Can The Eldrazi Be Beaten?

It’s way too soon to give up! Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin has a slew of ideas to give the Eldrazi a good challenge! But what happens if they’re unbeatable? Patrick considers that option as well…

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!

No. See you next week!

Just kidding, but if we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna have to get serious. First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about this whole “Eldrazi” thing. The Eldrazi Aggro strategy dominated at historic levels this past weekend at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. There isn’t going to be any emergency ban, so let’s just get that out of the way. That’s not even remotely an option, nor useful to argue about. Modern is a big format. Maybe Eldrazi can’t be beaten, but there’s absolutely no reason to not let the world try for at least three months.

The only emergency ban in Magic’s history wasn’t just Memory Jar levels of broken:

Well, it was Memory Jar, exactly, and it was a turn 1 kill deck, but the thing that made the situation unique was that tournament Magic was collapsing because of Combo Winter. Wizards had just banned an unprecedented number of cards the week before to try to put an end to the madness. It would all be for naught if Memory Jar wasn’t retroactively added to that list.

That isn’t even close to what is going on in Modern.

The Eldrazi deck could very easily be too good to respond to. It could be too fast, too strong, too omnipresent, too resilient. However, it’s not dealing 28 points of damage before you take a turn. It’s also not perpetuating a degenerate experience that has been going on for the past three or four months.

To understand how dominant the Eldrazi Aggro decks were, let’s look at the Pro Tour metagame:

Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch Metagame:


Day 1 Meta

Day 2 Meta

6-4+ Meta

7-3+ Meta

8-2+ Meta

Top 8 Meta
































































Abzan CoCo














The Day 1 metagame provides the baseline for how popular the deck was. Each column to the right represents higher and higher tables.

Day 1 Metagame – 390 players

Day 2 Metagame – 245 players

6-4+ Metagame – 108 players

7-3+ Metagame – 58 players

8-2+ Metagame – 21 players

Top 8 Metagame – 8 players (!)

The table doesn’t do justice to just how many of the decks at this event were bad. For instance, the miscellaneous category is much larger than the others. Really, though, here are the tiers of the metagame we saw at PT Oath of the Gatewatch:

Tier 1: Eldrazi

Tier 2: Affinity

Tier 3: Infect, Abzan Company

Unplayable: Everything else

These tiers are also not particularly close to each other (other than Infect and Abzan Company technically being nearly average by typical standards, yet close to unplayable under the circumstances). Affinity performed well by typical standards. The Eldrazi deck, however, dominated at a level that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been seen at a Pro Tour for an archetype with this many pilots.

Chances of going 7-3 or better:

● Non-Eldrazi players hit 4.7%

● Eldrazi players hit 46.9%

Eldrazi pilots managed to score records of 7-3 or better tentimes as often as non-Eldrazi pilots! As if that wasn’t enough, they were more than 31times as likely to Top 8!

Chances of Top 8ing:

● Non-Eldrazi players were 0.6% to Top 8

● Eldrazi players were 18.8% to Top 8

Nearly one out of five Eldrazi players actually Top 8’ed the Pro Tour! That’s just ridiculous. For reference, when Luis Scott-Vargas won Pro Tour Berlin with Elf Combo (the last Top 8 to feature six copies of the “broken” deck), Elves was 15.6% of the field. This past weekend, Eldrazi Aggro was just 8.2% of the Day 1 field and still put six in the Top 8.

For reference, here are the two decks in question:

Both are long on powerful threats and mana acceleration, with their only interaction being Dismember and Thought-Knot Seer plus:

Eldrazi Obligator and Drowner of Hope, or

Chalice of the Void, Spellskite, Ratchet Bomb, and Ghost Quarter

Additionally, both have access to Gut Shot, Relic of Progenitus, Pithing Needle, Chalice of the Void, Warping Wail, Ratchet Bomb, and Spellskite in the sideboard, with the U/R build also having Hurkyl’s Recall, Stubborn Denial, and whatever blue and red cards they feel like splashing.

Okay, let’s brainstorm a few ideas on how to beat ’em. Just to be clear, though, “join ’em” is very, very okay on this one.

Up first, a lot of people have been talking about exploiting the Eldrazi decks’ minimal removal with a lock card like Worship. If you’ve got a Slippery Bogle or a Gladecover Scout, a Worship is basically game against Eldrazi or Affinity, right? Meanwhile, if you face someone that doesn’t fold to Worship, you just play a Hexproof game and try to race whatever they are doing.

This might be a reasonable approach, but I am suspicious. To begin with, the Eldrazi decks already play Ratchet Bomb, so it’s not like they can’t get rid of a Worship (or a hexproof creature). Besides, who the hell wants to play G/W Hexproof into a turn 1 Chalice of the Void? I’ve already pre-boarded Seal of Primordiums to try to get out of it, but it feels like this is a textbook case of trying too hard and falling short anyway.

Alternatively, we could go more of a hatebears approach:

Stony Silence isn’t just an Affinity killer; it locks Ratchet Bomb out from interacting with our combo and Spellskite from saving an Eldrazi from our Path to Exile.

Flickerwisp isn’t at its best without Aether Vial, but we do have Restoration Angel, Kitchen Finks, and Thragtusk. Besides, it’s just nice to be able to get a Chalice of the Void off the table (and when you blink it, it loses its counters). We’re not particularly vulnerable to Chalice or anything, but it’s still nice to turn our Paths back on.

The biggest problem I have with this deck is that we’re gonna get absolutely killed by most non-Eldrazi/Affinity/Infect decks. Those three decks do make up over half of the 7-3+ metagame, but no matter how busted Modern gets, there are always plenty of people playing random decks. It’s really hard to win the tournament with a pure hate deck.

Okay, here’s another approach that tries to hold onto a powerful baseline strategy with an eye to fighting Eldrazi:

Cascading into Living End is definitely a fundamentally powerful way to interact with Eldrazi. They are actually pretty vulnerable to Damnation and Supreme Verdict to begin with, and a bunch of creatures jumping onto the battlefield can be a game-winning advantage.

The problem, however, is that Eldrazi can already naturally interact in a number of very dangerous ways. Chalice of the Void for zero is just a nightmare. I’ve gone ahead and maindecked the full playset of Ingot Chewers (which are obviously also good against Affinity) and we’ve got Beast Within, but it’s annoying to have to spend mana to deal with a problem that didn’t cost them any.

The Eldrazi decks also have Relic of Progenitus, which can be extremely disruptive even if we can eventually remove it. It’s brutal that they get to keep our graveyard down so easily, and when we eventually can get rid of it, they get our entire graveyard and an extra card. All the while, they are putting an aggressive clock on us.

Obviously the U/R Eldrazi decks have Stubborn Denial (which turns on quickly and easily), but the colorless Eldrazi deck has Warping Wail. Remember, Living End is still a Sorcery, even if you are playing it at instant speed with Violent Outburst.

Shriekmaw is an interesting card right now. It still sucks against Affinity, but it does kill Eldrazi (which kind of feels surprising, even though obviously it should). It’s also pretty cool that Shriekmaw kills Reality Smasher without needing you to discard a card.

It’s possible that Living End isn’t the right way to use this color combination right now. After all, maybe we can just tune our Jund deck to actually be able to compete with the Eldrazi menace.

I’m a big fan of Damnation against the Eldrazi and Affinity, although Damnation plus Dark Confidant is not the most natural combo. Dark Confidant might actually be the weak link. Both Eldrazi and Affinity can really put a lot of damage on us quickly, and Bob doesn’t exactly encourage us to play Shriekmaw (which would be sweet with Kolaghan’s Command).

What I’m really wondering is if there’s a possible plan involving an efficient package of generally useful early interaction that lines up effectively against the Eldrazi. For instance:

The slant toward Thoughtseize instead of Inquisition of Kozilek lets us more reliably hit Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. Liliana of the Veil is a fine answer to Reality Smasher (although it can’t be the first card you play in the game). It’s also a nice way to actually start building an advantage, though Eldrazi Obligator is going to finish off a lot of one-loyalty Lilianas, and both Eldrazi Skyspawner and Matter Reshaper can both be annoying to try to use her -2 ability against.

I wonder about what the best finishers are for Jund right now. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is great against both Affinity and Infect and is at least serviceable against Eldrazi. Huntmaster of the Fells is a fine card, but I’m not sure it matches up well against the biggest decks.

Kalitas is exciting to me. We really appreciate the lifelink and the discard spells make him more likely to live long enough for you to untap. Once you do, he takes over the game rapidly. Each kill spell gives us a 2/2 Zombie, and it only takes one to make Kalitas big enough to dodge Dismember. The exile ability is also very important. It turns off Matter Reshaper’s ability, of course, but it also cripples Arcbound Ravager.

We’ve got to make sure we don’t just get shut out by a Chalice of the Void on one or two. Abrupt Decay does work, here, as it is uncounterable even by Chalice of the Void. We don’t want too many, though, as it does have weaknesses to Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. That said, it is sweet to hit Endless One

About ready for that Grixis list yet?

I might be getting a little feisty, but I’m not sure it’s actually crazy to maindeck Ingot Chewers. Again, we need to not lose to Chalice of the Void, and it is sweet to recycle an Ingot Chewer with Kolaghan’s Command. Infect is packing Spellskites anyway, and it’s obviously awesome against Affinity. Besides, we can always discard it to Liliana…

Ahh, the old “this blue card is good because you can discard it to Force of Will” argument. Of course…

I considered trimming Lightning Bolts, since they don’t actually do their best work against Eldrazi; however, you don’t want to get run over by Eldrazi Mimic and Endless One while you set up. Something has to kill the weak so that Liliana takes out the strong. Besides, Blinkmoth Nexus and Mutavault must die, too.

Engineered Explosives is a fine Magic card in its own right, but it’s also yet another Chalice of the Void answer, not to mention sweet against Endless One.

I wonder how many possible decks can take advantage of how strong Damnation-type effects are at the moment. For instance, should Jeskai Kiki play Supreme Verdicts maindeck?

This is probably the wrong way, but there are a few interesting things going on here. To start with, Gideon Jura and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion are actually pretty respectable at brawling with Eldrazi, if you live that long.

I could also imagine Spreading Seas and Detention Sphere turning out to be a more effective way to interact than an over-reliance on permission. Cavern of Souls is everywhere, and you can’t just sit around and lose to Eye of Ugin or a million creature-lands. Spreading Seas is particularly sweet against legendary lands since the opponent effectively goes down another mana if they try to get out of it.

Detention Sphere is obviously versatile, including getting us out from under a Chalice of the Void, but it’s also nice that it dodges Reality Smasher and Matter Reshaper’s bonus text while still drawing us a card against Thought-Knot Seer. It’s also going to nab multiple Eldrazi a fair bit of the time, though we do need to be careful about Dismember removing the target.

Maybe it’s too cutesy, but it is pretty sweet stealing Endless One or Eldrazi Mimic.

One other concept I’m thinking about is Gifts Ungiven. It can make use of the Wraths and it’s a powerful proactive gameplan with a lot of natural Affinity hate (Lingering Souls, Stony Silence).

There are two major snags, however. First, Gifts Ungiven has typically set up Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Iona, Shield of Emeria. Neither of those is a hard enough lock against Eldrazi aggro. What should our mix of fatties be?

Dismember rules out Platinum Angel, and Platinum Emperion is probably not slot-efficient against other combo decks (though might be an option, particularly if we had some exotic Thirst for Knowledge thing going).

The other problem is, once again, Relic of Progenitus. Relic of Progenitus was already popular, and I expect that popularity to increase. Personally, I just want to maindeck cards like Pithing Needle and Stony Silence and alleviate the problem that way. This format is rapidly getting extremely warped (the first Magic Online Daily after the Pro Tour was won by three Eldrazi decks and an Affinity deck), and there are some extremely potent sideboard options to our main decks.

Someone needs to turn on the Hat-Signal and call Gabriel Nassif to save us. One of the greatest deckbuilders of all-time, one of Nassif’s specialities is brewing pre-boarded solution decks that redefine what is “reasonable” in a format.

I’m not sure he’s coming this time, but if anyone is going to save us from the Eldrazi, they’d better do it quickly. There are three Modern Grand Prix across three continents during the first weekend of March. If no one finds the solution by then, the next banned list comes out a month later…

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!