Throughout its brief tenure in the Modern format, Hollow One has not been a deck that players have taken particularly seriously. With cards like Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore, the opportunity for the deck to fail itself often seems too high. But that variance can hurt your opponents as much as it can hurt (or help) you. With the deck now sitting as the second most popular deck in Modern, it looks like Hollow One and crew – and the variance that they bring to the format – are going to be sticking around for a while.
Jessica Estephan’s Hollow One – 1st Place, GP Sydney
4 Hollow One
4 Flameblade Adept
4 Flamewake Phoenix
3 Gurmag Angler
4 Street Wraith
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Burning Inquiry
2 Collective Brutality
4 Faithless Looting
4 Goblin Lore
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Stomping Ground
3 Wooded Foothills
Playing the Deck
While we’ve all seen the screenshots of the busted turn one Burning Inquiries into triple Hollow One, the deck is generally slower and fairer. Curving out a turn two Bloodghast into a turn three Flamewake Phoenix is far from the end of the world. In fact, Frank Karsten ran the numbers, and you’re only likely to land a Hollow One on turn one or two just over 30% of the time; if you’re looking to get two Hollow boys out on your first or second turn, that number drops to 5%.
While the deck can have incredibly explosive draws, part of its success comes from its ability to rebuild and grind out the late game – just one land drop or top-decked Gurmag Angler can see you returning a slew of Bloodghasts and Flamewake Phoenixes from the graveyard. There are plenty of synergies to be found in this deck, between your Hollow Ones, the bevvy of cards you discard or cycle (hopefully including your Phoenixes and Bloodghasts), and delve cards like Gurmag Angler and Tasigur. Plus, the annoying staying power of your recursive threats can wear down even the most prepared opponents.
It also helps that your threats line up extremely well against the most common pieces of removal in Modern. Sweepers like Wrath of God and Supreme Verdict are just temporary annoyances against your Bloodghasts and Phoenixes, while Hollow One and Gurmag Angler render opposing Anger of the Gods or Fatal Pushes useless. Even cards like Rest in Peace can’t stop you discarding into a quick Hollow One. The need for your opponents’ answers to line up perfectly with your threats can make it awkward for opposing strategies to board against you, and even more awkward when they keep a hand that happens to do nothing against the threats that you present.
A Bit of Nuance
Even though Hollow One often turns the desire to minimize variance on its head, there’s a reason that we continue to see the deck at the top tables in the hands of the most skilled players. Hollow One has a surprising amount of play to it, as you need to navigate tricky board-states against decks that can outsize your Bloodghasts.
Though most of us avoid keeping one-land hands, it’s often correct with this deck: with four Faithless Looting and four Burning Inquiry, you end up seeing a lot of cards. I’d also caution not to be afraid to fetch and shock aggressively; the deck only runs four basic lands, and against Path to Exile or Ghost Quarter decks, you’ll want to save those so you have something to search out when your opponent strikes.
The one Stomping Ground is in the deck exclusively for Ancient Grudge, and when you’re not boarding Ancient Grudge in, it is sometimes correct to board that Stomping Ground out. It’s also important to keep in mind that you can often end up discarding your Stomping Ground to your random discard effects, so it will usually be correct to fetch up your Stomping Ground as soon as possible in games where you’ve boarded in your Ancient Grudges.
Personally, I feel that Blood Moon is not particularly well-positioned at the moment, while cards like Engineered Explosives have consistently over-performered in a format full of Humans and Bogles. I also think that cards like Fatal Push, Grim Lavamancer and Big Game Hunter can be slotted into your board as concessions to a difficult Humans match-up; you could also consider including Torpor Orb or even Damnation! Leyline of the Void is a must-have for the mirror, but if you’re worried about facing fellow Hollow One players, cards like Lightning Axe and even Ancient Grudge will put in work. Liliana of the Veil is an interesting addition as well – not only does she help shore up your Bogles match-up, she’s also an easy board-in against Control strategies like Blue-White or Midrange strategies such as Jund.
As a long-time embracer of high-risk, high-reward strategies (you can check out my article on Grishoalbrand here), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed leaving my fate in the hands of the dice as I Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore my way to victory. Love it or hate it, I think this powerful strategy is here to stay.
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Burning Inquiry” by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai