The Horror! Brewing UB Horror Control in Modern

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Spring cleaning is upon us, Modern mages, and this past weekend I finally made the decision to organize my entire collection. No closet, drawer, shoebox, junk binder, or unused deck box would go unturned…

Cryptborn Horror art

Now, if you’re anything like me you know what a time consuming process this often is. Sorting between format playability, value, rarity, color, bulk (or whatever other criteria you might go by) can be quite the mind- and wrist-numbing task. However, this process is certainly enjoyable at times, especially when you come across those hidden gems. In organizing my “bulk rares” I ran into a long forgotten monster from the original Ravnica expansion and instantly a brewer’s lightbulb flashed above my head. Bing!

Hunted Horror

At first glance, the stats on Hunted Horror are impressive. A 7/7 with trample for two black mana? Count me in! Once you read through the full text box, however, you quickly think twice. Due to its serious drawback upon entering the battlefield, Horror has seen almost no competitive tournament play whatsoever over the years. Another glaring issue with a card like Hunted Horror is that Modern is well known as a “turn three format.” If you’re not winning by then, or stopping your opponent from winning, just what are you doing? How can we afford to play a creature that might actually accelerate our opponent’s clock?  All signs point to an unplayable bulk rare, right? Well, that was until this little Thing came along…

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Out of all the interesting cards in Shadows Over Innistrad this is the one that really caught my attention. From the flavor to the abilities, is one pretty sweet piece of cardboard. There has been much hype and speculation around Thing in the Ice, and in my opinion, it has been with good reason. For a small investment, you have a creature that can drastically swing the game in your favor in just a few turns or less depending upon your deck. And that’s where my old-school Hunted Horrors come on.

If you haven’t caught the synergy yet, take a second and re-read the oracle text on both Hunted Horror and Awoken Horror. Once flipped, Awoken Horror will bounce those pesky Centaur tokens (exiling them for good) along with other non-Horror creatures. This leaves you with the Hunted Horrors in play, and allows you (if undisrupted) to attack for 14+ damage in one turn. Yikes! Bonus: Thing in the Ice happily blocks a 3/3 protection from green Centaurs all day long.

Once I’d fount it, I immediately knew I wanted to build a deck around this synergy. Without further ado I present to you, “The Horror.”

The Horror, by Scott Vezina

Creatures (12)
Snapcaster Mage
Things in the Ice
Hunted Horror
Spellskite

Instants (13)
Vapor Snag
Echoing Truth
Remand
Mana Leak
Murderous Cut

Planeswalkers (2)
Liliana of the Veil

Sorceries (11)
Serum Visions
Gitaxian Probe
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize

Lands (22)
Darkslick Shores
Polluted Delta
Watery Grave
Creeping Tar Pit
Misty Rainforest
Island
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Dispel
Negate
Engineered Explosives
Thoughtseize
Spellskite
Threads of Disloyalty
Vampiric Link
Hibernation
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In essence, we have a UB control deck that aims to disrupt early and take over the mid/late game with and Hunted Horror. A large number of instants and sorceries in combination with Snapcaster Mage ensure Thing in the Ice will flip consistently, provide you the window of opportunity to close out the game, and disrupt other decks en route to your horrifying finish. Let’s cover the card choices.

Maindeck

Creatures

: The decks namesake and one half of “Team Horror.” Thing in the Ice has the ability to chump block effectively in the early game if necessary or if multiple copies are drawn. Once flipped, it resets the board before swinging for 7+ alone or with its teammates.

Hunted HorrorHunted Horror:  The other half our dynamic duo. As discussed, Horror has serious drawback upon entering the battlefield, but savvy play will ultimately mitigate these costs and lead the way to victory. When Horror works, it racks up huge chunks of damage. Trample is also quite relevant against chump blockers (I’m looking at you, Lingering Souls!).

Snapcaster Mage: Less than four copies may be correct, but I’m coming out the gate with the full set. Snapcaster has terrific synergy with (which bounces Tiago for later value), provides maximum value to the high instant and sorcery count, and can also chump block and pull off combat tricks in a pinch.

Spellskite: Provides protection to “Team Horror” when we’re moving in for the win. Spellskite can be an early game blocker against more aggressive builds, and also provides disruption against Affinity’s Arcbound Ravager and the core Infect and Bogles strategies (both of which I suspect will rise again in power and popularity after Eldrazi Winter.) Oh, and did I mention it’s also a Horror? Booyah! This lets Spellskite defend the team both before and after a transformation.

Instants and sorceries

Serum Visions: Like to draw cards? Like to scry? Auto include as a four-of, especially with our Snapcaster and Thing playsets.

Gitaxian ProbeGitaxian Probe: An efficient cantrip that also gives us valuable hidden information.  I wrestled with the final count here and ended up at two copies. Testing will tell if more or less is correct, but I like the idea of playing a “free” spell to take counters off Thing in the Ice, especially in multiples.

Inquisition of Kozilek/Thoughtseize: Likely to be the ideal turn one play in most matchups. Disrupts your opponents’ game plan and also gives you critical information. There’s an additional copy of Thoughtseize in the sideboard for when facing other tempo/control matchups and combo decks.

Vapor Snag/Echoing Truth: Bounces Centaur tokens (Truth kills them both) and also buys time against more aggressive strategies (in particular, fast starts by Affinity and Infect). Whiplash Trap is another option here. The Trap is excellent with Hunted Horror, along with having applications against fast Affinity starts and Lingering Souls. That said, it is often too narrow to be worth it.

RemandRemand/Mana Leak: Current counter suite. Open to suggestions. In a pinch, you can Remand your own spells to get Thing to transform earlier.

Murderous Cut: Solid mid/late game removal. Always strong with cantrips like Visions and Probe, as well as early plays like Thoughtseize and Inquisiton.

Liliana of the Veil: Can help establish control in midrange/combo match ups and stems the bleeding in aggressive ones.

Lands

Fetches/shocks/basics: Self-explanatory, but I’m open to suggestions if my numbers seem off at all.

Creeping Tar Pit: Provides color fixing and an unblockable source of damage in the late-game clean up. In the event Team Horror is dispatched, you can grind down an opponent with just a single Tar Pit and Snapcaster Mage.

Sideboard

DispelDispel/Negate: Additional counter magic for facing other tempo/control strategies and combo decks.

Vampiric Link: A good buddy of mine started using this tech a while back in his Abzan sideboard. I was pretty skeptical at first, but after seeing it in action I was convinced. This provides us pseudo-life gain which we can bring in during the Burn match up to put on an Eidolon of the Great Revel or just strap it on a member of Team Horror and go to work.

Hibernation: This card has been clutch for me in the past against Bogles and Jund/Abzan. In my opinion, it has never seen enough play in Modern. As an added bonus, it also bounces the Centaur tokens created by Hunted Horror.

Engineered ExplosivesEngineered Explosives: This slot could easily be Chalice of the Void, but I like the idea of drawing out your opponents hand Game 2 and lighting the fuse. A must-play against Affinity, Infect and Merfolk, but be careful not to blow your own team up. Note that with the Shadows rules update, Awoken Horror will have a converted mana cost of two, not zero. Hurkyl’s Recall would also be an option in a meta rampant with Affinity, but Explosives at 0 will also kill the Centaurs.

Threads of Disloyalty: Mainly used against BGx Midrange to grab a Tarmogoyf or Scavenging Ooze, but could certainly have other applications. Not sold on this slot because of anti-synergy with a flipped Thing bouncing creatures back to their owner’s hand.

Sideboarding notes

Depending on the matchup, taking out Hunted Horror may be the right call, so it’s possible some number of other creatures could be squeezed in the sideboard to increase threat density in that scenario. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Dark ConfidantWhile finalizing this deck many other card choices came to mind (Delver of Secrets, Vendilion Clique, Tasigur, Dark Confidant, other removal spells/counters, Trickbind, Phyrexian Obliterator anyone??) but I wanted to stick to a tight game plan and believe this list reflects that. Another configuration would be to splash white for Path to Exile and (Declaration is especially strong against Centaurs and Lingering Souls‘ Spirits). This would make the manabase more fragile and painful, but the tradeoff could be worth it. Regardless of the colors, one question that might be running through your head right now is, “Is this just a bad Delver or control deck?” That’s entirely possible, but I believe the concept of new and powerful late game finishers in a control shell is worth exploring. Below are just a few notes on piloting this list if you feel like giving it a spin:

  • Play tight and play patient. There’s no rush to fill the board. Before running out Hunted Horror you need to be in the position to do so. The plan is to disrupt your opponent’s board state and hand so that you can win the game over the course of 2-3 turns.
  • Timing with is very important and can make or break your game plan. Play out early if need be to chump block or stall until mid-game where you can flip in a turn or two.
  • Play out Spellskite before Hunted Horror/Thing In the Ice whenever possible as it will deflect the removal aimed at your threats. Abrupt Decay is your worst enemy and this is one way around it.
  • Creeping Tar Pit and Snapcaster Mage are another prime source of damage and will need to put in extra work if your other threats do not assemble. Be aggressive with this line if need be.

Early Match Results

As anticipated, the most problematic matchup for this build so far has been Jund and Abzan midrange. I’ve played a total of 10 games against them and only managed to pull off two wins. Abrupt Decay, Path to Exile, and their discard suite proved to be very difficult to play against. Liliana of the Veil was also a big problem at times. I’ll need to do some more thinking on how to tilt the odds in this match up. Suggestions are welcomed.

Boros CharmI tested a five game match against Burn, which my opponent won 3-2. I found the matchup a bit closer than expected, especially after sideboarding, but always felt on the back foot. Not surprising, but not nearly as uneven as the Jund/Abzan matchup.

In a five game match against Tron I won 4-1, and I see this as a favorable match up.  Hand disruption, removal, and bounce spells matched with Pyroclasm-proof threats proved to be quite strong.

In a five game match against Infect I won 3-2. Inkmoth Nexus is difficult to deal with (cannot be targeted with Echoing Truth or blocked effectively), but the current maindeck has a lot of tools to use against them and even a few more in the sideboard. I was also able to cleanly assemble Team Horror on multiple occasions (thanks to their lack of removal), flipping Thing In the Ice for a swift victory. Maindeck Spellskite is also brutal. Overall, I would say this is a favorable matchup.

Horrors Await!

In closing I’d like to say I am a Spike who thrives on winning. It doesn’t matter if that’s a game of Magic or badminton. Over the years I’ve became a genuine and honest sportsman, but at the end of the day I play to win. This is due to my extremely competitive nature and there is really no way around it. That being said, I’m a Timmy at heart that loves brewing and just can’t resist the allure of new (and old) toys.

I’d be interested in hearing your feedback in the comments on possible inclusions/exclusions, general thoughts on the deck itself, and viability moving forward in the post-Eldrazi metagame. I look forward to hopefully sharing much more on test/match results in a follow up piece, along with an updated deck list. Modern is soon to be in a very transitional phase so it was fun to think a little outside of the box with this one and present my first official Magic article to Modern Nexus in the process. Hope you enjoyed it!

Until next time, keep on shuffling. Cheers!

Scott Vezina is a long time Magic player from Duluth, Minnesota who began playing competitively in the Future Sight block. He’s made money at GP Trials and SCG Opens and hopes to one day make it onto the Pro Tour.


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13 thoughts on “The Horror! Brewing UB Horror Control in Modern

    1. Thanks for the feedback Bill! I considered Phyrexian Revoker as well, but couldn’t find room. In a meta with lots of Affinity and Tron however, I could definitely see squeezing in a couple copies somewhere in the 75. I’ve also had a long time love affair with with Obliterator and may try out a list that’s more “tap out” control with a higher creature count. Thanks again and let me know if you have any other questions on the list. Cheers!

      1. Nice article Scott! It’s worth noting (since you don’t explicity point it out) that your Spellskite horrors also block Hunted Horror tokens without any issue. I’m curious whether you considered Stubborn Denial, since the threats you care about protecting trigger ferocious for you. Provides additional combo hate in the mainboard as well.

        1. Hi Chris- Thank you, I appreciate it! Stubborn Denial is interesting as it has potential synergy with Hunted Horror and a flipped Thing In the Ice. My main concern however, is that G1 it would be too narrow against aggro match ups and be a conditional Force Spike against others. Dispel and Negate are currently in the board for combo/control match ups, their primary upside being that they’re hard counters. I also considered Spell Pierce as a 1 or 2 of, which could play a similar role. Thanks again for the feedback and suggestion! Cheers!

  1. I think you’re doing yourself a bit of a disservice only thinking of this deck as control – it also looks like it’s pretty capable of playing a midrange/tempo game, depending on the matchup. I think a 3rd threat (preferably Phyrexian Obliterator as described above if you can get the mana base to work) would do the deck some good (especially against BGx Midrange), and I think that 2 Skites in the 75 should be sufficient, if you’re looking for something to cut in order to add Phyrexian Revoker. You might also want to consider a bit of spot removal – I think that Doom Blade or Slaughter Pact will be pretty decently positioned going forward.

    1. Hi Roland- Thank you for the feedback! Depending upon the match up/board state things definitely play out more like a tempo/mid-range deck rather than “traditional control.” Sometimes you can afford to be more aggressive with your play-style depending upon yours and your opponents draw, so it makes this build sort of a hybrid between tempo and control. In some games I’ve definitely wanted to see more spot removal. Doom Blade and Slaughter Pact are fine choices, but I also want spells that can hit Centaur tokens (they have protection from black) Siege Rhinos etc. I’ve considered splashing white for Path to Exile/Declaration in Stone and I will likely test that configuration next to see if that hedges me in various match ups. Thanks again for the feedback and suggestions. Cheers!

  2. Great article. Thank you. I’m definitely going to sleeve something similar together when I get my playset of Things…

    A couple suggestions, if I may be so bold:
    I would really consider Stubborn Denial as at least a pair. It plays well with both Hunted Horror and Thing in Ice (flipped), and could also lead to removing the last counter from the Thing.

    My initial reaction to your list was also “Why not go Grixis and have access to Bolt/Terminate?” Dropping the Vapor Snag for Lightning Bolt almost seems worth the mana base trouble to me. Have you done any testing in a Grixis shell?

    1. Hi Nicholas Thank you for the kind words, I appreciate it! Stubborn Denial is interesting as it has potential synergy with Hunted Horror and a flipped Thing In the Ice as you stated. My main concern however, is that G1 it would be too narrow against aggro match ups and be a conditional Force Spike against others. Dispel and Negate are currently in the board for combo/control match ups, their primary upside being that they’re hard counters. I also considered Spell Pierce as a 1 or 2 of, which would play a similar role.

      I have not tested it yet, but a Grixis build is certainly appealing as access to Lightning Bolt and other burn spells would be nice against Centaur tokens created by Hunted Horror (which have protection from black) removal in general, and the ability to close out tight games. I’ve also considered splashing white for Path to Exile/Declaration in Stone to get the best of both worlds. Thank you once again for the feedback and suggestions! Cheers!

  3. I’ve not played much in the way of this vein of deck but I’m super excited to see mainboard Hunted Horror!

    My suggestions tend towards the janky, but you’re getting them anyway. Cards that might work in either Main or board or not at all.

    Torpor orb to shut off ETB decks and also the drawback from Hunted Horror’s ETB effect. Probably a cheeky sideboard card for me.

    Clockspinning – instant – U
    Buyback {3}
    Choose a counter on target permanent or suspended card. Remove that counter from that permanent or card or put another of those counters on it.

    Oh yes. The jank is strong here. It’s an instant so it removes an ice counter from thing in the ice, the spell resolves and it then lets you remove a second ice counter. Five mana will peel off all four counters from Thing in the Ice.

    Instant, spell effect, instant, spell effect, U and {3} for the first one with buyback, U for the second one with no buyback.

    It will also technically do loyalty counters on planeswalkers and sunburst counters from engineered explosives from the sideboard too. I’d run one main deck. Maybe more in the SB.

    1. Hi Lee- I appreciate the feedback and suggestions! I could imagine Torpor Orb in the sideboard potentially (has game against Collected Company decks), but it seems a little too narrow for the main deck.

      Clock Spinning is interesting, but since Thing In the Ice would be the only main deck synergy, my concern is that it would sit in your hand much of the time (you could also remove counters from opponents creatures and Planeswalkers I suppose.) I’ve been toying with the idea of a couple Vampire Hexmage’s as well, which would fill a similar role, but also play offense and defense if need be.

      Thanks again for reading and the suggestions. Cheers!

  4. Its very unlikely that hunted horror is worth the trouble here. Thing is already its own problem child by being a bad topdeck and requiring four other spells in order to be good – so adding cards that are only really good if thing in the ice works is a recipe for failure.

    If you’re just going for style points, check out chasm skulker which goes nicely with Thing and blue cantrips. And if you’re really stuck on the hunted horror maybe slide in some repeals. One mana to bounce a centaur, draw a card and put a counter off the thing in the ice is solid, and it can solve/slow down opponents plans.

    1. Hi Darcy- thank you for the feedback and suggestions! The Spike in me agrees with your critique about 90%, but hey what can I say- I love to brew! Hunted Horror + Echoing Truth has been strong enough to pull out a couple of games on it’s own, but as you pointed out, it shines most with Thing in the Ice (can be a terrible late game top deck I agree! but there’s a lot of natural synergies here which make the drawbacks less severe than you might think). Splashing white for Declaration in Stone and Path to Exile is also quite appealing, so I will be testing that out next.

      Chasm Skulker is fantastic flavor, and could do some damage in combination with mid/late game cantrips + Thing in the Ice, but I’m not sure it’s strong enough. If only it had Flying! Repeal is a terrific suggestion however and I thought about putting in a couple in place of Vapor Snag, as drawing a card is likely better than the 1 loss of life.

      Thanks again! Cheers!

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