With Mythic Championship III in the books, it's time for me to stop putting all my focus into Standard, as the next Mythic Championship is Modern. We are also at the point where we're starting to see the impact Modern Horizons has been having on the format. I can't say I am surprised to see how successful graveyard-based strategies have been, as I did play Dredge at my last Modern tournament. However, I can't remember a time graveyard decks have been as strong as they are right now. Normally, when graveyard decks get this good, something gets banned.

Going All-In on Graveyard Shenanigans

Dredge is what we have come to view as the premier Modern graveyard deck, but there is another graveyard-based strategy that has been doing extremely well. I am referring to the Hogaak Bridgevine deck. There are already some complaints about Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis being too powerful, as cheating huge creatures into play from the graveyard is dangerous business. This list recently won an IQ:

On the surface, this may look like the Bridgevine deck that has been around for a little while in Modern, but it isn't. There are multiple new additions courtesy of Modern Horizons. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is the card getting the most buzz, but don't sleep on Carrion Feeder or Altar of Dementia, either. Altar of Dementia is a key enabler to actually fill up the graveyard, and Carrion Feeder is a nice cheap creature that is also a sacrifice outlet. For those who aren't that familiar with what Bridgevine does, let me walk through what's going on here.

Unlike Dredge, which uses actual dredge cards to fill up the graveyard, here we have Stitcher's Supplier and Altar of Dementia to put cards from the library into the graveyard. Beyond that, Insolent Neonate, Faithless Looting and Cathartic Reunion allow you to get cards from your hand into the graveyard, which is also important. There are many cheap creatures in the deck, which are here to make it easy to bring back Vengevines from the graveyard. After getting Vengevines in the graveyard, you want to be able to bring them back turn after turn by casting cheap creatures.

Gravecrawler is a key one-drop because it can be sacrificed and then brought back from the graveyard again to do some additional work. Being able to sacrifice creatures at will is awesome because it triggers Bridge from Below, and having some additional creatures around is good for both attacking and convoking Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis out. If left unchecked, this deck is going to flood the board with Zombies, and then Vengevines and Hogaak will quickly finish off the opponent. Having an Altar of Dementia in play allows you to continually replay Hogaak. Before you know it, your entire library may be in the graveyard.

From a raw power level perspective, this deck is off the charts. A deck trying to beat this in a fair game of Magic will lose. The sideboard is very telling. Not only is there a full playset of Leyline of the Void, but there are also some Silent Gravestones as well. Graveyard hate in the sideboard of any deck has become a necessity. These decks are so powerful that the only good way to combat them is cards like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace. If players choose to play a ton of graveyard hate, they can beat this deck, but does this make for a healthy Modern format?

It seems like sideboards have to have a number of dedicated graveyard hate cards. We are seeing more and more Surgical Extractions and Nihil Spellbombs in maindecks. This is very much a different Modern format, and it requires paying the fullest respect to the graveyard decks. The unfortunate part about these decks is that many times they don't create healthy games of Magic. For example, a lot of time the graveyard deck will run over its opponent game one, and then the other player will be mulliganing to find Leyline of the Void after sideboard. Leyline of the Void is so good that you can afford to mulligan quite low to find it.

It is a scary proposition to play a deck like Hogaak Bridgevine, knowing how strong the hate is going to be against you. It is possible to win with a beatdown plan featuring cards like Gravecrawler and Carrion Feeder, but it is unlikely. Unfortunately, to compound issues, there aren't any good answers to enchantments in the Rakdos colors, but, as we see here, you can splash for Wispmare. This gives you an out to an opposing Leyline of the Void, which is key. Some players may gravitate toward less all-in style decks that still make good use of their graveyards.

Playing Arclight Phoenix

A great example of decks that fit this description are the Arclight Phoenix decks. Both Mono Red Phoenix and Blue-Red Phoenix rely on their graveyard a decent bit, but they also aren't completely reliant on filling up the graveyard if the opponent has some disruption.

Taking a look at Ross Merriam's latest take on U/R Phoenix, we see certain cards that can be nullified by Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace. Pyromancer Ascension, for instance, doesn't do anything if you can't get counters on it. Arclight Phoenix becomes much worse when you can no longer return it from the graveyard, and the newest addition to the deck, Finale of Promise, also gets beat by these graveyard hate cards. Then, beyond these interactions, there are also cards like Snapcaster Mage, Set Adrift and Faithless Looting that, while still having some uses, are much worse against the graveyard hate.

This may seem like a lot of cards that rely on the graveyard, but the key is that almost no decks play cards like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void in the maindeck. This means that you can go to a secondary plan after sideboard where you can sideboard out a lot of the cards that are vulnerable to graveyard disruption. Another new card in the mix here is Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, which can become a win condition pretty quickly with all the cheap cantrips in this deck.

U/R Phoenix is such a flexible deck that I am perfectly happy to play it in a metagame with lots of graveyard hate. The deck can be configured many different ways after sideboard, and Faithless Looting allows you to pitch whatever might not be useful. Expect to see plenty of Phoenix decks moving forward, of both the Mono-Red and Blue-Red varieties.

Using the Graveyard Only a Little Bit

In many ways, the safest way to go in a metagame with lots of graveyard hate is to only have a few cards that rely on graveyard synergy. Also, you can have cards that like to access the graveyard but still do something even if there is some graveyard disruption. In this scenario, the player with the graveyard disruption has a difficult choice. If you are playing a deck with only a few cards that use the graveyard, it becomes unclear if graveyard disruption is actually good against you. This is especially true in the case of cards like Leyline of the Void, that, when drawn later in the game, often do absolutely nothing.

Let's take a look at the latest version of Jund:

Most players don't think of Jund as a graveyard deck, per say, but it does play cards that rely on the graveyard quite a bit. Tarmogoyf need lots of card types in the graveyard, and Scavenging Ooze is more than just a Bear. There are also some Modern Horizons hits in the deck as well, that have important graveyard interactions. I am referring to Seasoned Pyromancer and Wrenn and Six, two new chase rares.

Wrenn and Six can just be a planeswalker that pings, but, really, the best use of it is to get your lands back. We are seeing Jund decks start to play Nurturing Peatland as a sweet land to return in order to draw additional cards. Another card in this list that is starting to see some play is Unearth—so, really, the point is that there are more graveyard interactions than you might have realized when thinking of Jund in a traditional sense.

Jund is the type of deck that gets consistent use from its graveyard synergies, since its opponents rarely bring in graveyard hate. In fact, the deck that is most likely to be bringing in the graveyard hate is the Jund deck itself, as we see Nihil Spellbomb and Surgical Extraction in the sideboard. I find these hate cards to be interesting choices. The benefit of this sort of graveyard hate is that it can be sideboarded in more often.

Surgical Extraction, for example, is a card that pairs nicely with discard, and it can certainly come in against a wide variety of strategies, including combo decks. Nihil Spellbomb can come in against control to turn off cards like Snapcaster Mage. These are the sorts of graveyard hate cards that will slow down a deck like Dredge, but won't stop it. Often, you will need to draw multiple pieces of graveyard hate in those matchups in order to win.

There is one other piece of the equation we have yet to factor in, and that's the London mulligan. I expect graveyard-based decks to actually get better (if that's possible), because it's easier to win with them after mulligans. This was one of the major reasons I played Dredge at Mythic Championship II. The question is, how many graveyard hate cards can you realistically play? Is four Leyline of the Void enough to not have to worry about the graveyard decks? These are the questions that will be asked soon enough, as I believe that, at the moment, Dredge and Hogaak Bridgevine should rightfully be two of the most targeted decks in Modern.

Seth Manfield

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