Return of the Eldrazi: a New Era for Modern

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted prior to the bannings of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom.

Magic is an intriguing game. The continuous flow of new cards can cause a format to warp dramatically when something particularly powerful is printed. Modern is a format in which a freshly printed powerful card can shake up the entire metagame or give birth to a new deck causing a ripple effect. Today I would like to discuss the ripple that the Eldrazi decks have caused in Modern.

Eldrazi cards have existed since Rise of the Eldrazi (RoE). Emrakul, Ulamog, and Kozilek were once staple cards used in the Modern Tron decks. The strong ramp ability, and having [card]Eye of Ugin[/card] gave Tron the ability to search for these powerful titans and cast them quickly.However, their prohibitive mana cost of at least 10 kept them locked away in ramp style decks. As a result they were in large part disregarded by non-tron players.

With the introduction of Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) the hype for what happened on Zendikar reignited many of us. We were reintroduced to the Eldrazi. When we were last on Zendikar Extended still existed and Modern was a work in progress. A lot of time had passed, could the Eldrazi carve out a new home in Modern? In the next two sections I will present a history of the deck. This can be skipped if you are interested in seeing the lists and which version I feel is best.

Moving towards a New Era:

Never having played Magic in a competitive level until Dragon’s Maze, I only knew of the titan’s existence due to their high end mana cost and witnessing Emrakul being played in Tron. Like many of you, who first read the BFZ spoilers, I researched into which cards were potentially playable. This was mostly done for the Standard format, but I also looked to see if any Eldrazi might make their way into Modern. Perhaps the Tron deck would receive a few upgrades. Sadly, while playable based on how the card looked, the only immediate stand out was Ulamog. His counterparts Emrakul and Kozilek were missing in action.

For quite a while, the thought process for me was, “I guess Tron is going to replace Emrakul now with this new Ulamog which does something when it is cast regardless if it resolves”. I decided that no other Eldrazi would make it into Modern. When Battle for Zendikar became legal this appeared true. The RG Tron decks started playing their new titan. Not minding the new critter whatsoever I stuck with good old [card]Scapeshift[/card]. It has won me tons of events, including a PTQ. I kept on engaging with RG Tron on MODO 8 mans and Modern Daily Events (DE). The raw power of Ulamog pushed me towards a different big mana strategy. I moved away from [card]Scapeshift[/card] and began experimenting with Tron. This was short lived though, for Michael Majors at SCG posted a wacky brew which can be seen here. It consisted of not only the new Ulamog but also a swarm of processing Eldrazi from BFZ.

The Eldrazi Have Risen

The ability to process cards, which lets you return cards from exile to your oponent’s graveyard, were amusing to see in BFZ Limited but hardly ever possible without getting multiple Ingest triggers. However, the abilities listed for when the process occurred looked quite strong. Majors reinforced this point. I decided to give the brew a shot in a couple of DE’s and 8 mans on MODO to see what it had to offer. After around 20 matches and 2 DE’s I found myself with over 120 tickets. Despite losing many matches I was able to take the risk of trying out a new deck. Experimenting with a new deck, even if you may lose a few matches, is important as it allows for a greater understanding of what the deck is trying to do and whether or not it has potential. Below I will break down what I learned about Modern Eldrazi.

The [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] and [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card]s made most of the graveyard interactive decks fun to play against. Never had I considered that maindecking these are a total pain in the neck for a lot of the decks, beyond the graveyard based ones, currently in modern. BGx – Junk, Jund, any decks with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, Dredge, [card]Living End[/card], and Storm all struggle without ready access to a well stocked yard. The processing abilities of the new Eldrazi cards were, quite frankly, exceptional. Blight Herder is the prime standout of the bunch as it is a sizable threat that enables us to cast Ulamog. The ability to process and exile cards from the graveyard granted continuous control of my opponent’s graveyard. You rarely get to see such processing abilities occur in Standard because there are hardly any tools to help with this clause. The lack of ability to facilitate processing in standard may have led to the initial underestimations of the processors. On a side note, suspend can become a drawback for our opponnents. I would of never have thought Processing an opponent’s [card]Rift Bolt[/card] and killing a [card]Goblin Guide[/card] or [card]Monastery Swiftspear[/card] at the same time was possible! [card]Wasteland[/card] Strangler is an ace.

The first build of the deck played [card]Faithless Looting[/card]. Having understood what core of this deck was trying to do I decided to cut them as they did not fit the main plan. I began to tinker with other cards in the premiere list, looking for tools that would improve problem matchups. It took around an additional 10 days of testing, but as the days passed my results improved. I started to understand the deck more and soon after, this was the result of what became the Eldrazi Hype.

At this point when the deck list was published it had a win rate of over 74%. The deck won several leagues prior to the posted date but with how WotC publishes deck lists randomly out of all the winners, it gave me a slight edge on as not many players yet understood what the deck was about.

Once the deck list became public knowledge many players began exploring and testing with it. Video Deck Techs became available, articles and forum threads started spawning and soon enough, people were playing the deck out on MODO and on paper and seeing if any other color options were available other than red. Prices for certain staples in this new archetype including [card]Eye of Ugin[/card], [card]Eldrazi Temple[/card], and [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] shot through the roof. At this point I was looking into a strategy that would have an edge in the mirror. That list is today’s BW Eldrazi list.

When I began playing the BW version it contained synergistic cards such as [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card], [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], and [card]Rest in Peace[/card] for the processing abilities but had a harder time against decks that went wide such as Affinity and Zoo. These decks were already troublesome for the BR version. In order to combat these decks we turned to [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. Once I added [card]Lingering Souls[/card] my win percentage went from an initial rate of 34% shot up to something like 70%. From there I took it another step and played 250 games each with the BW deck and the RB deck in order to determine which variant was better. You can see the results here from my old tweet from the end of December.

What Version Should I Play?

If you’re just picking up the deck the white version is better. Once you start running games and gain experience with it I feel that the red rewards greater experience more than the white does. The current BW seems like it has stagnated. It has yet to evolve in. The BR Version on the other hand continues to see updates. If you feel that the meta is heavy Eldrazi play the white version over the red. Otherwise, practice and work towards piloting the BR version.

My current BR Eldrazi List:

2 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Bojuka Bog
4 Eldrazi Temple
3 Eye of Ugin
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Mountain
2 Swamp
1 Tendo Ice Bridge
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Expedition Map
2 Go for the Throat
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Languish
1 Nihil Spellbomb
4 Relic of Progenitus
2 Scrabbling Claws
2 Thoughtseize
4 Blight Herder
4 Oblivion Sower
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Vile Aggregate
4 Wasteland Strangler
2 Duress
2 Crumble to Dust
2 Night of Souls’ Betrayal
2 Pithing Needle
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Spellskite
2 Sun Droplet
1 Vampiric Link
1 Vandalblast

Don’t get me wrong, the white version of the deck is great. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and the sideboard cards do make the harder matchups for Eldrazi, burn, better. However, to me it just feels like playing cards such as [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and [card]Stony Silence[/card] moves away from what we are trying to do, cast massive monsters. I have often witnessed players, in the mirror, boarding in [card]Stony Silence[/card], [card]Disenchant[/card]s, and boarding out [card]Lingering Souls[/card], which is totally wrong. Doing this comes at the cost of them not being able to play their own Relic or Claws. Being able to cantrip in the mirror is important as it allows you to dig for answers.

The Evolution of BR

The current BR Eldrazi list I am running has made multiple changes since the Eldrazi debut. First off, [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] has been cut. the manabase in our deck was still in a work in progress when it was first introduced. If you have playtested with the first version of the deck that was posted you may have noticed that in some of the midrange matches drawing a Blackcleave Cliff after you’ve already played 3 lands slows your board development. We want to be able to cast our big guys on curve and [card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card] was more of a hinderance to us than it should have been. If our end game consists of cards like Oblivion Sower and Ulamog it had to go. The removal of cliffs keeps us off turn 1 or 2 bolt thereby devaluing the card’s value to us. The sideboard double red cards such as [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] and [card]Shatterstorm[/card] were also cut due to the drop in red mana. If we wanted to keep the cards above, we would have to skew our mana base to compensate for more [card]Blood Crypt[/card]s, and more basic Mountains. I feel doing that would make our deck slower and more vulnerable. We now have red for primarly sideboard reasons rather than mainboard ones.

To compensate for the loss of [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], which is an all-star against the aggressive decks that go wide and [card]Shatterstorm[/card], which hoses the Affinity, the deck now incorporates [card]Languish[/card]. Previous versions played [card]Damnation[/card]. I felt like there must be a better card out there and began playing [card]Languish[/card]. As a sweeper it will often wipe our opponenet’s board while keeping our guys alive. -4/-4 is often enough to kill anything in Modern anyways.

Manlands, which [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] used to kill, now become problematic. In order to combat them I have introduced a playset of [card]Ghost Quarter[/card]s to my list. Doing this also increases our win rate against Tron, a deck that is likely a strong contender given the recent bannings.

With the loss of [card]Shatterstorm[/card] we now playing [card]Vandalblast[/card] [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]s and [card]Pithing Needle[/card]s to slow them down.

We’ve cut our [card]Pyroclasm[/card] and have compensated with additional methods to secure [card]Wasteland[/card] Strangler’s processing ability via [card]Scrabbling Claws[/card]. We are doing this because Strangler, when able to process, can give Aggro matches a tough time.

[card]Sun Droplet[/card] has been added to assist with the burn match.

With the changes above we now have a chance to play turn 1 Relic/Claws into turn 2 removal ([card]Go for the Throat[/card], [card]Wasteland[/card] with [card]Eldrazi Temple[/card] or [card]Eye of Ugin[/card]) with potential setup for a Turn 3 Blight Herder or [card]Languish[/card]. This line of play will often seal the game in our favor against the current aggressive decks.

Our Win Rates:

For simplicity sake, we will only name the 12 most popular Modern Decks currently on MODO. Unfortunately, these numbers come pre-twin banning.

The Good Matchups (60-75%+ Win Rate)

• Grixis Variants (Twin, Control, Midrange)
• Jeskai Variants (Twin, Control, UR Twin included)
• BGx (Jund, Junk/Abzan)
• RUG [card]Scapeshift[/card]

The Average Matchups (46% – 59%)

• Infect (close to a good matchup)
• Eldrazi (BW: close to a good matchup, Heartless: close to a bad matchup, Mono B: Average)
• Merfolk (close to a bad matchup, % is higher due to [card]Languish[/card])
• Naya Company (includes for Big Zoo and Kiki Chord)

The Bad Matchups (30-45% Win Rate)

• Affinity
• Burn
• Zoo (the small version, with the 16+ one drops and nothing over 3CMC)
• RG Tron (even with the 4 [card]Ghost Quarter[/card]s this matchup is close to 45%)

I would like those who play BR Eldrazi (or Eldrazi in general, BW/UB/B/Heartless) let me know how they feel their matchups are. This might lead to some consensus on what can be done to make certain matchups better for the various Eldrazi decks.

Oath of the Gatewatch is coming out in just under a week. Next time I would like to talk about the cards from Oath coming out that might make or have made an impact on the Eldrazi Archetype and where this archetype sits as Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch looms. We will see if any other variants of Eldrazi are viable as well.

If you’re planning to want to take a spin with this deck when Oath hits you should already be buying a playset of these.

Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher

Although Oath of the Gatewatch is not coming out on MODO until the 29th. I will still be testing Eldrazi on a daily basis and not just limiting myself to the current colors of BR, BW, Mono B, or Heartless. Just yesterday I streamed a League with UB Eldrazi that almost went 4-1.

I am usually testing or playing Modern, so if you’re the type that likes to watch Modern then join my viewers.

If you have questions you can follow me at @ItIsShoTime on Twitter.
Thank you all for reading! I will hopefully have an updated version for you in a week or two. Hail our Eldrazi overlords!

– Sho