Standard has been my main focus over the last few months, and for good reason. Guilds of Ravnica changed the landscape and has led to some of the most fun games of Standard I've played in quite some time. But there's been something on my mind the last few days and I can't seem to get it out of my head.
A few weeks ago, I played my first Magic Online Vintage League. One of my opponents had a curious brew featuring one particularly interesting combination of cards.
If you've been playing Magic for a while, you'll know that Caleb Durward broke Survival of the Fittest in Legacy at Grand Prix Columbus a little under a decade ago, ultimately leading to it being banned. When paired with Vengevine, Survival of the Fittest was one of the most disgusting cards I've ever seen!
If you follow Vintage closely, you should already know about the Survival of the Fittest deck. It put up a solid finish recently in a Vintage event on Magic Online, and is one of those decks that doesn't fit the current mold of:
Naturally, not being one of those decks should garner some amount of hype. And I must admit, when my opponent searched up a Hollow One after discarding a Vengevines and a few Basking Rootwallas, I was sold!
"But Todd, we don't care about Vintage. Can you get to the point already?"
Sure thing, chief.
What I know is that Vengevine, Hollow One, and Fauna Shaman are all Modern legal. And one thing I've noticed is that people are playing fewer removal spells than normal in the Modern format. While traditional builds of Hollow One are quite resilient to normal removal spells, the fact that they don't exist means we can play some enablers that give us more consistency without much fear of our creatures dying.
My plan with today's build of Hollow One is to explore multiple iterations of the archetype, presenting ideas that I want to try out. This is all theory-crafting, but one of my favorite things to do in Modern is to explore existing archetypes to see if there's something we're missing. And it could very well be metagame dependent on what cards we want to play.
My first test will be to see if Fauna Shaman is worthwhile. Unlike Survival of the Fittest, we need Fauna Shaman to untap and we can only really use it once a turn. Outside of something like Deceiver Exarch to untap it, chances are we're just using Fauna Shaman to give us some longevity and consistency. Let's start with a more traditional looking version of the archetype.
- 4 Hollow One
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 1 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Hooting Mandrills
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 1 Noose Constrictor
- 1 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Vengevine
As a super rough draft, I'll just say that this version is likely worse than the traditional versions of Hollow One, but we must start somewhere. After all, the original iterations of Hollow One almost ubiquitously contained Vengevine, and now very few versions play it at all. Goblin Lore and Burning Inquiry, as random discards, weren't adopted until Ken Yukuhiro took his version into the Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
With graveyard related strategies, finding the right build is often incredibly difficult because you must think about all these Magic cards in an abnormal context. Not only do you have to figure out if casting the card is worthwhile (if your deck can even cast it!), but you also need to understand how changing cards in any graveyard-related deck could be damaging to the overarching strategy. Since you naturally see more cards in a deck featuring Faithless Looting, and cards will often have uses in the graveyard, you must treat those cards like they're still in your hand. And the larger your hand is, the more difficult it becomes to assess each situation.
Of all the possible builds of Hollow One featuring Fauna Shaman, this is definitely one of the "easier" ways to put it together. And if I'm being honest, the more tutor targets you add to your deck, the wackier your draws will become over time. Every time we add a Goblin Bushwhacker or whatever, we need to make sure those cards are okay to actually cast on their own if we do randomly draw them. We see a lot of cards and our Faithless Lootings are stretched thin with us trying to discard so many graveyard-related things. The old adage of "we can just Brainstorm it away or pitch it to Force of Will" doesn't really play here because we're trying to use these discard effects wisely.
The fact that we can tutor up the following cards in order to enable some busted turns is pretty cool. And trying out all these options is going to take a very long time!
While I don't think we can fit all these into one deck, I could potentially see some builds that want to incorporate a few of these cards. And I'm sure there's still a few others I'm missing! The problem with being too gimmicky is that your deck starts to have a high fail rate. The weirder the pieces you add, the more likely your deck doesn't do the same type of thing every game. Plus, you could just draw a lot of off-color pieces that don't actually work well together.
The other thing you must ask yourself is: is your version of the deck actually better than something that currently exists? The Bridge from Below version of Vengevine is already a pretty sweet deck and is arguably more powerful than a Hollow One strategy featuring Fauna Shaman. Additionally, is making yourself more dependent on the graveyard worth the risk? At some point, shouldn't you just go all-in and play Dredge? These are all important questions to ask when making drastic changes to any given archetype. Sometimes you strike gold, but the other hundred times you just whiff.
If you want to get a little more wacky, why don't we try adding a color? Here's a little gem I've been wanting to try out.
Yes, Magus of the Bazaar has the same problem as Fauna Shaman: you need to untap with it. However, the explosive nature of Magus of the Bazaar is potentially more powerful than Fauna Shaman and could ultimately give the Hollow One decks access to a card that helps them match the more degenerate decks in overall power level. The trick? Getting Magus of the Bazaar onto the battlefield quickly.
The strength of Magus of the Bazaar is evident, as Bazaar of Baghdad is one of the most powerful cards in Vintage. And while we don't have Basking Rootwalla to throw onto the battlefield to trigger Vengevine, you get to choose which cards you discard and that's pretty friggin' sweet if you ask me. If we're able to get it onto the battlefield quickly, Modern has some pretty disgusting stuff we can use to go off!
Magus of the Bazaar was nightmare fuel for one of the first iterations of Standard Dredge back in the day, acting as one of the better discard outlets while also allowing you to mill over ten or more cards per turn. While there weren't as many busted things to do from the graveyard back then as there are now, there was a point where Bridge from Below, Narcomoeba, Golgari Grave-Troll, and Dread Return were all legal at the same time.
- 1 Bogardan Hellkite
- 3 Bonded Fetch
- 4 Drowned Rusalka
- 2 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Llanowar Mentor
- 4 Magus of the Bazaar
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 1 Sky Hussar
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Street Wraith
While Magus of the Bazaar is a significantly different animal for Standard, there's a pretty good chance your two-drop creature is safer in Modern than it ever is in Standard. When people are trying to play linear, powerful strategies, the total number of interactive spells they can fit is limited. On top of that, the odds of them playing removal spells over something like protection or discard effects is small. Of course, there are plenty of Modern decks designed to go hard on creature strategies. Jund, Jeskai Control, and Mardu Pyromancer are all packed with removal, ultimately making something like Magus of the Bazaar or Fauna Shaman worthless. But right now, the stock of those three decks is at an all-time low because they tend to falter against big-mana strategies.
So why not go hard?
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Golgari Thug
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Magus of the Bazaar
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
Again, we're moving away from the traditional Dredge that we've grown accustomed to over the last few weeks. No Creeping Chill, Life from the Loam, or Conflagrate, instead focusing on trying to get the most bang for our buck out of Magus of the Bazaar. Having as many graveyard-related cards as possible is the goal, which means an emphasis on Bridge from Below and Greater Gargadon. Creeping Chill would go pretty well with the Magus of the Bazaar plan, but I think it suffers from a lack of Conflagrate and Life from the Loam package. Without the ability to burn your opponent out completely, neither of these packages is desirable.
Magus of the Bazaar and powerful creatures like it often go overlooked in Modern because the format is usually full of decks featuring a swath of removal. Either that or adding something like Magus of the Moon or Fauna Shaman just gives you a big target for their Lightning Bolt or similar when they wouldn't have a good target otherwise. Decks that do play creatures tend to overload removal by having too many creatures for them to deal with in a reasonable time frame. So, when you have cards like Magus of the Bazaar or even Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, that don't fit well alongside other creatures, you get this weird dynamic where you're creating a positive outlet for their otherwise dead removal spells.
And that's the trick to building your deck, in Modern or otherwise: Find the holes in the metagame and do your best to exploit them. While these builds of Dredge and Hollow One aren't necessarily better than the ones that currently exist, they're just tools to show you that something else is possible. And when your opponents aren't playing much removal in Modern, having some sort of busted creature is basically a freeroll. And hey, even if you do get matched up against Jeskai Control or whatever, your only bad card against them is that two-drop creature. Against everything else, these types of cards can give you more explosive draws or a bit more consistency.
Before we go, it's important to understand that, when removal and creature-removal interaction is on a downswing, certain cards (and decks) start to get a lot better. For example, there's a good chance that a Devoted Druid or Infect deck is an insanely good choice right now. If your opponent isn't killing your creatures, your goal should be to exploit that hole.
But how you do that is completely up to you!