W/B Eldrazi And A Conversation With Tom Ross

Want to get inside the minds of two of the best deckbuilders around? How did they approach week one of this new Standard format? GerryT recounts their process so that you’ve got strong information for #SCGStates weekend!

SCG States April 23-24!

The first deck I was interested in for Shadows over Innistrad Standard was W/B Midrange.

Hangarback Walker was particularly pathetic in a format full of exile effects and Reflector Mages, so I started going down a different route. I still needed a two-drop, but the best thing was, like… Hedron Crawler?

Gross, right?

Wait, maybe I could use that to get Thought-Knot Seer into my deck. That sounded really nice. Archangel Avacyn and G/R Ramp appear to be a big portion of our metagame, and Thought-Knot Seer lines up well against both of them.

With Hedron Crawler, I started building with the Eldrazi Displacer / Archangel Avacyn combo as well. Sorin, Grim Nemesis was the top end. Since my deck was so mana-intensive, I also added some Hedron Archives, which made Eldrazi Displacer great and allowed me to play multiple spells per turn, even though they were expensive.

“Don’t even bother. You’re going to take that deck apart after six games.” – Michael Majors, two weeks before he registered it for #SCGBALT (and lost playing for Top 8) and shortly before he built a deck with Corrupted Grafstone, Hedron Archive, and Sorin, Grim Nemesis for a VS. Video.

Despite my friend’s claims, I had hopes for the changes I was about to make. Very few cards line up well against Archangel Avacyn in Standard, but one of the best is certainly Thought-Knot Seer. Playing the Eldrazi four-drop incidentally increases your chances against G/R Ramp.

At first, it started as a deck to jam against the gauntlet, but soon after, I had most people onboard. Brad Nelson took a quick liking to the deck, especially after I thrashed his other midrange decks with it.

The Conversation

Next came the unexpected: a message from Tom “The Boss” Ross. I figured he would play Mono-Red Eldrazi or one of the Humans decks he was working on. The following is our conversation about the deck, what it’s trying to do, and a bunch of explanations regarding certain card choices. I thought our conversation was something that people should have access to because of the information contained within. It gives you a solid glimpse into how we evaluate cards, what we think about when we build decks, and how to tune them.

Tom Ross (TR): Yo, I’m onboard with W/B Eldrazi. Ship your current list if you have it please.

Gerry Thompson (GT):

The maindeck is solid, the sideboard needs work, but Brad is on it.

TR: Gonna do my natural process of solitaire-ing, then staring at the decklist. Some games with it wouldn’t hurt, but played plenty against it to know what’s up. Will be looking at sideboard ins and outs as what needs the most attention addressing.

GT: Word, that sounds good. Todd played a bunch of games earlier in the week where he drew mostly air. We added the Gideons back into the maindeck (basically because we wanted some sticky threats at three and four mana) and haven’t really had that issue since then. Flooding could be an issue regardless, though.

TR: How close is this Hedron Archive to getting cut?

GT: Brad wanted the 26th land instead of the second Archive. I think I’m closer to adding the second back in.

TR: What is the 26th land? Blighted Fen number two?

GT: It’s the sixth Plains. The third colorless land is cuttable, but it might hurt Matter Reshaper too much.

GT: Foundry of the Consuls got a lot better with the re-addition of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Blighted Fen has been great for Brad, but I don’t have too much experience with it. I would probably play a mix regardless.

TR: Blighted Fen is probably good against random stuff like Thing in the Ice or Dragonlord Ojutai, worse vs. midrange, but we can probably outmaneuver them.

GT: Westvale Abbey will likely not transform in games you aren’t otherwise winning, at least without Secure the Wastes. Blighted Steppe is a reasonable choice too.

TR: Steppe is on my radar. I do like threatening lifegain in races, which it will do likely more than actually get sacrificed. Unsure how much the second Blighted Fen complements the first. Like, is Fen into Fen actually good or are there diminishing returns?

GT: Drawing the second is usually a brick.

TR: Okay. Rogue’s Passage and Sea Gate Wreckage have been tried and they weren’t good enough?

GT: I didn’t actually try either, but I paid attention to what I wanted my lands to do. I’m not sure activating Sea Gate Wreckage would win me any games because that probably meant I was behind. It could potentially break stalls.

Rogue’s Passage seemed out of place because I could typically spend my mana on progressing my battlefield or making their battlefield worse. It could be a sneaky Ruinous Path effect though. I don’t think things were ever dire enough that I needed to snipe a planeswalker immediately vs. breaking down their battlefield over the course of two or three turns, though. It’s also difficult to get into racing situations with Rogue’s Passage, since they’re typically at twenty once you’re ready to turn the corner, unless you’re running away with the game thanks to Thought-Knot Seer or Archangel Avacyn.

TR: How have the Bearer in Silences been? First impression is that it’s medium with medium impact… Less than the value of an average sideboard card, as in not much of an upgrade to what’s being sideboarded out.

GT: I agree on Bearer of Silence. Brad wanted them for B/X Midrange, but I don’t think it’s necessary and they’re probably not going to beat you on that front. Similarly, the extra Gideon, Sorin, and Anguished Unmaking could likely be better cards.

TR: The impactful sideboard card is Virulent Plague, followed by Tragic Arrogance, both of which have significant diminishing returns. I think Tragic Arrogance is more likely to not be relevant, especially if you have an extra copy clogging your sculpting of the game. Uncomfortable about the third, even if it’s a very strong card when it works.

GT: I started with two. Brad argued for the third because of how high-impact it is in the matchups we want it, which is true. I agree that drawing multiples has huge diminishing returns, but Brad’s argument was that it probably won’t matter because they’ll die to the first and it won’t matter that you have a dead card in hand. He seems to think that, even with two in your opener, it won’t hinder you that much. I assume that those are matchups where you’ll be lowering your curve significantly, so he could be right.

I am locked on including some Tragic Arrogances, some Virulent Plagues, some discard, some additional threats, maybe additional removal.

TR: I think the deck is very powerful and has the luxury to dedicate sideboard space to specifically bad matchups. Granted it’s Week 1 and we don’t fully know them but I imagine you have an idea of what they are.

I like Brad’s analysis and could be onboard with three if literally nothing matters once it’s cast. Is ramp impossible to mitigate?

GT: Ramp is on the bad end of matchups, but unlike in previous midrange decks, you actually have game with Thought-Knot Seer, Declaration in Stone, and Archangel Avacyn. Still, I would like to have significant help here, even if it’s just a couple of cards.

The aggressive white decks have been tough, but they can’t do much about Tragic Arrogance. I’d prefer to have an additional early removal spell for those matchups. We need to shore up the matchup against other midrange/control decks so that we have a robust deck against them post-sideboard.

TR: And should we be more concerned with Atarka Red?

GT: I haven’t seen many people play or talk about aggressive red decks. Most people seem distracted by Vampires. I would definitely like to cover my bases if possible, though. Maybe just have something for small creatures in general.

TR: I think Atarka Red will be a few percentage points higher than what we would’ve expected, say, a week ago. An article, some talk, it’s easy to port over, and it’s good to be aggressive Week 1.

GT: I had Archangel of Tithes as the catchall vs. aggro decks, but it was very poor against other white decks, specifically those with Reflector Mage.

TR: I don’t like Archangel of Tithes in this deck. Seems nearly uncastable on four mana.

Nearly, as in like 50% of the time.

GT: There are 21 white sources, not counting Knight of the White Orchid.

TR: Yeah, and that’s pretty good, but not something I think I can count on. Also the third white could be Forsaken Sanctuary or Shambling Vent depending on how much you needed to do on turns 1-3.

GT: Agreed. Most of the time, I was taking more painland damage than I wanted with stuff like that in my deck, which didn’t help my cause.

TR: Yeah, highly dislike sideboard cards against aggro that cost you life to cast. Similar scenario came up to splash Faith’s Fetters for lifegain at the cost of pain/fetch. Means not worth the ends.

GT: Yeah, probably better off just having something like Dead Weight.

TR: That’s probably enough vs. Dragon Hunter / Falkenrath Gorger. It’s likely better than Surge of Righteousness, especially since there are no (fewer) tricks mid-combat now.

Is there enough lifegain or do you feel like it’s a touch short? I like the Anguished Unmakings as freeroll Disenchants and like how they shore up against the open field. Our lifegain is so slow and I’d like something in the middle before control is taken. These painlands are super-messy too and can deal like six or whatever. Just a wish, dunno if it’s fixable.

GT: I looked and the best things I found were Sorin, Grim Nemesis and Blighted Steppe, aside from the four Shambling Vents we’re obviously going to play. I’d be very happy with an Arashin Cleric or Teroh’s Faithful to blink.

Other ideas are: Kalitas, Demonic Pact, Linvala (Sorin sits on top of it), Ayli, Ojutai Exemplars, Hidden Dragonslayer, Lantern Scout.

Ayli might be perfect. She’s basically a Dead Weight. We could have Pitiless Horde for ramp.

It could just be Cleric of the Forward Order, I guess.

TR: Cleric of the Fowrard Order is a card, but not strong enough for my tastes.

GT: I think I like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. She’s basically a removal spell and has a better version of threatening lifegain in races than Blighted Steppe because the activation is so cheap.

TR: Can we get an Ayli main? Is that crazy? I hate the second but the first seems OK.

GT: I started with Ayli / Hangarback Walker, but both were medium in general. I wouldn’t mind just having one though. As a sideboard card, I feel like Ayli completes the plan of lowering the curve, giving you another way to stop early aggression, and she kinda locks it up in the mid- to late-game.

TR: I do like Dead Weight. Feels like a shame not to be using it being an enchantment for delirium but whatever. I like Ayli as an extension of the maindeck, a card that will come in very often. I don’t mind “low-impact” cards for the right reasons.

GT: They don’t all have to be hammers. I appreciate filling holes.

TR: I think the maindeck is a touch too high on mana sources, and for good reason. We want to choose to play in the dark and be capable of casting everything on time and should have enough wiggle room to win if flooded if we play well. After sideboarding, especially if we lower the curve in some matchups, I imagine we want to sideboard out a land / Hedron Crawler / Hedron Archive, which will happen more on the draw with Knights. I’m wondering which. Not an easy question to answer but optimally one we’d like to answer.

GT: With 25 land, I would side out Knight of the White Orchid when I assumed they would play first. Sometimes they would keep in their Knights and choose to draw first, which would kind of get me.

With 26 land, I would definitely side out some mana sources on the draw. I think your configuration depends on what deck you’re facing. Some matchups, you don’t care about the acceleration because you’re trying to kill a bunch of stuff early. Sometimes you want to hit turn 3 Thought-Knot Seer or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

If I were playing against control, I would just cut all the Hedron Crawlers.

TR: Matter Reshaper is a card I’m particularly curious about. It’s a card we only barely feel belongs in the maindeck but will rarely be looked at as being sideboarded out. Maybe it’s a case of “medium card does medium stuff always,” so it’s fine, but I find that strange.

GT: I did not want to have to kill everything, as I couldn’t rely on my creatures always sticking. Matter Reshaper may or may not be the best creature for the job. It’s certainly not easy on the mana. Rather, it’s not easy to cast. The mana probably stays the same regardless.

TR: My best answer is fill up on Hedron Crawler and (I guess) the third Gideon.

It doesn’t feel right.

GT: Agreed, I don’t want to flood on either of those cards. Maybe it’s supposed to be Ayli in that slot.

TR: Dunno, Matter Reshaper is the epitome of medium. And I don’t think that medium cards are bad when the deck is powerful and wants some bridging. Its colorless mana cost is a concern as it sometimes has a poor impact on the game. It’s probably annoying enough to cause concern and get us safely to the later stages. It’s also decent enough against aggro.

A good draw progression is tapped land on turn 1, Hedron Crawler on turn 2, something decent on turn 4. Eldrazi Displacer is a three-drop but only if it’s efficient. Feels like Matter Reshaper goes against the small rampy plan. Could play another tapped land on turn 3, I suppose.

GT: It does fill the turn 5 three-drop plus two-drop, though. I’m onboard with Ayli. She adds a nice layer to Avacyn.

TR: Over what? I do like Ayli as a strong effect, at least the first copy. A single Matter Reshaper looks stupid but screw it.

I want to know how much of a hold-over Hedron Archive is from past versions. It’s great when you can do stuff with the mana that turn (say, with Hangarback Walker), but this deck has nothing but a late Hedron Crawler or Eldrazi Displacer activation if it’s turn 5.

GT: Ayli is probably just a better Matter Reshaper.

I have been happy with Hedron Archive as the deck is mana-intensive in general. With most decks, that could be alleviated to some degree by not skipping a turn playing a four mana accelerator, but it has seemed worth it in this deck, both as an accelerator and potential card drawer later. Most of the time, you’re trying to play or use Eldrazi Displacer off the mana, or just cast it off Hedron Crawler to set up a double spell turn or faster Sorin, Grim Nemesis.

I know those aren’t necessarily the best answers.

The Sideboarding Guide

We ended up playing this:

There was some disagreement over Matter Reshaper vs. Hedron Archive (I played the Hedron Archive) and on how many Crumbling Vestiges to play.

Brad and I worked on a sideboarding guide, which I sent to everyone on the deck. It was rough, but I think it gave a good starting point. One of the biggest issues was that it was the first week of a new Standard format, we didn’t know what the metagame was going to look like for sure, and we didn’t know exactly how people would be building their decks.

Most of the sideboarding was going to be done on the fly.

G/W Decks

On the Play:



On the Draw:



The Mirror

(I would choose to draw and I think they might too.)

On the Play:



On the Draw:



G/x Cryptolith Rites/Graveyard Decks

On the Play:



On the Draw:



Ramp Decks



Red Eldrazi Decks

On the Play:



On the Draw:



U/R Control and Sphinx’s Tutelage

On the Play:



On the Draw:



Going Forward

After #SCGBALT, the metagame was known, so our job got much easier. Now, I didn’t play W/B Eldrazi at #SCGINVI, but I was working on it.

Aside from some stuff moving around in the 75, the most drastic change was the re-addition of Secure the Wastes. The biggest downfall of W/B Eldrazi at #SCGBALT, at least from my experience, was the weakness to a pile of spot removal. That weakness is enhanced when your opponent is also resistant to spot removal.

For example, against G/W/X, I would frequently not be able to gain traction against their myriad removal spells. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t be able to stop them from doing their thing because of all their card advantage from Den Protector, Duskwatch Recruiter, or things like Secure the Wastes. It honestly felt like W/G could have been a better version of the deck than W/B.

The same problems exist for W/B Eldrazi, but they can be mitigated. Many players who opted for the archetype went down the Wasteland Strangler route, which I can certainly respect. The single thing I don’t like about that plan is having to play cards like Silkwrap and Transgress the Mind, which I previously deemed too weak for the format.

Is Eldrazi Displacer-ing your Wasteland Strangler a good thing in this format? Absolutely, but you still have the same issues if your Eldrazi Displacer gets killed. Other decks have Collected Company and Tireless Tracker to keep the pressure coming, even on stable battlefields or when their opponent has played a pile of removal spells. W/B Eldrazi is mainly hoping that its cards stick and that it can use its mana in the late-game that way.

I wouldn’t say the format is removal-heavy, but it isn’t removal-light either. Declaration in Stone is one of the biggest beatings we’ve had in Standard in a very long time. When your entire archetype hinges on sticking a specific card or two and Standard has a card that kills anything, it’s probably time to try a new angle.

Secure the Wastes handles some of that, but it’s not a great solution. Ideally I’d be using Tireless Tracker to good effect. I don’t have a great W/G Eldrazi decklist yet, but I assume something similar exists. For now, we have the Team Lotus Big White deck, which made the Top 8 of #SCGINVI.

This deck is trying to accomplish many of the same things our deck is doing, and quite possibly be a better version of it.

With the majority of the metagame using Declaration in Stone, Thought-Knot Seer has lost most of its luster. Relegating it to the sideboard isn’t crazy, especially considering that, toward the end of #SCGBALT, Michael Majors was recommending we side them out against aggressive white decks. However, I am shocked at how creature-light this deck is. If you’re trying to take advantage of Archangel Avacyn, you really want as big of a battlefield presence as possible.

Their deck also seems removal heavy. There are enough enchantments that the obvious weakness to Dromoka’s Command is somewhat mitigated, but any game where two Dromoka’s Commands show up is probably going to be very painful. To be fair, it’s unlikely that their Dromoka’s Commands will be able to kill something and free up one of their creatures because of how big things like Archangel Avacyn are, but it’s not ideal.

I take minor offense to the use of Archangel of Tithes. It’s a card that, on the surface, should be great in the format. The best cards are white, and because of Knight of the White Orchid, you have to play a bunch of white mana, so it should be great. Obviously the stats are kind of unreal, and Standard has a ton of combat, so Archangel of Tithes should rule, but it doesn’t.

It has the same problem that Thought-Knot Seer does, which is that Always Watching and Thalia’s Lieutenant make their tiny creatures outclass it eventually. Plus, it is very, very poor against Reflector Mage. At least with Thought-Knot Seer, you can try to strip their lone piece of interaction and hope the 4/4 body sticks, but you have no such luxury with Archangel of Tithes.

History has shown that the bigger creature deck typically finds a way to outclass the smaller creature decks. I’m fully expecting those with a great plan against Bant Company and Boss Humans to dominate #PTSOI, but I haven’t exactly figured it out myself yet. Something with Archangel Avacyn and Eldrazi Displacer is a great start, and with W/B Eldrazi and Big White, the groundwork has been laid for people to find success in the archetype.

Right now, though, I still think we’re missing something.

SCG States April 23-24!