Pro Tour 25th Anniversary was one of the most entertaining events to play, and from what I hear, to watch as well. Preparing for the event, on the other hand, was the most difficult time I’ve had preparing for a Pro Tour. With three formats to cover, it was extremely difficult not to take some shortcuts and just settle on stock decks.
While Modern had two new decks arrive on the scene in Bridgevine and Bant Spirits at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, this week, I want to talk a little about some new ideas with pre-existing Modern decks.
Most of the Modern players on our team were content standing pat on decks they’ve had success with the past. Ben Stark was locked in early on playing U/W or Jeskai Control, or moving to KCI. Matt Nass was going to make people beat him before he was willing to change his deck, and no one could blame him. Justin Cohen was all about Hollow One or KCI, and Ivan Floch was pretty much all over the place much like myself.
Ben Stark, as we all know, ended up working a lot on KCI and played it to a 2nd place finish. Despite some wonky ideas, he had some great ones too. Most of our team had some intention of playing KCI up until the final days, and while some did, others couldn’t justify it after the metagame became too hostile.
Justin first introduced us to Sai, Master Thopterist, a piece of tech many players and teams ended up finding for the KCI deck. Sai gives you an additional angle of attack against decks like U/W Control and Jeskai, and can stem the bleeding against decks like Hollow One and Grixis Shadow. You can get some equity back in your post-board games in a variety of matchups by circumventing your opponent’s sideboard plans.
The problem with Sai was that it could be difficult to cast. Ideally you’d want to hold your artifacts back before you cast it, but it’s not a huge deal to crack an egg to cast it. This couldn’t be done through Stony Silence, so we decided to add some more blue lands with Yavimaya Coast and an Island to more reliably cast it through one and win from there.
More blue mana opened up the possibility of other blue cards as well. Ben Stark added Serum Visions, which in my opinion was an awesome idea to test. Serum Visions is an excellent setup card in any combo deck, and the reason it may not be correct in KCI is simply because you can’t reliably cast it early to make it a good setup card because even with additional blue mana, it wasn’t quite enough. With Buried Ruin and Inventors’ Fair being so good in the deck, and Lightning Bolt being so important for the Humans matchup, we couldn’t quite fix the mana to reliably cast Serum Visions and Lightning Bolt without having to awkwardly crack Chromatic Stars and Spheres early.
Another idea Ben had when testing a more blue version of the deck was to add Thoughtcast. This idea seemed a bit worse to me because it required a lot of setup, and only generated one additional card in value. Also, when you’re combo’ing off and not on easy mode, colored mana can become an issue. Stirrings, Serum Visions, and Thoughtcast could prove to be too much of an issue.
The biggest innovation to the deck, in my opinion, was adding Negate to the sideboard. The KCI mirror is tricky. It’s often a race to who can combo off faster, and then you have to balance combo’ing off through interaction like Nature’s Claim post-board. If you’re rushed to combo, you could go off at a point where Nature’s Claim is enough to cripple you. If you don’t go off fast enough, you could just fold to your opponent going off faster.
Negate does everything you want as a sideboard card in the mirror, keeping Krark-Clan Ironworks off the table so that your opponent can’t combo reliably, while also being used proactively at times to protect your own KCI on the battlefield from an opponent’s Nature’s Claim.
Negate can also push through on your combo turn against your opponent’s countermagic from a U/W Control player, while also countering a Stony Silence on the play, or later in the game. Negate is also just a great card against other combo decks in general that could be problematic like Storm or Ad Nauseam. Having access to Negate and better mana to cast it should be a great addition to the deck, at a small cost.
I think both Sai and Negate have homes in KCI from here on out, and they were two major innovations at the Pro Tour.
One idea I had very early, and at which point was also shared by a Twitter follower of mine, was to add blue to Hollow One, specifically for Stubborn Denial.
Thoughtseize is a good card, but it doesn’t accomplish enough at times. It doesn’t work well against a U/W opponent who is chaining Cryptic Commands until they find a Terminus or can hard cast one, and it lines up poorly against decks like Tron or KCI when they draw their important cards in multiples. Stubborn Denial, on the other hand, can close games out against KCI, U/W Control, and can answer an Oblivion Stone, one of the more troublesome cards out of Tron while also eating their mana for the turn.
Theoretically, Stubborn Denial should solve some of Hollow One’s problems, and improve matchups against linear combo and control decks.
With the addition, we need to add an Island to the sideboard because we want more ways to cast Stubborn Denial, and also because we don’t want to get Field of Ruined off our mana to cast it. This means that all of the fetches should be Bloodstained Mire and Scalding Tarn as well.
Here’s close to the list I brewed up, and tested a small amount by Justin Cohen.
I’ve never been a big fan of Collective Brutality in Hollow One. It’s kind of the best available option, and we’re still waiting for a better card to include in this slot. Having it main deck gives you a way to interact with the opponent’s hand, and helps against some combo decks pre-board. Collective Brutality is obviously a great card against Burn and Collected Company decks, but those aren’t nearly as popular at the Pro Tour as they are at Grand Prix. With KCI being the combo deck of choice at the moment, the card has gotten much worse. While testing for the Pro Tour I considered adding literally every sideboard card to my deck instead, including main-deck copies of Leyline of the Void.
If we add blue to the deck, we get some reasonable considerations in this slot in Izzet Charm and Prized Amalgam. Prized Amalgam we could already play if we wanted to, just not cast. It might help us win a bit more and it’s worth trying.
I was mostly interested in Izzet Charm replacing Collective Brutality. They both have similar functions against creatures: Izzet Charm can counter a Collected Company, Krark-Clan Ironworks, or even a Cryptic Command to tap down your creatures in the early game. It, in many ways, can do the same job as Collective Brutality. Some things get better, some worse.
One drawback I see with Izzet Charm is having to fetch the correct mana for it early, which can lead to fetching Blood Crypt into Steam Vents, leaving you at a low life total early to turn on all of your spells.
Justin Cohen had a very successful run at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, losing a win-and-in for Top 4 in the final round with Hollow One. I’m pointing this out as Justin is very much a Hollow One expert, so I greatly respect what he has to say. He had some critiques of this version of Hollow One.
Justin, after trying this deck, explained he thought that Stubborn Denial was too hit or miss. Occasionally you want Thoughtseize against opposing Supreme Verdicts, where Stubborn Denial is a blank. Stubborn Denial also makes you rely on having a 4-power creature in play later in the game, which against control can be tougher than it sounds. Rest in Peace can make it extremely difficult to get delve creatures onto the battlefield, and they of course have a bunch of spot removal. Stubborn Denial can, in fact, protect your big creatures from Path to Exile as well, but it is often a forced play.
Lastly, Stubborn Denial is great against Storm, but to make space for the blue package, we have to cut the second Engineered Explosives. Explosives is important at dealing with their post-board Empty the Warrens plan.
Ultimately, this is an idea I may work on for future Modern tournaments, but I put it on hold for now. Ancient Grudge isn’t great right now with Affinity on the decline, but effective madness and flashback cards are at their best in Hollow One with so many random discards effects. If you’re eager to try something new with Hollow One, this might be a cool direction to take.
While testing, I ran into someone playing Faerie Macabre in the Collective Brutality slot, which may be a bit too cute, but I love the idea. Faerie Macabre can enable turn-1 Hollow Ones with a Faithless Looting, and can disrupt decks like Bridgevine and KCI enough to turn a win into a loss. Faerie Macabre can also be a Simian Spirit Guide for a Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang at its worst as well. While I wouldn’t do this right now, it’s not a terrible idea if graveyard decks at some point take over the format or are a huge part of your local metagame.
Lastly, I want to talk about a relatively overlooked masterpiece from Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Team Genesis and Ultimate Guard worked together for the first time at this Pro Tour, and their best work, in my opinion, went into their Modern deck. U/B Death’s Shadow and Turbo Fog are getting a ton of attention from their respective formats, but this Storm list is the best Modern innovation we saw at the Pro Tour.
Round 7 of Day 1, I played against Martin Mueller. After losing all day, I was very happy to see that he was playing Storm. Game 1 I set up the house of cards that was a pair of Meddling Mages, and it was good enough to take it down. I was feeling good, and expecting to take down one of the last games, clinching a match win for us. This was a really favorable matchup, after all.
I’ll admit that I was a little nervous. It was no secret that Humans was going to be one of the most popular decks in the tournament, and players as good and as dedicated to their craft as Martin and the rest of Team Genesis and Ultimate Guard would surely have a plan for the matchup. I was right to be a little nervous.
What we see is a smattering of Abrades, Grim Lavamancers, Lightning Bolts, and a Fiery Impulse. Post-board against Humans the deck turns into a pseudo U/R Control deck. Martin was able to kill a Meddling Mage on Gifts Ungiven, then Gifts for three different cheap removal spells and a Past in Flames. Having access to all three named removal allows for good Gifts packages and works around Meddling Mage. This makes it incredibly difficult to keep a battlefield presence. Eventually, the Storm deck can accumulate enough resources to combo off, or just use the Past in Flames for value and recast removal spells. He did this all with a Grim Lavamancer in play, making it nearly impossible to get anything going. Instead of locking him out, he locked me out.
Storm has positive matchups against KCI, Tron, and U/W Control, and with this package, I believe Humans to be winnable if not favorable. This kind of sideboard innovation is what turns a deck from good to great, and I think it’s possible that this deck is right back in tier 1 because of the work these guys did on the deck. The teams that played this deck did quite well in Modern, and lost some ground potentially in other formats.
Modern is a huge format, and while we mostly see stock deck lists, it can be important to try to iterate on these known quantities to see if new ideas fit the metagame better. While Modern is mostly wide open, at tournaments like the Pro Tour, you can gain an edge by properly metagaming. There are fewer fringe decks, and more focus on the top tier. This can also be true for local metagames, so it’s important to keep this in mind when preparing for local events as well.