Last week I discussed my build for Bant Hexproof and why I think the deck is well positioned in the current metagame. The article can be seen Here at here. Today I will go over how the major matchups play out and how to sideboard against them.
I want to start with the supposed top dog of the format, Jund. I have found the matchup favorable, though not overwhelmingly so. As other writers have pointed out, Jund is so full of generically good cards that they can still put together a path to victory even when the majority of their “good” cards do not particularly interact with Hexproof and may not matter at all. The cards that do matter can interact rather effectively though. The two major cards that meet this criteria are Bonfire of the Damned and Liliana of the Veil.
Bonfire is typically only relevant as a miracle. Even then its impact is indirectly proportional to the number of auras you have in play. If you can create a 5/5 or larger, Bonfire will likely not be a factor in the game. The most potent Bonfire is one that kills a naked Geist of Saint Traft. Be aware of how much your opponent can Bonfire for and play accordingly if you can. A turn three Geist will almost always be correct as it puts you so far ahead, but drawing one on turn four may need to be saved until you can enchant it in the same turn to get it out of range of a non-miracled Bonfire.
Liliana is a little easier to play around. If you opponent has the ability to play Liliana on his or her turn, prioritize playing a second creature over an aura. This forces them to play a removal before Liliana to make her edict ability relevant, which buys you time to find more creatures to get in the way or just win. Strangleroot Geist is obviously the best creature to protect any enchanted Hexproof creature not only because he requires two removal spells*, but because he also adds to the clock while in play.
Jund is also capable of winning a race if Thragtusk, Olivia Voldaren, or Kessig Wolf-Run are involved. Olivia is most problematic if the creatures you have can be targeted. I have been on the wrong end of a stolen Fiendslayer Paladin because of her. That game did not end in my favor. Thragtusk can be a problem when the life gain buys the opponent a crucial turn or stops you from attacking profitably. Such games tend to involve Farseek as wall as the absence of an aura granting flying or first strike.
Knowing how Jund is capable of winning provides one with crucial information when sideboarding. The best way to prevent Jund’s high impact spells is to counter them. You should thus bring in the two Spell Ruptures and the Negate. There are also very important against many of the cards that Jund brings in from its board, particularly Barter In Blood has been getting some love from Jund players. The fact that some of Jund’s high impact cards are creatures may mean the Negate should be a third Spell Rupture, however I like the ability for Negate to hit cards out of the UWx decks when the game has gone long enough that they can potentially pay for Spell Rupture. Adjust your sideboard according to the expected metagame of the event you are playing in.
Another card I bring in here is the one of Fiendslayer Paladin. He’s another creature that mostly blanks their removal and helps in games where Jund may be able to race. Voice of Resurgence seems good for some of the same reasons Strangleroot Geist is, however haste is a big bonus on the Spirit and there simply aren’t enough cards that I want to take out to justify adding Voice.
Speaking of taking cards out, you need to know what cards are not pulling their weight and should be brought out. In this matchup the card to cut is Unflinching Courage. I know I said Jund can race and Unflinching Courage is the perfect tool for winning races, however it is a little slow and vulnerable to cheaper answers like Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm that your opponent most assuredly has more copies of for games two and three. Additionally, the counterspells that are coming in act as reasonable foils to the cards that allow them to race. That means you should not let Thragtusk resolve if you have the opportunity to counter it. It’s unlikely there is another card coming behind it that can affect the trajectory of the game against you that wouldn’t have been good the turn your opponent tried to cast the beast. If you see Cavern of Souls during the match, it may be prudent to keep some number of Courages in and lean less on the counterspells against Thragtusk and Olivia.
Many of the midrange matchups play out similarly to Jund. They have certain high impact spells that you will want to counter, such as Mutilate from the BG deck or even Thragtusk from the any of the green decks playing the beast. Since they aren’t particularly fast, bring in the counterspells. Unflinching Courage tends to come out unless you anticipate races. In that case you can take out Strangleroot Geist instead, as I do against Junk Reanimator.
Another major deck right now is Kibler’s GR aggro deck from Worlds. This matchup is rather favorable. The metagame move from a RG deck with Burning-Tree Emissary to a GR deck without the powerful two drop has slowed things down. Against the heavy Red aggro decks, Hexproof is usually a turn behind and needs to buy time with lifelink or Fog. The slightly slower aggro decks however are not playing the one and two drops that put you in that position, allowing you to be the faster deck. Unflinching Courage is less important but incredible when you do have it. In order to compete with your damage output they need some combination of Ghor-Clan Rampager and Hellrider. Merely having one is usually not enough.
Sideboarding is not as straight forward against this matchup as I believe who is on the play is relevant. The cards warranting a move to the main are Fiendslayer Paladin, Fog, and Spell Rupture. Fiendslayer is good in either position. Fog and Spell Rupture need to be timed correctly meaning you have to put yourself in a spot to cast them effectively. The tempo differences stemming from who’s on the play determines which card should be sided in. When on the draw it is difficult to leave up two mana for an opposing Hellrider while still progressing one’s own board state. It’s important to do the later as you are the beatdown. You need to be aggressive and close the game out quickly. It is much easier, however, to leave one mana up while still playing an aura or two drop on turn three. Fog may not deal with the Hellrider the way countering it would, but it does buy yourself some time against a fast start from the GR deck. Fog can also blank a bloodrushed Rampager, which Rupture obviously cannot. On the play it is much easier to start ahead. In that position you want to do whatever you can to stutter the opponent’s start. Spell Rupture does the job nicely, since it should also be easier to cast threats early enough to keep the mana available for the counter.
Regardless of which position I am in, I take out Strangleroot Geist. As pointed out, the GR deck is slower than its red cousins and so needing an early blocker is less important. Strangleroot is also not as likely to get in much damage.
A plus as a Hexproof player in this matchup is that many GR players are uncertain of how they should be siding against you. In particular, many are overvaluing Burning Earth. That is to say they value it and board it in. While great against the UWx decks that don’t commit to the board, the enchantment should not be effective against three color aggressive decks. Such decks should be ahead on board by the time Burning Earth gets cast that is is unlikely to matter. Last week an opponent on the play cast Burning Earth on turn three and a second on turn four. I easily won that game. There is no need to fear Burning Earth so that even if you see it one game, do not over adjust and bring in the Ray of Revelation. You cannot afford the potentially dead card. Simply get ahead on board and keep it that way.
A more challenging set of matchups are the UWx flash/control decks. Some of theses decks are the worst matchups for Hexproof, though I do not think any are unwinninable. The more non-targeted removal they have access to the more difficult things are for you. The most annoying of these are Celestial Flare and Renounce the Guilds. Both can be difficult to play around and may show up maindeck. Beware of them and do your best to play around them if you can.
Against them, Rancor and Strangleroot Geist are absolute all stars. They are the only means you have at card advantage while they have Sphinx’s Revelation and board sweepers. The great thing about them besides their resilience is their ability to affect damage output the turn you cast them. Everything you can do to speed up your clock is important. The trample from Rancor can also be helpful in attacking through Augur of Bolas or Snapcaster Mage.
General strategy against them is to commit as few threats as possible to the board to minimize the effect of Supreme Verdict and its ilk. Against the non-Esper builds this typically means one creature is sufficient with a minimum number of enchantments. If the second aura speeds the clock up one turn but it is still after they could Verdict, unless it’s Rancor, hold it back. You need to pose a decent threat after the Wrath. When I can I like to leave back Strangleroot Geist as my first creature after a sweeper to generate damage immediately.
For the Esper builds that have access to Far//Away or Devour Flesh, you need to keep at least two creatures on the table, three if they can fuse Far//Away. In those instances it is worth playing out Strangleroot for the same reasons you want him against Jund’s Lilianas. Selesnya Charm’s mode of making a 2/2 at instant speed is also rather good against these decks. Often the Esper player tries to go for the blowout of playing the edict effect in response to an aura. Having Selesnya Charm there effectively counters the edict and punishes the opponent for trying to get extra value out of his or her card.
Sideboarding is fairly simple against these UWx decks. Card economy is important. You can’t lose too many cards to a Supreme Verdict or Terminus otherwise you won’t have a clock and they can start chaining Revelations. In order to make the deck less vulnerable to such cards, I take out many of the enchantments, specifically Unflinching Courage and Ethereal Armor. I bring in the counterspells, Rootborn Defenses, and Voice of Resurgence. My plan is to become as close to Craig Wescoe’s GW deck from Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze as possible without committing too many cards to doing so.
A major difference between my plan and others that I have seen is the use of Mending Touch in place of Rootborn Defences and the leaving in of enchantments. Both plans have their merits, but don’t mix the two. Mending Touch is good if you still intend to make only one large creature. To do so you need most of your auras still in the deck. I’m not certain what gets taken out instead, but you have to keep the aura count high for this plan to work. My plan is to become a more generic GW aggro deck. I will play out more creatures at a time in sideboarded games because I have Rootborn Defenses to save them all. Additionally, Voice of Resurgence acts like Strangleroot Geist by leaving behind a threat even when your opponent has the removal spell while also changing the dynamic of when he or she can effectively cast spells. Raymond Tan went with the Mending Touch plan in his GP win and noticeably did not have Voice anywhere in his 75. The bottom line is pick a means for attacking this matchup and commit to it. Don’t mix together different sideboard plans without understanding how to implement what you settle on profitably.
Lastly I want to cover an archetype on the rise, The Aristocrats. The traditional BWR version just took home the trophy in Cincinnati while another copy finished fourth in Baltimore the week prior. The Junk version finished second in the Baltimore event as well. I mention these decks because I think they may actually be Hexproof’s worst matchup. I have only managed to win one match against the Junk version in the last two months or so while posting about a 50% win percentage against the BWR build. The trouble is Hexproof has very few cards that can interact with the Aristocrats. The Charms are good if Skirsdag High Priest gets turned on, but they don’t deal with the root problem or the High Priest himself or the sac outlet that turns him on.
Also both decks make good use of Gather the Townsfolk and/or Lingering Souls such that chump blocking is a viable option for them if not gang blocking to take down the behemoth you have put together. The combination of trample and first strike is potent but won’t always come up. Blood Artist also lets the Aristocrats player turn the army of tokens back into life to keep the game going or into pings to end the game in his or her favor.
Given this, the best way to win is to find Invisible Stalker and load him up as much as possible. They can block too well for any other creature to reliably get the job done. Not to mention they do play a certain number of removal spells that can take down Loxodon Smiters or Strangleroot Geists. I have been able to overload the board against WBR with such creatures, but it is much more difficult against Junk due to Varolz, the Scar Stripped and Voice of Resurgence’s elemental token. These two cards also make it easier for Junk to go on the offensive while you have poor blocking options.
The original reason Rest In Peace was added to the sideboard was for these two decks. It is perfect for shutting off their engines while also contributing to the enchantment count for Ethereal Armor. Still the lack of removal spells puts us at a disadvantage. I’ve been bringing in the Spell Ruptures in hopes of hitting one of their key pieces, but the synergy of their deck is in part along tribal lines and thus they are one of the few decks still playing a non-zero amount of Cavern of Souls. Coming out is Strangleroot Geist. On top of his lack of synergy with bringing in Rest In Peace, I’ve found his undying to be a liability when multiple otherwise blank removal spells hit him to create relevant Blood Artist triggers.
If you expect a metagame with a high concentration of Junk Aristocrats, I would consider adding more Rest In Peaces to the board or finding room for Pithing Needle or Detention Sphere like Tan. The other side of the coin is if you want to line up well against Hexproof, consider Junk Aristocrats.
That’s it for my analysis on Bant Hexproof. I will give it one last hurrah in paper next weekend at the SCG Open in Atlanta and will continue to jam it on Magic Online until Theros hits.
Thanks for reading,
Hologram001 on MTGO
*Pillar of Flame changes this equation, though I do not see many Pillars in Jund anymore.