Before we get into today's deck material proper, I just wanted to shout out my good friend, alleged apprentice, and podcast co-host Roman Fusco.
When Roman and I started the Ancestral Recall podcast a handful of years ago the shtick was kind of that I was this grizzled old boomer who knew the underlying theory of Magic and could quote the historical articles... And Roman was this freewheeling aspirant who was actively trying to carve a name for himself on the domestic Grand Prix circuit.
He had a lot of near-misses in the previous incarnation. But not this past weekend. The event in Las Vegas was the first major one since Phoenix in February of 2020. And Roman was there, slugging it out first with our Paleolithic Burn deck, and then Crimson Vow Limited. It wasn't quite a Grand Prix... But a Grand Prix in everything but name (and I suppose Pro Tour invites) only. At the end of the day, I couldn't be prouder of my good friend, alleged apprentice, and podcast co-host.
Additional shout-outs to Etai Kurtzman (who is ironically Roman's apprentice, so we joked that my tongue-in-cheek son and "grandson" both made Top 8) and fellow CoolStuffInc content creator CovertGoBlue. With Roman running on fumes through a grueling Day Two, CGB rescued him with some very welcome blood sugar elevation... So claims Top 8 credit for himself.
Since it's The One in best of one? I'll accept it.
I've been on the road myself this week (though I didn't make it to Vegas) so no "Peanut Butter and Chocolate" Barbarian Class this week. Instead, I'd ask you to give this one a listen:
It's the Barbarian Class that Roman and I recorded most recently. If you've only been following recordings I've embedded with weekly articles, you might have missed it. But it's probably my favorite we've done. Real honest-to-goodness Barbarian sh*t up front; emphasis on "honest". Plus, the core article is "The Little Lies We Tell Ourselves", which is my best recent work anyway.
Okay, what else goes together like peanut butter and chocolate?
Hullbreaker Horror is one of the most important cards to have come through Innistrad: Crimson Vow. I would still hazard that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is the most active at dictating the format, especially early... But it is indisputable that Hullbreaker Horror is the catalyst for the most innovative new archetype.
Doubtless, there will be more Hullbreaker Horror decks, and probably boasting additional clever color combinations! But the archetype list at present is an update to all of our favorites: .
U/R Control | VOW Standard | jsteed, 4-0 MTGO Standard Preliminary 11/16/2021
- Instants (26)
- 1 Cathartic Pyre
- 1 Cinderclasm
- 1 Galvanic Iteration
- 1 Demon Bolt
- 2 Consider
- 2 Prismari Command
- 3 Fading Hope
- 3 Jwari Disruption
- 4 Divide by Zero
- 4 Spikefield Hazard
- 4 Unexpected Windfall
- Artifacts (2)
- 2 The Celestus
- Lands (20)
- 4 Island
- 5 Mountain
- 1 Field of Ruin
- 2 Hall of Storm Giants
- 4 Riverglide Pathway // Lavaglide Pathway
- 4 Stormcarved Coast
The only undefeated deck from the first MTGO Standard Preliminary, JSTEED's list has a pedigree beyond its first place finish: Three of the other four top performing decks were White Weenie packing three if not four copies of Thalia. Which tells us two things: 1) Yes, more White; and 2) - and specifically this - can perform in that context.
How Does This Deck Work?
In the abstract, the Hullbreaker deck is a Control deck of the Weissman tradition; though it has some Big Blue DNA and Lock deck elements. Despite sharing many cards with the decks of the Midnight Hunt Standard season, Hullbreaker is a departure in style and end game.
Izzet Epiphany was essentially a Combo-Control deck. It had some controlling elements and could string together what looked like long game, but it didn't really have actual long game tools if that makes any sense. Epiphany's ability to control the board was somewhat narrow. Its main way of dealing with non-creature permanents was Divide By Zero. Which is great... Up until a point.
The deck's soft answers, half measures, and time-buying tricks (e.g. Fading Hope) are just there to keep its life total high enough to combo off with Galvanic Iteration and Alrund's Epiphany. Or some similarly overwhelming combination of spells that snowball cards in hand and mana. But if it didn't close, the bill would eventually come due for the half measure of Divide By Zero, or the opponent might present a creature with toughness greater than five. None of that matters when you take ALL the turns of course; so Epiphany didn't have to have hard end game control tools, provided it could eventually cobble together Plan A.
Izzet Dragons has more hard controlling elements, but not enough of them to play a real "Control" long game over a great number of turns. Saw it Coming can theoretically stop anything, but it's best at exploiting a double Treasure when you're tapped out with an attacking Goldspan Dragon already in play. Izzet Dragons is often the Control in the first few turns; but it can ape a quasi-Faeries game with turn two Smoldering Egg // Ashmouth Dragon and likes to switch to Fish by protecting Goldspan Dragon for the relatively few turns you need to keep playing once you start attacking.
Notice how most Izzet Dragons decks just don't have cards like Burn Down the House. Not only can they not double Burn Down the House into a kind of go-wide Ball Lightning, but they also don't want to kill their own hard-won 4/4 creatures. It is better at controlling some aspects of the game than Izzet Epiphany, but completely deficient at others. Both of those decks are designed to use their soft controlling elements to buy time, at which point they either combo you out or switch game plans (or in the case of the World Champion's favorite Prismari style, both).
Hullbreaker is different from either of these predecessors. It is a legitimate long game control deck. That is because if you have Hullbreaker Horror in play, almost every card you draw can effectively masquerade as a Counterspell or a Boomerang. In some cases, like when you Divide By Zero with Hullbreaker Horror in play, you can kinda sorta do both (or like, beat all the Alrund's Epiphanies that thought they were going to resolve).
One of the things that is important about this deck is that Hullbreaker Horror + Divide By Zero (or sometimes Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins) is a pretty similar number of mana to Galvanic Iteration + Alrund's Epiphany. So sometimes you get these cool turns where the opponent goes for it with the Epiphany combo and you respond by playing the Horror and can actually counter (or "counter") all their Time Walks out of nowhere. Sometimes you can do this with weird stuff like 9 mana and two Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Caves to the jaw. It's all very situational, comes up most often when the opponent is jumpy, and is still important to know about.
On the subject of Spikefield Hazard... I think that is actually one of the great points of genius of this build.
The Hullbreaker Horror deck is a little lower in land count than we have seen from other Izzet decks in recent memory, with only 20 lands-lands (that is, not Modal Double-Faced ones). But it makes up for that with a full complement of Spikefield Hazards, which is well above what Izzet Dragons or Taking Turns decks would tend to play. As we talked about last week, one of the biggest obstacles to success in the current format is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, so packing a ton of ultra cheap Thalia defense that can just add to your resource row in slower matchups is a perfect choice for the metagame.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate
Hullbreaker Horror is an amazing Batman to Lier, Disciple of the Drowned's Robin. Lier was a card that could create what would seem like an inevitable long game... But was ironically burdened by its own text box. Like, as long as the opponent couldn't remove Lier, Lier was arguably the apex Control end game of Standard. The problem being that Lier doesn't let you counter anything while it's in play, and that means also not countering removal for Lier.
But if you have Hullbreaker Horror? You can "counter" anything and win every combat, mana willing, without ever violating Lier's text box permission restriction. Hullbreaker Horror's limitation is that if you [somehow] run out of spells, you stop being able to counter and Boomerang everything... Which will almost never happen if you have Lier in play.
So, again mana willing, Horror protects Lier by working around the latter's text box; while Lier keeps the Horror fueled up like almost no other card in the format would.
While this might seem like a minor point, they are both also medium-to-large creatures. Which might not seem like a lot until you run into something like this:
So, the other night I was play-testing this deck in preparation for this article when Green's new bomb from Crimson Vow came up. I was all proud of myself, even sniping a number of preceding Werewolves with a flipped Smoldering Egg // Ashmouth Dragon... But what was I going to do about endless hexproof?
Worse, as I had played The Celestus earlier, my opponent had the jump on the day / night cycle.
Of course, then it hit me: The opponent would have trouble actually attacking. I might not be able to abuse Avabruck Caretaker // Hollowhenge Huntmaster (or other creatures, depending on how many spells had just been cast), but I simply had a lot of power and toughness in play. I kept sniping incoming Werewolves, tried to keep it on "day" and the Caretaker never actually entered The Red Zone.
When I say that this deck is Control of the Weissman tradition, that's part of what I mean: Though other deck designers of his era were locking down the battlefield with The Abyss, or just decking the opponent with Jester's Cap, Weissman realized that Serra Angel was just the more efficient way to end games. Not only was it physically faster to attack the opponent five times than recur Jester's Cap indefinitely, the Angel's ability to defend [while attacking] actually gave it text.
Same thing with the Horror. It stretches out games just by being huge. Just by being there. If the opponent gives you an open, you can play Simian Grunts with it and eat an attacker, even if you don't get triggers money that turn. Time is on your side once the Horror resolves, because you can control the battlefield with all kinds of bouncing and faux permission while presenting a gigantic blocker. It is the Queen and protection for the Queen and protection for you all in one card.
The deck at present is a little choppy. If you're used to Izzet Epiphany mana, you might feel the lands to be tight. While it can "counter" "anything" in a long game, the answers are all over the place pre-Horror, so you will often be in the unenviable position of having the wrong answer or desperately wanting a second Cinderclasm.
All that said, one thing I will say for this build versus other is that it absolutely, positively, murders Blood Money.
With re-emerging as a premier strategy behind Edgar, Charmed Groom // Edgar Markov's Coffin joining the incumbent Snow engine, that is a legitimate bonus feature. Previously B/x decks could try to find the narrow path, hassling offensively with their 1/1 creatures (now even better with a certain 3/2 addition); making removal weighty mid-game against The Meathook Massacre...
But that stuff never works out against Hullbreaker Horror. It is just too big to kill with The Meathook Massacre! Other stuff will work, like Blood on the Snow... Provided you can get it to resolve against a hand where nearly anything can be a tempo-positive Remand type. Blood Money's go-to point removal is a Necrotic Fumes off of one of its many Learn catalysts... And that is too costly to try to operate against the Horror's particular brand of defense.
If you want a deck that is good against the new-old board control darling and is proving better-than-merely-competitive against White Weenie? Hullbreaker Horror Control is a heck of a candidate. It will try your patience sometimes; and your wins will be harder won and messier than they might have been with other Izzet builds... But there is none more flexible.