Since its printing, Modern Horizons has had a substantial influence on every format it was legal in. The most dominant card printed in the set was Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, which spawned a Modern deck so powerful that sweeping bans had to be made to remove it from that format. It turns out that Hogaak was strong enough of a card to break into Legacy using a very similar shell with a few key upgrades. Since then, it has been tormenting the lives of unprepared blue players with brutal efficiency. Let’s take a look at the deck that MTGO player Nammersquats used to win the PAX Legacy Champs:
Legacy Hogaak Deck List - Nammersquats (PAX Legacy Champ)
Core Game Plan
This is a dedicated graveyard deck that seeks to use recursive creatures to generate an overwhelming board position as early as turn 2. Through use of self-mill and discard, this deck can find cards like Gravecrawler and Bloodghast that return from the graveyard with ease. This allows the Hogaak player to return large, aggressive creatures like Hogaak and Vengevine and dominate the combat step in a way that is notoriously difficult to interact with.
When the plan of attacking the opponent is stifled, Altar of Dementia allows the Hogaak to transition into a powerful mill deck, often allowing the Hogaak player to mill themselves completely. Then after your deck is completely emptied, by looping Hogaak’s legendary rule with Bridge From Below tokens you can then mill your opponent’s deck.
Let’s take a look at the key pieces that make this deck function.
These are the cards that get the engine moving. Stitcher’s Supplier is the most effective of them, as it is difficult to interact with in a favorable way and is always worth at least 3 cards in the graveyard (and often 6 when paired with Cabal Therapy). In addition, it is both black, which allows it to cast Hogaak, and has the creature type zombie, which allows Gravecrawler to be recast.
Hedron Crab doesn’t cast Hogaak and is more vulnerable to removal, but it enables a consistent source of graveyard fodder starting on turn 2. The ceiling of the self mill from a Crab is much higher than the Supplier and Hedron Crab can easily get through just about a quarter of your deck by turn 3. However, it can be difficult to extract maximum value out of the card when your opponents are able to interact with it.
Careful Study is the best way to get cards out of your hand and set up future turns. This deck has a high density of cards that are worthless in your hand and it’s important to have ways to get them into the graveyard. Casting a turn 1 Careful Study can really make for a very explosive turn 2 and usually this will leave you in a very good position to win the game in short order.
These are the recursive creatures that give the deck such resiliency. The plan is to return a few copies of these creatures to the battlefield at minimal cost to yourself, as you are putting so many cards in the graveyard every turn. It is difficult to stop the Hogaak player from eventually returning them, and once they do all of the deck’s payoffs start to shine.
Both of them tap to cast Hogaak, but only Gravecrawler returns Vengevine. Bloodghast does come back at no additional mana cost, and the fact that it occasionally has haste can really make blocking difficult for opponents. When combined with Altar of Dementia, Gravecrawer often reads as “B: Mill the top 2 cards of your library”. When combined with Bridge From Below, both creatures can attack with impunity and threaten to flood the board or deal damage.
These are the creatures that come back with a vengeance and punish your opponents for trying to interact with you. Returning any number of these creatures on turn 2 will present a clock that is oftentimes too much for opponents to deal with.
Hogaak is easier to get into play, being able to be cast from the hand or graveyard, and will often be good enough on its own. While Vengevine takes a bit more setup, it can lead to the most aggressive draws this deck can present. Discarding 2 of these with Careful Study and returning them on turn 2 will often present a 2-turn clock (as you will also have cast two other creatures to return them). If you are ever able to return both Hogaak and Vengevine in the same turn, it’s very likely the game will be over by the next turn.
This card is what turns Hogaak from resilient, graveyard-based aggro deck to a straight up combo deck. When this card is in play, no amount of creature removal can prevent you from milling yourself. From there, any extra creatures turn into extra cards in your graveyard until you can find and cast a Hogaak.
You can sacrifice Hogaak to mill yourself for 8 and recast it with any creatures lying around. If you have 2 Bridge From Belows in the graveyard, every time you sacrifice Hogaak you generate the 2 zombies you need for convoke. This also gives you the 5 cards you need for delve. From there, you can mill your entire deck, find all your copies of Bridge and Hogaak, and start turning this engine on your opponent.
Altar of Dementia is an incredibly threatening card and often needs to be stopped by your opponent. It isn’t always necessary to have in play, as the aggressive plan of Hogaak is good enough in most games. Having access to it goes a long way, though, and your opponents will have to respect the fact that you could cast it any time you have 2 mana.
Bridge From Below is one of the most powerful cards in the deck. Once Bridge is in the graveyard, every interaction in this deck becomes a nightmare for the opponent. In conjunction with any sacrifice outlet, a zombie army will spawn seemingly out of nowhere. Combat becomes nigh-impossible to navigate for opponents. Opponents will have to form plans around killing their own creatures in order to remove the Bridges in order to manage the zombie horde. This isn’t even acknowledging the previously mentioned interaction with Altar of Dementia.
All in all, this is one of the most swingy cards in the deck, and incidentally milling it with a Crab or Supplier trigger can greatly change the way the game is going to play out.
Cabal Therapy is the best discard spell a deck like this could ask for. It allows you to prevent your opponent from using disruption on your enablers. When that’s out of the way, it gives you a free sacrifice outlet for Stitcher’s Suppliers to really get your engine moving while disrupting your opponent’s ability to develop their plan. It can target yourself and act as a faux-Careful Study and there’s almost always plenty of fodder to enable it. Combo decks are also a lot scarier to Hogaak than fair decks, so Cabal Therapy provides disruption against those decks and buys some time.
Hogaak has a strong enough game plan that being able to enact its gameplan consistently will likely yield a victory. Once Upon a Time allows you to find the mana you need to play your spells or even find a Crab or a Supplier to get the ball rolling.
This is included as a way of turning a green fetch land into half of the convoke cost of a Hogaak. With just 2 fetch lands, a Stitcher’s Supplier and Hogaak in hand, this allows you to cast Hogaak on turn 2. There is a cost to playing a copy of Arbor, as occasionally you will draw it, so it isn’t completely free. The benefits are there though, so I think this warrants a slot in the deck.
It’s important to answer the graveyard hate people bring in against this deck. Assassin’s Trophy is much more versatile, being able to not only answer cards like Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage, but it also helps against aggressive decks like Delver when they don’t have any graveyard hate in play. Abrupt Decay fills a similar role, but trades the ability to kill Leyline for uncountability, which can be a huge deal in Legacy.
Force of Vigor is much more of a haymaker, and if you expect your opponents to have Leyline of the Void, Force will be the best card to have in that situation. Against decks like Eldrazi or Red Prison you can also try to snipe a Chalice of the Void with it as well.
As an archetype, Hogaak really struggles against fast combo decks. The fastest, most brutal of these is Reanimator, which this deck struggles greatly against pre-board. Leyline of the Void helps a lot to slow down their ability to win early. Leyline doesn’t impact every combo deck as much as Reanimator, but it has enough of an impact against decks like Storm that it can buy a meaningful amount of time. Since this deck plays Careful Study, it can even get rid of excess copies.
Since Hogaak is a bit weak to combo decks, bringing in extra discard spells can really help in those matchups.
Tips and Tricks
- Be careful about the timing of your land drops if you’re going to mill yourself. You want to make sure you maximize the landfall triggers for Bloodghast.
- Even if you have no other lands, If you have a Bloodghast and at least 4 other cards in your graveyard, a green fetchland in your hand, and a Hogaak in hand (or as an extra card in your graveyard) you can cast Hogaak using Dryad Arbor in a situation that looked like you had nothing going on.
- You can Cabal Therapy yourself, which is correct a lot more often than it might seem.
- Speaking of Cabal Therapy, Dryad Arbor turns your land drop into a Cabal Therapy seemingly out of nowhere.
Sideboard and Strategy Guide
This is a tough matchup, as there’s no effective way to stop them from putting a Griselbrand into play besides Leyline. If you know you’re up against this deck in game 1, I recommend casting Cabal Therapy before developing your plan to try to slow them down.
The postboard games do get better, but they come prepared with Reverent Silence so Leyline might just be a speed bump. I’m going to suggest cutting Once Upon a Time in a decent amount of match ups where Hogaak’s game plan is worse than the opponent’s plan and it doesn’t dig for a piece of disruption. It also only works so well in your opening hand, and I really don’t like the idea of drawing a clunky card like that later in the game.
Sneak and Show
Another difficult matchup, but they are much slower so it is a lot more reasonable. You can’t kill your opponent with Altar because they have Emrakul, but getting it in play can let you mill your whole deck and create an Army that they might have some trouble beating. Abrupt Decay is a hedge against Grafdigger’s Cage but Assassin’s Trophy might be better in the blind.
In: +2 Assassin’s Trophy
Trophy is really nice in this matchup because it can stop them from comboing (Trophy targeting Dark Depths in response to Hexmage/Stage). You can’t really defeat a 20/20 if you don’t kill them, so a lot of this matchup will be a racing situation, which Altar helps with greatly.
Out: 2 Altar of Dementia
In: 2 Abrupt Decay
Hogaak’s plan is excellent in this matchup, so don’t go overboard in sideboarding. Having Decay for their early pressure and Grafdigger’s Cage will be good enough in a decent amount of games.
Miracles (AKA Snow Control)
The recursive threats are great here, but Terminus can really make things awkward. I like trimming a Bridge because they have Ice-Fang Coatl and it can be too easy for them to exile it from our graveyard. Relic of Progenitus and Containment Priest are some of the most common hate cards they play, so Abrupt Decay lines up nicely there. If you see something like Leyline for some reason, you can exchange them for Trophies.
The combination of Chalice of the Void and Leyline of the Void really puts the emphasis on Force of Vigor post-board. The core game plan of Hogaak is generally good enough here, as Hogaak is quite a bit larger than their creatures, so mulligan to an answer for Leyline in a lot of situations and you should be able to play on a level field with them.