While Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis wasn’t necessarily the most hyped card during Modern Horizons spoiler season, it almost immediately took over the format. Kanister (MPL member Piotr Glowgowski) could be seen crushing his opposition on Magic Online with Bridgevine 2.0 as soon as the set was legal and whenever I watched him or another streamer play the deck, it seemed they would almost effortlessly go 4-1 or 5-0.
Does Bridgevine Need a Ban?
Bridgevine – Tom Ross, Top 8 GP Dallas
4 Blackcleave Cliffs 3 Blood Crypt 4 Bloodstained Mire 2 Overgrown Tomb 4 Polluted Delta 1 Swamp (339) 4 Bloodghast 4 Carrion Feeder 4 Gravecrawler 4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 4 Insolent Neonate 4 Stitcher's Supplier 4 Vengevine 4 Altar of Dementia 4 Bridge from Below 1 Darkblast 4 Faithless Looting 1 Lightning Axe Sideboard 2 Fatal Push 2 Ingot Chewer 4 Leyline of the Void 4 Nature's Claim 3 Thoughtseize
Not only were the people playing Bridgevine doing very well, it was so obviously overpowered to some of them that they started playing Leyline of the Void main deck.
I usually don’t feel too strongly about bans or unbans one way or the other unless a card or a deck is very clearly broken. This became even more true after they unbanned Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which I thought would be a big mistake but ended being just fine.
But Bridgevine needs a nerf.
We don’t have an absurd amount of data, and most of it is incomplete. Wizards probably has a better idea of what’s going on thanks to detailed Magic Online results, but we can still look at what we have.
As far as MTGO goes, only a few days after Modern Horizons was released, there was a MOCS Playoff event and half of the top 16 was playing Bridgevine. Since then, the two MCQ’s have had respectively seven and eight copies of Bridgevine in the top 32.
During SCG Pittsburgh, there were five players in the top 16 of the Classic, and if you look at the Team Open and the Top 16 teams (so 48 total decks), you’ll find 10 copies of Bridgevine, which seems almost low at this point. As far as I can tell, this is the only major event where Bridgevine was not the most represented deck at the top tables as you could find 16 copies of Izzet Phoenix (plus two of Mono-Red Phoenix) in this same top 16.
While these stats are unlikely to be meaningless, we also don’t know what percentage of the field showed up playing Bridgevine, so it’s hard to say with certainty that the deck outperformed other archetypes in these events. According to the coverage, Bridgevine represented 9.8% of the original field of GP Dallas and that number was up to 18.5% on Day 2, a conversion rate of 32.5%, which is almost double the average of 17.2%. That means the deck massively outperformed the field, much more so than any other archetype (thanks Tobi!).
Not only is Bridgevine putting up impressive numbers, but it seems it also seems be narrowing the number of archetypes players are willing to bring to the Modern tables.
If you’ve played the U/W Control versus Bridgevine matchup, then like me you might have lost game ones despite casting a Surgical Extraction and flashing it back with Snapcaster Mage. This is something that seldom happened against good old Dredge and shows you how resilient and threat-dense Bridgevine 2.0 is.
One of the problems with pre-Horizons Bridgevine is that you had a lot of hands that relied hard on Faithless Looting or Stitcher’s Supplier hitting something good. That meant you ended up bricking a decent amount of the time, leading to games where your deck probably couldn’t even beat a draft deck. You also only had Greater Gargadon as a sac outlet for Supplier and had to play a bunch of underwhelming creatures to reanimate Vengevine.
Now you pretty much have a “perfect” deck, very threat-dense and with synergy through the roof. It’s almost impossible to have a bad Looting or a bad mill with Supplier and the 1/1 really feels godlike in the archetype.
Altar of Dementia
Altar gives the current Bridgevine deck a whole new dimension and is what makes it so hard to combat. It allows you to not care about cards like Ensnaring Bridge or Cryptic Command and accelerates your clock by one turn in a lot of games, routinely leading to turn-three kills.
I’ve seen people argue that Altar should be banned since you rarely put this card in your deck to “play fair,” and that it’s either going to be terrible or busted. I think this reasoning is flawed and things aren’t so clear-cut. Not all combos are created equal and you could easily have a deck that uses Altar as its engine without being completely broken.
What makes it so good in Bridgevine and makes the deck so great in general is that you simply have everything you need–no filler, no underwhelming-but-necessary inclusions, just one well-oiled machine. That’s unlikely to be the case with the next playable Altar deck.
I think banning Altar would be a solid nerf to the archetype but you would still be left with the old Bridgevine shell + Hogaak + Carrion Feeder, which still sounds like a very scary deck and one that would be at the very top of my playtesting list for Mythic Championship Barcelona.
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
The archetype wins a lot of games just by casting a turn-two Hogaak, and banning it would immediately make Altar of Dementia way less effective. It’s possible the artifact would still be good in some of the slower and grindier matchups, but you wouldn’t be milling yourself/your opponent nearly as fast.
When Wizards bans something, I’m assuming they try to go for the least amount possible of splash damage and you could argue that Hogaak could see play in other creature decks (maybe in something like Elves as a huge threat and a way to rebuild after getting your board swept). Dredge is almost non-existent right now, but the few versions I’ve seen don’t play Hogaak, so you can assume the card is broken in this Bridgevine deck specifically and not just in any graveyard deck.
Bridge from Below
Banning Bridge from Below would most likely be a big enough hit to the deck. Just like getting rid of Hogaak, getting rid of the enchantment would greatly reduce the impact of Altar and the overall strength and explosiveness of the archetype.
It’s also a card that isn’t played in any other major archetypes right now.
Can you ban the most influential card in the format? Is it finally time for Faithless Looting to go?
The card is the cornerstone of many archetypes and even though some are very strong, I don’t think they’ve proven to be strong enough, not until Hogaak anyways. Out of the 26 decks that had a record of 8-2 or better at MC London, Izzet Phoenix was the most-represented with five copies (Humans was the second most with four), but even though the deck performed well, its overall winrate was only 52.7%. It has been all over the place recently, but I think a big part of this is because it has an okay Bridgevine matchup.
As someone who’s never really played decks based around Looting, I wouldn’t be especially sad to see it go, but I do feel like the card lets you do a lot of cool things in Modern and doing cool things is a big part of playing Magic. They are obviously other ways to nerf Bridgevine, so I guess it comes down to whether or not Wizards thinks the format will be healthy and fun when the archetype is weakened, or if Modern needs a bigger shakeup and Faithless Looting’s time has finally run its course.
What’s Going to Happen Monday?
I believe it would be best if Wizards took action and I think they will announce a change to Modern on Monday. Banning any of the four cards I mentioned should be enough to keep Bridgevine in check. Even getting rid of Stitcher’s Supplier would probably be enough.
Ultimately, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Faithless Looting in Modern. Altar is probably safe as well. I could see Wizards going after Hogaak itself, but if it were up to me, in the sake of competitive diversity, I would say goodbye to Bridge from Below.