“The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled.
If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.”
– H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
Winning is something amazing. All the doubts, the worries, the uncertainty of life seem to suddenly vanish when, after trying hard for a while, you finally succeed. I play for fun, like everyone else, but my conception of fun involves getting first and being as excellent as I can possibly be, at least at Magic. Playing in a casual setting, with people wanting to socialize more than winning, is a lukewarm experience in comparison to playing in a long and grueling tournament where, after a few near-misses, you improbably win the whole thing by the skin of your teeth.
Let me tell you something, today, far from prying eyes, I will share with you a secret, the inside of a powerful winning archetype in Modern that has been way too underrated until now. Through hard-work, intensive testing and tuning and re-tuning, my teammate Maxime Choquette and I, we finally made a breakthrough and that archetype went from fringe playable to real tier 1 contender. This deck is called Eldrazi Tron.
The deck so far, in my last two serious events, helped me to go 14-1-3, aiding me to win a 3k event in Montreal with 146 players and to get an invite to Pro Tour Dublin two weeks later by making top 4 of my local RPTQ. The three draws were intentional so I could top 8 each event. Let me tell you how we developed the deck.
One way to tell the story is this one; after scouring competitive Modern league events late one night, my teammate came upon an unassuming decklist, with small eldrazi and Wurmcoil Engines, mixing Urza’s lands and Eldrazi Temples. Always looking for something roguish to play, he gave the decklist a try, and enjoyed playing it. He did well with it at a side-event at the last GP Montreal and shared with me his then current version. We started to work on it together, trying, like chefs, to find the right mix of ingredients. Sampling different ingredients can often make the difference between a heavenly dish and a stale corner store sandwich, or to put it as an artistic metaphor, an art masterpiece and a dollar store stock image.
Tuning the deck, we felt like two guys, working tirelessly in a back alley garage on what would become a wonderful creation, a deck so exquisite that it would send shivers down the Modern metagame. Sadly, nobody wanted at first to recognize the magnificent fruit of our countless hours of basement playtesting. What mattered most, however, was not public approval, as we were proper spikes, what really mattered was victory, magical glory and blue envelopes. You need bravery to play a deck that has not yet proved itself, and we had to suffer the sneers and the mocking glances of the Magic establishment, naturally conservative and suspicious of innovative archetypes and new ideas.
On a less lyrical note, another simpler and more down to earth way to tell the story, I could write that we thought we found an archetype with an untapped potential that could be improved, with a rogue factor that would give us some extra win percentage. The metagame had evolved to a point where very aggressive and linear decks were dominating, and a deck that could answer these strategies would do really well. Chalice of the Void is often brutal against these strategies, and Thought-Knot Seer would be very well positioned as a kill condition, an information giver, a disrupter and a solid blocker. Eldrazi Tron would also be more resilient to hate cards than other tron decks, not being as terribly affected by land destruction.
The deck has powerful cards, in-built card advantage creatures and some hateful stuff like Chalice or Spellskite. There are solutions in the main deck and the sideboard to different problems the deck may encounter. The deck can be fair if you do not have early tron or several temples, but it can get really degenerate if you hit the right lands. It does not depend on tron to be efficient, like the other tron decks that go bigger, it just becomes way more destructive when it does. Some match-ups are more difficult, like Affinity, other tron decks, Grixis Death’s Shadows or RG Valakut ramp, especially the Through the Breach variety, but the rest of the field is even, to very favorable.
Let’s look at the decklist together and at each individual card choice.
Individual Card Analysis
2 Spellskite: It can be a simple wall, giving you time to assemble tron. It protects your precious eldrazis and is golden versus creature pump strategies like Infect, Suicide Zoo, UR Kiln Fiend or Boggle. Absorbing Eldrazi Displacer activations or Valakut triggers is one of the multiple ways this horror, which does not get bounced by Awoken Horror, can save your day.
4 Matter Reshaper: A Sakura-Tribe Elder impression that beats, trades with early aggressive creatures or chumps big ones. It sometimes gives you an Eldrazi Temple or a tron piece, allowing you then to do your degenerate stuff. It often comes in on turn 2, or turn 3 with a Thought-Knot Seer.
4 Thought-Knot Seer: One of the best creatures of Modern, brutal on turn 2 or 3. The information it gives is often as valuable as the card you remove. It is even better in multiple.
4 Reality Smasher: A turn 3 Smasher, thanks to tron or double temple, is hard to manage for your opponent; a second one makes it often impossible for your opponent to stabilize. A source of card advantage if they target it, it becomes even more problematic with Batterskull or Basilisk Collar. It can also be used as a planeswalkers annihilator, thanks to its haste ability. Keep in mind that they may play a free Obstinate Baloth or a Wilt-Leaf Liege thanks to it.
2 Batterskull: Great in general, broken with tron as you can cast it and equip it straight away. In a board stall, you can attack with it, gain 4 life, bounce it, play it again and keep 3 mana up to protect it. Original lists of the archetype had Wurmcoil Engines instead, but costing one less mana felt like a big deal, especially post-sideboard versus land hate. With Path to Exile also being very prevalent, we concluded that Batterskull was superior, filling that same role. It is a recurring threat versus control and allows you to do cunning stuff like equipping it on an Endbringer, attacking with vigilance and activating it to neutralize a blocker or draw a card.
3 Endbringer: It does not have a come into play ability, which is quite a downside for a creature of that cost, but if you manage to untap, it can take over the game, drawing an extra card or making sure an attack is lethal. It is an Eldrazi, so your Eldrazi Temple reduces its cost, and it can give you reach, for example when an Ensnaring Bridge is stopping your regular attacks, letting you ping your opponent to death.
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger: Your greatest finisher and usual Sanctum target, it can come out on turn 4. It deals with permanents that you cannot usually deal with and give you an alternate win condition in case your opponent has infinite life points.
1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion: It fills up your hand and is solid once in play versus control and combo, it can potentially counter their important spells. Fill the same role as Ulamog and will usually win you the game too if you land it.
4 Chalice of the Void: The strongest card of the deck, more hateful than Blood Moon in the current environment. Chalice on one and Chalice on two pretty much lock Naya Burn, Infect, and other aggressive strategies. Late game Chalice can be used to trigger your Sanctum of Ugin, so you can get Ulamog. Knowing precisely each archetype is essential to be able to determine how many counters you should place on it. On the play versus Affinity, it is great at zero. At zero, it can also be used to stop Ancestral Vision, Summoner’s Pact, Pact of Negation or Living End. Just do not forget your triggers, as your opponents will assuredly try to pull a fast one, using their best distraction techniques to get your attention elsewhere. It is true that it is not amazing in all matches and may only stop a card or two. When it is a good card though, it is not just good, it is completely broken. Not having them main deck would lower considerably your odds of winning a lot of match-ups, changing them from favorable to difficult.
4 Expedition Map: Early on, you are usually on one of three potential plans with them, the tron plan, the temple plan or the Blood Moon protection program. Late game, they become a tool box, giving you also access to a draw engine (Sea-Gate Wreckage), a creature tutor (Sanctum of Ugin) or land destroyers (Ghost Quarter).
3 Warping Wail: The “eldrazi charm” is so flexible, sometimes broken. It allows you to interact in a lot of different ways and opponents rarely play around it. If you are lucky, you can play Dismember and Warping Wail to kill a Primeval Titan, one of the rare ways you can eliminate it. It exiles mana birds, Dark Confidant, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Kiln Fiend, Thing in the Ice, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, everything infect, and more. It can make an instant chump blocker, put a beater at the end of turn on which to equip a Batterskull with or give you something to sacrifice for Liliana of the Veil. It allows you to play, a turn earlier than expected, a Reality Smasher, an All is Dust, or a Ulamog. Warping Wail counters Scapeshift, Ancestral Vision, Thoughtseize, Lava Spike, Cathartic Reunion, and various cantrips.
3 Dismember: The manabase is painless so four damage does not hurt us as much as other decks. It often does the same job as Path to Exile, without giving them a land, which would be a big disadvantage. A one-mana removal spell that does not get countered by Chalice is exactly what that deck needed.
1 All Is Dust: Another reason to play the deck, as it does not hurt us, unless you have a germ in play. Against the midrange decks, this tribal eldrazi spell is a one-sided Wrath of God that kills everything on their side of the table, including planeswalkers and enchantments. It wrecks Jund, Abzan, Merfolk, Elves and other similar colored creature based match-ups. Games that seem hopeless suddenly appear impossible to lose after casting it, letting you swing for victory with your unaffected Eldrazis. It is sometimes okay to use it to kill just one card that is a source of card advantage like a Dark Confidant, or to use it to trigger Sanctum of Ugin if nothing else. Obviously weak versus Affinity, Bant Eldrazi and Ad Nauseum, but not totally useless, and too slow for RG Valakut, it is a card that in other matches can win you the game on the spot. It is a sacrifice effect, not a destroy one, which is at times relevant.
4 Urza’s Mine, 4 Urza’s Power Plant, 4 Urza’s Tower: The expression of pure saltiness in your opponent’s face when you play natural tron on turn 3 is a big pull for the deck, letting you often cast two spells to increase the pressure.
1 Sanctum of Ugin: This card gets better postboard in the control and midrange match-ups when games last longer and you side in two more All is Dust and a Karn Liberated. It usually fetches Ulamog or Kozilek, sometimes Smasher if you are low on lands and it locks you the game.
4 Eldrazi Temple: A starting hand with two may give you the notorious eldrazi beatdown start that just runs over the opponent.
3 Ghost Quarter: They are there mostly for Inkmoth Nexus, tron pieces, Blinkmoth Nexus, Eldrazi Temple, Raging Ravine, Academy Ruins, bounce lands, other Ghost Quarter, Celestial Colonnade, Valakut, or a lone colorless source in an Eldrazi Displacer deck. It can be a Strip Mine in match-ups where they don’t play basics like Death’s Shadow or have already played all their very few basic lands like in Dredge or Amulet Titan. You obviously need to do your homework before the tournament and figure out what are the usual mana bases of the main archetypes. You can also cut a color in match-ups where they only have a type of basic lands like, for example, cutting their green source versus Naya Burn when they only have a Stomping Ground in play and no forest in the deck. Sometimes, you even have to use it on yourself versus a Blood Moon on the stack, or to stop a Spreading Seas and therefore a merfolk invasion in its track.
2 Ratchet Bomb: A poor man’s Engineered Explosives, it deals with tokens, enchantments, Blood Moon, and low curve decks like Boggle, Infect or Lantern. Slow, but flexible, it gives you answers to troublesome permanents that otherwise would leave you without outs. It is not a target removal, which is great versus Hexproof abilities like in Boggle or against Blossoming Defense in Infect.
2 Pithing Needle: You need to know when to bring it in and what to call if you are going to play it blind, as you often have to, especially if you are playing Chalice for one next turn. A solution to a lot of problem cards, it has plenty of good targets. Here is a short, non-exhaustive, list: Cranial Plating, Liliana of the Veil, all the other planeswalkers, Eldrazi Displacer, Aether Vial, Mutavault, Inkmoth Nexus, Wooded Foothills, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sakura-Tribe Scout, Insolent Neonate on the play, Nahiri Harbinger, Lightning Storm, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Fulminator Mage, Griselbrand, Codex Shredder, Oblivion Stone, or Karn Liberated.
2 All Is Dust: See above.
3 Relic of Progenitus: In the worst case, if you have useless cards to side out, you can bring these simply to cycle, if you don’t mind the inquisitive looks of your opponents that may question your intelligence for bringing it in that match-up. It is great versus Dredge, Grishoalbrand, Tarmogoyf decks and Snapcaster decks. We used to play four in the board and two Surgical Extractions, but Dredge was getting hated out from the format so we cut some of the graveyard hate cards. It really depends on the metagame though.
3 Spatial Contortion: That is your spot removal against aggro match-ups, it fills its role and once in a while will act as a Giant Growth for the kill. Two mana is a bit expensive for that kind of effect, but with your Chalices you cannot have 1cc removal spells. Keep in mind that it can protect your Spellskites against Twisted Image. Like Warping Wail and All is Dust, it is also a good way to go around regeneration triggers, like the ones from Ezuri, Renegade Leader, or indestructibility, like the one provided by Selfless Spirit.
1 Karn Liberated: The latest addition, following the advice of local control master extraordinaire David Schnayer. Useful against other midrange or control decks, it increases your threat density slightly post-board and is a catch-all solution for a lot of troublesome permanents. Its cost is not reduced by Eldrazi Temple and Eldrazi Tron does not consistently assemble the tron, so it is too expensive to be a main deck inclusion.
After a year and a half since I started to grind again, I am glad to say that I finally managed my goal, to get back to the big league where I will have the great joy of playing versus the big boys. Thanks to the cosmic entities, I am soon heading to Dublin for the great show. Is your thirst quenched regarding Eldrazi Tron? Do you feel you could stomach another article about it, concerning, more particularly, its intricate sideboard strategies and in depth match-ups analyses? If that is the case, I will gratify this desire, just tune in next week, same website.