At Mythic Championship IV, most of our team settled on Hogaak pretty early, but before we identified that the deck was actually too good not to play, we were working on a variety of different decks, some of which felt like they had a lot of potential.
In today’s article, I’m going to go over some builds we had that I believe can either succeed in a Hogaak metagame (for example, MagicFest Las Vegas), or provide inspiration for new decks in a potential, post-ban format.
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Allosaurus Rider
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 1 Woodfall Primus
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Griselbrand
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 2 Vizier of Remedies
- 1 Knight of Autumn
- 4 Giver of Runes
This is an Andrew Baeckstrom special, though I’ve seen other people playing something similar online. Whether they saw us playing it, BK (that’s Andrew Baeckstrom’s nickname, don’t ask me why) saw them playing it, or they independently arrived at the same conclusions, I can’t tell.
The idea behind this deck is that the Neoform combo is broken, but demands too much, Your entire deck has to be dedicated to it and if you don’t have the combo in your opening hand, none of the cards do anything and you have no hope of winning a real game of Magic. With this take, the deck tries to combine two completely separate combos that share some of the same cards, since both Neoform and Eladamri’s Call can tutor for a part of either combo.
The idea is if your opponent doesn’t have removal and is trying to race you, the Devoted Druid combo is fast and consistent. If they do have removal, especially burn-based removal, you can Neoform up a Griselbrand. You don’t automatically win when you tutor up a Griselbrand as your deck doesn’t have the Simian Spirit Guide and Nourishing Shoal package, but a lot of red players simply can’t beat a 7/7 lifelinker anyway. Rhonas the Indomitable is the finisher of choice here because you can Neoform for it with your Vizier of Remedies.
This deck was, in my opinion, the most promising of the decks we had. Having Neoform in your deck didn’t solve all the problems, as Jund was still a bad matchup and Phoenix could still just Thing in the Ice or Force of Negation you, but it did solve some of the problems (Burn, for example, became easier). So, if you’re interested in a Devoted Druid deck, I think this is a cool direction to move towards.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Arbor Elf
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 1 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 1 Vizier of Remedies
This deck is incredibly fast, and if you know your opponent has no interaction, it’s not that uncommon to mulligan into a hand that can kill Turn 2. Because of this, the deck is strong versus Hogaak, since they often have almost no interaction. This deck’s bad matchups (Izzet Phoenix, Jund, Azorius Control) are very bad though, so you have to be confident that your good matchups (Hogaak, Mono-Green and Eldrazi Tron, Grixis Urza) are going to be overwhelmingly more present in the field for this deck to be a good choice. Luckily, Hogaak tends to prey on all your bad matchups, which could create the ideal scenario for a deck like this to succeed.
The deck has several different infinite mana combos. I’m going to be using Birds of Paradise to exemplify them, but Noble Hierarch always works the same way, as does Sylvan Caryatid, except Sylvan Caryatid + Leyline isn’t an infinite mana sink (unless you have another creature since Caryatid has defender).
This is the simplest combo – you attach Freed from the Real to Birds of Paradise and it taps for two mana. Use one to untap it and repeat until you have infinite, and then the Leyline itself acts as a mana sink.
This requires an extra step, but unfortunately, we don’t have another one-mana creature that can add blue mana. You need to play Utopia Sprawl on your land naming blue, and then Freed from the Real on the Arbor Elf. Each time the Arbor Elf untaps, it can untap a land that adds two mana.
Put Utopia Sprawl on Dryad Arbor naming blue, and then enchant it with Freed from the Real. The Dryad Arbor will add two mana, you spend blue to untap it and generate infinite green. After that, you need a mana sink – Karn, the Great Creator, Leyline of Abundance, or Finale of Devastation. This combo is very interesting because it can all be done from hand if you have a fetchland. You simply search for the Dryad Arbor at the end of the turn, then untap and play the rest of it. A lot of people will have no idea you can do this and will tap out into their deaths. Even with decklists available, it’s possible they don’t realize you can kill them as these decks usually require a creature on the battlefield.
With two Leylines out, each Devoted Druid adds three mana per counter. If you have three Druids, that’s nine mana, and then you spend eight for the Leyline and refresh them. Similarly, if you have three Leylines and two Druids, you can get infinite Leyline activations (but not infinite mana, so you need another creature to be pumping).
Other than the infinite mana combos, you can also win by accelerating into a Karn, the Great Creator.
Karn may seem like an odd inclusion, but it works perfectly as a card that is both an infinite mana sink (you just get Walking Ballista and win) as well as a card that rewards you for having a lot of mana in general, since if you can accelerate a Karn onto the battlefield, and there’s usually something in your sideboard that can win you the game (against some decks the Karn itself will already be enough, like Grixis Urza).
Leyline of Abundance can generate a ton of mana very quickly, and even hands that look bad can be salvaged by an early Karn. For example, take this hand:
This hand seems like it does nothing, but you can just play two Leylines before the game starts, fetch for Dryad Arbor, and cast a Turn 2 Karn. Depending on what you’re up against, it might just be enough. Here’s what you usually get in each spot:
If you have both Mycosynth Lattice and Karn on the battlefield, the opponent can never activate any abilities for the rest of the game (including lands). This basically means they cannot play a spell (not even Force of Vigor works, since all cards become colorless). If the battlefield is even, this is a ten-mana “I win the game” combo, and you can often spread it out over multiple turns. This is a very strong card and part of the reason Karn is so good in the deck.
It’s also worth mentioning if both players have Karn, the Great Creator on the battlefield and nothing else and someone plays a Mycosynth Lattice, normally the game would just go to decking, but you actually have two Dryad Arbor, so you will win in these spots unless they’re the last cards.
This is a temporary Lattice. If you can play Karn and Liquimetal Coating in the same turn, you can then tap one of their lands on their upkeep and that land won’t be able to tap for mana that turn. Then, next turn, you can either get Lattice and lock them out or just kill one of their lands with Karn’s +1 ability (since you turn it into a 0/0).
Ensnaring Bridge is your go-to against aggressive decks. Most Hogaak lists cannot realistically beat this Game 1 (the Dredge ones can burn you out, though), and a common play pattern is to get Ensnaring Bridge first and then Mycosynth Lattice.
This can lock Hogaak out of the game as well.
Pithing Needle has some random applications, but you mostly want it against Planeswalkers.
The biggest issue I had with this deck was the fact that there was too much air. A lot of the deck was mana, and cards like Devoted Druid and Finale of Devastation didn’t necessarily fit the rest of the deck. For this deck to be perfect, I think it needs another good spell that fills the infinite mana sink role like Karn when you go off, but also something you can just play when you’re not going off. Finale of Devastation normally plays that role in other decks, but here there’s not much to get other than mana, so it’s essentially a mana card. Hexdrinker is the best card we found for this job, but it’s only OK. If you can find another card that fills this role (or if they print one in an upcoming set), I will strongly consider this deck again.
This was a slightly different take on the previous deck, eschewing the Devoted Druid combo altogether and instead focusing on more ways of finding your main combo a little faster. Open the Armory is a card that you might never have heard of, but it gets both Freed from the Real and Utopia Sprawl, as well as On Thin Ice, which is a very important card to kill Thing in the Ice (and I really can’t tell whether that’s good flavor or bad flavor).
This deck also has a Matt Nass special card – Umbral Mantle. He scoured Gatherer for an Aura or Equipment that could kill them once you had infinite mana, and this was the best he found, narrowly edging out Sigil of Distinction. Umbral Mantle can work with any creature with a tap ability to make it arbitrarily large, but it can also be a combo piece itself when you have two Leyline of Abundances or a Dryad Arbor with two Utopia Sprawls. Even if you only have one Leyline of Abundance, it basically turns all your mana into +2/+2 pumps, which kills the opponent pretty quick.
Unearth is a powerful card, and we had a ton of different builds that tried to use it. This was the deck I liked the most, which was one Benjamin Weitz came up with and is basically Mardu, minus the white.
This deck makes great use of Unearth by having several must-kill creatures (Dark Confidant, Young Pyromancer, and Dreadhorde Arcanist) as well as several creatures that reward you for bringing them back (Lightning Skelemental and Seasoned Pyromancer). Other than this, it operates basically like Jund, with discard spells and removal.
This deck had one big problem – Hogaak. Not only is Hogaak impossible to beat with this list (have you ever tried hitting them with Lightning Skelemental? It’s… not great), but the cards that are good against Hogaak also happen to be good against you. I’m certain this deck cannot see play while Hogaak exists, but it is a viable option if it gets banned.
Another issue I have with this list is that it’s similar to a Jund deck, but it doesn’t get to play what is arguably the best Jund card – Wrenn and Six. Because of this, I’d like to explore a Jund version of this deck.
This is much more similar to a straight Jund deck, but it’s grindier and has different sources of card advantage. It’s certainly worse in a metagame where your graveyard is being attacked, but it could be better if the graveyard hate goes away if/when Hogaak does.
This is a deck that became very popular online for a while and then suddenly disappeared. I had fun with it and thought it was better than it seemed, but it really couldn’t compete with casting 8/8s for zero. If Hogaak is banned, this could be another possible direction to take the format, as this deck is traditionally good against some of the decks that Hogaak punishes, like Jund.
The premise here is to be a Combo/Control hybrid, operating similarly to a Jeskai deck in that you have removal, Snapcaster Mage, and some planeswalkers, but also have a combo kill, meaning you don’t need to establish total control to win. Often times, stalling the game out long enough for you to cast a Scapeshift or Bring to Light with seven lands on the battlefield is enough to close out the game. This deck is resilient and dodges almost all the hate that is currently played in Modern (mostly graveyard hate, but also artifact hate, Damping Sphere and removal) and its only problem is that it’s not currently fast enough to compete with the other goldfish decks.
The fact that you’re playing four maindeck Bring to Light is a cool excuse to play a bunch of interesting one-ofs without people looking at you weirdly. You still get that reaction with the likes of Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, but the toolbox element of this deck can be very valuable in the right matchups.
Right now, Modern is in a weird state. Everyone assumes Hogaak will be banned, but it hasn’t been banned yet, so people are afraid to commit to anything without knowing what’s going to happen. If you’re playing a tournament soon and you don’t want to play Hogaak, the Devoted Druid lists will potentially be well-positioned, since they’re favored versus Hogaak and Hogaak beats the things that beat them, and if you are planning for a more fair, post-Hogaak metagame, the other two could be good starting points.