Welcome to Magic Arcanum! I’m Ryan Gomez, behind the camera is Nicole
Letson, and we’re so glad you’re here because it’s story time! Each of the five colors in Magic has their
own iconic creature type, which means they tend to show up in a lot of sets. White gets Angels, Blue gets Sphinxes, Black
gets Demons, Red gets Dragons, and Green gets Hydras, of which two appeared in Core Set
2020. We’re going to look at the history of hydras
as they relate to Magic, and if you want to put them to test in the real world, I’ve
got a deck list in the description that you can use on Arena or at your next FNM. Ok, so what IS a hydra, exactly? Well, in Greek mythology, there was one hydra,
described as a sort of water snake with many heads. Depending on who’s telling the story, the
number of heads can change, with one author setting it at fifty, but most giving it around
six or so. This original hydra lived in a swamp next
to a lake, so of course in Magic, they mostly live in the forest. Anyway, this guy named Heracles was tasked
with killing it. You might know him by his other name, Hercules,
because that’s how the Romans wanted to say it in their dark and gritty reboot. The hydra, by the way, was being raised by
the goddess Hera, specifically to kill Heracles. So, you know, bit of tension there, but of
course in the end Heracles wins after overcoming the hydra’s abilities, which included lethal
breath and acidic or poisonous blood. Later retellings of the story also gave the
creature the ability to regrow lost heads, which was a small problem for Heracles before
he realized he could cauterize the open wounds with a flaming sword and stop any more heads
from growing. And that’s it. That’s one hydra in all of Greek myth and
it was defeated and never heard from again, but somehow became a staple monster for fantasy
storytelling, and even appeared in the earliest versions of Dungeons and Dragons, back in
1977. From there, it was just a short leap over
to Magic: The Gathering, where the game’s very first set included Rock Hydra, which
was…red?! Alright, so it takes a while for Hydras to
take their place as Green’s iconic creature, but you do have to respect the lengths early
Magic went through to justify the mechanics on this thing. Take a closer look here: The original text reads “Put X +1/+1 counters
(heads) on hydra.” And thus, the connection between counters
and heads is established for the next quarter century and beyond. “Each point of damage hydra suffers removes
one head unless red mana is spent. During upkeep, new heads may be grown for
triple red apiece.” This part is a little more convoluted but
they’re trying to capture the hydra’s ability to regenerate itself by preventing
damage, or by growing more heads, but limiting it to your upkeep seems like one of those
rules they added just to remind you there IS an upkeep. It took some time for things to improve. Balduvian Hydra, from Ice Age, is very similar
to Rock Hydra, but he only gets +1/+0 counters, so his toughness never improves, and he can
still only get new counters during your upkeep for a very big commitment of red mana. The Spitting Hydra, from Stronghold, takes
a different approach. Notice we’ve dropped the X from the casting
cost and now get a fixed number of counters, with no way to get more! Instead, we can spend counters to deal damage,
which seems to represent the Greek hydra’s deadly breath weapon. Molten Hydra, from Urza’s Legacy, keeps
the ability to trade counters for damage, but also gives us a way to create more, which
is good because it starts with none. Now, as far as I can tell, none of these early
hydras had much to do with the story at the time. They were just fun rare creatures, always
in red, and more or less referencing the myth of Heracles. Then, we reach Nemesis, and get Ancient Hydra,
who is noteworthy because he’s the first uncommon hydra. Can you imagine looking around one day and
being like, man, what’s with all these hydras everywhere? Ancient Hydra uses his fading counters rather
than any sort of +1/+1 counter, but mechanically we’re still in the same ballpark as the
Rock Hydra that came several years before. It’s not until the original Ravnica block
that we start to see some radical changes to hydra design. Take a look at Phytohydra. Forget red, this guy is green and white! Our first green hydra, technically! And ‘technically green’ is still the best
kind of green. While he doesn’t have any way to create
counters on his own or trade counters for damage like his earlier cousins, Phytohydra
does grow stronger over time if he takes damage, much like the original hydra from the Greek
stories. Ulasht, the Hate Seed is our first legendary
Hydra, and we’re already back to using red mana to get there. His counters can be used for damage, or to
create saproling tokens, and while that’s a neat ability to have it doesn’t feel very
hydra-like to me. Last in that block, we’ve got Sprouting
Phytohydra, which is the first true mono-green hydra – and it’s pretty terrible, all things
considered. It can block forever but never gets bigger
and never gets to attack, which I guess makes sense, being that it’s a potted plant, but
still! Alright so Hydras have now been red, green,
and even white, and that means the next one was…an artifact! Clockwork Hydra draws inspiration from a card
called Clockwork Beast. It’s kind of a neat mechanical synergy,
to be honest. You still have counters, they still do damage,
and you can even grow more if you want to. Overall not a bad hydra, for being made out
of cogs and gears, really. Now, we’re heading into the Alara block,
and we get a card that really challenges the basic assumption of what a hydra is supposed
to look like. Say hello to Feral Hydra, and then notice
how he’s got multiple heads but they’re all just, like, attached right to his body,
instead of having that classic serpent-style elongated neck. I’m not sure what to make of this, because
it’s not like all the hydras of this block look like that. Apocalypse Hydra needs a good dentist but
otherwise is more or less done in the traditional style. Also, note, we’re back to spending counters
to deal damage, and straddling the line between green and red, and I think this might be the
tipping point for hydras in Magic. Our next stop on the hydra history train is
Progenitus, the second legendary hydra ever, and the first to use black and blue mana. I could do a whole video just on Progenitus,
but for today, I’ll just say this: it was asleep for a long time until something woke
it up. Anyway, Progenitus is super cool, but only
looks like a hydra. It doesn’t follow any of the established
mechanics we’ve seen on other hydra cards so far. Luckily, we get right back on track with Protean
Hydra, from M10. He might be the most hydra to ever hydra! It starts with however many counters you want,
so you get to breed it to the right size for your opponent, like Hera did with the Greek
Hydra. Then, when it takes damage, you just remove
counters, symbolizing heads being cut off. Finally, if your hydra lives until the end
of the turn, each of those removed heads grow back as two, just like in the ancient stories. And this card is only like, two dollars. Do you guys not realize how well designed
it is? No? Ok maybe you want something flashier? How about Khalni Hydra, from Rise of the Eldrazi? No more tip-toeing around the green, this
guy is rocking eight pips of broccoli, and gives us our first hydra with trample. If you’ve got any sort of Nylea green-devotion
deck, this guy is definitely worth the eleven bucks. If you prefer to poison your opponents rather
than kill them with regular damage, you’ll be happy to know that the Phyrexians also
got their hands on a hydra. This is another clever design, using -1/-1
counters to show the hydra diminishing as it takes damage, a twist on the usual +1/+1
abilities. The first Commander deck series gave us Hydra
Omnivore, which does a pretty good job showing how having multiple heads can let you actually
attack several things at once. Hey remember in our Modern Horizons Easter
Eggs video when I talked about Heroes of Might and Magic? The hydra in that game can also attack multiple
targets at once, so, this guy gets some nostalgia bonus points, I guess. Anyway! Primordial Hydra, from M12, is a more familiar
mechanical design. We still get counters, and those counters
grow over time, and ultimately reward you with trample, which all feels very green. Note that the lack of red now means most hydras
cannot deal out damage, but that’s ok, the key aspects of the greek myth are still here. Of course, as soon as I say that, Dragon’s
Maze gives us Savageborn Hydra, which is another red one. He still can’t turn those counters into
damage though, and between you and me, Hydras on Ravnica are starting to feel weird. The plane already has giant wurms and hellions,
and making them each feel mechanically and artistically different has got to be getting
hard at this point. Fortunately we’re just one Core Set away
from the golden age of Hydra cards. M14 gave us Kalonian Hydra and Vastwood Hydra,
which are the first of their species to really care about counters going on other creatures,
and that was kind of a theme for the set. Finally, we enter the plane of Theros, which
was based around Greek mythology. You’d think that of all places this one
would have the best hydras, and, well, kinda? We get another legendary hydra with Polukranos,
World Eater. A five-five creature for just four mana, at
that point in Magic’s history, was pretty good, and an activated ability that could
threaten a lot of damage at any time was also something to watch out for, but to me, this
felt like another fairly generic big green creature, and not really a hydra as we’ve
come to know them. Mistcutter Hydra was another odd one. He’s the only hydra printed to date with
haste and he’s very clearly designed to beat up blue decks, which to me is funny because
remember, the original hydra and inspiration for all of these cards, was an amphibious
creature. It lived in a swamp next to a lake. And yet, aside from Progenitus, we still haven’t
seen a hydra that’s blue or black. And Theros doesn’t change that. All the rest of the ones from this block are
just green, and have pretty straightforward designs that let them get more +1/+1 counters. I kind of expected more from the birthplace
of hydras, but perhaps we’ll get another shot at it on a future visit to the plane. Magic 2015 had something unique going for
it. A handful of cards were designed by…I’ll
say “celebrities,” I guess…and one such card was Genesis Hydra, which was the creation
of George Fan, best known for Plants Vs Zombies, and so as a nod to that, this hydra is also
a plant. Khans of Tarkir took us back to a more familiar
hydra design, this time using the set’s morph mechanic to give you a different way
of getting your hydra into play. Upon death, you’ll get a bunch of snake
tokens out of Hooded Hydra, which is a fun twist on the regrowth of dead heads trope. Lifeblood Hydra might have been a leftover
in the Theros card file that made it to print in Commander 2014. I like how this one gives you a reward when
it finally dies. That makes it feel a bit like Heracles crossing
it off his list of 12 Labours, so I consider this one to be a pretty good tribute to the
original story. In Magic Origins, we got Managorger Hydra,
which is special because he gets extra counters whenever a player plays a spell, as opposed
to being related to any sort of damage. Origins had a ‘spells matter’ theme to
it, with Spell Mastery being a mechanic, and Managorger was eventually reprinted in Commander
2016 because it works great in multiplayer games. Even just appearing on one card in Magic Origins,
I think this is about where hydras really cemented themselves as green’s iconic creature
type. By this point, they’d appeared it green
more than the other colors, and had been proven to fit the creative needs of many different
planes, often by slightly twisting the +1/+1 counters mechanic. This trend continues with Oran-Rief Hydra,
from Battle for Zendikar, where the counters were connected to the landfall ability that’s
become a signature mechanic for this plane. Depending which version of this one you get,
the art shows it towering over a pair of eldrazi, so it must have had several lands enter the
battlefield at this point…right? Anyway, one of the last places I would have
expected to find a hydra was Innistrad, so imagine my surprise when we got Ulvenwald
Hydra in Shadows over Innistrad. This wound up being one of my favorite designs
though, mostly because of how weird it is. It doesn’t use +1/+1 counters, but its power
and toughness do change. It’s not an X spell, but it gets bigger
the more lands you have. This hydra is a great example of how after
using years of designs to establish a baseline, you can subvert expectations and show players
how things on this plane are not what they seem, and make a card that is both completely
alien yet somehow very familiar. Now just in case you weren’t convinced that
hydras had become green’s iconic creature type, check out Domesticated Hydra from Conspiracy:
Take the Crown. The design is a little ho-hum, but the art
and flavor play up the laughs, so this one is fun if not terribly exciting. Bristling Hydra, from Kaladesh, however, was
another interpretation that I did find quite clever. This was also one of the first preview cards
we did a video for at TCGplayer, so if you want to see what used to pass for content
on this channel hit up the link here. If you could feed it enough energy, Bristling
Hydra could grow to be huge, while also making itself hexproof in the face of your opponent’s
most dangerous spells. This made it a solid creature in a set dominated
by artifacts and vehicles, and I think the color pallet in the art also makes it one
of the more unique looking hydras. A few months later, we found ourselves in
the sandy deserts of Amonkhet, with both Honored Hydra, and Ramunap Hydra, also putting a fresh
twist on the hydra aesthetic. Their cobra-style heads lean heavily into
the Egyptian inspirations for this set but unfortunately, their mechanics are pretty
forgettable. Hungering Hydra, from M19, returned us to
familiar ground with a classic X cost and X counters to start, plus a way to gain more
by surviving damage. All in all, another fairly unremarkable entry
in the hydra line-up, but we’re on the verge of some exciting ones so hang in there. Commander 2018 introduced another legendary
Hydra, and this time it’s got black in it! Gyrus, Waker of Corpses is three colors and
has an ability unlike any other hydra we’ve ever seen. He can bring dead creatures back to life,
but only for a turn. Now in the original greek myths, the hydra’s
lair was also an entrance to the Underworld, so this could be seen as a reference to that,
which probably makes THIS the most hydra to ever hydra. Move over, Protean Hydra! We also got Whiptongue Hydra, which is half
lizard and eats flying creatures to earn itself +1/+1 counters, but the real fun starts when
we head back to Ravnica for the third time. Hydroid Krasis. Finally, a hydra with blue in it. Ok yes, it also has jellyfish in it, but I’ll
take it. The krasis adds flying and card draw to the
trample you usually get with green mana, and the life gain is another green ability, though
not one we’ve seen with hydras before. And, taking back what I said before about
too many wurms and hellions and hydras on Ravnica, we also have Bioessence Hydra, who
works great alongside the 36 planeswalkers found in War of the Spark. So that brings us to Core Set 2020, where
another pair of mono-green hydras wait for you to unwrap them in your next booster pack. Voracious Hydra is extremely flexible. His X casting cost means you can deploy him
at just about any point in the game, and then once he enters the battlefield, you can either
double up on those counters, or use him to fight an opponent’s creature. This makes him ideal for knocking flying creatures
out of the sky, or bullying utility creatures like Llanowar Elves that don’t get involved
in combat but you want off the table. Lastly, but certainly not…leastly…we have
Gargos, Vicious Watcher. He’s only the second hydra to have vigilance,
and the fifth to be legendary, but he might be first in my heart. Gargos has an insane 8 power and 7 toughness
for just six mana, and if your opponent tries to mess with him or any other creature under
your control, he’ll take a huge bite out of the best creature on their side. Or, you can target your own team with beneficial
spells, and Gargos will still jump into the ring to knock out a potential blocker or incoming
threat. Not to mention, he makes all your other hydras
cost up to four mana less, and yes, that works with X because you announce a number, like
four, and then reduce that by four before paying costs. So you can have an eight-nine Voracious Hydra
for just two green mana. And that’s just one fun way to use Gargos
in the deck list I’ve got down below, so make sure you check that out if you’re interested
in playing with hydras in Standard. For over 25 years, these multi-headed snakes
have been showing up in Magic, and have finally settled into their role as green’s iconic
creature. We can expect to see plenty more in future
sets, but for now, which one is YOUR favorite? Let us know down in the comments, and then
like this video and subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss the great stories you’ll
only find here on Magic Arcanum. We’ll see ya!