On the matter of Hexproof by Luke Southworth
So, I’m not normally an article writer; frankly I don’t consider myself qualified to advise on strategy until I actually win something at a decent level. But I’m Luke, a PTQ grinder from Preston. And today I’m going to write about the standard Bant Hexproof deck that played out a mirror match in the final of GP Atlantic City, and the hexproof mechanic in general.
Firstly, the decklists:
The premise of the deck is fairly simple. Throw down hexproof guys. Buff them up so they beat face really hard. Kill the opponent.
What Others Are Saying…
Now people are already calling this deck, as well as the ability it relies on, anti-Magic and miserable. People who are, frankly, better qualified to judge than me.
Conley Woods (@Conley81)- “(Hexproof) limits interactivity completely. Protection, Undying etc, at least give you an angle to attack, this is cake+eating it too”
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (@PVDDR) -“I think making cards that lead to 0 interaction is not interesting, it doesn’t look much like Magic when hexproof’s involved. I think the ability should not be put in constructed playable cards, nothing good comes out of it; if it’s good, it’s degenerate, it can never be “decent” without being broken and frustrating.”
Michael Jacob (@Michael_A_Jacob)- “No, I’m not sorry about misery.dec. Blame Wizards for creating one of the worst mechanics in recent memory.”
Brian Kibler (@bmkibler)- “Hexproof mirror match in the finals. Cool. Who wanted to see anyone actually play Magic anyway? #GPAtCity”
The problem with the deck is that hexproof is so hard to interact with. Invisible Stalker was miserable to play against with Runechanter’s Pike as its main weapon, whilst Geist of St. Traft has done damage from standard right through to Legacy, in a deck like Blouses. So playing 1 for 1 creature removal like your typical Searing Spear and Murder becomes a ton worse against these cards.
They are difficult to handle, but hexproof hasn’t dominated the format before- so what’s changed? The addition of cheap, powerful, synergistic auras like Ethereal Armor and Rancor to the Modern and Standard formats have enabled guys like Geist to quickly get out of hand for blockers, the natural way to stop Geist. And Invisible Stalker goes from a 1/1 pest to an unstoppable monster without too much investment.
But Auras are notoriously bad right? After all, they’re extremely vulnerable to their host’s removal from the battlefield, and you lose your shiny aura. Wasn’t that why Equipment was invented? Hexproof gets around that issue for the most part- your Unsummons and Searing Spears are suddenly looking pretty terrible, and if your creatures are outmatched so quickly by a first striking trampler, the game seems unfair- especially when blue’s traditional fallback of ‘I just counter it’ doesn’t work against Cavern of Souls.
What are our options?
However, this is my alternate view. It just involves a bit of a mindset change regarding auras! If people start taking enchantments more seriously as real cards, they won’t be beaten to death by them! It sounds simple, but if your GW deck ran a few Ray of Revelation in the sideboard, that Stalker or Geist looks significantly worse. Supreme Verdict and Terminus in your control deck? Yeah, they still work. As do counterspells on everything that makes the hexproof guys enormous. Jund, and RB aggro still have access to Liliana of the Veil – which does a pretty good job itself at hampering the plans of your tooled up monster.
Hexproof may not be the most interactive mechanic in the game, but it’s hardly unstoppable. Shroud has existed for years without an issue, showing that these guys need other cards to make them over-powered, and all of those cards can be answered too- it’s not the fault of R&D if you’re stuck in a mindset where an aura cannot be traded for on a 1 for 1 basis, like you would any other card. If anything it adds another element to the game, where creature removal has to be less of a catch-all, like counterspells used to be. And with creature combat being pushed as a larger part of the game going forward, the idea of ‘kill your guy’ being a key aspect of the game needs to be spread out into more directions.
In short- hexproof isn’t the bogeyman of card design that some may believe. It’s a powerful ability, for sure, but building your own super-powered dude still takes time, mana and cards- nothing new there- you just can’t expect the foundation to be a liability any more.
As I was writing this article, Glaring Spotlight was spoiled for Gatecrash. So what does this change? It’s a fairly narrow hate card, with the bonus of enabling an alpha strike- which is pretty cool. Wizards have clearly taken the anti-hexproof sentiment on board, and printed a hatecard for it- but I don’t know if this will actually change anything- it’s clunky and only seems really useful against decks that totally rely on hexproof to win. And even then you need to draw both the Spotlight and your removal to deal with the problem creature.
I don’t think it makes any difference with regard to the debate over hexproof as a mechanic- WOTC prints hatecards for powerful effects fairly often, and no doubt hexproof IS powerful. But broken? Anti-Magic? I disagree. It’s just another of the many facets of the game that we have to use and fight against.
Thanks for reading, and I welcome your feedback!