One of the phrases a red player definitely doesn’t enjoy hearing is “prevent that damage.” Against the color with easily the most spells and abilities that deal damage directly, damage prevention can be a powerful ability. So why would a red player play a card that prevents all damage to players from their spells?
Hostility is one of the first cards I ever read that made me understand the concept of a “build-around” card. Previously I had only played decks with a central theme, or based on whatever colors I wanted to play. When I realized I could turn a Shock into two 3/1 elementals, I was sold! The sad end of this story, however, is that I never got around to building the deck. To do “past me” a favor, we’re going to go over some of the fun ways we can build a deck around Hostility.
Hostility gives us a few different routes to take. The first and simplest is to turn burn spells into elementals. Turning a Lightning Bolt into three 3/1 elementals is a dangerous ability; it could theoretically triple our damage output! The trick is actually getting those 3/1 elementals in to deal damage. Hostility costs six mana, meaning it won’t hit the battlefield until the fifth or sixth turn (depending on our mana situation). This means our 3/1 elementals won’t have an easy time getting past our opponents’ creatures. This is the main reason I abandoned building my deck around the incarnation back in the day. However, there are a lot more options now than there used to be (and I’m a little more clever than I was back then).
Pestilent Spirit is a card that makes me wish we had more cards like it. Ever since Soulfire Grand Master was printed, I’ve wanted to see more keywords on spells. Firesong and Sunspeaker gave us a viable commander for spell-lifelink, and while I’ve yet to build with that commander, I’m happy just knowing it exists. Pestilent Spirit is the third in this lineage of cards that grant keywords to instant and sorcery spells. If we have Hostility, giving our spells lifelink isn’t going to work well for us because the damage gets prevented when it’s dealt to opponents. Deathtouch spells, however, can keep us using burn to kill our opponents’ creatures well into the late game.
Searing Blood is exactly what we want to do with Hostility and Pestilent Spirit. Two damage kills any creature that isn’t indestructible (or otherwise protected), then we get three damage to the opponent who controlled that creature, but instead it becomes three 3/1 elementals! Ideally we just took out their best blocker. Searing Blaze works very similarly if we have its landfall ability active. If we’re looking to expand this strategy even further, something as simple as Blazing Volley or Scouring Sands can clear the entire board, allowing you to start slinging spells, and subsequently slinging elementals. This strategy is simple, allows cheap burn spells to become deadly threats, and is a fun build to pilot. But I think we can do even better.
New Card, Same Old Tricks
While Bob is busy writing about rules minutia and impractical combos, I’m over here plotting every possible application of Impact Tremors so I can fit it into every deck I make. The really awesome thing about Impact Tremors (AKA Purphoros’s Blessing) and Hostility together is that instead of losing the damage that Hostility prevents, you deal it to all opponents! For example, if I cast Lightning Bolt with Hostility and Impact Tremors in play, the three damage from Bolt is prevented and we make three 3/1 elementals. Then Impact Tremors deals one damage to each opponent for each elemental. This might be my most satisfying use of Impact Tremors yet! I suppose you could also use Purphoros, God of the Forge as well, doubling the damage your spells do, but he’s expensive and Impact Tremors is a common why don’t you love it like I do!?
Cathars’ Crusade is another fantastic way to exploit having many creatures enter the battlefield at once. This card gives each creature we control a +1/+1 counter for each damage we prevent and turn into an elemental. This makes one Lightning Bolt to an opponent turn into three 6/4 elementals. Since each elemental is put into play at the same time, they see each other enter the battlefield, triggering Cathars’ Crusade and thus buffing each other all at the same time. Eighteen potential damage from one Lightning Bolt? Yes please!*
*Editor’s Note: With Hostility and Cathars’ Crusade on the battlefield, the amount of power you gain is equal to (D^2 + 3D + DC) where D is the amount of damage prevented by Hostility and C is the number of other creatures you control.
Pandemonium and Warstorm Surge shouldn’t go unmentioned in the enter-the-battlefield category, either.** They turn Hostility‘s Elemental tokens into guaranteed damage to any target. If we control Archetype of Finality, we can use triggers to kill potential blockers before attacking for big damage. Whip of Erebos gives our creatures lifelink which, in a roundabout way, gives our spells lifelink with a multiplier of three. Lifelink-3 isn’t a keyword, is it? Well, it is now!
**Editor’s Note 2: With a Cathars’ Crusade, Hostility, and Warstorm Surge, each damage spell to an opponent will instead deal (D^2 + 3D) damage, divided in chunks of (D+3) between up to D targets, where D is the amount of damage prevented
Taking a Note from the Selesnyans
Since we’re focused on token creation, Doubling Season, Parallel Lives, and Anointed Procession should all be considered for our strategy. Each enchantment will cause Hostility to turn each point of damage into two 3/1 elementals, which turns all our “enter the battlefield” strategies even more impressive. Doubling Season is the most absurd of the three (that’s just true), because it doubles the counters from Cathars’ Crusade as well as the number of tokens we make. One Lightning Bolt turns into six 3/1 elementals who then trigger the crusade six times, putting twelve counters on each other. Six 15/12 elementals with haste for a single red mana? Talk about maximum value!*** Make sure you’ve got a Primal Rage and you’re good to go.
***Editor’s Note 3: With Hostility, Cathars’ Crusade, and Doubling Season, the amount of power gained from a damage spell is (8D^2 + 6D + 4DC) where D is the amount of damage prevented and C is the number of other creatures you control.
Divine Visitation is one of my favorite cards from a recent set. That probably isn’t very surprising to most of you, as it’s no secret I love token strategies. Being able to turn tokens from Mycoloth into Serra Angels is what I live for in Commander. As it just so happens, we can do something similar with Hostility. Turn a Lightning Bolt into three Serra Angels? Sign me up! Sure, they don’t have haste, but there are plenty of ways to fix that. Just think of the value!
Turn it up to 11
All this time I have been focusing on a situation where we have Hostility and want to cast Lightning Bolt. This was mostly for the sake of showing what Hostility is capable of, given just a few supporting cards. Now it’s time to explore a more bombastic example and prove that we don’t have to go infinite to win on the spot!
What does it look like when I cast an Earthquake in a game of Commander with three opponents while controlling Hostility? Let’s say X is equal to 5, that way my Hostility won’t die. In this example I make fifteen 3/1 elementals, because Hostility prevents the 5 damage to each opponent and creates that many tokens. This, on its own, is impressive. If we control Impact Tremors, we would then deal an additional fifteen damage to our opponents! If we’re doubling our tokens with something like Doubling Season, we’d instead get thirty 3/1 tokens and deal thirty damage to each of our opponents. Cathars’ Crusade (without Doubling Season) would buff our fifteen tokens to be 18/16 tokens. With any token doubling effect we would get 33/31 tokens, and if that effect is Doubling Season, we’d get thirty 63/61 tokens. That game is probably over, and we didn’t even go infinite. Remember, that was just X=5 and three opponents in the game.
So… Lightning Bolt for Lethal?
I hope you see the power of Hostility, just as I did so many years ago. The potential to triple the damage it “prevents” is an impressive ability, but with a little help from a few of my favorite cards, Hostility goes from dangerous to absolutely deadly. I hope this has inspired you to build with it (it definitely has inspired me), and I’ll see you next time when I block for lethal with Greatbow Doyen.