Breaking Down Bant Eldrazi

Oath of the Gatewatch significantly changed the face of Modern upon release. Even after the deck that the set spawned was hit by the ban-hammer, the Eldrazi have found a way to claw back to the top of the format. If you checked out the most recent Modern Metagame Breakdown then you no doubt noticed that Bant Eldrazi has risen once again to being the most played deck in the format. Clearly the current percentages don’t match the deck’s former dominance, though it is a deck that you can expect to play against frequently in Modern. As such, I would like to offer an in-depth breakdown of the deck, discussing both how it functions and its core weaknesses.

eldrazi temple art

There aren’t a ton of deviations in how to build Bant Eldrazi. Some players have advocated for Tarmogoyf at various times, though mostly the deck is just large Eldrazi, a handful of removal spells, powerful lands, and great sideboard spells. It’s safe to assume that most lists will look very similar to Brian Braun-Duin’s list from his World Championship win:

Bant Eldrazi, by Brian Braun-Duin (1st, 2016 World Championship)

Creatures (25)
Drowner of Hope
Eldrazi Displacer
Eldrazi Skyspawner
Matter Reshaper
Noble Hierarch
Reality Smasher
Spellskite
Thought-Knot Seer

Artifacts (1)
Engineered Explosives

Instants (6)
Dismember
Path to Exile

Sorceries (4)
Ancient Stirrings

Lands (24)
Breeding Pool
Brushland
Cavern of Souls
Eldrazi Temple
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Plains
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Yavimaya Coast
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Chalice of the Void
Grafdigger’s Cage
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Worship
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I wouldn’t fault somebody tapping four mana to cast Thought-Knot Seer in Modern, though the backbone of the Eldrazi deck is Eldrazi Temple. Eldrazi Temple lets you cheat on mana, which is a consistent reason cited for banning cards in Modern, including the very similar Eye of Ugin. Many of the spells in the Eldrazi deck are overcosted for Modern by one-half to a whole mana—Eldrazi Templea land that taps for two suddenly makes these spells reasonable, or for some of the cards well above the curve.

Something that is important to understand when you look at the current Eldrazi decks, is that the deck responsible for getting Eye of Ugin banned mulliganed very aggressively and won a lot of games simply by virtue of a single Eldrazi Temple. The broken Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Mimic draws got Eye banned, though the Eldrazi Temple and Eldrazi Displacer draws on five cards were often more than enough to win games. As such, many of the starts of the current configuration mirror exactly some percentage of the games that once completely broke Modern. The deck’s ceiling has been lowered, though there are going to be times when you aren’t sure if you’re watching a post-ban or pre-ban game with the archetype.

What the deck lost in raw explosive power it has made up for in consistency with the adoption of Ancient Stirrings. Ancient Stirrings is undeniably the most powerful cantrip still legal in Modern, adding a ton of consistency to Tron, Lantern Control, Amulet Bloom, and now Bant Eldrazi. Stirrings smooths out draws and finds the missing piece for the fast openers, whether that’s the appropriate threat for the situation, or an Eldrazi Temple to push the archetype to the limits of the format’s power level. This improved consistency is precisely what makes the current iteration the force that it is.

The Case for Joinin’ Em

The power of Ancient Stirrings is just one premise for the argument that Bant Eldrazi is more than just another linear Modern deck. The primary difference is that Bant Eldrazi is generally rewarded for sticking to its theme with cards that are individually powerful. Other linear decks, such as Affinity, Burn, and Infect, play a specific subset of narrow cards to maximize their game plan and consequently find themselves weak to hate cards. Ancient StirringsBant Eldrazi, alternatively, is granted far more upside than downside by sticking to its theme. It gets a phenomenal card-selection spell in Ancient Stirrings, a land that taps for two mana in Eldrazi Temple, and the absurd upside of Cavern of Souls. Counters aren’t the most popular spells in Modern, though I think it’s worth mentioning given that the “hate” card we were given in Kaladesh is Ceremonious Rejection. Realistically, there’s basically nothing you can add to your sideboard to give you a significant edge against Bant Eldrazi if you’re struggling game one.

Given the abstract power level of Bant Eldrazi’s spells, and its general resilience to individual answer cards, it generally crushes decks that are trying to force interaction. Thought-Knot Seer is big enough to demand specific removal spells in addition to providing disruption, while Reality Smasher is even larger and offers its own form of resilience. Drowner of Hope is larger still, with an extremely relevant ability in combat, and being a Flagbearer is just one of many talents of the consistently amazing Eldrazi Displacer. The composition of the deck and its general resilience allows it to effectively play the control in most matches, forcing the opponent to kill the Eldrazi player before the deck buries them with its huge spells.

Against the other linear proactive decks, Bant Eldrazi also fares quite well. The deck just needs less to go right for its individual spells to be great, and the deck both has very potent sideboard options and a healthy bout of disruption in its maindeck. Eldrazi DisplacerLike other linear Modern decks, Bant Eldrazi will have to mulligan some percentage of its “lands and spells” hands. However, a high percentage of five- or six-card hands containing Noble Hierarch and/or Eldrazi Temple will be actively great, and Ancient Stirrings is arguably the best spell in Modern to have in your deck on a mulligan.

With all of these strengths, it is not surprising that Bant Eldrazi is currently the most popular deck in Modern, and I would not be surprised to see its metagame share grow. I would say it is definitely a great choice for the Star City Games Milwaukee Open this weekend, and I’d be rather surprised not to see at least one copy in the Top 8. If you’re looking to pick the deck up, the skills you’ll need to hone more than anything are assessing mulligans and managing Eldrazi Displacer, as those will be your two biggest avenues to throw away games. A couple rules of thumb are to mulligan any seven-card hand that doesn’t have a mana creature or an Eldrazi Temple, and with regard to Eldrazi Displacer it will very frequently be better to leave up activation mana than to cast spells.

Combating Bant Eldrazi

The tone of the article to this point feels like I’m establishing a case for Bant Eldrazi being the best deck and/or worthy of a ban, though that’s not exactly where I land. I would be totally on board with banning Ancient Stirrings and/or Eldrazi Temple, though we are far enough from the level of dominance that necessitates this that I don’t see much reason to have that conversation. Instead, we should focus on the weaknesses that the deck does have.

Prison Elements

For those not deeply entrenched in Modern, BBD’s sideboard Worship may seem a bit odd, and it is included specifically as a trump for the mirror. worshipBant Eldrazi has a lot of difficulty with non-creature permanents that lock up combat, and a Worship can just stop your Bant Eldrazi opponent cold. Similarly, Ensnaring Bridge out of Lantern Control, with Pithing Needle backup naming Engineered Explosives, can make quick work of the deck. In fact, Lantern Control was one of few playable decks during the Eldrazi deck’s original dominance. A board filled with Ghostly Prisons can similarly give the deck fits.

If you’re looking for a single-card strategy to beat the deck though, then I hope you’re into Blood Moon. Blood Moon makes it very difficult to generate colorless mana, and it’s much more difficult to kill with an Engineered Explosives than Ensnaring Bridge. Notably, Eldrazi Skyspawner and Drowner of Hope will give the Bant Eldrazi player outs to your Blood Moon if you take your time killing them, though if you combine it with a quick clock you should have a solidly positive matchup.

Going Wide

Another way to be favored against Bant Eldrazi is with a fast clock that goes wide. Affinity and Elves are the primary examples of decks that can quickly make too many relevant bodies against Bant. The set of sideboard Stony Silence out of BBD’s board can hose some Affinity draws, though Bant Eldrazi is basically dead to rites against Elves on the deck registration sheet. The Eldrazi deck simply does not have the tools to clean up boards that quickly go wide with a massive damage output. silvergill-adeptOnce Elves starts snowballing, Eldrazi realistically can’t catch up.

By most accounts, Merfolk is a pretty poor matchup for Bant Eldrazi too, given that Silvergill Adept enables a go-wide plan in addition to the small prison elements of Spreading Seas. There is definitely a ton of pressure on the Bant Eldrazi deck to draw its removal spells against Merfolk. That said, Merfolk is far from my first choice of tools to combat Eldrazi, given that it doesn’t snowball or pressure the Eldrazi deck the way that Elves and Affinity do, and generally relies on more things going right. I am positive that Merfolk players will disagree with me on this, and I acknowledge that is likely not a universally accepted position.

Spell-Based Combo

I don’t know if prison decks or non-creature combo decks are a smaller share of the Modern metagame, though both offer strategies that Eldrazi has difficulty interacting with. Thought-Knot Seer is a hell of a card, but they basically can’t win without it against a good draw out of Ad Nauseam or Storm, and even with it they can still lose. Chalice of the Void out of the sideboard is definitely relevant for the Eldrazi deck in these matchups, but the combo decks can still beat it. Of course, some Stubborn Denials and/or Negates out of the Bant Eldrazi deck can make these matchups pretty positive for them post-board. If you weren’t a combo player before, I don’t think now is necessarily a great time to become one.

A Great Choice

Bant Eldrazi makes a strong case for being the best deck in Modern, and I think it’s very telling that every type of strategy that could be used to hate it out is much more easily hated out itself. Many Modern decks can be defeated by individual cards, whereas Bant Eldrazi demands a commitment to specific strategies to be especially favored. If you’re looking for a Modern deck to pick up, then Bant Eldrazi would be my recommendation. The archetype’s current popularity is no fluke, and there’s some very solid theory to explain how it carved out its favorable metagame position.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

15 thoughts on “Breaking Down Bant Eldrazi

  1. Hi Ryan,

    Very good article, as usual. I don’t like to play linear decks. I usually play jund, grixis delver, or jeskai control. Lately I’ve been playing grixis delver a lot. Trying to adjust to the presence of bant eldrazi at my LGS, I first tried blood moon. It’s an ok card. But in the last couple weeks I swapped it for spreading seas. You can play it a turn earlier, it cantrips, and the net results are roughly the same. So far, I’m happy with that choice.

  2. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to see me come to Merfolk’s defense in this matchup, as you anticipated it in the article itself. The key card that you did not mention in your writeup is Master of Waves. Even if the Eldrazi player finds himself ahead by T4 (which rarely happens, as Merfolk is the faster, more aggressive deck), Master of Waves usually turns the board state on its head. And if the Merfolk player is ahead, it is the ultimate find-removal-or-die card. And if an Eldrazi player is faced with removing a Lord that grants islandwalk and a Master of Waves, it’s a pretty no-win situation. The last thing I’ll note is that I’m not the only one saying this – the Bant Eldrazi community is pretty united in noting that Merfolk is a bad matchup, and Merfolk was one of the most prominent decks slogging through Eldrazi Winter, despite not having great Abzan Company and Affinity matchups. Speaking of which, where is Abzan Company in this writeup? Surely the fact that it basically dies to Grafdigger’s Cage shouldn’t have merited omitting it from this writeup. The same applies to Dredge, and it’s a Tier 1 deck.

    I think that you should also note that Eldrazi is somewhat soft to Blood Moon strategies, as well as “Bolt the dork” plays. Given that there are only 4 Temples in the deck, Eldrazi sometimes depend on their dorks (or Eldrazi Skyspawner and its Scion) to power out their big guys ahead of schedule, and everything from Lightning Bolt to Electrolyze can punish them if they do.

    Overall, though, I liked your write-up, and I think that it’s a good idea to highlight the deck. The lack of postboard answers to it is definitely a real thing, and may be its critical competitive advantage at the moment.

  3. *Fair warning, I’m a disenfranchised blue mage. TLDR at bottom*

    I don’t dislike the idea of Bant Eldrazi. I think it’s cool that there is an aggro/midrange hybrid deck (tribal as well, some people love tribes) in modern, but there are three three cards in Bant Eldrazi that I take issue with. Note, I am full aware that if for some reason these three cards were banned, the deck would cease to exist entirely, and that would not be my intention. These cards are the backbone for the deck, and the reason why you can play a card like Matter Reshaper or Eldrazi Skyspawner. In my fantasy land, Bant Eldrazi would lose those the following cards but get suitable replacements. Here they are:

    Ancient Stirrings: The concept behind this card was probably fine when it was printed. There are serious deck restrictions to be able to take advantage of Stirrings, and if you don’t build your deck towards those restrictions you can whiff completely or settle for a land that is going to be low impact. The problem is, if you overcome these restrictions without necessarily warping your deck to accomodate Stirrings, it becomes and absurdly powerful card. I didn’t like it in Tron and I sure don’t like it in Eldrazi. As a salty control/tempo player, I can’t help but compare it to Serum Visions. Blue should have the best card selection; it’s part of Blue’s color identity, and two don’t compare. If we ignore combo and pretend it doesn’t exist, do you think Blue control would run the following:

    U:Sorcery:Look at the top five cards of your library. You may reveal an instant, socrcery, or land from among them and put it into your hand. Then put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

    Obviously I didn’t put too much though into that, I wanted a relative card I could compare that would slot into an existing deck (Grixis Delver for example) that had around the same number of targets as Ancient Stirrings and has deck-building considerations. The restriction is you need a spell dense deck, but just because there is a restriction you need to build around doesn’t mean the card is “ok”

    Cavern of Souls: I’m going to copy word-for-word Reddit user /u/AzoriousAnarchist reply in the spoiler for Ceremonious Rejection
    “I was kidding a bit, but it’s just a silly design. Hate cards are essential to the game, but they should have an opportunity cost attached. A card like [[Vexing Shusher]] can totally destroy Blue control decks, but if you end up not facing any counterspells, then you just put a vanilla 2/2 in your 75.
    This allows for a push and pull, where an archetype can be totally destroyed by hate, but only if people are willing to dedicate the deckslots. You can fill your Modern deck with 15 anti-graveyard sideboard cards and have an 80% winrate vs. Dredge, but then you sacrifice a whole bunch of other matchups.
    What’s annoying about Cavern of Souls is that in a tribal deck, there’s practically no cost to playing it. It helps with multicolored tribes and even taps for colorless too, with the upside of randomly invalidating certain decks. And there’s no reason to ever take it out of your deck, even if counterspells aren’t that great in the meta, because it’s still a good land. For reference, look at Boseiju, Who Shelters All. It comes into play tapped, costs life every turn, and only provides colorless, and yet it still sees play as a sideboard card. That’s the kind of cost a land should make you pay for such a powerful effect.”

    To add to that idea, Bant Eldrazi is a top-heavy midrange/aggro deck. Part of the big risk in playing high CMC cards is the tempo blowout of getting those cards countered. When you don’t have to worry about counterspells, it becomes a lot easier to justify tapping out for fatties. Getting a three mana Ezuri or 2 mana merfolk through counter magic isn’t as bad as getting a 6 CMC Eldrazi past it. Again, I acknowledge the deck restrictions needed to take advantage of Cavern. There are plenty of stronger cards than Eldrazi Drowner at 6 CMC in modern, but Drowner is still a good card on its own (especially in a deck that blinks)

    Eldrazi Temple: It’s a land that produces double mana and comes into play untapped. I’m conflicted about Temple, because without it Bant Eldrazi surely doesn’t exist, but I also don’t like fast mana in modern and there isn’t really a way to replace Temple in that regard. In a format with no good way to deal with lands, this is too good. We need a way to fight Temple that isn’t GQ or Blood Moon.

    As a biased blue mage, I would most like to see Cavern get the boot. All of the sudden, I can throw a couple Ceremonious Rejections in my board, mana leak the turn 2-3 TKS or 3-4 Reality Smasher and gain tempo, and have probably a decent chance to go toe-to-toe with Bant Eldrazi. Snapcaster decks are well under 10% of the modern Tier1/2/3 metagame. There is a whole subset of this community who grows more disenfranchised each month, something needs to change. Maybe giving blue decks a shot at the new top boogeyman will give the archetype enough of a jolt to be relevant again.

    TL,DR Bant Eldrazi gets to abuse cards that become way too strong. Just because there are certain deck-building considerations when using these cards doesn’t mean the cards aren’t still too powerful with the recent introduction of the new Eldrazi.

    1. Not gonna lie your u sorcery is way too good. Seems like thats your dream card as a blue mage not bant eldrazis, which would have never been able to use that. Cavern of souls is a good card but honestly should only come off the format if control gets more powerful and it is actually hemming it in; right now controls problem isnt losing to cavern its not having good cards.

    2. the whole problem is the new eldrazi cards to begin with. they should have never been designed at that casting cost and with almost negligible and at most times no disadvantage when they come into or leave play especially since Eldrazi Temple and the currently banned Eye of Ugin ‘s existence.

      The 2 problem cards (TKS and Reality Smasher) along with Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin were all the problem cards during Eldrazi Winter and banning just the Eye didn’t hurt the deck much given to how powerful the new Eldrazis are (lose Eye of Ugin? nevermind, we still have Noble Hierach which lets our Matter Reshaper swing for 4, TKS swing for 5 and Reality Smasher swing for 6 with trample).

      Of all the design mistakes R&D has made the past decade, the new Eldrazis take top spot in my book.

      1. Except that they design for standard where thoughtknot and smasher were both perfectly fine cards. In fact they barely see play in standard. If anything was a design mistake it was definitely the lands not the new eldrazi.

  4. I have to agree with everything above. It would be interesting to see how the deck would perform if players were suddenly denied the powerhouse cantrip that is Ancient Stirrings. If Bant Eldrazi were to switch to serum visions, would it lose all that much? Would it lose too much? I can’t say that I’m familiar with the inner workings of the deck, so I’m not sure.

    However, I’m not sure that we need to start sharpening our pitchforks for a while. The deck does seem fairly powered down from the cold, cold winter that we’ve recently emerged from. However, the arguments above are solid, and the trend lines are hard to ignore for too long. I’m not sure Temple is the true problem card (while it is certainly an amazing boon for the deck), I believe that there are certainly enough ways to address the land. From Ghost Quarters to spreading seas to fulminators to blood moon I believe that there’s enough targeted land hate out there to address it.

    As much as it may pain Tron players to hear it, I have to say that IF there is a problem card–it seems as though Ancient Stirrings is it. I think it’s hard to argue against that.

    1. In my opinion they would switch to oath of nissa, which is almost as good in the deck, although not quite (it does have the ability to fetch a dork however.) I play Mardu and Bant Eldrazi is a bad but not terrible matchup. Honestly Eldrazi temple is the most annoying part.
      Does anyone know why they are bant? Im sure there is good reason but I feel like Atarka’s command or lightning bolt offer better reach than path and red opens up vile aggregate which comboes about as well with drowner of hope as eldrazi displacer. I am guessing its for the sideboard cards or better fixing off hierarch?
      Temur oe Jund seem like they could be better option with a temple ban because currently forerunner of slaughter is too color intensive.

      1. From what I understand it’s not about the support spells. They’re blue and white because the best “colored” Eldrazi, Drowner of Hope and Eldrazi Displacer, are in those colors. They’re green because of Ancient Stirrings and Noble Hierarch.

  5. Great read as always!
    A paragraph I am missing though is some deliberation about the interaction of the deck with wrath effects. Of course the threat of TKS decks to just take your best hate card is always there albeit the big mana investments Bant Eldrazi make and their open flank for big tempo plays against them seem to result in a suceptability against wraths worth mentioning.

    I am mid building UW controll and as of yet I was banking on Bant Eldrazi being not too bad of a matchup if you have access to 3+ wrath effects.

    1. I think given the proliferation of dredge, infect, and linear combo decks like ad nauseam, is a clear sign that many in Milwaukee were preparing to face Bant Eldrazi. I’m willing to bet that after Dredge’s performance last weekend people will be packing an over abundance of GY hate in the next tournament.

      A deck’s power level and influence must be addressed over the course of a much broader length of time. Ancient Stirrings is still the best cantrip in the format while it’s being used in that deck. Temple is still the best land in the format while it’s being used in that deck. Noble H, TKS, and Smasher are still three of the best creatures in the format while they are in that deck. I don’t believe that we need to get rid of these cards or the deck at this time, but to argue that the power level of Bant Eldrazi shouldn’t be concern when approaching the meta seems crazy to me.

      I’d argue the same is true for Infect and Dredge as well, just as it was true for Pod and Twin before it. Are all of these decks good? Of course. Are any of them broken? I’d argue no, but in the case of Twin and Pod I don’t believe that the decks were banned because of their power level, they were banned because of their propensity to limit development.

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