Hi all, this week I’m bringing you some insights into the flavour of the month in Modern – Hogaak Bridgevine. I piloted the deck to victory in a local European Modern Series qualifier event last weekend and thought I’d provide my perspectives on what I think are five key things people might want to know about the deck. Before I dive in, I’ll share two distinct versions of the deck – the one I played, and a slightly different version that I considered playing instead that did well at Grand Prix Dallas last weekend.
1. Is this deck really as good as people say?
About a year ago, the Dredgevine archetype made a bit of a resurgence upon the printing of Stitcher’s Supplier in M19. Early results from the deck looked very promising as it terrorised MTGO and Grand Prix events and featured in Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. However, with fast go-wide beatdown being arguably the deck’s only angle of attack, players soon worked out how to shut it down and it didn’t really take over the metagame in any meaningful way.
Let’s look at the upgrades from the new set that turbo-charge this style of deck beyond the power level of iterations we’ve seen in years past.
- Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis can’t be cast with mana, but it’s almost trivial to cast this card on turn two or three using graveyard synergies and cards like Stitcher’s Supplier, Insolent Neonate, and Faithless Looting. In recent years a turn two Gurmag Angler has been considered the yardstick for a sizeable early threat in Modern. Hogaak embarrasses the fish zombie and provides the deck with a trampling two-turn clock. The ability to cast Hogaak from the graveyard is what really pushes it over the edge. It means we don’t need to draw it ‘normally’ to cast it – if it’s been milled by Stitcher’s Supplier or Altar of Dementia, it’s potentially castable. It can be replayed if the opponent uses a non-exile-based removal spell on it, or after being sacrificed as part of a combo. This also makes it resilient and abusable.
- Altar of Dementia helps to fuel the graveyard, but also gives the deck a ‘combo’ option. Activating Altar will allow us to put cards directly into our graveyard, including Bridge from Below and creatures that can enter the battlefield from our graveyard. Once these creatures reanimate themselves, they can be sacrificed to the Altar for more graveyard ‘food’ and zombie tokens. Eventually, we will find a Hogaak that can be cast and sacrificed over and over again, netting us zombie tokens and cards in the graveyard each time. Sooner or later we can start sacrificing Hogaak and zombies to put the entirety of the opponent’s remaining library into their graveyard – not a bad alternative to dealing lethal on turn three!
- Carrion Feeder brings a good amount of consistency to the deck that was missing in previous iterations. It’s a zombie that allows us to replay Gravecrawler and provides another sacrifice outlet if we haven’t drawn Altar of Dementia. It’s also very easy to grow this creature into a real threat, sometimes while also making zombie tokens (that can also be sacrificed to pump it further if needs be).
Modern Horizons appears to have created a monster! See the day two metagame breakdown from GP Dallas Fort Worth last weekend immediately below.
Modern is Hogaak’s world and we just live in it! This is creating a bit of a metagame-warping effect that no only requires other decks to be prepared to deal with it, but also an understanding that decks with a poor matchup against it become practically unplayable in a competitive environment.
Based on the data so far, and the way it’s already influencing the metagame, there are clear signs that this deck is the ‘real deal’ – some would say almost too real of a deal! This is only reinforced by my own experience playing the deck and hearing the opinions of others who have helped me learn to play it – more on that to follow.
2. Should I splash green or white?
You’ll notice I’ve shared two decklists that splash white and green, respectively. I think both options are viable, but I’m going to briefly discuss each colour splash in a bit more detail.
- Wispmare is the main reason to splash white. It answers both Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, the two cards that best shut down our deck. A 1/3 blocker can also tip the balance in our favour if we’re at relative parity in the mirror match, being able to block both Gravecrawler and Bloodghast effectively.
- Ingot Chewer hits artifact-based hate, mainly Grafdigger’s Cage. We’re not really planning to get to five mana to make a 3/3. It’s worth noting that this card also circumvents a Chalice of the Void with one charge counter, despite costing one mana to evoke. Shenanigans is a new card that we can also play, but Chewer has some synergy with the next card that maybe makes it a better choice at the moment.
- Flamekin Harbinger combines with Ingot Chewer and Wispmare to form an ‘Elemental package’ to provide us with maximum flexibility in our answers to permanent-based hate. We have access to up to five Wisps and four Chewers while only using seven sideboard slots. Having the option to tutor either is particularly useful when opponents board in both artifacts and enchantments to stop us! The elementals in general also help us trigger Vengevine as well as providing their usual effects. For example, we can evoke a Chewer to destroy a Grafdigger’s Cage and then play another creature to reanimate the 4/3 hasty monster that was previously held back by the cage. Vengevine is also an elemental and can be tutored for if needed.
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a disruptive option for decks that play a lot of cheap spells that also allows us to stay aggressive. A lot of decks playing creature removal that isn’t Path to Exile (e.g. Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push) will want to sideboard most of it out, as those kinds of cards are very bad against Bloodghast and Gravecrawler. Having a Thalia in play that our opponent can’t answer (because they sided out their creature removal) can straight up win us the game in spite of all the graveyard hate we expect. Infect and Storm are decks that can actually race us, as our deck doesn’t interact well with Baral, Chief of Compliance, Goblin Electromancer, or infect creatures (unless we run Darkblast). Interestingly, burn is a deck that can also beat us even if we remove their library, as a suspended Rift Bolt and a barrage of instant-speed spells can finish us off before they have to draw a card. Thalia works very well against all three of these archetypes.
- Nature’s Claim has been the ‘traditional’ answer to permanent-based hate for some time in almost every graveyard deck we’ve seen in modern that can run it. Grafdigger’s Cage, Rest in Peace, and Leyline of the Void mostly stop our deck from working and need to be answered. This card does that more efficiently and flexibly than most other options – our opponent gaining four life is almost irrelevant.
- Assassin’s Trophy isn’t in the above decklist but is also a popular option seeing play. It serves a similar purpose to Claim but can hit any permanent, so if the opponent is playing a problem card that isn’t an artifact or enchantment (e.g. Ashiok, Dream Render or Yixlid Jailer), then we have our bases covered. It has the unfortunate downside of costing two mana and ‘ramping’ the opponent, but being able to answer any hate piece massively outweighs this drawback, and it costing two mana is often a good thing against Chalice of the Void. In the worst-case scenario, Trophy can kill off a threatening Awoken Horror or Champion of the Parish if removing graveyard hate isn’t relevant at the time.
The other upshot of the green version is that it makes it possible for us to cast Vengevine, which might come up, particularly in postboard games when our graveyard is being attacked!
The sideboard addresses permanent-based graveyard hate but not one-shot effects like Surgical Extraction and Ravenous Trap. This is because the permanent-based hate is simply much stronger if the opponent deploys it early enough, primarily because of their ability to continually make the graveyard irrelevant. In addition to the one-shot effects being a bit weaker by nature, it’s actually possible to ‘play around’ or mitigate the effects of the one shot effects with careful play or by responding to them with sacrifice effects (e.g. to get more zombie tokens with Bridge from Below before it’s exiled).
3. What do I play in those ‘Flex Slots’?
In almost all Hogaak lists, 40/42 of the spells in the maindeck are exactly the same. The deck’s engine cards are pretty ‘set in stone,’ but there are a variety of options one can take to fill out the rest of the deck.
- Necrotic Wound should be able to kill most threats for a single mana given how well the deck fills its graveyard. It also doesn’t interfere with any copies of Bridge from Below in our graveyard, as the removed creature is exiled and doesn’t enter our opponent’s graveyard. We just need to stay mindful that our opponent can respond to this spell by interacting with our graveyard, so I would say it becomes a very poor option post-sideboarding given that the opponent will bring in graveyard interaction.
- Darkblast has limits on what it can ‘kill,’ but dredging it can be a useful way to fill the graveyard more when we already have the rest of what we need in our hand, and killing a Noble Hierarch or Champion of the Parish can be useful too. Lastly, we can also kill off our own creatures, like Stitcher’s Supplier or Gravecrawler, when we don’t have a sacrifice outlet in play. This could make the difference needed to get a Vengevine or Hogaak into play early enough to seal the win.
- Cryptbreaker is an interesting option which adds versatility to the deck as well as providing another discard outlet. It acts as an ‘army in a can’ when our graveyard is rendered useless. I haven’t tried this card yet, but I’ve heard it’s relatively medium as it doesn’t fit a single role exceptionally well, it just does a reasonable job of making some zombies without using the graveyard. This is probably more effective out of the sideboard when the opponent has swapped their spot removal for graveyard hate.
- Leyline of the Void is actually a viable flex slot given the likelihood of playing a mirror match and getting the chance to make game one a one-sided affair. The card is also reasonable (but not crippling) against Izzet Phoenix, but will obviously be worse against any deck not using the graveyard. Including two Leylines in the maindeck also frees up sideboard space.
I’ve also seen Shenanigans and Lightning Axe as flex slots in the maindeck as a hedge. Overall, I think Darkblast is the most consistent card, but I wouldn’t argue for long with anyone fearing Ensnaring Bridge or Thing in the Ice more than I do.
4. How much graveyard hate should I play?
Check your current level of graveyard hate in your 75, double it, and add two more graveyard hate cards!
This isn’t an exact science, but hopefully emphasises that a LOT of hate is needed to fight this deck. This compounds the metagame-warping effect on Modern as a whole, with decks playing more maindeck graveyard hate or simply having up to eight or nine graveyard hate cards in the 75.
Depressingly, running a large amount of graveyard hate might not even guarantee victory. One additional aspect I want to highlight is that having all the answers to the graveyard is only half the battle. It’s super important to back this up with pressure and end the game as quickly as possible, and I think this aspect of playing against the deck is slightly overlooked. The deck has so many different paths to victory, can rebuild its graveyard if it gets removed, and play an attrition game with 2/1s if its deprived of its big hitters like Hogaak, Bridge, or Vengevine.
5. Which card from the deck is getting banned?
I would be very surprised if something from this deck does not get banned very soon. Here are my top picks for which card(s) are likely to get banned.
- Faithless Looting is a card that Wizards have been keeping an eye on for a while. It does what it says on the tin and improves the consistency of the deck (and pretty much anything else in which it’s played). However, I don’t think taking this card away hurts this deck nearly as much as a range of other decks in the format that lean on it a bit more, such as Izzet Phoenix, Mono red Prowess, or Dredge. The deck will still be super strong without it, just a bit less consistent.
- Altar of Dementia gives the deck not only a way to enable its graveyard synergies, but also the ability to combo the opponent out of the game on top of its range of aggressive options. Removing this from the deck will certainly power it down and take away some dumb draws that win on the spot with a combo, but I don’t think removing this card will power the deck down enough. The deck can still present 12+ power on turn two without the help from Altar.
- Bridge from Below offers the deck strong attrition and combo options and is one of the easier ways for the deck to progress its plans and make things difficult for the opponent. It’s one of the better targets for cards like Surgical Extraction and denying the deck this card would take a lot of the wind out of its sails and effectively reduce its power. I think it’s slightly more possible that this card gets banned than the previous two, but, in my opinion, there’s a worse offender at large…
- Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is the card I feel needs to be banned. An 8/8 trampler on turn two? Vengevine enabler? Combo enabler? Recursive? Doesn’t use mana keeping it free for spells this turn? It just does too much! It’s certainly an interesting card, but it’s also the biggest culprit in terms of why the deck is so powerful.
This deck isn’t the kind of deck I frequently (or am known to) play at competitive events, but the combination of its power level and the likelihood of an impending ban for at least one card in the deck compelled me to give it a go while I could. A ‘real deal’ made only a ‘flash in the pan’ by bans? – we will have to find out next week! If you’re playing Modern this weekend, I would recommend this deck 100%. If you choose not to play it, I’d definitely advise including a lot of graveyard hate in your 75, and, if you use it against this deck, back it up with pressure before the zombies reassemble!
Having been lucky enough to win the first qualifier in which I played, I don’t have any further European Series events lined up until the finals in September. I will be attending Magic Fest Barcelona at the end of the month and will likely be playing in the main event (but not the Mythic Championship). All eyes are on next week’s hotly-anticipated banned and restricted announcement to inform my deck choice for this event. The next Mythic Championship Qualifier season is taking place over August and September. The format for that is also Modern, so it looks like I might be concentrating on this format a bit longer than I first thought.
The new core set Magic 2020 is coming out at the weekend, and I’ll be making an effort to attend at least one local prerelease! There are a lot of cards in the set I’m very excited about, but admittedly this is more for Commander than Modern or Standard!
Hit me up if you have any further thoughts! You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154. I play most of my Magic in Leeds in the North of England, but I’m planning to go to Magic Fest Birmingham in August as well as Barcelona, so if you’re going to either, I may see you there!
As always, thanks for reading, and good luck and have fun in your next game!