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The Empire Strikes Gaaaaaak

Written by:
  • Callum Smith

📅 January 16, 2020

⏱️21 min read

Over the past week or so I've had a few messages from people asking about Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and especially how to sideboard with it. I started typing up replies and the words kept coming, so I figured I could make use of it and Min and Max have kindly agreed to host this little primer on their great website. So for anyone invoking and convoking el gaako, I hope you find this useful!

Callum Smith's BUG Hogaaaak

Creatures Spells Lands Sideboard
3 Carrion Feeder 4 Cabal Therapy 3 Bayou 4 Thoughtseize
2 Gravecrawler 4 Careful Study 2 Marsh Flats 3 Assassin's Trophy
4 Hedron Crab 2 Once Upon A Time 4 Polluted Delta 4 Force of Vigor
4 Stitcher's Supplier 4 Altar of Dementia 2 Swamp 4 Leyline of the Void
4 Bloodghast 4 Bridge from Below 3 Underground Sea
4 Vengevine 4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

This list is basically Tariq Patel's that he used to T8 an SCG Open then a GP with on back to back weekends and it's remained great since then, so all credit to him for improving the deck past the early iterations. He has written a sb guide you should take a look at too, you'll see we follow some trends at least -

The linked list above is what I'll be basing all the sideboarding advice below off, but if you're playing a slightly different version it shouldn't be too hard to extrapolate from it, a lot of other options are fairly interchangeable.


I'd like to start this off with the caveat that I don't believe in strict sideboarding guides generally, there are many factors that can influence you to sideboard differently. The most obvious is someone could be playing some hate cards different to the norm, sometimes an opponents play style changes things too. So prepare to be open and change things up on the fly. Also a lot of sideboarding with Hogaak is simply trimming things that are slightly worse than something else, there's room to change things up.


Mulligan Tips

Mulligan to an enabler. Seriously, hands with a Carrion Feeder and a Gravecrawler don't get there, you need either a Hedron Crab, a Stitcher's Supplier or sometimes a Careful Study with good cards to discard.

It's also OK to keep a hand with no Hedron Crab or Stitcher's Supplier but with Once Upon a Time if the rest of the hand is solid, lands and an Altar of Dementia for example.

Hedron Crab is the best card in the deck and you'll be amazed how low you can mulligan to one and win the game with it.


General Sequencing Tips

The deck has a lot of moving parts and playing them all in the right order can be the difference between triggering Vengevines and Bloodghasts and casting Hogaaks, micro decisions can win and lose games so I'd advise goldfishing the deck as much as you can, you learn a lot from doing it and especially messing up early on. Lead with Careful Study over creatures on turn one as you often want to cast two creatures the following turn to trigger potential Vengevines. If you have nothing good to discard to the Careful Study you can sandbag it for turn three, you don't need to cast something turn one.

Unless you know the matchup as one that doesn't play removal or you have multiple in hand then don't lead on Hedron Crab turn one. It is worth too much to just eat a Swords to Plowshares or Lightning Bolt. Versus slower blue decks you can sandbag them for multiple turns while you deploy some fetches, then when you play one out and make a following land drop you can respond to any removal with multiple more triggers from fetches.

Cabal Therapy is a discard outlet, and a pretty good one! Don't be afraid to target yourself with it to get something like Bridge from Below or Vengevine into the yard, because of how much a lot of the format struggles to interact with this deck revealing your hand is hard to exploit.

Maximize fetch lands. This deck uses them well with Hedron Crab, Bloodghast and delve from Hogaak. Hedron Crab and Bloodghast want you to sandbag them for as long as possible, but Hogaak wants more cards in the graveyard as fast as possible, so when evaluating an opening hand and how to sequence it you should work out if you might need that extra card in the graveyard on turn two or three to delve, or for more value off Hedron Crabs or Bloodghasts.

Sandbagging creatures for Vengevine. This often comes up in post board games that get scrappy, but when you get to a midgame and you're both low on resources then it's often correct to keep the first creature you draw in hand. An exception of course is if the opponent is at a low life total.

Abusing the legend rule. If you have some number of Bridge from Below in the graveyard with excess cards to delve away then you can use two copies of Hogaak to legend rule each other away to generate more zombie tokens.

The combo. If you have an Altar of Dementia in play then you need either two copies of Hogaak and a Bridge from Below or the other way around, one copy of Hogaak and two Bridge from Below and the necessary creatures to convoke them out to begin. With two copies of Hogaak, you can use the first one to convoke out the second and hold priority when casting it, with it on the stack sacrifice the Hogaak in play which will net you enough cards in the graveyard and a fresh zombie from the single Bridge then you have a new copy of Hogaak in play to convoke out the just sacrificed one. With a single Hogaak and two Bridges you get two zombies from sacrificing the Hogaak then simply use them to convoke it out again. Eventually you'll have milled all or most of your library and you can start targeting the opponent with the mills, you'll end up with a huge horde of zombie tokens than can mill them out too. Unless you're vs Battle of Wits you should have plenty of fuel.

Know how priority works. Hogaak kind of abuses how priority is used and makes it very awkward for opponents to stop you casting it, they often have to point a removal spell at the first creatures you play out to slow you down. A common scenario where this comes up is if you have a Stitcher's Supplier in play and put another one on the stack, if the opponent doesn't remove your first one and you mill into a Hogaak (or have one in hand) with the second Stitchers trigger then you again have priority and can cast it before they have any chance to interact, be it with a removal spell or something like a Surgical Extraction. So try to sequence creatures or abilities so there is never something on the stack and you open yourself up to being disrupted.


General Sideboarding Tips

  1. Trim a Hogaak vs Karakas or Swords to Plowshares plus Snapcaster Mage decks.
  2. Trim 1cmc creatures vs Chalice of the Void decks.
  3. Cut Cabal Therapies vs some Chalice decks, or decks that play to the board quickly (5c Loam, Narset Echo decks etc).
  4. Trim or cut Therapies vs Green's Sun Zenith decks due to high amount of 1-ofs. A caveat to both these Cabal Therapy tips is if it's a match/up you think you'll need a sac outlet or effect.
  5. Do not be too afraid to play straight into Surgical Extraction, the only one that can be really effective is Bridge from Below being exiled vs some Ux midrange/control decks. But generally you simply overload the card and present too many targets.
  6. Force of Vigor kills Bridge from Below. If you have a Force in hand without a target then you often should play out a Bridge so you nab it too.
  7. Be aware of how the cards you sideboard in and out affect the rest of the deck:
  8. If you side out too many creatures Vengevines get worse.
  9. If you cut Bridges then Altar and Carrion Feeder get worse.
  10. If you sideboard in Force of Vigors be mindful of keeping enough green cards.

Matchup Advice

Mirror

If you played any Hogaak in modern you'll be familiar with how it goes, it's pretty much the same. Game one has a few ways it can play out. Being on the play means you will generally be able to out aggro the opponent as long as you land Hogaak first. The counter to this is to combo which is usually faster than aggro bar a Hogaak and two Vengevines on turn two draw, and the counter to the combo is aggroing them out with a sac outlet in play. Given this if you don't have an Altar to play, or you fear it could be Cabal Therapied (you often name Altar blind) then prioritize getting a Carrion Feeder on the board to exile opposing Bridges if they try to combo.

Key cards: Leyline of the Void, Force of Vigor, Assassin's Trophy

Common Cabal Therapy names: Altar of Dementia, Hedron Crab, Stitcher's Supplier, Carrion Feeder

-4 Bridge from Below

-4 Altar of Dementia

-3 Cabal Therapy

+4 Force of Vigor

+4 Leyline of the Void

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Post board it's a bit of a shit show. You obviously want a Leyline in the opener, but if you have a Leyline answer and a strong hand it's OK to keep.

An example is Hedron Crab, Stitcher's Supplier, Assassin's Trophy, X and three lands. If you are mulliganing keep in mind that Force of Vigor hits up to two targets, so you can bottom a Leyline if you have two usually.

Worse vs an Assassin's Trophy, but the matchup is scrappy and any resources you can get are vital and most stock lists at the moment play more Abrupt Decays than Trophies. Sideboard games are often decided by number of Leylines and Leyline answers drawn rather than creature beats, but Vengevine can sometimes go the distance so make your land drops for them. If you both either don't have a Leyline or any that came into play were answered Trophy becomes a trump in the 'gaak off'. Since Hogaaks just trade with each other the game becomes very tempo oriented and putting you on the front foot by Trophying a Hogaak will often win you the game.

4c (no black) control

One thing I try to do in this matchup is work out as soon as possible if they're on a build with Terminus or not, sometimes you can work it out by the way they cantrip, or how many proactive threats they play. Or sometimes you just need to extend enough to get a Terminus out there.

The Supreme Verdict builds are much easier to beat. For them you have time to set up shop, you win this matchup with Bridge from Below usually. Don't attack into a Snapcaster Mage or Ice-Fang Coatl unless you have a sac outlet on board or until it's lethal, if you have Bridges in the graveyard a Verdict just nets you a bunch of zombies which usually cast a Hogaak or two to rebuy Vengevines.

Unless you're far ahead on board don't play out Altars until they will get some value as it's a good target for Oko, Thief of Crowns +1. For the Terminus versions it's a delicate balance between extending enough to make them Terminus and having resources to rebuild after.

One of the best 'engines' for this is Carrion Feeder and Gravecrawler with a Bridge in the graveyard. It's easily enough pressure to force a Terminus, and you can leave the Gravecrawler and Bridge in the graveyard still, so don't run out an early Carrion Feeder unless you need to.

Key cards: Rest in Peace, Grafdigger's Cage, Surgical Extraction, Terminus

Common Cabal Therapy names: Brainstorm, Force of Will, Swords to Plowshares, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Surgical Extraction, Rest in Peace

-1 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

-1 Cabal Therapy

-1 Once Upon a Time

+3 Assassin's Trophy

It's reasonable to expect them to have some number of Rest in Peace and/or Grafdigger's Cage now, especially as this deck is picking up in popularity. Trophy is far, far from ideal. It can be countered, Veiled and ramps them if it resolves. I may be changing a Force of Vigor and a Trophy or two to Decays which will help these sideboard games if they go heavy on Rest in Peace. It's possible that you should just board in Thoughtseizes instead of Trophy to spike hitting a Rest in Peace on the draw and then aggro them out. I'm still a little unsure on this one.

Sneak and Show

A lot of the combo matchups will be pretty similar. You lean on discard to buy you the time to either aggro or combo them out. In the case of SnS you can't combo them since Emrakul, the Aeons Torn shuffles their graveyard into their library when it's milled, so graveyard beats it is. I prioritize getting a Carrion Feeder into play as soon as possible, especially if you have an Altar of Dementia in hand.

You can put Altar into play off a Show and Tell, so if it's 'just' an Emrakul you can often make it chump block the Carrion Feeder after you've essentially comboed, but as you can't mill them you generate and huge army of zombies to sacrifice. Sometimes this works for Griselbrand too, as that's forced to block the Carrion Feeder and you usually have 4 Vengevines crashing in too. If they have Omniscience, well your discarding wasn't good enough! Something to keep in mind in this matchup that applies for any deck with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

If you Cabal Therapy and they Brainstorm in response, if you name and hit an Emrakul it will shuffle away any cards they hide on top.

Key cards: Show and Tell, Sneak Attack, Grafdigger's Cage, Surgical Extraction

Common Cabal Therapy Names: Show and Tell, Force of Will, Sneak Attack, Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

-4 Altar of Dementia

+4 Thoughtseize

Same as game one try and not let them do horrible things the best you can and turn your graveyard sideways. They sometimes have a Grafdigger's Cage or two as well, so there is some thought for boarding in some Assassin's Trophy as it can take out Sneak Attack too (they will often play it out without the mana to activate to get around discard), but it's dangerous to dilute your main plan too much.


Delver

Delver is one of the better matchup for the deck since it exploits some axis of interaction they struggle with and very quickly makes them play from behind. There are two very different games vs Delver. If they open with a Delver of Secrets on the play then you usually need to play into things and can't afford to make land drops around Daze. These are the kind of games you can lose, where they establish a quick clock and can Daze and Wasteland you out so unless your hand is very strong with multiple enablers I tend to 'make them have it', the games where they don't open with Delver are much, much easier and you can usually afford to play slowly.

Cabal Therapy them for Force of Will (or whatever beats you), get set up and you can win on the board pretty easily usually. Brazen Borrower can be a pain, so keep that card in mind, it's their answer for Hogaak.

Key cards: Surgical Extraction, Grafdigger's Cage, Plague Engineer, Crop Rotation, Bojuka Bog

Common Cabal Therapy names: Force of Will, Brainstorm, Daze, Surgical Extraction

-3 Altar of Dementia

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Altars are sided out because they are hard to resolve and delver doesn't play any removal that exiles.

This is another matchup where Assassin's Trophy is considerably worse than Abrupt Decay like 4c, but it's also a better matchup than Leyline of the Void decks so I think it's a fair call. Delvers hate can be mixed and it's hard to predict, sometimes they have some Grafdigger's Cages, there's a recent trend where they are packing Leylines themselves too. And if they just have stack based interaction then Trophy at least picks off a Delver. Black Delver decks will likely have Plague Engineer too which is a fine target.

Reanimator

As I mentioned in the Sneak and Show section, this will be very similar. Try and disrupt them how you can.

Key cards: Reverent Silence, Wear//Tear, Serenity

Common Cabal Therapy names: Entomb, Exhume, Animate Dead, Reanimate, Reverent Silence

-3 Carrion Feeder

-1 Gravecrawler

-4 Vengevine

+4 Thoughtseize

+4 Leyline of the Void

The Carrion Feeders and Gravecrawlers are often the grindy fair side of the deck and can often come out or be trimmed vs combo decks, one Gravecrawler is nice to keep as it helps combo though. When doing this be aware that Vengevine has less enablers, that's why they're cut too.

Death and Taxes

DNT is not a deck you want to try and grind with too much. Equipment, fliers, Mother of Runes activations and Karakas to stop Hogaak very quickly overcome most things fair we can do, and Phyrexian Revoker shuts off Altar or Carrion Feeder generating huge amounts of zombie tokens. So as you should be for any matchup really try and rush and pressure them as fast as possible.

Be aware of how a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can impact your hand, she's usually pretty weak in the matchup but don't get caught with Careful Studies and Altars in your hand after getting Wastelanded and Rishadan Ported. Generally it's a good idea to sandbag Cabal Therapy until after they've got a Stoneforge Mystic in play to strip the equipment they fetched up.

Key cards: Rest in Peace, Surgical Extraction, Faerie Macabre, Grafdigger's Cage, Containment Priest, Ethersworn Canonist

Common Cabal Therapy names: All equipment (after they play a Stoneforge Mystic), Rest in Peace, Surgical Extraction

-1 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

-2 Altar of Dementia

-1 Vengevine

+4 Force of Vigor

I'm not completely confident in this plan, perhaps you want a mix with Trophy, but Force should hit most of their hate cards as the creatures don't do much. Keep in mind that Containment Priest only stops Bloodghast and Vengevine as you are still casting Gravecrawler and Hogaak.

4C/5C Loam

Loam is another one of the harder fair matchups as they have some killer tools at their disposal if they have the time to find them. Knight of the Reliquary fetches Karakas for Hogaak and The Tabernacle at the Pendrell Vale from the board, and sometimes you just get Wastelanded out as this is not a deck flush with lands. Chalice of the Void is also a huge pain, and they play Leyline of the Void in the sideboard. Game one you try to rush them, usually you can beat anything other than a very fast Chalice or Knight.

Key cards: Leyline of the Void, Chalice of the Void, Knight of the Reliquary, The Tabernacle at the Pendrell Vale, Containment Priest, Plague Engineer

Common Cabal Therapy names: Chalice of the Void, Knight of the Reliquary

-3 Cabal Therapy

-1 Carrion Feeder

-1 Gravecrawler

-1 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

-1 Bridge from Below

+4 Force of Vigor

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Post board be wary of Knight fetching up a Tabernacle, and they sometimes have hatebears like Canonist, Containment Priest or Thalia. Canonist is the hardest to beat, and luckily it's hit by Force of Vigor too.

If you don't have an explosive hand you can sandbag a Force to make sure you hit the right cards, you don't need to immediately snap it off on a lone Leyline, or even Leyline and a Mox Diamond.

If you then do nothing for a couple of turns you could be punished by a Chalice or hardcast Leyline.

BUG Zenith

It remains to be seen if this deck has some staying power. It's similar to other midrange decks, but be aware that the 2nd place at GP Bologna list had split sideboard hate between Surgical Extraction, Faerie Macabre and Leyline of the Void, and maindeck Scavenging Ooze.

Key cards: Leyline of the Void, Scavenging Ooze, Surgical Extraction, Faerie Macabre

Common Cabal Therapy names: Green Sun's Zenith, Oko, Thief of Crowns

-3 Cabal Therapy

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Trophy for Leyline or Scavenging Ooze should be good enough, as Surgical and Macabre the deck plays around pretty well.

Maverick

Maverick is another deck you don't want to grind too much with if you can help it in game one. They have Green Sun's Zenith for Scavenging Ooze and Knight of the Reliquary for Karakas and lots of Wastelands. Scavenging Ooze is their main way to steal game one so it's usually best to name Green Sun's Zenith with Cabal Therapy early. They generally only have one answer to Altar of Dementia in the maindeck, a Knight of Autumn, considering it's four mana to Green Sun's Zenith for it's usually OK to throw an Altar out there and try to combo if you are starting to lose the board.

Key cards: Surgical Extraction, Containment Priest, Faerie Macabre, Scavenging Ooze, Knight of the Reliquary, Bojuka Bog, Karakas

Common Cabal Therapy names: Green Sun's Zenith, Knight of the Reliquary, Swords to Plowshares, Surgical Extraction

-3 Cabal Therapy

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Post board is pretty similar to game one, most common hate is Surgicals and Faerie Macabres which you can fight through and Trophies are a nice catch all.

Depths

Dark Depths is the deck's worst matchup by a significant margin. There are some ways you could try and improve it in the sideboard, bounce spells for example, but after trying a few things I think it is better to chalk it up as a loss most of the time. You can still nut draw or combo anything with strong hands, so it's not unwinnable as some people will claim, but be prepared for a hard battle.

The reason it is bad is because they have a faster and more consistent combo that we can't interact with, as well as Crop Rotation fetching Bojuka Bog or Karakas if it's relevant and more discard spells to disrupt us.

Key cards: Crop Rotation, Surgical Extraction, Plague Engineer

Common Cabal Therapy names: Crop Rotation, Vampire Hexmage, Surgical Extraction

-3 Carrion Feeder

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Assassin's Trophy gives you some game against their combo, you can target either the Dark Depths if they are using Vampire Hexmage on it, or the Thespian's Stage after the Dark Depths has been sacrificed to the legend rule to stop the combo. But this is not very reliable sadly as you'll usually be hit by a discard spell or two before they combo and leaving up mana is a big cost as the pressure is on us to be the aggressor.

In my experience you rarely have the luxury to play around any disruption they will have, so if they Crop Rotation for Bog you at least it is not fetching a combo piece. It is tempting to board in Thoughtseizes as additional disruption, but that is further diluting your deck and they are favoured the longer a game goes on.

TES

The Epic Storm has undergone some pretty radical changes recently, in case you're not aware here's a sample list - https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2632283

What is relevant to us is maindeck Veil of Summers stopping Cabal Therapy, an increased speed from playing more Moxen (Opals) and another engine that's especially good to rebuild after some discard spells in Echo of Eons. This is another one of the tougher matchups and you need to get a little lucky to win it.

Similar to the philosophy of other combo decks, you need to be as fast and hopefully disruptive as possible. Because of the presence of Veil if you have access to an early Cabal Therapy then fire it off blind, try and read their response time, you can often tell if they have a Veil or Brainstorm to interact with it. Past that I'm not sure which one you'd name from the two without more context, but it's better to split each half of Cabal Therapy across two turns, this can apply to any combo deck playing Veils.

These new builds don't play any discard spells themselves, so you can use your enablers at their highest impact sequencing points without fear.

Key cards: Veil of Summer, Brainstorm

Common Cabal Therapy names: Lion's Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, Wishclaw Talisman, Burning Wish, Veil of Summer, Brainstorm

-3 Carrion Feeder

-1 Gravecrawler

-1 Bridge from Below

-1 Bloodghast

-1 Altar of Dementia

-1 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

+4 Thoughtseize

+4 Force of Vigor

Thoughtseize is an easy way to add more disruption, and a well timed Force of Vigor can be backbreaking. It is a fairly situational card, sometimes they will just cast some rituals and go off, but it's at least another axis of interaction that we are desperate for. Cutting the Carrion Feeders and Gravecrawler makes Vengevines a bit worse, but they are still green cards for Forces in a pinch.

ANT

ANT is another combo matchup where we again simply try and disrupt them the best we can and hope it gets there. Though unlike TES they generally don't have Veil of Summer in the maindeck and use discard, so play out Hedron Crabs and Stitcher's Suppliers as soon as possible. ANTs main engine is Past in Flames which nullifies a lot of what our discard can do so in game one I like to get as much power into play as fast as possible on the first few turns over discard unless there are Cabal Therapies in the graveyard that are free to use. Spending your turn two just casting Therapy and not bringing back some Vengevines or setting up a combo turn doesn't usually turn into a win as they feed off the extra time. This is not a hard and fast rule though, you can pick up a tell as well, but in harder matchups (so most combo) I feel like we have to get a bit greedy to maximise the chances of stealing games.

Key cards: Infernal Tutor, Lion's Eye Diamond, Brainstorm

Common Cabal Therapy names: Infernal Tutor, Lion's Eye Diamond, Brainstorm

-2 Carrion Feeder

-1 Gravecrawler

-1 Bloodghast

-1 Vengevine

-1 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

-2 Altar of Dementia

+4 Thoughtseize

+4 Leyline of the Void

They can sometimes play a few pieces of graveyard hate in the form of Surgical Extraction, Extirpate or Tormod's Crypt so keep these in mind if you are able to play around them. If you open with a Leyline of the Void then you can prioritize discard over getting a clock going as it will be higher impact since Past in Flames is shut off. Another thing you can do with a Leyline out is target them with Hedron Crab triggers, you might mill and exile an important card. Though this isn't advisable unless you already have a clock or really have nothing else going on and feel like you need to get lucky.

Stompy Deck: Eldrazi, Moon Stompy etc

These matchups are hugely die roll dependant as a quick Chalice of the Void can lock the game out quickly. If you see something resembling a Chalice variant then prioritise playing one drops over anything else if there's not a Chalice already in play, especially Hedron Crab. If you are vs Moon Stompy then keep Karn, the Great Creator in mind especially as it can lock you out quickly by fetching an Ensnaring Bridge and his passive turns off Altar of Dementia.

Key cards:

Eldrazi - Chalice of the Void, Reality Smasher

Moon Stompy - Chalice of the Void, Karn, the Great Creator, Fiery Confluence

Common Cabal Therapy names:

Eldrazi - Chalice of the Void, Reality Smasher

Moon Stompy - Chalice of the Void, Karn, the Great Creator, Fiery Confluence

-3 Carrion Feeder

-1 Gravecrawler

-3 Cabal Therapy

+4 Force of Vigor

+3 Assassin's Trophy

Post board both decks usually have a full set of Leyline of the Void. Given how powerful Chalice can be vs us too it's often worth mulliganing to a Force of Vigor because of how much of a blowout it can be. Against Eldrazi keep Thought-Knot Seer in mind, you can sandbag it for a bit but remember to keep a green card in hand, sometimes this means not casting a Once Upon a Time. If Moon Stompy don't open with a Leyline then they may have Faerie Macabres instead.


I hope you all found this useful! Hogaak can be a pretty deep and complex deck to play at full potential, and that's what makes it so fun in my opinion. It may be degenerate but it rewards knowledge of both its own mechanics and the formats.

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