Commander Spotlight: Phytohydra

Very soon the Magic community will be treated to the 8th set featured around the plane of Ravnica in 13 years, making it the second most recurring world in the game after Dominaria and the most frequented on this half of the game’s history by far.

It’s not hard to understand why. Ravnica is a fully-formed concept revolving around a fairly simple concept: an entire plane based around one gigantic world-city. This has become a staple concept in the fiction world as far back as the Asimov stories of the 1940s, though it’s been especially recurring since Star Wars introduced popular culture in general to the world of Coruscant. This is mostly because the idea of an ecumenopolis has so much potential to it. In an urban setting with a concentrated population, thriving activity, and a diverse array of peoples, cultures, and settings, you have location simply brimming with the potential for conflict. Which makes it perfect for all manner of storytelling.

Ravnica has certainly taken advantage of that setting and its inherent appeal, not only by weaving into it a vibrant and at times compelling narrative regarding a world with ten competing factions all trying to outmaneuver and one-up each other for centuries but also by doing so in a distinctly Magic-focused way. Sure it’s all tied together in a neatly balanced bow most of the time (god forbid that a storyline make unbalanced sides or teams in a conflict and affect the competitive side of the game for a moment), but thanks to the richness and depth of possibility that the plane offers, Ravnica has become the default example of a Magic: the Gathering world for an entire generation of players in the same way Dominiaria did for those before them.

And Wizards is all the more willing to capitalize on all that popularity.

Which, objectively, isn’t a bad thing. In addition to them making money and boosting interest in the game overall, Ravnican mechanics and sets – for the most part – are traditionally well liked, with copious additions of interesting and powerful cards to every major Magic format, including Commander.

So, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, this week’s card pick is one back from the very first time we set foot on the city-world known as Ravnica.

Today we have: Phytohydra

Name: Phytohydra

Edition: Ravnica

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Creature Buffing

Highlights: No matter how you cut it (and we don’t suggest trying as it doesn’t appreciate it), Phytohydra is kind of a weird creature on several levels. While technically part of the Selesnya guild, it never quite fit in with the original premise of using the Convoke mechanic to cast spells cheaper. Rather, it was seen as an – albeit strangely fitting – creature enforcer to give some extra heft to a guild that was largely dominated during its first outing by tokens and smaller creatures.

At first glance, Phytohydra doesn’t seem like it’s very good for its investment. After all, you are spending five mana across two different colors to get a 1/1 creature without evasion or an activated ability. And, admittedly, for some people that still may be enough of a deterrent to not consider it for EDH. However, like any good plant, this one simply needs a little time to grow, which Commander games usually have an amply supply of.

Phytohydra’s main attribute is its built in damage prevention replacement effect, wherein any damage it takes turns into +1/+1 counters instead. Thus, blocking even a modestly sized creature such as a 3/3 can increase the size of this flowering monstrosity in a hurry. What will start off primarily as a solid blocker and deterrent from attacking you can quickly become a potent creature on the offense in as short as a single combat. Even though it doesn’t have any built-in evasion, it can quickly become a case where players have to consider whether to block it or take the damage, which is usually a win-win situation for its controller.

Phytohydra is also fun because it’s different. Aside from not really fitting in with the Selesnya focus, it’s also an interesting card with fun flavor and an ability that isn’t part of the stock considerations for deck builds. That is, while Phytohydra is essentially impervious to damage from spells and combat, it’s not indestructible. It’s still susceptible to spot removal and board wipes, for instance, and unless it can get boosted by getting hurt, its native 1/1 state isn’t all that intimidating.

Also, because its effect is limited to a single creature (unlike, say, Vigor), it isn’t guaranteed to become an immediate target as soon as it hits the board. Which means that you will probably be able to have a little fun with it before it starts becoming a noticeable threat on the board.

And, ultimately, if you can’t unleash a rampaging carnivorous plant hydra loose upon your enemies, then Ravnica has failed us all. Because if a city the size of a planet could exist, so too could the Magic equivalent of Audrey II.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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