As ever with a new deck doing the rounds in modern I like to try and make the cube version. I was a little concerned about a Hollow One build with there being so few cards that work well with the synergies. Playing so much support just for a couple of cards seems like it is destined to fail. It is not even like you have lower power options you can fall back on, there really just are not very many suitable graveyard and discard based threats this deck can run. While this was a mild issue it was far less of one than I had imagined. A big part of that is your ability to burn through so much of your deck so quickly. As such you do fairly reliably get to see most of your threats. While not a tier one deck this list is certainly very competitive and is more than capable of beating anything else. It also has much more in the way of build options than I expected as well. I think you can take this list in at least three directions. With its surprisingly potency and directional depth I feel like one good new card, or perhaps just a couple of OK ones and it could easily become a tier one constructed cube deck.
The list has a couple of things going for it that not many other decks do. It is somewhat of a double high roll deck. It is capable of huge tempo swings and massive turns which is what I would normally consider a high roll deck to be in magic. Any deck that has a wide range in what it can do basically. Well, this deck is that for sure but it adds another dimension by using a number of cards that are random in their effect. Very few good magic cards are random and so you don't see that much of it in the game, almost all the RNG comes from the library order and draws. With Hollow One however you go for some extra RNG with a bunch of random cards. It is like you are playing Hearthstone! This RNG element does not however detract from the skill level. The deck is still plenty complicated. It actually asks some awkward questions of you that are not familiar problems in Magic and thus might be harder. This high roll potential allows the deck to win out of nowhere, it can make awesome recoveries and it can really punish people taking risky lines themselves.The deck is also fairly robust against a surprising number of effects due to how it works. A lot of disruptive effects conventionally put things in the graveyard which typically doesn't bother the Hollow One player. Here is the list I ran, after it I will cover the ways to improve it and the directions you can go with it;
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Faith of the Devoted
Squee, Goblin Nabob
City of Brass
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
A couple of cards stood out as amazing and a few rather under performed. I would look to cut Risk Factor for sure, it was simply too pricey for what it offers. The deck is also too extreme to get consistent returns from it. Either you have done nothing and it is an easy four damage for them to eat or you are close to milling yourself and playing it is dangerous. I would cut Risk Factor regardless of build direction I was going in. It just costs too much for the pace of the deck.
The other probable cuts come as more of a package. Faith of the Devoted is more of a grinding card and was generally a bit slow and steady for what this deck was about. The card is very strong but it is a little bit off theme for this deck. Without it the need of cards like Street Wraith and the cycling lands drops considerably. I still quite like having some cheap cyclers in the deck as they afford trickery and synergy but I think it is a bit overdone and heavy handed in this list. I would much prefer to have more lands entering untapped. This probably means going up in land count or replacing a couple of the cyclers with basics. Squee is another non-essential card although he is one of the most impressive value engines the deck has to offer! The thing is, much as with Risk Factor, you are not really after value as your route to victory. Over the course of the games Squee generated me a lot of value. Card advantage wise it seems like it is just a free include but I suspect the cost of having a do nothing card is much greater than it looks. It takes a very long time for the benefits of repeatedly discarding and recurring a Squee to kick in. I liked Squee a lot, I like value and free cards but I suspect you don't really hurt the deck by not having him. Beyond that I don't think you can really cut that much. If you take out the Arclight Phoenix then you can free up a number of slots like Manamorphose and some of the cheap flashback cards but I don't think that is the best way to go if you are trying to be aggressive. Arclight is probably your best threat given it has both evasion and decent power. For this direction of the deck I would look to embrace the aggressive lean and the Arclight Synergy. As such I think the cards you replace the clunky three drops with are good solid spells and premium one drop prowess dorks. We are talking Swiftspear, Soul-Scar, Lightning Bolt, Dreadbore, Kolghan's Command, that sort of thing. They give you that initial head start and have a really solid base power level.
The prowess dudes with Arclight feel like the best version to go aggressive with. Something I plan to try however is going more of an Ichorid route and including more in the way of black support creatures. Stitcher's Supplier, Call to the Netherworld, Ruthless Sniper and perhaps a bit of bolstering from some cheap cycling black creatures. Much as this would be a neat synergy package it is just using a collection of cards that are weaker than Arclight and the prowess dudes. Ichorid is a massive downgrade on Arclight and actually isn't all that much easier to recur. I couldn't find the space to sensibly support both packages either. The other direction I see this deck being able to go in is a slower one making more use of cycling effects and leaning on Archfiend of Ifnir, Faith of the Devoted and Lightning Rift. Such a deck would be midrange to control and despite having a bunch of card overlap it would play very differently and have wildly different matchups. I have also already done a Gruul version of this deck which is very similar to this Rakdos list in style and content.
So what was good? Some surprises for sure. Obviously the core of the deck was exactly that. The good discard effects and the key threats all found in the modern builds were essential and made the deck function. The supporting cards that you do not see in the modern decks however performed unusually. Tibalt was the real shocker just because he isn't good and has never been good anywhere before. He was what I wanted to play on turn two every game. I felt in charge when he was down and I felt in trouble when he got dealt with. The +1 feels like draw a card, perhaps a little better what with most of your action doing stuff with or from the graveyard. Double good when reducing the cost your your Hollow One or pumping your Adept! The -4 was just a bit of reach and the ultimate a bit more reach. They are just threatening, they offer some return on growing the Tibalt and it makes your opponent wary. They have to deal with Tibalt as a result, that or they have to have an empty board and hand which seems like a pretty losing line!
Maximize Velocity was the other standout. I just found myself always wanting to find it. The pump (to help with Flamewake recursion), the burst, the controlled discard ability, the two spells in one card on the cheap (for Arclight!), the card empowers basically everything in deck somehow. Further to that it is just one of your most dangerous cards. When you can haste up any of the big ground dorks they are a beating and hard to play around. You can seem like you are doing nothing with an empty board bar a few lands and then just unleash with a pile of cheap fatties you send at face. Huge card for the deck. Don't leave home without. Not playing Anger was a huge oversight. I realized this for my Gruul build and it was exceptional but it did also reduce the value of Maximize Velocity a bit. Still worth playing both I would say.
Bomat Courier was exceptional in this list. He is a relevant and potent early play that applies some pressure which the list is a little light on. It is mostly that it is a good card to begin with and you somewhat turn the downside of the card into upside based on what this deck is up to. Having a cheap way to discard your hand whenever you like is pretty nice, especially when it comes with a bunch of cards to replace them. It it like your own personal cheap instant Wheel of Fortune. Firestorm is also a bit of a monster. It has that nice instant speed controlled discard feel about it. It even lets you keep some cards in your hand should you wish! Firestorm is one of the cards that has benefited most from the rules change regarding planeswalker targetting. The card literally reads do X damage to X targets now. When you kill a planeswalker, a couple of medium sized dorks and slap them in the face for four for just one mana you feel like you cheated. It is like casting a Bonfire of the Damned, without having to miracle it and without having to pay any mana for X! I got to kill two walkers with it once, utterly bonkers card when you have cards to throw in the bin.
Flameblade Adept is probably the best card in the deck. It is what you always want to lead with. The card is terrifying to play against. You never know if it is going to chunk your life total massively or just take a little nibble. It is hard to block and if not dealt with tends to do critical damage unreasonably quickly. It is like a Swiftspear that gets +2/+0 instead of +1/+1 based on the frequency of getting triggers and trades haste for menace. The critical mass of other recursive cards and discard outlets make the deck possible but Flameblade is what makes it really dangerous.
There are loads of potential extras I looked at that would work well in this kind of deck. Mox, both Chrome and Diamond have things to offer. Both are fairly high roll cards as it is and so fit this deck a treat based on that. Diamond is cute as it provides a discard trigger allowing for some really controlled and obnoxious opener potentials. You can attack on turn one with a Flamewake Phoenix and have a Hollow One and Bloodghast in play just off the back of a Faithless Looting. Diamond does however make the low land count of this deck more awkward and Chrome is going to slow you down ultimately with less things to play and less in the bin.
Basking Rootwalla sounded like a nice free inclusion, especially as I was running Confluence and City of Brass already. Sadly it also felt like it was just too low powered of a card to get excited about. This list is much more tall than wide and a 1/1 that can sometimes become a 3/3 isn't bringing a lot of threat or tempo to the party. Even Bloodghast is a little tame for what this deck is doing. My Gruul version included Vengevine and as such the Rootwalla had a lot more appeal for recursion effects. It is hard supporting both Vengevine and Arclight Phoenix in the same list, especially when also packing random discard, but not impossible. It feels like it is a fairly low cost inclusion and quite a significant return. I was certainly sufficiently impressed with the green cards compared to the black ones that I would like to now try a Jund list running just the premium offerings. The aggressive version of the deck is not only heavily red but also has most of the key cards in house too. You could likely go mono red and only play off colour cards you can cheat out. With a few more premium cards that is possibly worth it but for now that little extra offered by further colours is the way to go. You hurt yourself a lot more by playing sub par cards when you are playing a synergy deck such as this.
Back to this Rakdos version 1 of the deck, there are countless fantastic discard outlets you can run in this deck ranging from nice cheap utility cards like Cryptbreaker to punchier threats like Smuggler's Copter. Things to send you further down the rabbit hole like Flame of Keld or even more extreme all in cards like Smallpox. There are slower more control based options like Liliana of the Veil and more tempo choices like Lava Axe. There is a load of really cute cards like Leave // Chance which I wanted to play but ultimately knew they were not on theme enough for an aggressive deck. The list is too low to the ground and too linear in route to victory to be looking at cute cards. Shadow of the Grave was really hard to cut as I have yet to mess about with it. Sadly, despite being appropriately cheap it just requires too much setup to be worth running in this kind of deck. It and Risk Factor both just fail to be as stand lone reliable or powerful as Wheel of Fortune and I still don't think the deck needs a Wheel with all the other card drawing tools it has.
Despite having all these many great options on potent support cards I was finding I only really wanted more of one kind of thing. More of the threats I already had (and thus couldn't have) and more looting. I wanted all my discard effects to draw me cards and I wanted them to do it reliably without having to have crew and that sort of thing. The discard and draw is just the best way of getting to the threats that I so badly need for the deck to work. The win percentage of this deck hinged a lot on two things, having Flameblade in the first turn or two and having three of your other good threats in the top half of your deck. Both of these things going your way makes this deck comfortably tier one. Wild Guess is an option on more spell looting. I would strongly consider Sarkhan, Fireblood as another looter given how strong Tibalt was. Even Dismissive Pyromancer seemed like it might be a good inclusion. The extra removal wouldn't go amiss there at least. Ongoing looting is lovely but so are cheap spells that replace themselves. The recently spoiled Rix Maadi Reveler looks like a perfect new card to give this deck a boost.
It is almost a shame this list appears to be so tight. There are loads of lovely cards I would like to try out in this deck that have little chance to shine elsewhere. I recall my mocking review of Haunted Dead based on how unlikely it would be to find a suitable home for it yet here I am doing an article on a list it could be great in. You could run Azra Oddsmaker in this list and it would be about as good as that card is ever getting. Almost any card with discard effects, cycling or madness offers some viability in this kind of deck. I usually do a list of potential includes when I am preparing for a new build and this deck had a much longer list than most.
I plan to revisit this archetype a lot of the coming months. It is exactly the sort of deck I enjoy playing. Lots of options, lots of choices, lots of casting of things and the ability to see a lot of your deck. That last bit is actually what makes this deck so much better than I was expecting. You consistently see so much of your deck, and quickly, that despite having low threat and synergy density you do get what you need in good time. I did a bit of rudimentary maths and estimated you would see over half your deck by turn six on average. This is impressive not just when compared to blue decks with lots of dig and draw but also when you consider that the blue decks just "see" a lot of their decks. Most of the cards will wind up shuffled into or on the bottom of those blue decks. In this list your cards will all go to the yard via your hand. You get to use most of the cards you see rather than just the ones you cherry pick with your Impulse effects. Burning Inquiry really gets to act a lot like Ancestral Recall in this deck! It is even disruptive, all be it randomly. It turns keeps in to mulligans and it Hymn to Tourachs away key cards! The list I feel this is most comparable to is a Death's Shadow one. Both do powerful things to empower synergies for wildly undercost cards and effects. Both are tempo decks with a lot going on. Both are harder to play than they might look as well. Most importantly both are really fun. Mostly just for my reference, here is the list of cards I considered in the build process of this deck that I didn't play or mention in the article. Some are bad, some are cool;
Call the Bloodline
Horror of Broken Lands
Geier Reach Sanitarium
Stir the Sands
Limits of Solidarity
Wander in Death
Claim // Fame
and some of the green cards you can run;
Chatter of the Squirrel
Grapple with the Past
Birds of Paradise
Survival of the Fittest
Lasly here is my planned list for the next time I run this deck out. It is impressively a five colour red deck! Two of the colours you never need to see the appropriate colour of mana for and the other two are very much splashes so it only really merits a technically five colour claim. I have never before seen, or even considered the possibility of a five colour deck based in red. Despite the many colours it feels far more streamlined than either of my Rakdos or Gruul attempts so far. Focusing so much on the red does make it look rather like the Runaway red build I did the other day but that is another story (which will be included mostly on an upcoming article "Mizzix's Mastery .dec").
Lava Dart / Cabal Therapy
Deathrite Shaman / Insolent Neonate
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
City of Brass