Enter Bant Eldrazi

It’s hard to imagine The SCG Tour® these days without Todd Stevens. His latest big impact came when he showed you can still unleash the Eldrazi all over Modern. Read about the deck’s evolution and its place in the current Modern metagame!

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<p>It all started at #SCGMKE, where Gerry Thompson brought the Eldrazi back to Modern. I was playing Abzan Company and was laboring through plenty of mirror matches and opponents with obscene amount of graveyard hate. Meanwhile, Gerry was off to an 8-1 start on Day 1, and he and Michael Majors were brewing up Bant Eldrazi in between rounds, which they thought might be better. </p>
<p>After finishing Day 1 with an ugly 5-2-2 record with Abzan Company, I was frustrated and it was time for a new deck. I had some experience playing Bant Eldrazi when <a href=Eye of Ugin was legal, and playing a deck full of large, aggressively costed creatures is right up my alley. So I asked Michael Majors where he was with Bant Eldrazi. He gave me a very preliminary, untested partial list he wrote off the top of his head.

Before diving into this article, I want to give a special thanks to Gerry Thompson and Michael Majors for giving me the idea and framework for Bant Eldrazi. They are both stand-up gentlemen, and I am extremely grateful for all of the help they have given me to improve my game over the past few months.

The deck looked solid on paper, maybe slow, but at least something new and refreshing. So I went to Magic Online to see how the Eldrazi fared without Ugin’s help. Immediately I played against multiple blue-based control decks in a row, which made me realize that Cavern of Souls would be a strictly better Corrupted Crossroads.

After three Leagues I was 13-2, but the deck felt pretty bad. It’s extremely easy to be results-oriented, as results are easily quantifiable. It’s more complicated to determine the factors of success or failure for each match and keep track of those. Even though I was winning, a lot of it had to do with poor hands or draws from my opponents. As I continued to play more, my success predictably waned to a truer outcome. Though powerful, the deck felt slow and clunky. There were two major (no pun to see here, keep moving) flaws that were impossible to deny.

Problem 1: Aggressive decks of the format, which are prevalent on Magic Online, were increasingly problematic the more I played. I did not have enough ways to interact with the battlefield early.

Problem 2: I had too many cards in my deck that were awful late-game draws against the control decks of the format. More bluntly, my deck was threat-light.

Fortunately, the two problems were somewhat intertwined. I did not have enough early interaction and my deck was too threat-light. Eldrazi Mimic was in the deck to fill this role but was not good enough in either capacity. I needed a better two-drop.

Enter Tarmogoyf. I knew that my deck wasn’t great at enabling Tarmogoyf, but as Gerry says, “That’s what opponents are for!” Tarmogoyf was a respectable threat I could play on turn 2 if I had a slower curve while still being a decent late-game draw. So we have switched two-drops, but technically didn’t add any more threats or early interaction.

Enter Matter Reshaper. Matter Reshaper is amazing at solving the two major problems. To make room for Matter Reshaper, the Sylvan Scryings and a World Breaker had to go. Sylvan Scrying turned out to be too slow in more than one matchum; I did not have the time to take a turn off to cast it against aggressive decks, and against control decks it was another dead late-game draw.

Last order of business: upgrade the removal. Enter Path to Exile. Dismember was great at times, but awful more frequently, and had to go. I needed the removal, and honestly wanted a bit more, but four life was simply too steep of a price to pay. I moved in on Path to Exile without looking back, and the last World Breaker also left the deck.

My new maindeck:

Beautiful. Consistent. Powerful. What I imagine driving an Aston Martin would feel like, but in deck form. I jump into a Magic Online, ready to go, and proceed to lose my first three matches.

I’m ecstatic.

I found the deck.

This is the one.

I didn’t care about losing the matches. I wasn’t results-oriented before, and I wasn’t going to start. The matches were very close and just didn’t go my way, but the deck felt much better. My sideboard was still just a pile of cards, which didn’t help matters. Tarmogoyf and Matter Reshaper gave the deck the consistency I desired, and I knew that in a fifteen-round tournament the two cards would be critical. Talisman of Unity was still disappointing me, though, as it was just a tad too slow early and an awful topdeck late. I felt I could still upgrade this slot, so I had one last change to try out.

Enter Noble Hierarch. Noble Hierarch gave me a second card I wanted to cast on turn 1. She turned out to be perfect. The deck’s speed increased at shockingly high rate when Noble Hierarch joined Eldrazi Temple, and the wins started pouring in. Suddenly turn 2 Matter Reshaper was normal, and turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer wasn’t an anomaly. The Hierach was another threat that could attack and block, and even the Eldrazi are pleased to be exalted.

I was ecstatic before, and now Noble Hierarch added confidence. I finally no longer felt that the deck was too slow. When I registered this list at #SCGINDY, I knew I had one of the best decks in the room.

Note that the Flooded Strand in the manabase should absolutely be a Misty Rainforest, but I didn’t have one on me.

My sideboard was controversial. Would I play the same sideboard going forward? Probably not, but I wouldn’t change too much.

A full boat of Grafdigger’s Cage sends a loud message. Game 1 against Abzan Company is horrendous, and based on the results from Milwaukee, I wanted to lock down Games 2 and 3. I expected to play against it two to four times over fifteen rounds, and I wanted those to be wins. Additionally, Dredge has made a resurgence on Magic Online, and that matchup was extremely difficult Game 1 as well. My gamble did not work out, as I only played against the deck one round, and zero Abzan Company decks made Day 2, to my shock.

Grafdigger’s Cage still allowed me to win the one round I did play against Abzan Company, so it wasn’t the worst card in my sideboard. I was happy having access to one World Breaker in the 75, but the extra one was unnecessary. World Breaker is an amazing threat against Jund, Grixis, Jeskai, and similar control decks with creature-lands. Multiple times I brought it in against Tron, though, only to have it stuck in my hand. The sideboard (or mainboard) slot could be used more efficiently. Keep one in the 75.

I was very happy with the rest of the sideboard and wouldn’t change it, but if you really want some other cards, I strongly advise to keep all three Timely Reinforcements, the two Negates, the Thragtusk, and at least one Engineered Explosives.

My tournament went as follows:

R1 – Bye
R2 – Bye
R3 – Abzan Company (W)
R4 – G/R Tron (W)
R5 – Four-Color Bring to Light (W)
R6 – Grixis Delver (L)
R7 – G/R Tron (L)
R8 – Jund (W)
R9 – Four-Color Control (W)
R10 – G/B Infect (L)
R11 – Scapeshift (W)
R12 – Affinity (W)
R13 – Kiki-Chord (L)
R14 – G/R Tron (W)
R15 – Jund (W)

11-4, eleventh place. Every opponent I played finished at 6-3 or better.

Quick hits from the matchups:

G/R Tron is a pretty solid matchup. The round I lost was because I tried too hard to keep my opponent off of the Urzatron instead of pressuring him with Reality Smashers. Be aggressive over disruptive in this matchup, as most of their payoff cards are not that great against you.

Grixis Delver is always a favorable matchup; a turn 1 or 2 Delver of Secrets is about the only way you lose. I kept very sketchy hands Games 1 and 3; lesson learned.

Infect, especially G/U Infect, is extremely tough to beat with my current sideboard. I was really hoping to dodge this matchup with the perceived rise of Abzan Company. My match was extremely close, though, and I only lost Game 3 to missing my fourth land drop.

Spellskite is obviously amazing and can be found off Ancient Stirrings, but this was the only matchup where I wanted the card. When I played against Burn and Zoo online, my opponents would often have Destructive Revelry stuck in their hand with no targets, and I had no intention of giving them one. People randomly see colorless creatures and think artifact hate is a good thing to sideboard in.

Against Affinity, Timely Reinforcements was surprisingly good. Gaining six life is a lot and was the difference in the race. Stony Silence plus Engineered Explosives may not seem like the greatest combination at first glance, but each one is powerful enough that the risk is worth putting both in the deck.

Jund/Grixis/Jeskai are all close matchups, but I would prefer to be on the Eldrazi side. Flooding and running out of things to do happen a lot more without Eye of Ugin anymore. The World Breaker in my sideboard wasn’t great here. The card I’m trying out now in this spot is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Five mana is not that hard to get to, and Ajani can help finish the game when you are ahead or find action when you have run out.

Round 13 was my first time playing against Kiki-Chord with this deck, and the matchup felt awful. A combination of two good hands for my opponent and two lousy ones for me left me demolished in two games. I don’t know how to attack the deck or what to do about the matchup, only that I don’t really want to see it again soon. If you expect to play against Kiki-Chord, make sure you are very familiar with their deck and that you have a gameplan for the matchup.

This past weekend at GP Charlotte and GP Los Angeles, Bant Eldrazi made its presence known in the Modern format. At GP Charlotte, there were a few people that finished 12-3 or better with the deck, most notably Matthew Dilks, who finished Day 1 at 9-0 with a different take on the deck.

Matthew had some really interesting card choices that I didn’t consider. He decided to cut Noble Hierarch and instead went with Oath of Nissa as card selection to go with Ancient Stirrings. Oath of Nissa is a suitable version of Ancient Stirrings 5-7 here, and you can also choose Sakura-Tribe Elder with it if you are looking for a turn 2 play, which leads to the next interesting choice, which was playing Sakura-Tribe Elder over Tarmogoyf.

Sakura-Tribe Elder as a two-mana acceleration spell is similar to a Talisman but with the added ability to affect combat. This change also allows the deck to play a singleton Wastes, which is a much-needed card if you are facing down a Blood Moon on the other side of the table. In the sideboard Dilks used Wrath of God as his sweeper instead of Engineered Explosives. This is a much better strategy in his deck without Noble Hierarch than it would be in the deck I played in Indianapolis, and can be cast as early as turn 3 with help from a Sakura Tribe-Elder.

There were multiple players who finished at 12-3 or better with Bant Eldrazi at GP Los Angeles as well, most notably Pascal Maynard, who finished in the Top 4.

Some members of Team East West Bowl were intrigued with Bant Eldrazi after seeing it at #SCGINDY and contacted me for my thoughts on the deck. They noticed the weakness the deck had to Infect, and they added Spellskite to the maindeck, which I am a fan of. After much testing, there were teammates in both Charlotte and Los Angeles piloting the deck to successful finishes.

Everyone agreed with 59 out of the 60 cards in the maindeck, but there was one last flex slot that no one knew what exactly to do with. Pascal played an Eldrazi Mimic there, and other players had cards such as Eldrazi Skyspawner, World Breaker, or a second Birds of Paradise.

Moving forward from GP Charlotte and GP Los Angeles, I think that Pascal’s version is a great place to start with Bant Eldrazi. I’ve been trying out all four cards mentioned previously in the last slot, and right now I am in favor of playing one Eldrazi Skyspawner, but that may change. Playing a second Birds of Paradise has merit, but I think that five is the perfect number of mana creatures on to play. Spellskite in the maindeck is not intuitive but accomplishes a few goals. It adds percentage points to some matchups that were tough before and frees up two valuable sideboard slots.

If I were playing in a Modern tournament this weekend, I would absolutely be turning spaghetti monsters sideways. Here is my recommended list:

It is just starting to catch on, but Bant Eldrazi is already one of the best decks in the format and has room for innovation, so if you’re looking for a fresh new deck in Modern, then I can’t recommend Bant Eldrazi enough.

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