I am writing this article in Barcelona Spain, knowing I will be playing Hogaak at the Mythic Championship. Personally, I believe that Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is just a busted Magic card, and the Bridge from Below banning didn't hurt the power of the card all that much. Getting an 8/8 trampler into play alongside some other creatures on turn two is still really good! The decks that play Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis are able to make this happen with a surprising amount of consistency. When the deck has a good draw and is left undisrupted it looks absolutely disgusting.
Going into the Mythic Championship I had been testing various versions of the Hogaak deck for a while. For most of my time preparing I have been fairly sure I would be playing with Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis at the tournament. After having played some games with the deck it's hard not to conclude that it's doing something broken. Unfortunately, at the moment playing Hogaak is a bit of a gamble.
When the Bridge from Below ban went into effect many players expected for the Hogaak decks to take a big hit to their power level—though it really wasn't clear whether that was the case. After extensive testing, I don't think the ban hurt Hogaak decks a huge amount, but the question is have others arrived at the same conclusion? About a week ago I thought the answer would be no. In tabletop competition the Hogaak decks didn't seem to be doing that great. Then we saw this list from Piotr "Kanister" Glogowski, from a Modern Challenge event on Magic Online. Since Kanister is a high profile player and member of the Magic Pro League, the news of his success with the deck spread quickly.
He didn't lose a single match en route to winning the Modern Challenge. It seemed like the cat was out of the bag at this point. Even though there haven't been big results in tabletop since the Bridge from Below ban, we have been seeing a lot of this deck online. Often the online metagame is a bit ahead, and I expect that is going to be the case in Barcelona. I can't be sure—I could be a fool making this statement—but I expect variants of Hogaak to be the most popular archetype at the Mythic Championship. As I'm writing this, I have no idea if this will be the case or not. It will come down to if others have reached the same conclusions that I and my testing team did.
There are a few different ways you can build around Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. The first, and most popular way is a version like we see here. This deck is Jund-based, and includes the ability to bring Vengevines back from the graveyard as well, for an additional explosive element. There is also a Zombie package, which is quite important to enable recursion of the Gravecrawlers. Here are what I consider to be the core elements to the engine of the deck:
Enablers: Stitcher's Supplier, Faithless Looting, and Satyr Wayfinder
These are the best ways of getting cards into your graveyard. I will be mulliganning almost every hand that doesn't contain one of these cards. One of the best draws in the deck is playing a Stitcher's Supplier on turn one and a Satyr Wayfinder turn two, followed by a Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. Faithless Looting is important as sometimes you just need a way to get a Vengevine out of your hand.
Zombie Package: Gravecrawler, Carrion Feeder
There are a number of Zombies the deck can play, but these are the best two after Stitcher's Supplier. Carrion Feeder does a lot of things in the deck, as most of the other creatures in the deck can be sacrificed for some sort of sweet benefit. The Carrion Feeder will grow very quickly. A good trick is to sacrifice Bloodghast to it, and then play a land to bring it back from the graveyard. Having Gravecrawler in the deck is one of the easiest ways to cast an additional creature, either for convoking a Hogaak or triggering a Vengevine.
Payoff Cards: Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, Vengevine, Bloodghast
These are the cards that will reward you for getting lots of cards into the graveyard. The most busted and powerful draws will involve all of these cards. Sequencing when Bloodghast is put in the graveyard is important. You want to try to get it in the graveyard turn one, so that it can help cast Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis on the second turn. Also, whenever you do cast turn-two Hogaak, if there is a Vengevine in the graveyard it will inevitably also come into play, so all your best draws are going to involve a turn-two Hogaak.
Manabase: 2 Blood Crypt, 2 Overgrown Tomb, 1 Swamp, Fetch lands, Shock lands
The manabase is tricky. Unfortunately, it is far from perfect. There are always going to be some draws where it feels awkward. In fact, I have added an additional land to my list, which I will get into. Playing 18 lands and needing three different colors is a tricky proposition. Only one basic land does hurt sometimes, but I think it's right. Gemstone Mine is a big sacrifice to make, since you will sometimes have it as your only land, but you do want the manabase to not be too painful.
Flex Slots: Dredgers, Claim // Fame, Lightning Axe, Insolent Neonate
These are the additional cards that get sideboarded out a lot. The deck has the luxury of having some extra cards to play around with that aren't totally necessary.
There are a couple other options. You can still play Hogaak in Dredge and build a hybrid variant of the deck, which I have seen be successful. Another option is to play the Jund variant, but add an additional color for Hedron Crab. Hedron Crab is another useful way to get cards into the graveyard, and adds even more power to the deck, to make the goldfish draws even better. The issue is the manabase takes a significant hit, and Hedron Crab loses some stock after sideboard.
Pretty early on in our team's testing process we knew we would be playing Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. As it became increasingly clear that we might not be the only ones to notice that Hogaak is a broken Magic card, we decided to prioritize the mirror match more, even if it meant a big sacrifice in other places. I don't know if this was right, as it is a big gamble.
I will not be revealing the sideboard until the conclusion of the tournament (sorry). So, my version, which is a bit different than the variants the rest of my testing team is playing. There are 14 Zombies in this deck. I think playing less than 12 is not enough, but I added two Cryptbreaker to go up to 14. Cryptbreaker is one of the best cards again Blue-White Control which seems to be a pretty popular deck right now.
The Insolent Neonates have been cut. They are pretty low impact, with their best use being getting a Vengevine out of your hand. If Insolent Neonate were a black or green creature it would be much better for convoking purposes, and attacking with it just feels silly. Also, the dredge package has always been a bit of an afterthought that gets sideboarded out. I think cards like Golgari Thug and Darkblast are fine, and do help you to some extent, but aren't completely necessary. I would have played Darkblast had I expected more decks like Infect and Affinity to show up in large numbers. In the end I just have one awkward-looking Golgari Thug that gets sideboarded out in every matchup.
Alright, let's talk about the most innovative part about this deck: the three copies of Leyline of the Void in the maindeck. My teammates came up with the idea to maindeck Leyline of the Void at the last moment, and I decided to go along with it. This is completely untested as of now. The decision to do this is very much a metagame call to try to gain an edge in the mirror. This is a deck that has some flex slots, as well as cards like Faithless Looting and Lightning Axe to discard Leyline of the Void when they are no good. This could make a difference one way or another. I would be lying if the choice doesn't make some of your other matchups that don't use the graveyard worse.
In the end I think this is the best deck in the format, but it also currently has a huge target on its back. Hogaak is obviously vulnerable to graveyard hate. The more hate opponents have, the more difficult things become. I consider no matchup to be good or bad, until I know what sorts of hate the opponent is playing. It's a bold choice to play Hogaak when I'm expecting plenty of graveyard hate at Mythic Championship IV, but I believe the deck is so good it can stand up to more hate than you might think.
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