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Deck Evolutions: Hollow One (Modern)


A couple of weeks ago, we had the return of the Modern Pro Tour in Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and the biggest surprise of the event was a crazy Goblin Lore / Burning Inquiry-fueled RB Hollow One deck making the Top 8. When an off-the-wall deck suddenly posts its first premier-level tournament finish, the common assumption is that the deck came out of nowhere, but every deck comes from somewhere. It's actually exceedingly rare that a "breakout deck" is brand new—instead, it's usually a culmination of months or years of work by a bunch of different people. So today, we're going to trace back the history of Hollow One from its humble beginnings all the way to its breakout Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan finish. What happened over the course of the past six months to bring Hollow One from the fringes of Modern to the game's biggest stage? Let's break it down!

Today's Modern Hollow One Deck Evolutions is actually the eighth installment; in the past, we've covered Modern Tron, Legacy Miracles, the now-extinct Modern Twin, Modern Jund, Modern Dredge, Modern Humans, and Modern Death's Shadow, so make sure to check them out if you missed any of them the first time around! Anyway, let's break down the evolution of Hollow One in Modern!

GR Vengevine Hollow One—August 2017

The beginning of Hollow One in Modern has been hotly debated. If you look back on various deck-list sites, you'll see the first published deck lists for Hollow One come from SczockChan and SaffronOlive on August 14th and 15th of 2017. However, this isn't the actual beginning of the deck. The weekend before at the SCG Open, a player by the name of Julian Grace-Martin was the talk of the event with GR Hollow One / Vengevine. While he ended up missing out on the Top 8, which is why his list didn't go up on various sites, it was his 75 that SczockChan and SaffronOlive played on Magic Online later than week. As a result, even though his list didn't end up being published, Julian Grace-Martin deserves the credit for starting the Hollow One craze in Modern.

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The deck itself is rather restrained, working almost like a GR Burn list with lots of red one-drops to trigger Vengevine from the graveyard, including Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear, along with Insolent Neonate to get the drawing and discarding started. The other important part of the deck is the combo finish. Since the deck doesn't have any real evasion, it instead looks to use the combo of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense as a way to push through lethal damage even through a bunch of blockers.

While this initial build of Hollow One didn't really stick around for long (although people still play versions of it from time to time), it was the performance of Grace-Martin and subsequent 5-0 finishes on Magic Online that got players to start taking the idea of a Hollow One deck in Modern seriously.

Shadow Hollow One—August 2017

Major Additions: Death's Shadow, Thoughtseize, Collective Brutality, Lingering Souls

Major Subtractions: Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, Temur Battle Rage, Become Immense

The next evolution of Hollow One in Modern came only days later, as Michael Decoste realized that Death's Shadow is a natural fit for the deck. The deck already needed a bunch of one-drops to get Vengevine back from the graveyard, and it already spent a ton of life on a fetch-land-for-shock-land mana base, so adding four copies of Death's Shadow was as easy as adding in four Thoughtseizes for additional life loss. The other big addition to this build of the deck is Lingering Souls, which take advantage of the fact that, because of Death's Shadow, paying life for a crazy four-color mana base is an upside rather than a drawback. 

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Apart from having more interactive spells in Thoughtseize and Collective Brutality, the biggest reason to play Shadow Hollow One over the RG Hollow One deck was the nut draws. While playing a couple of Goblin Guide to get back Vengevine while playing some Hollow Ones for free is great, playing a couple of 10/10 Death's Shadows to get back the Vengevine is even more absurd. Plus, Death's Shadow gives the deck a second win condition that isn't dependent on the graveyard, which helps in post-sideboard games when everyone brings in Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace to shut down Vengevine. The downside of this plan is the deck loses the explosive, out-of-nowhere kill of Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense.

Non-Random RB Hollow One

Major Additions: Burning InquiryBloodghast, Flameblade Adept, Flamewake Phoenix

Major Subtractions: Death's Shadow, Vengevine, Insolent Neonate, Thoughtseize, Collective Brutality

Still, in August of 2017, the Hollow One deck suddenly starts to resemble the current build of the list, undergoing a massive overhaul in the hands of Cedric Merlet, who used his build to Top 8 a PPTQ. The biggest innovation here is that the deck drops Vengevine altogether, and dropping Vengevine also allows the deck to reduce its reliance on one-drops to trigger Vengevine from the graveyard, freeing up a lot of slots in the deck. What does RB Hollow One uses these new free slots on? Free graveyard value cards, in the form of Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix.

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If you really think about how Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix work, they are actually very similar to Vengevine—coming back from the graveyard for free, often with haste—except that by going with Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix over Vengevine, the deck reduces its need to play the bad one-drops that were holding back the previous builds of the deck. 

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The other two big additions to this build of the deck were Flameblade Adept, which provides another huge one-mana play in conjunction with all of the looting effects in the deck. Speaking of looting effects, we also see the first use of Burning Inquiry. Burning Inquiry finding its way into the Hollow One deck was a watershed moment for the archetype. Previous builds of Hollow One didn't really have a consistent way to play Hollow One on Turn 1 (needing a two-card combo to pull if off, with something like Faithless Looting plus Street Wraith). Burning Inquiry gave Hollow One a legitimate nut draw. While playing a free 4/4 on Turn 2 is fine, it's not that much different from tapping your mana to play a Tarmogoyf. On the other hand, playing a free Hollow One on Turn 1 (and sometimes multiple free Hollow Ones) is a great way to steal games against most decks in the format.

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While this build of Hollow One certainly deserves a lot of credit for finding the foundation of the current Pro Tour Top 8 list, it's not without it's problems. Call to the Netherworld as a way to get back Street Wraith is cute but not particularly good, while Fiery Temper proved to be the same. The problem with Fiery Temper specifically is that the most streamlined build of RB Hollow One is looking to use its mana every turn, and even spending a single mana to Lightning Bolt your opponent's face can keep you from casting another Faithless Looting or Burning Inquiry to dig deeper for Hollow One and friends, which means you end up discarding and choosing not to madness Fiery Temper more often than you'd think, and if you are often choosing to not cast Fiery Temper for its madness cost, there really isn't a reason to have it in the deck at all..

More Random RB Hollow One—November 2017

Major Addition: Goblin Lore

Over the next few months, not much happened in the development of Modern Hollow One. While Hollow One was still lurking on the fringes of Modern, people were still playing all different builds of the deck, ranging from the earliest Vengevine builds to the straight RB versions. Finally, in the middle of November 2017, something big happened in the Hollow One world: Goblin Lore was added to the deck. Of course, in a shining example of the "one step forward, two steps backward" nature of deck development, the addition of Goblin Lore also brought with it the return of Death's Shadow, which has proven to be less than ideal in the RB Hollow One shell, but Musasabi deserves a lot of credit for being the first person to post a winning record with Goblin Lore in their Hollow One list, even if the overall build wasn't all that great and Goblin Lore itself was only a two-of. 

Random Hollow One—January 2018

The way a deck evolves is strange. By January 2018, people had been playing with and building around Hollow One for six months, and the furthest anyone had gone down the random / Goblin Lore plan was the two copies in our build from November (which, it's worth noting, didn't really catch on. The Hollow One lists published in November and December mostly played zero or one Goblin Lore). Then, on the same day (January 11, 2018), two different players with very different Hollow One builds managed to post 5-0s on Magic Online running the full four copies of Goblin Lore. The first build was strange—sort of a Reckless Bushwhacker / Vengevine / Hollow One hybrid that that fell by the wayside after its one 5-0 finish. The second (pictured above) was extremely close to the Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan build of the deck.

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This build of Hollow One is essentially the deck in its fully random glory, and after watching it tear up Magic Online and the Pro Tour, it's worth wondering why it took players so long to add Goblin Lore to the deck. Here, my theory is how any random effects are in the deck. Generally speaking, tournament-level Magic is about trying to overcome variance—how many lands you draw, the order in which you draw your creatures and spells—so the most common style of tournament deck building is about minimizing the impact of variance. As such, playing four copies of Burning Inquiry and four Goblin Lore goes so far against the accepted norms of building competitive decks that it took players a long, long time to figure out that, at least in the case of Hollow One, there was so much power attached to the variance that it was worth making an exception to the long-held "minimize variance" deck-building rule. 

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan Hollow One—February 2018

As far as individual card choices, there isn't really much else to say about the build of RB Hollow One that broke out at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. The main deck is two cards different from the last Hollow One deck we discussed (+1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang, +1 Collective Brutality, 1 Insult // Injury, 1 land). However, the fact that this is the build the Japanese pros ended up with for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is still pretty impressive. While during an interview, they made it sound like they just pulled a random list off Magic Online, but before Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, the best-performing builds of Hollow One were still scattered. Some people were still playing Vengevines, and some players were still lacking Goblin Lore, so rather than just picking the most recent list to post a finish, the pros at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan managed to dig through the results and pick out what is probably the best build of Hollow One, even though it was far from the standard at the time.

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Now, as a result of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, the four Goblin Lore build of Hollow One is clearly the top Hollow One deck, and while more innovation will probably happen in the future, at this point it's the right list to pick up if you are playing the deck for the first time.

Wrap-Up

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the evolution of Hollow One in Modern is just how fast it happened. In the past, when we've discussed deck evolutions, most decks evolve over the course of years. In fact, for some long-standing Modern archetypes, entire years go by without any meaningful innovation happening. Meanwhile, Hollow One managed to go from an extremely fringe Modern deck to the Pro Tour Top 8 in a matter of months. 

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Another interesting question is what impact the success of Hollow One will have on Modern deck building moving forward. We discussed how tournament deck building is generally about minimizing variance rather than maximizing it. Is there any chance that the four Burning Inquiry / four Goblin Lore build of Hollow One being so successful will change people's perception of deck building in general, making players more willing to embrace variance if the variance comes along with a high level of power? Only time will tell. 

As for the next step in the evolution of Modern Hollow One, it's really hard to say. While the power level of the deck feels high enough that it seems likely that Hollow One will stick around in the format, it's possible that the metagame shifts will make some of the discarded ideas (Vengevine, Death's Shadow, etc.) relevant again. Remember: before Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, there was little agreement about the best build of Hollow One in Modern, so it's possible that in declaring RB Hollow One the winner of the great Hollow One war, we're putting too much weight on a single tournament, and some of the other builds could still have legs, especially if they evolve based on some of the lessons learned from the current build of the deck.

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Most importantly, the rise of Hollow One provides a great example of just how fresh and vital the Modern format can be, with old cards collecting dust like Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore suddenly becoming tournament staples with the printing of a random rare that isn't even good enough to see play in Standard. Hopefully, this characteristic wide-openness continues in the brave new world of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf because the feeling that anything is possible, if only you put in enough work to get your list just right, is a large part of what makes Modern such a great format.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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