Fighting Eldrazi: History and Recent Technology

For better or for worse, the events of tomorrow will forever go down in history. Children will be told tales of the weekend’s events; be they whispered over a smoldering fire in some remote cave, or trumpeted from the ramparts of some lofty castle. Eldrazi, or the Allies? The delicate fate of our very existence hangs in the balance, and the war for our future will be fought on three battlefields. Detroit. Melbourne. Bologna.

Dispatch art

I know not what the future will hold, but by looking at the past we can anticipate the results, or at least be forewarned of our coming doom. Let’s get started.

The First 30 Days

February 8, 2016. The Day After Judgement Day

Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

February 7, 2016. Judgment Day.

There we go.

From a dozen evil geniuses, Eldrazi was born. Atlanta was Ground Zero. Epics and tales aplenty have been written already on this event, but it’s worth looking back to see where we’ve been. Six Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 was seen as a harbinger of things to come, the genesis of the End of the World as we knew it. While a 75% single-archetype Top 8 doesn’t make for a “normal” baseline, it’s worth remembering how “bad” things have been when viewing present/future results. Often, when we’re tentatively looking at results through the lens of “Eldrazi is busted” even relatively normal results can seem disproportionate. One Eldrazi deck in the finals, win or lose, is just “expected”. Three Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 is “evidence”.

For reference, post Pro Tour OGW discussion went something like this:

Most of the discussion leading up to this weekend’s events have similar. Those not playing are scoffing at those that are; patronizing them for wasting both time and money fighting the Eldrazi menace. Those who are playing are toe-ing the water hesitantly, or worse, slowly trudging towards the chopping block, certain of their fate. If the results of the Pro Tour are to be trusted, then the future is all but certain; Eldrazi, or death.

February 20, 2016. The Louisvile Slugfest

  • SCG Louisville Open Top 8
  • Winner: Affinity
  • Finals: Affinity vs. Eldrazi
  • Top 8
    • 2 U/W Eldrazi
    • 1 U/R Eldrazi
    • 1 R/G Eldrazi
    • 2 Affinity
    • 1 Kiki-Chord
    • 1 Merfolk

The results of PT OGW *could* have been explained away with the “destroyed an unprepared field” narrative. Then, SCG Louisville seemingly put the nail in the coffin for naysayers. Two weeks to prepare, and another Top 8 with at least 50% Eldrazi decks? Past that, 6 more Eldrazi decks in the Top 16? A full 10 out of 16 lists are Eldrazi!? Run for your *#)$* lives!

Still, there are some lessons to learn from Louisville. For one, Eldrazi didn’t win. That honor belongs to Affinity, with a couple notable characteristics.

Affinity, Austin Holcomb (1st – SCG Louisville)

Creatures (25)
Vault Skirge
Signal Pest
Spellskite
Etched Champion
Memnite
Arcbound Ravager
Ornithopter
Steel Overseer
Master of Etherium

Artifacts (12)
Cranial Plating
Springleaf Drum
Mox Opal

Instants (6)
Galvanic Blast
Dispatch

Lands (17)
Inkmoth Nexus
Darksteel Citadel
Blinkmoth Nexus
Glimmervoid
Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Ghirapur Aether Grid
Spellskite
Whipflare
Torpor Orb
Dismember
Thoughtseize
Ancient Grudge
Chalice of the Void
Ensnaring Bridge
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Most of the unique inclusions here are not new technology, and have been played before based on metagame factors/personal preference. Eldrazi’s presence in the metagame does put some pressure on the Affinity pilot to make a few changes, which we can see here. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Affinity deckbuilding, it’s normally a good idea to pull up some “stock” list to more quickly detect variations. Here, catch!

Galvanic BlastAffinity often chooses between Thoughtcast and Galvanic Blast, depending on where the metagame lies on the linear-midrange spectrum. Obviously Galvanic Blast is best when you want to slow down Infect/Burn, kill a troublesome creature, or finish off combo before their pivotal turn. Thoughtcast, on the other hand, is best when you need to power through disruption, fight midrange, and out-card removal spells. Eldrazi is, at its core, a high-powered, linear, aggressive deck with disruptive and combo elements. One-mana removal that kills almost everything is an excellent form of disruption.

Moving forward down this line, we see two Dispatches in addition to the playset of Galvanic Blasts. A Path to Exile with no drawbacks, we can be sure to almost always have metalcraft in every matchup, especially against an opponent with limited ways to clear the board.

Master of EtheriumSome specific things to note are the reduction of Etched Champion (poor against devoid creatures) and the inclusion of Master of Etherium (pseudo-haste the turn it comes down, and punishes opponents with limited removal). Also, Ensnaring Bridge in the sideboard is excellent, albeit slightly one-dimensional. We’ll often have our hand on the board by turn three, we can attack under it with Signal Pest tricks and Cranial Plating swaps after attackers are declared, and we can even go the Lantern Control route with Ghirapur Aether Grid. Unfortunately, opponents will be more likely to remove the Bridge as they’ll have Ancient Grudge and the like for us already, but the matches where we want this (linear semi-mirrors) will often see opponents with a minimal amount of interaction. Eldrazi and Burn can’t get rid of everything.

February 28, 2016. Classic Modern in Philly

  • SCG Philadelphia Classic Top 8
  • Winner: Jund
  • Finals: Jund vs. Eldrazi
  • Top 8
    • 2 U/W Eldrazi
    • 1 Jund
    • 1 Burn
    • 1 Storm
    • 1 Abzan Company
    • 1 Blue Moon
    • 1 Living End

Eldrazi DisplacerFast forward a week, and we’re seeing the story start to change. Yes, Eldrazi (specifically, U/W Eldrazi) is still the most represented deck in the Top 8. Yes, Eldrazi archetypes are still collectively putting up 40% metagame shares on MTGO. However, we’re also seeing evidence that Eldrazi can be beaten. We can never view one weekend’s events out of context and attempt to claim everything is “fine” (nor should we) just like we can’t look at one weekend’s events and demand an immediate ban. Step back from bias and look at SCG Philadelphia analytically, and take what you can from it. Maybe it’s a precursor for this weekend’s events. Maybe it’s a flash-in-the-pan. We won’t know until this weekend, but what we can know now is some tools to beat Eldrazi. We’ve already seen what Affinity can do (and Grixis Control!). How about… Storm!?

Storm, Tim Sussino (4th, SCG Philadelphia)

Creatures (4)
Goblin Electromancer

Enchantments (4)
Pyromancer Ascension

Instants (17)
Desperate Ravings
Desperate Ritual
Grapeshot
Thought Scour
Manamorphose

Sorceries (19)
Pyretic Ritual
Past in Flames
Sleight of Hand
Serum Visions
Gitaxian Probe

Lands (16)
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn
Shivan Reef
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Steam Vents
Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Defense Grid
Echoing Truth
Empty the Warrens
Lightning Bolt
Rending Volley
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So, look, Storm is Storm. Either you love it or you hate it, it doesn’t really change much. If our opponents are busy casting things like Drowner of Hope and removal spells for Drowner of Hope, then Pyromancer Ascension is definitely where I want to be. Thought-Knot Seer is still annoying, but this deck still had to fight Thoughtseize and we saw it from time to time, and Pyromancer Ascension gets to come down before Seer in most situations. Besides, we’re cantripping so much anyway that Thought-Knot is really only taking a ritual, Serum Visions or something expendable, which is nowhere near as bad as turn one Thoughtseize taking a Pyromancer Ascension.

With Jund winning this event, I would be a little more hesitant than normal to attempt running-back Storm, as Thoughtseize/Abrupt Decay is definitely something I don’t want to face. Thought-Knot Seer by itself isn’t that scary, but if we’re expecting a lot of discard this weekend then Pyromancer Ascension is not really where I want to be.

Jund, Jonathan Delano (1st – SCG Philadelphia)

Creatures (13)
Tarmogoyf
Dark Confidant
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Grim Lavamancer
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Scavenging Ooze

Planeswalkers (4)
Liliana of the Veil

Sorceries (8)
Maelstrom Pulse
Thoughtseize
Inquisition of Kozilek
Damnation

Instants (11)
Terminate
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Bolt
Abrupt Decay

Lands (24)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Forest
Overgrown Tomb
Raging Ravine
Stomping Ground
Swamp
Twilight Mire
Verdant Catacombs
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Ancient Grudge
Anger of the Gods
Devour Flesh
Fulminator Mage
Golgari Charm
Kitchen Finks
Night of Souls’ Betrayal
Nihil Spellbomb
Obstinate Baloth
Thragtusk
Unravel the Aether
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Comin’ atcha. Here we see a deck built to systematically destroy anyone looking to attack with creatures. Tarmogoyf wins heads up versus any non Reality Smasher monsters (Relic of Progenitus cases aside), and Liliana of the Veil is our three-mana win condition. Playing with Liliana of the Veil in Grixis Control showed me how potent it can be against Eldrazi’s plan of attack. For one, we kill Reality Smasher with no drawback, and can spend a “non-Terminate” removal spell to kill a “Terminate-only” creature (read: something bigger than x/3) while leaving a threat behind in the form of repeated discard/sacrifice effects.

Liliana of the VeilHowever, Eldrazi comes prepared to fight Liliana of the Veil with the manlands Mutavault and Blinkmoth Nexus. Often, Jund’s best plan is to Bolt/discard on turn one, kill something on turn two, and play Liliana of the Veil/kill something on turn three. Unfortunately, when a Mutavault is waiting in the wings, that plan is a lot less potent. In Grixis, I’ve had success playing Liliana of the Veil later, even if it means just playing a Kolaghan’s Command on curve to have something to do.

Reid Duke debuted Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet back at Pro Tour Oath, and we still see it here today. I’m warming up to the card. Readers in the comments of my article last week suggested Kalitas as a nice Kalitas Traitor of Ghetaddition when we’re on the attrition/removal plan, so it’s no surprise to see it here in Jund. Goblin Dark-Dwellers might not have a place in Grixis (or it might: just my opinion) but Jund doesn’t have access to Snapcaster Mage, making it a lot easier for me to get behind here.

Jund has always fared poorly against Tron-style strategies, and we see it benefiting once again from big mana being pushed out of the metagame. Tron has all but disappeared in the face of so many Spreading Seas and Blood Moons, and it seems we can draw parallels to pre-Eldrazi SCG Charlotte Jund as a result. Without having to fight Tron, Jund can start trimming on Fulminator Mages/Crumble to Dusts in favor of extra help for Burn and Affinity. Two Obstinate Baloth, Thragtusk, and a Kitchen Finks make up for the move away from Huntmaster of the Fells in the main, and this list looks to be as fine as it always was against those matchups.

Also, maindeck Damnation.

Damnation

“Play Damnation and get over yourself!”
Me, February 11, 2016

Just saying 🙂

Some more SCG Philadelphia quick hits:

  • Play Tasigur, the Golden Fang in Jund! Yes, I know I’m biased towards that card; after all, I just advocated moving back to it in Grixis Control. Still, playing a one mana 4/5 on turn five in addition to other spells is still awesome. BBB is hard to come by, but dropping a Tasigur alongside Liliana of the Veil is excellent at any stage of the game.
  • Blood MoonBlue Moon is intriguing, but I still find it a little underpowered. Since the debut of this deck, the power level of Modern has gone up, not down, which by itself isn’t necessarily an indicator of archetype viability, but it is still something to keep in mind. We’re trading Celestial Colonnade, Path to Exile, Restoration Angel and white sideboard spells for Blood Moon in the main and more consistent mana? Still, it made Top 8, so I might be undervaluing Blood Moon. I have to imagine this deck falls apart if we see an uptick in Kolaghan’s Command (for Batterskull) or Relic of Progenitus again. All those underpowered removal spells and counterspells really rely on Snapcaster Mage to keep up.

A holdover from last week:

You’re giving us SCG Classic Info and calling it Gold? ANYONE can win an SCG Classic! 

I almost didn’t include this because to do so would give this argument weight. Any event with a cut to Top 8 is worth some discussion. IQs are on the edge, because we have no way of knowing if the event had 8 players or 40, but Classics are still relatively high-level in my opinion.  Philadelphia even had 194 players! It’s not a question of lowering our bar, and it’s not about “taking what you can get”. Even though this isn’t Standard and it’s true we don’t have a high level event every weekend to analyze, that doesn’t make non-GP and Open events less worthy.

Conclusion

If I were fighting for the future of my children this weekend, I would be playing Jund. Yes, it won the last event, but that’s not why I’m playing it. Jund has both the power and disruption to go toe-to-toe with Eldrazi, and can be customized to beat almost anything it puts its mind to. Without Big Mana and Splinter Twin running around, Jund can hone in on matchups that have traditionally be 45-55 or 55-45 and start developing a significant advantage.

For those not interested in playing Jund, hopefully I’ve shown that technology exists across the archetype spectrum. Yes, Eldrazi still has fast mana which isn’t fair. Because of this, we might see it banned in a month. Still, until that happens, I’ll be focusing on ways to beat it, and hopefully you find this type of content helpful. If not, I’ll gladly talk about my interests in lasercutting or how awesome The Division is going to be until then (add me on PS4! TheArchitect-ID).

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO
Twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming
Twitter.com/7he4rchitect

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

11 thoughts on “Fighting Eldrazi: History and Recent Technology

  1. The tone of this article was a hoot. Thanks for the reminder that we sometimes take this all a bit too seriously.

    On the subject of the content, I think that the Affinity list I would opt for at the moment is a mix between the one that took down Louisville and the “stock” list you linked to. 4 Master of Etherium and 4 Steel Overseer are definitely where I want to be in a field full of mid-size colorless beaters, and Galvanic Blast can either give you reach or drop anything up to a Thought-Knot Seer in size. I don’t know if I can make room for Dispatch given those assumptions, but maybe it can be snuck into the sideboard.

    The Jund list is also interesting – Goblin Dark-Dwellers feels like all sorts of problematic with Dark Confidant, though it may be worth the risk. I was hoping to see if a list had tested the effect of interesting new pieces of tech such as Hissing Quagmire, but I guess I’ll have to wait until this week to see if it’s good enough to use.

    1. Thanks, glad you liked it!

      Master of Etherium definitely seems great against Eldrazi’s limited interaction, and I guess that extends to Steel Overseer as well. I think after board Overseer would be one of the first cards I would cut to make room for Ensnaring Bridge and such, those two cards don’t seem to play well together and Overseer often just eats a removal spell for the two mana investment.

  2. “Blue Moon is intriguing, but I still find it a little underpowered. Since the debut of this deck, the power level of Modern has gone up, not down, which by itself isn’t necessarily an indicator of archetype viability, but it is still something to keep in mind. We’re trading Celestial Colonnade, Path to Exile, Restoration Angel and white sideboard spells for Blood Moon in the main and more consistent mana? Still, it made Top 8, so I might be undervaluing Blood Moon. I have to imagine this deck falls apart if we see an uptick in Kolaghan’s Command (for Batterskull) or Relic of Progenitus again. All those underpowered removal spells and counterspells really rely on Snapcaster Mage to keep up.”

    Blue Moon has largely moved away from relying on Shackles and Batterskull as winconditions. Batterskull is usually still played in some numbers and Kommand is annoying there, but with the printing of Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Blue Moon decks have moved to that card as a 3of along with a sizable amount of burn that serves a twin purpose of removal and reach. Recently Chandra, Flamecaller has been another card that some have been testing(I’m still waiting for mine to get to me) and their feedback is generally positive. All this is a move away from artifacts being the main way for the deck to close games.

    1. You are correct, I was aware that the Shackles/Batterskull wincons aren’t the only way to go with Blue Moon, but I should have mentioned that in the article. Chandra, Flamecaller is interesting, I’ve seen it start popping up but haven’t had a chance to play with it myself.

      I wonder if Keranos, God of Storms is worth bringing back in to that list? I think there are a lot more x/3’s or less around now, so the Bolt should definitely be useful, but Twin no longer existing takes away a good reason to play that card.

      1. Blue Moon is probably just a first-resort for twin players looking to go elsewhere. It plays a lot of the same cards so it’s a relatively easy transition. There’s definitely an argument that the deck is not going to make it long-term as people get used to it. A lot of the time wins depend on the surprise-factor of a blood moon. Once people start fetching basics against you you lose a lot of your game and at that point your cards are worse version of cards in a traditional control decks. Terminate or path are better kill spells than Roast, Remand is not a real counter. Blue/red doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in terms of wincons compared to white or black.

        I haven’t played with Flamecaller either, I get mine monday and I’ll be testing it then. I fear she may be a win-more card, at least in an eldrazi world. Post-bans I can see her picked up in the deck even if the deck at large falls back into obscurity because of her built-in pyroclasm/anger of the gods and being a decent clock at the same time.

        I have Keranos in my sideboard and it has helped me stabilize against in a number of games and some other lists I have seen with finishes online have done the same. I think it’s too slow to be mainboarded pre-ban, but I agree there’s a decent number of decks out there where the bolt is relevant.

  3. I imagine you guys are already crafting an article like this but what about a preemptive article about where Eldrazi players should go after their Eldrazi lands get banned? Will Eldrazi die off completely? or will they try and find other ways of making their deck still work? Will cards like TKS find a new home in a different deck?

    1. Largely depends on what gets banned.
      If both temple and eye get hit, I think the deck is gone and the eldrazi that needs colorless will likely go out too, since wastes can’t be fetched.
      If only either of them get the hammer, even harder to tell.
      Numbers (as of # copies of certain cards) will be adjusted but only time will tell how the deck will fare and how the meta will develop.

    2. II think that the permanence of Eldrazi in the meta after April 4th will depend on the nature of the bans. If only one land will be banned I think that there will be room for a midrange eldrazi deck (I won some matches with UR list without dropping any sol land. I think it’s possible to play without one in a midrange-control shell even if the deck may be different from the one we know today). If both will be banned I think that a pure eldrazi deck can’t be a tier 1 or 2.

    3. Definitely sounds interesting, I’m not sure what the other authors have planned but I don’t have anything like this in the works. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, I just don’t speculate too far ahead to have something like that in mind. 🙂

      1. I just think it would be an interesting departure from the usual Eldrazi oppression articles. I could def see a midrange deck coming from only one of the lands getting ban. If they keep Eye for Tron players and just axe the Temple then I think we will def see a midrange strat emerge. I’m just wondering what other crazy brews people will come up with these colorless Eldrazi toys. I might just pick some up to brew with after the ban and their prices tank putting them in the dollar rare binder.

  4. I, for one, will be abusing our colorless overlords until my toys are taken from me. Right now the best eldrazi shell is the colorless/tron one. I get to play the same dumb agro shell, but also get access to Newlamog and Emrakul herself.

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