A Faithless Looting Eulogy Part 1
It's time to say goodbye to one of Modern's defining cards, Faithless Looting. Rone does so by singing the praises of each archetype it helped enable, while discussing the futures of these archetypes in a post-looting world. This time, Rone covers the big three - Izzet Phoenix, Dredge, and the Hogaak Menace itself.
A Moment of Silence
It happened… it finally happened.
Faithless Looting was banned in Modern! To all my fellow looting lovers: let's take a moment to remember all the amazing moments this card brought us in the Modern format.
The announcement was a big shock to me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The card had definitely reached the breaking point and we got to have our fun with it. The graveyard dominance in Modern had to stop at some point, and that day 26. August. 2019 – which, fun fact, was my birthday, so it was an extra shocking "present" from WotC.
Everyone knew Hogaak, the Arisen Necropolis was probably on its way out, given its outlandishly high win rates, and clearly aiming at other pieces of the strategy wasn't going to get them anywhere after Bridge from Belows ejection from the format.
Stoneforge Mystic was also on everyones radar, given how much the player base wanted the Kor Artificer to return, and return she did. What players didn't expect (or at least I didn't expect), is that they wouldn't stop with Hogaak, instead taking aim at all graveyard decks, feeling that they had their time in the sun and that the format needed a break.
That's enough complaining though. Instead of just mourning what many of my decks have lost, I thought it would be better to take a look at what the card enabled, from the best of the best to the fringe decks that depended on looting. Let's take a "loot" on the bright side and take a look at the top decks that miss the best red draw spell since Wheel of Fortune.
1. Hogaak Decks
I probably don't need to explain that this deck is just gone, at least in its current form, from Modern. Without the namesake Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Faithless Looting, the deck seems completely in the past. This being said, I'm sure that Vengevine will find another home sooner or later, as it's an absurdly powerful card and it's hard to believe it can't find some way to make its presence known in Modern. It's just a matter of time.
Modern Hoogak Combo, Simon Nielsen, MagicFest Las Vegas 2019
|2Blood Crypt||4Bloodghast||1Altar of Dementia|
|2Bloodstained Mire||4Carrion Feeder||1Shriekhorn|
|1Blooming Marsh||1Cryptbreaker||1Assassin's Trophy|
|1Dryad Arbor||1Glowspore Shaman||1Fatal Push|
|2Overgrown Tomb||4Gravecrawler||1Collective Brutality|
|3Polluted Delta||4Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis||4Faithless Looting|
|4Verdant Catacombs||4Satyr Wayfinder|
|3Wooded Foothills||4Stitcher's Supplier|
|2Collective Brutality||2Fatal Push||3Force of Vigor|
|4Leyline of the Void||2Nature's Claim||2Thoughtseize|
You might be wondering what you should do while waiting for Vengevine's glorious resurgence. I'd personally recommend either that you move toward Dredge, the now de facto best graveyard deck in Modern, which shares part of the Jund mana-base as well as some creatures like Bloodghast and some sideboard choices. If you are eager to jump into another archetype altogether, Jund is a fine place to be in the new Modern, but those Wrenn and Six and Liliana of the Veil aren't cheap, so get your wallet ready.
Finally, there is still a chance to play the Hogaak deck itself! It's been picking up steam in another format: Legacy. The format has definitely been suffering from Hogaak fever lately, and Bridge from Below is perfectly legal in Legacy, so Altar of Dementia runs rampant. Just check this out the list below from the latest Legacy Challenge in August. Hogaak Summer may still be going yet… just in another format.
Hogaak Combo, Naren21, Legacy Challenge 25.08.2019
|4Marsh Flats||4Carrion Feeder||4Cabal Therapy|
|4Polluted Delta||4Gravecrawler||4Faithless Looting|
|2Scrubland||4Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis||4Altar of Dementia|
|3Swamp||4Stitcher's Supplier||4Bridge from Below|
|1Goblin Bombardment||2Rotting Regisaur||1Shenanigans|
|3Thoughtseize||4Wear // Tear|
All it takes is four Entomb and Cabal Therapy, and five dual lands (I know, but at least they're not blue) and you can combo off as fast as turn two with a zombie army ready to mill your opponents out. Obviously changing formats is a big commitment, and Legacy specifically is not that cheap of a format, but if you're committed to Hogaak, then you can continue playing it if you're willing to make the switch.
Although Hogaak was the best graveyard deck since its explosion onto the scene, Dredge had been a top tier contender the second Creeping Chill was printed. Unfortunately, while it was still powerful, it just wasn't as resilient as the 'gaak and wasn't quite as explosive.
Make no mistake though. The deck isn't weak and while Looting is a big hit, Dredge is perhaps the best suited of the graveyard decks to move past the ban as there are some suitable replacements:
Dredge, Jake Peralez, SCG Modern Classic Dallas 2019
|1Arid Mesa||4Bloodghast||4Cathartic Reunion|
|1Blood Crypt||2Golgari Thug||2Conflagrate|
|2Bloodstained Mire||4Narcomoeba||4Creeping Chill|
|3City of Brass||4Prized Amalgam||4Life from the Loam|
|2Copperline Gorge||4Stinkweed Imp||4Tome Scour|
|1Abrupt Decay||2Alpine Moon||2Ancient Grudge|
|1Blast Zone||1Darkblast||3Lightning Axe|
No Faithless Looting here, but this deck still managed a 1st place finish in the hands of Jake Peralez. Shriekhorn is definitely the key, being your go-to turn 1 play. Much like looting, it's a reusable way of putting cards in the graveyard, giving you both a potential turn two dredge and the ability to mill six cards over three turns. The second important step is the blue splash for Tome Scour and or Hedron Crab, which also help replace the gap left by looting.
Looting was the best card in those slots (though Shriekhorn has some advantages over it), but the format as slowed down since the ban, which might mean the deck can take the hit. Additionally, the deck benefits greatly by the reduction in graveyard hate in players' sideboards. When facing the new kids on the block, namely Stoneforge Mystic, the best path forward (pre-sideboard at least) is to go fast. Ignore what they're doing and focus on ending the game as soon as possible.
3. U/R Phoenix
And now we're to one of my personal favorites – the deck that combined Faithless Looting and Arclight Phoenix to create a top tier deck that dominated for quite a while in Modern. Those two cards were like Bonnie and Clyde, so now that the red sorcery is gone, Arclight Phoenix feels like its lost. But there are trailblazers trying to find a home for the phoenix.
U/R Phoenix was a top contender before Hogaak dominated the scene and even during Hogaak's Summer, people were still leaving up their Arclights, fighting back with main deck Surgical Extraction and some Ravenous Trap in the sideboard.
This deck was definitely hit harder than most (outside of Hogaak, clearly). It lost the center piece of the machine that allowed turn two or turn three double Phoenix. Looting played double duty too, being a spell twice-over for Thing in the Ice / Awaken Horror and it could also filter for matchup specific cards extremely well, allowing for things like main deck Surgical.
There is no natural replacement for it like with Dredge. Tome Scour isn't enough. It doesn't allow you to discard your Phoenixes and adding more cantrips isn't helpful. The deck needs a looter, but another two mana looter is probably not enough by itself.
U/R Phoenix, Aspiringspike, Modern League 06.09.2019
|2Fiery Islet||4Arclight Phoenix||3Force of Negation|
|3Flooded Strand||4Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror||4Izzet Charm|
|2Scalding Tarn||1Magmatic Sinkhole|
|3Steam Vents||4Thought Scour|
|2Chart a Course|
|4Sleight of Hand|
|3Aria of Flame|
|1Abrade||2Alpine Moon||2Anger of the Gods|
|3Dragon's Claw||2Narset, Parter of Veils||1Shenanigans|
|2Spell Pierce||2Surgical Extraction|
Izzet Charm to the rescue! It is way slower than Looting, but it has some upsides. Modal spells are great because of their versatility and Izzet Charm has always been borderline playable, but a little weak given that none of its modes are individually powerful. Moreover, the fact that you can play it on your opponents turn means you can wait until the coast is clear and, afterwards. throw your Phoenixes in the bin.
In a Stoneforge world, Izzet Charm is the top contender for a looting replacement. It can deal with the Kor on turn two or it can counter a relevant spell like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or a hard-casted Batterskull.
As we saw with Dredge, the deck is less explosive without Looting. There are no turn two shenanigans here unless you find double Manamorphose into charm and that's why you need to be more reactive. Thus, the deck chooses to run three copies of Force of Negation. The other main deck additions are Chart a Course and Lightning Axe, both of which were played in previous iterations and now they serve as extra discard outlets.
One final thought before we move on, Throne of Eldraine is releasing in the next month and the spoiler season might have a nice surprise for Phoenix lovers: The Royal Scions is a new three mana planeswalker in Izzet colors that basically loots a card with its plus ability. The second ability is a bit clunky in a deck with only eight creatures, but it could make our Awoken Horror immune to chump-blockers. Also it starts at five loyalty, so it's very very hard to kill when it comes down on turn three… and it's ultimate, while not always game-ending, will likely put you so far ahead that it's difficult for them to come back.
I'm not saying that this card is an auto-include but it could serve as a one off and what's more, I believe that at some point Wizards might print a fixed version of Looting, or simply reprint Careful Study in Modern.
When Birthing Pod was banned, I felt very angry and sold the whole deck straight away, an then, a few months later Collected Company showed up in Dragons of Tarkir, making the deck viable again. So I highly recommend waiting if you are a U/R Phoenix player angry with the changes. Try this version out and be patient, and some day, the deck will, like its titular card, rise from the ashes.
Although I just reviewed the three most iconic Faithless Looting decks, there are several other reasonable archetypes that also suffered the banning and many might become unplayable in the form we knew. As such, I'll be covering them in a second part next time, with some potential replacements (provided people have found some).
I'm not as discouraged as some might think (given how many looting decks I played), and after reading a lot of different opinion in the MTG community, I'm convinced that banning looting is for the better.
I will, however, try to stay away from more cards seemingly on the watchlist, like Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal. Mox Opal especially looks threatened as Urza, Lord High Artificer decks seem to be the real deal.
As usual, thank you so much for reading and please leave your comments or questions below or hit me on my shared Twitter account.
Until next time,
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.