It's the final week of June and the end of this testing mini-series. Primarily because the event that enabled it to happen in the first place will end the day after this article is published. It's been fun and I do see why so many streamers are able to keep their sanity playing MTGO day after day. You never know what you'll hit and that keeps the experience engaging. It also makes me wish that the rental services were half as efficient as Mythic Event Tokens.
While I'm only going to discuss five decks total during this series, I did play a lot more. The ones I've left aside are either too mainstream for the premise of the article, sufficiently bad in a way that's neither surprising nor interesting to discuss, or I'm saving them. The Regional Qualifiers start in July and I've been working on decks for the Modern ones. I don't want to tip my hand too early.
Hollow One Won't Die
It seems like an impossibly distant time now, but there was a moment when Hollow One looked like it was going to take over Modern. The deck was everywhere for the first few months of 2018 before rapidly falling off.
Part of that was that players got used to the gameplay and were better prepared. Part was also that alternative decks emerged which did something similar but more reliably. First it was RB Vengevine, which exploded on PT 25th Anniversary before disappearing. Then came Arclight Phoenix. The nail in the coffin was Faithless Looting eating a well-deserved ban.
However, over the years, adherents have refused to give up on their beloved artifact monster. I watched as various players tried to make the deck continue to work with just Burning Inquiry in both Hollow One and Vengevine shells. There were plenty of players that gave up on Hollow One and went all-in on Vengevine alongside mill card to recapture the glory. And it never worked. However, I was curious about their persistence, and went looking for a deck to try out.
A confession: Hollow One was one of the first decks I decided to test when I undertook this series. I just had a harder time finding a deck to actually test than I thought. I spot the odd Hollowvine or Millvine deck in the data every month, but they've been around long enough that there's nothing new there. Both just lose to graveyard hate and their own inconsistency. Yawn.
Fortunately, I got some help. Evart Moughon, better known as aspiringspike, had an idea for an updated version with his (then-) pet card Ledger Shredder. It looked sufficiently good, interesting, and not tried-and-failed to me to warrant a closer look.
It was such a beautiful mess that I played the unaltered 75.
As I said in the previous line, this deck is a mess. But it is a beautiful one. It's trying to be Hollowvine and also Hell's Kitchen. It has Shredder because of course it does. With only 17 lands it will have to mulligan a lot but it would need to anyway to have a chance of doing anything. And I do love the singleton Bazaar of Wonders.
Whether it will actually work is another question. Between Inquiry, The Underworld Cookbook, and Insolent Neonate, there are plenty of ways to discard the Vengevines and make Hollow One a reasonable price. However, beyond that it doesn't look great. The old decks only worked thanks to their ability to vomit more power onto the board than removal could handle. With better removal available, I was skeptical that I'd get those good starts often and worried I'd have to rely on grinding out games with Shredder.
This deck is a blast to play. It's not that good, but it is fun. You do have to get used to the chaos of it all, though. Over June, I've played 32 matches with this deck, far more than any other I've tried. Part of that is that matches with this deck tend to be over quickly, one way or another. The other is that I'm just having fun tooling around with it. My record stands at 13-19, so this deck is unlikely to take Modern by storm or have any measurable impact at all really.
There was no pattern to my wins or losses. I beat very good decks and lost to very bad ones. It all comes down to how the wheel spins.
Sometimes Inquiry is effectively Hymn to Tourach that enables Vengevine and Hollow One to start crushing on turn 1. Sometimes it makes the opponent's marginal hand amazing and ruins yours. Sometimes you cycle a lot of cards into nothing. Sometimes Asmoran... (I'm just leaving the name there from now on, thanks) is amazing and dominates the board; sometimes it just dies to Bolt. Games never feel similar, and past experience does not guarantee future payoff. It's all random.
This deck is an amalgamation of two plans which are similar , but do not synergize. There's the Hollow One plan and the Shredder plan. The former requires early Inquiry and/or dumping the hand in order to deploy as many 3+ power creatures as possible. The later requires holding cards to trigger Shredder repeatedly and make food for Asmoran to control the board and grow a massive threat. Trying to switch between plans doesn't work because if you start with the former you run out of fuel for the latter. Start with the latter and the former loses most of its punch. A 4/4 is phenomenal on turns 1-2 and pretty mediocre thereafter.
You have to choose one plan based on your opening hand. Then, it's just trusting to luck. Inquiry is the only way to disrupt the opponent's gameplan game 1 and, again, there's no way to know how that will go. Hollow One is easier to remove today than in 2018, and so you're really just hoping for the opponent to run poorly and/or exhaust their removal.
The only card advantage is Asmoran for her Cookbook and Ox of Agonas, so you can run out of fuel and struggle to trigger Vengevine late. It's very all-or-nothing. For the record, the all-in plan won me more games than the Shredder plan, but either way it's easy for the deck to fall apart.
As always, here are the additional thoughts I've had while playing this deck:
- I know that Evart designed the sideboard this way, but you almost never actually board anything in. I don't know if that's a good thing.
- Shredder is definitely underpowered here. It's hard to trigger connive yourself more than twice in a game.
- That 1-in-10 time you do trigger multiple Vengevines on turn one is the greatest feeling ever.
- I'm mostly just watching my opponent do their thing and hoping it's not enough.
- It's really lucky that Inquiry is sweet against combo; we could never race them otherwise.
- I'm not favored or unfavored in any matchup. Every match feels decided more by chance than actual play.
- I'm very soft to interaction. Doesn't matter what kind.
- Flameblade Adept didn't do much. Not sure if that was thanks to how I played or if it's a feature of the deck, but I didn't swing with it for much very often.
- Bazaar of Wonders is mostly useless, but wins the odd game here and there.
Don't play this deck if you're serious about winning. It definitely isn't serious about winning. However, if you're looking for a laugh and/or to be the center of attention at FNM, this is very much for you. Your fellow players may or may not appreciate the randomness element, but it will definitely turn heads and get people talking. If you can embrace the chaos and just want to have fun, this is a great deck and great experience. Just manage your expectations.
For the final deck, I initially started testing this deck seriously as a possible Qualifier deck. I moved on, which is why I'm writing about it, though that fact makes me rather sad. I really like this deck, it's just not a deck I want to take a risk on due to metagame considerations.
I first learned of Mono-Blue Tempo while looking up the Dreamhack Dallas 10k and saw Jason Kenyon's deck getting attention despite his poor performance. I later learned that the deck came from MHayashi and he'd first posted about it a few days earlier. It started getting more attention on twitter and put up some more results, so I used that as an excuse to test it.
I know that I got this specific maindeck from somewhere. I don't remember where and if I wrote it down, I've forgotten what became of it. If this is your deck, then give yourself a pat on the back. And definitely drop a comment!
I did some work on the sideboard over the course of testing and this was my end point.
I know that I said I had an excuse to test this deck, but that's not totally true. This deck is exactly my jam. Long-time readers know that I started off as a Merfolk stalwart and took Spirits to tournaments before it was cool. I've played blue tempo in every Standard I can and currently play Mono-Blue Spirits in Pioneer. If I could afford Volcanic Island, I'd be a full-time Delver player. I was all about this deck the moment I saw it.
Which is the problem. I've tried to make similar decks work in the past and gotten severely burned. I had to take a step back and stop getting my hopes too high on bad blue decks in Modern years ago and forced myself to be realistic about my decks. Which actually didn't bode well for this deck, as it ticked a lot of the boxes of my previous bad-deck obsession. Vendillion Clique, Faerie Conclave, and Spreading Seas have headlined so many terrible decks in my past that I didn't have high hopes this time. But other players having success outweighed my self-imposed limits and I got to playing.
I love this deck. It is everything I hoped to achieve with my previous disaster decks and more. Even better, I did quite well. I ended testing at 13-7. In matchups against UR Murktide and 4-Color Blink the deck felt great, with the right disruption to really put the screws to the opponent.
Once it transitions to attacking, Svyelun of Sea and Sky is surprisingly hard to kill, and Clique lives up to its potential. Spreading Seas was a huge beating in many matchups and Chalice of the Void could be devastating.
This was balanced by the deck being very poor against faster decks. Ideally, this deck faces nothing but midrange or slower decks because Dismember is essential, but awful when under pressure. I was very dependent on the Chalices being good, and being on the draw against a fast deck could be a death sentence. Subtlety can buy time, but I end up throwing away a lot of cards to buy the time to get something going. This doesn't matter against slower decks but in fast matchups the deck can run out of gas.
In short: take everything I said about Wishshift, apply it here, and then amplify it. The deck is very strong against the slow decks at the top of Tier 1 but isn't built to have a good aggro matchup. The only time I beat Burn was thanks to Chalice on 1 and 2, plus they didn't have any creatures. In the match I lost, I got the lock one game but they had Monastery Swiftspear out and killed me with Rift Bolt and prowess triggers. And a full three of my losses were to decks that simply ran out creatures on turns 1-3.
The worst part is that unlike with Wishshift, this isn't a choice. That deck had chosen to weaken its creature matchups to be better against midrange. With Tempo, I was playing almost as many anti-creature cards as I could and it didn't help.
There are only so many anti-creature cards that a mono-blue deck can play in the first place, and the ones I'm not playing like Vedalken Shackles or Witness Protection make Ratchet Bomb and Dismember look like speedy all-stars in comparison. I did try both at some point, by the way. It didn't go well.
In addition to the above problems, here are some more niche observations.
- Turn 1 Ragavan is really hard for this deck to beat.
- I thought the Tron matchup would be bad game 1. It's not, and Tide Shaper almost makes it a bye post sideboard.
- I definitely get some win percentage from players focusing on the wrong parts of this deck. The free spells are most common.
- Chalice is a reason to keep a hand.
- I run out of cards really easily. I feel like it needs Archmage's Charm, but that would throw off the threat/answer package too much.
- Blast Zone doesn't kill everything I need it too often enough. For a tempo deck, I have to give a lot of tempo up to keep up sometimes.
- Svyelun is really good and makes me want to pick up Merfolk again.
- Ratchet Bomb is pretty bad, but there really aren't better options.
If I knew that I'd face nothing but 4-Color and Murktide decks in a tournament, I'd heartily recommend this deck. However, random creatures in quantity appear to be this deck's Achillies Heel. Not even true Zoo decks but general creature decks. The more chance to hit those kinds of decks, the worse this deck gets.
Ending the Series
And with that, June comes to a close. Next week will be the metagame update and then it's time to look towards the next qualifying season. See everyone then!