Hydras have always been mildly interesting to me. I mean, they’re usually green, so that’s a plus in my book. But most of the time, they’re just big dumb creatures and I prefer my creatures to do cool things other than just have power and toughness. Thankfully, over the years Wizards of the Coast has made Hydras that rise above being just big and dumb, enough that building a tribal deck around Hydras has become a consideration, especially once they printed Unbound Flourishing.
This “X-spell tribal” enchantment is tailor-made for a Hydra deck, but the trick is figuring out what sort of legend we should have at the helm of our Commander deck. Do we go five colors with Morophon, the Boundless or Progenitus? Do we go three colors with Gyrus, Waker of Corpses, even though its trigger is very much not a combo with most Hydras with X in their casting cost? For two colors we have Ulasht, the Hate Seed, which actually seems better as a token- or Saproling-themed commander.
For mono-green we could run Polukranos, World Eater, whose special ability wants a ton of extra mana, and that’s certainly something we’d want to be doing in our Hydra decks.
Unfortunately, none of these options really cries out for us to build a Hydra tribal deck. Thankfully, Wizards has decided to fill that need with this awesome new legend from Core Set 2020—Gargos, Vicious Watcher!
I really love how Wizards R&D designed this card from top to bottom. First, let’s start with the Hydra support. While many tribal lords provide a +1/+1 boost to their respective creature types, Gargos effectively provides four times that boost for many of our Hydra cards with X in their casting cost. Assuming six mana at hand that you used to cast Gargos, that’s a floor of ten mana available to cast your Hydras. And the Hydras that don’t have a variable casting cost, you’re getting a huge mana discount with Gargos. It’s a very clever new spin on the traditional tribal “lord” ability.
Next, I love the card’s fight trigger, which could have been so much less potent. It could have just triggered when an opponent targets Gargos. It could have just triggered when an opponent targets any of your Hydra creatures. But no, it triggers when any of your creatures is targeted, and not just by your opponents, but your own spells too. This turns Gargos’s ability from just a defensive measure that discourages opponents from targeting your creatures to something proactive you can do yourself with instants and Auras that target your own creatures. I could easily see running Gargos in any heavy green deck that’s interested in playing Auras, or just generally having big creatures that opponents will want to kill with pinpoint removal. I’m definitely going to find a spot for Gargos in the 99 of my Grothama, All-Devouring deck.
Giving Gargos vigilance is a beautiful way to finish the card. Since its triggered ability can be both defensive and proactive, it’s awesome that Gargos can also attack and still be able to defend against multiple opponents. And with its size it can easily tangle with most threats you’ll see on the battlefield either in combat or from the fight trigger.
All of this combines to make Gargos a very cool and potent mono-green commander to build a deck around. Let’s get brewing!
Targeting Spells for Free
First up, I wanted a few spells I could target Gargos with for zero mana so that my opponents couldn’t assume the coast was clear if I was tapped out and had no mana available. Gather Courage, Mutagenic Growth, and Invigorate serve that purpose well. Sure, it’s only three spells, but so long as I have a card in hand, they have to worry about it. I also added Bear Umbra and Seedborn Muse as ways to untap my lands so that I’d have open mana. Bear Umbra also serves as a good way to trigger Gargos too.
Targeting Spells for One Mana
I also want one-mana spells I can target Gargos with, since there could be a chance of having one mana available the same turn I cast Gargos. I’ll also want to cast Hydras in subsequent turns, so I’ll want to be using most of my mana too. I really like Withstand Death here, since it can also double as a way to protect Gargos from mass removal. Seedling Charm is a nice way to set off the trigger, since you can either set up a regeneration shield or give Gargos trample.
Other Targeting Spells
Mortal’s Resolve is another way to protect Gargos from mass removal. Nature’s Way gives Gargos trample and lets you sling eight damage at a creature in addition to the fight trigger. Karametra’s Favor is a cantrip enchantment that gives you a trigger, and then, since Gargos has vigilance, you effectively have one mana extra to cast a reactive spell during one of your opponents’ turns.
Band Together is a cool card in this deck. Since you’re potentially targeting two of your own creatures, you can get two Gargos fight triggers and then pile on the damage from Band Together’s effect on potentially another creature.
Wild Defiance has done some work for Infect decks in Modern, and since making Gargos bigger helps in all sorts of ways, I think it can do some heavy lifting in this deck too.
Gargos is big but it doesn’t have any sort of evasion, so unless its fight trigger clears away any blockers, it can easily be chump blocked by anything. Green has some ways to give trample, so I’ve included some of them here. Rancor, Berserk, and Talons of Wildwood are great because they all target Gargos with a spell so you get a free trigger from the deal. Gargos on the battlefield makes it so that Rhonas the Indomitable can attack or block, and for some mana Rhonas can give Gargos trample and a power boost.
Hydras and Stuff
Ah, here there be Hydras! I love having four-, five-, and six-mana Hydras we can cast for just two green mana, and then there are the Hydras with X in their casting cost we can make extra-big. What I find fun about playing those Hydras with Gargos on the battlefield is the bluff potential if you leave up a mana or two and pass the turn. Even if you don’t have a targeted instant spell, your opponents will still have to respect the fact that you could have one.
Hardened Scales, Unbound Flourishing, and Doubling Season are all honorary Hydra tribal support cards because of the good work they do with the +1/+1 counters that many of our Hydras accumulate.
Gargos provides a huge mana boost for Hydras we cast after it is on the battlefield, but Gargos itself costs six mana, which a hefty starting cost, and additional commander tax will be quite painful. Luckily, green has no shortage of cards that can mana ramp us and I’ve included many of the usual suspects here. I particularly like Wall of Roots, since you can use up all of your mana on your turn and still have access to one green mana on each opponent’s turn in case you want to cast a one-mana instant spell.
Geode Golem is basically worth six mana for your commander if you can connect with it, and thanks to some of the spells in the deck, that shouldn’t be too difficult to do.
The new Core Set 2020 card Season of Growth seems like a great inclusion here since we’ve got a fair number of cards that target our own creatures, and even outside of that, we’ve got plenty of creatures we want to cast, so getting a free scry trigger sounds great!
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary is already a great card, but sometimes it is difficult to decide whether adding an extra green mana to each creature spell is worth drawing an extra card versus using the mana for another spell. Gargos giving you four extra mana to cast your Hydra spells makes it much easier to pay the green mana.
I have a lot less interaction in this deck than I normally would, but between finding room for as many Hydras as I want to use and plenty of spells I want to target my own creatures with, that doesn’t leave too many open slots. I wanted to maximize flexibility, so I included Beast Within, Song of the Dryads, and Acidic Slime. I did want to find room for Bonds of Mortality, since Gargos’s triggered ability can be limited by either hexproof or indestructible and Bonds lets you take those abilities away for the turn.
Between Gargos being huge and getting fight triggers, Basilisk Collar seemed an easy inclusion for gaining huge amounts of life, and the deathtouch can come in quite handy if Gargos has acquired trample, letting you punch through much more amounts of damage through blockers. And as big as Gargos is, Commander often sees creatures much bigger, so in a pinch the deathtouch ability can let Gargos take down an even bigger threat if needed.
Sweet deck! But wait, there are too many cards. I’ll start by looking at our mana curve:
Converted Mana Cost
Number of Cards
16 (including lands that don’t produce mana)
5 plus commander
7+ / X
71 total cards plus 39 mana-producing lands equals ten cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can trim, starting with the top of our curve.
I don’t really want to cut any Hydra cards, but since ten cards need to be trimmed, I likely need to cut one Hydra. Of all the options, I suppose I like Mistcutter Hydra the least, even though the haste is quite awesome. I’m also sad to cut Seasons Past, but getting rid of it means being much less reliant on my graveyard, so I’m much more likely to use Scavenger Grounds if I need to stop graveyard shenanigans.
Seedborn Muse is a tough one to cut, but I figure the ability is just a little bit redundant with Bear Umbra, and I feel that the Aura works better with Gargos.
Of all the mana ramp cards, Karametra’s Acolyte is probably the least reliable, even though it’s got the potential to generate a ton of mana. I’m also not sure how much extra mana I’ll have lying about to cash in Clue tokens from Tireless Tracker, so I’m reluctantly cutting that too. Since I’ve cut Seasons Past, why not turn away from graveyard recursion completely and get rid of Eternal Witness too? Lastly, Manglehorn gets the boot as the least flexible bit of interaction.
Even with the legendary equip discount, Blackblade Reforged is still a bit expensive to equip, so I’m not sure that making an already large creature even bigger is worth the slot. Finally, of the targeted instant-speed spells, Ancient Animus and Vines of Vastwood are probably the least good, and so those are my very last two cuts.
Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:
- 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Feral Hydra
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Protean Hydra
- 1 Hydra Omnivore
- 1 Primordial Hydra
- 1 Kalonian Hydra
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 1 Hydra Broodmaster
- 1 Hooded Hydra
- 1 Lifeblood Hydra
- 1 Ulvenwald Hydra
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 1 Hungering Hydra
- 1 Geode Golem
- 1 Whiptongue Hydra
- 1 Incubation Druid
- 1 Voracious Hydra
- 1 Rancor
- 1 Emerald Medallion
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Berserk
- 1 Kodama's Reach
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Seedling Charm
- 1 Invigorate
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Gather Courage
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Bear Umbra
- 1 Spider Umbra
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Withstand Death
- 1 Mutagenic Growth
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Wild Defiance
- 1 Karametra's Favor
- 1 Mortal's Resolve
- 1 Hardened Scales
- 1 Song of the Dryads
- 1 Bonds of Mortality
- 1 Zendikar Resurgent
- 1 Blossoming Defense
- 1 Nature's Way
- 1 Lifecrafter's Bestiary
- 1 Heroic Intervention
- 1 Hour of Promise
- 1 Shapers' Sanctuary
- 1 Arbor Armament
- 1 Talons of Wildwood
- 1 Guardian Project
- 1 Band Together
- 1 Force of Vigor
- 1 Unbound Flourishing
- 1 Season of Growth
What do you think? Are there any cards I’ve overlooked? If you see any new cards from Core Set 2020 that should find a home here, let me know!
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