As you’re probably aware, multiple versions of Eldrazi decks took PT Oath of the Gatewatch by storm this past weekend, boasting multiple instances of ridiculous Constructed records such as 9-1 and 9-0-1. There were twenty 8-2s or better, and eight of them were Eldrazi decks, with six Eldrazi players making the Top 8. Now I couldn’t actually find the metagame breakdown to see how popular the deck was, but I would guess it was around 10% at most. This is dominance on a level that we have never seen in Modern and will likely never see again.
So what do we do? Do we just ban Eye of Ugin and move on with our lives? As much as I would love for that to happen (along with a couple other bans, such as Mox Opal, Inkmoth Nexus, Simian Spirit Guide, Gitaxian Probe, Blood Moon, etc.), I don’t think it has to. Yes, the Eldrazi decks are good, but they have weaknesses. My inclination is that we should wait for the format to adapt before we clamor for a ban. If the format fails to adapt, then they can go ahead and ban it, but I don’t think we are at that point yet—I think we should first try to beat it fair and square. This article will be about the multiple versions of Eldrazi and how to beat them.
Before you try to beat the Eldrazi deck, you have to figure out how it works and why it wins. The answer is in its two lands—Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple. Those lands are effectively damage-free Ancient Tombs in this deck, and actual Ancient Tomb is already too powerful for Modern. Like Affinity, this deck wins by cheating on its mana and casting powerful spells before the opponent is ready.
The powerful lands enable its two key features: speed and size. This is not a very fast deck like Griselbrand Shoal, but it’s certainly fast enough, and it will pressure you and end the game if you stumble. For this reason, the deck can beat anything—regardless of what you’re doing, there’s a chance the Eldrazi deck has a turn-4 kill with disruption of some sort, and then you’ll lose even if you think you have a good matchup.
The second feature is that it’s bigger than most other fair decks in the format. You have an assortment of 4/4s, 5/5s, and 10/10s that make it hard for someone to win the long game against you, especially when you can tutor for them once a turn with Eye of Ugin.
There were three fundamentally different Eldrazi decks at the PT: one UR, one colorless, and one BUG focusing on Processors. I think each list has pros and cons, but the core idea—cheating on mana—is what makes all of them viable. Our list is more explosive since it has Simian Spirit Guide, but it has a little less midgame power since it doesn’t have Drowner of Hope. Here is the list we played:
The main feature of this version is the 4 main-deck Chalice of the Voids and the 4 Spirit Guides to power them up. Chalice for 1 completely hoses a lot of the decks in the field like Infect, Burn, and Zoo, and it’s also very good against some combo decks such as Storm or Living End (and Affinity on the play) while not hurting you in any way. The problem with this is that, since it doesn’t hurt you, it won’t hurt your opponents who are playing Eldrazi decks either. This means our version is probably the weakest in the mirror, but I would guess that it is the strongest against the field that is not the mirror—particularly Burn and Infect.
One main problem with this version is that, in a PT, you’re likely to know what your opponent is playing in the later rounds, but in a GP or PTQ you are not, which means you have to sort of luck out with your Chalices. The default is Chalice for 1, but in some matchups—namely Living End and Affinity—this can be disastrous.
In round 2 of Constructed, I played against an opponent with an unknown deck, and I had to fire off a turn 1 Chalice for 1 on the play blindly. It turned out he was playing Burn, so he ended up not casting many spells. Then, later in the tournament, I played against Paul Cheon. I knew he was playing Affinity, so I played a Chalice on 0 on the play game 1. Now imagine I’m playing in a GP and I have no idea what my opponents are playing, and reverse those two situations—now they look much worse for me and I may even lose both of those games because I played Chalices on the wrong number. In a GP or PTQ setting, Chalice is much worse.
The version that had the highest win percentage and that actually took down the whole tournament was UR:
This version replaces a bunch of expensive rares that are played in Vintage with a bunch of draft commons, but it’s very powerful nonetheless. It’s much stronger than our version in the mirror (and Jiachen Tao showed it by swiftly dispatching all three ChannelFireball members in the Top 8) since it doesn’t have Chalice and it has some colored cards that are great, like Drowner of Hope. You miss out on Urborg to play those colors, but that’s not a big concern in the mirror since Urborg is symmetrical, so it’s likely to help your opponent as much as you.
The sideboard in this version is also a bit better since you can run cards like Hurkyl’s Recall and Stubborn Denial. I would have played more anti-Affinity cards if I could (Vandalblast, maybe?) but what they had was certainly serviceable.
The last version is Frank Lepore’s, and it’s more in line with what we saw before Oath of the Gatewatch:
My guess is that this version is better than ours in the mirror, but worse than the UR version. It also lacks interaction very badly, as there are no Dismembers, which I thought was one of the most important cards. Overall, I think there is no reason to play this over either of the other versions as it seems to be slightly weaker than one or the other against everyone that is not a graveyard-reliant deck, and that seems to be the majority of the field.
There’s no telling how Eldrazi versions are going to evolve—my guess is that there will be some colorless Eldrazi just like ours, some UR Eldrazi just like theirs, and some slightly changed versions of UR Eldrazi to incorporate elements from our deck. I expect the Processor version to still exist but be the least popular.
So, how do you beat them?
Beating the three Eldrazi versions is relatively similar, as most of the concepts you’re trying to attack are the same in all of them, but some versions are going to be more vulnerable to some things than others. Here is what I think you can do:
Affinity is not a good matchup for Eldrazi. We knew that going into the tournament and we dedicated a bunch of sideboard slots to it, but I still don’t think it was a favorable matchup and there isn’t much that you can do to change it if you are playing no colors. The way I see it, game 1 is very bad, game 2 is good on the play and bad on the draw, which means you can certainly win but the most likely scenario is that you lose games 1 and 3.
Being on the play is huge, as it means Chalice for 0 is live, but if you don’t know what your opponent is playing, then you can’t do that, and the only way you find out is when they play Ornithopter on their first turn. By then, most of the advantage that you would theoretically have by being on the play is gone. Frank Lepore’s version fares no better against Affinity and doesn’t bother to sideboard much, whereas the UR version can have access to some powerful sideboard options but will still be in a losing match (as we can see from Dickmann beating the UR deck, including a game he got Hurkyl’s Recalled twice, though he eventually lost to Eldrazi in the Top 4). If you are playing Affinity and expect a lot of Eldrazi, Master of Etherium is much better than Etched Champion. This is Dickmann’s list, for reference:
Attack Their Mana
Eldrazi is broken because of its broken lands—take those away, and the deck becomes a bunch of overcosted monsters. Destroying one land is good, but countering all of them is better. There are two cards that do this—Blood Moon and Painter’s Servant. Blood Moon is a big problem for the colorless list since you can’t cast Matter Reshaper, Reality Smasher, or Thought-Knot Seer unless you have Wastes in play. The blue versions will fare slightly better if they have access to fetchlands and Islands because they can cast Drowner of Hope and then use the Scions to play the colorless Eldrazi, but it’s still a hassle. If you draw Wastes, you can go around it, but you’re still slower and lose all the abilities on your lands, so it still hurts you. Jason Chung came in 9th place with a deck that had 4 main-deck Blood Moon, and if this is the approach you choose, then I recommend his list:
The other option, Painter’s Servant, is a little more obscure. Both Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin mention “colorless Eldrazi,” so if you give them a color, you simply turn those lands off—in some aspects it’s even better than Blood Moon as it stops Eye of Ugin from adding any mana as opposed to turning it into a Mountain. Anyone can play it, it randomly blocks Mimics and Mutavaults, and it’s even an artifact for Affinity synergies. The downside, of course, is that it’s much easier to kill than Blood Moon, but most Eldrazi decks are limited to 3-4 removal spells (either Dismember or Wasteland Strangler).
Play Bigger Creatures
This works more against our version of Eldrazi than the blue one. The basic idea is that the deck is super explosive, but if you play a big blocker it stops it on its tracks as there are no ways of getting through. Tarmogoyf was often a problem since it could potentially become a 5/6, and even Tasigur and Siege Rhino were a big deal a lot of the time. Other potentially problematic creatures are Master of Etherium, Voice of Resurgence, and Knight of the Reliquary—basically anything that can grow bigger than your attackers is a problem.
Play Cheap Spot Removal
The Eldrazi are great because they cost little mana compared to what they do, but there are many cards that deal with them for even less mana. Path to Exile is the most efficient, but it gets stopped by Chalice for 1 and it ramps them into Eye of Ugin mana or 6-drops, so it’s actually not the best choice. Dismember is quite good, as is Terminate. Collected Company decks can play Fiend Hunter (or Big Game Hunter if you’re feeling brave), and Kolaghan’s Command decks like Jund and Grixis can play a number of Shriekmaws—they aren’t good versus Affinity, but they kill Reality Smasher without forcing you to discard a card (since it’s an ability not a spell) and they can come back with Command to kill another big Eldrazi later on.
Play Ensnaring Bridge
The Lantern deck wasn’t very popular at the PT, but it has a good matchup against Eldrazi because of Ensnaring Bridge. The UR list has zero ways to deal with a main deck Ensnaring Bridge, you only have Ratchet Bomb, and Frank’s deck only had one World Breaker. Most of the time, if you mulligan into a hand of 3 lands and Ensnaring Bridge you’re going to win the game. The UR version has more outs post-board, but our version is still drawing dead to it. Here is Sam’s list for reference:
There aren’t many decks that can play Ensnaring Bridge since it requires a low land count and a deck that can win without attacking, but a deck that can play it and in my opinion should play it (at least in the SB) is Burn. Back in the old days, Burn decks were often just Ensnaring Bridge and a bunch of burn spells, and there’s no reason it can’t be this way again. Even if it harms you some of the time (which is not a given since your creatures are smaller than theirs), you can sit on it until you inevitably draw enough burn spells to kill them.
Bridge is even better out of Burn than out of Lantern since no one is going to board artifact destruction against you. If I played Burn in a tournament (which I probably won’t do because I want to preserve my sanity and I’ve been down that path before), then I would probably sideboard 3 Ensnaring Bridges.
The Eldrazi decks are about playing big, undercosted threats, and Wraths are a good way to deal with those. Cards like Firespout and Anger of the Gods won’t work, but cards like Supreme Verdict and Damnation will, and I’d consider including those in your sideboard if you’re playing a deck that supports them (such as Jund).
You can also play the ultimate wrath deck—Living End. Our testing on Living End was conflicting—we had wildly divergent results—but my opinion is that Living End is not a good matchup. We have Chalice, but they have Living End, potentially Ingot Chewer, and the UR list has absolutely nothing (this is one of the matchups in which they are in a worse position than our version). The BUG list has Relics and Claws, but it’s worse at applying pressure, so they can theoretically get around it by casting a Living End and then cycling a bunch of things after Relic has resolved but before Living End has (or you can cast 2 Living Ends given enough time). This deck also has Fulminator, which if played early can stall them for long enough to get you to go around Relics or Chalices.
There were only two Living End decks that 6-4’d Constructed at the PT. This is Guilherme Merjam’s list:
I like the main-deck Shriekmaws (they are good for dealing with Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher), but I would maindeck Ingot Chewers over Faerie Macabres. The ability to kill Relic or Chalice immediately is very important.
Well, that’s what I’ve got for today! It’s unclear to me whether these things I mentioned are enough to make sure Eldrazi is not a banned, but it is definitely the direction I would look to if I were trying to beat the deck (and right now you should be trying to beat it).