Building_on_a_Budget

What do you do with an infinite number of 0/2 Plant Hydras with defender? Whatever you want!

Exploding Phytohydras! (Part 1)

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The letter H!ello everybody, and welcome back to Building on a Budget, the magicthegathering.com column dedicated to building decks that cost 30 tickets or less using Magic Online! A few weeks ago, I ran an article highlighting twenty underused gems from older sets. You voted, and here were the top three finishers:

Which of these ideas do you most want to see a deck built around?
Sprouting Phytohydra 821 12.1%
Zur's Weirding 734 10.8%
Braids, Cabal Minion 586 8.6%

Sprouting Phytohydra won with over 12% of the votes cast... but that doesn't tell the whole story! Around half of the forum posts and e-mails I received that week were regarding a Sprouting Phytohydra / Æther Flash deck! Truly I had struck gold here, and the people wanted to see how to build a Sprouting Phytohydra deck... on a budget!

Fair enough, my poppets! But to build a Sprouting Phytohydra deck, one must first truly become one with the Phytohydra. And to do that, we will scrutinize the most miniscule aspects of its vascular structure. From top to bottom:

Fact #1: Sprouting Phytohydra Costs 4 ManaGreen Mana to play.

Why does this matter? Sprouting Phytohydra is not the cheapest combo piece ever printed. In fact, it is likely to be the highest-mana cost card in its own deck! This means that other cards that work with the Phytohydra need to be set up before we're ready to play it—cards such as Æther Flash and Pyrohemia (both conveniently at four mana), or Essence Warden / Soul Warden (both at one mana). Also, Sprouting Phytohydra only takes a single green mana to play. There are a lot of red-intensive cards (and, possibly, white-intensive cards) that work well in a Sprouting Phytohydra deck, so it is not out of the question to build this deck with Sprouting Phytohydra as the only included green card.

Fact #2: Sprouting Phytohydra is creature type "Plant Hydra."

There aren't many cards that specifically work with either Plants or Hydras, but it is important to note the types, in case we want to go nuts with Conspiracy (to allow us to access Boggart Shenanigans) or with Coat of Arms (so that each Phytohydra gives other Phytohydras +1/+1).

Fact #3: Sprouting Phytohydra has defender.

Any win that comes from this deck either has to come through a third card: Sprouting Phytohydra plus Æther Flash may make an arbitrarily large number of Phytohydras into play (and into the graveyard), but that in and of itself won't kill an opponent. Even if you boost the toughness of the Phytohydra (Gaea's Anthem?), it still can't attack – so you'd need to make it lose defender (Wakestone Gargoyle) or find something else to do with those plants (Soulblast).

Fact #4: "Whenever Sprouting Phytohydra is dealt damage, you may put a token into play that's a copy of Sprouting Phytohydra."

Here's the meat of the deal. Any method of dealing damage to the Sprouting Phytohydra will create another Sprouting Phytohydra. That copy will also make copies, just like the original—doesn't matter if the original is still in play or not. Lethal damage will still cause a copy to be made. The amount of damage done is irrelevant; one damage or one million damage (as long as it is dealt all at once) will cause the Phytohydra to trigger. Token creatures briefly visit the graveyard and then are removed from the game, so copies of the token that die will trigger (or count towards) effects that care about creatures going to the graveyard, such as Bitter Ordeal. Reducing the toughness of a Phytohydra to 0 will not make a copy, so an effect like Nameless Inversion will kill the Phytohydra outright, as will 'destroy' effects like Terror or Wrath of God. The ability to make a copy of Sprouting Phytohydra is optional (note the word may), so you can stop a loop with Æther Flash whenever you wish (allowing you to attack / play sorceries afterwards, etc).

Fact #5: Sprouting Phytohydra is a 0/2 creature.

A Sprouting Phytohydra is not the sturdiest creature, nor does it have a natural power above zero. Even if you can make them attack, or keep them alive, they still will deal 0 damage on the attack. You need something to boost power (say, Leyline of the Meek) to get the creature at (or above) one power.

Each of these different aspects of the card is important to take into consideration when making deck choices—how do you want the deck to win, which colors are best suited for the deck, and what happens if you don't get your combo going? Thankfully, you (the reader!) gave a lot of great suggestions on cards to use with Sprouting Phytohydra. Let's assume for a second that our goal is to make an arbitrarily large number of Phytohydras with Æther Flash. What next?

Goal Number One: Gain Infinite Life!

What better way to take advantage of infinite creatures coming into play than by gaining infinite life? Combine the Sprouting Phytohydra / Æther Flash loop with either Essence Warden, Soul Warden, or (my favorite) Auriok Champion (which can survive Æther Flash) to send your life total into the stratosphere!

The alternate method is with little-used Coldsnap rare Tamanoa, or little-used Dissension rare Proper Burial. The Warden loop involves creatures coming into play. Tamanoa relies on damage being dealt to Audrey II, and Proper Burial relies on Seymour sending her to her final resting place. Having a Test of Endurance to finish your opponent off works best for any of these methods.

Goal Number Two: Make Another Creature Infinitely Large

Maybe Sprouting Phytohydra has defender, but other creatures do not! Herd Gnarr, Juniper Order Ranger, and Twilight Drover are just three creatures that can benefit from a party of coming and going Sprouting Phytohydras! Once you've pumped your guys suitably high enough to attack, go in for a one-turn kill in the red zone, or make a ton of 1/1 flying spirits with the Drover. Bonus to Juniper Order Ranger to working as a way to make your Phytohydras 1/3, in case you want to combine with Goal Number Three!

Goal Number Three: Amass an Army!

Find a way to pump up the power and/or toughness of Sprouting Phytohydra! Leyline of the Meek, Juniper Order Ranger, Primal Forcemage, and Gaea's Anthem are just three of the easy ways to make your Phytohydra survive Æther Flash. Once you've got an army of Phytohydras, what can you do? Shoot your opponent with a ton of Blasting Station activations. Soulblast your entire board for 1,000,000+ damage! Sit behind your Epic Struggle and win with an entire garden full of creatures. The sky is the limit! Throw in Wakestone Gargoyle so your Phytohydras can grow legs and walk to the Red Zone en mass!

Goal Number Four: Draw your Entire Deck!

Johnny favorite Fecundity is the key here; as each Phytohydra dies, you get to draw another card out of your deck. Since you can stop this loop whenever you want, you are more than welcome to end up with a grip of 40+ cards—and trust me, as long as you pack some mana acceleration (Simian Spirit Guide, Rite of Flame, etc), you will inevitably have the same endgame scenario (40+ cards in hand) every game, as long as the combo goes off. Figure out what do to do with a ton of endgame red mana (4 Simian Spirit Guide + 4 Rite of Flame + 4 Seething Song = 22 mana (4 mana from Spirit Guides + 10 net mana from Rite of Flames + 8 net mana from Seething Songs)—enough for a single Fireball and 21 damage to the head—and that's just using no imagination!).

Goal Number Five: Trigger your Inner Goblin!

Goblin Sharpshooter plus infinite dead Sprouting Phytohydras equals infinite shooting power from everyone's favorite gattling-gun-wielding green man. That's Goblin Sharpshooter—though the same combo works with the above-mentioned Blasting Station, as long as you've got a toughness booster (because you need it to take damage from the Æther Flash in order to make a copy, and unless you boost toughness, the Flash will kill your plant before you get to chuck it into the Blasting Station).

Goal Number Six: Deck your Opponent!

What do you do when infinite creatures have gone to the graveyard in one turn? Why, you play Bitter Ordeal, and remove your opponent's entire deck from the game! At least we haven't thrown any blue cards into the mix for this deck at all, have we?

Also, a special shout-out goes to Pyrohemia, which will continually trigger multiple Phytohydras with each activation. If you've got one Sprouting Phytohydra, the first Pyrohemia activation will leave you with two Sprouting Phytohydras. The second will leave you with three (first dies, second lives, both make copies). The third will leave you with five (second dies, third and fourth live, all three make copies) and so on and so forth. This is a good alternate way to make a huge number of plants if you don't have Æther Flash already on the board, and another argument for including Auriok Champion.

So, now we both understand the anatomy of the Sprouting Phytohydra, and we've figured out six distinct ways to win with it—but as they say on South Park, Step 1: Steal Underpants, Step 2: ???, Step 3: Profit! That's where we throw in a bit of methodology:

Method One: Acceleration!

You're playing red and you're playing green—both are the colors of mana acceleration! Between Llanowar Elves, Wild Growth, Rite of Flame, Seething Song, Lotus Bloom (ok, technically colorless), and other mana speeder-uppers, you can go from one to five mana within three turns. This gambit would play for speed by trying to land the combo as quickly as possible, before the opponent has time to either kill you or find answers to your combo.

Method Two: Method Acting!

Why make the Phytohydra / Æther Flash combo the center of your deck? There are plenty of great cards in green, red, white and black that work well enough on their own. Pyrohemia is great creature removal, and Essence Warden has frustrated many an opponent. Play with the combo in your deck, but don't focus all of your energies on getting it. If you draw it, you draw it, and if not, you still have ways to win.

Method Three: Proactive Hand Removal!

The tried and true black method: strip out your opponent's hand to make sure that they can't react to any of your moves. Duress, Distress, Castigate—all of these are valid cards to make sure that you can lay down your combo without having to fear countermagic / Disenchant / the stray piece of creature removal designed to keep you from making your arbitrarily large garden grow!

Method Four: Lots of Tutors!

White and green are especially good colors for tutoring up, respectively, enchantments and creatures. Use Idyllic Tutor or Lost Auramancers to fetch Æther Flash, or Summoner's Pact to put Sprouting Phytohydra straight into your hand. This method has redundancy. Iinstead of only having four copies of each card in your deck, you get eight to twelve copies, depending on the number of tutors you run.

So, we've got a list of five facts, six goals, and four methods as potentials for this Sprouting Phytohydra build, revolving around four different colors—meaning that, if we focused on one of each of the six-by-four-by-six matrix, we'd end up with a total of 120 vastly different-looking Sprouting Phytohydra decks, and that's not counting builds that overlap one another. Some of these methods might have more merit than others, especially in particular matchups; a proactive discard strategy is great against a control deck, but not as good against a green-white beatdown deck, and vise-versa. In order to best figure out where we need to start the actual build and testing of this deck next week, we need polls! Lots and lots of polls!

 Which fact about Sprouting Phytohydra is most important?  
Sprouting Phytohydra Costs 4 ManaGreen Mana to play.
Sprouting Phytoydra is creature type "Plant Hydra."
Sprouting Phytohydra has defender.
Whenever Sprouting Phytohydra is dealt damage, you may put a token into play that's a copy of Sprouting Phytohydra.
Sprouting Phytohydra is a 0/2 creature.

 Which method is best for winning with a Sprouting Phytohydra deck?  
Mana Acceleration!
Method Acting!
Proactive Hand Removal!
Lots of Tutors!

 How would you like for this deck to win, primarily?  
Infinite life gain
Infinitely large other creatures
Infinite-sized army of plants
Infinite card drawing
Infinite Sharphooter pings
Infinite decking

See you all in seven days as we take the poll results and formulate the reader's choice for the Building on a Budget Sprouting Phytohydra deck, complete with playtesting! See you in seven!

Ben

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