Sultai Energy, or Sultai Constrictor, is a deck that has recently reappeared in Standard.
The deck plays different creatures that enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on them, or that can earn them (e.g., Bristling Hydra). We add Winding Constrictor to the mix, and we notice that flipping Hadana’s Climb is definitely feasible. The ability of the Winged Temple gives flying and +X/+X to a creature, which at this point should already be big, and allows us to win the game in a few attacks – ideally, in a single one.
Hadana’s Climb has an ability that triggers “at the beginning of combat” and targets a creature you control.
This is a kind of ability that became increasingly frequent in the last years, and its management is rather unusual. Let’s see it in detail.
The relevant step of the MTR is as follows:
If the active player passes priority with an empty stack during their first main phase, the non-active player is assumed to be acting in beginning of combat unless they are affecting whether a beginning of combat ability triggers. However, if the non-active player takes no action, the active player has priority at the beginning of combat. Beginning of combat triggered abilities (even ones that target) may be announced after any non-active player action has resolved.
The active player (AP) says “Combat.”
The non-active player (NAP) says: “OK.”
We are in Beginning of Combat, AP has priority. AP can declare to put Hadana’s Climb’s ability on the stack, and choose the target.
Hence, AP can say “Combat” and wait for NAP’s reaction; this does not mean that they have missed Hadana’s Climb’s ability.
AP says “Combat.”
This time the rules are kind towards NAP: even if NAP did not specify, Hadana’s Climb was destroyed in AP’s precombat main phase. We never entered the combat phase, and as a result the ability of Hadana’s Climb could not trigger.
However, since we are in AP’s precombat main phase, AP can, for example, play a second Hadana’s Climb from his or her hand, and declare “Combat” again.
AP says “Combat.”
NAP says “Ok.”
We have entered the Beginning of Combat. Before AP receives priority to crew the Harvester, Hadana’s Climb’s ability goes on the stack, and requires a target. If the Harvester is not already a creature, it is not a valid target.
AP must crew the Harvester before saying “Combat,” or at most they can say simultaneously “Combat, crew Harvester,” before giving priority to NAP.
Note valid for all scenarios:
Imagine that AP does not say “Combat,” and says any variant that comes to mind. Any. The answers stated above remain valid.
Any sentence that indicates the will to move from the precombat main phase to the combat phase is governed by the rules told so far. There is no exception, however technically precise, that can change that.
Winged Temple of Orazca
The Temple is the “back face” of Hadana’s Climb. The temple does not have a mana cost, and consequently it does not even have color; however, its converted mana cost is calculated based on the “front face,” and therefore is the same as Hadana’s Climb – three.
The “+X/+X” bonus is calculated according to the creature’s strength when the ability resolves – subsequent changes to the creature’s strength have no effect on this bonus.
For example, suppose we control a Grizzly Bear. We resolve Winged Temple’s ability, the Bear gets +2/+2. At this point, we resolve a Giant Growth: the Bear gets +3/+3, Winged Temple continues to give it +2/+2. The final result is a 7/7.
It is definitely better to resolve Giant Growth first (Bear becomes 5/5), and then resolve Winged Temple (Bear gets +5/+5, the final result is a 10/10).
When Winged Temple’s ability resolves, if the creature’s power is negative, the creature’s power is considered zero, and the Winged Temple bonus is +0/+0. This is also a somewhat recent rules change — though creatures can have negative power, if we need to know their power for something using X like Hadana’s Climb, we use 0 instead of the negative number.
As an example of that, suppose we again control a Grizzly Bear. We activate Winged Temple’s ability, targeting it, and our opponent responds with Hydrosurge on the Bear. It becomes a -3/2, and Winged Temple gives it +0/+0. The Bear remains a -3/2: does not deal combat damage, but its toughness is not altered.