Hedron Crab Vengevine Modern

Once Upon a Vine in Modern

After revisiting Throne of Eldraine in Modern yesterday, today I want to share a sweet brew made possible by some of the new cards: the return of Vengevine!

Once Upon a Vine

Once Upon a TimeVengevine

Daniel Goetschel aka Gul Dukat (and @Bashir_____ on Twitter) is to credit for the brew. I’ve made almost no changes to the original decklist besides messing with different sideboard options.

It’s possible there is a little tunnel vision involved, but I feel like the maindeck is extremely tight and haven’t really thought about changing 59 of the 60.

Crabvine in Modern

1 Breeding Pool
2 Darkslick Shores
2 Overgrown Tomb
3 Watery Grave
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Polluted Delta
1 Marsh Flats
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Hedron Crab
4 Gravecrawler
4 Stitcher's Supplier
4 Bloodghast
4 Merfolk Secretkeeper/Venture Deeper
4 Prized Amalgam
4 Vengevine
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Once Upon a Time
1 Collective Brutality
4 Creeping Chill

Sideboard
3 Collective Brutality
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Damping Sphere
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Force of Vigor
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns

The deck is basically one-third lands, a third enablers and a third graveyard payoffs. I’m counting OUAT as an enabler here as its best use is probably to search for Hedron Crab which is the “best card in the deck.”

Hedron Crab

Merfolk Secretkeeper is better than Tome Scour as it leaves behind a creature to bring back Vengevine after milling yourself. These decks are notoriously bad at blocking, and the 0/4 body can come in handy–and it being blue has been relevant against Sword of Feast and Famine.

Once Upon a Time makes the deck way more consistent and lets you keep many more opening hands.

Grisly Salvage is likely superior to Satyr Wayfinder since it digs one card deeper and being able to pick a creature can be very relevant to bringing back Vengevine on turn three. You’re also usually still very happy to cast a Hedron Crab on turn three.

The deck most likely wants 19 or 20 lands, which leaves you with 0-1 flex slots. People have suggested cards like Gurmag Angler or Carrion Feeder, but you can’t really afford to play too many cards that aren’t graveyard enablers or graveyard payoffs.

While the deck has seemed strong so far (13-3 in leagues and 4-4 in the MOCS playoff), one of its biggest problems is that you have to good way to get rid of your extra recursive creatures. The original list had Stichwing Skaab, which is a cross between an enabler and a payoff, but I personally haven’t tried it yet.

One reasonable option is some number of Collective Brutality, as it gives you some ways to interact with your opponent as well as serving as an enabler for discarding cards.

The original list had a Blood Crypt in the sideboard as well as 4 Ancient Grudge, but I’m not a fan of the extra splash. It might not seem like a huge cost, but having to fetch for Blood Crypt early in the game can be really awkward and even when you mill a Grudge, just having to spend that one green mana can sometimes not be worth it given that your deck relies heavily on the early turns and being as explosive as possible. Another issue I have is that one of the most annoying artifacts against you is Grafdigger’s Cage, which will just stop you from flashing back Grudge anyways.
It can be nice to have access to a Grudge or two in some matchups and it’s possible there is a middle ground, but unless decks like Affinity are a big part of the meta, I don’t think you need more than that. Right now, the artifact deck in Modern, Urza Outcome, doesn’t even care that much about Grudge and I think you’re better off bringing a Brutality or two to deal with Emry + Paradoxical Outcome and maybe a Damping Sphere or two as well.

Gameplay and Sideboarding

  • The number one tip would be to mulligan very aggressively. You’re ideally looking for at least two lands and at least two enablers in your opening hand but you might even want to mulligan such a hand if one of the enablers isn’t a Hedron Crab. For example, I would mulligan a hand like 2 Merfolk Secretkeeper, 3 lands, a Bloodghast and a Vengevine, but keep the same hand if it had a Crab instead of a Merfolk and also keep Merfolk Secretkeeper, Stitcher’s Supplier, Gravecrawler, Once Upon a Time, 2 lands and a Vengevine.
  • The deck doesn’t need too many cards to operate and in some ways, the London mulligan helps you since you’re getting rid of graveyard payoff cards and thanks to fetches are shuffling them back in to mill them later. I think that is very relevant so don’t be scared to go down to six, five or even four cards.
  • You ideally want to lead with Watery Grave into Supplier or Venture Deeper on turn one into Hedron Crab plus fetchland on turn two, unless you have multiple Crabs–then go ahead and play one right away.
  • When you play a land and mill yourself with Crab, you want to make sure you stack triggers properly and resolve Bloodghast coming into play last in case you mill extra Amalgams. You might also want to cast Grisly Salvage while the Bloodghast trigger is on the stack for the same reasons.
  • Always keep track of which lands you have milled as it happens frequently that the deck runs out of lands to search for. In some cases, you might want to sacrifice your fetchland while the first Crab trigger is on the stack so that you don’t risk milling the last of your fetchable land(s).

Sideboarding with the deck has been incredibly challenging–especially when you don’t really know what kind of hate you are up against–which is one of the reasons I’ve wanted to rely on Oko, Thief of Crowns. It might not directly deal with Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace, but it gives you a very solid plan B and can in theory singlehandedly take over a game. It is really good at punishing very reactive hands as well as opponents who are willing to mulligan very aggressively to their hate as it will be much harder for them to deal with a turn-three Oko if they started the game with five cards including a Leyline.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

Just like with any of these self-mill decks, it is also complicated to sideboard as normal card valuation kind of goes out of the window. You’re not comparing the effect of a card to another straight-up, as you have to factor in that the reactive card you bring has no value when it is milled. In the same way, any enablers you board out makes the rest of your payoff cards slightly worse.

A rule of thumb is to sideboard lightly, trim some of the weakest enablers and payoff cards depending on the matchup, usually Secretkeeper or Supplier in grindy matchups and maybe some Grisly Salvage in the more goldfishy ones as well as maybe some number of Creeping Chill if you’re not exactly racing or don’t especially need the reach in the late game. It can be tempting to cut Once Upon a Time, but I think you pretty much always want to keep all four as your land count is low and it helps you find Hedron Crab.

Another general rule is to not just bring in a card because it will “do something,” but only bring it in if it’s extremely strong in the matchup (an easy example is Collective Brutality against Burn) or because it solves an otherwise very hard to beat problem (Force of Vigor and Oko against opponents with Leyline).

The sideboard is definitely not set in stone, but I’ve found that relying on Assassin’s Trophy to deal with Leylines, Rest in Peace etc. isn’t exactly a winning strategy as the cost is so high. It’s possible Nature’s Claim, the go-to answer of Dredge, might also be suitable for this deck even though the life gain hurts you more than a Dredge deck that is usually going to have more staying power but be less explosive.

Crabs and Vines Everywhere

I was literally about to write a paragraph about how Glimpse the Unthinkable probably doesn’t belong in the deck when scrolling down through Twitter, I saw Andreas Ganz had won a 132-player PTQ during Magicfest Utrecht with his own take on the archetype, of course with four copies of Glimpse.

Glimpse the Unthinkable

Andreas Ganz, 1st at PTQ

2 Swamp (339)
3 Marsh Flats
3 Verdant Catacombs
4 Polluted Delta
3 Bloodstained Mire
3 Watery Grave
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Gravecrawler
4 Hedron Crab
4 Stitcher's Supplier
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Narcomoeba
4 Prized Amalgam
4 Vengevine
4 Memory Sluice
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
4 Creeping Chill

Sideboard
3 Fatal Push
4 Force of Negation
2 Assassin's Trophy
1 Blood Crypt
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Leyline of the Void
1 Shenanigans

 

I decided to give the deck a try and it seems strong so far, maybe even a better version than Gul Dukat’s take. The major difference in my eyes is that Andreas didn’t even use any of the new cards.

While the deck doesn’t see much play at all, it has been around for very long. I’m assuming it’s one of Andreas’ pet Modern decks and he figured the field was still fairly soft to graveyard decks. He maybe also wanted something a little more explosive than Dredge to fight the other decks trying to goldfish (even though I’ll admit I’m a total Dredge newbie and don’t really know how fast the deck goldfishes).

I played some with the original list and here were my first impressions:

  • Narcomoeba over Bloodghast made sense because it lets you bring back Prized Amalgam on turn two with Glimpse the Unthinkable.
  • Even though Darkslick Shores can be nice, I think this mana base was an improvement but still a bit sketchy, and I wanted a third source of green. The second Swamp is a nice security blanket, but having access to black mana isn’t going to save you against a Blood Moon anyways and you’re not going to miss it often except maybe against U/W Control.
  • I’m still not a fan about the red splash in the sideboard, but I do like the 2 Grudge, 1 Shenanigans mix better than just all Grudges.
  • It hurts to not have Collective Brutality even though Push can be better against Scavenging Ooze and Brutality is worse in this version as you have Narcomoeba over Bloodghast so you have fewer “value” discards.
  • Force of Negation impressed me. It’s fairly flexible as it can deal with Rest in Peace early in the game but also can be hardcast to counter a Cryptic Command later. I was surprised at how often I had the extra blue card available even after mulliganing, and it’s possible I wasn’t bringing in the card often enough in general.
  • I still don’t like the feel of Assassin’s Trophy as an answer to cards like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void, and I wanted to make room for Once Upon a Time.

As far as results, I went 4-1 in my first league with the PTQ-winning list, only losing a close one to a Burn opponent who drew three RiP in two sideboard games. I only brought in Fatal Push for game two and added Trophy for game three and I’m not sure if I should have had some number of Force of Negation. I Trophied their only RiP in game three, but it wasn’t enough.

I then decided to cut the red from the sideboard and got myself a 5-0, even though I’m not sure the changes made a huge difference.

Finally, I decided to trim some Carrion Feeder, Memory Sluice and a land to fit three OUAT and two Merfolk Secretkeeper in. I got myself a second trophy in a row, having one especially close match against U/W Stoneforge and dropping another game when I didn’t respect my Grixis opponent in game two, didn’t sideboard anything in and lost to a combination of Yixlid Jailer and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. I brought in two Collective Brutality and three Oko for the third game and had a Brutality ready for their Jailer.

Here is my current list:

Updated Crabvine

3 Overgrown Tomb
3 Marsh Flats
3 Verdant Catacombs
3 Watery Grave
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
4 Gravecrawler
4 Hedron Crab
4 Stitcher's Supplier
2 Carrion Feeder
4 Narcomoeba
4 Prized Amalgam
4 Vengevine
2 Merfolk Secretkeeper/Venture Deeper
2 Memory Sluice
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
4 Creeping Chill
3 Once Upon a Time

Sideboard
2 Collective Brutality
3 Force of Negation
2 Nature's Claim
4 Leyline of the Void
3 Oko, Thief of Crowns
1 Damping Sphere

I would really want to make room for the fourth OUAT and might just try going down to 18 lands by cutting a fetchland. I still haven’t brought in Nature’s Claim so I’m not sure how effective it is and it’s possible that with 4 OUAT in the deck, you can play at least one copy of Force of Vigor in the sideboard.

Besides that, I like the list and think the deck is very strong. Graveyard hate is still fairly low. U/W players sometimes don’t have Rest in Peace and other archetypes rely on Ashiok, Dream Render as a hedge against Ramp decks, which is not nearly as scary as some of the other hate. If things change, it will be interesting to see how resilient this archetype can be and how it will compare to Dredge.

I’ve still only got thirty matches in total with the different lists, so as usual don’t take everything I said as gospel and let me know what your experience has been if you had a chance to give the deck a try.

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