“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Pssh. Seems off the mark considering Fear has never been a playable card (in all fairness, FDR passed long before Atogs and Hogaaks roamed the multiverse.)

Fear

Fears and phobias are personal. For instance, I love the idea of bees and believe they should be protected from extinction, but when one buzzes into my personal space? Pure terror.

Killer Bees

Boogeyman is an MTG term used to describe cards and strategies people are afraid to play against, and today’s article will highlight some of the most terrifying boogeymen ever assembled. If my list doesn’t hit the card(s) that have left you shuffling scared, be sure to let me know in the comments! I wanted to cover a lot of ground (all formats, all time), so there’s clearly not going to be room for everything that goes bump in the night. I’ve narrowed it all down to ten selections and a handful of honorable mentions.

Honorable Boogeymen

My honorable mentions are cards that I didn’t feel deserved a place on my top 10 list but are cards that have personally terrified me at some point in time.

Mind Twist

While Mind Twist isn’t a card that sees play now, it was the original boogeyman of early Magic. Mana Drain your spell, untap, and “We’re gonna do the Twist and it goes like this…”

It couldn’t even be Red Blasted! Also, keep in mind that free counterspells like Force of Will and Misdirection didn’t exist, nor did 1 CMC protection like Thoughtseize, Spell Pierce, or Flusterstorm. If you didn’t have UU up, chances were that you were ending up hellbent.

Mind Twist also holds the fanfare of being one of the few cards ever banned from Vintage that did not require ante or dexterity (1996-2000). It was also banned from basically every other format (Standard, Extended, and is still banned in Legacy today).

Urza's Power Plant (Bug)Urza's Mine (Mouth)Urza's Tower (Mountains)

Don’t judge me. This is a safe space for talking about MTG, and Tron has always terrified me. While Tron has a long history of being a Modern boogeyman, I’m learning to fear these three cards all over again in my new favorite format, Pauper, where it has emerged as the top strategy in the format after the most recent bannings.

Nexus of Fate - Foil - Buy-a-Box Promo

I also wanted to include a recent example from Standard, and Nexus of Fate immediately came to mind. What a horrible way to die: boredom.

While the metagame has evolved since War of the Spark to have better answers for combating Simic Nexus, it’s still a frightening and deflating deck to battle against.

I’ve also decided to mix things up for today’s list. Rather than ranking these decks from busted to more busted, I’ve decided to rank them in chronological order to show a progression of how broken decks have looked and changed over time. All of the decks I’ve chosen dominated their respective formats (in some cases, multiple formats!) at various points in time and left an iconic legacy as the strategies we’ve loved to fear and hoped to dodge in the pairings.

Also, keep in mind Magic is 25 years old, and this is merely a top 10 list, so there wasn’t even close to enough room for all the cards and decks that have haunted my dreams. If you’ve got a good one that has given you Recurring Nightmares, be sure to let me know in the comments.

Ok, let’s get to the big boogeys.

#10. Thantophobia (Fear of Death), 1997

Necropotence was the first famous, busted tournament deck I can remember and was the original boogeyman.  

Necropotence

Some might argue the Power 9 and Brian Weissman’s The Deck were the original boogeymen of Magic, but my recollection of that period is a little different. The Power 9 cycled out of print with Revised, which is when Magic started picking up steam and fans. Most people didn’t play Type 1 (what’s now Vintage) because the cards were too expensive and instead played Type 2 (Standard). Some things never change.

Lauerpotence was the first “net deck” I can remember. Some of my friends played it at school, and it was a common antagonist at the small weekly tournaments we attended. It was certainly a deck that I did not want to play against. Hence, the first boogeyman I can recall.

LauerPotence

Randy Buehler

1st, Pro Tour Chicago
4 Badlands
4 Scrubland
2 Bad River
3 Gemstone Mine
3 Lake of the Dead
8 Swamp
4 Order of the Ebon Hand (Benson)
4 Knight of Stromgald
1 Ihsan's Shade
4 Drain Life
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Demonic Consultation
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Incinerate
2 Firestorm
3 Disenchant
4 Necropotence

Sideboard
1 Firestorm
1 Disenchant
3 Pyroblast
3 Terror
2 Mind Warp
2 Circle of Protection: Black
3 Honorable Passage

When Ice Age was released, Inquest Magazine (then the biggest source of MTG information) gave Necropotence their lowest score: 1 star out of a possible 5. Oops!

#9. Scolionophobia (Fear of School), 1999

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to play a deck with four Tolarian Academies. Tempest and Urza Blocks are the two years I did not play Magic, so I missed out on the “fun.”

Tolarian Academy

One forgotten tidbit of terror about the card is it operated under the old “legend rule,” which meant if one player played an Academy (or any legendary permanent), it locked the opponent out from playing theirs. Lin Sivvi Rebels is another great example of this phenomenon that didn’t crack my list.

Zero Effect Academy

Zvi Mowshowitz

1st, Pro Tour New York 

4 Blasted Landscape
3 Drifting Meadow
2 Island
4 Polluted Mire
4 Remote Isle
3 Smoldering Crater
4 Tolarian Academy
4 Frantic Search
4 Fluctuator
3 Lingering Mirage
2 Opportunity
2 Rescind
4 Stroke of Genius
3 Thran Turbine
4 Voltaic Key
1 Yawgmoth's Will

Sideboard
4 Hibernation
2 Island
2 Miscalculation
1 Opportunity
1 Power Sink
2 Rescind
2 Turnabout

Did you notice the Lingering Mirages in the deck? These are to deal with opposing Academies under the old legend rule. It’s also worth noting that non-Academy decks could board in Academies to leverage the legend rule as well.

The funniest Academy story I’ve heard was told to me by Patrick Chapin, who designed a deck called “666 Red.” Academy decks won the game via decking the opponent with Stroke of Genius. He calculated that if the Academy player maximized their resources they could only reasonably force an opponent to draw about 550 cards. The 666 was chosen for the devilish ploy of playing with a 666 card deck that was simply too big to be decked! Unfortunately, the logistics of randomizing a 666 card deck was determined to be impossible for a paper tournament, and the concept never saw the light of day, but that is how deep people were going to find a way to combat Tolarian Academy.

#8. Dentophobia (Fear of Teeth), 2002

The release of Odyssey had a profound effect on how Magic was played thanks to a fairly unassuming basketball-headed, heavily-toothed, psychopathic Atog.

Psychatog

By Atog standards, Psychatog was an A+ Tog. Most of the hype from Odyssey surrounded Jon Finkel’s Invitational design, Shadowmage Infiltrator, which quickly took a backseat to the real menace of the format.

UB Psychatog

Carlos Romao

1st, 2002 World Championship

10 Island
2 Cephalid Coliseum
1 Darkwater Catacombs
4 Salt Marsh
3 Swamp
4 Underground River
4 Nightscape Familiar
4 Psychatog
3 Circular Logic
3 Chainer's Edict
3 Cunning Wish
4 Counterspell
3 Deep Analysis
3 Fact or Fiction
3 Memory Lapse
4 Repulse
2 Upheaval

Sideboard
1 Coffin Purge
4 Duress
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Gainsay
3 Ghastly Demise
1 Hibernation
1 Mana Short
1 Recoil
1 Slay
1 Teferi's Response

For the span of a few years, Psychatog basically took over the game in a way I’ve rarely seen duplicated. The card basically became the dominant strategy in every format.

  • In Type 1 Grow-A-Tog was the best deck by a million miles.
  • I don’t actually known anybody who really played Type 1.5, but I assume Psychatog + Mana Drain + Gush was unbeatable.
  • Psychatog was one of the best decks in Extended, where it had access to Mox Diamond, Gush , and Armageddon.
  • In Standard, Psychatog was one of the most dominant decks I’ve ever seen.

Step 1

Cunning WishMana Short

Step 2

Upheaval

Step 3 

Psychatog

Step 4

Island

Step 5 

Circular Logic

GG.

Psychatog was the toothy face of control and combo control for years. It was even a piece of the original Extended Dredge deck.

On a personal note, my younger brother quit playing Magic because of Psychatog back in 2002. Easily, one of the “top, top” boogeymen of MTG history.

#7. Technophobia (Fear of Machines), 2003

It’s safe to say that Urza Block had some bah-roken cards in it. 

Tinker

The Top 8 of Pro Tour New Orleans 2003 was seven Tinker Decks and a Psychatog player who was adept at dodging Tinker opponents in the Swiss rounds.

George W. Bosh

Rickard Osterberg

1st, Pro Tour New Orleans

4 Ancient Tomb
3 City of Brass
4 City of Traitors
2 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Shivan Reef
1 Bosh, Iron Golem
4 Goblin Welder
1 Masticore
1 Pentavus
1 Platinum Angel
2 Chromatic Sphere
1 Citanul Flute
4 Grim Monolith
3 Lightning Greaves
1 Mindslaver
4 Tangle Wire
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Tinker
3 Voltaic Key

Sideboard
3 Defense Grid
1 Elf Replica
1 Mindslaver
3 Rack and Ruin
2 Shattering Pulse
1 Triskelion
4 Welding Jar

Extended Tinker is one of the most ridiculous MTG decks I’ve ever seen. I played Tinker in Extended before the release of Mirrodin, and it was a great deck, but after Mirrodin it became a house of horrors.

Not only did the deck gain several huge Tinker targets, it also gained artifact lands which could be Tinkered away or used as fuel for Goblin Welder. It also gained Thirst For Knowledge as a way to always stay gassed up.

Is this mana base good for an Extended deck?

City of TraitorsAncient TombSeat of the SynodGreat Furnace

Yikes.

It’s worth noting that Mirrodin’s Tinker effect expanded well beyond Extended. In Vintage, Control Slaver won the Vintage Championship in the hands of Mark Biller amid a sea of Trinistax decks and remained (in my opinion) the best deck in Vintage until the Time Vault errata heralded the rise of the Tezzeret Era.

#6. Robophobia (Fear of Robots), 2004

I wanted to spread the lists out, but there’s just no way of getting around the fact that Mirrodin Block was an absurdly broken block. Both Extended Tinker and Ravager Affinity are in the discussion for most dominant decks of all time in their respective formats.

Ravager Affinity

Aeo Paquette

2nd, 2004 World Championship

3 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Great Furnace
3 Glimmervoid
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Frogmite
4 Ornithopter
4 Disciple of the Vault
2 Somber Hoverguard
4 Welding Jar
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Thoughtcast

Sideboard
4 Seething Song
4 Furnace Dragon
3 Serum Visions
4 Annul

Ravager Affinity dominated the World Championship even after the banning of Skullclamp.

Skullclamp

I’ve seen a lot of broken decks and formats, but the Ravager Affinity era was the one point in time where I worried Magic might actually die because of a mass exodus of players quitting due to frustration and lack of strategic diversity.

The deck that won the event, RG Freshmaker (essentially an anti Ravager Affinity deck), was a close match up, which wasn’t helped by the fact that Paquette’s sideboard was 15 cards for the mirror. The DCI’s play, after already banning Skullclamp, was to hit the doomsday button and ban nearly all the cards in the deck.

#5. Tachophobia (Fear of Speed), 2007

I wanted to be sure to feature Eternal formats as well, and the biggest Legacy boogeyman I can remember was Flash Hulk (Survival of the Fittest, part 2).  

FlashProtean Hulk

Flash Hulk was short-lived and basically limited to Grand Prix Flash (Columbus). The deck could win on the first turn by simply Flashing a Protean Hulk into play. Once the Hulk hit the yard, it began a sequence that involved tutoring directly into play all of the necessary pieces to win the game.

Flash Hulk

Steve Sadin

1st Grand Prix Columbus

3 Flooded Strand
3 Island
4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp
1 Tropical Island
1 Tundra
1 Underground Sea
1 Body Snatcher
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Karmic Guide
4 Dark Confidant
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
4 Protean Hulk
1 Massacre
4 Brainstorm
4 Daze
4 Flash
1 Echoing Truth
4 Force of Will
4 Mystical Tutor
4 Sensei's Divining Top
4 Chrome Mox
4 Counterbalance

Sideboard
3 Massacre
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Quirion Dryad
1 Reverent Silence
3 Swords to Plowshares

It’s staggering how many awesome tools Sadin’s list had access to. Not only did it have a two-card, two-mana combo that won the game, it also had a one mana tutor to find Flash.

Oh, and Counterbalance + Top, because—why not?

#4. Ornithophobia (Fear of Birds), 2011

There were a lot of notable Standard, Extended, and Modern decks between 2005 and 2011: Mystical Teachings, Dredge, Solar Flare, Faeries, and Jund. All of these decks were the boogeymen in their day, but like I said in the introduction, I had to draw the line somewhere for all-time greatest.

Because of the broken disaster that was Mirrodin, things were dialed back considerably during this period. Sure, there were some powerful cards that slipped through the cracks like Bitterblossom and Bloodbraid Elf, but there were not Moxen, artifact lands, and Skullclamps all over the place.

The next boogeyman on my list was a fusion of Zendikar and Scars of Mirrodin.

Caw-Blade

Ben Stark

1st, Pro Tour Paris

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Misty Rainforest
4 Plains
5 Island
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Stoneforge Mystic
3 Gideon Jura
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Day of Judgment
4 Preordain
1 Deprive
3 Mana Leak
4 Spell Pierce
1 Stoic Rebuttal
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sylvok Lifestaff

Sideboard
2 Baneslayer Angel
2 Divine Offering
2 Flashfreeze
1 Negate
4 Oust
3 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sword of Body and Mind

It’s worth noting that Stark’s list is before New Phyrexia which added Mental Misstep, Batterskull, Dismember, and Gitaxian Probe.

Caw-Blade became everything for a period of time. Everyone played Caw-Blade and the only unfavorable matchup was the mirror!

The weekend that the bans of Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor came down, I played in a SCG Invitational having worked on a new Deceiver Twin/Caw-Blade hybrid deck with two other players, Michael Jacobs and Ari Lax, and we had a combined 88% win percentage in Standard.

Caw-Blade is one of the all-time boogeymen, IMHO. I’m confident the deck we played in Standard would be good in current Modern since it featured a ton of cards that are currently banned:

PreordainGitaxian ProbeStoneforge MysticSplinter TwinMental Misstep

Do your threats pass the Jace test? You’d better hope so!

#3. Duoidiaphobia (Fear of Twins), 2015

During its time in Modern, Twin was consistently one of the top performing decks. Other strategies emerged and got banned away, but for the longest time Twin, despite consistent results, always seemed to evade the ban hammer.

UR Twin

Jelger Wiegersma

Top 8, Pro Tour Fate Reforged

1 Mountain
10 Island
3 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Flooded Strand
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Deceiver Exarch
2 Pestermite
4 Serum Visions
2 Sleight of Hand
3 Remand
2 Mana Leak
2 Spell Snare
3 Cryptic Command
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Electrolyze
4 Splinter Twin
2 Blood Moon

Sideboard
1 Blood Moon
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Dispel
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Batterskull
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Nature's Claim

Splinter Twin has the distinction of being one of the longest tenured boogeymen in the history of Magic, in the sense that it was a known “best deck” for a long period of time and across multiple iterations of the format. Everybody knew it was a great deck, tested against it, prepared for it, and had a plan, but it still outperformed the field week after week, year after year.

#2. Megalophobia (Fear of Large Objects), 2016

Lodestone Golem

There were a lot of interesting choices I went back and forth between for Vintage, but ultimately I landed on Aggro Shops with four Lodestone Golem.

Hangarback Shops

Brian DeMars

9th, Vintage Championship 2016

4 Mishra's Workshop
4 Ancient Tomb
4 Wasteland
1 Strip Mine
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Mishra's Factory
3 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Lodestone Golem
4 Phyrexian Revoker
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Tangle Wire
1 Trinisphere
4 Sphere of Resistance
4 Thorn of Amethyst
2 Chalice of the Void
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Crypt
1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Sapphire

Sideboard
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
3 Ghost Quarter
2 Batterskull
2 Dismember
3 Tormod's Crypt
4 Grafdigger's Cage

I’ve played a lot of Workshop decks over the years, and this was the most broken one, even more so than Trinisphere Stax. I missed top 8 on breakers, but I had a big part in innovating the archetype during this format, specifically with regard to Hangarback Walker.

I showed up to Gen Con and won the first tournament for byes at Eternal Weekend with a streamlined Hangarback version of the deck. I handed my paper 75 to my friend Paul Mastriano for the second event, and he won as well. Now that is a mean deck!

Not only did the deck have access to four copies of Lodestone Golem, it also had Chalice of the Void and Thorn of Amethyst.

Thorn of AmethystChalice of the Void

While Brian Kelly ended up winning the Vintage Championship with his uniquely metagamed Oath of Druids list, the format spun out of control in favor of Workshop dominance in the aftermath and led to several archetype-altering restrictions.

#1. Kinemortophobia (Fear of Zombies), 2019

Our story about he scariest boogeymen in the history of tournament Magic ends in the present day with a deck that currently exists in Modern.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis

Hogaak has dominated Modern since its release in Modern Horizons. Before Mythic Championship IV, the DCI banned a card from the deck in order to stop Modern’s newest menace, but in true baller fashion Hogaak has kept on Hogaakin’ the format.

While it didn’t take down MCIV (although it was metrically the best performing deck in the field by a significant margin), it recently asserted dominance at Grand Prix Minneapolis with five copies of the deck in the top 8 and ended up taking home the trophy in the hands of pilot Justin Plocher.

Hogaak

Justin Plocher

1st, Grand Prix Minneapolis

1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Gemstone Mine
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Polluted Delta
1 Steam Vents
1 Swamp
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Watery Grave
4 Bloodghast
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Gravecrawler
4 Hedron Crab
4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
3 Satyr Wayfinder
4 Stitcher's Supplier
4 Vengevine
2 Altar of Dementia
4 Faithless Looting
1 Fatal Push
2 Lightning Axe

Sideboard
2 Assassin's Trophy
1 Collective Brutality
2 Fatal Push
1 Force of Vigor
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Nature's Claim
3 Thoughtseize

It’s kind of neat to think about all of these historic moments in tournament Magic and realize that we are currently in the thick of a moment people might reference ten years from now!

There are so many great examples of MTG boogeymen spanning the history of the game. Is there one that I didn’t put on my list that you believe deserves to be there? Be sure to share it in the comments.

Also, I’d love to hear which of these boogeymen (or others not on the list) terified you the most in their heyday. Let’s say, top 3?  

My top 3:

Standard Psychatog

Standard Affinity

Standard Caw-Blade