Response to “On the matter of Hexproof” – Shared Discovery by Rob Wagner
Hi all, I’m writing a response to a recent article on mtgUK by Luke Southworth called “On the matter of Hexproof“. For those who would like a bit of background, I know Luke from many events in the North-West of England (us living in Manchester and Preston respectively) and I asked him if writing this article would be okay before beginning out of respect for him. This is not a personal attack or anything like that, but simply a furthering of the discussion he started as I feel there is more to be said.
I haven’t played much Magic recently in real life due to various reasons (busy, ill, no lifts, etc) and my last sanctioned event apparently was back in November. I decided to break my silence with a GPT for London at my local store (hi Fanboy3!) and a preparatory FNM so that I knew what I was going in with.
I decided to play the Hexproof deck as I had all but one of the cards for it (but managed to trade for the last [card]Increasing Savagery[/card] at the FNM) and in particular went with Josh Utter-Leyton’s list as I think he is a very good judge of metagames and picker of cards. For reference, here is that list:
4 [card]Abundant Growth[/card]
4 [card]Ethereal Armor[/card]
4 [card]Spectral Flight[/card]
2 [card]Increasing Savagery[/card]
4 [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card]
1 [card]Glacial Fortress[/card]
4 [card]Temple Garden[/card]
2 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card]
4 [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card]
2 [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]
2 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
2 [card]Garruk Relentless[/card]
3 [card]Rest in Peace[/card]
4 [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]
2 [card]Wolfir Avenger[/card]
I didn’t have any experience with the deck beyond goldfishing and obviously having played some Magic before so I went in having to figure everything out on the fly.
Giving it a test run at FNM
At FNM I first played against a 4 colour control deck with access to counters and Wrath of God effects (as discussed by Luke as a good answer to this deck). I lost game 1 as each of my creatures got countered. I’d kept a slowish draw with 2 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] but no [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] or [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] to get in under counter magic.
I sided in my anti-wrath deck creatures and then games 2 and 3 were fairly easy turn 4 kills with little interaction – stick a bunch of auras on a turn 1 [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] and they have to miracle a [card]Terminus[/card] or they’re dead.
I then played against two Red-Black aggro decks, one with [card]Blood Artist[/card] and one without and we were literally off to the races but I came out ahead. The last round was against a mono-Red deck and I had to get a bit lucky to win game 1 as I needed to draw exactly [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] on the last turn either for my regular draw or off an [card]Abundant Growth[/card] but I found it in time. We then split the other two games with more turn 4 kills, making for the least amount of Magic I’ve played at FNM ever.
I found that the only way I was realistically losing was if my deck backfired (fairly decent chance, it’s a combo deck) or if I got out-raced. For that reason I changed the Garruks in the sideboard for [card]Nearheath Pilgrim[/card]s as gaining 5 or 6 life one time will often be enough to swing a race in my favour – don’t underestimate that new Ball Lightning Helix guy!
The argument of Enchantment Removal
This allows me to address one answer posited by Luke – Enchantment removal. Luke suggests as an example [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] in a Green-White deck, by which I assume he means an aggressive deck playing such cards as [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card] and mana creatures, because that’s the Green-White deck I have seen in Standard. That is probably a good example but it doesn’t push home the relevant point – if you kill the enchantments then it can slow down the clock of the Hexproof deck, but that is not always useful.
If you buy yourself an extra turn but have nothing to do with it or can only play out a creature or two then that isn’t going to help you at all. If you can prevent death and then attack back for the win yourself (because you made a turn 2 4/4, for example) then it is very good. However, this really is just playing into my point above – I found that I was losing if I got out-raced. Plus sometimes I just have a creature with 2 auras on and a [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card], against which killing one aura is unlikely to do that much (though it obviously looks better than doing nothing).
Playing it at the London GPT
I played in the GPT the next day and apparently some other people had got the message as there were two more Hexproof decks in attendance. I played one in round one and another in round 4 and was very fortunate in winning the races across the three games both times. I really was fortunate as it can definitely go either way, and I was very happy to have put the [card]Nearheath Pilgrim[/card]s in the sideboard as they seem really key in the mirror.
One opponent had to keep a 14/10 First Strike, Trample, Unblockable, Hexproof on defence as I was on 15 life but had a Pilgrim and could attack back for more than 14 life gain. I attacked in myself and made replacement creatures, eventually taking the game as he didn’t draw much besides lands and mana creatures.
My other games were against the 4 colour control deck from FNM who had added a few [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] to the sideboard but it wasn’t super effective as I take out my [card]Invisible Stalker[/card]s, and a Blue-White aggro deck against which I was out-raced in one game and then lost another after getting mana screwed when he used his sideboard [card]Detention Sphere[/card] (not an all-star against Hexproof to be honest) to pluck off my two [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]s.
I got through to the top 4 but lost to that same Blue-White deck after getting out-raced due to a game-losing error (could have played around 4 more cards than I did, he had it) and mulling to 5 in game 3 and having to hope to hit more lands off the one I had and 2 [card]Abundant Growth[/card]s. It was a bit annoying to lose in such a way to a deck that I don’t think should be a part of the metagame but it definitely wasn’t a good matchup for me.
The challenges of beating Hexproof decks
So, going back to Luke’s methods of beating the Hexproof deck – I already disagree with the idea of using Wraths due to speed issues and the [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] sideboard plan, and I don’t think killing the enchantments is very effective unless you’re already doing what I think really is the best way to beat the deck – be faster!
As well as being difficult to interact with, the Hexproof deck doesn’t have much with which to interact back itself. It has some sideboard cards such as [card]Feeling of Dread[/card], [card]Nearheath Pilgrim[/card] and [card]Dispel[/card]/[card]Negate[/card] but it really has few cards that can interact meaningfully with what the opponent is doing.
The last method is using “edict” effects such as [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card]. These cards are very bad against the current standard metagame so would purely be suggested as sideboard cards. I’m not convinced as to how effective they are though – look at the decklist again, there are mana creatures to accelerate out the big threat which are then expendable, and there are random 2 drops that you can put out to protect your [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] against edicts.
Don’t even get me started about the effectiveness of an edict against [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]!
In conclusion, I disagree with Luke’s suggestions for how to reliably deal with the Hexproof deck for the reasons stated above – Wraths are too slow, Edicts are too unreliable, and Enchantment destruction only buys you a little time that you might not be able to do anything with. I think the best way to beat Hexproof (besides it mulliganning to 5) is to outrace it by also presenting a quick clock and then adding some disruption such as life-gain, fogs, or enchantment destruction (in conjunction with the clock).
For this reason decks such as UW Humans may become playable, but the quick red and black-based decks and also green-white with Ajani to be a pseudo-[card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] + [card]Spectral Flight[/card] gain traction as they can hope to kill on turn 4. I definitely do agree that [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card] is a bad hate card though.
What’s your take on it, have you played with or against the Hexproof deck?
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing.
@DrRobWagner on Twitter