I promised a follow-up to the “Impact of WAR” series (begun shortly after the release of War of the Spark) but, as the Modern Horizons release is already here, I know that most of our attention has shifted to an even newer set of cards. For that reason, I’ll focus primarily on some newcomers to creature strategies with new adds from WAR in the mix as well. For those of you that are new to this series, the concept is simple – I’ll take a look at new additions to the Modern meta and pinpoint other strategies that are improved or made worse by their presence. For today, it would be impossible to ignore Hogaak and friends…
The Hogaak Meta
I often write about the styles of play that I enjoy most or have the most experience with but I promise you that this is always influenced by my understanding of the meta and which of my preferred styles may have the best odds of winning a tournament at any point in time. This meta shifts frequently and is ridiculously wide. Its very difficult to predict the match-ups you may be served in twelve (or more) rounds of Magic, but given these results last weekend…
..I’m inclined to think that there is a high likelihood of facing a Hogaak deck in the near future.
Niedzwiedz’s Hogaak Bridgevine [Modern Challenge 6/19]
4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Insolent Neonate
4 Stitcher’s Supplier
4 Faithless Looting
1 Necrotic Wound
4 Altar of Dementia
4 Bridge from Below
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
1 Polluted Delta
2 Necrotic Wound
2 Ingot Chewer
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Silent Gravestone
The deck is very powerful and incredibly popular right now. Most of the rares in this build have experienced severe price spikes and Hogaak, itself has risen from $5 to nearly $25 overnight. This tells me that there are a lot of players sleeving this list up. In many cases, we might look to combat this type of metagame shift by packing more hate cards in your 75 and plenty of players have looked to the format’s stock graveyard hate to answer this menace.
Unfortunately, removing a Bridgevine player’s graveyard only provides a slight edge as their plan B involves simply casting aggressive creatures and taking advantage of your start which was already slowed slightly by casting a Rest in Peace or similar. This is not to say that this cannot work – Leyline and RIP are likely the most effective ways to fight Hogaak in a reactive shell. Instead, I’m more interested in identifying the deck’s weakness and exploiting them with my own plan.
Take a look at the list above and notice that Hogaak Bridgevine is a deck that plays very limited creature removal maindeck (typically, one Necrotic Wound and just a few more copies in the side). Often times, taking care of opposing creatures is not necessary for Hogaak pilots as their starts can be so aggressive that an opponent is dead before this matters. While I don’t plan to race a Hogaak deck with my own creature assault, I think it is very realistic to plan on assembling a creature combo amidst their aggression.
Beyond that, nearly half of the creatures in the Hogaak deck say “can’t block” (of course this does not include an army of zombie tokens that an opponent could create with Bridge from Below should they go off in that fashion). This means that if you can extend the game and slow your opponent’s plan, attacking might just work after all. As I said in the last paragraph, I certainly don’t plan to race Hogaak, but if the opportunity presents itself, they may just be dinged up enough from their shock/fetch lands that attacking them to death might work.
The Case for Creature Combo
In a meta full of Hogaak and Karn-lock Tron, I would look to a GW-based version of Vizier Company for a variety of reasons. The deck is consistent enough to win on turn three regardless of what your opponent is doing. Often times, a turn two Devoted Druid, when left unanswered is enough to assemble the combo on the following turn given the amount of mana that is possible as early as turn three and the amount of redundancy packed in Collected Company and Chord of Calling to find a Vizier of Remedies for infinite G. Granted, infinite mana is not enough to end the game on its own, but if you consider the other creatures often included in this plan (Tireless Tracker, Scavenging Ooze, Eternal Witness), many of them can help to either find the resources needed to locate a Walking Ballista or serve as a very important mana sink to slow your opponent in the process.
I won’t go much further into the core of this deck but would recommend you familiarize yourself with any of Laplasjan’s content on the matter if you are not familiar.
Against our Hogaak opponents, we’ll likely take quite a bit of abuse before we are able to assemble a creature combo. With this, Chord and Coco decisions need to be made carefully to allow for the most likely route to victory. In a moment where you could Chord of Calling for a Scavenging Ooze, you might just be better off locating a combo piece and digging for the remainder of the engine on the next turn. At times, digging for a hate card would just prolong the inevitable and set you back a necessary tool for locating your actual win conditions.
Beyond the deck’s plan being primed to take advantage of Hogaak Bridgevine’s weaknesses, a few notable additions from Modern Horizons have either made the deck more versatile or improved its own blindspots.
Giver of Runes
Giver of Runes fills a very important role in protecting your creatures from removal. This function is easy to identify. Fortunately, there’s so much more to this. Protection allows a puny Birds of Paradise to block large attackers like Tarmogoyf or Wurmcoil Engine repeatedly. This is huge! Sometimes, slower draws require throwing mana dorks away as chump blockers to buy more time to see additional cards in hopes of finding a piece of a combo. With Giver in the mix, this provides even more time and doubles as an insurance policy for the more relevant creatures you may eventually draw in this way.
One hidden function of Giver is its ability to draw removal spells out of your opponent’s hand prior to casting a Devoted Druid. While an opponent with ample removal won’t think twice to Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push, less interactive draws will give pause to control players who might be inclined to save those removal spells for an actual combo piece. Giver of Runes demands immediate attention and, at the worst, is a functional Inquisition of Kozilek for removal.
In the interest of “using all parts of the buffalo”, there’s one last mode to consider here. Granting protection from a color (or colorless) allows for one large creature to attack unblocked. Using Hogaak decks as an example again, there are quite a few creatures who inherently cannot block, so choosing a color to provide a large Knight of the Reliquary a route to connect is often relatively easy to do. This plan bodes well for another new inclusion in the deck’s plan in Carrion Feeder. This Viscera Seer-alternative can grow large after devouring your chump blockers and eventually crack back with Giver’s granted protection.
Lately, we’ve seen quite a bit less of the Kitchen Finks/Viscera Seer package in Abzan Toolbox decks in favor of more value creatures like Knight of the Reliquary and Tireless Tracker, but with the re-printing of Carrion Feeder and presence of Hogaak decks, I’m inclined to at least try it out for a number of reasons:
- This alternative is much better independent of the combo than Viscera Seer in that it provides a reasonable attacker as a plan B.
- While infinite life is not always relevant to a game, an infinitely large creature nearly always is. This can be paired with Giver of Runes to get in for lethal.
- A bit of a corner case – Feeder’s sacrifice ability allows quick and efficient answers to Bridge From Below.
While including a third color into the deck which is primarily base GW can be a bit challenging to a manabase that’s also interested in lands like Field of Ruin and Gavony Township, the fact that some of the most relevant sideboard pieces happen to include black in their casting cost (Assassin’s Trophy, Sin Collector) make this even more worthwhile.
Corey’s Vizier Company [6/29]
It should be no surprise that Collector Ouphe would be considered for a deck that runs Chord of Calling when many sideboards already include Stony Silence. With a new interest in Thopter Sword plans fostered by Urza, Lord High Artificer, I would expect effects like Ouphe’s to come in handy. Beyond that, Ouphe does great work against Tron’s Expedition Map, Chromatic Star, Relic of Progenitus, and Oblivion Stone. Just keep in mind that this card, like Stony, will shut off your own Walking Ballista as long as it hangs around.
Worship is not a new piece of technology, however, its taken on a whole new meaning with the presence of Giver of Runes in the format. Giver of Runes alongside Shalai, Voice of Plenty will make it very difficult for your opponent to win with any removal short of a Wrath spell (and for that, we have Selfless Spirit). Currently, there are quite a few decks that wouldn’t have a strong answer to an enchantment like Worship without diluting their own gameplan in sideboarded games, and this should do great work to buy enough time to assemble a combo.
With all of this talk surrounding Hogaak match-ups, we must still consider the rest of the top tier. UW Control has seen quite a bit of play lately and I expect that to continue. Vivien’s Arkbow provides a very good way to maintain a board presence through counterspells and mass removal. Arkbow has quickly become a staple for my toolbox builds as it does a fantastic job of turning topdecked lands into actual threats in this scenario. At just two mana, Arkbow is castable ahead of opposing counterspells similar to the way that a resolved Search For Azcanta can break up a control mirror.
Since covering all of the match-ups in the meta would be a lofty feat (and an extremely long article), I’ve decided to just focus on one spot today. That said, I think Vizier Company has a strong plan against many of the other tier one choices. Control decks tend to be difficult for Vizier Company to beat and Giver helps quite a bit. Its not the ideal solution, though, as removal-heavy decks will always be a challenge. There is no single deck that can flourish in every match-up and the best we can do as Modern players is to predict what we are most likely to see. I think Vizier Company is certainly worth consideration. I’m excited to see how things shake out in the coming weeks and will keep testing this build as they do.