa to transform, and then you can play her +1 ability and possibly put another land onto the battlefield. For those of you playing along at home, the Hydra is currently an 8/8. Using Nissa again brings the Hydra to a 9/9, or you have a mitt full of cards to do all sorts of delightful plays.

Nissa and BFF Ulvenwald Hydra

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COMMANDER: Nissa, Vastwood Seer

Ulvenwald Hydra also works well with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. Getting +1/+1 counters or gaining life and drawing cards equal to the number of lands you control shows how well Ulvenwald Hydra works with Nissa.

And this is just the interaction with Nissa. The Hydra works with decks that look to ramp into multiple colors, as it can find whatever land you lack. Ulvenwald Hydra is a utility card that slots into any deck that runs green mana and intends to still be playing after turn seven or eight. That means pretty much every green deck. If you really want to abuse it, find a way to blink it into play again and again. (Yes, in fact, Deadeye Navigator pairs really well with Ulvenwald Hydra.) I'm currently running a Brago, King Eternal deck. Expanding my 60-card deck to include green seems like a very good thing with Ulvenwald Hydra floating around.

I Wish the Reach Ability Was...

And in case you were worried, reach is an awesome addition to Ulvenwald Hydra. Shadows over Innistrad is likely loaded with fliers. When a set features Angels and Vampires, you know reach is going to be valuable. How many Angels are going to get past what will be at least a 7/7 Hydra? Unless Avacyn, the Purifier has just flipped, even that great Angel will not break through. Ulvenwald Hydra can hold the fort for as long as you need while your deck spits out all sorts of misery for your opponents.

Isn't This a Lot Like...

So I've written this whole article and haven't addressed the Titan in the room: this isn't as good as Primeval Titan. There, I said it. They cost the same to cast, but Primetime had trample, which most would say is better than Ulvenwald Hydra's reach. Primetime was a 6/6 all the time. Ulvenwald Hydra might be more, or might be less. Without trample, the Hydra is going to get chumped by 1/1 Scions[1] all day, no matter how big it is. Primetime found two lands when it entered the battlefield. Ulvenwald Hydra only gets one. Primetime found two lands every time it attacked. Ulvenwald Hydra...not so much.

[1] When you realize that Ulvenwald Hydra is usually going to be six times bigger than a car driven by human-sized hamsters, you realize just how big the Hydra really is!

In pretty much every way, Primetime is the better creature. Well, except in one way that completely crushes Primetime. This is one aspect where Primeval Titan just can't compete. Where Ulvenwald Hydra rules, and Primeval Titan drools.

Ulvenwald Hydra can be played in your format. While Primetime sits on the sidelines with a lifetime ban for performance-enhancing abilities, Ulvenwald Hydra is the completely legal way to get a six-mana green fatty on the battlefield that finds lands. Ulvenwald Hydra isn't a card that is so powerful it's going to get banned in Commander, but it is going to slot into most green decks that want extra ramp and/or landfall triggers. This isn't a card that is weak compared to Primeval Titan; this is a powerful card that reminds us just how overpowered Primeval Titan was.

Bruce Richard


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