Hogaak’s Time In Modern Is Far From Over

Bridge from Below bit the dust in Modern, but Tom Ross isn’t done with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis! See how “The Boss” has set about breaking the big Avatar in a post-Bridgevine world!

Bridge from Below was the sniper’s target of Bridgevine featuring Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis during Monday’s Banned and Restricted announcement. Faithless Looting probably had a 50/50 chance of getting voted off the island too, but Wizard of the Coast felt it better to nerf Bridgevine and leave the rest of Modern unchanged leading up to Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona later this month.

I’d like to think that Top 8’ing Grand Prix Dallas having never played a game with Bridgevine helped WotC’s decision to take such swift action. More likely it had to do with its overwhelming popularity, resiliency, Day 2 conversion rate, and general win percentage.

The banning of Bridge from Below has largely been expected and accepted by the Magic community. Turn 2 wins from a deck that also has a good draw of sixteen or so power on the second turn is just too much. Maindeck Surgical Extractions and a minimum of either four Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void in every sideboard simply put too much strain on Modern and deckbuilding to be considered healthy.

Bridge from Below getting the axe certainly dinged Bridgevine to the point where it needs to be reimagined to continue to be successful. It’s possible that people will continue to develop with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis similarly to how people developed Grixis Death’s Shadow into the best deck in Modern only after Gitaxian Probe was banned.

A few people already have been having success in Modern pre-banning with Hogaak without Bridge from Below in their decks.

This is just a basic Dredge deck that stuck a Hogaak in there for good measure. Dredge decks have been rather set in stone for the better part of a year now since the printing of Creeping Chill, and just another big creature may not be what they’re in the market for.

Hogaak reminds me of another big undercosted creature in Gurmag Angler.

Depending on who’s counting, Hogaak costs either zero or two mana (I consider the convoke to be real mana generally). Does Dredge need a cheap 8/8 trampler? It certainly couldn’t hurt if the deck can support it. Right now, Bloodghast is the best thing to convoke with, since the rest of your creatures cost real mana to cast. Prized Amalgam can help to convoke it too and, notably, it entering the battlefield tapped will never affect you Hogaak decisions, since it happens at end of turn. Sadly, the blueness of Nacromeba is neither black nor green for Hogaak’s colored mana cost.

It feels like Dredge would want to incorporate at least Stitcher’s Supplier to help with convoking Hogaak. The little Zombie does a lot of what Shriekhorn does and has better synergies once you delve deeper. The question is whether the deck should be warped in such a way for Gravecrawler too.

There’s a lot to parse in this deck.

We have the dynamic duo of Death’s Shadow and Street Wraith showing up in an otherwise graveyard-based deck. Weird… yet subtly synergistic.

Street Wraith helps with Death’s Shadow, but also fills the graveyard for Hogaak. Death’s Shadow can be a huge 10/10 in certain matchups and situations, but sometimes it’s a lowly 1/1 or 2/2 that you don’t want to risk. Here, it’s fine to cast that one-drop black creature into danger if it means it meets the two requisite black creatures needed to convoke out Hogaak.

I’ve put Hedron Crab in hypothetical Dredge lists for years now but haven’t found the right combination of pieces to warrant skewing the manabase to want blue mana on the first turn. If Hedron Crab survives to see the light of a fetchland getting cracked, we see an immediate six-mill payoff, which is all the work of Shriekhorn or both sides of Stitcher’s Supplier.

Hedron Crab can help convoke Hogaak, which I imagine is does a lot since it’s not attacking and probably not blocking. Delving four cards early instead of five is quite helpful, and when playing Bridgevine in Dallas, I routinely had to make tough decisions on what my last delve card should be, which was often a Faithless Looting, Bridge from Below, Gravecrawler, or Vengevine.

Hedron Crab is a natural fit with the fetchland/shockland manabase that Death’s Shadow already wants. An 0/2 isn’t fancy, but it’s probably better than Thought Scour would be in this deck. I think the minor fact that it’ll help with convoking Hogaak is what pushes it over the edge.

How to Build a Better Hogaak

There are a lot of cards that you can play in a graveyard-based strategy. Let’s break them down into camps.

Narcomoeba and Creeping Chill are great when you’re milling significant chunks of your library at a time, most commonly with Stinkweed Imp. The tough part is playing a synergistic deck with eight copies of cards that don’t synergize but rather need to be milled for a real effect. Sure, you can cast a Narcomoeba for 1U or Creeping Chill for 3B – and both happen often – but that’s not what you’re looking for when trying to find the next broken deck.

Dredge cards are zero-cost ways to mill cards from your library into your graveyard. Of course, those cards need to end up in your graveyard in the first place to function. Faithless Looting is the best at this, but you need a couple more. Dredge plays Cathartic Reunion, which is good at both ends for the dredge cards, and a few Shriekhorn to fill things out. Hogaak wants creature enablers like Stitcher’s Supplier and maybe Hedron Crab to get things done. Insolent Neonate is still on the table as a consideration too.

Conflagrate wasn’t a part of Bridgevine but was always a big player in Dredge. Is the difference simply Life from the Loam or that the deck had burn power with Creeping Chill? Conflagrate is strong at filling in holes and specifically at getting cards you don’t want out of your hand into the graveyard. I think the first copy of Conflagrate is quite strong, regardless of which direction your graveyard deck takes you.

Prized Amalgam is a Zombie, which naturally goes with Gravecrawler. To play Prized Amalgam, you need enough creatures entering the battlefield from your graveyard to make it worth your while.

These four are the best to return, but what combination is best? I think Vengevine alongside Nacromoeba is the hardest pairing to justify, since a Narcomoeba from the library doesn’t count as being cast for Vengevine purposes. For what it’s worth, neither does Bloodghast, but Bloodghast is much better, since it can be converted from hand to graveyard to the battlefield easily enough, while Narcomoeba is really bad while in your hand.

Cryptbreaker showed up in the later parts of Bridgevine’s career as a one-drop Zombie that generated extra action with the card draw ability while also being a reasonable discard outlet for those graveyard cards that get clogged up in your hand. Turns out Cryptbreaker is just a good card, albeit a midrange-style card, deserving a spot in future Hogaak/Gravecrawler decks.

Arguably the card from Modern Horizons that really tipped the scales to make Bridgevine a broken deck, where does Altar of Dementia fit now that Bridge from Below is gone and sacrifice outlets are less important? I think the first copy is still fine, as it does mill you a significant amount in tandem with Bloodghast or Gravecrawler recursion and you still want some number of ways to convert your Stitcher’s Supplier into the full six mill. It’s really tough, but not impossible, to mill out your opponent with it, but I still like it as a tool to have access to. I never liked drawing two Altars anyway, so I like one or two copies floating around in a decklist.

My favorite opening from Bridgevine was always discarding a Vengevine or two from Faithless Looting and then attacking for four on Turn 2. It was a fair opening that was often enough to set the opponent behind enough in tempo to take a game. All games didn’t need broken draws, just starts better than the opponent’s.

At its heart, this build is a beatdown deck with as much resiliency as you’d expect from a Zombie deck. It can still cast a Hogaak on Turn 2 or it can go long with Prized Amalgam recursion and set up a lethal Conflagrate.

The one Blast Zone is in there mostly against Chalice of the Void. I always waffled between eighteen and nineteen lands and think a single colorless land is mostly fine as a hedge.

Forgotten Cave and Nurturing Peatland give you some card flow late-game, especially with Life from the Loam. Wrenn and Six help out of the sideboard when games get grindy.

Currently the most expensive card from Modern Horizons and for good reason – it does everything from nuking small creatures to giving you a stream of lands. With the aforementioned cards that draw cards and Faithless Looting, it’s not hard to convert lands into actual spells as needed.

What’s Next for Hogaak?

I believe Hogaak is simply too strong to get KO’ed by the Bridge from Below banning. There are a lot of graveyard-centric cards to consider when searching for the right home for Hogaak. I’ll be buried in my own personal think tank trying to figure out the optimal 75 for the Team Constructed Open in Philadelphia later this month, but I’m confident that something exists between traditional Dredge and the past Bridgevine deck that will be the next big graveyard deck.

Once found, maybe that’ll be the final straw to get Faithless Looting ousted from Modern once and for all.