This past weekend, I had a chance to go to our local Game Day for Theros, and most importantly, a chance to face the Hydra! With a Slayer promo card on the line for killing the Hydra, and a promo playmat on the line for winning Game Day, could I triumph over all odds and take home the spoils?
I normally don’t get a chance to go to Game Days, so I was pretty pumped for this. There was a major Standard tournament going on the same day for a copy of From the Vaults: 20, which I unfortunately slept in too late to play in (whoops!), but I was more than looking forward to the side events. I had won the whole event at the last Game Day that I played (which was for Dragon’s Maze), so I jumped at the chance to win another promo playmat.
Among the other things I got to do during this Game Day — but for me, the most important — was facing the Hydra challenge. I’ve always been a big fan of variant casual formats (I have sets of Vanguard, Archenemy, and Planechase that I incorporate into my casual EDH games every so often, just for something different, and I figured this would be the same). I’d been looking forward to this event ever since Wizards announced it, and so I was more than prepared to win my copy of The Slayer promo card.
This was what I played during the Hydra challenge:
Anti-Hydra U/W Control - Decklist:
This was simple and effective. It’s a Standard U/W control shell, but with lots more kill spells to wreck Hydra heads with, instead of counterspells (since going into the challenge, I thought for some reason that I couldn’t counter the Hydra’s spells). I was running the full four Ratchet Bombs; since each Hydra head has a casting cost of 0, Bomb was essentially a second set of Supreme Verdicts. Importantly, I also had Cyclonic Rift, giving me access to up to nine reset buttons if overloaded, which was pretty crazy.
Needless to say, I wasn’t planning to lose this challenge. I really wanted the promo Hero!
I was the first one ready to fight the Hydra, and after collecting another random guy who wanted to fight it too, we started to game. We started the game on the Hydra’s hard mode (with four heads in play); sadly for the Hydra player, my partner was also playing U/W control, and we quickly made short work of all of his heads with our various Wrath effects, winning the challenge.
Hero card acquired!
From here, I ran several more Hydra challenge games from the Hydra’s side, to play around with the deck and experiment with it. I learned many things from the experience, but was rather disappointed with my win rate. Even when we started the game on “Super Epic mode” (the Hydra starting with seven basic heads in play) or “Ludicrous Mode” (the Hydra starting with five Elite heads), the Hydra still lost. We found that there just weren’t enough heads in the deck to replace dead ones.
(We also found that the Hydra couldn’t beat a deck with any amount of lifelink… G/W Aggro, with Unflinching Courage, just savaged the Hydra, and both Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Whip of Erebos did a pretty good number on the poor beast as well. Sadly, lifelink is not something we can solve… More heads, though? That, we can fix.)
I decided to pick up two copies of the Hydra deck, since I did really enjoy playing with and against it. I wanted two copies so that I could take the heads from the second copy and add them in to my first copy… this essentially doubles the number of heads in the deck, and should make the Hydra more difficult to defeat.
This is the updated Hydra deck after I’d tinkered with the spells as well:
The Hydra 2.0 Decklist:
For this build of the Hydra deck, I’ve cut the awful Sorcery cards nearly entirely — the Strike the Weak Spots and Distract the Hydras were only ever detrimental to the Hydra player, so they’ve been cut down to only one copy each, and I’ve only kept the single copies because they are very thematic, so I like them for that, if nothing else. If I’m ever playing a game of Archenemy + the Hydra (which is definitely a plan one of these days), or a more serious match vs. the Hydra, those two cards will be cut from the deck entirely, because they are quite frankly awful.
Likewise, Neck Tangle‘s been cut down to only two copies, and Swallow the Hero Whole to only three copies. While I like the idea behind these spells (they are definitely on-theme), they are just too detrimental for the Hydra player.
In the place of these bad cards, we have an extra copy of the Hydra’s best spell, Noxious Hydra Breath, which can either be a burn spell or a Wrath of God — both excellent options for the Hydra player — and every damn Hydra head from the second deck that I’d bought. Like I said earlier, one of the issues I had with fighting as or against the Hydra was that there just weren’t enough Hydra heads in the Hydra deck, and way too many spells… There was something like one head for every four cards, which just didn’t work. During Game Day, we ran several one-on-three Hydra games, and the Hydra always lost to not having enough heads in the deck to flip into. Hence, I’ve fixed that issue. Now, half the deck is heads, which will definitely make facing the Hydra more challenging!
Overall, I really enjoyed the Hydra challenge, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Wizards comes up with for the next two Game Days in this block.
As a side note, I alluded earlier to what I’m eventually planning to do with the Hydra 2.0 deck. While I’ve fixed it with the extra heads so that the deck is much more playable (and the deck should be much more ready to be played against EDH decks now), at some point, the master plan is that I’m going to run an EDH game with one player being the Archenemy… who just so happens to have a vicious Hydra as a pet!
Between the Hydra heads constantly dealing damage to the opposing players, and the Archenemy schemes constantly giving the Archenemy massive advantages, I figure this should be an extremely challenging scenario, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m not sure yet how much life the Archenemy should start with, or how many Hero cards the good guys should get, or even how many good guys there should be to balance this out (I’m thinking 3-4 players)… but part of the evil fun will be making this work.
What a diabolical challenge this will be, though!
Once I was done crushing the Hydra, it was time to play some Game Day, and win me a spiffy playmat. For this event, since I had no other decks on me, I decided to run my Standard deck from earlier that I’d used to best the Hydra. Once again, this was my deck:
Anti-Hydra U/W Control - Decklist:
Luckily for me, Fish, a friend of mine, was on hand to help me put together a sideboard for the deck at the last second. I was originally just going to run the deck without one, but he eventually convinced me that that was a bad idea, and we started pulling out a lot of random cards from his trade binder. After starting my random board with Daxos of Meletis, Medomai the Ageless and a playset of Gainsays, eventually I hit a section of his binder with actual blue and white Standard cards.
Thanks to Fish, this was my hastily cobbled together sideboard:
3 Rapid Hybridization
3 Archangel of Thune
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Jace, Memory Adept
Going into the actual Game Day event, Fish and I joked that Archangel of Thune would likely end up being my best card, since none of the aggro decks right now can actually kill her or stop her outside of Arbor Colossus. (Plus, if they don’t see her in my maindeck, my opponents wouldn’t expect her, which would be a huge boon for me.)
It was time to get to the main event and win myself a promo playmat!
Round one: vs. G/R Devotion
Ever since people figured out that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and devotion in general was powerful, there have been a lot of devotion decks running around with these powerful cards. Unfortunately for this guy, my deck is very, very good at removing devotion, since I have a ton of kill spells.
In game one, I’m able to stop both Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler with back to back Ratchet Bombs, and from here, I Wrath him several times with Supreme Verdict. Eventually, a pair of AEtherlings beat him to death. Most notably, I did not see a single Arbor Colossus this game.
For game two, I board in the Elspeth, Sun’s Champions and Archangel of Thunes, and they end up being amazing. My deck does its normal thing, killing everything he plays for the first few turns, and then I have Elspeth on turn six to make Soldier tokens, followed by Archangel on turn seven. When he doesn’t kill the Archangel, I know this game is over; I’m able to attack with my six Soldiers and Archangel, and give my creatures lifelink with Azorius Charm. This gives me seven Archangel triggers, giving each of the remaining Soldiers (and Archangel) a huge amount of +1/+1 counters. What a huge swing! This is more than enough for my opponent, who packs it in muttering about Archangels.
Round two: vs. B/W/G midrange
This guy was playing a Junk deck, with all of the usual suspects from those colors: Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Scavenging Ooze, Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, etc; plus a selection of black kill spells and Thoughtseize. Game one is not really one to talk about, since he gets mana-screwed, and I run out AEtherling on turn 7 with a mana open to Flicker it out if needs be, then kill him with the mighty Shapeshifter in a few turns after that.
Believing him to be some sort of green-based creature deck (he only showed me green and white cards in game one), I board into the Elspeth-Archangel plan again.
Game two is funny. He plays a turn one Elvish Mystic into turn two Loxodon Smiter, and the race is on. Over the next few turns, he is able to protect that Smiter with two copies of Ready (from Ready // Willing) and Golgari Charm, preventing me from Wrathing him three times with three copies of Supreme Verdict. Unfortunately for him, I have the fourth copy, and finally, I manage to kill all his dudes.
From here, I manage to tick Jace, Architect of Thought up to his ultimate ability, and use it to cast an Archangel of Thune from my deck, and a Blood Baron of Vizkopa from his. When I follow this up with a second Archangel from my hand, he sees the writing on the wall (that’s a lot of lifelink and Archangel triggers) and scoops.
Going into round three, both Fish and I are 2-0, so we joke that of course we’ll get paired up this round (it’s what normally happens to us at various events). With 16 players, what are the odds?
Round three: vs. Fish, Mono-B Devotion
Well, damn, I guess the odds were not in our favor. Fish is playing the mono-black devotion deck that’s become popular recently, with Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Desecration Demon, Nightveil Specters and boatloads of kill spells. His version has a slight twist to it, since he’s splashing blue to run Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to kill the control players. With our maindecks, I figure I should be able to win game one easily on the back of AEtherling, but he’s got a lot of dedicated hate cards in his board, so the sideboarded games will get much rougher.
Game one goes about as planned, except Fish mana-floods terribly, and I am mana-screwed for the first while, giving us a very awkward game. I have to go through three copies of Divination to find my first bunch of land drops. Once I find my land, however, my hand is full of gas, and I remove every card he plays and finish him off with an unstoppable AEtherling, according to plan. Ratchet Bombs were MVP’s of this game, letting me kill two copies of Ashiok, and a wayward Desecration Demon.
For game two, I board in more threats, figuring that he’ll have a lot more discard post-board to take cards like AEtherling out of my hand. I board in the Elspeths and Rapid Hybridizations, figuring that they kill every creature he plays, so they’re likely a better idea than my Last Breaths.
Fish out-techs me with his sideboard, casting Pithing Needle to shut down my Ratchet Bombs, and following that up with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Ashiok manages to exile three of my four Detention Spheres, and so I have little to no way to kill it. I eventually land back to back Jace, Memory Adepts, milling Fish for ten each time, but his Needles give him way too much edge here, and eventually he mills me to death (which is pretty funny, since I was making fun of him for playing Ashiok the round before this… awkward).
Time is called, and we end up drawing, which is not so bad. I’m pretty sure his sideboard was miles better than mine at this point. We both just have to win one more to make top 4!
Round four: vs. Mono-R aggro
I played this kid at Champs, so I had a pretty good idea what he was running: mono-red aggro, one of the fastest decks in Standard (and quite capable of killing off unwary control opponents. Unfortunately for him, knowing what he was playing let me keep a hand full of Ratchet Bombs and Last Breaths, and I was able to kill everything he played in the first few turns. One big Sphinx’s Revelation later to keep my life total out of burn range, and we were on to game two.
I board in the Elspeth/Archangel plan for game two, believing he has no way to beat an active Archangel.
Game two is dicey from the get-go, as I keep a two land hand and whiff on drawing another land for several turns. Luckily, all of my cheap removal is there to bail me out, as I’m able to kill off his dangerous one-drops with Ratchet Bomb, and a potentially deadly Chandra’s Phoenix with Last Breath. Eventually, the land starts coming for me, and I lock up the game with a pair of Archangel of Thunes that he can’t deal with.
Both I and Fish win this round, which is good as we’re cutting to top 4. The top 4 players are announced, and we both make it in… sadly though, we’re in 2nd and 3rd place, so we’ll be facing each other for the right to take home a promo playmat and some swag. Compounding this is the fact that I beat Fish for a playmat at the last Game Day that we played in, so he’s out for revenge here!
Time for an epic rematch!
Top 4: vs. Fish, Mono-B Devotion
I would like to say that this match goes better than it did the last time, but really, it goes exactly the same. I win game one because Fish is not able to handle my deck with his maindeck, and he wins games two and three with his sideboard. Pithing Needle was huge, letting him shut down my key Ratchet Bombs again, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver was big for him again, letting him steal one of my AEtherlings. I manage to grind out game three, removing every card he plays, but eventually, he’s able to get damage through here and there and with me on eleven life, I tap out to play a pair of Archangel of Thunes and he kills me with a Gray Merchant of Asphodel with exactly enough black mana symbols in play to Drain Life me for eleven.
Oh well, so it goes.
Final record: 3-1-1
Considering my sideboard was put together at the very last minute and my deck was built to beat the Hydra deck (and not real Standard decks), I’m quite satisfied with that result. In the end, Fish was able to get his ultimate revenge (I beat him for a playmat at the last Game Day, so this was only fair) and the event was a lot of fun.
Conclusion: So there you have it, that was a quick look at my Theros Game Day! Overall, I truly enjoyed myself, with the highlight of the day being my matches with the Hydra. (I’m very much looking forward to fighting the Archenemy + Hydra combination at some point for a real challenge!) Thanks for reading, and tune in later this week for a long-overdue trip back to Shandalar!