So You Want to Build with Eldrazi?

Posted in How to Build on January 12, 2016

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

There's something attractive about world-destroying power. Maybe it's the fantasy of wielding incomparable might, or perhaps it speaks to our darker inclinations in stories where heroes always succeed.

Of course, calling upon the incomprehensible power of alien invaders for our own purposes is a story trope as old as fiction.

Conduit of Ruin | Art by Slawomir Maniak

Building a deck around the Eldrazi is an exercise in exploring the enemy apparent. While playing with colorful Ally creatures or an alliance of Planeswalker heroes follows the current story set into motion on Zendikar, there's always a need for a villain.

And that's where we come into the picture.

It's the End of the World as We Know It

The Eldrazi are a bit different from everything else in Magic, and their strategies reflect the foreign feeling they bring to the familiar. The Eldrazi are different, but that doesn't mean they're inconsistent: the brood lineages for Ulamog, Kozilek, and Emrakul have features that make them effective in different ways. There are multiple ways to make the most of the destructive power they bring:

  • Twisting deceptions and altering reality with blue and red
  • All-out aggression with red and black
  • Bringing the biggest Eldrazi to bear with green and red
  • Turning endless hordes of Eldrazi into a grinding victory with black and green

All of them lead to interesting paths of power.

Kozilek returns in Oath of the Gatewatch, but it was in Battle for Zendikar that we first got to taste its powerful effect on the world. Baiting your opponent into pushing out onto the battlefield before punishing them with the true reality of things is exactly what Kozilek is all about. Tools like Kozilek's Sentinel and Vile Aggregate gum up the ground, providing time for you to make the most of Nettle Drones and Benthic Infiltrators.

It's a terrifying mix to see in action:

Kozilek's Might

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Kozilek makes things seem like what they aren't, presenting a strategy that's fun to feel out. New tools Dimensional Infiltrator and Deepfathom Skulker give blue and red Eldrazi decks early aggressive plays that can mess with opponents' plans or help refill a hand off aerial attacks. Spells such as Horribly Awry and Spell Shrivel protect the plays you'll make as Molten Nursery and Nettle Drone whittle away at your opponent.

Turn Against and Barrage Tyrant and turn a situation around quickly, making a weak position one of strength in the space of a turn late in the game. All the while, big things—Vile Aggregate here, but it could be Kozilek's Sentinel, Benthic Infiltrator, Tide Drifter, or others—on the ground stand guard. While this deck won't take home any Standard trophies, testing out Eldrazi might against a new friend is exactly the type of trickery Kozilek would enjoy.

Or you could just get right down to business:

Eldrazi Attack!

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Eldrazi aren't known for being subtle; they're known for annihilating whatever gets in their way. More than just a Draft strategy, black-red Eldrazi embody the ambition of a quick kill. Forerunner of Slaughter ensures that everything else that follows can be fast, and the trample side of Vile Aggregate makes its mark when things come to a stalemate.

Kozilek's emergence in Oath of the Gatewatch brings new tools to these Eldrazi as well: Bearer of Silence is a powerful removal tool, and Eldrazi Obligator can compel an opponent's creature the same way Turn Against does. Here, however, the potential to play them out as just a small body of the Eldrazi host works best. Later on, when Crumbling Vestige or an unused Blighted Fen is hanging around, the optional effects matter more.

And just for some giggles, Eldrazi Monument is a mythic rare from our first trip to Zendikar that truly turns the tides by taking our entire force into the air and making it unassailable to almost all removal. The Eldrazi don't care if it's a pyrrhic victory: the numbers are on their side.

Speaking of numbers, the swampy side of the Eldrazi isn't just about all-out attacks:

The Endless Hordes

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One of my favorite token tricks is Beastmaster Ascension, a decidedly un-Eldrazi card from Zendikar. What tips the scales here is how wide the Eldrazi army can really become. Swarm Surge is a familiar tool for the colorless Eldrazi, but it's the powerful abilities of Catacomb Sifter and Smothering Abomination that turn this deck into a marching machine.

Bone Splinters and the Abomination transform Blisterpods and Carrier Thralls into Scions, fueling Deathless Behemoth or the eventual Dread Defiler. Also joining from Oath of the Gatewatch are Scion Summoners, the modern descendant of Nest Invader. With Brood Butcher to pull up as well, From Beyond doesn't just serve as a font of Eldrazi Scions but as access to the toolkit of different Eldrazi that can end the game for us.

But there's one setup for the Eldrazi that relies on the non-Eldrazi to make a spash:

Red-Green Eldrazi Ramp

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Grand Prix Quebec City finalist Jake Mondello was one of several players working on this type of ramp deck early in Battle for Zendikar Standard. The green-based deck quickly ramped into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but it often buckled to faster aggressive decks. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was one way to stymie the opponents quicker on the draw, and Oath of the Gatewatch provides another powerful tool in Kozilek's Return. Its first hit, when cast, delays most tokens and other aggressive decks, while its when-you-cast-your-fatty trigger means you reset again, later, when Siege Rhinos have arrived.

Buying time and clearing away the battlefield means Ulamog is all the deadlier—now exiling the biggest creatures or planeswalkers left behind—and the option to pull out Kozilek, the Great Distortion means refilling your hand happens in an instant as well. Once a deck that could be outrun and carefully exhausted of threats, Eldrazi Ramp is poised to reshape the reality of the format.

Kozilek has a way of doing that.

And Then There Were 99

As someone that plays Commander as often as Draft, I couldn't help but take a moment to point out one of the biggest ways to play with Eldrazi is getting a whole lot easier. Wastes have arrived, and they change everything about colorless Commander decks.

I've wanted to build an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger deck for some time, but the daunting task of pulling together 40 colorless lands (give or take a few) and the disappointment of missing out on tools such as Evolving Wilds and Sword of the Animist made it a frustration I ultimately avoided. Oath of the Gatewatch solved so much of the issue.

  • Instant tricks? Spatial Contortion is here, joining Not of This World, Titan's Presence, and Scour from Existence.
  • Multiplayer value? Endbringer echoes things like Prophet of Kruphix and Seedborn Muse, untapping on every player's turn for your own benefit.
  • Control? All Is Dust, Gruesome Slaughter, Oblivion Stone, Perilous Vault, Nevinyrral's Disk, and more are there alongside a myriad of ways to draw cards.
  • Threats? Walker of the Wastes thrives when you want to play 20 copies of Wastes, growing every time you bring out another. Oh, and I guess the four different legal Eldrazi titan cards—commander or not—hanging around are pretty good too. (Just don't try to play Emrakul, the Aeons Torn—it's banned in Commander!)
  • Lands? Mirrorpool makes any Eldrazi threat of yours double on demand. Ruins of Oran-Rief and Sea Gate Wreckage are exactly the kind of cards that shine brightest in a colorless deck.

And that's all the tip of the Eldrazi iceberg. Whether you're planning a 100-card pile or making your final picks for a Standard debut, the Eldrazi are here no matter which way you play. The Allies of Zendikar may be angling for final triumph, but the games you enter are your own stories to tell.

Make sure the villains aren't forgotten.

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