The Team Modern Open is coming to Pittsburgh this weekend, and there are a lot of questions about what has happened to a format that was quite stable as recently as two months ago. What should people play? What is the metagame going to look like? Can I still play the same deck that I’ve been playing for years, and just fudge the sideboard a little bit to fix it up?
In a word, no.
It’s time to put away childish delusions. Hogaak Bridgevine is going to be banned at some point in the next few months, possibly in the next few weeks. The deck is preposterous. It is the best deck in Modern by a wide margin, and you would not be serious about winning SCG Pittsburgh if you didn’t play it.
1. Hogaak Bridgevine
I’ll defer to the resident “guy who plays broken decks until they get banned,” Piotr Glogowski, for his list from the recent Modern event on Magic Online:
- 4 Carrion Feeder
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Vengevine
- 3 Gravecrawler
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
The deck is resilient to many forms of sideboard hate. It’s highly consistent. It always bashes with an army of undead by the third turn, and if it draws Altar of Dementia, it will usually just mill your entire deck on that same turn.
Altar of Dementia also means that one-shot graveyard hate is often insufficient. With access to a single Bloodghast and an Altar of Dementia, the whole engine starts back up within a turn or two. Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void are the best answers, followed by Yixlid Jailer and Grafdigger’s Cage. Of course, even a single copy of Shenanigans often stops the Cage, and lists often include Lightning Axe or Fatal Push to cleanly answer the Jailer. The enchantments are the best of the best, but even they can be answered with Nature’s Claim or Wispmare.
For my money, there’s no better choice than this deck for the Open. It’s got a few maindeck Leylines for mirror match hate, various relevant sideboard cards for matchups that aren’t naturally blowouts, and counter-hate in Ingot Chewer and Wispmare. The only card I might like to see in the sideboard is Flamekin Harbinger, which has been gradually on the uptick as a way to find either Wispmare or Ingot Chewer, depending on which sideboard hate card the opponent is packing.
Additionally, an important principle of Modern metagaming is that tabletop is always at least a week or so behind the online metagame. There will be people playing in this tournament who have not adjusted to the new reality of the format. There will be people who think that Surgical Extraction and a few Scavenging Oozes are enough. There will be people who insist that their Burn deck has a good matchup because it sideboards four Rest in Peace. They are wrong, and their inflexibility is your gain. Modern is, as Ross Merriam succinctly put it a few years ago, a format with a stiff metagame. Some people playing in this tournament have never actually seen the Bridgevine deck and lack an understanding of its power, resilience, and backup plans. Capitalize on that.
My pick for the winning team from this Open is triple Hogaak Bridgevine. It could be your team, but you have to play with the busted cards! They’re going to ban Bridge from Below, Hogaak, or Altar of Dementia soon. Possibly all three. Here’s your chance to play with a broken deck before it slips into the realm of wistful memory. Don’t squander it.
But let’s say you’re a contrarian. You categorically refuse to maximize your expected win percentage in the tournament, and you want to play something else. Hogaak Bridgevine is the best choice for this weekend, but we need some variety. After all, 24 Hogaak decks in the Top 8 teams would be unthinkable, right?
There are other decks you can play that will still give you a healthy shot at winning the event. Experience and comfort with your deck still matters as much as ever, and it’s not impossible to beat Hogaak with any of these alternatives. Hell, some of them actually have pretty good matchups against the graveyard menace!
Tom Ross is going crazy tinkering with various builds of Infect to combat the onslaught of Hogaak. And he’s right to do so. With Scale Up, the deck kills on the second turn with regularity. It only takes three pieces: Glistener Elf, Scale Up, and a Might of Old Krosa or Groundswell. This is a far cry from before, when it took a Mutagenic Growth in addition to two +4/+4 pump spells. You can sneak the win through before Hogaak gets set up, if you’re lucky.
Additionally, Infect can piece together a third-turn kill with Blighted Agent easily, and as Hogaak decks get more inbred, they become more vulnerable to being cheesed out with poison. I highly recommend reading Tom’s ideas about the deck, because if you want to outrace the horde of Zombies, this is one of the best ways to do it.
Here’s a sample list from Max McVety’s most recent online exploits, which is where I’d start. The Tarmogoyfs in the sideboard are unusual, but Max has his reasons for including them, though I can’t quite figure out what those are. Think about why they might be useful before dismissing them. Sometimes piecing together the reasoning behind a good player’s decision is more valuable than simply seeing what they came up with.
3. Devoted Devastation
Ah, yes. The Ingram strategy. Peter and fellow Face to Face team member Edgar Magalhaes worked on a wild Devoted Devastation build with Teferi, Time Raveler and Karn, The Great Creator for the Season One Invitational. Then, with the release of Giver of Runes, there’s been a hint of new life in the old Counters Company archetype. The raw speed of these Devoted Druid decks means that they can often compete with Hogaak Bridgevine without any specific interaction, and the toolbox nature of a green creature deck in Modern means that you can pack some incidental coverage for graveyard decks throughout your 75.
It’s unclear if the Abzan or Bant version is better, but you can use Peter’s list from the Invitational as a jumping-off point for a non-Company take on the archetype, which he discusses here below:
For the Collected Company version, Laplasjan (whose real name I don’t know) plays a ton of Abzan Company online, and their lists are pretty much on-point. Start here, tinker as you will, pray that you win the die roll, and maybe you’ll survive against Hogaak.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Vizier of Remedies
- 4 Giver of Runes
4. Azorius Control
If you want to slog through Hogaak the hard way, trying to slow them down on every turn and hate them out, this is probably one of your best choices. I don’t particularly recommend Azorius Control, but with Force of Negation and Rest in Peace, things can only go so badly.
It sucks that the best part of playing blue control decks in Modern is Snapcaster Mage, and yet you’re forced to play Rest in Peace to combat Hogaak. I have long hated this anti-synergy and will continue to bitterly resist it as long as possible. However, in Hogaak’s Modern, you simply have to grimace and deal with it.
There are some bright spots in the world of control right now. Narset, Parter of Veils lets you dig hard for your hate pieces, which is important, and Force of Negation lets you throw away expensive spells to survive the early turns by countering key pieces like Altar of Dementia.
After the inevitable banning, I expect Azorius Control to be a major part of Modern. It’s just not necessarily the best time for it at the moment, but sometimes you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
5. Grixis Urza
This is the most exciting new deck to come about from Modern Horizons. It’s got Goblin Engineer to tinker away and set up devastating combos. It’s got Urza, Lord High Artificer to boost your mana to unreasonable amounts and churn through your deck with said mana. It’s got Sai, Master Thopterist and the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo. And yes, being an artifact deck with various prison elements, it’s got Tormod’s Crypt, Nihil Spellbomb, Pithing Needle, and Ensnaring Bridge as tutorable ways to lock out opponents.
This deck is by far the coolest thing I’ve seen in Modern in a long time, and it is my dark horse pick to crush the tournament. Before Hogaak came along and broke a bunch of simple rules about 8/8 creatures costing mana and needing to be cast from your hand, Mox Opal was in the running for consensus most broken card in Modern alongside Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings. With a half-Entomb half-Goblin Welder around, we might just be back in action!
It feels a little bit like the Toon Squad up against the Monstarz in Space Jam, but maybe Urza, Lord High Artificer can anchor this ragtag bunch of artifacts and show up the villains of the format. I’m cautiously optimistic, and I’m going to be trying this deck out in the hopes that Hogaak gets banned and I can play it at Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona.
6. Izzet Phoenix
Gerry Thompson wrote an excellent piece on his experience with Aria of Flame in Izzet Phoenix last week. I’m very excited to try out this divergent gameplan, as Pyromancer Ascension was too graveyard-oriented and exposed Phoenix to graveyard hate just a little bit too much. I’m highly skeptical that this deck has the tools to beat Hogaak, as only three Surgical Extractions maindeck is just not consistent enough to beat them and your clock is almost never fast enough to race them.
Even after sideboarding in Ravenous Trap, I still have major concerns, such as the fact that Phoenix has no way to cleanly answer a Hogaak other than transforming a Thing in the Ice (itself a two- or three-turn procedure, for which you don’t have time).
But Gerry is smart, and he breaks formats regularly, so I’ll bite my tongue and admit that this deck looks like the best way to build Izzet Phoenix for now. Hopefully things change soon with a Hogaak ban, and then we can start really talking about how to properly build the deck.
7. Esper Death’s Shadow
Somehow, Jessy Samek keeps crushing online with this wonderful, mixed-up, delightful Esper Death’s Shadow list.
For my Death’s Shadow people, I’ll be straight up with you. This deck does not have as strong an expected win rate as Hogaak Bridgevine. That being said, it likely has a stronger win rate than traditional Grixis, and I’d be overjoyed if someone smashed this tournament with it. I think some of the choices are a bit on the loose side, as I mentioned last week. The mix of graveyard hate is perplexing, the choice of Teferi, Time Raveler still doesn’t quite pan out for me, and the one Hex Parasite is completely bananas. (I mean that in the best way possible. Hex Parasite might be genius!) Ranger-Captain of Eos acting as a Silence plus Eladamri’s Call plus Trained Armodon might just possibly be enough to bring the room together. What a beautiful pile of head-scratching numbers!
8. Mono-Red Phoenix
Last, but not least, we have Jeffrey Carr’s baby. Finale of Promise has turbocharged this deck, and the latest incarnation is something like a hyper-advanced blend of Burn and Kiln Fiend Aggro. Once the format settles down, there’s no doubt in my mind that Mono-Red Phoenix will completely supplant traditional Burn as the best choice for those who want to throw Lava Spikes.
Lava Dart is savage here, and we’ve seen Blistercoil Weird enter the deck as yet another pseudo-prowess creature. I love the streamlined approach and seeing how the deck has just bumped up its power level with recent additions is beautiful and terrifying.
This is the deck to play if you want to beat down. No question about it. Humans is cancelled. Lava Dart ended them. Mono-Red Phoenix is the wave of beatdown in the future and might even be able to fight Hogaak with incredible luck.
I would not hesitate to recommend this list to the Bolt-heads in Modern. Once the Hogaak menace passes, I’ll be the one with the Timely Reinforcements sitting across from you. See you in the feature match area!
- 18 Mountain
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Lava Spike
- 2 Lava Dart
- 4 Manamorphose
- 2 Gut Shot
- 4 Faithless Looting
- 3 Light Up the Stage
- 2 Finale of Promise
It’s fun to see all the rapid evolution going on in Modern despite the presence of an apex predator in the metagame. After the deck gets properly neutered by a ban, we can use the lists that survived under a Bridgevine regime to try to build a new Modern, which (from the glimpses I can catch between the Hogaaks) looks like it might be a lot of fun.
But make no mistake, and lest I grow weary from repetition, this will be the last admonition:
Play Hogaak Bridgevine. It’s too good not to play.