Crazy Colorless Mana

With all the new Shadows over Innistrad spoilers getting the excitement, it’s easy to forget that there are a lot more Standard cards out there! Adrian talks about the dangerous colorless possibilities hiding behind the new Innistrad hype!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Whatever happens in Modern to stop the Eldrazi, it isn’t just in Modern that we have to think about the horrifying colorless nightmare. It’s been wreaking havoc on Standard, of course. And just because there are some missing elements to Standard’s manabase, it doesn’t mean that Eldrazi aren’t necessarily scary.

In order to get the real payoff for Eldrazi, you have to dip your big toe into colorless, and not just “generic” mana, either – the true Colorless colorless. If you’re just into Eldrazi for the Mimics and Skyspawners, clearly you’re missing out.

Here are the strictly colorless cards you’re getting for going colorless:

But let’s be honest. Here are the cards you’re truly going for, the cards that are giving you the real payoffs:

These cards are so good, they border on unfair.

After that, there are some minor payoffs as well. Matter Reshaper sees play in some more controlling builds. Spatial Contortion is sometimes-played removal. Endbringer and Warping Wail are common sideboard choices.

Then you might add a little color for these cards:

When you think about it, that’s a pretty shockingly short list of cards that you’re working on getting a payoff from. That is, in many ways, a testimony to the strength of these cards.

Now that the loss of two-thirds of Tarkir block and the emergence of Shadows over Innistrad is imminent, we can begin to answer an important question: how are we planning on making these Eldrazi actually work? Colorless doesn’t grow on trees (except in the Blighted Woodland).

So what can you do?

The Options

With thirty lands to choose from, even your basic building blocks are extensive. If you wanted, take any manabase you’ve built for your colorless deck, and it is probable that you could replace some large number of the colorless lands you’ve chosen with entirely different colorless lands, and you’d have a deck that was still quite strong.

So, let’s break it down.

The Unlikely Pairings

These two cards technically exist, but especially with the departure of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, it is unlikely you’ll end up using them in your colorless-enabling deck, though not impossible. Especially with a red Eldrazi build, it is possible you’d decide to create a deck that ran one of the powerful Dragons in Dragons of Tarkir. It seems far less likely you’d bother with an Ally, however, but maybe you’re a wild one?

The Big Payoff

Here, you’re likely the kind of person looking to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger along with your Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. Of these, Mage-Ring Network and Drownyard Temple are the out-of-place cards, since it takes a fair amount of effort to get any use out of them. Drownyard you practically have to contort to use in Eldrazi, and Mage-Ring asks you to take a bit of time off that you just might not have. Sanctum is a bit of an after-the-fact card but still can make a string of problems once you’ve set things up.

Shrine of the Forsaken Gods is going to be the card that gets the gold star from this little group, as it is the most likely to serve your needs in these decks.

A Little Color

The painlands are obviously a great way to make your Eldrazi deck, whether it be “two” (X-C) colors or “three” (X-Y-C). One of the awesome things about them is that you can actually build a very strong mono-color base off of two different painlands and still have enough colorless and color to make it all work.

Corrupted Crossroads seems most likely to find its home in the U/B Eldrazi or R/B Eldrazi decks that are barely seeing play or the U/R Eldrazi list we’re seeing a bit more of. The reason these decks might want it is that they are more likely to be playing a devoid card like Forerunner of Slaughter and yet still want to hit a Thought-Knot Seer on-curve. This isn’t the usual way of it, though, and most “three”-color decks won’t be looking for this, unless they are high on devoid.

The searching and the filtering of the other lands here are definitely more suited to a limited number of colors. Spending the time to filter your mana for color is often very problematic, so adding another mana to the cost is usually too much. Similarly, spending the time to activate a Warped Landscape to find that Wastes is a big deal.

As such, you’re likely looking at Evolving Wilds alone, finding that single Wastes, or two if you’re a Kozilek fan. After that, the Wilds can be a helpful part of making the rest of it work. Perhaps, if you’re very bold, you might end up turning it into even more colors, like “four” (X-Y-Z-C), but you probably don’t want to dip into “five” or “six.”

A Lot of Color

Now we’re talking about hitting the massive color requirements. These are the choices you make when you’re definitely going into “four”-color territory. If you’re running three colors plus colorless on top of it, this can make it work, potentially. I’ve seen decks running Siege Rhino and Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher, and they seemed to make it work on the strength of these cards (primarily Crumbling Vestige). Now, in the post-Rhino days we’ll soon be living in, there are actually a lot less pressures to try to push mana as hard as it was pushed in Khans of Tarkir, but if that’s your bag, these are your cards to look at.

(Frankly, though, if you’re trying to push things that hard, I question that it is worth it.)

Payoff for Color

This is an interesting cycle of cards. I recall that, when they were printed, they were cited as a specific example by a number of columnists and Pro players as cards that felt like they were getting in the way of the set they were in. I personally didn’t feel that way, but it was a common enough sentiment. Once “colorless matters” came out, immediately it felt like the potential role for these cards was clearer.

They haven’t seen all that much play in Eldrazi decks, but I actually think that may be an oversight. While most of these cards aren’t reasonable as a four-of, I think they could easily sneak in as your “final” colorless mana or two.

Blighted Cataract isn’t a card I’d be excited about in a slower Eldrazi build. For me, this is a card to mitigate flooding, and, in fact, could be a part of one’s deck construction choices to up your land count and actively fight against mana flood and mana screw simultaneously. This is far more likely in that deck running Eldrazi Mimic rather that Matter Reshaper – a deck planning on kicking some butt rather than one planning on taking care of the late-game.

Blighted Fen, on the other hand, is the card I could imagine actually being a four-of in a black-based Eldrazi deck. The effect is powerful enough that, if you’re already doing colorless, you might just want four of them. Its cost is prohibitive enough (effectively six mana and lose a land) that you’d probably max out at three, but I could still imagine the full set. Interestingly, this is actually a card that I’d imagine just as useful in a controlling Eldrazi deck or an aggressive one.

Blighted Gorge, on the other hand, feels like filler. In the red-based Eldrazi decks, a six-mana Shock feels pretty anemic. Still playable, this would be the colorless land you turn to when you’ve got room for one more and want to try it out, or your testing shows you’re sometimes coming up one to four damage short of winning end-games, and you need a tiny push.

Blighted Steppe is actually an interesting case. If you’re playing an Eldrazi Scion-heavy build, Blighted Steppe could actually be a very reasonable card to include in your deck if you’re occasionally struggling to stay alive. It seems pretty reasonable to take a turn or part of a turn off from casting other things to gain, say, ten life. If you’re often racing a certain Archangel, maybe this card could work for you.

Blighted Woodland is a weird one. Effectively taking you from five to six mana (to seven if you make your land drop), I would call this one a big maybe in a deck running World Breaker. To me, this feels much more like a card that might see play in a U/G deck without any Eldrazi than in an Eldrazi deck.

Tricksy Cards

To my mind, these are the cards you’re really getting the most unusual effects from, quite similar to the Blighted cards above in their versatility.

Mirrorpool is the oddest of the cards. In many ways, you’re most likely to be making use of this card as a six-mana ability, copying something absurd on the battlefield, but it can be pretty awesome in other ways too. I’m picturing Roast getting doubled or Spatial Contortion, or even a sideboard card like, say, Negate in an odd counter-fight. The requirement for a second colorless mana on top of it makes it harder to use, but it’s still quite potent.

Rogue’s Passage is a completely underutilized land. I’ve had this card in several decks, particularly decks that do most of their work in the attack phase, to great success. It’s often true about Eldrazi lists that even the most aggressive builds are still midrange-aggro decks, and they live and die on the battlefield. When you’re running Rogue’s Passage, you don’t get around removal, but Eldrazi are already pretty solid about handling removal.

Ruins of Oran-Rief is actually a card that I think is going to get far more use in the next season. Archangel Avacyn is clearly going to be a huge card, and being able to make a card like Reality Smasher or Vile Aggregate into six toughness is going to matter. Even making Thought-Knot Seer into a 5/5 is going to matter, since oftentimes an Angel will be cast in response to it, and it is all that more unlikely for it to get ambushed a la Simian Grunt.

Sea Gate Wreckage is a card that is likely the go-to for a number of decks that are more built for aggression but don’t want to run out of steam. When you’re working at emptying your hand, Sea Gate Wreckage drawing a card now and again can be incredible. Interestingly, in some ways it is likely to lose a fight with Blighted Cataract for space in decks already running blue; the loss of a land for Cataract is in competition with a need for an empty hand and an extra colorless. The reason it isn’t just a pure slam dunk for Sea Gate Wreckage in those decks is that, if you’re running reactive blue sideboard cards, you might not have an empty hand when you need it to take advantage of Sea Gate Wreckage.


I expect these are the true recipients of the attention for most players. Turning lands into creatures is pretty great.

Foundry of the Consuls and Spawning Bed are clearly the two most similar to each other. In most instances, Foundry of the Consuls is going to win in an Eldrazi deck, even though it doesn’t make Eldrazi Scions. Six mana versus seven mana is a truly big deal. Second, two flying creatures can actually do a lot more to end a game than three non-flying creatures. The rare place where I imagine Spawning Bed could win is if the deck is somehow already built to take advantage of more creatures on the battlefield.

Westvale Abbey, though, might just change that.

Creating a creature a turn, though slow, is pretty inexorable. For a lot of Eldrazi decks, one of the things that I find keeps happening is Eldrazi Scions keep getting spawned willy-nilly. Just the threat of an untapped Westvale Abbey turning a handful of garbage into Ormendahl, Profane Prince is a huge deal

How do you kill this thing? I’ll tell you how. You don’t. You exile it or bounce it back to hand. Otherwise, this card is just going to eat you alive.

The Real World

Moving away from theory into the land of empiricism, what does a successful real-world Eldrazi list look like, in terms of its lands?

Everybody and their cousin has been sharing this list.

Obviously Kent Ketter is the go-to for a simple reason: his was the only Eldrazi list of note from the last SCG Tour® Standard Open.

We can see his choices let him run fifteen colorless mana and sixteen red mana. That’s a pretty impressive mix. Rotating out from this list are three copies of Tomb of the Spirit Dragon, but everything else continues to be legal.

He is running six painlands, just for the sake of mana consistency. This is interesting in that he didn’t choose to maximize this for even more “color” consistency. A part of this is quite simple: pain from painlands isn’t free. There is a give and take for all of these choices, and staying alive is important. Especially given his choice to run Tomb of the Spirit Dragon, life total was clearly a concern for him.

What we’d end up with in replacing those missing Tombs would be up for debate. In large part, it would depend on whether or not any new cards ended up making the deck, and if so, which cards. I’d be unsurprised if Westvale Abbey didn’t make the cut in some number, but the specific details matter in making those choices. How much pain are we going to be trying to handle? How aggressive is the format?

Ketter also makes use of Hedron Crawler. There are a small handful of nonland colorless sources that might make sense in an Eldrazi deck. I’d probably limit them to these cards:

Hedron Crawler is the only one of the three that feels like it has a home in a general Eldrazi deck. Each of the other two might have a place in a World Breaker-style deck, but Hedron Crawler actually helps you get that turn 3 Thought-Knot Seer that otherwise you only get to see in Modern (for now, at least).

Shadows over Innistrad

There were only four cards in this list from Shadows over Innistrad. Of them, only Westvale Abbey feels likely to make any major impact. Though it is only a single card, it is a potent enough card that its presence is going to be felt, even if a card like Drownyard Temple is wildly unlikely to make it in any Eldrazi list.

This weekend, I’ll be spending my Prerelease energies in Madison, Wisconsin’s Misty Mountain Games. As has been usual for me these last few years, I won’t be doing the Friday midnight Prerelease, but I will be doing the Two-Headed Giant Sealed and regular Sealed on Saturday. If you’re in Madison, see you there!

There are a lot of ways to build Eldrazi decks. Colorless does a pretty great job of mixing with colors of all types. I don’t know which Shadows over Innistrad cards might end up mingling with Eldrazi, but I intend to find out. There’s a Pro Tour coming up.

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!