Thundermaw Hellkite: The New Baneslayer

Find out why Patrick Chapin is so excited about a new card coming out in M13, Thundermaw Hellkite, and see the many decks he already thinks it will find a home in.

With the Prerelease just two weeks away and 182 out of 249 cards from the set (allegedly) known, the question on everyone’s mind is, "How are they going to replace the Titans?" Those are some pretty giant shoes to try to fill, after all.

One possible solution would be to just try to replace them with another cycle, but the comparisons would be inevitable, and, frankly, I would hate to see something that can even be compared to them. The much wiser course of action is to replace them with five big headliners of different sorts.

Last week, we discussed the new Ajani, Caller of the Pride here. Between him and the new Liliana, that makes two new planeswalkers for people to wrap their minds around (not to mention the exciting reprint of Nicol Bolas, which might not be one of the new cards but is one of the most exciting reprints you could name).

It is not clear if Thragtusk is intended to fill this role for green, but it might be. Combined with Rancor, we are certainly not short on excitement for the color green. This leaves us with blue and red still to be accounted for…until today.

Without question, the flagship red card of the set (and probably just straight up the flagship card of the set) is Thundermaw Hellkite:

Thundermaw Hellkite 3RR

Creature – Dragon

Flying, Haste

When Thundermaw Hellkite enters the battlefield, it deals 1 damage to each creature with flying your opponents control. Tap those creatures.




This card…wow.

So let’s compare this bad boy to Baneslayer Angel, a very worthy metric, to be sure. To start with, a 5/5 flier for 3CC, so far, so good. But what about lifelink? Isn’t lifelink one of the absolute best core-abilities in the game? No question. Just about the only ability as good as lifelink is…


Haste radically changes the dynamics of how creatures play. It isn’t just that the creature sort of costs one less mana (since it is attacking the turn after you had one less mana than its cost). It lets you change the tempo of the game, seizing the initiative. It lets you punish sorcery speed cards. It takes out planeswalkers. If lifelink is sort of like drawing a card each turn (where that card is zero mana gain five), haste is like drawing a card when it enters the battlefield, where that card is a zero mana deal five.

Maybe this isn’t the new Baneslayer. Maybe this is the new Mulldrifter

There is an old saying in Magic about new cards. "Every new card would be better if it was +1/+1, cost one less, and haste." All of these amount to basically the same thing. At the end of the day, you are supposed to get N amount of value. If you get +1/+1, that is pretty close to a mana more than you are supposed to have gotten. Costing one less is the literal interpretation of this. Having haste virtually accomplishes the same thing.

This is Thundermaw Hellkite summed up perfectly. Shivan Dragon? Thundermaw costs less and has haste. Volcanic Dragon? For less mana you get a bigger body, not to mention the ability.

The ability!

That’s right, we haven’t even gotten to Thundermaw Hellkite’s enters the battlefield ability. While Baneslayer Angel has first strike (and protection from Dragons and from Demons), Thundermaw Hellkite has the extremely intentional flier hosing ability of dealing one damage to all opposing fliers (sweeping the board of Moorland Haunt and Lingering Souls tokens, not to mention Birds of Paradise), then tapping any that survive (such as flipped Delvers, Restoration Angels, and Consecrated Sphinx).

Lingering Souls? Moorland Haunt? Birds of Paradise? Is this a good time for this ability or…? What’s more, an opponent’s Vapor Snag means you get the trigger twice. What’s more, haste makes that an extremely losing proposition.

One of the classic weaknesses of Baneslayer Angel was its vulnerability to Doom Blade Guy and his ilk. Thundermaw Hellkite dies to those same Blades, but still 187’s some fliers before he does. How do you get around this? If you want to avoid giving up value to Thundermaw, there is a real simple solution.

Don’t play one-toughness fliers.

I realize just how radical of a proposition that is, but no need to commit at the moment. It’s just something to think about…

Thundermaw Hellkite is that rare creature that is going to change the way we play. The anti-Baneslayer, he is going to give red decks new dimensions and new meaning in much the same way Demigod of Revenge did. Of course, he is going to do it without requiring five red in the cost, which means he is going to have an even wider impact.

Never before has a card so obviously been costed on the "Baneslayer Curve" (besides Baneslayer Angel); Thundermaw Hellkite’s impact on the game is going to be felt both in existing red decks (which all have to consider her) and in all the new archetypes that will surely pop up as a result of such a powerful new tool. Remember how many new Baneslayer decks eventually were born as a result of her as an option? Remember how many existing decks just adopted Baneslayers?

Thundermaw Hellkite is good in a space that other cards haven’t been good lately. It does compete with Zealous Conscripts, but they serve very different roles. Zealous Conscripts is a Swiss Army Knife, solving tricky problems with a variety of functions despite not being overly strong baseline. Thundermaw, on the other hand, is like Baneslayer Angel, generally strong against everyone but with a number of matchups where she is doubly good.

Sometimes new cards come out that look like they could be potentially sweet in one or two types of decks. Thundermaw Hellkite’s rate is so bananas, any deck capable of generating double red has to strongly consider him. His impact is going to have so many implications, it is basically impossible to know what the best Thundermaw decks are going to look like after the metagame shifts because of him. But we have to start somewhere, so let’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.

The return of Rancor gives G/R a very powerful new tool for beating down, though it is very possible that we also want Sword of War and Peace in the maindeck. Thundermaw makes for an excellent five-drop but has me wanting to look to get more Hellriders into the maindeck. They aren’t as strong as they are in Boros, but they are still extremely aggressive and fantastic for racing.

Galvanic Blast and Pillar of Flame are fairly popular, but I still prefer Bonfire of the Damned in these nearly mono-creature decks. It isn’t always good, but it does have a very big impact on the game when it is relevant.

Cavern of Souls is surprisingly unpopular in G/R due to the diverse selection of creature types. Still, I think it is worth considering as it does serve as a sort of "Better Tendo Ice Bridge," not to mention the ability to force through a key threat against Mana Leak.

Speaking of Boros, another possibility is the use of Thundermaw Hellkite alongside Hellrider in a Boros deck. Thundermaw brings up the curve a bit but does provide a very strong final punch, reminiscent of Demigod of Revenge.

This take on Boros is derived from Boros master Paul Rietzl recent take on Boros. The addition of Thundermaw Hellkite brings with it a few other changes, such as the addition of Slayers’ Stronghold as a 25th land (to actually hit your fifth land while still serving as a sort of spell). The use of Thundermaw Hellkite gives us more reach and more late game (since he is basically a guaranteed five at the least), so we have less need for late game burn like Brimstone Volley and Devil’s Play. It goes without saying that Silverblade Paladin and Thundermaw Hellkite form an absolutely backbreaking combination.

Demigod of Revenge’s hard casting cost limited the places it showed up a bit, but one of the most famous was in Mono Red. Thundermaw might be more castable, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t appear in a return to Mono Red:

It might just be that this is too much heavy stuff, with both Hellriders (which I like more than Koth at the moment) and Thundermaws (which are certainly more able to be trimmed than Demigod was). Still, the use of Cathedral of War is an exciting way to play more land in a red deck without completely running out of business. The Spikeshot Elder + Cathedral of War combo is just icing on the cake.

Cathedral of War changes the dynamic of how much to value cheap creatures, both because it is a comes into play tapped land and because it rewards you for playing one big creature at a time. In particular, this makes the fat, haste creature plan for appealing than the swarm them with one-drops plan. That said, Stonewright is a powerful utility creature that can also work well with exalted. Yes, you don’t get red for Firebreathing, but the land is giving you +1/+1 anyway.

Stonewright combines with Spikeshot Elder to form a Visara that can absolutely demolish decks without removal. The combination of it and Porcelain Legionnaire (and its first strike) is also quite potent.

Lightning Mauler is a great two-drop in a color that is desperate need of one, but I am not sure how much to value haste at when I already want to play Chandra’s Phoenix, Hellrider, and Thundermaw.

It might be a mistake to not play Shrine of Burning Rage, but with how aggressive the current meta is (and the direction it is looking like it is going), I wouldn’t be surprised if you actually don’t want them (at least maindeck).

Cavern of Souls is hot, as your mana is so easy you might as well get uncounterable Hellriders and Thundermaws. It is not clear if you actually want any green in the board (beyond maybe Ancient Grudge), but boarding in green creatures (like Huntmaster) could be relatively easy if you were so inclined. It is also worth noting that Porcelain Legionnaire is a Solider, in case you want to save two life in the mid-game.

This mix of removal is certainly very "two-damage-centric" and we might want some Brimstone Volleys in place of a few of them, but that is a matter to be resolved with tuning.

R/G, R/W, and Mono-Red Aggro? What about U/R?

Thundermaw can provide a deadly end game to a Delver deck that is very good at putting the opponent under early pressure. It is not just that the five points of hasty damage are basically unblockable (since he taps and shoots every enemy flier); Thundermaw also makes your Delver of Secrets unblockable by handling whatever fliers were holding it back!

While U/R Tempo is sure to pop up, it is far from the only way to use Thundermaw in a U/R deck. I am not sure U/R Control is the right name for this deck, since it is a bit more of a U/R Skies deck:

Here Thundermaw replaces cards like Tamiyo, Jace, Memory Adept, and Batterskull, giving you a high damage way to pressure opponents (rather than trying to take true control). The damage from an early Fettergeist can really add up, particularly if you hit them four times early then drop a Thundermaw and finish the job.

Bonfire is an excellent card right now and Whipflare can buy us some much-needed time, but Magmaquake is a very powerful new weapon that really changes the math surrounding planeswalkers. There has never been a burn spell that could effectively punish someone for overcommitting with too many planeswalkers until now.

As a guy that has had to redirect his fair share of Earthquakes to opposing planeswalkers, I gotta tell you, the prospect of an Earthquake that lets me do this without taking damage is very hot. Add in the ability to hit multiple Walkers and I am very excited. On top of all of this, the card is an instant? Insanity. This is going to lead to some pretty big blowouts in combat and on end steps, particularly when combined with haste creatures. Remember, this is effectively a Black Sun’s Zenith that can be played at instant speed and that hits planeswalkers. Expect to see a lot of Magmaquakes in the year to come, as this card will change the way we play Standard just with its existence (not just when people actually play it in their decks or draw it).

Thundermaw is not just a giant hasty body; it is also a very potent 187 for a Birthing Pod toolbox. Stingerfling Spider does kill Restoration Angels so it is possible you want both, but you might be able to get away with just the Hellkite, which plays into the Strangleroot Geist / Blade Splicer / Hellrider game plan of some Pod decks.

Again we see Thragtusk as a Tutor target, and just picture casting that card against Zombies…

If you only have room in your deck for a couple removal spells, Bonfire is a very good option to consider for the time being. Not only does it kill so much of what people are playing, if you have no other removal you always get maximum value with how many cards you kill with it.

Outside of existing decks, Thundermaw is so awesome that we are surely going to see it pop up in all sorts of really strange rogue decks as well (just like Baneslayer did). For instance, this list is almost surely wretched, but here is an idea that uses the new red token maker, Krenko’s Command:

As you can see, we are only scraping the surface of what’s possible with Thundermaw Hellkite. Grixis? RUG? Ponza? G/R Ramp? B/R? Machine Red? Any deck that can cast Thundermaw Hellkite has to consider it, which means that any deck that loses to Thundermaw Hellkite has to ask itself what it is really doing. If there are a lot more five -power flying haste creatures in the format, what does this do to the rest of our decks? Our choices of Doom Blades? Planeswalkers? Four-, five-, and six-mana plays?

Great Sable Stag and Baneslayer Angel being in the same set was one thing, but being on the same card…

Patrick Chapin
"The Innovator"