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Ulvenwald Hydra

Eldrazi Ramp looks like it’s going to be a menace in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. It’s already a successful deck, and it loses virtually nothing while many of its competitors will be gutted. Its smooth, 2-color (sometimes, nearly mono-color!) mana base seems to be exactly what the format is pulling you toward. Ramping to game-winning threats is a tried and true strategy, and between the giant Eldrazi of Battle for Zendikar and a few new weapons from Shadows over Innistrad, green ramp decks are poised to take full advantage of many of Standard’s best cards.

Today I’m going to focus on Ulvenwald Hydra, a mythic rare from Shadows over Innistrad—a card that I’m surprised to see still floating below the surface in most spoiler discussions. Ulvenwald Hydra will be the biggest body on the battlefield (particularly if you’re accelerating it out). It provides guaranteed value even if it gets killed, and it helps ramp to even larger trump cards.

A discussion of Ulvenwald Hydra wouldn’t be complete without a comparison to its ancestor, Primeval Titan.

By any reasonable metric, Primeval Titan is one of the best and most influential Magic cards ever printed. It’s been the linchpin of dozens of decks, ranging across several formats. In those decks, it can essentially serve as a 1-card win. No other card could do what Primeval Titan could do. That is, until now…

Yes, Ulvenwald Hydra is worse than Primeval Titan, but the gap in power isn’t huge. Let’s look at the differences:

  • Primeval Titan searches for 2 lands when it enters the battlefield, Ulvenwald Hydra searches for one. This is the biggest difference. But the tutoring effect and the guaranteed value are there in either case.
  • Primeval Titan gets you 2 additional lands when it attacks and has trample. Great! You usually win when your 6-drop creature survives, no matter what exactly it does. Either creature is capable of finding you a land that can help it crash through opposing blockers. Maybe you wind up winning the game 97% of the time that you attack with Primeval Titan, and only 92% of the time you attack with Ulvenwald Hydra. (Made-up numbers, but you get the point). It’s a difference, but not a huge strike against the Hydra.
  • Ulvenwald Hydra is bigger, and has reach. For a 6-drop creature in a late-game deck, you care much more about stabilizing the board the turn it hits the battlefield than you do about attacking the following turn. In a world of Goldnight Castigators, Archangel Avacyns, Dragonlord Ojutais, and Thunderbreak Regents, this is a huge plus for the Hydra.
  • Primeval Titan existed in formats where there was a formulaic “I win” combination of lands to get (2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run, etc.). Ulvenwald Hydra will lead to a lot of wins in Standard, but you’ll have to be more flexible and more creative in what land you search for. In my book, that just makes things more fun!

Ulvenwald Hydra’s natural home is a ramp deck. You can cast it as early as turn 4, and it gets you one step closer to your bigger cards like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. What’s more, these decks tend to play a variety of value lands anyway. There’s a lot that Ulvenwald Hydra can do in Shadows over Innistrad Standard.

These are just a small sample of what you might search for when you cast your Ulvenwald Hydras. Here are a few more that deserve special attention.

These are today’s versions of Kessig Wolf Run. These are the lands that you can search for and win the game with if you suspect that your Ulvenwald Hydra might survive.

Crumbling Vestige is a way to “cheat” your way to an extra mana. It might seem like thin value, but ramp decks tend to have one or two critical turns in the midgame where they either just barely succeed in turning the game around or fall a little short and don’t live to untap again. The ability to play a second spell on one of these critical turns can make the difference, and I believe one Crumbling Vestige earns its slot.

In decks composed largely of mana, running out of action is a real risk. The late-game ability to search up a land that will refill your gas tank is a huge appeal of Ulvenwald Hydra.

These are just the options available in Standard! Don’t forget that Ulvenwald Hydra can easily represent Primeval Titans number five and six if that’s what your Modern deck is in the market for.

“Classic” GR Ramp

This deck ought to look familiar as it’s structurally very similar to the Eldrazi Ramp decks from before Shadows over Innistrad. They lost Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Rattleclaw Mystic, but they gained Ulvenwald Hydra and Deathcap Cultivator. This deck plays a suite of value lands that makes for a healthy Hydra toolbox, but all of the lands are fine to draw on their own anyway.

GB Monsters

Ulvenwald Hydra encourages you to build at least some elements of ramp into your deck, but it’s simply an excellent card in its own right and can find a home anywhere in the spectrum from “bigger” midrange decks to dedicated ramp decks. This BG deck forgoes Explosive Vegetations in favor of a smoother transition from early to midgame. Sylvan Advocate and Nissa, Vastwood Seer are cheap plays that maintain their effectiveness as the game goes on. The Gitrog Monster is a colossally powerful midrange threat. Ultimate Price’s stock has never been higher with the exit of Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino and the entrance of Goldnight Castigator and Archangel Avacyn.

Ulvenwald Hydra stands out as one of the most powerful cards in Shadows over Innistrad. Dangerously, it’s also a natural fit for what stands out as the most powerful deck in the new Standard format. Expect to see this card a lot over the coming months. If you can, be one of the first players to find the best ways to take advantage of it.

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