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Against the Odds: Hokori Lock (Modern, Magic Online)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 184 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had another all-Kamigawa Against the Odds poll (this time without One with Nothing) and had another dominating performance, with Swirl the Mists doubling up the second-place option at 40% of the vote. So why are we playing the runner-up Hokori, Dust Drinker instead? The answer here is pretty straightforward: Swirl the Mists is bugged. Considering how wonky Swirl the Mists is, rather than spending a ton of time tuning a deck, I figured that it would be wise to first test the card and see if it even worked. So I threw together a bunch of cards that I wanted to play with Swirl the Mists and ended up crashing seven test games in a row. The weird part is that Swirl the Mists is bugged in a really inconsistent way. Sometimes, we'd make it through several turns before the game crashed. Other times, it would crash as soon as we played the first spell after Swirl the Mists. It felt like the color-changing aspect of Swirl the Mists eventually overloaded Magic Online's tiny brain, so it eventually just couldn't take it anymore and gave up.

In some ways, this is good news since Swirl the Mists makes One with Nothing look like Jace, the Mind Sculptor in terms of playability and power level and Hokori, Dust Drinker can do some pretty interesting things as a Winter Orb on a body. In theory, you can just play Hokori, Dust Drinker as the top end of an aggro deck and use it to slow down the opponent while beating down, but that isn't really the Against the Odds way. As such, our plan today is to turn Hokori, Dust Drinker into a lock piece that keeps our opponent from playing Magic altogether while also breaking the symmetry of the Winter Orb effect so we can continue to execute our game plan. How do you go about locking the opponent with Hokori, Dust Drinker in Modern? What are the odds of winning with a deck built around Hokori? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Hokori Lock (Modern)

The Deck

The main challenge of building around Hokori, Dust Drinker is making sure that the card is the focal point of the deck since in theory, you can play a copy or two in some sort of taxes build and it will probably be pretty good once it hits the battlefield, especially in slower, more controlling matchups. As such, the main goal of Hokori Lock is to make sure that the deck truly is about locking the opponent out of the game with our namesake card, rather than just playing Hokori in a preexisting build.

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The good news is that Hokori, Dust Drinker is actually quite powerful, especially in slower matchups. Winter Orb occasionally shows up all the way back to Legacy, and even while costing twice as much mana (and dying to creature removal), Hokori, Dust Drinker is a powerful effect. While there are some matchups where it is bad (especially against decks with non-land mana production like Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, or random artifact-based mana), in general, Hokori, Dust Drinker (at worst) slows the opponent down by a few turns, while at its best (with the right support cards), we can lock our opponent down to just a single mana for the rest of the game. 

Building around Hokori, Dust Drinker is primarily about finding pieces to strengthen the Hokori Lock, to make it difficult for our opponent to get out from under Hokori (and make any mana) once the legend hits the battlefield. For this, we need to do two things: make it hard for our opponent to make land drops and keep the one land they get to untap each turn untapped while also protecting Hokori, Dust Drinker itself, since our entire lock is ruined if our namesake card leaves the battlefield. Second, we need to make sure that we have ways to function and continue to cast our spells even while Hokori, Dust Drinker is on the battlefield.

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Our mana dorks do two important things in our deck. First, cards like Arbor Elf, Utopia Sprawl, and Noble Hierarch help us get Hokori, Dust Drinker on the battlefield as quickly as possible—sometimes as early as Turn 2 with the right draw. Second, once we have Hokori on the battlefield, having non-land mana sources will help us break the symmetry of the Winter Orb effect. Arbor Elf lets us untap an additional land each turn. Utopia Sprawl sort of does the same by giving us a land that taps for twice as much mana, making it the perfect one land to untap with Hokori, Dust Drinker. Noble Hierarch gives us a mana source that untaps every turn even with Hokori, Dust Drinker out. Together, these cards not only make sure we get our namesake card on the battlefield quickly but make sure that we can still execute our game plan, even with the lock on the battlefield.

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Meanwhile, Knight of the Reliquary is actually similar to our mana dorks, giving us another way to break the symmetry of Hokori, Dust Drinker with the additional upside of tutoring up utility lands. The trick here is that Knight of the Reliquary can sacrifice a tapped Forest or Plains and grab an untapped land, which essentially allows us to untap an extra land each turn under Hokori, Dust Drinker. More importantly, Knight of the Reliquary eventually ends up being one of our best finishers, with a massive amount of power and toughness thanks to the increasing number of lands in our graveyard, which allows us to kill our opponent in just a couple of big attacks before they manage to find a way out from under the Hokori Lock.

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Scepter of Dominance is our best combo piece with Hokori, Dust Drinker since it allows us to repeatedly tap our opponent's lands. The idea here is simple: each turn on our opponent's upkeep, our opponent gets to untap one land thanks to Hokori, Dust Drinker. Then, we can immediately tap that land for just a single mana with Scepter of Dominance. Assuming we play our Hokori, Dust Drinker while our opponent is tapped out (which is ideal), this basically locks our opponent to around one mana for the rest of the game. However, the plan has two issues. First, if our opponent has one-mana instant-speed removal, they can kill Hokori, Dust Drinker and get out from under the lock at instant speed. Second, if our opponent draws enough lands, they can build up mana for one turn by making their land drops and then eventually use those lands to do something to disrupt our plan. Thankfully, we have plans for both situations.

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Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Trinisphere cut off one of the easiest outs most opponents have to our lock: killing Hokori, Dust Drinker for just one mana at instant speed with something like Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, Dismember, or Path to Exile. With either Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Trinisphere on the battlefield, our opponent will need two or three mana to cast their removal spell, which means our opponent is basically hard-locked out of the game if we can keep our opponent down to just one mana with the help of Scepter of Dominance and Hokori, Dust Drinker. Meanwhile, Eiganjo Castle is just a one-of, but it does offer a way to protect Hokori, Dust Drinker from damage-based removal like Lightning Bolt, and the opportunity cost is pretty low since it comes attached to an untapped land.

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The second way to strengthen the lock is to make it difficult for our opponent to get out from under it by making land drops each turn. Here, we have a few options. Thalia, Heretic Cathar makes our opponent's non-basic lands come into play tapped, which means they basically enter the battlefield locked under Hokori, Dust Drinker. Meanwhile, Aven Mindcensor makes it difficult for our opponent to use fetch lands by limiting the amount of their deck our opponents can search. Combine this with Ghost Quarter as a sort of build-your-own-Strip Mine, and the idea of making land drops for a few turns to break out of the lock is a lot less practical for most opponents.

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Otherwise, we have Path to Exile for removal (and it's even better in our deck that most since the land we give our opponent enters the battlefield tapped, making it fairly useless under the Hokori lock) along with a few one-ofs for value. Courser of Kruphix gains us some life against aggro and helps us dig for our combo pieces in conjunction with fetch lands, allowing us to shuffle our deck and try to get a specific card on top. Scavenging Ooze gives us some main-deck graveyard hate along with incidental lifegain, and Ramunap Excavator allows us to replay lands that we sacrifice to Knight of the Reliquary (or Ghost Quarter / Horizon Canopy), which gives us another pathway to untapped mana under the Hokori, Dust Drinker lock.

The Matchups

Hokori Lock is surprisingly high variance. The biggest problem is decks that have non-land mana like Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, various Elves, or even mana rocks. These decks sort of naturally break out from under our lock since they can function even while being unable to untap their lands, by using other mana sources to cast their spells. The good news is that if our opponent only has a single mana dork, the Hokori lock is still reasonably effective (greatly limiting our opponent's mana), so it's not like we just auto-lose to any deck that plays a Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise (although decks that have a bunch of these creatures are tough matches, as we saw against Elves). Otherwise, we'd much rather play slower midrange and control decks than aggro decks since aggro decks are much better at functioning with one or two mana a turn, while control decks are typically trying to cast more expensive spells, which is really hard with Hokori, Dust Drinker on the battlefield.

The Odds

All in all, we played six matches with Hokori Lock and won three, giving us a 50% match win percentage, along with winning seven of 14 games (also exactly 50%), making Hokori Lock roughly average or just a touch below for an Against the Odds deck. We mostly struggled with aggro decks, losing once to Elves and twice to Soul Sisters while taking down TitanShift, UW Control, and Mardu Pyromancer. As for Hokori, Dust Drinker itself, our namesake card was also pretty high variance. We had some games where we played it on Turn 2 or 3 and it pretty much ran away with the game by itself, but we also had games where our opponent simply didn't care about their lands not untapping, either because they had other mana sources (like Elves) or because they could flood the board with creatures before we got Hokori, Dust Drinker online (like against Soul Sisters). While Hokori, Dust Drinker can be incredibly powerful (and we even had some games where we won without additional lock pieces, just by playing Hokori, Dust Drinker while our opponent was tapped out and making them spend several turns getting their mana back) and the lock is very hard once we get all of the pieces, the fragility of Hokori, Dust Drinker itself keeps it from seeing more top-tier competitive play in Modern. If Hokori, Dust Drinker had more toughness (or was an actual Winter Orb that didn't die to creature removal), it would likely be a Modern staple. But as a 2/2 for two, it's more of a fun and spicy Against the Odds card rather than something people will use to win Grands Prix (although various Death and Taxes builds probably should consider it more often since it can be extremely devastating against slower decks, even without the extra lock pieces).

Vote for Next Week's Deck

One of the foundations of Against the Odds is cards that literally win us the game in unique ways, so next week let's get back to our roots and play an "I win" card in Modern! While we've played some of these cards in Standard before, I'm pretty sure that we've never played in Modern, which sort of makes them new, or at least new-ish. Which of these "I win" cards should we build around next week? Let us know by voting below!

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Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at


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