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Modern in March – The Rise and Rise of Dr. Owner

I wrote last time that Modern was looking bleak. Eldrazi were everywhere, and still are. Not just the absurd numbers put up at PTOGW. Fourteen decks across the top 24 GP decks this weekend (3 different GPs). Eleven of the top 16 at a Modern online PTQ. Twenty of the top 32 at the latest SCG Open. Four of the top 8 at a 79-player GPT two weekends ago. When it isn’t winning the event, it’s losing in the finals. This deck has already warped the format. So what do we do about it?

We don’t waste valuable thinking time wishing for bans (The Secret is still a thing, right?). These will happen in due course. But until then, we need to work out how the deck works to work out how to beat it.

I said, a long time ago, that Modern was defined by its removal. That the efficiency of Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile and Dismember meant that any creatures you play had to cost one mana, or provide value even if they died. This is no longer truly the case. Modern has evolved.

Now, the two clear frontrunner decks are Eldrazi and Affinity. These do well against the key removal spells. Affinity creatures either cost 1 or survive bolt/Dismember such as Master of the Etherium, apart from the Steel Overseer which is a sadly necessary evil. Eldrazi have loads of enter-the-battlefield effects, or gain extra value when killed such as in the case of Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher.

But these decks are not defined by their creatures. If you played either deck with fair mana, they would be pretty awful. Modern now hinges on the ability to cheat on mana. Look at what these decks do – Eldrazi Temple is Ancient Tomb. Eye of Ugin generates sometimes four, sometimes six mana in a single turn – it’s Mishra’s Workshop. It’s Tolarian Academy. And Affinity literally gets to play a Mox. All of this busted mana – and no one else gets to use it! Except for Lantern Control (boo!).

So how best to attack them? We can’t out-mana them – even getting a ten mana discount on an Emrakul with Through The Breach doesn’t necessarily catch us up to the mana that Eldrazi can spend over the first few turns, and Affinity can kill us by the time we can cast a 5-mana spell. Tron used to be good, but these decks get to use unfair mana sooner, and develop a board while they do it.

We can’t reasonably try to control them out of the game – they require such different answers, and have enough in-built card advantage that you can spend the whole game trading resources and never have time to reload.

There are some ways to ‘cheat’ on mana that might work. Wrath effects kill more than four mana’s-worth of opposing creatures. Eldrazi decks will often play out eleven or more mana of creatures by turn four, and you get to kill it all for the low cost of one Supreme Verdict. If it isn’t stripped away by an uncounterable Thought Knot Seer

Aether Vial is another way to get unfair mana. Merfork do this well, as a first turn Aether Vial can generate ten mana by turn five. Combined with Spreading Seas and Harbinger of the Tides, they can also buy themselves enough time to turn this mana into a game-winning, Islandwalking attack. Some build of Hate Bears might be able to utilise this as well.

Land destruction isn’t great, despite the boost that Eldrazi receive from their lands. Blood Moon and Stone Rain come down on turn 3 – that’s often too slow on the draw, and a Thought Knot Seer can take your critical spell before you have a chance to cast it. On top of that, they are fast enough to leverage the turn you take to kill a land to take more chunks out of your life total. This is why casting Naturalize targeting Mox Opal on turn 2 is rarely going to be enough to defeat Affinity. It works some of the time, but not consistently enough for my liking.

You can also ‘cheat’ on winning the game, which uses a different resource – time. Typically, the Eldrazi deck will need to swing at you on turn three, four and five to kill you. Every time they tap Eldrazi Temple to cast Dismember instead of another creature, they cost themselves more time. So if you have a way to create an infinite combo in that window, then you have a chance to best them.

Melira Company and Grishoalbrand are the best decks for doing this. In Game One. The problem is that after sideboard, Eldrazi decks are bringing in Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, Grafdigger’s Cage and the like. So whilst you can cheat on how much time it takes you to win the game by going infinite in one way or another, they are equipped to make that very difficult in post board games. Or just cast Mimic into Seer into Smasher…

Other people try to ‘cheat’ by denying their opponents an attack step. Ensnaring Bridge, Worship, and cards like Stonehorn Dignitary can lock Eldrazi and Affinity out of combat, which denies them obvious ways to win. Affinity is able to play around at least Bridge, but it makes things much harder for them, and that buys you time.

Unfortunately, Eldrazi seem to be a step ahead. The UW version, seen online in the hands of LSV and live at the SCG Louisville Open, has access to powerful white sideboard cards itself – including its own Worships for the mirror. Access to artifact and enchantment removal, as well as other powerful hate cards like Stony Silence, means that unlike Colourless and UR Eldrazi from the PT, these decks can actually improve their chances in games two and three. The RG version also has solid sideboard options and even Kozilek’s Return, giving it more answers to awkward board states.

Eldrazi are, let’s face it, probably not here to stay. But for the time being, it’s important to recognise why they’re busted to have a chance to beat them. They get ahead by cheating on mana, in the early turns when before land destruction spells are an option. So go a different way – try to deny them the ability to win the game. Or try to combo off, to cheat on the time and board position usually required to win. Or try to recoup lost mana advantage with Wraths.

But don’t try to play fair against them. That’s the whole point. They’ve broken the fundamental rules of Magic by playing lands, or in the case of Affinity, free artifacts, that give them access to more mana than you do. If you try to fight fair, you face an almost insurmountable disadvantage.

So do something equally unfair.

And hope they don’t find their sideboard cards that stop it.

Or become an Eldrazi Mimic yourself…

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