Magic players around the world always eagerly anticipate the arrival of the new core set every year. While the core set rarely defines the upcoming format, it does show us where Standard may be heading for the next year. For example, M14 has an interesting enchantment theme running through it, and the omission of Acidic Slime speaks volumes. In addition, we got some great new planeswalkers, and a couple of interesting mythic five drops.

One of them really needs a home. Kalonian Hydra is one of those cards that is plainly good, but has no clear place in the metagame. For those of you that haven’t shuffled up with or against it yet, Kalonian Hydra enters the battlefield with 4 +1/+1 counters for 3GG. It has trample, and every time you turn it sideways, it doubles the counters on it and every other creature you control. If you cast it on curve, Kalonian Hydra swings for 8 on turn 6 and 16 on turn 7. That’s plenty enough to kill most any opponent. Obviously, if you can pump it out faster, you win faster.

The problem Kalonian Hydra faces is simple. As good as it is, it’s not good enough yet. See, there’s this other green five-drop you might have heard about. Would you rather cast a 4/4 for five that doesn’t do anything until it lives long enough to swing, or a 5/3 for five that gains you five life and punishes your opponent with card advantage if they kill it? Thragtusk is simply better for most decks.

I can hear some of you thinking it. Thragtusk isn’t an aggro card, and Kalonian Hydra is, so it’s not a fair comparison. But in an aggro shell, Kalonian Hydra is still outclassed. The best aggro decks in the format all include red, for obvious reasons. And again, at the five slot, Kalonian Hydra loses out to a better option. You can cast your 4/4 trampler for five and give your opponent a chance to kill it, or a 5/5 hasty flier that clears the skies as soon as it hits the field. Which would you rather have in an aggro deck; Kalonian Hydra or Thundermaw Hellkite?

It’s possible, maybe even likely, that Kalonian Hydra won’t be good until rotation, only a few weeks away as I write this. But until then, I’ve been trying to jam him into every deck I can think of. The most obvious place is a monogreen shell that really exploits Kalonian Hydra’s ability to double counters on creatures:

Elf-Ooze

(60)
Arbor Elf
Elvish Mystic
Elvish Archdruid
Experiment One
Kalonian Hydra
Predator Ooze
Scavenging Ooze
Prey Upon
Rancor
Revenge of the Hunted
Cavern of Souls
20 Forest

This deck, which I shall dub Elf-Ooze, really maximizes Kalonian Hydra’s secondary ability. Over half the creatures in the deck make counters. Predator Ooze is a pain for most decks to deal with normally. This deck makes it even harder to handle. With multiple ways to up the counters, your army can quickly become overwhelming. Rancor helps force through damage from your super-sized oozes, and Cavern of Souls set on Ooze protect almost half your creatures from countermagic. Substituting Mutavault may be correct here, but it feels like a matter of taste to me. Post rotation, Mutavault is definitely the way to go (baring what goodies Theros may bring us). If you hate how Elvish Archdruid never lives longer than the turn you cast him, substituting Champion of Lambholt to make it harder for your opponent to stop you looks fun.

Gruul Midrange

(60)
Arbor Elf
Elvish Mystic
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Kalonian Hydra
Ogre Battledriver
Savageborn Hydra
Scavenging Ooze
Strangleroot Geist
Domri Rade
Bonfire of the Damned
Forest
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Stomping Ground

This deck may be a preview of what we’ll see from Gruul come October. Most of the creatures here survive rotation, and Bonfire of the Damned can easily become Mizzium Mortars. Like the monogreen deck, many of the creatures here generate counters, making Kalonian Hydra’s ability better. Paired with Savageborn Hydra, you can easily have two huge creatures, one with double strike and the other with trample, making combat a nightmare for your opponent. Domri helps draw cards and keep the board clear. But the key card is Ogre Battledrvier. While he doesn’t do much on his own (a 3/3 for 4 is underpowered), he grants haste to all of your subsequent creatures, and pumps them for a turn. The haste is what matters. Turning your Kalonian Hydra into an instant 8/8 is definitely where you want to be. And if you’ve already got a Savageborn Hydra in play when you swing, your opponent is in immediate trouble; turn 3 Savageborn, turn 4 Ogre Battledriver, turn 5 Kalonian Hydra, swing for 17, one double striker, one trampler. Who wouldn’t like that board state?

Jund Midrange

(60)
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Huntmaster of the Fells
Kalonian Hydra
Ogre Battledriver
Olivia Voldaren
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Abrupt Decay
Bonfire of the Damned
Doom Blade
Dreadbore
Farseek
Putrefy
Rakdos's Return
Blood Crypt
Cavern of Souls
Dragonskull Summit
Forest
Mountain
Overgrown Tomb
Rootbound Crag
Stomping Ground
Woodland Cemetery

This deck is nearly all-in on getting Kalonian Hydra to swing right away. It’s got a bit of that “traditional” Jund Midrange feel. Like the other decks, this one also has a “counters” subtheme running through it, with ten creatures for Kalonian Hydra double up with every swing. Like more conventional Jund lists, this one is vulnerable to Burning Earth, so it may not be optimal for the metagame right now. And it’s likely that replacing Thragtusk with Kalonian Hydra is just wrong. I certainly tried to force it into my fairly typical (i.e. Reid Duke-like) Jund Midrange list long enough before finally admitting Thraggy was just better. But this list is illustrative of an important point. Assumptions of Jund Midrange’s death at rotation may be premature. There are cards you could swap in on an almost one-for-one basis to preserve many of the essential elements of this deck post-rotation. Of course it won’t be the same, but I fully expect many pilots to try.

Selesnya Midrange

(60)
Archangel of Thune
Avacyn's Pilgrim
Elvish Mystic
Fiendslayer Paladin
Kalonian Hydra
Scavenging Ooze
Thragtusk
Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
Advent of the Wurm
Rootborn Defenses
Selesnya Charm
Forest
Plains
Sunpetal Grove
Temple Garden

Selesnya Midrange may be the most interesting shell for Kalonian Hydra. This list has a pseudo-combo feel to it, as every card in the deck supports the others. There are card synergies all over the place, not just Kalonian Hydra and Archangel of Thune. Thragtusk and Trostani can push the number of counters on all your creatures and your life total to obscene levels. With Archangel in play, you can use Scavenging Ooze as a Gavony Township for just one green mana. You can pump your entire army and get a 5/5 wurm token at instant speed. And gain five life if Trostani is in play. Then populate the token and do it again. Then Hydra joins the party and starts doubling the counters. If only there was room for Primeval Bounty (hint: there may be post-rotation!).

None of these decks are optimized, nor do they have sideboards. The point here wasn’t to give you decks you could slam at FNM and go to town. The goal is to find a home for a little hydra that desperately needs it. Thundermaw Hellkite languished on the sidelines for too much of its brief time in Standard. We shouldn’t let the same thing happen to Kalonian Hydra. If you’ve got a deck or ideas to share, let’s hear ‘em in the comments. Happy brewing!