I have been having some success with Hollow One lately, most recently starting 14-0 at Grand Prix Atlanta before eventually losing in the quarters, and a lot of people have asked me for my thoughts on the deck and its position in the metagame.
I’m not going to tell you that Hollow One is the best deck in Modern right now or that it’s much better than any of the other top decks. Modern is a format of endless possibilities and there are approximately 30 other decks that you can easily win a tournament with on any given weekend. There is just no best deck.
My view on Modern is that it rewards experience. It’s much better to play the same deck that you have been playing for a long time than to keep switching decks every single weekend, hoping that they suddenly became broken overnight.
For that reason I usually tend to stick to the decks I have plenty of experience with, that I know I will be able to play well, and with which I know how to sideboard and approach every matchup. I also enjoy playing linear and proactive decks that punish people for keeping bad or slow hands to get some free wins that way.
You can’t really go too wrong by playing a deck that wants to curve out every game with Thoughtseize into Tarmogoyf into Liliana. Your game plan is always the same and you are always looking for the same cards in your opening hand. The same applies for Hollow One. You know exactly what you want to do when you scry. Now imagine you are playing U/W control, it’s game 1, you took a mulligan, and see a Supreme Verdict on the top of your deck when you scry. Are you going to keep it? It could be the best card in the matchup or completely dead, but you have no way of knowing. This can be extremely punishing, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with your deck or in the format.
Your game plan with this deck is pretty simple. You want to get some free Hollow Ones into play as soon as turn 1, and Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix into the graveyard. This deck is very powerful because it’s consistent at doing that while also interacting with your opponent with Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push. Your fail rate is small. Other decks struggle to interact with you because your threats are recursive and you can dig very deep into your deck very quickly every game. Faithless Looting is a busted Magic card.
If I want to abuse graveyard synergies, why am I not playing Dredge instead? Dredge is certainly much better game 1 because it’s just goldfishing and not trying to interact with its opponent. But after sideboard, when everyone brings in all the Leylines, Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, and Tormod’s Crypt, things get much harder. While you don’t really mind and can still easily get a Hollow One into play on turn 1, and hard cast your Bloodghasts and Phoenixes, Dredge is a completely non-functional deck if it doesn’t have an answer for the graveyard hate. Good luck trying to beat someone down with your Golgari Thugs.
Dredge is certainly a good deck, and with the addition of Creeping Chill it is maybe even doing the most powerful thing in Modern right now. But it comes at the cost of your deck possibly not doing anything in the post-board games and that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take when everyone is overloaded with sideboard hate.
Here’s my current deck list:
The main deck is a well-oiled machine with only two flex slots. I’m currently playing two Fatal Pushes and I’m very happy with them. Collective Brutality just never felt like it was doing anything relevant unless you were playing against Burn. Other options include Terminate, which I think is too slow, and Maximize Velocity, which looks great on paper but does the exact opposite of what I want the card in that slot to do. See, I do want to interact and Fatal Push is great at that, killing early creatures from Humans and Spirits while also being able to take down high-toughness creatures like Thing in the Ice, Tarmogoyf, and Death’s Shadow. I think it currently fits the deck perfectly.
Normally playing removal comes with the cost that it can be dead against control decks. But that’s not true for a deck full of looting effects. If you draw Fatal Push against Scapeshift or Amulet Titan, you won’t be a card down—you just discard it to Faithless Looting and carry on.
I like the 2/2 split on Tasigur and Gurmag Angler and would actually play more Tasigur if it wasn’t legendary. Bloodghast, Flamewake Phoenix, Faithless Looting, and Ancient Grudge are all cards I want to keep in my graveyard and not exile for delve, so I’m slightly in favor of the 6-mana creature, even if it has 1 less power. It doesn’t really matter all that much in the end. Just remember to delve away cards that can potentially help your opponent. That usually means keeping Tarmogoyf in mind and getting rid of creatures they can exile with Scavenging Ooze.
Leyline of the Void – Self-explanatory. Your best chance of ever beating Dredge and other graveyard decks. It’s also at its best in a deck like this, where even if you draw it later in the game, you can still hard cast it or loot it away.
Thoughtseize – In my opinion, this card is a necessary evil against other combo and control decks. Thoughtseize isn’t great because it doesn’t advance your game plan, and you aren’t going to impress decks like Tron, KCI, and U/W Control with a Lightning Bolt, so you need something that interacts with their hand.
Ancient Grudge – Your best card against Affinity and Hardened Scales, but also useful against Tron, Infect, and in the mirror. It’s not super high impact in a lot of matchups, but it feels like a necessary evil. What pushes it over the top is that it’s basically free.
Liliana of the Veil – Games against U/W control are usually super close. Your opponent is trying to answer your board with Path to Exile and Terminate, sometimes getting help from Rest in Peace. Eventually the game reaches a point where they have a bunch of expensive cards in hand like Cryptic Command and Teferi, and are hoping to stay alive long enough to be able to use them to pull ahead and eventually beat you with a Baneslayer or Lyra. Liliana is the perfect answer for all of that. It gives you an out to Baneslayer and makes them discard the annoying Cryptics and planeswalkers while giving you a way to discard Phoenixes and Bloodghasts. Someone asked if they should bring her in against burn. Don’t do that. You will be trading 3 mana for the 1 they spent on a Goblin Guide that already hit you twice, or make them discard a useless land. It’s also not good against Tron. They are too fast to get to a lot of mana and their creatures are Wurmcoil Engine, Thragtusk, and Walking Ballista.
Engineered Explosives – This is also used mainly against Humans, Spirits, and Hardened Scales, with the added benefit of being able to kill Rest in Peace and Timely Reinforcements tokens. It’s also amazing against Bogles and pretty much your only chance to win that matchup. You can replace it with Slagstorm for Team Unified purposes.
Assassin’s Trophy – I like this as a 1-of. It’s a great card against Tron because it can destroy a Tron piece and one of their big cards. It’s also decent against U/W as another answer for Rest in Peace and Lyra. I would’t want to run more though—getting a green source in play definitely isn’t free and you don’t want to end up with an uncastable card if you end up accidentally discarding your Stomping Ground.
Cards I am not playing:
Grim Lavamancer – I just find Grim to be too slow. It only really does anything if you play it on turn 1 and after that, there never seems to be a good time to play it. It’s a little bit like Leyline of the Void, except that you have better options. Also, against Humans, not being able to kill Mantis Rider is a big deal.
Maximize Velocity – I can see how this is a good card in the mono-red version, but here I feel like it is just a win more card and I would rather make sure that I can interact with my opponent. You don’t need to goldfish faster in your already good matchups—you want to make sure that you have an answer for Scavenging Ooze or Death’s Shadow.
Blood Moon – Not high impact enough. Also not effective against you. I’ve had people bring it in against me. Don’t do that.
Soulflayer – I feel like once you start warping your deck around this card, you are just making it worse and less consistent.
Deafening Clarion – Someone suggested this as a way to clean up the board against Spirits/Humans and also gain life with Hollow One/Tasigur. While that sounds like a great idea, splashing another color is a huge cost and means that you will usually have to take extra damage to cast it by shocking yourself, which means that you are already down 2 life to start with and you aren’t even guaranteed to have a big guy in play to get some life back. 3 mana is also a lot. Don’t forget that you are playing only 18 lands. Playing cheaper interaction like Bolt and Push lets you double-spell, which is very important in pulling ahead.
Big Game Hunter – If suddenly Tarmogoyf makes a big comeback, and you also expect a lot of mirrors and other decks with high power creatures (I’m struggling a bit here to come up with some), then this could be a fine choice, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at this moment.
Tips and Tricks
I don’t mulligan very aggressively, but the hand needs to have some action and a good chance at either Hollow One in play on turn 1, or something like Tasigur and Bloodghast in play by turn 2. Almost any normal looking hand with Faithless Looting or Burning Inquiry and 3 or less lands is keepable. Either one of these and Hollow One is a keep as well. On the other hand, curving Adept into Bloodghast into Phoenix isn’t going to be good enough. This is Modern—people usually goldfish around turn 3 or 4. These three hands are easy mulligans:
While these hands are easy keeps:
I think this hand has a super close decision on what to do turn 1. You can make an argument for opening with Burning Inquiry, hoping to keep Hollow One, while screwing your opponent’s hand in the process. The other option is playing turn-1 Flameblade Adept, intending to cast Inquiry on turn 2 and attack for 4. This way you have one more draw to get something you actually want to get in your graveyard and you will also find out if Lightning Bolt is good in the matchup or not, which may make you play differently. I’m leaning more toward starting with Flameblade Adept, but if this hand had two Bloodghasts instead of the two Lightning Bolts, I would be more likely to cast Inquiry on turn 1.
Usually you start with Looting to have control over what you discard, but with Hollow One already in hand, you should open with Burning Inquiry. If this hand had a Street Wraith, then you would start by cycling it and then play Looting to have a guaranteed Hollow One in play.
- Always cycle Street Wraith first before you do anything else. It will give you more options and more cards to choose from.
- You don’t always have to play Burning Inquiry. If you know that your opponent’s hand is bad and that they cant beat your board, it’s usually better to not play it.
- Keep in mind that you can play Flamewake Phoenix in your second main phase and block something with it.
- If you can play a free Hollow One after some looting effects, you will usually want to play it precombat to guarantee having another 4-power creature in play to trigger your Flamewake Phoenix. It checks on resolution so if you only have one 4-power guy and they Path it with the trigger on the stack, you won’t be able to bring it back.
- Sequencing is important. Think about what you want out of your looting effects and lands before you play them. For example, if you already have enough lands, fetch first before you cycle Street Wraith. If it’s the other way around, cycle first and you have more of a chance to hit your land. Play your fetchlands first to get as many cards as possible into your graveyard for delve.
- Playing a fetchland on turn 2 before you cast Burning Inquiry still guarantees you to trigger landfall and get Bloodghasts back into play.
- Bloodghast’s trigger is a may. Sometimes it’s better to keep them in the graveyard with a fetchland up and intend to bring them back at the end of your opponent’s turn. This is important against cards like Anger of the Gods or Terminus.
- If you know you will have a Mountain and Blood Crypt in play by turn 2, start with the Mountain. You will very often cast another looting spell for 1 red mana on turn 2 and then need black mana from the Blood Crypt to cast a delve creature.
- Sometimes you will want to delay playing one of your fetchlands to enable revolt on Fatal Push.
- Casting Hollow One for 1 mana is pretty common and comes up after playing a Faithless Looting on turn 2 or cycling two Street Wraiths on turn 1.
- Hard casting Street Wraith sometimes comes up in the mirror against Mardu Pyromancer and Dredge.
Your best matchups are slow, interactive decks like Jund, G/B, Jeskai, and slower combo decks like Scapeshift. Death’s Shadow is also a great matchup, especially if you are packing Fatal Pushes. I think the deck is also slightly favored against U/W Control, KCI, and Hardened Scales. Against Tron, Humans, and Storm I feel like I’m usually flipping a coin, where winning the die roll is usually the deciding factor. Spirits is unfavorable, but winnable. Your worst matchups are Dredge and Bogles.
It’s possible that it’s correct to keep some number of Fatal Pushes in the deck because everyone seems to be on the Sai plan post-board.
Dredge is a pretty bad matchup game 1. They are just faster and more effective. After sideboard you should aggressively mulligan for Leyline of the Void. Games 2 and 3 are usually a bit slower, so I like keeping in Lightning Bolts to kill their Stinkweed Imps that otherwise trade with your big guys. I’m not sure about Thoughtseize, but at least on the play it can take their answer to your Leyline and you will always be able to take Cathartic Reunion with it. I don’t think bringing in Ancient Grudge for Shriekhorn is worth it.
I like bringing in more removal to make sure you can always kill Goblin Electromancer on turn 2. Otherwise, they just get too much value out of it. Your main target with Thoughtseize is Gifts Ungiven. They usually bring in Empty the Warrens, so Leyline doesn’t seem very good.
Fatal Push might kill Celestial Colonnade, but before that it’s a dead card. I’d rather keep Lightning Bolts if I had fewer cards to bring in. Assassin’s Trophy and Explosives give you more outs against Rest in Peace.
This matchup is very bad. You need to get lucky with Burning Inquiry and leave them without a creature. If they ever stick Daybreak Coronet on a guy, you basically can’t win.
You have so much removal that this matchup should be fine. Kill everything they play and do it either in your turn or at the end of theirs so you don’t die to a bunch of pump spells.
Do not sideboard Leyline against them. It just doesn’t do enough.
I’m not sure if my sideboarding here is correct as I am definitely diluting the deck way too much, but it’s really hard for them to win through all that removal.
Your main targets for Thoughtseize are Crypt Incursion, Ensnaring Bridge, and Damnation. Ancient Grudge takes care of Mesmeric Orb and Bridge. Don’t randomly search with a fetchland if you don’t have to so they can’t use Archive Trap. Keep in mind that they have Field of Ruin so try to slowroll getting Stomping Ground into play if you can (but don’t get it milled in the process).
Without Collective Brutality this matchup certainly got a bit worse, but Burn doesn’t seem very popular at the moment. Ancient Grudge gives you an out for Ensnaring Bridge.
Again, Ancient Grudge is an answer for a possible Ensnaring Bridge.
I don’t have enough experience in the matchup yet to have definitive conclusion on what to take out. Fatal Push doesn’t have many targets, but it might still be better than keeping Burning Inquiry, which also helps them get Phoenix in the graveyard and fill it up for Bedlam Reveler. If they are on the burn-heavy version, then Street Wraith doesn’t seem great either, but it’s still probably the best of the three candidates to take out. Stomping Ground is also fine to take out here, as you don’t need the green mana and the extra 2 damage is quite painful.