It’s a strange time for Modern. There are two major tournaments coming up over the next two weekends with a Grand Prix in Las Vegas followed by a Modern Open in Dallas-Fort Worth, but preparing for them is difficult given the prospect of the Banned and Restricted announcement during the intervening week.
At this point I don’t think anyone is expecting Hogaak, the Arisen Necropolis to avoid a second straight Banned and Restricted announcement, and that means the Open metagame should look quite different from that at the Grand Prix. For people who are playing both or just trying to prepare for the Open, the current metagame will at best be inadequate and at worst actively misrepresent how strong their deck of choice is.
And this is where Magic gets interesting. Predicting the outcome of a major metagame shakeup like a Banned and Restricted announcement is always difficult, because a Magic metagame is a delicate ecosystem with countless variables existing in a precarious balance. We don’t have a ton of robust data to go on, so it comes down to making some judgment calls.
In this case, the most important judgment call to make is which decks that are performing now stand to maintain that performance in a more normalized metagame, and which ones are being propped up by the Hogaak-warped metagame we currently see.
Of course, there’s more to consider than just which decks are best/worst against Hogaak itself or which decks benefit from a decline in graveyard hate. We need to consider the macro-scale texture of the current metagame and how that changes with Hogaak gone.
The biggest effect Hogaak has had on Modern is that it greatly diminished how successful decks can interact. Traditional removal and discard spells are rather poor against Hogaak, and though we’ve seen a smattering of decks like Jund, Mardu Death’s Shadow, and Azorius Control that interact via these traditional means pop up, the metagame is largely governed by decks that take advantage of the relative dearth of interaction.
In a post-Hogaak world, the metagame will normalize to some degree, and more fragile decks will fade, while the more resilient of these decks will adapt to the more interactive metagame and still thrive. Here are my picks for the winners and losers after a Hogaak ban:
This is one of the few decks that I legitimately think is favored against Hogaak, as the combination of maindeck graveyard hate, Ensnaring Bridge, and an infinite combo that can be executed as early as Turn 3 is just about the perfect combination to stop the menacing graveyard deck. That means a Hogaak ban leads to it losing a positive matchup.
But Four-Color Urza is much more than a hate deck for Hogaak. Urza, Lord High Artificer is an incredibly powerful card, as is the unassuming mana fixer, Arcum’s Astrolabe. The deck utilizes one of the most powerful cards in the format in Mox Opal, and it seamlessly blends the ability to function as a combo deck, a prison deck, or a value-oriented midrange deck with either Urza or the combo of Goblin Engineer and Ichor Wellspring. That kind of versatility is incredibly rare, and a hallmark of decks that are long-lasting metagame staples.
Plus, there’s still disagreement over how the deck should be built, with lists potentially splashing green for Nature’s Claim and Assassin’s Trophy; white for Teferi, Time Raveler; or both. That means there’s some room left to innovate and improve the deck further.
The primary worry in a post-Hogaak world is that cards like Stony Silence and Collector Ouphe, currently a sideboard casualty of the need for extra graveyard hate, will return to the metagame in large numbers, but we’ve seen plenty of artifact-centric decks thrive in the face of those cards, and this one isn’t nearly as susceptible to them as Lantern Control or Ironworks.
You will have to fetch more aggressively for shocklands and not rely as heavily on Arcum’s Astrolabe for mana fixing, but Urza, Ensnaring Bridge, and Goblin Engineer all work perfectly fine through the Null Rod effects. Sideboard options like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas can provide another plan to win through them.
Four-Color Urza is a great deck, Hogaak or no Hogaak.
I’ve been pretty critical of Mono-Green Tron, and I was quite skeptical when Dominic Harvey told me he was playing the deck in Columbus.
Mono-Green Tron can be buried quickly by non-interactive decks, since it’s generally using the first two turns solely to set up its own gameplan, but it’s still quite good against more interactive decks, and as I noted above, that’s likely where the metagame will turn after Hogaak is banned.
Looking over the rest of Modern Horizons, there are plenty of powerful cards that fit into fair strategies that Mono-Green Tron preys on. Cards like Wrenn and Six, Seasoned Pyromancer, and Ranger-Captain of Eos all bolster midrange strategies at the expense of more linear archetypes, and the Karnfather will be there to capitalize.
Mono-Green Tron has benefited from the decline in Surgical Extraction, since it combines well with Assassin’s Trophy and Field of Ruin to shut down the Urzatron, but a slower metagame will allow them more time to make land drops naturally.
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Lava Spike
- 3 Lava Dart
- 4 Manamorphose
- 1 Forked Bolt
- 3 Gut Shot
- 4 Faithless Looting
- 4 Light Up the Stage
- 1 Finale of Promise
This is the most linear deck of the three I think we’ll see thrive in September, but I’ve been generally impressed by its resilience in the face of removal for Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage. Between the recursion of Arclight Phoenix, the card advantage from Bedlam Reveler and Light Up the Stage, and less common options like Seasoned Pyromancer and Wrenn and Six, this deck isn’t reliant on ending the game on Turn 3, though it certainly can if you don’t respect it.
The switch back to a world of removal and counterspells won’t be hard for Mono-Red Phoenix to adapt to, but it will greatly benefit from a decline in Leyline of the Voids and especially Chalice of the Voids.
The reality is Mono-Red Phoenix existed in the fringe of the format for a while, but the recent additions of Lava Dart and Finale of Promise were huge for raising its overall power level. These are powerful cards in their own right, but also play incredibly well with the prowess creatures in the deck, and any time you can find ways to take cards that are already individually powerful and combine them in synergistic ways, you have a deck with both a high floor and high ceiling. Mono-Red Phoenix is firmly in that category now.
I don’t think this deck is particularly good even now. Its matchup against Hogaak is largely dependent on crippling them with an early Chalice of the Void or Leyline of the Void, and against the rest of the field it still has way too many draws where it’s playing a virtual Wastes every turn. The deck’s best draws are great, but it drops off rather quickly.
I think its reputation has risen as it’s viewed as the best home for Karn, the Great Creator, but that card is significantly overrated. Four-mana plays with no immediate impact on the battlefield are severely punished in Modern, and the lock with Mycosynth Lattice takes a lot going right to make work. A planeswalker on three loyalty isn’t exactly difficult to remove from the battlefield in a normalized Modern metagame.
Eldrazi Tron does like to play against fair decks itself, since all of its threats can generate immediate value, but it doesn’t interact well itself. That’s why it has generally performed best when its premier piece of early interaction, Chalice of the Void, is well-positioned. The post-Hogaak metagame will not be one where Chalice of the Void is effective, so I doubt we’ll see Thought-Knot Seer and friends in significant numbers after next week.
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Lava Spike
- 4 Lightning Helix
- 4 Rift Bolt
- 4 Searing Blaze
- 4 Boros Charm
- 4 Skewer the Critics
I’d put this one in the same group of decks I don’t think are that good and are only seeing more play because people think they beat Hogaak. Much like Eldrazi Tron, I’m not convinced this deck actually beats Hogaak to begin with, and is mostly being propped up by an overblown reputation.
With Burn, we even saw this happen earlier this year. Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics were supposed to reinvigorate the archetype and make it a top contender, and though it saw plenty of play, it didn’t put up much in the way of results and was quickly relegated to the sidelines of the metagame, though Skewer has stuck around as a staple.
At this point, Burn is a worse version of Mono-Red Phoenix. It’s not as fast or resilient, and it actually depends more heavily on its early creatures living than the latter does. With a deck as linear as Burn, there isn’t any wiggle room in the way the deck is built, so it needs very specific, very powerful cards to be printed in order to once again return to the top tier. Burn doesn’t need another Lightning Bolt facsimile; it needs something on the level of Eidolon of the Great Revel.
Hardened Scales is another in the long line of linear decks that have been able to compete against Hogaak, and since this one depends largely on the namesake card, the London mulligan makes it significantly more consistent, and that buff will last long after the ‘Gaak is put in Banned List purgatory.
But unfortunately for Hardened Scales, all the interaction that has been suppressed by Hogaak is bad news for Hardened Scales. Removal-heavy decks are typically poor matchups, and there isn’t an elegant way to get around Stony Silence and the like, so you must rely on having the timely answer.
Some elements in Hardened Scales offer resilience to removal, like Arcbound Ravager, Hangarback Walker, and Animation Module, but with little interaction of its own, leaving behind some 1/1 tokens or +1/+1 counters often isn’t enough to contend with what goes on in Modern. Hardened Scales really does live or die on establishing its own synergies.
Since we’re coming to the end of Hogaak summer, I’d strongly advise against picking up any of the latter three decks for Las Vegas. If you already have experience with them, by all means continue taking advantage of the favorable metagame conditions those decks currently enjoy, but for those of us who are searching for a new deck, it’ll be worthwhile to start gaining experience with a deck that is powerful and adaptable enough to survive into the fall.
But while I think these decks will sink or swim following the upcoming ban, I also think the banning of Hogaak will unlock many other powerful cards in Modern Horizons. Two of the decks I marked as winners are powered by cards from the set, while none in the losers section are. But even as Giver of Runes, Wrenn and Six, and Archmage’s Charm get a chance to live outside of Hogaak’s shadow, I think all three of the above choices will remain good choices for quite some time.
Hogaak summer will soon be coming to an end, and with it we will enter perhaps the most exciting time in the history of Modern, with the largest influx of powerful cards to the format since its inception. Fall has always been my favorite season, as the heat of summer breaks, the trees display a range of radiant colors, and a new Standard format emerges after rotation, but this year’s season will be particularly exciting as both Modern and Standard will see significant upheaval.
Our long collective nightmare is almost complete. Let’s look forward to the other side.