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Building Hydras with Old Gnawbone


The Andes of Ecuador by Frederic Edwin Church (1855). Vorosh, the Hunter by Mark Zug

When I first saw Old Gnawbone, I was pretty excited. I have always wanted to be able to build a Green Dragons deck. I suspect my affection for J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and the role The Green Dragon Inn plays in that story are part of it. I have also long been frustrated by the lack of flyers in Magic in Green so the idea of building a deck around Green Dragons has a certain appeal.

Today's commander might be a Green Dragon and I will probably go out of my way to throw as many of them into this deck as possible, but the real strength of today's build is likely to be a totally different tribe: Hydras. Before I dive into why I'm leaning in that direction, let's take a look at the legendary creature I'll be building around.

Old Gnawbone

Old Gnawbone is a 7/7 legendary Green Dragon. She costs 7 mana, so I'll have to take my early game ramp seriously if I want her to hit the table and have an impact in most games. If I can keep her out, I should be able to make a lot of mana. When "OG" is on the field, whenever a creature I control deals combat damage to a player, I'll create that many Treasure tokens.

If my commander can swing for 7 damage to an opponent, that gives me 7 Treasures, which would mean 7 more mana to pour into my spells. The challenge for this deck will be to find a way to take that mana and turn it into yet more combat damage and yet more mana. I want this deck to be able to create the kind of momentum that will position me to be able to threaten to win games or at least force my opponents to respond to the threat I'm mounting.

There are some things this deck is going to need that I'm not going to dive into too deeply. I'll need to be able to ramp a lot. I'll need to protect my commander. I'll need removal, both to respond to threats from my opponents but also to be able to remove pesky enchantments like Darksteel Mutation or Lignify. If this deck does what I want it to do, my opponents will definitely want to sideline Old Gnawbone before I'm able to get too much momentum.

Combat Damage Matters

One of the first things I want to do is look at what this deck wants to do and leverage that so I can do it better. In a nutshell, I want to get OG out, do combat damage, make mana and use that mana to do more damage.

Blackblade Reforged

Both Blackblade Reforged and Blanchwood Armor will give me +1/+1 for each land or in the latter's case, each Forest I control. Given that I will likely have at least 5 lands on the field when OG goes to attack, that should put me in a position to be able to threaten a 2-turn kill with commander damage.

We're not in the right colors to be able to play All That Glitters, but Nettlecyst is a pretty good substitute. This equipment will create a 0/0 Germ creature token and will equip to it automatically. The equipped creature gets +1/+1 for each artifact and/or enchantment I control. That kind of effect might discourage me from cracking those treasures, but I wouldn't call this a "non-bo" - just a decision point. I can keep the Treasures around if I want, but I can also use them if I've got better things to do that require more mana than my lands and rocks can produce.

If I'm able to get Fireshrieker out, things get much more interesting. With just Nettlecyst and Fireshrieker attached to Old Gnawbone, I would connect for 9 first strike damage, create 9 Treasures and then hit for 18 damage in the regular combat damage step. That's some sweet synergy right there.

Green Dragons

This deck isn't meant to be built around just attacking with Old Gnawbone, though I'm sure I'll do that when I can. The first thing I looked for were other Green Dragons. These aren't the best ever, but I want this to have at least a few other Green Dragons beyond Old Gnawbone. I chose to pass on Canopy Dragon, but found a few others to include.

Destructor Dragon
Foe-Razer Regent
Herdchaser Dragon

Destructor Dragon can blow up a non-creature permanent when it dies. Foe-Razer Regent can fight target creature when it enters the battlefield, and when any creature under my control fights it will get two +1/+1 counters at the end of the turn. Herdchaser Dragon has megamorph and can flip face up to put a +1/+1 counter on each other Dragon I control. I'm probably going to throw in Jugan, the Rising Star for good measure, but this doesn't look like it's going to be a deck that runs an awful lot of Dragons. They just don't exist in the numbers I'd need to go all-in on that theme.

Green Dragon

I had to throw in Green Dragon. This 4/4 flyer will make my opponents think twice about blocking my attack on the turn it enters the battlefield. If I time it right, I could be setting on a veritable Dragon's hoard of treasure tokens if I'm attacking with enough power on that turn.

I'm tempted to throw in Killer Bees and Unyaro Bees, and I'm also tempted to throw in Uktabi Drake because I just love that card's artwork, but I need to focus on ramp and I also need to focus on the other tribe that will help to define this deck.

Trampling Hydras

If this deck's plan works, I'm going to be able to make a lot of mana. I am going to want somewhere to put all that mana, and it struck me that Hydras might just be a pretty good tribe to pair with Old Gnawbone. If I'm short on mana, I can pay a low amount into their X cost and they can be small. If I'm way ahead, I can put a lot of mana into them, send them into battle and as long as they trample over and do combat damage to a player, I'll get some of that mana back in the form of new treasures. Old Gnawbone gives the ability to turn mayhem into mana to all of my creatures, not just herself.

Primordial Hydra
Lifeblood Hydra
Voracious Hydra

Primordial Hydra is the kind of Hydra I'm really looking for. I can pour mana into its X cost. If it's got 10 or more it will gain trample and its counters double on my upkeep. If my tablemates don't deal with this threat I could easily spiral out of control. Lifeblood Hydra naturally has trample and if it dies, I'll be drawing cards equal to its power. Having threats that have to be exiled is pretty sweet, and I'm unlikely to actually draw myself out unless things go really, really well. Voracious Hydra can act as removal, or I can have it get double the counters. I'm running Temur Sabertooth in this deck so that I can occasionally bounce and re-play a Hydra I might have cast early game when I didn't have as much mana available to me.

Steelbane Hydra
Domesticated Hydra
Hydra Broodmaster

I was a bit surprised that I wasn't able to line up a dozen Hydras with X in their casting costs, but I guess I'm just not that familiar with that tribe. Steelbane Hydra can help with removal and is another with the flexibility that X casting cost provides. I was able to find some hydras with monstrosity that have X in their monstrosity costs. Domesticated Hydra is just a modest 3/3 but if I pay its monstrosity cost to give it +1/+1 counters, it will gain trample. Hydra Broodmaster doesn't have trample, but it can make me an army of Hydras and going wide could help push more combat damage through to an opponent.

Polukranos, World Eater
Managorger Hydra
Kalonian Hydra

Polukranos can also be chump-blocked by a Squirrel, but if I pour mana into its monstrosity ability I might be able to wipe out enough blockers to swing at someone and get through. These monstrosity abilities can only be done once but it's worth noting that I can do it at any time, so opening an opponent up to another tablemate's attacks or using it to remove key combo pieces that happen to be creatures are options if I've left mana up or have enough extra treasures lying around.

Managorger Hydra is an all-star in multiplayer and can easily grow to a problematic size if it's allowed to hang out for long enough. My biggest problem with this fellow is just catching all the triggers from my opponents casting spells. I have the bad habit of distracting myself with side conversations and constantly end up asking how many spells players cast on their turns so I can catch up with how big it should be. Kalonian Hydra also lacks that X in its casting cost, but makes up for it by doubling the number of +1/+1 counters on each creature I control when it attacks. With this deck that makes it a serious problem and if my opponents aren't running enough removal it could help Old Gnawbone spiral out of control really quickly.

Combat Tricks

This deck looks like it will be a lot of fun so far, but there's nothing I love better than combat tricks. I like them a lot more when I'm the one using them, but even when I get hit with some clever instant spell and I'm killed out of nowhere, I still respect the planning and creativity that goes into playing the right combat trick at the right time.

Aspect of Hydra
Vines of Vastwood

Berserk doubles the power of target creature and gives it trample. With this deck I could easily see some ridiculous damage output if the right combination of creatures are attacking. Lifeblood Hydra played as a 5/5, attacking alongside Kalonian Hydra would become a 10/10, and Berserk would make it a 20/20 with trample. The downside is that the creature gets destroyed at end of turn, but with Lifeblood Hydra I'd be drawing 20 cards. If I'm using Berserk on something else I can always hit it with Heroic Intervention or Withstand Death so it survives. I can also hit an opponent's big creature that's going at someone else to both increase the damage they'll take and remove that creature before it gets sent my way.

Aspect of Hydra is an unassuming little instant that just gives +1/+1 for each Green pip I've got among the permanents I've got on my battlefield. This "Devotion" pump spell will probably give me at least four or five more power, but if I've got the Khalni Hydra in play it could be as much as +12/+12 or more. Khalni Hydra has 8 Green mana symbols in its mana cost so it's great for any spell that cares about devotion to Green.

Vines of Vastwood might only give +4/+4 but it can also be kicked to give the targeted creature hexproof until the end of turn. I can still target the creature with spells or abilities, but my opponents won't be able to. This might seem underwhelming, but you can use it on an opponent's creature in response to an attempt to equip or enchant it, resulting in them wasting mana, possibly wasting a spell, and hopefully screwing up whatever plan they had for that particular turn.

Hydra's Growth

This deck is pretty invested in playing Hydras, so it's worth noting that I'm also playing Hydra's Growth. Hydra's Growth will put a +1/+1 counter on the enchanted creature and will double the number of +1/+1 counters on it at the beginning of my upkeep. This aura isn't really a combat trick, but I love that I'll have a way to make Old Gnawbone get in on that Hydra energy. On the right Hydra, this could help me make a ridiculous number of treasures if it isn't dealt with.

Old Gnawbone Hydras

The first draft of this list had some high dollar mana rocks like Jeweled Lotus, Mana Crypt and Mana Vault, but on reviewing my work I realized I had left out Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots and I just had to go back and make adjustments. It's a valid argument that I should have instead dropped out some of my Hydras, but you know I'm not going to do that. If you want to push this deck's power level up, you'll want those high-end artifacts in the list and you'll probably want to trim away some of the more underperforming hydras.

I love leaning into a tribe when I build a deck but I also know it isn't usually the way to go when trying to push up towards higher powered EDH. With a 7-mana commander, I don't think there's much room to tune this deck down for lower powered playgroups, but if you really wanted to move this list in that direction you'd probably want to drop out high impact cards like Kalonian Hydra. I'm not sure why you'd want to do that, but there might be readers out there who love this deck but are worried about crushing their playgroup. I'd suggest helping your friends build stronger decks, but you could tune this down if you really needed to.

Final Thoughts

I suspect Old Gnawbone is going to spend more time in the 99 of other decks than it will spend leading its own decks. It's got a very powerful ability that just isn't cheap enough to threaten to replace powerful combo pieces in popular decks like Najeela, the Blade-Blossom. The combo potential Old Gnawbone provides to decks in red that run cards like Aggravated Assault and Hellkite Charger is definitely hard to ignore. It will absolutely see a lot of play and will be the kind of creature that has to be dealt with before its controller generates enough mana to run away with the game.

If there's a combo or some sweet synergy that I've slept on for Old Gnawbone, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. I didn't try to do an exhaustive analysis on this guy, and I do think I might build this deck in paper. It looks like it could be a lot of fun and I've got a few binder pages of Hydras that haven't seen action in years.

If there is a legendary creature from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms that you'd like to see me tackle, please let me know. There are more potential new commanders than I had expected in this new set and I have no idea how we'll manage to take them all on. With so many options, you might well be able to put in a request for next week's Commanderruminations and see it turned into a column.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

Commander HQ: Decklists and Strategy for Forgotten Realms's Legendary Creatures!

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