The upcoming Pro Tour 25th Anniversary will feature Standard, Modern, and Legacy. While Standard gets a lot of time in the spotlight as a matter of course, you might not be quite up to speed on Magic’s Eternal formats. While there are specialists much more qualified than me to do this for Legacy, Modern is my favorite Constructed format and the one I spend the most time playing. In the lead up to the PT, I’ll be breaking down the decks that are likely to see play, and explain the game plan, strengths, and weaknesses of the format’s major archetypes. This week, I’m looking at Burn, and you can find previous deck breakdowns here.
What Hollow One Does
It took awhile, but Hollow One was finally broken. Since its breakout performance at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, where it was piloted all the way to the Top 8 by Japanese master Ken Yukukiro, the fortunes of this deck have only improved. Hollow One is, beyond any doubt, a tier 1 deck, and therefore something you need to be ready to face when playing Modern.
Hollow One attacks the board on two distinct angles, both of which work neatly in concert with one another. First, it can “cheat” large creatures into play, all of which are fueled by discarding cards. Hollow One, Gurmag Angler, and Flameblade Adept all rely on discarding cards to do their best work. Secondly, Hollow One can exploit recursive creatures like Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix from the graveyard, and given how much the deck likes to discard, getting these creatures into the bin is easy.
On top of this hard-hitting and resilient creature suite, Hollow One decks also play some of the best interaction in the format. With removal like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push, backed up with discard spells like Thoughtseize, Hollow One is set up to disrupt opposing game plans both pre- and post-board.
Carlos Lopes, Top 16 at GP Sao Paolo 2018
Hollow One’s principal strength is its speed. The best draws from Hollow One will result in 10+ power attacking in the first few turns, which can end games obscenely fast. There have been plenty of iconic moments where players have spewed multiple Hollow Ones onto the battlefield in the opening turns—GP Champion and Solitaire enthusiast Matt Nass produced this amazing 1-in-16,294 moonshot:
The creatures this deck plays are not only monstrously large, they’re also resilient to removal. Hollow One and Gurmag Angler dodge Push and Bolt, while Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix keep coming back unless they’re Pathed away for good. All of the beaters in this deck (outside of Flameblade Adept) line up well against the commonly-played removal in Modern.
With a large number of random discard effects, you might think this deck is subject to the whims of fortune and relies on good luck in order to win. While this is partially true, variance is not significantly more impactful on this deck’s performance when compared against any other deck. Sure, there are levels of RNG, but the deck is specifically built to make the most of random effects like Goblin Lore. The best way to think about it is to remember that yes, the Hollow One deck relies on rolling dice, but the dice are loaded in its favor.
While its creatures are obviously mighty, one of the pitfalls of the Hollow One deck is that there’s usually a limit on the number it can deploy in a timely fashion. If you have a hand that is set up to deal with two or three big threats, then the game is probably going to play out in your favor. Hollow One doesn’t have a huge amount of staying power past its explosive turns. Sure, it can use Faithless Looting and the like to find impactful cards, and it can recur Bloodghasts. But if you’re able to stabilize early enough, it can be difficult for Hollow One to close.
Additionally—and rather obviously—this is a graveyard-based deck, and therefore folds to graveyard hate pretty severely. While a Rest in Peace isn’t a rock-solid auto win (Gurmag Angler can, of course, still be hard-cast), anything that deprives them of using their graveyard to full effect is going to be very effective. A real weakness to graveyard hate is implicit for Hollow One decks.
Finally, bad RNG can cripple this deck’s performance, and for more than one reason. While I talked about the deck rolling “loaded dice,” as random discard isn’t as high a price to pay with Hollow One, bad luck can and will lose you games with this list. I’m hesitant to classify that as a weakness given that it’s accounted for so thoroughly by the deck’s overall game plan. Instead, a weakness that’s crucial for Hollow One pilots to overcome is the psychological effect of bad rolls.
If you’re on the wrong end of variance—and if it really is variance—it’s critical to make sure that this doesn’t put you on tilt. It’s a weird thing to highlight as a “weakness” of a deck, but it really is—it can be enormously demoralizing to get shafted by random effects, so if you’re going to play this deck, make sure that you know what you’re signing up for.
How to Beat Hollow One
There are two broad categories of cards that will aid you in going up against Hollow One. The first is, obviously, graveyard hate. The second, effective removal. The key to winning the matchup is to ensure that you utilize a good mix of both—just one of these elements on their own may not be enough.
Choose your graveyard hate wisely. Naturally, the more unconditional it is the better it’ll be for you. Be wary of one-shot exile effects (Nihil Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus), as Hollow One can rally and fill up the ‘yard pretty quickly afterwards. Look for things like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void to answer the question once and for all. Outside of cards like that, Grafdigger’s Cage is surprisingly effective. While it doesn’t deal with Gurmag Angler, it takes care of more or less everything else, and even shuts off Faithless Looting.
As for removal, remember that threats like Flameblade Adept and of course Hollow One itself don’t require the graveyard in order to be effective. As with your graveyard hate, the more unconditional your removal is, the better. Path to Exile is the gold standard here, as are any Terminate-style cards against the 4/4s and 5/5s. Finally, this deck will struggle to beat sweepers, especially Terminus, so if you can afford to include them, do so against Hollow One.
After entrenching itself into the Modern format, Hollow One doesn’t look to be slowing down. Its rise within Modern has been blisteringly fast and resulted in a swift and tenacious predator joining the fray. Make no mistake, Hollow One decks will be out in force in Minneapolis!