How To Beat The Eldrazi

Tom Ross didn’t win two straight #SCGINVI main events by just playing what everyone else was interested in. He won them by finding holes in the metagame. Here he takes on his biggest challenge yet: the Eldrazi.

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!

With Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch behind us, it’s clear that U/R and Colorless Eldrazi are the decks the beat. The format is entirely different from what it was two weeks earlier. Many thought that fair strategies would thrive without Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom. While it turned out to be a little true, Eldrazi plays a “fair” game but much better and faster than any decks at the Pro Tour could compete with.

I don’t expect any emergency bannings to happen. For players attending #SCGLOU, you need to either play an Eldrazi deck on one heavily dedicated to beat it. I haven’t felt this level of metagame domination since Affinity in Standard right after Darksteel and Skullclamp was considered a fair card for Standard printing. Over half of the metagame was Affinity and the other percentage was full of decks designed to beat Affinity. The problem was, many of those decks didn’t even beat Affinity, even though they were designed to and were chock-full of hate cards like Viridian Shaman and Shatter. They were just too far behind on power level. In Modern I feel we’re in a similar dilemma. Maybe the Eldrazi problem can be solved, maybe not.

These are the deck villains we’re talking about.

These decks use Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin to power out Eldrazi creatures that are arguably “cheaper than intended.” Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch are full of Eldrazi creatures with smaller casting costs compared to those from Rise of the Eldrazi, where Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin were intended to function. Now we’re in a Modern environment where the Eldrazi decks can kill as early as turn 2, though they were once considered a tribe that end the game late with cards like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Today I’ll be listing some of the ways to flourish in an Eldrazi-heavy metagame.

Adjust Your Deck

I feel like Infect is the third-best archetype in Modern right now behind Eldrazi and Affinity. The kills are fast, evasive, and consistent. Infect does have trouble beating a Chalice of the Void on one, which is where the Viridian Corrupters come in. I’ve played a bit against various Eldrazi versions over the past couple of weeks and don’t feel uncomfortable in the matchup. Glistener Elf is great on turn 1 with a Rancor or uncontested and Inkmoth Nexus is great when there isn’t a Blinkmoth Nexus in the way. Blighted Agent is as scary as ever, of course.

Decks with Chord of Calling, Collected Company, or both should consider playing these creatures. Painter’s Servant shuts off Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin from being used to cast colorless Eldrazi spells. Intrepid Hero is great against Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher as a reusable removal spell. I’m skeptical a bit on this one, though, as they are loaded with Gut Shots after sideboard, which are typically good against the decks that’d want Chord of Calling or Collected Company because of Noble Hierarchs and Birds of Paradise.

Wait for Them to Cannibalize Themselves

The CFB/FtF Colorless Eldrazi deck ran four maindeck Chalice of the Void. Going forward, those decks need to take into account the mirror match, where Chalice of the Void isn’t very good. This gives breathing room to decks that were previously weak to Chalice of the Void, as it’s likely relegated to a sideboard card now.

Eldrazi decks built to beat other Eldrazi decks need to go a bit over the top. Drowner of Hope is the first step. World Breaker is the second. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the third. Each step down the rabbit hole allows aggressive decks to take a step toward closing out the game before the Eldrazi player can cast their haymakers.

Artifacts and Enchantments

Outside of Ratchet Bomb, a really large Chalice of the Void, or a timely Thought-Knot Seer, the colorless Eldrazi deck can’t interact with artifacts or enchantments. The U/R version currently only has Hurkyl’s Recall. They may end up with some number of Cyclonic Rift or other bounce in their sideboard, but in the end their colors (or lack of colors) are ill-equipped to fight artifacts and enchantments. This leave room for exploitation.

Eldrazi is a deck designed to beat down with large creatures. Large creatures can’t cross an Ensnaring Bridge. The bridge can blunt the Eldrazi player’s attack as early as turn 3, likely preventing Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher from attacking. Later in the game, the Ensnaring Bridge player can more easily operate with a zero- or one-card hand, as their deck is likely designed to do. Game 1, Eldrazi players have little or no chance against Ensnaring Bridge.

Ensnaring Bridge can go in many sideboards. It best does in decks designed to empty their hands, like Burn, All-In Red, or Smallpox decks. I consider Ensnaring Bridge to be on a similar power-level against Eldrazi as Stony Silence is against artifact-dependent decks.

Worship is another card that will give Eldrazi decks trouble in the upcoming weeks. Naya Kiki-Chord can play it, G/W Hexproof can play it, and really, any deck with white can play it. Eldrazi’s plan is for its big creatures to trump others and relies on pinpoint removal in Dismember and Gut Shot to solve situational problems. Worship will give decks time to formulate a plan, which should involve some number of evasive threats or an end-game of infinite life or damage.

Punish Reality Smasher

One interesting angle is to actually use the triggered ability from Reality Smasher to gain an advantage. This was used to similar effect against Liliana of the Veil’s +1.

Loxodon Smiter is (was) already a mainstay in the Naya Company deck. It’s a huge body that brawls well against Matter Reshaper and Thought-Knot Seer. The decks that want a Smiter already run Path to Exile and could perhaps play a few removal spells like Roast or even Valorous Stance.

A bigger Loxodon Smiter. A great combo with the Smiter himself and solid G/W creatures like Kitchen Finks, Gaddock Teeg, and Qasali Pridemage. I could see a midrange G/W deck with some elements of Hatebears being solid against Eldrazi. They’d also get Worship.

Obstinate Baloth has generally the same going for it as Loxodon Smiter does with additional upside against hyper-aggressive decks like Burn. However, with Burn having such a miserable matchup against Eldrazi, I expect it to fall out of favor in the coming weeks. That said, if people up their Dismember numbers or just Phyrexian mana spells in general to keep pace with Eldrazi, we could see Burn coming back to punish people doing ten damage to themselves per game.

Not only does Big Game Hunter hit most of the creatures you’re worried about from Eldrazi, it can be discarded and paid for using its madness cost. Perhaps a tutor target out of Chord of Calling decks or a three-drop to hit off a Collected Company. I’d probably play a lot these in my sideboard and play Liliana of the Veil alongside loads of removal in a build of Abzan or Jund.

The same is true with all the madness cards from Time Spiral block. Perhaps something like B/W Smallpox with Flagstones of Trokair and other madness cards, like even Dark Withering, would do the trick against Eldrazi.

Play the Right Archetype

Here are some contender decks I’ve seen.

These are decks that play their own game without moving too far into hateful cards. Blue Moon is a deck built to cast Blood Moon and function well around that plan. All-In-Red is designed to dump its hand and turtle up before winning with inevitability with something like an emblem from Koth of the Hammer. Living End just so happens to play seven-plus ways to cast its namesake card to wipe out all creatures on the battlefield while advancing its own gameplan of reanimating its cycled creatures. I expect decks that exploit a small flaw in the Eldrazi decks to become more popular.

What Should Be Banned (If Anything)?

As I said earlier, I don’t think there’s a pressing need for anything to be banned immediately. We should at least wait until #SCGLOU to see if the format self-corrects. As a collective, the community has a good chance to find something that crushes Eldrazi into the dirt.

If parts of the Eldrazi deck need to be banned I’d target these cards:

Eldrazi Temple is simply too good for the new age of Eldrazi creatures. It’s very reminiscent of Mishra’s Workshop and leads to degenerate draws. Eye of Ugin, on the other hand, does also leads to some explosive draws but is much less potent without Eldrazi Temple and when drawn in multiples. Also, banning Eye of Ugin will stifle other decks like R/G Tron unnecessarily.

Simian Spirit Guide should’ve been banned a long time ago, along with Rite of Flame and Chrome Mox. Fast mana is fast mana and anything that leads to variance-heavy insane draws should be given a good, hard look.

It’s been hotly debated if Grishoalbrand should be nerfed in one way or another, perhaps by banning Goryo’s Vengeance. Truth is, Grishoalbrand wouldn’t be as fast, nor be capable of continuing to combo off without Simian Spirit Guide to convert an excess of cards in hand to actual mana. Simian Spirit Guide is a card that will find a home in the next broken combo deck if its surrounding combo pieces are given the axe. Believe me, Simian Spirit Guide is the real one to blame here.

We Are Now the Gatewatch

At Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch the team of Chandra, Jace, Gideon, and Nissa failed to keep the Eldrazi in check. Now they’re loose in Modern and it’s up to us to find weaknesses in their armor. Adjustments. New decks. Scouring of Gatherer and binders for hidden gems. At #SCGLOU I hope not to be on the dark side and give in to the power of the most dominant archetype in Pro Tour history. If I do, it means I’ve failed. If you do, you’ve either failed or have chosen wisely, if half-heartedly.

My Glistener Elves have an uphill battle.

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!