Evolving Eldrazi in an alien metagame

Posted in Event Coverage on March 6, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

At first, they were colorless. Befitting the alien Eldrazi menace, the nearly fully-colorless build that Channel Fireball and Face to Face Games took to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was the first to hit the feature match area and very quickly over the course of the weekend take over the narrative of the event.

Its time in the sun didn't last long. They weren't the only ones to discover the alien power, and Jaichen Tao and Team East-West Bowl also came armed with the deck, albeit a somewhat different take on the archetype. It was their Blue-Red build that ultimately won the day and rewarded Tao with the Pro Tour title.

Blue-Red Eldrazi — Jiachen Tao, first place Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch

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That victory was the Eldrazi heard ‘round the multiverse, and Modern hasn't been the same since. Our new overlords quickly invaded the rest of the format, and the evolution of the deck has been fast and ferocious (in the case of Stubborn Denial, at least).

As the deck hit streets and thousands of players worldwide began to experiment with the possibilities, a new contender arose: White-Blue Eldrazi. Relying on the absurd power of Eldrazi Displacer — it makes tons of tokens with Drowner of Hope, blinks Endless One right to the graveyard and even provides a last-hope win condition by running opponents out of cards with Thought-Knot Seer — the white-blue deck rose to the top of the Eldrazi heap, having the same explosive start of the earlier versions while also possessing a better late game thanks to the Displacer.

Still, there were ways to defeat Eldrazi, and players increasingly turned to them. At the top of that list stood Worship and Ensnaring Bridge, which either prevented the monsters from attacking or negating them when they did. The two hate cards began to show up the expected places, with white-based creatures decks picking up Worship and Lantern Control rising to prominence with its Bridges.

But those decks do face some tough matchups elsewhere in the field, so in an attempt to outmaneuver the field, Austin Holcomb took drastic measures.

“I knew that Eldrazi was going to be a big issue, and I noticed how good Ensnaring Bridge was against them,” he said. “I also noticed Affinity has good matchups against the rest, so I started trying to figure out if I could play Ensnaring Bridge in it. With Signal Pest and Ornithopter and Vault Skirge when you hold the card for your turn, you actually have a bunch of creatures who can get through. And Arcbound Ravager and instant-speed Cranial Plating lets you do more than just the one or two damage at a time.”

The strategy served Holcomb well, and he won the StarCityGames.com Modern Open in Louisville two weeks ago with the deck, defeating all the White-Blue Eldrazi he faced along the way.

As successful as Holcomb's strategy was, it was only a temporary stopgap, and the next evolution of Eldrazi arrived. With the proverbial Black Cat out of the bag, the Eldrazi decks began to find answers. In came Eldrazi Displacer, Disenchant, Hurkyl's Recall, Cyclonic Rifts. Suddenly what was a trump against the alien menace was nothing more than a speed bump.

That led Holcomb to make a decision he wasn't thrilled with — he chose to join the Eldrazi for Grand Prix Detroit.

“People are fighting the good fight, but why be the good guy when you can play 5/5s for two mana? It's like when the Phyrexians took over Mirrodin, they take the good guys and turn them into the bad guys,” he explained. “The Eldrazi deck is just kind of overwhelming; Affinity can't just be Affinity to beat them, it has to be Affinity plus Lantern Control cards. Tron can't just be Tron, it has to be Tron-Eldrazi. I had a trump card for a week, but now everyone knows about it so it was better to just play the deck myself.”

Holcomb defeated White-Blue Eldrazi two weeks ago, but he decided the deck was too good not to play with in Detroit.

Kozilek, the Great Distortion twists reality around him, and while the titan himself hasn't seen play yet in Modern Eldrazi, his underlings have definitely twisted Modern around them. Some people play Eldrazi, and some people have a plan to beat them.

Sixteenth-ranked Brad Nelson took it a step further.

“Everyone is playing to beat the white-blue deck, and this deck has great matchups against those decks,” said Nelson, who ran his record to 7-0 with the Red-Green Eldrazi Control build he worked on with his new peers on Team EUreka over the last week. “This deck isn't favored against the white-blue decks, but it is great against the rest of the field.”

The reason for that? Besides the fact that it plays a functionally different game than the white-blue decks — World Breaker instead of Eldrazi Mimic —that may confuse opponents unfamiliar with the deck, it is naturally favored against the green decks that find success stalling the board against White-Blue thanks to Kozilek's Return.

“When your lands, your sideboard card and even your Pryoclasms are tutorable with Ancient Stirrings, my deck is just more consistent than the white-blue decks,” Nelson explained. “It mulligans less, it mulligans better, and you know you've turned the corner when you cast World Breaker.”

Nelson's deck isn't the only Red-Green Eldrazi deck in the room, though it is the only one taking the controlling route. Others have gone back to the deck's aggressive roots with Eldrazi Obligator, another card that is extremely good in the Eldrazi mirrors provided there isn't a Displacer on board.

No. 16 Brad Nelson jumped out to a fast 7-0 start thanks to his controlling take on Red-Green Eldrazi.

The deck — or more accurately, decks — have come a long way since Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, but one thing is sure — the Eldrazi have left their tentacled mark on Modern.

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