So you want to be able to win against, or at least compete with, the zero-mana 8/8 that is Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.
It's not the easiest task in the world, for sure. After all, our own Cedric Phillips won his Mythic Championship Qualifier this past weekend with no games played before the event, chuckling as he punted his way to his fifteenth MCQ win. And if you want to do the same, it would make a lot of sense to just suck it up and play some breed of Hogaak, either the normal version or the DredgeGaak version.
But some people are stubborn. They want to play Mono-Green Tron, or Burn, or Infect, or Humans, or some other off-the-wall deck. This article is for them.
The following decks did, in our team's testing experience, present Hogaak with some level of a challenge, and I would (very tentatively) recommend them to someone who categorically refuses to play the best deck, but still wants to have a chance to win the tournament.
Note: I had to guesstimate at some of the sideboards of these decklists, because we were only given the cards, not the quantity of each sideboard card, in the online decklist dump. Apologies to those players whose decklists I used if I messed up a couple of your sideboard numbers!
It's weird. Humans is such a regular, old-fashioned Modern deck at this point, it almost seems like the format has passed it by and basically ignored it. But somehow it still seems to hold up okay, and it actually performed quite well for us in testing against Hogaak. The combination of Reflector Mage and Meddling Mage to keep Hogaak himself off the table, along with Mantis Rider for a surprisingly fast clock that cannot be blocked, makes for a matchup that plays out a lot better than it would seem on paper.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Deputy of Detention
- 3 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Lots of graveyard hate in Rob's sideboard mean that Hogaak gets squeezed even harder in the sideboard games, where Leyline of the Void openers lead to a high percentage of non-games and Humans can still just win the normal way. It's unclear to me if Leyline is a better choice than Rest in Peace, but this build did go above 50% against Hogaak in preparation for Barcelona.
Hogaak can tilt the matchup back its way with more copies of Fatal Push and Lightning Axe, not (as was semi-popular during the Mythic Championship) Plague Engineer. Plague Engineer is a great card, but Mantis Rider still applies a lot of pressure and Reflector Mage and Deputy of Detention still answer Plague Engineer very well.
When your fairly narrow sideboard card doesn't even win the game a good portion of the time, you know you have the wrong one. The answer is to play cheap removal while simultaneously advancing the broken Hogaak gameplan. Slaughter Pact would be another interesting choice, but probably isn't necessary right now. You know how much I love a good zero-mana spell, though, so it might just be time to play one or two of the most underrated removal spell in the format!
Only one man was brave enough to play Infect at Mythic Championship IV, and he did not do well. Tim Wu (who only ever plays aggro decks) picked it up in anticipation of a field of weak Hogaak opponents and got slaughtered by Jund and Arclight Phoenix decks en route to an ignominious finish.
But if you want to beat up on Mono-Green Tron and Hogaak, you could do a heck of a lot worse than this:
Infect has a goldfish kill that outraces Hogaak by a full turn, but Jund just absolutely mauls it thanks to Wrenn and Six. Proceed with caution, as this is a hard metagame choice. In a different world, Tim would have played against all good matchups and cruised to the Top 8 looking like a genius.
When the best midrange decks play Lava Dart and Wrenn and Six, though, it's not the right time to play Infect. After the Hogaak banning, I'm sure this deck will fall far by the wayside as Jund and Izzet Phoenix rise back to the top of the metagame. I will single out my love for Veil of Summer in the list, though. It's an incredible way to fight back against removal, discard, and countermagic. It basically does everything Infect wants against black-based decks. You're still a dog to Jund, but Veil of Summer gives you a fighting chance.
Kellen's list is pretty reasonable against Hogaak for a deck with no graveyard hate at all. Against DredgeGaak, though, you're better off playing the Rest in Peaces that have become somewhat common. If AggroGaak is the more popular variant of the deck, Burn can absolutely buy enough time to slip through the win and is actually moderately favored on the play.
I'd personally never touch Burn, just because I'm too much of a coward to play a deck like it at a competitive tournament, but if you want to light things on fire, there are good reasons to do so, and a tolerable Hogaak matchup is among them.
That is, until Hogaak starts playing lots of Collective Brutalities in the sideboard. If it ever becomes a three-of in the stock lists, look elsewhere. You won't be winning much at all if that becomes the case. Fortunately, it's highly likely that Hogaak gets banned before it ever gets to the point where it adopts Collective Brutality in large numbers.
4. Mardu Death's Shadow
Ol' Jacob Wilson came within a hair's breadth of making Top 8 of the Mythic Championship a few weeks back with Mardu Shadow, and most of his wins came against Hogaak. It was a joy to sweat his matches down the back half of Day 2 of the event, and if you want to play a fair deck with a decent overall matchup against Hogaak, this is my pick for the best choice.
- 1 Hex Parasite
- 4 Tidehollow Sculler
- 4 Death's Shadow
- 1 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Ranger-Captain of Eos
- 4 Street Wraith
Path to Exile and big Death's Shadows generally offer a bit of safety margin in the first game, as it's possible to clog up the battlefield with 9/9 or larger Death's Shadows and leverage a Temur Battle Rage to steal the victory. Then, with sideboard Leyline of the Void and Celestial Purge, the matchup shifts towards Mardu Death's Shadow.
It's an exciting, swingy matchup with occasional blowout games and frequent games decided by tiny margins. A single missed point of damage, or a miscalculated attack, or a fetchland cracked at the wrong time could send the whole house of cards tumbling down. But Death's Shadow is alive and well, and I look forward to seeing how it develops as the metagame develops, both pre- and post-Hogaak banning.
5. Grixis Urza
I used to love this deck. It seems so cool and broken! It's got a busted combo, a busted mana engine, a Mox, and an Entomb stapled onto a Goblin Welder. Incidentally, it's got an excellent pre-sideboard matchup against Hogaak, as Ensnaring Bridge absolutely locks out most Hogaak draws and seals the game on the spot.
In fact, if I'd had a bit more practice with this deck, I'd have happily played it at the Mythic Championship. But a few of my teammates said they'd tried it and hadn't been overwhelmed, so I tentatively shelved it.
Then it made Top 8 in the hands of Manuel Lenz and had numerous strong Constructed finishes on top of that. If it weren't for a combination of weak draws and a bit of nervous misplay in the quarterfinals, it could have gone a heck of a lot further. The deck does some extremely broken stuff, so it's well worth continuing to look at going forward.
Now, my only issue with this archetype is the uptick in the number of interactive spells Hogaak brings to the table post-sideboard. Whether it's Force of Vigor, Assassin's Trophy, Shenanigans, or Nature's Claim, Hogaak players have a lot of answers in their decks to break up the scary-looking prison pieces that Urza plays. I wouldn't play Hogaak with fewer than six ways to answer a Leyline of the Void, and currently like three Assassin's Trophy and four Force of Vigor in the 75.
This means that it'll be awfully hard for this deck to stick the pieces to stop Hogaak consistently. If other players are too slow to adopt a heavy sideboard package to fight these elements, Grixis Urza will be an excellent metagame call. If they pick up on Force of Vigor, it's going to be rough playing Urza-based decks. We'll see what it looks like going forward, but (of course) there's a very high chance that Hogaak ends up being banned and making this all a moot point.
6. Mono-Red Prowess
Ryan Overturf's favorite deck in the world, Mono-Red Prowess is one of those decks that sort of sits at the intersection of Burn, Mono-Red Phoenix, and Infect. I'm not entirely sure how it keeps winning, but the deck is quite solid. I don't get the Faithless Lootings without Arclight Phoenixes either, but I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense to just have Looting in a Bedlam Reveler deck. And yes, like Burn, Mono-Red Prowess can definitely beat Hogaak, especially if it wins the die roll. Surgical Extraction is a great way to get an extra prowess trigger, don't forget!
- 17 Mountain
7. Mono-Green Tron
It won the Mythic Championship, it's been around for years, and it won't leave Modern until and unless it's dragged out by a banning. Mono-Green Tron's the big, dumb deck that does its big, dumb thing consistently. Sometimes that's enough to beat Hogaak, especially with lots of Relic of Progenitus and four Wurmcoil Engine. Huge congratulations to Thoralf Severin, newly crowned king of Tron players everywhere. Need I say more?
8. Eldrazi Tron
Of course, Eldrazi Tron blends the heavy power of the Tron with the undercosted beef that is the Eldrazi creature suite. Karn, the Great Creator offers Eldrazi Tron a way to beat Hogaak before sideboarding via Ensnaring Bridge and Tormod's Crypt. Just like with Four-Color Urza, this makes all the difference, as having ways to lock out Hogaak and win the first game means that the matchup is inherently way better than it is for the decks that essentially can't win without their sideboards.
Here's the list Sean Gifford took to the Top 4 of the Mythic Championship:
Just like with Four-Color Urza, though, I have some reservations about this deck against a Hogaak deck with four Force of Vigor. Force embarrasses the Chalice of the Void / Leyline of the Void openers that theoretically should pin Hogaak between a rock and a hard place. Even the Expedition Map / Leyline of the Void openers get so thoroughly embarrassed by Force that I'm skeptical of Eldrazi Tron's ability to maintain a favorable matchup against Hogaak.
Until Force of Vigor becomes the industry standard, though, this is one of the best ways to battle Hogaak, and it even seems like one of the decks best poised to come out of the Hogaak banning ready to fight for a spot at the top of the format. Looks like this disjointed pile of cards isn't going anywhere!
There are a couple of other decks that show some promise against Hogaak. Hardened Scales and Selesnya Hexproof are two of them, though I'm especially worried about those decks against Force of Vigor. But hopefully two things are apparent by this point:
1. You can play several different decks and still remain competitive with Hogaak.
2. Despite that, you should play Hogaak if you want to maximize your expected win percentage in a tournament.
The choice is yours. Soon, the card will be banned, but we have a couple more tournaments left in which to play the broken deck or try our hardest to defeat it. It's a bit of a rare occurrence in Modern, so savor it while it lasts!