An Ode to Hatebears: The Archetype that Beats Your Least Favorite MTG Archetypes


These hatebears help slow your opponent down in Commander, Legacy, Modern, and more.
Image: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (SL Version) | Art: Steve Argyle

Sick of free spells? Are you tired of reanimator or Sneak & Show decks cheating out big threats? I've got the answer for you.


Hatebears are a whole set of versatile creatures in Magic. They are powerful, aggressive, and disruptive, but they are often left on the sidelines when deckbuilding. Hatebears are sometimes described as unfun, mean-spirited, or sometimes unfairly compared to stax pieces.


Today, I would like to talk about hatebears as an archetype and some individual cards that make up the archetype. We'll also look at why and where you can play them!


What is a Hatebear?

Hatebear is made up of two pieces of Magic slang. A hate card seeks to inhibit the effectiveness of another strategy. Rest in Peace is a hate card because its design is to intentionally disrupt decks that take advantage of the graveyard.


The second part (bear) refers to a 2/2 creature for two mana with no abilities. So a hatebear is a two mana 2/2 with an ability that disrupts some particular archetype or style of play. The definition of hatebear, like many bits of Magic slang, is somewhat flexible.


Some of the cards we discuss today will be a two mana 2/1 or one mana 1/1, but the common thread will be creatures with a disruptive effect for a low mana cost.



What is the Hatebear Archetype and How is it Different from Stax?

As an archetype, hatebears is aggressive. It plays cheap, efficient creatures that force your opponent to play sub-optimally. Hatebears aim to slow down the opponent while you find your win-con.


In many decks that win, it is as simple as swinging with your hatebears for the kill. Hatebears decks are usually some combination of white, black, and green as most of the relevant cards fall into these colors.


In contrast to this, stax decks aim to completely deny your opponent resources. Despite having tax in its name, stax decks do not necessarily tax their opponent by making their spells cost more mana. Rather, they take away the means to cast spells at all. The name comes from Smokestack.


Decks running this card back in the day would force the opponent to sacrifice their lands, essentially locking them out of the game. While many stax decks also use hatebears in the early game, this is just a means to an end until they can get more solid lockout pieces such as Stasis, or Winter Orb.


I heard someone put it like this before "Hatebears prevent the opponent from doing anything sneaky. Stax prevents the opponent from doing anything."


Indeed, this solidifies the distinction in my mind.


Typically stax as an archetype will incorporate hatebears. However, it will also add blue to be more controlling and ultimately win an attrition war. Meanwhile, the actual hatebears deck tries to win with the bears themselves. After all, you can't swing at your opponent's face with a Smokestack.


Types of Hate

Hate exists in many forms, and it all depends on the decks at the table. In Commander, you may want a wide variety of hatebears since you never know what you're up against. I in more defined formats like Legacy and Modern, the meta is more defined and thus you can build your deck accordingly.


Stay Dead!

One of the most popular strategies in any format is graveyard decks. This could be anything from Dredge or Reanimator decks to spellslinger decks that rely on Snapcaster Mage and Flashback effects.


Graveyard hate exists in two forms. We either continuously deny cards entering the graveyard. This includes effects like Dauthi Voidwalker, or we selectively remove cards from the grave, like Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman.


With the first example of Dauthi Voidwalker, we are continuously preventing graveyard access. Meanwhile the second example allows us to remove key pieces from the graveyard on-demand. For example, if an opponent attempts to cast Reanimate we can exile their target in response.


Taxes and Spell Denial

These hatebears aim to make spells cost more or make certain spells outright unplayable. Classic examples include Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Glowrider. They increase the cost of noncreature spells for all players. However, given that hatebears is mostly a creature-heavy deck, this downside is mostly mitigated.


Sometimes taxes can be avoided. Cards like Esper Sentinel give our opponent the option of paying a tax or giving us a card in exchange.

In terms of completely denying our opponents the ability to cast spells, usually, this comes with a caveat or two. Cards like Drannith Magistrate prevent casting spells from anywhere other than hands, thus shutting off Flashback, Cascade, Suspend, and of course Commanders.


Ethersworn Canonist, on the other hand, only lets people play one nonartifact spell each turn. Eidolon of Rhetoric only lets players cast one spell per turn. This can be particularly potent in decks leveraging instants or flash as we can mitigate the downside by playing a spell on the opponent's turn and our own.


While these seem restrictive, the aim here is not to completely choke the opponent. We want to slow them down. We don't need to entirely stop them, merely slow them down so we can eventually kill them with the board we are amassing.



Entering and Leaving the Battlefield

Many creatures have enter and leave the battlefield triggers it would only be right that we keep those in check too. Hushwing Gryff, Tocaltli Honor Guard, and Hushbringer do a fantastic job at keeping pesky Snapcaster Mages and Reclamation Sages in check.


Digging & Drawing

Lastly, let's look at some ways of preventing or disincentivizing the opponent from drawing into or searching for their answers to our threats. Fresh off the press of Baldur's Gate we have Archivist of Oghma. This 2/2 with flash draws us a card whenever an opponent searches their deck. Everything from a Demonic Tutor to a fetchland is hit by the Archivist. In a similar vein, Opposition Agent denies the opponent's search it also allows you to take control and exile their win-cons or take them for yourself. Alternatively, take a taxing approach and coax your opponent into paying two mana to search their deck with Leonin Arbiter.

On the card draw front, we have Spirit of the Labyrinth denying all card draw except the first one. Dipping into blue we have Leovold, Emissary of Trest and Hullbreacher. All of these effects slow our opponents down, and in the case of Hullbreacher even offer us an advantage. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view) Leovold and Hullbreacher are both banned in Commander, so you will only meet these adversaries at Legacy and Vintage tables.

Hatebear Support Strategies

While denying our opponents resources is great, we need to support our creatures. Let's run through some ways we can take advantage of hatebears to get the most out of them.

Tribal & Color Synergies

Many hatebears are Humans, hence there is a lot of potential to be had. Katilda, Dawnhart Prime can turn all your hatebears into mana dorks. Herald's Horn can make all humans cheaper. Another factor to consider is that many hatebears are White and Black. This gives us a great opportunity to play cards such as Oketra's Monument and Bontu's Monument to give us a nice cost reduction on our creatures. This can also work in our favor and break the symmetry caused by our mana taxing effects.


Cheap Cheats

With the low mana curve of our deck, we can leverage efficient and cheap effects that let us cheat creatures into play. While it may be tempting to proliferate the counters on an Aether Vial to cheat out big creatures, we can also simply keep it on two counters and use it as a way to cheat hatebears into play at the perfect moment to trip up our opponent. On the other hand, consider casting Green Sun's Zenith for X equals two and get just the right card to deal with your opponent. Finally, take advantage of cheap reanimation effects such as Unearth to ensure your favorite hatebear stays in play.

Break Parity

It's important to not get overwhelmed by your own hatebears. Many of them have effects that impact both players, so you must be able to get rid of a hatebear if it is hindering you more than your opponent. This could be as simple as an Ashnod's Altar or Viscera Seer to sacrifice your own creature's. Similarly, cards like Birthing Pod can be used to help drop one hatebear and replace it with another more appropriate one.


Best Hatebear Commanders

If you would like to try hatebears in Commander, you'll be glad to know there are a lot of options. Additionally, as this archetype is underplayed in the format, a lot of pieces for the deck can be picked up for cheap.


In general, there are three types of commanders you can pick if you would like to play this style of deck. You can play a commander that is itself a hatebear. This includes cards like Anafenza, the Foremost, Gaddock Teeg, or Yasharn, Implaceable Earth. All of these offer some form of denial. In this style of deck, consider picking a commander that best fits your meta.


If your opponents are often aristocrats players, consider Yasharn. If they're go tall stompy players, try Gaddock Teeg instead. With a commander that is itself a hatebear, you likely do not specifically care about the commander and are just playing it as another source of hate or simply to access the colors.

The second type of commander to consider is one that breaks parity between you and your opponents. These are commanders that can get around the taxes you are placing on the board.


Grand Arbiter Augustin IV makes your spells cost less, giving you the edge by dodging your taxes. Winota, Joiner of Forces on the other hand gets around Eidolon of Rhetoric effects by simply putting creatures into play instead of casting them. Another option is Tayam, Luminous Enigma which also gets around Eidolon of Rhetoric by letting you return cards from your graveyard straight into play without casting them. This one is a personal favorite of mine. Check out a decklist here!

The third style of commander is the one that buffs your hatebears or gives them additional functionality. This is often where tribal synergies can shine the most. Jetmir, Nexus of Revels does not care about creature type, merely the number of creatures. This can be a great way to finish off your opponents when you have a critical mass of creatures.


Sidar Kondo of Jamuaraa prevents your creatures with power two or less from being blocked by creatures without flying. This can be a great way to ensure your damage gets through. Furthermore, Sidar has partner allowing you to turn this deck into virtually any color combination. Finally there is the recently released Nalia de'Arnise. This commander cares gives all your creatures a +1/+1 counter and deathtouch every turn as long as you have a full party. That's at least one wizard, cleric, warrior and rogue. Funnily enough, there is a good number of hatebears that fall into these creature types. Nalia also allows you to cast the aforementioned party creatures from the top of your library giving you a pseudo extra card.

Conclusion

I hope this article has given you some insight into the hatebears archetype and some of the cards that make these decks sing. There is a wide breadth of cards that fit into this category, so keep your eyes peeled when searching around for more cards that fit this archetype.


These cards can help equalize a game and keep your opponents in check. Whether you decide to run a full-blown hatebears deck or simply add a small package to an existing deck, let us know what cards gave you the most success at your table.



 

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