Forget-Me-Knots: Eldrazi in an Eyeless World

Someone who was maybe Ghandi once said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” If Modern were a person, it would probably ascribe to this inspiring motto. When Wizards of the Coast took Modern’s Eye, the format repaid them with a beautiful metagame they’re happy to take credit for. The story doesn’t end there, and neither does this desperate analogy; after all, blind men can still speak. And walk. And… CRUNCH!

World Breaker art crop

Eldrazi might be disfigured, but it’s far from dead. In today’s article, we’ll consider the effects bannings have on archetype diversity, review Eldrazi’s format history, and examine where our pal Thought-Knot Seer is headed in the next few months.

Card Pool and Power Level

As they move into older non-rotating formats, players often find that despite great increases in card pool size, fewer cards become playable. Did your Standard deck last season play Wild Slash or Lightning Strike? Such limited formats often force deckbuilders to make painful decisions. In Modern, we can just sleeve up the strictly better Lightning Bolt and call it a day. Another example: Modern is shaped by the relative power of midrange fatties. Legacy, a much faster format, doesn’t usually accommodate Siege Rhino. In Vintage, an even smaller amount of legal cards see regular play.

Pillar of FlameBanning powerful cards shrinks a format’s playable card pool, and generally has positive effects on diversity. If Lightning Bolt were banned from Modern today, players would dust off their Pillar of Flames, Flame Slashes, and Tarfires. That doesn’t mean a Bolt ban is good for Modern; it just means that previous under-performers get a chance to shine when a format’s card pool gets smaller.

Taking this theory one step further, archetypes also get more diverse with bannings. Although some bans can render archetypes unplayable (see: Hypergenesis), others merely create the space for splintered versions of the old archetype to thrive. In the wake of the Splinter Twin ban, many blue midrange decks began popping up, including Grixis Control and most recently Jeskai Harbinger. After the Treasure Cruise ban, Delver of Secrets lovers broke off into cliques championing either Grixis, Temur, or UR. This push towards archetype diversity is one of the intended effects of bannings in Modern.

Eldrazi History X

Eldrazi’s history supports this theory. With Eye of Ugin legal, the deck rapidly evolved into its optimal build—UW Aggro. With Eye gone, the deck’s pieces are finding homes across Modern’s archetype spectrum. Here’s a brief overview of the archetype’s metamorphoses while Eye of Ugin ran rampant.

Phase One: Bx Processors

Oblivion SowerThe first wave of Eldrazi decks made its rounds in Modern after Battle for Zendikar‘s release. The expansion was panned by players and Modern Nexus writers alike, but it wasn’t long before Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin were discovered to play very nicely with the new, cheaper Eldrazi.

Phase Two: Eldrazi Stompy

At Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, Team Channel Fireball and Team Face to Face collaborated on what went down in history as the deck that would go on to ruin Modern. Despite only boasting 8% overall representation, the Eldrazi deck yielded a completely colorless Top 8, with just two Affinity pilots left defending the Gatewatch from Kozilek’s brood. Team East West Bowl’s UR Eldrazi deck ended up securing the trophy, but this event will forever be remembered for the nightmarish consistency of Eldrazi Stompy’s turn-one Chalices.

Phase Three: UW Eldrazi

Star City Games’ Louisville Open some weeks later saw the deck take its final form. The hyper-aggressive UW Eldrazi deck was perfectly optimized. It terrorized Modern through the subsequent triple GP weekend and promptly got Eye of Ugin banned.

Kozilek’s Return

In terms of diversity, that Eye ban worked wonders for both Modern and the Eldrazi archetype. Last weekend gave us a pair of tremendously dynamic GPs, each with a few flavors of Eldrazi sprinkled among the top seats. Bravo, Wizards! Here are Modern’s currently viable Eldrazi strategies as I see them.

Aggro: Bant Eldrazi

I consider Bant Eldrazi the natural evolution of UW. Even in terms of card choices, the deck looks extremely similar to its predecessor. Bant splashes green for some extra acceleration, running Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise to power out turn-two Thought-Knot Seers like in the good ol’ days. It also runs UW’s going-long combo of Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope. The deck is highly streamlined, and unlikely to change drastically in the coming months.

Tempo: Eldrazi Hatebears

Eldrazi DisplacerAlso known as Eldrazi & Taxes, Eldrazi Hatebears splashes spaghetti monsters into the Wx Aether Vial/Leonin Arbiter deck. Who’d have thought we’d ever see a fish strategy cast Reality Smasher?

“El Drizzly Bears” might not have been viable with Eye of Ugin shoving all Eldrazi strategies towards the maximally efficient UW machine, but in today’s Modern Eldrazi Temple finally gives players a convincing reason to play the historically fringe Death & Taxes. Until recently, the deck could never dream of swinging with nine power on turn three while disrupting opponents. The Eldrazi package offers this enticing possibility to any deck willing to play colorless-producing lands.

Ramp: GR Eldrazi

GR Eldrazi was around when Eye of Ugin was legal, and the late-game versatility of World Breaker kept it in the game. This variant ramps up to seven mana with Talisman of Impulse or Mind Stone, and finishes the game with a horde of beefier Eldrazi. Eldrazi Ramp strategies sit somewhere between Eldrazi Midrange and UrzaTron on the archetype spectrum, usually going bigger faster than fetch-shock midrange decks until the very late game. (In my experience, interactive lynchpins like Jund and Jeskai can take over that late game with cards like Dark Confidant and Sphinx’s Revelation.)

Midrange: TarmoDrazi

A few weeks ago, I unveiled TarmoDrazi, an interaction-heavy midrange deck with 12 cantrips, various Lightning Bolts, and of course, king-size Lhurgoyfs. I’ve since improved on the original build, cutting Serum Powder entirely (commenters: you were right!) and integrating a set of Mishra’s Bauble to make Traverse the Ulvenwald into a reliable Sylvan Scrying early on.

Here’s what the deck looks like now:

TarmoDrazi, by Jordan Boisvert

Creatures (17)
Tarmogoyf
Matter Reshaper
Thought-Knot Seer
Reality Smasher
World Breaker

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble

Enchantments (4)
Oath of Nissa

Instants (6)
Lightning Bolt
Tarfire

Sorceries (8)
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Ancient Stirrings

Lands (21)
Eldrazi Temple
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Stomping Ground
Ghost Quarter
Sea Gate Wreckage
Cavern of Souls
Forest
Mountain
Wastes
Sideboard (15)
Kozilek’s Return
Grafdigger’s Cage
Pithing Needle
Ancient Grudge
Spellskite
Dismember
Choke
Reclamation Sage
Kozilek, the Great Distortion
Magus of the Moon
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

One thing you’ll notice about this deck: it’s not established. The list is still changing, and nobody’s put up any results with it. I think there’s plenty of room for brewers to fiddle around with Eldrazi Midrange variants until an optimal build is found, if one ever is. Other midrange decks like Blue Tron have integrated some Eldrazi components successfully, and the journey doesn’t stop there.

Lately, I’ve turned my attention away from TarmoDrazi to check out the much-talked-about Nahiri hype-train for myself. And I don’t mean by breaking out my Snapcaster Mages. Once you go Thought-Knot, you never go back.

Emrakul? In My Eldrazi Deck?

It’s more likely than you think. Nine out of ten pro players agree: you’re not really winning in Modern unless you’re flavor-winning. What better way to succeed on that front than to act out Wizards’ Shadows over Innistrad storyline in real-time for your captivated opponent?

Eldrazi Harbinger, by Jordan Boisvert

Planeswalkers (4)
Nahiri, the Harbinger

Creatures (18)
Tarmogoyf
Matter Reshaper
Thought-Knot Seer
Reality Smasher
World Breaker
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Enchantments (4)
Oath of Nissa

Instants (8)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile

Sorceries (4)
Ancient Stirrings

Lands (22)
Eldrazi Temple
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Stomping Ground
Sacred Foundry
Temple Garden
Sea Gate Wreckage
Forest
Mountain
Plains
Wastes
Sideboard (15)
Kozilek’s Return
Pithing Needle
Ancient Grudge
Spellskite
Dismember
Choke
Reclamation Sage
Stony Silence
World Breaker
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

We’ve seen Nahiri be phenomenal in a midrange shell. She removes problematic permanents (I sniped a Worship this afternoon), slows down assaults by exiling creatures, loots through lands to find business, attracts opposing resources, and rapidly ticks up to a (generally) game-breaking swing. But I also think Nahiri can be great in a more creature-centric deck than Jeskai Harbinger. She’s great on an empty board, but even better on a favorable one.

Kitchen FinksEven before last weekend, Nahiri made a splash in Modern Kiki-Chord. Fatties like Tarmogoyf, or even career blockers like Kitchen Finks and Wall of Roots, do a great job of playing bodyguard for the planeswalker. The Eldrazi fit this bill nicely, while also turning sideways themselves. If opponents want to attack our unprotected Nahiri, they leave themselves open to another hit from Reality Smasher.

In this deck, Nahiri provides an elegant answer to Blood Moon, which can cripple our manabase. All we need to do to ensure protection from the enchantment is fetch up a Plains. Or even a Forest—resolving Oath of Nissa (and seriously, who wants to destroy Oath of Nissa?) lets us land Nahiri worry-free with a bunch of Mountains.

Lastly, I want to touch on the importance of Nahiri’s ultimate. In a deck full of Reality Smashers, it’s tempting to cut Emrakul altogether. But her very presence makes Nahiri much better, even when she isn’t counting on summoning her. Knowing that Emrakul is in our deck, opponents will do everything in their power to keep us from untapping with eight or more loyalty counters on Nahiri. She puts enormous strain on players to commit resources to dealing with her when they have other problems on their plate. You know, Reality Smasher problems. And sometimes, Reality Smasher won’t be good enough. (And sometimes, your opponent has Manic Scribe.)

So there’s the idea behind this deck, in a nutshell. The other reason to play Eldrazi Harbinger is that it plays so many tried-and-true Modern all-stars.

The Best Removal

Path to ExileBGx, the face of Modern’s interactive alliance, has long altered between one of two strains: Jund, which splashes red for Lightning Bolt, and Abzan, which goes into white for Path to Exile. Granted, there are other reasons to consider red or white in BGx, among them Terminate, Siege Rhino, and Lingering Souls. But I think the strength of these decks relies on their ability to play one of the two most-played spells in Modern.

Bolt and Path kill creatures more efficiently than anything else the format has to offer, and Nahiri, the Harbinger happens to incorporate both spells’ colors into her casting cost. That means just about any deck running Nahiri should run the full eight removal spells, especially in a format as creature-dominated as Modern. Eldrazi Harbinger is no exception.

The Best Eldrazi

UW and Bant Eldrazi have a high threat density, allowing them to drop creatures almost every turn of the game. That’s par for the course in an aggro deck. Midrange strategies generally play fewer creatures to bulk up on disruption, be it Bolt and Abrupt Decay or Path and Mana Leak. What that means for Eldrazi Midrange decks is we need to play the best of breed, and nothing else. I’ve been very happy with a core of Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, and Tarmogoyf in these decks, and I’ve re-employed that core for Eldrazi Harbinger.

The (Second) Best Selection

Oath of NissaJust as Jeskai Harbinger runs a set of Serum Visions to grease the gears, Eldrazi Harbinger packs some cantrips of its own. TarmoDrazi went to great lengths to abuse Traverse the Ulvenwald package, which dominated midrange mirrors but underperformed against linear decks.

Lacking the space necessary to enable it, I cut that cantrip in this build, but kept Oath of Nissa and Ancient Stirrings. The former finds Eldrazi Temple, any of our threats, and Nahiri herself; the latter excels at fixing our mana and finding colorless bullets like Pithing Needle and Kozilek’s Return from the sideboard.

(Not) the Best Mana

To play all those sweet Eldrazi, removal spells, and cantrips, our manabase unfortunately suffers from minor consistency issues. Oath of Nissa and Ancient Stirrings pull a ton of weight when it comes to finding the right mix of lands, but some dreamy double-Temple hands can lack the green source needed to cast them.

Since those are double-Temple hands, missing green shouldn’t prove too much of an issue. I’ve found I often need to choose either red or white to supplement my green early on, and sometimes don’t find the other color for a few turns. A mix of removal spells, then, isn’t what we want in an early-game hand. I don’t consider this too troublesome—we search for red if we have Bolt in hand, or for white when we have Path. Sometimes, colors aren’t an issue at all, as we naturally draw or open multiple colored lands. Our occasional inability to hit RW also doesn’t affect Nahiri much, since Oath of Nissa‘s “hidden mode” lets us cast the planeswalker off any four lands. But should the problem grow in seriousness, options like Rugged Prairie exist to lighten the load.

An Exciting Future

Eldrazi TempleThe Eldrazi might not have the Tier 0 representation of their heyday, but the archetype has never been more alive, at least in the protean sense of the word. Modern is all but guaranteed to see interesting evolutions of Eldrazi Midrange in the coming months, as well as a sustained Bant Eldrazi presence and the continued existence of GR Eldrazi Ramp.

You can quote me on all of that. Unfortunately, I also can’t promise this section’s header will be the last of my series of predictable puns on Eldrazi Temple‘s hilarious flavor text.

Jordan is the copy editor at Modern Nexus. He has played Magic since 2003, and Modern since its inception. A devoted theorist, he always brings tuned brews to events. Jordan favors card efficiency over raw power and specializes in disruptive aggro strategies.

18 thoughts on “Forget-Me-Knots: Eldrazi in an Eyeless World

  1. Drowner of Hope wants a word regarding your “best Eldrazi” comments. 😛

    In all seriousness, though, Naya Harbinger Eldrazi looks like it could be a contender. It’s not as soft to fast aggro as RG Eldrazi can be (Bolts + Paths + blockers help sew that weakness shut nicely), and it has a higher top-end game than Bant Eldrazi (albeit not quite as smooth an early game). Are mana dorks of any kind worth considering here to get you off the ground faster and provide fixing? Should Eldrazi Displacer be considered in the sideboard as a way to clear out blockers?

    1. Good call, Drowner is pretty sweet! As for Eldrazi’s supposed aggro weakness, Eldrazi Harbinger can also run Lightning Helix if that problem persists, though casting it might be a hassle. Then there’s… Ajani Vengeant?!

      Mana dorks are the next thing I’m testing. Hierarch into Thought-Knot is super good and can definitely exist outside of Bant Aggro variants. In fact, when I started brewing Eldrazi Hatebear lists, I found the GW version to be stronger than BW for that reason (more info about that deck in the article, linked above).

      As for clearing out blockers, I haven’t found it to be too difficult with eight great removal spells AND four Nahiris. Nahiri and Path take care of bigger threats like Tarmogoyf really well, but fields of 1/1s can get in the way. I think running a bunch of Kozilek’s Return in the side is better to address that issue than running Displacer.

    1. I think Nahiri is probably better in the Eldrazi deck than anything blue can offer, including Stubborn Denial. But go for it and report back!

  2. I have to wonder if Tarmagoyf is even necessary in the Nahiri list. You have 16 one mana spells already, 8 of which are fixing your mana/finding a threat. In the games you can cast it on curve, its likely to be a little smaller then what it could be in GBx. Turns three and later you are going to want to be casting Eldrazi which will end the game faster. Tarmagoyf also leaves you open to Abrupt Decay, and if its your only threat its going to be a real feel bad (Oath of Nissa and Matter Reshaper leave your opponent down a card). Pitching Emrakul and Tarmogoyf are also a really big nombo.

    The question is what can replace it? Some bant lists have run Sakura-Tribe elder for ramp, fixing and a fog. Qasali Pridemage would be interesting in that its an effective beater without needing graveyard interaction and could help your game one against Affinity and in conjunction with bolt might make game 1 winnable.

    Scavenging Ooze, again, provides a hatebear that also gains life and is going to be better late game then a goyf as it will likely be able to eat multiple creatures over a turn or two. Lightning Helix also helps a lot against hyper aggro decks game 1 (Infect especially as they can largely go over a goyf). Spellskite also helps a lot with these matchups.

    Just some thoughts, I look forward to hearing about how testing goes.

  3. Sorry, but one other comment. The mana base in the nahiri list is questionable. You have a lot of duals and not enough trilands. Maybe Oath and Ancient Stirrings are enough to overcome the lack of colorless sources, but I would think at least some Battlefield Forges/Brushlands/Karpulsan Forests would be necessary for fixing. A timely Ghost Quarter could really set you back, even running a Wastes could go a long way. As it stands, five colorless sources does not seem like enough.

    1. I really love Tarmogoyf in any interactive shell with red and green. Bolting a creature and following up with Tarmogoyf is incredibly powerful in Modern. So is fetching for a land, cantripping, and casting a Bolt-proof Goyf on turn two. That play alone allows archetypes like Temur Delver and (formerly) Temur Twin to reliably “get under” counterspell walls, or to start pressuring opponents early while interacting with them. Goyf also gets really pretty large here thanks to Nahiri and Oath of Nissa.

      So far, shuffling the ‘Yard with Emrakul and shrinking Goyfs has not been problematic for me. Nahiri doesn’t even force us to loot when she +2s, and we can choose to discard something other than Emrakul if we really want to keep our Goyfs huge. I have shrunk them a bunch of times in testing, but that’s because I wanted to shuffle Emrakul into the deck to ultimate with her next turn. At that point, it doesn’t matter if Tarmogoyf can be Bolted. (This deck interacts so much that he’s unlikely to be Boltable just because of our opponent’s Graveyard, but either way, opponents will want to throw Bolt at Nahiri if we’re shrinking Goyfs to tick her up.)

      I don’t like Ooze here because it can be killed the turn it comes down. You’re right that we want to be casting Eldrazi later in the game (turns 3+). That means we don’t really want to lay Ooze and have to hold up a bunch of green mana. Let’s just play Reality Smasher! But on turn two, Reality Smasher isn’t an option. Tarmogoyf even outgrows Smasher in this deck and is an “Eldrazi” himself in that he’s way larger than the other creatures played in Modern.

      I’ve seen the Bant lists and think Tribe Elder is actually pretty sweet in these decks. He allows for turn three Nahiris or Thought-Knots and gets around removal. I just prefer Goyf right now because of its “synergy” with Nahiri – I think the ‘walker is best when we have great threats on the board protecting her.

      As for the manabase, I actually do play a Wastes, for the exact reason you mentioned (scroll up!). So far, the cantrips have helped me get to my colors enough. But we do have painlands as an option if we start finding the manabase too inconsistent.

  4. I’m just glad Eldrazi decks are viable and relatively cheap. As a newcomer, I literally am waiting for the last few cards to finish blue tron, but an Eldrazi deck could definitely become item #2 to start investment, especially with the Legacy overlap.

  5. Any thought to replacing Oath of Nissa with Traverse the Ulvenwald? Even without Delirium, it can go find you that Wastes to make sure you can cast your Eldrazi on time. A few turns in, you’re very likely to have a land (from fetching), a creature (they die), an instant (Bolt/Path), and a sorcery (Stirrings/Traverse). If you lose a Nahiri, then Delirium is all but guaranteed. And at that point, Traverse becomes really strong (especially post-board, when you’ve got those singletons like Spellskite and Reclamation Sage).

  6. As much as I may feel a bit iffy about some specific individual brews you make, I find your dedication to trying “the permutations” quite appealing, and I definitely respect having a pet set of cards that you try to make work, because hey guess what! Sooner or later it’ll work brilliantly. It’s only a matter of time.

    So jamming Goyf into everything (for example) might be a shaky proposition when taken individually as a single brew, but over time it could really pave the way for some powerful and unexpected brews.

    Likewise, cards such as dark confidant deserve to see more play and it’s only a matter of running the permutations in order to discover something unique and powerful, despite having to work through a pile of unsuccessful decks beforehand.

    Cheers for the article, it was fun.

    1. Everyone has their pet cards. Luckily for me, Tarmogoyf is a card you don’t need to try very hard to make work in Modern, since he’s so high above the curve for a two-mana creature. Now, if I had an obsession with Training Grounds…

  7. Hi Jordan,

    I want to ask you some questions regarding Eldrazi builds.

    I´ve been toying with a Colorless Eldrazi build i found on mtggoldfish.

    The deck has been very good to my surprise, it has explosiveness, and it locks the opponent out of the game with classic Colorless tools, like Chalice.

    Here´s the list for context purposes: http://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/417500#paper

    I have won most of my matches against; Infect, Burn, Affinity and some control decks like Jeskai Nahiri.

    The only card that may be not worth it is Thorn of Amethyst, which is good in Legacy because Ancient Tomb?).

    My modification if i were to play in a tournament tomorrow would be:

    -4 Thorn, -2 Warping Wail, .1 Vesuva, -2 Phyrexian Metamorph? (im not sold on this one yet)
    + 4 Dismember, + 2 Ratchet Bomb, +1 Urborg, + 2 Spellskite

    I would appreciate some feedback, at least what you think of the list, maybe you like it, i can say it´s powerful if played tightly.

    Thanks!!

    1. I like your suggest changes a lot. When I first started messing around with Eldrazi Chalice builds, which was around the time OGW was spoiled, I went to Thorn first. I quickly cut it because it doesn’t do much in Modern, as you’ve found out yourself. I also have experimented with Vesuva and other options for colorless lands since the Eye ban and been largely unimpressed, so I’ve usually opted to splash colors for better cards than Eldrazi Mimic instead of running sub-par colorless lands and playing a “nuked” Eye deck from last Modern season. But I do think there’s a place of Colorless Eldrazi Stompy in the current Modern. My favorite builds I’ve been working on have returned to black, running four Urborgs main and a set of Lilianas. Guide + Urborg gives you the dreaded turn two Liliana that got Deathrite Shaman banned! Also, I wouldn’t leave home without a set of Dismembers in this deck.

      Good luck!

      1. Thank you for the reply Jordan.

        So, yeah, it feels a little Eldrazi Eye “nuked” version.

        The only thing that separates this deck from the colour builds is Chalice for 1.

        It wrecks so many decks that it feels like a safety valve on the deck, to not care about Path, Bolt, Hierarch, Serum Visions, Infect, Burn, etc,etc.

        It is by far the only card that makes me want to play this instead of Bant, which is my option number 1 for my country´s nationals.

        I will keep testing, but right now, i feel this is better to beat Affinity, Infect, Burn, RG Tron and Jeskai, which are the main decks of my area.

        Bant lacks the reach of Chalice, so Affinity and Infect become somewhat of a problem G1, that´s where the 3 color SB comes in.

        If i run this and win(or at least win most rounds) the nationals, i will totally encourage the Eldrazi players out there to play this!

        It´s so nice to keep playing Thought-Knot Seer again!

    1. I started with Grove and then transitioned to Karplusan Forest. Giving opponents life was more relevant than taking damage with Bolts and Reality Smashers.

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