Bubbling with Hulk

The glory days of Protean Hulk might be behind us, but that doesn’t mean the Hulk Combo is unplayable. Quite the contrary, it is still very much alive in Modern, albeit as a fringe deck that can win on the spot after Hulk hits the graveyard. During the last few sets, the deck got a few toys to play with, especially Taigam’s Scheming and even more so, the versatile Collective Brutality. There are many varieties of the deck, and Tomomizu Takuya went 3-0 (at least once) in Hareruya, Tokyo, with the following 75:

Bubble Hulk by Tomomizu Takuya

Creatures (14)
Body Double
Mogg Fanatic
Protean Hulk
Reveillark
Viscera Seer
Woodfall Primus

Spells (26)
Izzet Charm
Lightning Axe
Makeshift Mannequin
Collective Brutality
Faithless Looting
Footsteps of the Goryo
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Thoughtseize
Tormenting Voice

Lands (20)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Darkslick Shores
Geier Reach Sanitarium
Island
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Swamp
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Gemstone Caverns
Venser, Shaper Savant
Pact of Negation
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lost Legacy
Pithing Needle
Ratchet Bomb

One of the more interesting decisions is the inclusion of Glimpse the Unthinkable, a staple in mill decks that goes a long way in Bubble Hulk as well, digging 10 cards deep only for two mana. It lacks the card selection of Contingency Plan (or Taigam’s Scheming), which allows us to set up a kill next turn by leaving a reanimation spell on the top, but it mills twice the amount of cards for the same mana cost. Takuya-san also played with a full playset of Makeshift Mannequin, upping the count of reanimaton spells to 8 to complement the Glimpse, and Izzet Charm, which provides interaction for otherwise an all-in combo deck in addition to its loot mode. Woodfall Primus doesn’t win games on the spot like Hulk does, but it is literally a three (or four) mana 5/5 beater with two Stone Rain effects that can target all non-creature permanents and not just lands. Bubble Hulk is indeed a “two-card” combo, but with only four reanimation targets (Hulks) it has some inconsistency issues, and Primus helps on that front by providing another juicy target and a big threat.

One of the hosers of Mogg Fanatic combo kill is Leyline of Sanctity and the usual play-around is Grave Titan or Thopter Engineer, but user Dos_Rouge from MTGSalvation noticed a Insolent Neonate and Laboratory Maniac combo with a self-milling wincon. While it does require two cards instead of one like Fanatic or Grave Titan, it’s an interesting prospect as Neonate does play along with the decks plan to fill the yard.

While red seems like a must include, user Firefool went with a UB version of the deck, maxing out on Collective Brutality that has become a staple of Hulk decks and playing 8 Contingency Plan effects. With Ideas Unbound, we can get enough discard (loot) abilities that we otherwise lack by not playing staples Izzet Charm and Faithless Looting. Firefool opted for Death Cultist since you can cast it when in need of a chump blocker. Like with Takuya-san’s deck, you can Thoughtseize yourself to discard Hulk as well.

UB Bubble Hulk by Firefool

Creatures (11)
Protean Hulk
Body Double
Death Cultist
Reveillark
Viscera Seer

Spells (28)
Makeshift Mannequin
Footsteps of the Goryo
Contingency Plan
Taigam’s Scheming
Serum Visions
Ideas Unbound
Thoughtseize
Collective Brutality

Lands (21)
Gemstone Mine
Darkslick Shores
Temple of Deceit
Underground River
Swamp
Island
Nephalia Drownyard
Geier Reach Sanitarium

The UB version might not be as fast as red with Faithless Looting and Simian Spirit Guides, but it has a strong turn 2 sorcery speed play in many two mana spells it packs. UB deck could also play a few copies of Glimpse the Unthinkable, but I believe you would have to add more reanimaton spells in that case since you loose the card selection provided by other spells.

Japanese player included Geier Reach Sanitarium and Firefool added Nephalia Drownyard, both of which are interesting non-basic lands that help us dig or fill the graveyard. However, user maverickzero went with Desolate Lighthouse as his choice of non-basic that helps the pilot dig and discard. All of them have their pros and cons, with Sanitarium being the fastest but provides symmetric effect for our opponent. Lighthouse is one turn slower but doesn’t give a free loot for our opponent, while Drownyard lacks the card selection despite “looking” deeper into the library.

Art by Terese Nielsen.

Despite all the innovations and possibilities with Bubble Hulk decks, all of them are prone to the graveyard hate; or are they? User aggrosdemise came up with a different take on the finish of Hulk combo that avoids reanimating from the graveyard altogether. While he had to up the count of combo pieces needed to win, he plays around Pithing Needle, Scavenging Ooze, Nihil Spellbomb, Ravenous Trap, Relic of Progenitus and Surgical Extraction. Sadly the combo still folds to Path to Exile, Rest in Peace, Grafdigger’s Cage, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Anafenza, the Foremost, but so do other versions of Bubble Hulk.

Artifact Bubble Hulk by aggrosdemise

Creatures (20)
Disciple of the Vault
Hangarback Walker
Walking Ballista
Simian Spirit Guide
Protean Hulk
Worldspine Wurm

Spells (22)
Serum Visions
Sleight of Hand
Faithless Looting
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Through the Breach
Summoner’s Pact

Lands (18)
Mana Confluence
Gemstone Mine
Tendo Ice Bridge
Reflecting Pool
Boseiju, Who Shelters All

Sideboard (15)
Leyline of Sanctity
Pact of Negation
Nature’s Claim
Silence
Anger of the Gods
Stony Silence

Disciple of the Vault and the recent Hangarback Walker and even newer Walking Ballista usually provide with a win-on-the-spot combo, draining for a large amount of life. It is not infinite, but can take up to 32 life points when going off. While the deck has the explosiveness with all the rituals and Simian Spirit Guides, it only plays four copies of Through the Breach and five Protean Hulks (three creatures and two Summoner’s Pacts plus one Worldspine Wurm), making it a bit inconsistent. A full playsets of Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand do help the clause to dig as deep and as fast as possible to assamble the two card wincon. Good part of the combo is that Protean Hulk gets to attack once with his massive 6/6 body, and hitting face with it lowers the need of Disciples and/or artifact creatures needed for the kill in case you have a few stranded in the hand. One possible way to change the deck would be to add more looting effects and Makeshift Mannequin to play around Path to Exile, and you can trigger your Makeshifted Hulk with Walking Ballista, but that opens the deck to grave hate.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is another card that could make an appearance in Bubble Hulk decks, but he does turn on otherwise useless spot removal like Bolt, Decay and Terminate. There were some decks with it that have done moderately well and more testing is in need to reach the conclusion.

Art by Jaime Jones.

The main problem Bubble Hulk faces is graveyard hate present in the metagame. Dredge got weaker but it is highly doubtful that people will remove all their hate from the sideboard, especially with Rest in Peace, Grafdigger’s Cage and Surgical Extraction having multiple applications against different decks (Cage against Nahiri, Surgical versus Tron, RiP against goyf decks, and so on). However, there are many ways to handle sideboard cards as Bubble Hulk pilot, from discard spells to all-around bounce cards like Echoing Truth and Venser. Deck itself is also not the easiest to pilot and requires great knowledge of the deck itself to operate well; when to play to win and when to play to survive, what are the outs and odds to draw a needed card. Sideboarding is also troublesome as with any combo deck since you don’t wish to dilute the combo pieces or its enablers. For more on the deck, visit the MTGSalvation primer.

All images courtesy of WoTC.

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