Aaron A. is back with another LandSayGo community brew! WE LOVE THIS LIST.
It's nice to get back into the swing of things this week. The Grand Prix event in KC has come and gone, and there's really no other way to say it, but organized competitive play takes a lot out of you. Long days, 18 to 27 games of Magic in 10 hours, standing around on concrete with nothing for food or drink beyond what you bring unless you want to spend $8.25 on a bad cheeseburger and $3.50 for a cup of Slurm.
So, like I said a moment ago, it is great to get back to brewing, it's great to get back to checking out and, more importantly, testing the decks our community gives us the opportunity to review and enjoy. We cannot wait until we go live this month with our streaming schedule. We will be taking these decks to Twitch and Youtube media as we test them in Arena and beyond. Without further ado, we begin our review of Hydra Tribal!
Put Down the Control and Pick Up the Beats
Hydra's have an illustrious and storied history in the game of Magic: The Gathering. Generally when we get a new hydra it's a rare or mythic card, and they are powerful and dynamic with their abilities. Hydras are notoriously difficult to kill - cut off one head and two grow back (quickly) in its place. In a meta smothered with Planeswalkers, and War of the Spark arcing its storyline with Bolas attempting to cast the Elderspell, it makes sense to give Standard a new and incredible hydra.
If you don't know by now that the Standard meta is being dominated by Planeswalker cards, then you have likely been living under a rock...which has its own benefits: cooler air temperatures, no harmful UV rays, plenty of grubs to eat. Bioessence Hydra, in the most meaningful and direct sense of the term is an awesome force to be reckoned with. My testing with this deck has proven that this creature in combination with low CMC Planeswalkers makes for a situation where your opponent must answer this creature before your next combat step. This deck list is in line with the Standard ramp strategies, so resolving this Hydra on turn five (or turn four) happens more often than not, and we likely already have a resolved Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner on the board.
Creature only ramp packages can be fragile; Llanowar Elves is (as I have said before) an obvious choice for attempting to expedite your curve in green. Arboreal Grazer has certainly proven to be a worthwhile inclusion, most of the Bant decks at MagicFest were running this creature, and even some of the Nexus of Fate decks have been including this card as a means to expedite mana production.
X and a green for X +1/+1 counters seems good right? You bet it does. In a format where there is so much in the way of removal it can be hard to justify Hungering Hydra as our finisher, but it is a welcomed addition to the Hydra gang. It cannot really be stopped without direct instant or sorcery interaction. Seldom will there be a creature, since it can only be blocked by one, that can contend with its growth capability, power and toughness. Hungering Hydra is also an efficient and dangerous early beater. In fact, during my testing I found myself casting it for X=3 and X=4, daring my opponent to block it in combat. When your opponent does elect for a chump block or two, this hydra can quickly get out of reach of their other creatures leaving them on the back foot.
Is Hydroid Krasis the best hydra ever printed? I think we must answer honestly: possibly. It has just seen so much play over the course of the last couple of months, and will likely continue to see play in other formats after rotation. Sure, it dies to Fatal Push, but let's be honest, what doesn't? What makes this creature so powerful isn't that it has flying, or that it has trample, but that it has "cast trigger" associated with its casting that gains you life and draws you cards. Outdrawing your opponent and outliving your opponent is a surefire way to win Magic games. The Krasis is not an early play for us in this deck; it is a mid to late game play once our mana ramp is established, and gain refill our hand and bump our life total up to adequate levels. Krasis helps us recover from aggro beats.
Additional Win Conditions and Synergy
You just can't step out of your front door these days without seeing a random uncommon Planeswalker card blowing down the street. It's a plague really, all these loyalty abilities cluttering up the battlefield and getting in the way of good hardworking Hydras trying to earn an honest days wages. Luckily for us, all of our creature plans fit well into Aaron's chosen walker package.
Talk about a boon for our Bioessence Hydra here with Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner. 7 loyalty counters on ETB? Disgusting. Not to mention we get to draw a card (practically) each time a hydra enters the battlefield, and we can expedite the casting of the top of our curve by doubling up on mana production from land and mana nerds. This is the perfect Planeswalker addition to the deck, card advantage, Twiddle, and an extremely high loyalty to boot. It feels really really good to play Kiora on turn two using Llanowar Elves, another land and using Kiora's ability to untap a land and power out a Bioessence Hydra on turn three. A 10/10 trampler on turn three folks. Nothing makes them run for the hills faster than 10/10 tramplers.
Our deck innately has a problem with flying creatures, only our one drop has Reach by default and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds helps us control flying agression toward our Planeswalkers by giving our big mean Hydra friends abilities. An added fringe benefit of the Planeswalker is that we can cast our creature spells with Flash, and the element of surprise can be exceptional here. Your Hydroid Krasis effectively becomes a Chemister's Insight on your opponents endstep, and being able to use a Krasis for a burst of life and blocking isn't too bad either. Hiding your 7/7 Krasis for blocks is superb, and dropping a finisher on your opponent's endstep is incredibly valuable for us. Granted Thought Erasure has been making the "hand" zone less safe, but still.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World is one of my favorite cards from War of the Spark. Her value to the meta was on display at the KC MagicFest; nearly every bant or Simic deck was running her, and for good reason. Being able to tap "Forests" for additional mana is powerful - by doubling our mana resources we are doubling the effectiveness of our X casting cost creatures, and dumping our hand for traction and mobilization through Krasis draws. Kiora compounds this effect by giving us additional card advantage, and Nissa can defend herself admirably. Her ultimate is gruesome when activated, and I might suggest, Aaron, that we run a couple of copies of Mobilized District to accompany our walker package, especially if we are ever able to create an emblem.
Another five-drop?! Yes. A good one. Vivien Reid, as I am sure you are well aware by now, is a powerhouse. A turn after turn tutor for a land or creature on the uptick feels exceptional, and she represents incremental removal for problematic flying creatures, enchantments, and artifacts. She's also got an ultimate that ends games. Whether it is our already oppressive hydra forces doing the job, or Nissa's activated lands, Vivien's emblem is the end in most cases. I have found through testing that Vivien is a more responsive play; it's the removal package that warrants her inclusion in the list, the uptick loyalty ability is the upside after the downtick. If all else fails she is a target for broad removal, and should be used to bait key cards from your opponent.
Thin the Deck & Buff the Toons
Ramp is critical to the success of this list, we want to be able to outpace with our mana development and cast a big nasty hydra. Grow From the Ashes is the best ramp spell in Standard at the moment. My only gripe with this card is that it is arguing with our three-drop slot. I want to be playing Kiora or Vivien on turn three for setup; even in the five-drop slot I am finding that I am wanting to cast Nissa, Vivien Reid or a 3/3 hydra to tempo. So, I tested this list with four copies of Bond of Flourishing. It felt better to have a turn two play, gain some life and land tutor when I needed to. Consistency in hitting a land every turn was just as beneficial as the burst of mana Grow from the Ashes provides. Grow is consistent, but other options should be considered.
The mana base for the deck is what you would expect from a Simic list, and tuned well. I've never found myself short on a color specific casting cost, and truthfully Grow from the Ashes helps us fix immediately if we are stuck on green. Karn's Bastion is a supreme Magic card; the uses are nearly limitless (as long as counters are present). 11 Hydra's and 12 Planeswalkers all running counters, and a regular Proliferate trigger produced by the Bastion gives us some a dynamic option in buffing our toons. Nissa, Who Shakes the World provides us with the mana we need to make this feel like less of a commitment from our mana base. Also, Bioessence Hydra gets a counter from the Bastion and a counter for each counter placed on your Planeswalkers from the Bastion trigger. Yes. YES.
The Additional Fifteen
There have been many of my test games where I have not brought in a single card from the sideboard, mostly because the main list performs very well. That is not to say that the options we have aren't good for the game plan. Tools are tools.
Two additional copies of Vivien Reid are used to enhance our tutor capabilities and provide more control options for problematic permanents. You cannot go wrong with Vivien Reid. Narset, Parter of Veils is rampant in Standard right now, when I did board her in I had a couple of issues with being able to cast her on curve due to mana restrictions, but there were also plenty of times where she was helping me find a Nissa on Curve. Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor gives us a layer of defense for our Planeswalkers. This can be critical at times, especially in Grixis and Esper control matchups that run The Elderspell.
Three copies of Negate help us defend our early game beaters, and shut down juxtaposition of the board from powerful sorcery and Planeswalker spells. When you need options for saying no - Negate. River's Rebuke can be a total killswitch with the right amount of creature presence on the board. Even the reset potential of Rebuke can be game ending or save you from certain doom if things aren't panning out. Sorcerous Spyglass shuts down every Planeswalker in Standard - use it when you need to.
I am a little confused by these inclusions in the sideboard, Aaron. Two copies of Gift of Paradise are supposed to slot in over the Grow from the Ashes, I get that, and I think it makes sense when we are needing to present some resilience in the face of Red Deck Wins. One copy of The Immortal Sun Feels totally out of place here - I mean, am I wrong? Why would we want to lock down our Planeswalker abilities? Is this a purely defensive measure in the face of Sarkhan, the Masterless, Bolas, and Walker decks? One copy of Thrashing Brontodon may not be enough, unless you are looking to stack this on top of Vivien Reid for more in the way of artifact and enchantment removal? Which is likely the case.
I have had a remarkable amount of fun playing this deck. It's good to get back into the swing of things playing a really well-tuned creature deck. Thanks for the submission Aaron; again I am really impressed with the unique synergies this list presents, and some of the explosive turns I've had have made this totally worth testing, building on Arena, and taking to this upcoming Friday Night Magic session at my LGS.
We can't wait to see your next one, and we can't do this without you.