Hogaak, We Have A Problem: Examining Bridgevine In Modern

If you aren’t prepared for Bridgevine at this weekend’s Modern Mythic Championship Qualifiers, you might as well stay home. Todd Anderson puts his own spin on the archetype with a long-forgotten enchantment!

This new Bridgevine deck is going to get multiple cards banned in Modern. Free sacrifice outlets aren’t exactly new, as we’ve had Viscera Seer for a while, but adding two more powerful ones that proactively engage with the rest of your deck is absurd.

This past weekend was the first tournament featuring Modern Horizons cards on Magic Online, and it put ten copies into the Top 32, and this is the first draft of the deck. Things have changed significantly for the archetype, sending it from a fringe all-in strategy to a powerhouse that’s threatening to dominate the format.

This past Tuesday on VS Live! Ross hit me with back-to-back copies of Relic of Progenitus on the first three turns, and I combo-killed him on the fourth turn. One-shot or minor graveyard interaction is not how you’re going to beat this deck. You must hit them over the head with a hammer. You need something like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace or even Yixlid Jailer. Otherwise, they’re going to eat you alive. And sometimes they have the Wispmare or Nature’s Claim and kill you anyway.

Before we go any further, let’s look at the three new cards that put this deck into overdrive.

This new card from Modern Horizons is absurd. Sure, you can’t spend mana to cast it, but both delve and convoke allow you to cast it for free from the graveyard quite easily. In addition to being easy to cast, it also functions like an engine for sacrifice outlets, since you can cast it so easily. It’s specifically disgusting with the next card on the list: a reprint that never should have seen the light of day.

The first time I used Altar of Dementia to mill myself, I knew something was really wrong. When you combine Altar of Dementia with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, you start milling yourself for huge chunks, which then lets you cast Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis again. And if you have a Bridge from Below in the graveyard, you can effectively mill your entire library without much trouble.

Altar of Dementia also acts as a win condition while providing you with prime graveyard enabling. Once you’ve established the mini-loop with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, you get to mill your opponent’s entire library. And while setting up all these little things might not seem all that easy, let me assure you that a single Altar of Dementia effectively puts you into overdrive, digging for all these pieces that can be used from the graveyard.

The other cheap sacrifice outlet that doesn’t cost mana to use is Carrion Feeder, a classic that I’ve wanted in Modern for some time. It’s powerful, sure, but it promotes using the combat step to get the job done. Plus, your opponent can interact with it much more easily than an artifact like Altar of Dementia.

But what Carrion Feeder adds to the deck is a “fair” way to fight your opponent. Carrion Feeder gives you a way to continuously use the extra bodies made by Gravecrawler and Bloodghast and gives you a means to win the game by attacking. After sideboard, if your opponent is trying to hit you with stuff like Surgical Extraction or Relic of Progenitus, you can just start turning creatures sideways.

All three of these additions to the deck are powerful, and they all work together seamlessly.

Let’s start with the obvious stuff. We have twelve new cards in the maindeck. All three are fairly complex in their uses, offer a variety of different types of gameplay, and aren’t exactly the easiest to use to their full potential. With that said, cards that let you sacrifice permanents without spending any mana are often dangerous, leading to a multitude of infinite combos.

And while we’re not going infinite ourselves, we can often mill over our entire deck, generating enough Zombies to keep bringing back Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis over and over, ultimately decking them with the Altar of Dementia itself. A self-contained enabler and win condition is not something you see every day. In fact, this type of effect is often dangerous to print in the first place because it’s never going to be used in good faith.

Altar of Dementia is likely the most egregious addition from Modern Horizons, if only because the graveyard is one of the most abused regions in Modern. People are already playing maindeck Surgical Extraction in reasonable numbers, and something like Altar of Dementia is either unplayable or way too good. It’s a very dangerous reprint, and especially so when you also give us free giant creatures we can keep casting from the graveyard.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is a cool design, but by the third or fourth time you cast it you realize it’s just way too easy to enable. Cards like Stitcher’s Supplier and Altar of Dementia are phenomenal at putting extra fodder into the graveyard, but the true strength of the card is that it’s just an undercosted giant that your opponent can essentially never kill. After playing with the card a bit over the last few days, all I can really think of is, “Why is this an 8/8 with trample?”

But I think the most important aspect of this new Bridgevine deck is that this is, hilariously, the first draft of the archetype, and it’s already wildly successful. A ton of people on Twitter are saying it’s one of the most powerful decks they’ve ever played in Modern. And while it isn’t always killing on the third or fourth turn, it’s absurdly consistent and really tough to interact with. And just like the Eldrazi decks weren’t exactly killing you on the fourth turn, they were absurdly powerful and often pretty tough to interact with on a realistic time frame.

I’m actually terrified that, given enough time, this deck will turn into something even more powerful than it already is. And if that ends up being the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing maindeck Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, if only to give fair decks a shot to beat them.

Does the deck have weaknesses? Obviously. All decks that use the graveyard can fall in the face of enough hate. But nearly every sideboard in that Modern Challenge from this past weekend had five or six anti-graveyard cards at their disposal. This deck is also great at hitting the battlefield running. If your opponent has to mulligan to Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace, you can occasionally just cast a bunch of small creatures and kill them by attacking. Unlike Dredge, the stats on these creatures aren’t so bad.

While it didn’t actually win the event, it put multiple pilots into the Top 8, including second place, and the cards had been on Magic Online for less than three days. Do you know how long it took people to figure out that Arclight Phoenix was actually good and not just another weird thing you could do with Faithless Looting? Like two months!

I’ve seen a few builds with and a few without Vengevine, but it seems like a perfect addition to the deck. All in all, you just want cards like Stitcher’s Supplier and Insolent Neonate to be at their best, and Vengevine rewards you for playing small creatures with graveyard-related effects. In a lot of ways, Vengevine lets you small-ball your opponent instead of just going full blast on your own graveyard. After all, if you don’t draw Altar of Dementia, your draw won’t be nearly as explosive, so you need quite a few ways to accrue small advantages.

Vengevine also gives you some closing speed if your opponent does happen to hit you with some of that anti-graveyard stuff that doesn’t exile your entire graveyard permanently. Opponent got rid of all your Bridges from Below? Just smash them with a couple of 4/3 hasted Plants! Like Gravecrawler and Bloodghast, it just gives you the ability to win games when you’re not functioning on all cylinders.

This card got a lot better with the addition of Carrion Feeder, but overall it’s just a sick enabler for a number of different threats in the deck. It lets you mill yourself a ton with Altar of Dementia, makes bringing back Vengevine a joke, and even lets you beat down against an opponent who was busy mulliganing to Leyline of the Void.

The Outsiders

There are a few cards on the cusp that could end up making the deck at some point, or potentially even changing the entire direction of the archetype. Here are some cards that I have decided not to include, though I could definitely see them in certain builds.

Dredge cards do work well with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, but aren’t exactly exciting without some more enablers. Plus, you don’t have the payoffs of normal Dredge like Narcomoeba or Prized Amalgam. But after playing with Hogaak a bit, I could definitely see just playing some in Dredge. The card is phenomenal.

Cathartic Reunion is a great card for graveyard decks, but I think it falters here. You want some amount of Cathartic Reunion if you’re playing the Dredge version because it allows you to turbo out large portions of your graveyard at once. However, replacing cards in hand after discarding them isn’t a priority. I’d much rather be playing something that allows me to discard my entire hand at will, but we’ll get to that next.

Cathartic Reunion often shows up in early iterations of decks like this, but people figure out that you don’t really need to go hard on that type of thing. Something like Hedron Crab would probably be better in the grand scheme of things.

Friend of the show VTCLA posted a list recently with Noose Constrictor. Remember that “at will” discard thing I was talking about? Well, sometimes Noose Constrictor is exactly the thing you need to do that, though I’m not convinced it’s better than the next choice.

Zombie Infestation is something I definitely want to test, and I’m also confident it’s better than Noose Constrictor. After all, you’re rarely returning Vengevine the same turn you cast Noose Constrictor, so the discard outlet is the most important aspect. Zombie Infestation creates zombies, which allow you to recur Gravecrawler and pay the convoke cost on Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.

This is definitely the build I’ll be looking to next, if only because Zombie Infestation is one of my all-time favorites, and the more I think about it the more it just makes sense.

This new card from Modern Horizons is a potential disruptive tool for combo decks that also gives you a way to turn dead cards from your hand into food for Hogaak, as well as get some of those graveyard-related cards from your hand where they belong. I don’t know if it hurts the opponent enough to justify playing a ton of these. While it might not see play in “stock” version, I could see a slower iteration featuring Life from the Loam, Zombie Infestation, and/or discard effects like Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize to disrupt the opponent.

I like the idea of Satyr Wayfinder in this build, as it just gives you a bit more fuel. And since you’re not worried about Vengevine, the two-mana cost doesn’t hurt all that much. It isn’t a Zombie, but it helps fuel delve and convoke, fills the graveyard, and even finds a land for Bloodghast. I’m surprised more people aren’t trying this card in the more stocky builds, but that would likely involve changing the manabase a bit to fit it in. With only ten sources of green mana ourselves, I’m not sure how consistently we’ll be casting it in the early turns.

Modern on the Horizon

I actually like the idea of creating new cards specifically for Modern, but that will come with some problems. Here, we have at least two cards in Altar of Dementia and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis that might end up getting banned at some point. But I’m honestly okay with that on the whole. I just hope they don’t let it get out of hand before any action is taken.

This weekend, there are a few MCQs to be played, and I think you’d be foolish not to play this deck in some form or another. Vengevine is obviously stock and powerful, but I wouldn’t sleep on Zombie Infestation builds. They’re more resilient to graveyard hate, as you can pitch dead cards to just make a bunch of small creatures to attack on the ground. It might not be all that powerful in the face of Leyline of the Void, but what cards in your deck aren’t severely affected by it?

But I think the most important aspect of this new Bridgevine deck is that this is, hilariously, the first draft of the archetype, and it’s already wildly successful.

I might also suggest playing a few more ways to kill Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, if only because this weekend will be one of the most dangerous weekends to be playing graveyard decks at all. Six or seven might be the right number, as loading up on Nature’s Claim and Assassin’s Trophy seems like the easiest way to go about it. They hit the most stuff and are safe-ish to bring in while in the dark.

A few people have already written articles about how to attack this style of deck, so if you’re interested in playing a “hater” deck instead of the “best” deck, make sure to check out Ross Merriam’s article from Tuesday, as well as Patrick Chapin’s article from yesterday. I guarantee you this will be the most-played deck in any Modern event you attend this weekend, so long as people are able to find the new cards.

Good luck and have fun! I’m sure it won’t be around for very long.