Deck Tech: Protean Hulk Combo

Posted in Event Coverage on 21 Novembre 2015

By Corbin Hosler

Zac Elsik is no stranger to playing new decks in Modern. The Grand Prix Oklahoma City champion was among the first to bring Lantern Control to the forefront of Modern, and after a deep run in Charlotte and then a title in Oklahoma City, he put it squarely on the map.

So it may be a little surprising to hear he's not playing Lantern of Insight this weekend.

“Yeah, we did that already,” he said with a small laugh at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. “It was time for something else, and I think this deck is really good.”

Don't worry, Elsik isn't conforming to the norm; the deck he's referring to is Protean Hulk combo.

Elsik is one of a few dozen players who showed up in Pennsylvania sporting copies of the Dissension beast, aiming to combo off with its ability. The basic loop is this: When Protean Hulk dies, search out Viscera Seer and Body Double, which copies the Protean Hulk in the graveyard. Sacrifice the Body Double to search out Reveillark and Mogg Fanatic, which you sacrifice to deal damage to the opponent. From there, you can loop Reveillark, Body Double and Mogg Fanatic to deal arbitrary amounts of damage to the opponent.

The most common way to get Hulk into play in the first place is Footsteps of the Goryo. Discard outlets Faithless Looting, Izzet Charm and even Taigam's Scheming get Hulk into the graveyard, and Footsteps or Makeshift Mannequin brings it back.

The combo itself isn't new, but the streamlining of the deck is. Justin Maguire put the deck on the map with a Top 16 finish at a StarCityGames Modern Open three weeks ago, and it's caught on in the weeks since. While older versions used Through the Breach as an alternate way to get Hulk into play, Makeshift Mannequin has been popularized recently thanks to its resilience to Path to Exile. The move also makes the mana slightly better and allows the deck to get away from Pentad Prism, which had become a liability in a world full of Kolaghan's Command and Maelstrom Pulse.

What's even more impressive about the deck is its consistency. Once the combo begins, opponents can't interact. With proper management of its creatures and triggers, the Hulk player's combo is immune from spot removal like Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt.

“Mannequin isn't necessarily better than Breach, but it's important that it makes the mana better and lets you avoid artifact hate,” Elsik explained. “It's really good because of how consistent it is, plus the games where you just win on the third turn.”

Elsik's deck makes great use the seldom-used Taigam's Scheming, filling its graveyard to combo. Hulk Combo is extremely difficult for opponents to stop, and can happen as early as the third turn.

As powerful as the deck is, it has a few weaknesses, some of which can be addressed on some camp. Leyline of Sanctity, for instance, prevents Mogg Fanatic from finishing the job. That's why Thopter Engineer makes an appearance in the sideboard, providing the ability to make as many hasty thopters as necessary to end the game in an attack step.

The bigger problem is graveyard hate. While Hulk manages to dodge most traditional forms of removal and has access to counterspells in Swan Song and Pact of Negation to protect its combo, cards like Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus present major problems. There's no easy sideboard answer to this problem, but Elsik said the deck's resiliency more than makes up for it.

“It's better than the other graveyard decks because you have more filtering,” he said. “You get to play blue, so you can find the spells you need, whether that's a combo piece or a sideboard card like Echoing Truth to set up your combo. Also, unlike Goryo's Vengeance Griselbrand, this deck doesn't have a failure rate once you start your combo.”

It may have begun the weekend under the radar, but one thing is for sure: Hulk Combo is quickly sinking itself deep into the Modern metagame, and the footsteps of the Goryo are growing ever louder.

Zac Elsik — Hulk Combo

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