Why else might you want to substitute out cards or strategies? We’ve covered restrictions of budget and format, but there’s another reason you might not want to play an established decklist: because people know it’s coming.
Let’s talk about Bogles.
For a brief window, about this time last year, it looked like hexproof and auras were going to be the It aggro strategy in Modern. Bogle decks were tearing up FNMs and Pro Tours alike, and the price of cards like Kor Spiritdancer and Daybreak Coronet just couldn’t stop rising. Keen Sense is still hovering around $3.50… quite a price for a timeshifted Curiosity. But one year later, MtgTop8 tells me that “Aura Hexproof” accounts for less than 1% of the Modern metagame.
So what happened? Well, nowadays people know it’s there.
Some decks exist only because of their capacity for surprise. The history of Magic is rife with decks that flared up out of nowhere, dominated the metagame for a few months, and then vanished once people started preparing sideboards to deal with them. And with an aura-based deck, one Spellskite is all you need to shut the strategy right on down.
So what do we do if we want to capitalize on the power of hexproof creatures, but don’t want to get wrecked by Spellskites every other game? Well, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know we strip out chunks of the deck, and replace them with something else.
So nuts to Bogles. Let’s talk about Trolls.
The appeal of a hexproof creature is that they can be very, very difficult to get rid of. Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a Geist of Saint Traft knows what it’s like to get physically angry at a useless Doom Blade, just sitting there in your hand. Doing nothing. Contributing nothing to the game. Mocking you.
Add regeneration, and an already difficult-to-kill creature becomes removable only with a small number of very specific cards. With auras, the appeal is obvious: stack up auras to create a giant creature, without worrying that two mana will knock out your entire win condition.
But it turns out there are other reasons to use a nigh-unkillable creature. For instance, our pal Worship up there. Worship keeps you away from lethal damage as long as a creature’s still hanging around. Trolls will just pull up a lawn chair, grab a beer without asking, and ask what we’re having for dinner tonight, no matter how many times you yawn, check your watch, and mention work tomorrow. You can use the rest of the game to pick your opponent off bit by bit, secure in the knowledge that unless they take out your Worship, you pretty much can’t be killed.
Mind you, taking out one enchantment isn’t the world’s tallest order. And it’s not like trolls can’t be killed, it’s just very, very hard to do so. So mabye we ought to put a few more cards in here, instead of just slapping the dust off our hands and calling it a day.
Basically what we’re building here is a pillow fort deck. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it basically means we’re going to build a big old fort, hang a sign on the front that says, “no opponents allowed,” and hide in it. It’s a term that comes up more often in Commander, but what the heck, we’re going to apply the strategy to Modern, because we’re just straight-up rebels.
Ghostly Prison will reinforce our fort. In the early turns, it’ll make our opponents choose between attacking and casting spells. And in the long run, it’ll contribute to the overall number of enchantments in the deck. And I dunno, maybe that’ll be relevant a few paragraphs down the page. Let’s find out together.
Like we said earlier, it’s not as though trolls can’t be killed. So it’s a good idea to send them out with a little backup. Stirring Wildwood, like all manlands, will survive a Wrath of God, a Damnation, or any other board sweeper that takes out an ostensibly unkillable creature. And Worship doesn’t need you to have a creature on the board every single second of the game; only at the moment damage is applied. With creatures incoming, or a Fireball on the stack, just activate Stirring Wildwood. Worship sees a creature, saves you, and goes back to not caring whether there’s a creature around long before the Wildwood changes back at the end of the turn.
Now this little fella… he gets seriously unkillable. Hexproof and indestructible are a pretty terrifying combination for an opponent who wants to get a creature off the board and wants to do it now. Some effects—non-targeted, non-“destroy”-based effects like Terminus or Merciless Eviction—can still do it. But it’s a very narrow band of cards, many of which see very little play in Modern. If you get this little kitty’s Monstrosity off, chances are he’s around for the long haul.
Now our strategy is starting to come together. But it’s still a little more fragile than we should be shooting for. How about a plan B?
If your Worship gets taken out… and let’s be real, game two, all the enchantment hate is gonna come in off the sideboard… you’re going to have to change your strategy from long game to short. Spirit Mantle gives you functional unblockability on a creature who was already functionally unkillable. That and a +1/+1 on a Thrun, the Last Troll will put your opponent on a very short clock. Throw in an Ethereal Armor and that clock gets even shorter. Even if you get hit with a Back to Nature (not a fun experience for this deck) these cards will help you bounce back much quicker than just waiting for another Worship.
This is also the portion of strategy we’re going to keep from our Bogle inspiration. Auras on hexproof are always powerful, even when they’re not the primary focus of the deck.
Sphere of Safety
At this point, we’re starting to really pile up the enchantments. Enough that this can be considered our backup Worship. If your Worship gets whacked by a Krosan Grip, no problem. Sure your opponent’s creatures can hurt you again… provided they can pay six or seven mana per attack. (Not counting the cost for any Ghostly Prisons you might have on the board.)
So let’s put it all together, shall we?
I, For One, Welcome Our New Troll Overlords
You’ll notice we use Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring in this deck over Path to Exile. Between Ethereal Armor and Sphere of Safety, they’re the smarter choice. By the time your Sphere comes down, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a whole wall of enchantments to go with it.
The downside, as we mentioned earlier, is that this deck is incredibly vulnerable to enchantment sweepers. When you play it, try not to get too greedy… keep a Spirit Mantle or a Ghostly Prison in your hand if you’ve already got one on the board. That way you can recover quickly. If you’re lucky though, your opponent won’t have more than a couple of general targeted enchantment haters in their sideboard like Nature’s Claim or Disenchant, because who plays enchantment-heavy decks? And that’s if they even have those.
After all, they’ll be expecting something they can take out with a Spellskite.
Update: Reader Ben has pointed out an incredibly practical addition to this deck, which provides it with an alternate win condition, and still contributes to the enchantment-stockpile strategy: Near-Death Experience.
I have no idea how this didn’t occur to me from the get-go, because it’s perfect. Worship takes you down to one life and no farther, and Near-Death Experience turns that into a win. The card clocks in at thirty-three cents a pop, so it’s more than budget-friendly, and you even get to win the game with sad, tired Gideon.
Aw, it’s okay Gideon. You got this one, buddy.
If I were building the deck over again now, this would definitely have a place. Nicely spotted, Ben!