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Surviving Hogaak (For Now)


Will Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis be banned?

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

The scourge of Modern. If you're like me and took any time to watch the Mythic Championship from this last week, you might have laughed at the way in which the commentators seemed to be trying to avoid talking about the elephant in the room. The deck was everywhere, and despite Leyline of the Void being ubiquitous, it was winning.

Imagine playing in a room full of main deck Stony Silence while you tried to win with artifacts, and still doing it.

Some people poo-pooed the results of the various Hogaak decks. After all, at MCIV in Barcelona, only a single Hogaak deck made the Top 8. However, this misunderstands an important factor at the Mythic Championships: it is a mixed format event. This means that there is no actual way of concretely seeing what performed the best. The Limited rounds corrupt the otherwise effective sorting that the Swiss rounds would accomplish in Constructed.

What do we know for sure from MCIV? We know Hogaak had one of the highest win rates of any deck at the MCIV (56.2% and 60.4%, between two archetypes) despite the vast presence of main deck hate. We also know that of the twenty decks that finished with at least eight wins, the majority were Hogaak decks. By comparison, the most that any other archetype managed to put up was two copies (Jund, uw Control, and Urza-Whir.

Perhaps looking elsewhere will be helpful. The StarCityGames Modern event in Columbus is a great place to check. Here, there won't be a corruption of the data from another format.

First, the bad news for the Hogaak-haters out there: Hogaak, Arisen Necroplis decks took half of the Top 8 slots in the StarCityGames Open. The remaining slots were taken by two Tron decks, an Izzet Phoenix deck, and a Grixis Urza deck. Amusingly, there were no Hogaak decks in the Top 8 of the Classic event on the second day; I'm not trying to be funny when I suggest that perhaps most of the Hogaak players this weekend continued onto the second day of the Open, and only a few quality Hogaak players were unlucky enough to have to fight it out in the Classic.

And yet, other decks are winning. The Hogaak deck was defeated in the Top 8 of the MCIV by Hardened Scales, and Mono-Green Tron won the StarCityGames Open and the Mythic Championship on the same weekend.

Let's check out the deck from the Open, uncorrupted by other formats:

There are several important things this deck is doing to survive the power Hogaak.

Importantly, first of all, the deck does not mess around when it comes to hate. Relic of Progenitus can do a lot to stem the bleeding, and the deck runs three copies to start; it wasn't that long ago that the deck would run only two copies, and sometimes not even that many. This is a great starting place, and it is backed up by an otherwise uncastable Leyline of the Void, which is all the more powerful with the new so-called London Mulligan.

Together, this means that Dominic could hope to have a fighting chance to shut down a graveyard strategy. Importantly, though, the Tron deck, by only running the Relic main could also have a good shot of simply being a powerful Tron deck against anyone else.

All of this is fine, but it wouldn't be enough without the copious resistance the deck otherwise puts up. Four Oblivion Stone can mean that the board might well be completely clear when a Relic gets used. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Karn Liberated can also play clean up duty, with the exile being quite meaningful.

Perhaps most importantly, though, we have the four Wurmcoil Engine.

A Wurmcoil Engine can hold the table for potentially several turns in a mid game, even against a decently deployed Hogaak deck. Take Vengevine and friends: any creatures as small as that are going to march in at a massive cost, and if a Carrion Feeder isn't around to sacrifice the blocked creature, it can take a great deal of effort to deal damage. Every ability - deathtouch, lifelink, and the Wurms left behind - is deeply significant to this deck's ability to make it to the point where it can properly fight Hogaak on its own terms: going over the top like it wants to.

The highest placing Tron deck in the SCG Classic basically did all of the same things, with only very slight variations. It seems like a winning plan.

I started looking for other decks that might have a solid plan for the matchup that were a bit more off of the beaten path, and I found this deck:

While I'm not necessarily advocating that you go out into the world and play Martyr-Proc this weekend, there are some intriguing things that this deck is doing.

Ghostly Prison

Ghostly Prison is the real deal, even against insane graveyard decks. For example, back during one of the most insane Legacy formats of all time, I was routinely beating Hulk-Flash with this Ghostly Prison-packing deck:

Main, that deck ran two Ghostly Prison, and the "turbo"-Ghostly Prison known as Elephant Grass, and it added two more Ghostly Prison to the sideboard for good measure. This deck, like a Modern deck that might use it, took advantage of the fact that the graveyard decks are tending to go wide, dropping a ton of threats into play, and not necessarily actually having the means to spend mana to get any of them to attack.

With that, all they need is time.

That's something Martyr-Proc can do. Whether it is Martyr of Sands gaining a ton of life, or a near lock of Kami of False Hope joining together with Emeria, the Sky Ruin to lock out most combats, Matyr-Proc can keep Hogaak decks at bay, and then potentially win at leisure with, most likely, a large Serra Ascendant.

Again, like the Tron deck from before, this deck can completely operate on its own strength. While potentially weak to a more controlling deck like uw Control, the deck has the grinding potential to go toe-to-toe with most decks and dominate more aggressive decks. Like any deck in Modern, it will have good and bad matchups, but it certainly seems notable in that it seems well positioned against Hogaak and is strong on its own right.

I found this deck so inspirational, I put back together a build of my Norin the Wary Soul Sisters deck (I called this deck "Heartbreakers"), and played in a Magic Online league. I did okay, beating two Hogaak decks and losing to another, but finished 3-2 with the deck, completely unrefined.

Last week, I probably underestimated the power of Hogaak, but I still like power of Izzet in a Hogaak world. Thing in the Ice's transformation into Awoken Horror is a powerful way to fight a graveyard deck.

Check out this list piloted to 5-0 by KenzoTheHardHearted:

Thing in the Ice is particularly more powerful in this deck because of alternative mana costs. Lava Dart and Surgical Extraction do a lot to make a Thing in the Ice go nuclear, and if one wants, you can board in Force of Negation to help that out even more. While one still needs to be cautious of Lightning Axe or Abrupt Decay in response, fairly often, the flipped Thing will cause the world to tumble down.

Surgical Extraction isn't an amazing card all on its own, but it is serviceable enough to play main, and Faithless Looting can make its weakness more reasonable in those matchups, with other card selection keeping it out of your hand as well. Finally, it can actually be good in a game where you are looking to take things down with an Aria of Flame, or the returning of a group of Arclight Phoenix, and, amusingly, can serve as protection for your Arclight Phoenix against opposing Surgical Extraction.

Importantly, though, this deck is deeply powerful on its own terms while being able to actively fight Hogaak.

That, I think is the lesson for how to survive Hogaak:

  1. Respect Hogaak, and bend your deck to beat it
  2. Keep your deck strong in itself while you do this

You can't simply be an anti-deck for a large number of reasons. Hogaak decks are diverse enough and resilient enough that they can often dodge hate or they might come at a slightly different angle than you are planning on hating it out. By having an active primary plan that isn't too diluted by hate, you don't miss out on opportunities to defeat Hogaak because you are too busy hating them out to kill them.

Wizards of the Coast hasn't tipped their hand about whether they are going to do anything to further hobble Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis decks moving forward. Until they do, be prepared!

Good luck to any of you fighting it out this weekend, and come join me on my Twitch channel and request some Modern if you'd like to see me fight against the Evil Dead!

- Adrian Sullivan

Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan

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