Magic The Gathering: Theros Face The Hydra Challenge Deck

Face The Hydra is a fantastically implemented macro-game within the Magic universe that lets you face off against a cornerstone of Greek mythology.

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It represents the boss fight at the end of the first arc of “The Path of the Hero“. Its a unique set of cards which you won’t find or include in any normal MTG deck, but which play in a similar way.

By drawing cards and dealing damage in a pre-defined pattern Face The Hydra presents a repeatable challenge, much like the ones you might find in the Magic The Gathering video-game, against which you can level your deck.

Before facing the Hydra, it’s intended that you’ve participated in in-store events to earn Hero cards. These Hero cards will bolster your deck with effects that may prove useful. They start on the battlefield and are played as indicated. However! You don’t absolutely need Hero cards to face off against a challenge deck. That said, you can easily use a token as a stand-in if you want to work them into your play, but don’t attend the events needed to earn them!

Face The Hydra is a lot simpler than your average Magic deck. It includes only two basic card types; heads, and spells. Heads are more or less synonymous to creatures and will be where your attacks are directed. Spells represent an array of devastating attacks that the Hydra might unleash upon you.

At the start of the challenge, you pick the number of starting heads, cards named “Hydra Head” which are placed on the table. This can be anywhere between 1, if you want to take it easy, to 4 or more, for a difficult challenge. Once you’ve placed the heads, you shuffle the Hydra’s deck and take your first turn.

On the Hydra’s turn you draw the top card from its library and play accordingly. This might be a spell, or another head to deal with. For an extra challenge you could gather the Hydra Head cards, plus the 7 additional special heads, shuffle and deal a random assortment of normal and elite heads to contend with. The beauty of this challenge deck is that the rules are malleable, you’re going up against random draws and not an opponent.

Killing the Hydra is done by taking out all of its heads. However killing a head will trigger the two top cards of the Hydras library, any heads from this draw are placed into play and any spells are discarded. The masochist in you might be tempted to let the Hydra play spells when a head goes down for an additional challenge.

To make regular decks a viable opponent for the Hydra, there are a few special rules. Any player-targeting spells you have in your armada are instead targeted at a head of your choice, and any draw or discard effects are ignored. Hydra heads can only ever move to the graveyard, which they also do in lieu of moving to any other zone, and the attacking player makes all choices for the Hydra.

Spells range from re-generating heads, dealing damage and even the forgiving “Neck Tangle” which will put two heads out of action if five or more are in play. A head can even swallow a creature whole, exiling it from the battlefield until it’s defeated.

Overall, this is a great deck for an aspiring, casual Magic player to experience some of the challenge-style gameplay that’s offered by the video-game but in a more visceral and hands-on manner. It’s a great addition to the Heroes vs Monsters Duel Deck, giving you not only the opportunity for vs play, but for co-operative too. Its also inspirational, and gives the more enterprising player the opportunity to devise their own co-operative challenges.

Playtest

Playing Face The Hydra was challenging in more ways than one. First off, keeping track of the Hydra mechanics and what general MTG mechanics have an effect on its heads is tricky by itself.

Actually beating the Hydra with a difficult number of heads (about 4) is also tricky, the 1 damage dealt to each player by untapped Hydra heads at the end of its turn, plus the 2 from elite heads soon adds up, and it can be game-over in a couple of turns if you don’t start chopping down heads fast,

Of the 10 available Hydra spells we saw [mtg_card]Swallow the Hero Whole[/mtg_card] come up most. We had a run in with [mtg_card]Unified Lunge[/mtg_card], which finished us off in one instance. [mtg_card]Neck Tangle[/mtg_card] turned up when the Hydra had two heads in play, and triggered another offensive instant. During our first tentative and disorganised play we were hit with 3 consecutive [mtg_card]Disorienting Glower[/mtg_card] and were quickly finished off from normal combat damage.

Our first few attempts were also marred by my confusion over Hydra head spawning mechanics. I’d accidentally forgot that my masochistic spin on them, playing any spells turned over when a defeated Hydra head triggers two card draws, were the actual rules. This resulted in an absurdly difficult challenge and some serious head-spawning combo chains when it triggered [mtg_card]Grown from the Stump[/mtg_card]. On one occasion we took out a head and ended up with 3 taking its place… Suffice to say, don’t try this variation unless you really want a challenge,

Face The Hydra lead to much confusion every time we hit a new mechanic in our decks, it’s hard to know what has an effect on the Hydra and what’s just useless. It would be best to keep someone with a level head and some experience on hand to curate the Hydra and make its decisions.

We tried the Heroes vs Monsters decks against it, and found cards like [mtg_card]Condemn[/mtg_card] would simply be useless. It’s your choice whether you take a useless card as a handicap vs the Hydra, or customise your deck thoroughly to be more effective against it. But I fear the latter option might ruin the challenge. The Monsters [mtg_card]Crater Hellion[/mtg_card] would probably do the Hydra some serious damage, but we didn’t see it crop up in play. What we did see, however, was the lifesaver [mtg_card]Detention Sphere[/mtg_card] from the Theros Inspiring Heroics event deck. I’d prefer to call this card Hydra Bane, since Hydra heads cannot be detained and thus end up straight in the graveyard. The upshot of this, of course, is that the Hydra draws 2 cards for each “detained” head, but if there are enough heads in play for it to be worth using then there won’t be that many left in the Hydra’s library.

Face the Hydra is a challenge even vs a tournament ready event deck, and will be even tougher for decks that rely on esoteric mechanics, combo chains or the opponent losing life ( the Hydra has no life ). You can build your own deck to counter it effectively, like you can any other MTG deck, but you’re probably best grabbing some fun Duel decks, one or more friends, and simply playing casually. In short, Face The Hydra is entertaining and we’ll definitely be playing it again.