With Star City Regionals, the most recent Pro Tour, and all of Magic Online being dominated by Eldrazi decks, I’d like to dedicate this week’s article to talking about the things that I’m doing to beat Eldrazi. Eldrazi is a force to be reckoned with and now that it boasts a 25% share of the overall metagame and nearly a 50% share of the Magic Online metagame, hoping to dodge and ignore it is basically impossible. People have talked about cards like Painter’s Servant, Worship, Ensnaring Bridge, Ghostly Prison, Magus of the Tabernacle, Big Game Hunter, and Obstinate Baloth as single cards to beat Eldrazi, but, it’s important to have knowledge of exactly what Eldrazi is planning on doing before you try and jam random “hosers” into your deck.
Eldrazi decks come in all different flavors. Chiefly, we’re trying to beat the CFB Eldrazi lists, which are almost completely colorless, playing Reality Smasher, Thought-Knot Seer, Matter Reshaper, Endless One, and Eldrazi Mimic. They’re trying to cast all of these cheap, efficient creatures as quickly as possible, with the hope of creating an unending stream of tutored up Eldrazi after they create an Eye of Ugin loop. For grindy games, they’ll bring in Oblivion Sowers to end the game. This is the most simple Eldrazi deck. Play a big guy early and try to win with it. To disrupt us, they play Spellskites, Ratchet Bomb, Dismember, and main deck Chalice of the Void. These cards are pesky and surprisingly efficient at halting a lot of ways to combat Eldrazi. Finally, they have a slew of creaturelands that can close out empty boards. These have been the peskiest threats to remove in my testing. The Blue Red Eldrazi list is a lot different. The list is much more aggressive; playing almost 33% more creatures than CFB Eldrazi (33 to their 22), they are playing smaller, more evasive creatures, like Eldrazi Skyspawner, Eldrazi Obligator, and Vile Aggregate to play more creatures early and gum up the board. They also play Drowner of Hope, which absolutely annihilates board stalls and is always a headache to beat, unless you can answer it immediately. Curving a Mimic into a Skyspawner, into a Drowner can be a truly disgusting affair. The Blue Red deck plays their Chalices and Ratchet Bombs in their sideboard, and only plays three Dismember instead of four in order to jam as many creatures as possible into their list, meaning that they’re more susceptible to permanents and one drop removal in exchange for having more creatures.
These two decks play a lot of the same cards, but, the approach is certainly different. It’s important to prepare for both, rather than lumping them together. Now that we know what we’re dealing with, it’s time to talk about how to beat it: Here are a couple tips when it comes to Eldrazi.
- Play Removal, Specifically Two-Mana Black Removal and Sweepers
This may sound a little bit strange, but, playing two-mana removal spells, particularly those in black, is definitely the approach that I would want to take in the coming weeks. The big reason for this is because of Chalice of the Void. On turn 1, your opponent is going to try and resolve an Eldrazi Mimic, an Endless One or a Chalice. If your deck is full of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, a Chalice of the Void is going to end your chances at stopping an Eldrazi. Cards like Doom Blade that don’t have damage restrictions or help accelerate your opponent are key in killing Reality Smashers and Thought-Knot Seers. Playing Doom Blade has the added benefit of being one less card blanked by a turn 1 Chalice. Cards like Doom Blade, and, even more so, Terminate are rarely dead cards and broadly answer the creature decks that will begin to envelop the format. The number of black creatures in the metagame are fairly low: Dark Confidant, Griselbrand, Olivia, Kalitas, and Vault Skirge. One of the few two drop removal spells I wouldn’t be playing right now, though, is Go for the Throat: it is a complete blank versus Affinity, a deck that should continue to remain at the top of the metagame, as it is fast enough to keep pace with Eldrazi. While spot removal is strong against the CFB Eldrazi deck, sweepers are going to be good as well. Sweepers are best against Blue Red Eldrazi, but, are often a two for one against even the CFB Eldrazi deck.
- Be Aggressive AND Evasive!
I like being aggressive in the new format. Eldrazi decks are fast, but, playing quick decks that beat down and immediately force decks like Eldrazi on the back foot are always a choice that keeps you in contention. In my testing experience, Eldrazi decks come out of the gate fast, but, if you can play a Glistener Elf or a couple flying creatures you can close out a game against even one of Eldrazi’s busted draws. Being aggressive against the Eldrazi deck also eliminates the busted late game that Eye of Ugin can provide. If you can be the aggressor in the matchup, you’ll have to weather fewer Eldrazi, rather than a whole swarm of them. What we saw at the Pro Tour and what I’ve seen in testing is that, while it is difficult to beat a double Mimic draw in the first few turns, it’s even tougher to beat a Drowner of Hope each turn. In a similar vein of being aggressive, I like playing flying creatures that can get over the big ground creatures and remain evasive against the mono black version. I also think playing a hexproof build-a-Baneslayer-Bogle can play really well once it’s a 5/5 first strike, lifelinking, reach-possessing, totem armored monster is great against the UR version. A Vault Skirge with a Cranial Plating, an early Delver of Secrets or an unblockable Blighted Agent or Inkmoth Nexus are quick clocks that could leave your opponent without options. One of the major benefits to playing Eldrazi Skyspawner is that it is one of the only creatures in the Eldrazi deck that can block fliers, which both decks are generally weak against.
- Information is Power, But, You Should Test for Yourself
Until this deck is banned, we’re going to hear a lot about this Eldrazi deck. We’re going to hear about the various decklists, their matchups against the field, and the hot tech to fight them. Read it all. Don’t just hear it from me. Go elsewhere! Use all of that information to bring the best cards to the table and know exactly how to play against the deck. Make sure you know that there are more than two different types of Eldrazi decks from the Pro Tour and they do play differently. If you don’t, you may end up playing around cards that aren’t even in the deck. For example, the UR version doesn’t maindeck Chalice or Spellskite, but, they are in the sideboard. The mono black version doesn’t have any fliers in the maindeck. The UR version boards into Stubborn Denial. That’s sometimes a Force Spike and sometimes a Negate. It’s also important to keep up on new and emerging lists. For example, Red Green Eldrazi, featuring Mind Stones, World Breakers, and Kozilek’s Returns, seems to be well positioned at beating hate cards like Blood Moon, Ensnaring Bridge, and Worship. Additionally, Luis Scott Vargas and, more recently, Andrew Tenjum have been toying with a Bant Eldrazi shell that also attacks some of the metagame’s early Eldrazi hosers. But, as much as looking at the Magic Online finishes and scouring the web for new answers can do for your deckbuilding, learning things for yourself is the most powerful thing you can be doing right now. For all the talk on the forums, all of the articles you’ll read, you have to test for yourself. Getting a feel for their rhythm lets you know when you can make your move and when you should play defense. The deck is quite good and incredibly explosive, but, there are ways to attack it. Testing your theoretical sideboard cards and tuning your maindeck for improvements, like the ones I’ve listed above, are the best way to be prepared for the weeks to come.
- Don’t Play Counterspells or Land Destruction
The first few weeks of any new format are highly aggressive. If you don’t know what to do, beating down is always a strong option. Because of this, playing counterspells is generally a poor option. If you’re taking a reactive role to a deck that plays giant Eldrazi on the first few turns of the game, things are not going to go well. Moreover, a lack of early disruption against a format that is positioning itself to be quicker and quicker is a recipe for disaster. Cards that react, without also applying pressure, are going to get run over by Eldrazi’s impressive late game of tutoring up Reality Smashers, Drowner of Hopes, or even Thought-Knot Seers. Not to mention that cards like Mana Leak and Remand are only relevant for a short period of time, whereas answers like Doom Blade will always be live unless you’re already far ahead. One final nail in the coffin for counterspells would be the existence of Cavern of Souls, a card that the Blue Red Eldrazi deck played four copies of at the Pro Tour. Cavern makes holding up mana look embarrassing and punishes you for playing something to stop a spell, rather than kill a threat. For the same reasons that counterspells come up short, a Fulminator Mage or Molten Rain on turn 3 will also not be quick enough. Without an early threat, you can’t capitalize on your mana advantage. Cards like Ghost Quarter and the like may act as a speedbump, but, giant world-breakers don’t pay much attention to a speed bump when they’re smashing your reality, drowning your hope, and seeing your thoughts. You’re David and they’re Goliath. Make sure the stones you’re throwing aren’t Stone Rains. Biblical parable puns. What up?
- Don’t go Overboard on Hate
Eldrazi is big, Eldrazi is bad, and, more than likely, Eldrazi is the best. Make sure you have a plan for it, make sure you have a sideboard for it. However, in the last four leagues I’ve played, I’ve played against Eldrazi twice. I’ve played against 13 unique decks. You can’t just play for Eldrazi, you have to have game against everyone else. A card like Painter’s Servant is useless against the rest of the Modern field and when you only have 15 precious sideboard slots, being wasteful is not a good idea. The purpose of this article has been to illustrate that Eldrazi, while insanely broken and obnoxiously frustrating, is, at its core, a creature deck that, despite focusing on high powered synergies to gain an early advantage, is still a creature deck at its core. Most Modern decks play creatures, and coming prepared to play that kind of game is a good idea. If we look at the recent Modern PTQ, we’ll see that, among a sea of Eldrazi decks, a Blue White control deck featuring Supreme Verdict, Path to Exile, Oust, Condemn and Wall of Omens placed 2nd. Those tools aren’t just good against Eldrazi, those tools are good against Modern, and that’s a good place to be.
Until next time!
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