Art by Ryan Pancoast
Apocalypse Hydra was super exciting when it was previewed. Just imagine casting this thing for seven mana and ending up with a 10/10 machine gun. It can pick off random would-be heroes that get in its path or it can just provide the reach to end the game shooting those final points of damage at the opposing player. Of course, that would involve tapping out, giving your opponent a turn to untap—or maybe even just do something during your end step. Just too much down payment for something that might not make it to the next turn even if you get to double down on the counters.
Feral Hydra arrived without much fanfare and saw little serious play during its tenure in Standard. It is cool that your opponents can add counters to it but, outside of multiplayer formats like Two-Headed Giant and Commander, that was rarely going to be a factor in a game. It is nice that you can play this one earlier in the game and then continue to sink mana into it as the game progresses, but that was just more opportunities for something bad to happen while your mana is being used elsewhere.
Primordial Hydra was a better iteration of the Feral Hydra that you could play early and sit back and let grow without having to commit extra mana. Anyone who played any amount of Magic 2012 Limited will be well aware of what a doomsday clock this card can be. But even in Limited the card could be bounced, killed, or enchanted to make sure it does no harm. This seemed like the most likely one to finally break into the big leagues, but it was not to be.
Protean Hydra was very flavorful and captured the "cut off one head and two grow in its place" aspect of the mythological beast perfectly. The problem was the ability was not really practical. Who is going to do enough damage to a Hydra in Standard to actually kill it—and if you could, that would not even stop it from dying. The real problem was still sinking all that mana into it and then having to wait to get anything out of it.
Savageborn Hydra is a double-striking monstrosity with all the same strikes against it as the other iterations of this creature type we have seen so far. It has been sitting around on the bench waiting to see any significant action alongside the recently called-up Vastwood Hydra. I am perfectly fine with playing a creature and having it die to Doom Blade, but what I am much more loath to do—especially with a creature that wants all my mana—is to have to play it again and again in one game. Unsummon, Azorius Charm, and the newly printed Voyage's End all dance around in my head when I try to imagine putting one of these cards into play. Not to mention playing into counterspells AND giving your opponent an entire fricking turn to untap and find some way to deal with it.
Not having to worry about all those things would be a lot to ask from a card in Standard, but allow me to present to you what I feel may be the first X-cost Hydra to see significant play in Standard.
Let's get this out of the way right up front. It dies to Doom Blade. Not much we can do about that but let's look at all the ways your opponent is limited in what he or she can do about this exciting rookie prospect.
Right off the bat, you can just tap all your mana without worrying about leaving one land up in case of a Syncopate or employing the ineffective finger crossing technique to ward off any Essence Scatters. This creature is going to resolve and it is going to be big (although it really does not need to be).
Haste means that when you play this fattie it is going to come in swinging. Maybe your opponent will untap and sweep it away with a Planar Cleansing, but it is going to get its licks in first. Last week, I presented a heavily redacted scenario with Prophet of Kruphix that involved playing the Simic card on turn five and flashing in a Kalonian Hydra at the end of your opponent's turn. You then untap, lay your sixth land and play a 5/5 Mistcutter Hydra. Your attack ends up being for 20 points of damage that turn. Just the Hydra parlay of Kalonian into Mistcutter is 18 points all by itself.
Finally, that arsenal of tempo weapons that blue decks have come to rely upon over the past several Standard seasons are all useless against Mistcutter Hydra thanks to its protection from blue ability. Even cards like Augur of Bolas and its likely replacement in Standard, Omenspeaker, can't step in its path for a turn to mitigate damage until a sweeper can be deployed.
It is time for all the Hydras in this vein to break out their pom-poms and do a little cheerleading for the member of their tribe that could finally make an impact on Standard. Call it a "little Hydra-rah-rah-rah."
Most of you are probably too young to remember a series of commercials for the brokerage house E.F. Hutton, in which one actor would be talking to another about their investment strategies. One would turn to the other in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant or on the platform of a bustling train station and say, "Well my broker is E.F. Hutton and he says..."
He or she would get cut off by a sudden hush settling over the scene and the camera would pull back to reveal everyone in the vicinity paying rapt attention to the speaker, waiting to hear whatever pearls of investment wisdom were about to be recounted. The tag line was: "When E. F. Hutton speaks... people listen."
I feel that way about Pro Tour Hall of Famers. I asked last week for people to discuss the potential candidates for Player of the Month in August, and two Hall of Famers chimed in to say it was pretty obvious to them that it should be recently crowned World Champion Shahar Shenhar. There were votes for a handful of different candidates and the race was, as they say, too close to call. You may quibble with me using Hall of Famers as a tiebreaker, but keep in mind that one of those advocating Shenhar was World Magic Cup Champion Raphaël Lévy, who was up for the same accolade. The other was none other than Kai Budde, who knows a thing or two about being a teenaged Magic player with three Grand Prix titles on his resume before "breaking through" with a World Championship title.
As the 90s drew to a close, a then-unknown Kai Budde marched across the European Grand Prix scene racking up three titles but little respect. Until he replicated that success at the next level of competition, the Magic community was reluctant to see him as the next great player. Kai hoisted the trophy at Worlds in 1999 and did not stop hoisting trophies for the better part of half a decade.
"The three GP wins followed by the Worlds win and the age fits, it's funny," admitted Budde when asked about the similarities between himself and Shenhar. "He's got a steep road ahead to keep the matching going, though."
For Budde, the prestige of the title World Champion and the concentration of the game's best players made it painfully obvious to him that Shenhar should be the Player of the Month.
"If there was a PT, it would be a discussion. It's a fairly small group of people that can call themselves World Champion and if you are looking for a Player of a Month, winning the World Championship during that month is a lock for me," said the most-trophied man in Magic history.
Given his choice of winning a Pro Tour, the World Championship, or the World Magic Cup, Budde would choose the trophy Shenhar just took home.
"World Champion just has a good ring to it and the tournament is just more difficult. I think the record you needed for Top 8 at Pro Tour San Diego (12–3–1) is easier to accomplish than the 8–4 needed to Top 4 in the World Championship. While you won't have easy opponents in a Pro Tour, you will still end up playing versus much, much less-experienced guys in a Pro Tour field, even while playing for Top 8."
The two players have had little to no interaction. They were in the same room for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze but that is about it. Most of Budde's impression of Shenhar if from watching him play in the Top 4 of the World Championships via the live coverage.
"I liked how he played the 4 Lightning Bolt game versus Stark a lot. He was pretty much done for and had to play in a certain way and hope that Ben would mess up and give him an opening that he should never really get."
The game of Magic has changed a lot in the decade and half since Budde started playing on the Pro Tour. He will still be playing this year in Dublin with Team StarCityGames possibly pitted against his young counterpart, who has been working with the ChannelFireball squad. There may have been a time on the Pro Tour when the prospect of playing against a successful nineteen-year-old player would fill you with dread of youthful antics and swagger. Not something you need to worry about with the mature and composed Shenhar.
"The average player on the Pro Tour is just older these days," said Budde. "It's fairly logical, as most people pick up the game when they are fifteen to twenty and a lot of these people who started in the first few years of the Pro Tour are still playing. The average tournament Magic player probably aged about five years in those twelve to thirteen years and that makes everything more mature. Kids are also more obnoxious when they are with mostly other kids. The whole atmosphere just changed, for the better."
I was already excited about the prospect of seeing Kai Budde play at Pro Tour Theros but I would be lying if I said I wasn't rooting for a showdown between the World Champions of 1999 and 2013.