I get it, I really do. Modern has been drastically changed, and the Eldrazi are everywhere. The support cards might change but the core remains the same, and it’s all enabled by two circumstantially-busted lands. It’s making a lot of people swear off the format until the banned and restricted announcement in April, saying the Eldrazi deck (as if there’s only one) can’t be beaten.
They might be right. The top 32 of #SCGLOU certainly made it look like a futile endeavor: A whopping twenty of that Top 32 had the word “Eldrazi” in their deck name, though “only” half of the Top Eight was Eldrazi. It’s not hard to understand why people are throwing their hands up in frustration, but I’m not ready to give up just yet.
Finding An Opening
The biggest indicator that Modern is in trouble comes from the number of articles being written about beating the Eldrazi decks or joining them. By now the best answers have been crowdsourced and agreed upon: Worship, Ensnaring Bridge, Painter’s Servant and having a faster finish.
If we need further evidence as to how important these cards are, #SCGLOU was won by an Affinity deck with Ensnaring Bridges in the sideboard.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 1 Master of Etherium
- 2 Steel Overseer
- 3 Memnite
- 2 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Vault Skirge
An argument can be made however that Ensnaring Bridge actually fits quite well in Affinity. Most of the deck’s creatures have either zero or one power naturally, so they all attack very easily under the Bridge. The terrifying possibility of moving counters to the attacker with an Arcbound Ravager or equipping a Cranial Plating at instant speed are almost good enough to consider them cheating. Anyone who watched the finals of #SCGLOU saw poor Kent Ketter’s expression growing more and more hopeless once Austin Holcomb was able to resolve the Bridge and just sit under it grinding away with Ghirapur Aether Grid. If only it were a Tribal Artifact – Troll.
Ensnaring Bridge and Worship have proven to be the two most effective foils so far to the Eldrazi decks, so it stands to reason that a deck that can reasonably run both cards would be a good choice. That does somewhat narrow our options, but fortunately for you I have been playing a deck for a while now that, with minimal effort and tweaking, can easily play both of these cards and more besides. Ironically enough it is the former anthropomorphised form of the missing Eldrazi titan that gives us our best weapon to defeat them: Emeria Control.
The shell for Emeria decks is usually U/W with an assortment of utility creatures (often with enters-the-battlefield effects) costing three mana or less, some permanents with the same low cost, Sun Titans and utility spells like Path to Exile. The decks win through grinding out small advantages in the early game while setting up a board state that includes a Sun Titan and Emeria, the Sky Ruin. From there the deck just keeps recurring extra permanents, be they Ghost Quarters or Lone Missionaries or Court Hussars, until they have an unassailable position. Conveniently, Ensnaring Bridge happens to have a converted mana cost of three.
Now hold on just a second. How are we slotting Ensnaring Bridge, a card that won’t let creatures attack if their power is greater than the number of cards in your hand, into a deck with a six-power creature that needs to attack to make our deck tick? Don’t worry my friends, I have a solution. If we can make sure the Bridge is only there on our opponent’s combat step, it won’t bother us. To do that, we’re going to be sacrificing it to this forgotten gem:
Finding this interaction made me so happy. Gain life? Check. Make chump blockers? Check. Able to recur it with Sun Titan? Check. Sweet little combo when we have the Titan? Check and mate. Our deck already plays cards like Pilgrim’s Eye and Mortarpod that can be sacrificed without much trouble to make Thopters, and we can easily attack with said Thopters when we have Bridge simply off our one card draw for the turn.
Playing the Foundry could inform some other deck choices. Perhaps we want Bottle Gnomes over Lone Missionary, for example. One fewer point of life is less than optimal, but the ability to make the Gnomes into a Thopter could make the difference. The Wellsprings (Ichor and Mycosynth) also do some good work in this engine, though we don’t want many of either. Aether Spellbomb does a whole bunch of useful things, but was already in most lists anyway. Myr Retriever lets us recur stuff even without Sun Titan, and if we have Emeria we can make a Thopter each turn.
One other sweet discovery was Perilous Myr. A speed bump that lets us pick off Etched Champions with ease would already be borderline-playable in and against many decks, but with the ability to sacrifice it to either Thopter Foundry or Mortarpod the card gets significantly better. It’s also a way to win under the Bridge, albeit a slow one.
What other potential artifacts we can play? How about Cathodion to ramp us up to Sun Titan and provide a solid body? Mind Stone and Burnished Hart both accomplish that task with different upsides. Neurok Replica is reusable bounce which I can see becoming very annoying very quickly. Obviously we can’t play all these cards, but this is where I would start:
- 2 Myr Retriever
- 1 Bottle Gnomes
- 3 Court Hussar
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 2 Lone Missionary
- 4 Sun Titan
- 1 Neurok Replica
- 2 Perilous Myr
- 1 Burnished Hart
As you may be able to tell from all the one-ofs, this is a rough sketch. We will need to tinker (no AutoCard, not that one, sadly) a little to get the right numbers, but each of these pieces does something we want in this type of deck.
One glaring exclusion is Vendilion Clique, and to be honest that might be wrong. Three damage a turn in the air is significant when we are playing a grindy deck, and the enters-the-battlefield trigger gets even better when we can potentially use it multiple times. Vendilion Clique is better on offense though, and we are not looking to play that role in most matchups.
Another notable absentee is Eldrazi Displacer. With so much of our value coming from enters-the-battlefield effects, the Displacer would appear to be ideal for dis place. I decided against it for one big reason: the mana. Every non-Plains land in the deck is a hindrance in getting us to seven Plains for Emeria, and the longer it takes us to get there the longer we have to stay alive.
Playing In The Sun
We are relying heavily on Ensnaring Bridge and our lifegain to keep us alive until we can assemble the recursion engine. Court Hussar is a staple in this archetype because of the work it does in digging us to the pieces we need while also performing admirably as a blocker. In fact, while playing this deck it’s important to remember that none of the creatures are important except the Sun Titans. Everything else is there to chump block and get value.
One of my favorite pieces in this is Burnished Hart. It will often draw removal from the opponent which is not ideal, but that’s just one less card that kills your real threats. Ramping from three to six in a way that works under Blood Moon is valuable. It is slow, but in the absence of other artifacts that put lands on to the battlefield I am afraid we don’t have a better choice. I can, however, see a case for a one-of Expedition Map somewhere.
One thing I am curious about is our game against Jeskai. They will hate using their removal on our parade of value creatures, but as that deck does not present early threats they will need to do exactly that unless they want to try and race our lifegain. The problem for us comes when they realise that our inevitability is easily disrupted by Path to Exile on a Sun Titan while theirs comes from Snapcaster Mage and burn spells which we have to try and weather. My gut tells me we have enough staying power, but an early Geist of Saint Traft could be bad.
Thopter Foundry and Ghost Quarter should protect us against the flying threats of Affinity, and we have lifegain and Perilous Myr to keep the rest at bay. Mortarpod shines against that deck as well as against Infect. Equipping a Perilous Myr wirh Mortarpod? Well that’s just gravy. Sweet, gray, destructive gravy. It’s possible I am mixing metaphors here.
Our sideboard is set up pretty well. Meddling Mage is our main defence against combo decks along with Worship. We’re not going to be bringing in the Worship against most aggro decks, but it does the job against combo decks with limited removal and decks like the Eldrazi Menace which by and large only have something like two Disenchant effects to beat this plus Ensnaring Bridge (if even that many). The other cards should be self-explanatory.
Early testing suggests we’re a little weak to combo decks like Ad Nauseam, and that the Myr Retriever engine might be better in the board for the grindier matchups like Jund. Leyline of Sanctity in the board can firm up our combo matches, and I am looking at Tezzeret the Seeker for its maindeck potential. With so much of our value being tied up in cheap artifacts, Tezzeret is a great tutor. However, his +1 ability does pull us back towards mana rocks, and those don’t do a great deal for our overall plan. Reflector Mage is another possibility for that slot, and it fits our plan to stay alive even better. Bouncing a Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler is brutal, especially if they ate their graveyard to get there.
I have looked at adding Retreat to Emeria, which is not only flavorful but also helps our plan in a few ways. It provides a steady stream of chump blockers, and at 1/1 the tokens can easily slip under the Ensnaring Bridge (as we mentioned earlier).With fetchlands we can even buff our token army after declaring attackers. At four mana it is not ideally costed, but the upside is reasonably high. I’m going to leave it out for now, but I can see it being a decent way to provide some staying power.
All in all, this should be a resilient deck that with even decent draws can survive late enough to drown the opponent in value. Take it for a spin and let me know how you fare, as well as what you’d change. With a Mr. Potato Head approach like this, there is room for customization to suit your local metagame so I’m very interested to hear how it plays out. One thing I can promise is that the list is fun and full of cards that make the opponent have to read them which, after all, are the two most important things!
As always thanks for stopping by and until next time… Brew On!