by Aaron Gazzaniga

The brew in question for today is an interesting take on the G/W Hatebears deck in Modern. I decided that since I prefer playing black over green that I should make a list that plays to my own strengths over something that I don’t like.

In this list I am not trying to overpower my opponent with tempo-based plays topped off with large creatures like Loxodon Smiter or Wilt-Leaf Liege. Instead I am literally trying to lock my opponent out of their ability to do anything, including drawing cards. I saw the card Maralen of the Mornsong and decided to pair it with some of the staple cards of G/W Hatebears. Alongside Maralen you will find Leonin Arbiter, Aven Mindcensor and Ghost Quarter. Although very similar to the Hatebears deck in its mana denial, this deck is looking to completely stop you from doing anything, including making land drops.

BW Hatebears

Lands (22)
Cavern of Souls
Eiganjo Castle
Ghost Quarter
Godless Shrine
Isolated Chapel
Marsh Flats
Vault of the Archangel

Creatures (27)
Aven Mindcensor
Dark Confidant
Fiend Hunter
Leonin Arbiter
Liliana, Heretical Healer
Maralen of the Mornsong
Phyrexian Revoker
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Tidehollow Sculler

Spells (11)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Path to Exile
Aether Vial
Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Ethersworn Canonist
Kor Firewalker
Suppression Field
Stony Silence
Zealous Persecution

The main deck is completely dedicated to taxing spells and stopping your opponent from drawing or playing any of their outs. We have the synergy of Leonin Arbiter, Aven Mindcensor, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Ghost Quarter to restrict our opponent’s mana and then Maralen of the Mornsong to pair with Arbiter and Mindcensor to stop our opponent from drawing removal to break up our lock, or the land in order to pay for these search restricting effects.

Mana Denial

Our mana denial package mostly mimics the G/W Hatebears plan in that Arbiter makes our opponent pay for searching their library. Early game this can completely shut down their fetch lands. Aven Mindcensor is there to hopefully restrict their ability to find lands when they are fetching. Thalia taxes their spells so even if they do find land, they can’t cast anything relevant off of them. Once paired with Maralen of the Mornsong, we usually want to fetch up Ghost Quarters and essentially Strip Mine our opponent every turn until they can neither draw cards nor cast spells.

Removal and Disruption

We have Inquisition of Kozilek in order to stop any early game removal or discard from breaking up our lock. We have Path to Exile which combines with Aven Mindcensor and Leonin Arbiter to remove the downside of letting them search out a basic land. Fiend Hunter is another piece of removal which can be tutored and allow us to take advantage of Aether Vial so our mana doesn’t get tied up, or so it can be cast without being taxed to help us continue to disrupt our opponent. Tidehollow Sculler is another nice addition to the deck. Being a creature we are able to put it onto the battlefield during our opponent’s draw step via Aether Vial to take anything relevant they may have drawn.

Casting Inquisition of Kozilek early can allow us to decide how we would like to proceed through the first three turns of the game and what kind of decisions need to be made.

The Hard Lock

Getting yourself to a position where Thalia stops early removal or disruption, Leonin Arbiter stops fetchlands, Aven Mindcensor restricts what your opponent can find when they are searching, and Maralen to tutor up Ghost Quarters so we can lock our opponent off mana, then their draw step once they can’t pay to search anymore. This part can most certainly be tricky as each piece is vulnerable to Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile (the two most played removal spells in the format) or even Dismember which can be cast for one mana and four life. Establishing a situation where you can resolve and set up this lock is where the challenge lies. If successful the deck takes over from there.

The Mana Base

The two Cavern of Souls are there for the situations where we are hard-casting our threats. As you may have noticed, the creature types are scattered between Cat, Cleric, Human, Soldier, Wizard, Elf, and Zombie. However you may have also noticed that several creatures have multiple types on them. Dark Confidant is both a Human and a Wizard, Aven Mindcensor is a Bird and a Wizard, Maralen of the Mornsong is both an Elf and a Wizard. Therefore Cavern of Souls can assist us in casting two lock pieces and a draw engine. Thalia is a Human and a Soldier, Fiend Hunter is a Human and a Cleric, Dark Confidant is a Human and a Wizard, Liliana is a Human and a Cleric as well. Cavern of Souls naming Human is perfectly fine as it hits a lock piece, a draw engine and a potential Planeswalker. The third relevant type is Cleric and Cavern of Souls on Cleric can help us cast Fiend Hunter, Leonin Arbiter, and Liliana. Cleric is the least likely type to name with a Cavern in this deck aside from Zombie or Horror, but the option to choose any of these three creature types gives Cavern of Souls flexibility to fit your draw or the cards you think you will need to draw and resolve through counterspells. We only have two Marsh Flats for because Leonin Arbiter is a symmetrical effect. We want to reduce the amount of cards that make us search our deck when we may have an Arbiter on the field. That is why we have the full four Godless Shrine, two Isolated Chapels and five basic lands. Vault of the Archangel is how we can kill with a handful of creatures that attack for less than 3 power a turn and kill our opponent before our Maralen draw step or Dark Confidant upkeep kills us. It gives us the ability to ensure that we don’t die to our own pieces since we will likely have mana to tutor it up via Maralen while our opponents is locked out and losing three life a turn.


Most of the creatures are based around our lock pieces. The four Arbiter and three Mindcensor are there to stop our opponents from benefiting off of Ghost Quarter, Path to Exile, or Maralen of the Mornsong. Maralen is our main end game to stop our opponent from drawing cards as well as a win condition through the three life lost each turn. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben restricts the removal our opponent can cast against us to remove any of our pieces. Tidehollow Sculler disrupts the hand as mentioned earlier. Dark Confidant allows us to continue to draw additional cards despite the situation we may have set up for ourselves. There have been games where I have been stuck on two or three mana and have two Arbiters in play with a Maralen and my Confidant helped me draw into the 4th land in order to start searching for whatever I may have needed to close the game and not die.

The Fiend Hunter is a recent addition to the deck as one of the five flex slots. It gives us additional removal for creature threats and can be put into play with Aether Vial. Liliana, Heretical Healer is a new idea from Magic Origins. The ability to return lock pieces from the yard helps to punish and discourage our opponent from removing our lock pieces due to her trigger and flipside ability to return our removed creatures. At her worse she is an attacker with lifelink that can help buffer our life total from Confidant and Maralen, she is the other two of the five flex slots. Phyrexian Revokers get the last two flex slots. I have a local meta where activated abilities can be problematic in cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Seismic Assault. I have also tested Burrenton Forge-Tender, Tithe Drinker and Kor Firewalker in these maindeck slots. This is all very metagame-dependant. In a burn heavy meta these other options are probably correct to test.

The Sideboard

This board, like most Modern sideboards, is very metagame dependant. Stony Silence is a direct result of a heavy Affinity and Tron meta from when my initial testing took place. The Forge-Tenders and Firewalkers are there because Burn and Zoo have been issues for a while. At the very least the Forge-Tenders can help to blank removal spells for a turn in order to get the lock in place. Plus they can trigger Liliana to flip and she can bring them back in order to buffer further from burn spells. The Zealous Persecution is there for swarm strategies (BW Tokens, Elves, Affinity) and Ethersworn Canonist and Suppression Field for combo strategies (Twin, Storm, Amulet Bloom). I have never found them to be dead in an entire LGS event. This is my personal preference for my local meta. Naturally there are a lot of options each of you readers may have for your own meta. Fulminator Mage is likely a decent sideboard option for a similar reason as Forge-Tender. He can be sacrificed to trigger Liliana and immediately be brought back by her. It may be a good way to combat Tron if it has a heavy influence in your area. I have found Tron to be favorable anyway though due to the nature of our deck.

Match Ups

So far favorable match ups are any red based aggro deck (Grixis Delver, UR Delver or Burn), Tron (any variant), URx Twin, UR Storm, Scapeshift and Ad Nauseam. Most of our favorable match ups rely on non-creature spells (UR Storm/Ad Nauseam) and cards that require our opponent to search his or her library (Tron/Scapeshift). The matches that don’t favor us are decks like Jund, Zoo and Blue based control. These decks tend to pack a lot of removal and can usually answer any of our lock pieces as well as present a quick clock when they have disrupted us and we are trying to recover.

As of now, I wouldn’t suggest any changes to the maindeck. I have tested the deck on and off for a year now and am happy where it stands for my local meta. Happy brewing to each and every one of you. If anyone has an idea for a brew that they would like to see, I will gladly take requests and challenges in the comments.

Aaron Gazzaniga manages a restaurant and in his off time has been an avid magic player/brewer since 2003. Having begun in Odyssey Standard Block and always favoring control and prison style decks, we come to this moment in time where Aaron finally gets to talk about and share his ideas.

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