Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis may be getting the ban hammer just a few months after its introduction into the modern format, but don’t try to unload your copies just yet. He is still legal in commander as well as the other cards that make the modern deck function.
At first glance, Hogaak is an 8/8 for seven mana, pretty good looking at those raw stats.
Moving on to the keywords: delve, convoke, and trample. Trample is pretty straight forward as it’s an evergreen mechanic. Convoke first appeared in Ravnica: City of Guilds as the Selesnya mechanic. It means that instead of tapping lands to pay a card’s casting cost, you can tap your creatures to help cast the card. Delve was revealed in Future Sight and later became a more prominent mechanic in the Tarkir block. It lets you exile cards from your graveyard to pay for a card’s casing cost. This should make Hogaak fairly easy to cast.
Looking at the rest of the card, it reads that you cannot pay mana to cast it so you must use the convoke and delve mechanics. The last part says that Hogaak can be cast from the graveyard. This is actually very good because he avoids the command zone tax (they seem to be coming out with a lot of cards like this lately).
So let’s see some possible cards to run alongside Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.
In an attempt to slow down the modern deck, Wizards also banned the card Bridge From Below before looking to Hogaak. This is an interesting enchantment that needs to be in your graveyard to be active. Whenever a nontoken creature is put into the graveyard from the battlefield, you make a 2/2 zombie token. Sounds great, but when your opponent has a creature go to their graveyard, you have to exile Bridge from Below.
The modern deck gets around this by running Leyline of the Void, which prevents cards from going into the opponents’s graveyards. You can use both of these cards in this deck. Looking at similar effects, you can also run Desecrated Tomb and Open the Graves. Both of these cards make tokens when a creature either enters or leaves the graveyard. Now you can’t rely on Hogaak alone to do this, so you also want anything that can leave the graveyard, bonus points if it can return to the battlefield like Reassembling Skeleton. Cards with Undying and Unearth can be useful for this strategy, but I prefer things that won’t exile themselves after coming back so that I can continue to get value out of them. I would advise you to do the same if possible.
Although some creatures will be able to bring themselves back, others won’t. To remedy this you should consider reanimation effects like Reanimate, Hell’s Caretaker, Zombify, Blood for Bones, and Ever After. There are also cards that we want to enable us to self mill ourselves a little bit: Glowspore Shaman, Stitcher’s Supplier, maybe even some things with Dredge. Underrealm Lich would be a great card for this deck since it fuels the graveyard for Hogaak’s delve ability and we can pick the best of three when we draw a card.
Since this is a token deck, it does require quite a few pieces to put together. Luckily, black has plenty of tutor cards that you can take advantage of: Diabolic Tutor, Diabolic Intent, Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor (if you can afford it), Behold the Beyond, and Masterminds Acquisition. You don’t necessarily need all of these, but a handful will definitely help. Speaking of tutoring for cards, let’s go ahead and cover the green ramp package. Now you can’t cast Hogaak with the mana, but you do have other spells that you need to cast and there are a few spells with X in their mana cost so you will want to pump as much mana into these as possible and I’ll talk about them later. I like the ramp cards that can pull two or more lands, Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Circuitous Route, and Fertilid to name a few.
As I mentioned above, this is a token deck and we need some more cards that go well with tokens. Skullclamp for card draw, Beastmaster Ascension, and Eldrazi Monument will pump our creatures, Ghoulcaller Gisa is good for token producing shenanigans, and Ashnod’s Altar for mana. We can also make use of Mycoloth to eat a bunch of tokens, get huge, and give us even more tokens next turn. These tokens will inevitably die so we can use things like Dictate of Erebos, Zulaport Cutthroat, Blood Artist, and Bloodflow Connoisseur to get even more value out of them. Since Hogaak has a power greater than its casting cost, you can sacrifice him to Ghoulcaller Gisa which will create 8 2/2 zombie tokens. You can then convoke the zombie tokens you just made to bring Hogaak back into play. Now if you can find a way to continuously untap Gisa and generate 1 black mana, you can go infinite with zombie tokens. You can also run Doubling Season and Parallel Lives to get even more tokens.
Once you have a bunch of tokens, you can start sacrificing them to Ashnod’s Altar for insane amounts of mana. Now, what to do with it all? X spells like Hydras are a good option, but I also like some of the black spells like Exsanguinate, Torment of Hailfire, and Entreat the Dead. Some of these can easily eliminate a player. Although not an X spell, Glistening Oil is still a great game ender that few players will see coming. Attached to Hogaak, Glistening Oil will nearly end the game. Sure he gets a -1/-1 counter each turn, but he has 8 power and trample, so he can easily get through for some infect. Even if an opponent has a way to get rid of Hagaak while he is enchanted, the enchantment goes back to your hand so you can easily enchant another creature. Ideally, you want to get Hogaak back into play and use it on him if he dies.
An alternate win condition that might go well in this deck is Alter of Dementia, but it depends on how well your deck makes tokens or how big creatures with X in their casting cost like Endless One can get. Mill could be a viable strategy in a deck like this. With the Alter, all you need to do is sacrifice a creature and the altar mills your opponent for an amount equal to its power. Sacrificing 30-40 zombie tokens could work; Hogaak himself would have to be sacrificed to the altar about 10 times. Combined with Zulaport Cutthroat, all those sacrificed tokens will also ping your opponents. See which will run out first, their life total or their deck.
Big creatures like Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, are hardly ever expendable. Most of the time you want to protect them and use them to smash through your opponent’s field. Hogaak can certainly do that, but it’s also very easy to use him in ways that are typically combined with smaller creatures. A deck like this doesn’t necessarily need Hogaak in order to function either and there are still more ways to build around a commander like Hogaak so feel free to experiment and build something that fits your play style. What do you think of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis? It may be too good in modern, but that’s okay; it’s welcome with open arms in commander. Is there a commander you want to see next? Let me know in the comments below.