On Monday, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis will be banned in Modern*, ending over two months of domination that will be remembered as the infamous "Zombie Summer" of 2019. The card is broken—the math says Hogaak decks can reliably play it on turn two 60% of the time! It helped Bridge-less Bridgevine earn the highest win percentage at Mythic Championship IV, and in recent MagicFests sported a positive record against nearly every other deck in the field, which cements the case for a ban.
A Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis ban will do great things for the health of Modern, but that doesn't mean things are going to just go back to the way they were before. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis changed the format forever, and the world it leaves behind is very different than the one it entered. Hogaak preyed on the weakest decks in Modern, pushing them from the metagame. Only the leanest, fastest and most broken decks could survive against Hogaak, which brings us to the metagame we have now, on the verge of the ban. When the rug is pulled from under the format's feet, the rest of the field will still be standing, but bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. These decks will be left to sort out the wreckage and establish a new pecking order.
Complicating things further, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis entered Modern during a tumultuous time: just after War of the Spark was released and its planeswalkers were starting to make their mark. Hogaak came along with dozens of other potent new cards in Modern Horizons, but by stealing the spotlight and warping the metagame it didn't leave much room for these cards to operate. Now they'll have their chance, as will cards from Core Set 2020 that add yet another factor to the post-ban world. The London mulligan complicates things even further, rattling the very foundation of the format as we know it, and with implications the metagame has only just begun to process. Today I want to focus on some of the decks and cards that are emerging in this environment, those that have been competitive in this hostile world and could really break out in the more open post-ban metagame.
A perfect example of this meaner and leaner type of deck is Mardu Death's Shadow, which won MagicFest Birmingham last weekend.
Of all the different Death's Shadow color combinations we've seen this one has some of the least history behind it, but now it's the most popular version of the strategy, and might be the very best in all of Modern after the ban. It saw massive improvement from Modern Horizons, specifically Ranger-Captain of Eos as a perfect combination with Death's Shadow, and explains the move toward white over other versions. It opens up access to a silver-bullet Hex Parasite to hose various permanents like planeswalkers, but also just works well with Death's Shadow as a life dump.
Unearth can reanimate any of these creatures, and further helps this iteration of the deck maintain a very high density of threats. Unearth gains additional utility as a potential discard spell when combined with Tidehollow Sculler. Along with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek it gives this deck an incredibly deep suite of discard for disrupting a format increasingly moving towards combo and other synergy-based strategies vulnerable to it. The Death's Shadow strategy of disruption combined with a huge threat has always played well against broken metagames, so it's no surprise it's thriving now. I expect it will only grow more popular after a ban opens up metagame share, especially after the MagicFest win helped show the world how good it really is.
A great example of a Modern Horizons card that is just beginning its journey is Ephemerate, which is just straight-up double the effect of Cloudshift, a card that actually has some precedent in Modern. The potential value that it holds is crazy, and it can go on forever with a card like Archaeomancer, a combo that is currently breaking Pauper. Modern provides Eternal Witness for the same interaction on a cheap and better creature, and it forms the backbone of a surprising new Modern deck based around blinking creature for value. Here's the list that finished in 21st place at MagicFest Birmingham, grinding out value all weekend in the face of Hogaak.
The strategy is made possible by Modern Horizons, which provides both Wall of Blossoms and Ice-Fang Coatl as great blink targets. Soulherder joins as another way to repeatedly blink creature for values, along with being a threat that will eventually grow large over time. The deck is rounded out with some disruption like Path to Exile and Force of Negation, which can be recurred repeatedly with the Eternal Witness and Ephemerate endgame, essentially locking out some opponents. This sort of deck wouldn't seem great in a world of Hogaak and fast combo decks, but it did well enough last weekend, and I expect it will only get better from here as the metagame likely becomes slower and grindier.
I can't overstate the importance of Force of Negation, which was designed as Modern's Force of Will and failsafe measure against broken decks. It's one of the true stars of Modern Horizons, and is seeing its fair share of play in decks like White-Blue Control, but it's still a minor presence compared to the potential it holds. It was simply released into a bad environment, where Hogaak and its creature-based threats offered few noncreature targets, and pushed out blue-based decks in general. A banning should bring more balance to the format and provide the conditions where Force of Negation can ascend to the true staple it was designed to be.
In the meantime, it's still having a powerful effect on the metagame. One great example is this Bogles deck that goes blue to support Force of Negation as a way to short up its typical weakness to fast combo decks. The deck reached the Top 8 of an MCQ at MagicFest Birmingham and could have some real potential.
The secret of this deck is that Slippery Bogle is blue, so by replacing Gladecover Scout with Invisible Stalker and playing blue auras like Curious Obsession, it can support Force of Negation. The free countermagic should shore up its typical weakness to combo decks or things like Urzatron that can go over the top of it, and looks to be a great application of Force of Negation.
Force of Negation will be at its best in heavy blue decks, which makes Merfolk a great home, like this version that made Top 8 in the Modern Challenge on MTGO last weekend.
Merfolk typically plays very little countermagic and disruption compared to the average blue deck. It's really just an aggro deck that races opponents, and could be mistaken for a white or green deck in most games. The deck just wants to get creatures into play as fast as it can, which is why it's not too interested in wasting slots on situational countermagic, especially not those that require a lot of mana. Force of Negation gives the deck a perfect solution because it doesn't force the deck to take time off from applying pressure, and provides a back-breaking tempo play that's ideal for buying the time the aggressive deck needs to close the door.
This list also showcases Unsettled Mariner as as full four-of, a strong sign that the creature is the real deal in this archetype. Like Force of Negation, it's a great example of the deck getting a disruptive effect without investing extra mana. Unsettled Mariner allows the deck to focus on applying pressure but comes with the bonus of helping to slow opponents down. Adding just one mana is significant, with the impact most felt on one-mana removal spells that will suddenly cost double—a speed bump that could be just what the deck needs.
One of the major themes of Core Set 2020 is Elementals, and while M20 generated a bunch of hype about the tribe in Modern during spoiler season, nothing ever materialized. Hogaak is certainly part of the problem, but new decks do take time to test. At the start of August the tribe earned the first 5-0 finish that I've seen. It spawned a couple of copycats that followed suit, and now the original player is back this week with yet another 5-0: a promising sign for the post-ban world.
This iteration of the deck adds a toolbox of silver-bullet creatures to find with Flamekin Harbinger. This powerful tutoring effect is a a unique advantage compared to other commonly played Modern tribes, and maybe even one of the best reasons to play the tribe, so trying to make the most of the card seems like the right step toward making the most of Elementals.
While it doesn't yet have big results to its name, one deck to emerge recently is the Lotus Field combo deck, based on getting extra mana from the Lotus with Twiddle effects, pouring it into card draw, and eventually storming off on the opponent with Past in Flames and Grapeshot.
This deck has a unique advantage over traditional Storm in that it doesn't rely on creatures, and as a hexproof land Lotus Field is nearly impossible to interact with beyond cards like Blood Moon and Alpine Moon. On the other hand, the deck is vulnerable to all sorts of other hosers that punish combo decks, from Chalice of the Void to even graveyard hate. The deck is definitely picking up steam though, and it's still in the early stages of being improved and tuned, so once someone gets the exact formula right it could break out in the post-ban world.
One strategy I've had my eyes on for a while is Dice Factory, based around abusing charge counters on cards like Astral Cornucopia and Everflowing Chalice. Karn, the Great Creator and its combo with Mycosynth Lattice was a perfect fit into the deck and brought it to the most competitive level yet. The colorless deck gained yet another tool in Core Set 2020 with Mystic Forge (which has already been broken in Vintage with Mishra's Workshop). Now yet another innovation has taken hold.
The Urzatron lands, especially backed by the London mulligan helping to assemble it, are a great base for what's effectively a ramp deck anyway. The lands provide a secondary easy-mode route toward massive mana besides the primary charge counter plan. With the proven Urzatron base supporting broken cards like Karn, the Great Creator and Mystic Forge, this deck has a lot going for it if you can just look past the funkier charge counter elements, which this list has actually trimmed down to just two Surge Node on top of the more powerful four Coretapper.
One thing to note is the deck also makes great use of Blast Zone, another example of a powerful addition to the format that has been easy to overlook during the Hogaak era, but one that will make its presence felt for years. The versatile removal it provides is invaluable to a colorless deck that doesn't otherwise offer great removal options.
Something a bit more traditional is Mono-Blue Tron, which has never been a legitimate top-tier Modern strategy but for a long time was the go-to color for Tron decks in Extended.
Mono-Blue Tron lacks the ability of green Tron decks to reliably assemble Tron, but like the colorless version it's a major beneficiary of the London mulligan which theoretically makes the green selection less important. This could explain the blue deck's sudden rise in popularity and success on Magic Online in recent weeks, and could be a sign the deck will be the real deal after the ban.
With so many new factors at play, from the London mulligan to the swath of cards that entered the format this spring and summer, Modern looks like it will be a really fun place to be once Hogaak is banned and the dust settles.