How to Beat Emrakul

Emrakul decks were the big reveal of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in Sydney.

In a pretty magical sequence of events, I saw people at home go from, “How could R&D leave us with just Bant Company still—did you see the latest SCG!?” to “How did R&D make Emrakul so cheap—did you watch the PT!?” in just a couple of days.

Lucky for me, I never panic at the unimaginativeness of SCG Tour competitors or after one single tournament of a new format. There are ways of answering Emrakul, playing around her, or racing her.

Your Own Emrakul

I won’t bury the lede—I think Emrakul is awesome and I’m proud of the Pantheon for coming up with and registering 3 very different and very playable ways to utilize the 13-mana menace: GB Delirium, RG Ramp, and RUG w/ Deep Fried Swagger.

RUG Emerge

Owen Turtenwald, Top 8 at PT Eldritch Moon

GR Delirium

Reid Duke, Top 8 at PT Eldritch Moon

BG Delirium

Jelger Wiegersma

Okay, so which is the best way to Emrakul against other Emrakul decks? If all you care about is other Emrakul decks, then I think Ramp is the way to play. Developing your advantage on the board means other Emrakul turns are less devastating, topdecks are better if the Emrakuls trade, and support cards like Vessel of Nascency don’t consume your whole turn.

Otherwise, look further down the list for ideas on how to beef up your Emrakul matchups regardless of which version you’re playing.

Infinite Obliteration

Perhaps the most obvious answer, but it turns out some versions of Emrakul are naturally resistant and others adopted countermeasures, even in Emrakul’s first major tournament. The RG Ramp version of Emrakul has Ulamog, World Breaker, Atarka, sometimes even Kozilek and Oblivion Sower. Are you sure if you take a turn off casting Infinite Obliteration you won’t just lose to one of those other fatties?

RUG Emrakul is more vulnerable (Deep-Fiends are good, but when they’re your only way to win, it’s easy to come up short). Pantheon and others used Coax from the Blind Eternities. Grapple with the Past and Traverse the Ulvenwald can’t tutor it up, but self-mill and Den Protector can do a close enough approximation.

Infinite Obliteration is good, and it can be part of a complete anti-Emrakul breakfast, but you can’t just toss it into a bad deck like Zombies and expect a matchup flip.

Transgress the Mind and Pick the Brain

These have the benefit of hitting other cards when you need to, but the drawback of leaving the Emrakuls in your opponent’s deck (unless you can find the Emrakul with a delirious Pick, which does happen). Pick is my favorite of these as I find the ability to take Traverse the Ulvenwald or Grapple to be worth the extra mana in the matchups where it matters. Transgress does give you a better card against Bant Company and is thus a better main-deck card, so each has a time and place.

Against Emrakul decks, when to cast these cards can be tricky, as can decisions like “take the ramp” vs. “take the fatty.” General rules are hard to pin down as the rest of each player’s game plan is critical. If you’re casting a Gideon next turn, the game might be just as much about the possibility of Deep-Fiend killing it as it is about Emrakul later on. If you have no pressure on the opponent, it might make sense to hold the Transgress until you know Emrakul is a turn or two away. Sometimes you’ll be rewarded for waiting when an opponent is forced to Traverse for Emrakul a turn in advance to prepay the G mana expenditure allowing you to Transgress or Pick it away. Other times, you will be rewarded for knocking out a Hedron Archive, forcing the opponent to set up a much slower plan for whichever fatty is coming.

Go Wide in a Way That Doesn’t Fold to Kozilek’s Return

If you have a large enough army threatening your opponent, taking your turn won’t be enough to pull things even. But just spewing a bunch of creatures onto the board will only sometimes work—you know Kozilek’s Return is one of the best cards in Standard, period, and is a big part of most Emrakul game plans.

Ways to go wide while trumping Kozilek’s Return:

White decks, including Bant and WW, have access to some great tools for going wide while trumping Kozilek’s Return. Luis Scott-Vargas with Bant had success in part because the Emrakul player won’t always a perfect draw with a well-timed Kozilek’s Return and in part because Luis prepared for the games in which they do with cards like Selfless Spirit and Avacyn.

Ojutai’s Command/Clash of Wills

Playable counterspells will prevent that controlled turn from being too disastrous and will prevent the Emrakul from hitting you for 13. Ojutai’s Command has the really nice benefit of getting back a Selfless Spirit to protect your team or a different creature if not (wait until all Kozilek’s Return triggers have resolved) and then counter the Emrakul and bring back, say, a Sylvan Advocate to continue beating down or finish off the Emrakul player.

Play Fewer Cards that Backfire When You Don’t Control Your Own Turn

Stop hitting yourself.

Sorin, in particular, is a fairly large liability if you’re playing WB, while Blighted Fen can only target opponents and is thus relatively safe. These are the types of things you never had to think about in the P.E. (pre-Emrakul) era of Standard. Declaration in Stone can hit your own guys, yikes. Stasis Snare can’t. Those cards are similar enough otherwise that you very well might change the number of copies you’re playing of each in response to the threat of getting Emrakul’ed.

Stasis Snare/Clip Wings/Eldrazi Displacer

Stasis Snare doesn’t just refuse to backfire, it also can be cast on the opponent’s turn. Tools for not allowing the Emrakul player to use the Emrakul itself to block (or to attack for that matter) function similar to the counterspells mentioned above. They don’t counter the Mindslaver trigger or the Kozilek’s Return trigger(s), but they help clear the path for your creatures or buy you time to completely rebuild if Return killed those creatures.

This format makes even Clip Wings look flexible in that it kills Mindwrack Demon or Wretched Gryff. It won’t kill Emrakul if those other creatures are in play but hey, for 1G, it was never going to solve all your problems in all the scenarios. It’s still a helpful tool.

Geist-Fueled Scarecrow + Harmless Offering

Sometimes Wizards R&D knows they are pushing the envelope with a new mythic rare so they bake into the set an “escape hatch”—a strategy they know players can use to fight back if they end up living in a world where the pushed threat is very popular. Geist-Fueled Scarecrow + Harmless Offering is a perfect example.

Was this entire article a setup for this Geist-Fueled punchline?

How dare you belittle my hard work.

Summary Dismissal

Okay, maybe this is the real escape hatch. Unfortunately, 2UU Counterspell is pretty unplayable if used as such, so you better be sure you need the abilities clause before you put this in your deck. It is occasionally correct to Stone Rain your opponent with this on turn 4 when they sacrifice an Evolving Wilds (another reason to main-phase those Wilds in addition to saving time). An opponent who is ultimating planeswalkers or flipping Westvale Abbey could be in for a rude awakening, but it’s unclear whether this will be in your deck in those matchups.

Summary Dismissal is powerful but situational. Emrakul (and Deep Fried Swagger) have made such situations pretty common. An opponent typically invests time and other resources into an attempt to Deep-Fiend or Emrakul you, which makes the price of 2UU seem not that steep a lot of the time.

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