Welcome to 2016! Or, should I say, welcome to the Year of the Eldrazi! Cthulhu’s brood has been assimilating the Modern masses for about a month now, starting with EternallyRamza’s inconspicuous showing in an MTGO League on November 30 and culminating in Matthew Dilks’ 10th place run at the recent StarCityGames Open in Cincinnati. Every online Modern community has gone totally insane over beating the deck, playing the deck, watching the deck, and (naturally) banning the deck, and Eldrazi staple prices have followed this hype train into the stratosphere. I decided to do an RG Titan Scapeshift “Deck of the Week” piece back inn a week where I almost did one on Bx Eldrazi, so I’m remedying that December oversight by kicking off 2016 with this much-deserved spotlight.
Thousands of words were written about Bx Eldrazi even before Dilks took the deck to a respectable tournament finish. This includes two SCG Select pieces, one by Grixis specialist Michael Majors and another by Bloom extraordinaire Chris VanMeter, video tech by Ari Lax, a foray into BR colors by Frank Lepore, and one of the fastest growing deck threads in MTGSalvation history. You’ll want to check out all those sources if you’re serious about this deck (and tap your savings account to afford all those overhyped and overpriced staples like Eye of Ugins!). Today, I have the advantage of writing about Bx Eldrazi after Dilks Top 16 performance, which gives us a proven starting point for a deck with a half dozen configurations.
Taken as a whole, the Bx Eldrazi strategy spans every possible two and three-colored combination. I mean that literally: I’ve seen someone on some forum or another propose all of those color pairings when brainstorming new Eldrazi setups. We also saw this in the closing month of 2015, where Eldrazi occupied around 3.5%-4% of the MTGO metagame but was split almost evenly between red, white, and mono-black variants (with some oddballs in between).
The jury is still out on which combination works best, but Matthew Dilks’ 10th place list at the Cincinnati Open makes a convincing case for black-white.
BW Eldrazi, by Matthew Dilks (10th, SCG Cincinnati 1/3/2015)
4 Blight Herder
4 Oblivion Sower
4 Wasteland Strangler
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Expedition Map
4 Relic of Progenitus
4 Path to Exile
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Liliana of the Veil
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lingering Souls
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Eldrazi Temple
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
1 Vault of the Archangel
2 Eye of Ugin
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Crucible Of Worlds
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Stony Silence
2 Celestial Purge
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Liliana of the Veil
3 Timely Reinforcements
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Cincinnati also showcased a Mono-Black Eldrazi list as piloted by friends Jacob Baugh and Jack Fogle. Baugh and Fogle shared Dilks’ gameplan and core, but their X-3 performance doesn’t compare favorably to Dilks’ 10th place finish. Three datapoints are hardly enough to close the case on choosing a second Eldrazi color, but I’m a results-oriented guy and favor the BW approach based on Dilks’ performance in a diverse metagame.
BW Eldrazi is fundamentally a midrange strategy, albeit with ramp enhancements. This puts it more in the BGx Midrange family than in the RG Tron and Amulet Bloom class, although it certainly borrows elements from the latter. Dilks’ list runs only five maindeck discard spells, but online builds have run as many as 6-7. Add in the 5+ maindecked removal options, a playset of Tron-esque Relic of Progenitus, plus the Abzan staple of Lingering Souls and a sideboard that looks lifted from Willy Edel, and you share almost half of your spells with those traditional BGx relatives. Wasteland Strangler is a true midrange monster, deploying a hard-hitting body as early as turn two and nuking an enemy creature along the way. Like Jund and Abzan, BW Eldrazi disrupts early and clears a path for threats. But unlike the midrange mainstays, the Eldrazi threats get ramped out ahead of the curve off a hyperefficient manabase and some pushed, mid-mana creatures.
BGx mages get Tarmogoyf, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Siege Rhino. The Eldrazi hordes get, believe it or not, upgraded versions of these vanilla threats in Blight Herder and Oblivion Sower. Using combinations of Eldrazi Temple, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Eye of Ugin, BW Eldrazi can easily cast these seemingly “expensive” critters as early as turn three. Relic, Path, and opposing delve effects ensure you have fuel for your Eldrazi processors. In effect, this emulates Tron’s Wurmcoil Engine or Karn Liberated ramp plan, but with a midrange angle instead of straight ramp.
Further differentiating the newcomer from Tron, BW Eldrazi’s lands are also much more resilient to targeted destruction. Take the omnipresent Fulminator Mage/Kolaghan’s Command line. Urzatron depends on a specific configuration of lands, which Fulminator is happy to tear apart. By contrast, the Eldrazitron works in a half dozen permutations, and because your deck isn’t too dependent on its assembly to begin with, sniping individual pieces rarely stops you for long. This gives you an extra edge in Games 2-3, where most players are prepared for Tron ramping but not for the hybrid midrange-ramp approach in Eldrazi.
This manabase enables a mid to late-game transition that further distinguishes BW Eldrazi from other midrange decks. Eye’s tutoring, coupled with Sower’s obscene mana-ramp, gives you a degree of inevitability that Tarmogoyf and his crew can’t match. Don’t have an Eye? Don’t worry! Maps will get you fixed up, as will cantripping your excess Relics. Once you get the Eye online, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger sets a new inevitability standard, laughing at the the plodding manland Plan Bs in Jund and Abzan. I’ve seen Ulamog rumble into play as early as turn five off the turn three Sower and turn four Eye. Even a relatively late turn nine Ulamog is a degree of closure the fairer midrange decks just can’t replicate.
Speaking to the BW pairing itself, white pulls its weight in two areas. First, it fixes otherwise bad matchups. Affinity is a Game 1 mess and Stony Silence, coupled with pressure, is a time-honored solution to that problem. Timely Reinforcements also goes a long way to improving the Burn matchup. Other colors don’t give options that improve both of these problematic contests, let alone the best card in Modern (Silence) for resolving a matchup you can’t afford to punt in big tournaments. White’s second function is to bolster the deck’s midrange option with Souls and Path to Exile. Mono-black and black-red Eldrazi don’t lack for removal alternatives to Path, but their removal doesn’t fuel processors and doesn’t hit big dudes that can compete on the ground with our army. Those other colors also can’t match Souls for its sheer grindiness and as an added anti-aggro bullet.
Remember, this is a midrange deck that wants to prey on other midrange decks. Just like you bring Abzan (with its white splash) and not Jund (with red) to trump opposing midrangers, so too do you make a similar call with Eldrazi.
If you aren’t hammering Jund, Abzan, and Grixis decks into the floor with Eldrazi, you’re doing something wrong. In my testing and in watching the deck in action, these matchups felt completely unfair, as if Eldrazi were on an entirely different play-axis than the archetypal fair decks of Modern. URx Twin is also surprisingly easily, especially if you are accustomed to the Twin vs. Tron/Amulet Bloom matchup which heavily favors Deceiver Exarch‘s. There are a few factors at play in these lopsided contests, and I want to highlight some important themes here so you can better understand where this deck is picking up its wins.
- Going bigger
Tarmogoyf comes down on turn two as a 4/5. Blight Herder also comes down on turn three as a 4/5, but with a trio of 1/1 chumpblockers that double as one-shot mana dorks. Pia and Kiran Nalaar drop on turn four in Grixis, transitioning into the midgame with a small airforce and extra burn. Eldrazi slams Oblivion Sower instead, making the jump to lategame hyperspeed and setting Eldrazi up for a turn five Ulamog. These are just two examples where BW Eldrazi goes too big, too fast. Fairer Modern decks have historically struggled when decks try to go over the top, and BW Eldrazi is the next chapter in that story.
- Blanking interaction
Neither Decay nor Inquisition of Kozilek hit any of your big beatsticks. Liliana gets shut down by a lone Herder, and you aren’t even running enough real artifacts for Kolaghan’s Command to open a two-for-one. In the URx matchups, countermagic is useless at stopping the on-cast Eldrazi abilities, which lets you slug through even the thickest screen of Cryptic Commands and Snapcaster Mages. As for the omnipresent Lightning Bolt, unless the opponent wants to blow up Spirits or break even on your Strangler two-for-one, the Bolt becomes Lava Spike throughout the match.
- Exiling graveyards
Most of Modern’s fair decks are heavily dependent on graveyards. Abzan uses it for Souls. Jund and Grixis uses it for Command. Both BGx decks use it for Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze, and all of the above need full graveyards to maximize Tasigur’s delve and his recursion. It’s even worse for Grixis decks, which need the yard for Snapcaster shenanigans, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and their own Commands. Remove graveyards from the picture and you demote Oozes to Grizzly Bears and Snapcaster Mages to Coral Merfolk.
- The late-game countdown
We need to understand the Eldrazi countdown in two different ways. First, Eldrazi gets the clock ticking in a hurry with Oblivion Sower ramp and the manabase’s natural output. While some decks think they are in the early to mid-game shift, Eldrazi is already starting its late-game buildup. Second, once that late-game arrives, it’s only a matter of time before Eldrazi lands something unanswerable. Ulamog is an unfair fellow. Command into a recurred Snapcaster into another Command feels like Portal Magic by comparison.
Strong matchups aside, BW Eldrazi has a few weaknesses you’ll need to be aware of if you take this deck into the field. Affinity is downright nasty in Game 1, only improving slightly in Game 2 by virtue of those invaluable Stony Silences. Burn, Merfolk, Infect, Tron, and Amulet Bloom pose similar issues by overwhelming or ignoring spot removal, laughing at one-for-one discard, and waving off your big turns 3-5 plays as they try to close out the game in a hurry. We’re playing Abzan elements, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Path isn’t what you want to be doing against turn one Glistener Elf, Noble Hierarch, or Goblin Guide. We’re also not even playing all the Abzan elements, so we don’t have the anti-Burn stabilizing power we see in Rhino and Ooze.
Keep these strengths and weaknesses in mind when preparing for other matchups. For example, our midrange elements are just as bad against RG Tron as they are when wielded by Abzan and Jund mages. But our ramp plan gives us a racing option BGx can’t leverage, so we can slot in more Ghost Quarters to round out that matchup and bring us closer to even. Testing will help you figure out where these trims and decisions need to happen.
A Bright Future for BW Eldrazi
I fully expect to see BW Eldrazi take the Tier 2 stage over the next few months. This deck has all the trappings of a Modern powerhouse and although I don’t think it’s as crazy as many online believe, I do believe its inherent strengths ensure it is well-positioned in this current metagame. What experiences do you have with the deck? Where do you place it in the metagame and where do you see it going from here? I’m pumped to chat more about our new Eldrazi overlords in the comments and eager to see where the Great Old Ones go next.
I’ll be back a few more times this week as we iron out our content schedule and get some new features rolled out. We’ll likely be running “Deck of the Week” on Tuesdays in the future, with a metagame-themed piece on Wednesday and Trevor and Jordan returning to their Thursday/Friday slots. Stay tuned for more as we dig into 2016 and another awesome year of Modern!
Correction (1/4): An earlier version of this article credited a December 10th League appearance as Bx Eldrazi’s first showing. Its first appearance was actually on November 30. This has been updated in the opening paragraph.