Hydra Heads are Better than One

Posted in Reconstructed on July 16, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Ah, summer. The time when the clouds seem to evaporate into themselves, when the beaches are packed as the cool waves kiss the blistering sand, when the flower buds blossom into colors as vivid as rainbows.

For Magic players, summer heralds something else as well: the core set.

Magic 2014 is here, and it's a bit less ephemeral than the flowery descriptions of weather. And, speaking of ephemeral, there's something else in the air to make ephemeral: your opponent's life total.

Gear up for some beatdown today. It's time to unleash some monsters!

Kalonian Hydra | Art by Chris Rahn

I always love seeing the first batch of decklists sent in after a new set releases. There are all kinds of new elements to try, and it's exciting to see them all swimming among each other in tandem. If you're looking for plenty of points to jump off of in a post- Magic 2014 world, don't miss the honorable mentions section near the end of the article—there are some great ideas in there.

But in the meantime, we're going to narrow the focus down to one deck.

This week, it's going to be Gabe Magee's Kalonian Hydra–based deck. Let's take a look!

Gabe Magee's Exava's Pet

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The Battle Plan

So, what's going on here? This is far more than just your traditional Jund deck.

First of all, this deck is significantly more aggressive. Featuring a curve that bursts right out of the gates with Rakdos Cackler and Experiment One, this deck is very much at-your-throat. But that's not to say its power is all in its one-drops. It curves all the way up to five.

What is it looking for in its four- and five-drop spots? Well, there's this rather deadly duo:

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Kalonian Hydra

Exava is a pretty strong beatdown card in her own right. A four-mana 4/4 with haste and first strike is plenty. Without evasion, Falkenrath Aristocrat tends to get the nod in most black-red decks... but what if you had a way to take advantage of her haste-granting ability?

Enter: Kalonian Hydra.

The sequence of Exava into Hydra is absolutely fearsome. With those two cards alone, suddenly you're attacking with 13 points of power—eight of which have trample.

But, of course, that's not all.

Gabe has maximized both Exava and the Hydra by playing a boatload of creatures with +1/+1 counters. In fact, every single creature in Gabe's deck has a way to obtain +1/+1 counters! When that Hydra turns sideways, suddenly your entire team is creeping up in size—or if you just draw Exava, everybody has haste. Not only do the two core pieces work well together, but they individually work with the rest of the deck. This deck is not only synergistic, but flexible to boot!

Deck Breakdown

Let's take a look at what each individual card adds to this deck's heads. Like a Hydra, some will be able to stay, while others can be chopped off to grow anew. Here we go!

Experiment One

Not only is Experiment One a premier one-drop for an aggressive deck, but it is an especially good fit for this deck in particular!

Experiment One amasses +1/+1 counters fairly easily, and this deck has a good curve for it as both Exava and Kalonian Hydra are likely to evolve it. Since it will normally have two or even three +1/+1 counters on it, Kalonian Hydra can quickly catapult the Experiment's power into dangerous territory.

Between being a strong aggressive creature and also being a perfect fit for this deck, Experiment One is a card I definitely want to play all four copies of.

Gyre Sage

Gyre Sage has a few strong elements going for it in this deck. First, it evolves fairly easily in this deck. A trick with Gyre Sage is finding a deck for it with enough ways to evolve it, and in this deck it's pretty easy to get a counter or two on it.

However, what is Gyre Sage accomplishing? Best case, you evolve it on turn three and then it helps you cast Hydra a turn early. While that is certainly good, most of the time it's just going to have a small body for its cost and the extra mana isn't quite as useful in this deck. It's a weak card to draw late, and it doesn't help you be aggressive early. I'd rather play a two-drop that is going to consistently help out with this deck's aggressive nature and be good at all points of the game.

There are versions of this deck that could use Gyre Sage—for example, something a little slower and with Kessig Wolf Run—but that's for another time.

Gore-House Chainwalker

There's nothing too out of the ordinary about this gore-loving individual. (Well, except that he loves gore, I suppose.) What you see is what you get: it's a 3/2 for two mana that has the upside (in this deck) of carrying a +1/+1 counter. Fortunately, that's precisely what I want to see in this strategy. It has haste after you play Exava, gets a little larger with the Hydra, and bashes in for 3 on its own. Let's keep the four.

Renegade Krasis

Theoretically, Renegade Krasis is the perfect piece for this deck. Whenever it evolves, it permanently pumps all of your creatures—that's crazy!

However, the execution of making it work is a little more difficult. The problem is that actually evolving him is no small feat. As a 3/2 creature, the only cards that can do it are Exava or the Hydra. And, while those two cards are marvelous with the Krasis, if you manage to curve your three-drop into Exava or Hydra then you're already sitting in good shape anyway. It could easily be something like Hellhole Flailer or Hellraiser Goblin instead, which are two perfectly reasonable three-drops for this deck.

The three-drop that I want here the most, however, is Dreg Mangler. While it doesn't have the extra power (and Hydra growth potential) of the Flailer or the haste-granting of the goblin, what I like about the Mangler is that it is just incredibly solid on its own. If all you have is a quick beatdown draw, Mangler is the plant you want on your side. A first-turn Experiment One followed by a Chainwalker and then a Mangler will put most opponents on the back foot. Additionally, if you flood out, the scavenge ability is quite relevant. Four Manglers, please!

Rakdos Cackler

Like Experiment One, this is another solid one-drop for this deck. Sporting 2 power for one mana is attractive on its own, and the +1/+1 counter it gains from being unleashed can, like the Chainwalker, work in its favor. Not only do I want the three that Gabe suggested, but I definitely want the fourth. I want to draw a one-drop as often as possible in this deck, and I'm happy if my hand has multiple one-drops. Let the cackling commence!

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch

Exava is one of the core elements of this deck. Not only are her stats impressive—a 4/4 creature with haste and first strike for —but she works so well with the rest of your deck. Haste is one of the most powerful abilities an aggressive deck can have, and Exava provides it to most of your creatures!

Even though Exava is a legend, she is so powerful in this deck that I am okay playing four. You want to draw one every game, and if your opponent doesn't kill the first one then you are probably sitting in a solid position anyway.

Kalonian Hydra

Kalonian Hydra is a terrifying foe—and a wonderful ally. An 8/8 trampler the turn it attacks that also beefs up its friends causes a lot of damage. The drawback of creatures like these is that you give your opponent a turn to remove it, but with Exava around that won't even always be the case!

The Hydra costs five mana, but that's not going to stop me from playing the full play set. It's a card that can singlehandedly take you apart, cog by cog, and melt you down. Sign me up for the fourth!

Lotleth Troll


It is definitely important that this deck has enough two-drops to operate on the aggressive axis it wants to. Finding the right mix is the challenge.

Lotleth Troll is certainly a strong two-drop. Growing in size (using +1/+1 counters, notably) and being able to regenerate on both offense and defense are both valuable traits. If you grow up your Troll large enough, it can pose a serious threat with Kalonian Hydra on your side. Putting a counter on it also doesn't require any mana, meaning you can play it post-Exava and, even if you're tapped out, give it a counter so it can start attacking.

Of course, the problem is actually having cards to discard.

The creatures in this deck are good at any point during the game. Additionally, building up creatures on the board goes a long way since your Hydra will affect all of them. Aside from an excess Exava, there aren't exactly a surplus of creatures you'll have around to pitch. You might be able to put a counter or two on one Troll, but you don't really want to draw multiples.

At the same time, it's important to have enough two-drops. I'd like to split Lotleth Troll with another card that fits this deck well: Scavenging Ooze.

Scavenging Ooze

Scavenging Ooze is a strong card on its own, growing in size and—once again—utilizing +1/+1 counters. It's particularly good in this metagame right now, considering all of the graveyard shenanigans. However, like Troll, it has a few problems. You don't want to draw too many Oozes since the first one tends to gobble everything up, leaving no second helping for little brother Ooze. (Poor guy!)

Additionally, Scavenging Ooze isn't as much of a turn-two play, since often it will end up being a Runeclaw Bear until a few creatures bite the Æther. If you look at all of the details, it adds up that this deck doesn't really want a ton of Oozes.

However, between the two, if you draw one of each, that works out well. You're happy about the first of each, and less satisfied with the second. That sounds like a good case for a two/two split—and one that I'm happy to do here.

Domri Rade is a marvelous fit for this creature-centric strategy. Not only does he allow your +1/+1-counter-enhanced creatures to beat up your opponent's creatures, but he also provides this deck a steady stream of card advantage. Not only can you hit hard with your early drops, but you can also have a late game composed of Domri Rade coupled with powerful cards like Kalonian Hydra.

I definitely want to play more Domris, and even up him to four copies. In the process, I want to drop my number of noncreatures. Doom Blade and Putrefy, while perfectly reasonable cards, reduce the chances of hitting on Domri—which is something I want to maximize.

However, it's important for a deck like this to still have enough tricks to push damage through and remove my opponent's creatures. A card that I'm excited about using in this strategy is Ghor-Clan Rampager.

Ghor-Clan Rampager

Why Rampager? It helps your creatures win in combat, works well with Domri (both being a spell-like effect that it draws you and also helping you fight larger things post-combat), and even works well with a Kalonian Hydra attack—suddenly your counter-doubled Experiment One gains +4/+4 and trample! I'd like to play three—enough to see one to help turn combat in your favor, but not so many that your hand is clogged on them.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the deck to:

Gavin Verhey's (512) Heads of Summer

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Something that particularly strikes me about this deck is how versatile it is. You can have an aggressive draw and put your opponent under a ton of pressure—but even if your pesky opponent Supreme Verdicts away your board, a single Kalonian Hydra can be enough to threaten bringing his or her life total to 0.

There are definitely other takes on this strategy you could take. If you wanted to go larger, you could use cards like Farseek and more mana-intensive threats like Olivia Voldaren. Alternatively, you could push the curve down low and play a lot more two-drops than this version. Jund colors always seem to present so many directional options!

Olivia Voldaren

Regardless of how you take this core and run with it, I hope you have fun! Attacking with Kalonian Hydra and a board full of +1/+1-counter guys was something I really enjoyed when playtesting Magic 2014 , and I imagine that'll come through just as well now that the cards are finally out in the public eye. There's nothing quite like grabbing the dice on all your creatures and doubling them all.

Honorable Mentions

Jund +1/+1 counters not so much your thing? Never fear—honorable mentions are here! Take a look through some of the most exciting post- Magic 2014 decks that were sent my way.

Coleman Jackson's Advent of the Arcanist

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Flashmaster's Lifegain Midrange

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Gordon Smith's Battledriver Naya

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Angelica's Mono-Red Beats

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Michael Steidl's Planeswalker Control

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Paul Wilhelm's Orzhov Enchantments

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Tan Sze Choon's Zombie Prophecy

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Disciple of Innistrad's Angelic Post

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Laurids's One Man's Bread…

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Johnnie Alexandro's Battledriver Burn

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Joe Lawton's RWU Tokens

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World War M

In just two weeks, Worlds Week will be upon us.

Featuring the World Championship, the World Magic Cup, and plenty of exciting Magic action, it's going to be an exciting week. The best players in the game will play across myriad formats—one of which is Standard.

So, for that week, let's take a highly competitive look at Standard, shall we?

Format: Standard
Restrictions: Your deck should be aimed to be highly competitive.
Deadline: July 21, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (The specific numbers below are arbitrary, so please don't feel a need to use them—it's just how an example of how a decklist should look when laid out.)


20 Land
20 Land
4 Creature
4 Creature
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
4 Planeswalker

With Magic 2014 in the mix, it will be exciting to see how it shakes up top-level tournament play! I can't wait to see it showcased on the largest stage in Amsterdam—and it will be an interesting exercise to evaluate the format to build a deck of our own beforehand. I look forward to seeing what you all submit!

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or feedback, feel free to send it my way! You can either send me a tweet or post in the forums and I'll be sure to take a look.

I'll be back next week with another look at post- Magic 2014 Standard. Talk with you then!


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