PT Eldrazi

“In the interest of format diversity, Splinter Twin is banned in Modern.”

Ok, yeah, I know that the Pro Tour over the weekend was about Oath of the Gatewatch, but in reality, it was cards from both trips to Zendikar that made a splash. I’m going to assume that you already know how it panned out. If you need more info, it’s just a click away.

eye of ugin 2

Six of the top eight decks featured Eldrazi, combining Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple with cheap colourless creatures from OGW, and to a lesser extent BFZ. The other two decks were Affinity. The most played non-colourless creature in the top 8 was Simian Spirit Guide. There were more Ghost Quarters than basic lands.

Did the sky fall? Is Modern broken? Do we need emergency bans?

Maybe. It might actually be that bad. Three different versions of the deck made it into the top eight. A Blue/Red deck with more hasty and evasive creatures. A Blue/Black deck with Drowner of Hope and processor synergies. And a colourless deck featuring four Chalice of the Void, and Simian Spirit Guides to cast it on turn one.

What other deck in recent times was filling multiple top eight slots in major modern events? That featured several different sub-types? That frequently killed on turn 4? Oh yeah… Splinter Twin, that deck that was too oppressive. Thank goodness they banned it, allowing RUG Delver and Jeskai Control to rise to prominence…

The core of the deck is really simple. Play all the best 2-5 mana Eldrazi creatures, eight lands that provide two or more mana, and fill the gaps with interaction. It can in theory deal twenty damage on turn 2, but any reasonable draw that involves a Reality Smasher can get the job done by turn 4. It crushed the field this weekend. But what happens next?

This is an especially important question for Australian MTG, with GP Melbourne coming up, and an extra Modern WMCQ this year. With relatively few big events accessible to Australians, those that do happen become much more significant.

Will Eldrazi still be legal?

For the time being, a clear yes. It’s fortunate for Wizards that the core of the Eldrazi deck was discovered before the PT, and that the new set, timed to coincide with the Pro Tour, contained the creatures that sent the deck way over the top. There were more brand new cards in this top eight than in some Standard Pro Tours. So with OGW being the current set, there’s no way Wizards will be banning anything in the near future.

If anything does get banned, it will likely be the lands. Eye of Ugin is the real offender. Whilst you only get to have one in play, there will often be one or two turns in the early game where you play two Eldrazi in the same turn, allowing Eye to effectively provide 4 mana. That’s better than Mishra’s Workshop. That’s too powerful for Modern.

Eye also allows the deck to win a long game, eventually getting to the point where they can fetch and play a Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher in the same turn. Kill you on turn 3, kill you on turn 12? A little like Amulet Bloom, another fair deck of fun.

The restrictive clause, only working for colourless Eldrazi, is now a joke, with Devoid and Wastes-mana creatures from OGW. If the big Modern weekend, with 3 GPs including Melbourne, shows a similar pattern to the Pro Tour, I would expect something to be done about it afterwards. But if you’re preparing for GP Melbourne, you need to think about Eldrazi.

Will Eldrazi be everywhere?

Definitely not. People have invested years, and hundreds if not thousands of dollars, in assembling and playtesting their Modern decks. Eldrazi, in some configuration, is almost certainly the best deck in the format, but not by so much that it is definitely a mistake to play anything else. So most people will not want to dump their pet deck for the new hotness.

That said, a lot of the competitive players will be more willing to switch to the best deck, and also more likely to have card collections that enable the old switcheroo. This means that not only will there be a fair few Eldrazi players at the GP, but that Eldrazi pilots will be more likely be better than average players. So if you want to do well at the GP, you will need a plan to beat them.

I would expect around ten percent of the field to play some manner of Eldrazi deck. That’s about the sort of numbers I would have expected from Twin, or Affinity, or BGx, or Burn. This means that you can’t skew your deck too far to fight Eldrazi, even though you will likely need to wade through some at the top of the standings, because you will have to beat a wide and varied field to get to the top in the first place.

What beats Eldrazi?

There isn’t an obvious answer. Some individual cards are obviously good against them (e.g. Blood Moon) but they can often find ways around them (e.g. by deploying 8 power on the first two turns). So I think that it’s better to think about how the Eldrazi strategy works, and what lines up well against it.

Their plan is to deploy lots of big creatures quickly. They want to curve out and beat down, with limited disruption. Good blockers are obviously desirable here – cards like Wall of Omens, Lingering Souls, Young Pyromancer, Monastery Mentor and Voice of Resurgence are useful, as are big lifegain threats like Siege Rhino and Thragtusk. Of course, you need to have more than one blocker, because the Eldrazi player will be lobbing several threats onto the board.

The Eldrazi threat is almost entirely on the ground. Sure, there are some Blinkmoths and Eldrazi Skyspawners around, but having flying threats goes a long way here. Restoration Angel, Lingering Souls, Vault Skirge and so on are great ways to swing in for the win.

Step one is therefore to stabilise the board, and step two is to find a way to win, either with evasive threats or some sort of combo finish. Doing this whilst being attacked by hasty 5/5s with trample is quite a challenge, and something the field at the PT struggled with. Decks like Affinity and Infect seemed great beforehand, but struggle to stop the rush of Eldrazi creatures. The ChannelFireball tech of maindeck Chalice looked phenomenal against a big chunk of the field that showed up at the PT.

You can go super deep trying to find ways to match up well. Path to Exile their Reality Smasher, discarding Wilt-Leaf Liege. Restoration Angel and Cloudshift flickering Stonehorn Dignitary and Fiend Hunter. But then you’re probably weak to the rest of the field, and playing underpowered cards and strategies doesn’t guarantee you can beat a curve of Mimic into Seer into Smasher…

What did we learn?

The PT showed us the shape of Modern for the immediate future, and it’s clear that Eldrazi are a threat that we can’t ignore. That said, the realities of GP fields mean that we cannot afford tunnel vision and expect to play against Eldrazi all day long. Finding the right balance between respecting the best deck in the field, and being flexible enough to fight through a GP that will feature literally dozens of different archetypes, is the challenge that you will face at Modern tournaments…

Until WotC drops the banhammer once again.

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