Most Magic players identify with a certain strategy. Some people like goldfishing complicated combos. Others enjoy dropping three Lava Spikes on an opponent under ten life. I prefer attacking with efficient creatures while deploying disruption, and manipulating my library to find what I need. Decks that give me this experience are generally blue, green, and red. If you’d told me a month ago I would be playing a monoblack Eldrazi deck in the coming format, I would have laughed in your face.
Turns out I’m still laughing in your face. But only because your Tarmogoyf is so small.
The Stompy Archetype in Modern
Stompy has never existed in this format. Dragon Stompy, Legacy's most popular Stompy deck, uses Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors to cast turn one and two Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void. Then, it kills its disrupted opponent with fairly costed threats. Thanks to its Sol lands, these threats resolve earlier than they "should."
I usually put "lands" at the end of my brew articles. Today, I'll lead with this section to explain how absurd the Eldrazi lands are. Eye of Ugin, Eldrazi Temple, and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth allow Bx Eldrazi decks to play Modern one or two turns ahead of everyone else by breaking Magic's fundamental rule of one land per turn.
We'll examine the applications of Sol lands in Bx Eldrazi by comparing them to those of Sol lands in Legacy. In the interest of simplicity, let's consult Drew Levin's previously stock Dragon Stompy list from 2011 for reference (recent versions tend to favor a Moggcatcher package).
Sol Lands and Card Advantage
While most players need to spend two cards (two lands, or a land and a Birds of Paradise) achieving two mana, Sol lands produce two mana with one card. Since they remain on the battlefield to act as two lands for the rest of the game, they break even on the card disadvantage of Chrome Mox or Gathan Raiders in Dragon Stompy. Modern houses many decks preoccupied with accruing incremental advantage over longer games (Jund, Abzan, Twin, Grixis, etc.). Getting up on cards by simply making land drops positions Eldrazi decks well against these established interactive decks.
Sol Lands and Speed
The most obvious draw to Sol lands is the speed they promise. Few fair Legacy decks can tangle with turn two Arc-Slogger. In Eldrazi Stompy, turn two [tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] inspires a similar brand of terror across the table. So does turn three Conduit of Ruin into turn four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and all we need to make that dream a reality is a hand full of Sol lands and a single Conduit. I've even pulled it off after casting Dismember and Chalice of the Void.
Splinter Twin is the only other Modern deck capable of threatening a turn four kill after interacting every other turn of the game, and this claim to fame has kept Twin on top of the format since the very first Modern Pro Tour. Except the pieces of the turn four Ulamog "combo" each pull more weight on their own than the comparatively silly Deceiver Exarch, and Eldrazi decks play a better fair game than Twin - or anything.
More Springleaf Than Sylvan
Some players I know have compared Bx Eldrazi decks to Tron, another strategy that accelerates into huge plays with colorless lands. In reality, Tron is a worse Eldrazi deck. When Ghost Quarter hits a Tron land, the deck has to find that specific land all over again before it can make a reasonable amount of mana. Additional Quarters (or Paths) significantly hinder Tron, as the deck plays a single basic Forest. Conversely, we'll happily - err, resignedly search up basic Swamps to replace our destroyed Eldrazi Temples, or just play another legendary Eye of Ugin or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth after one bites the dust. Unlike Urza's Tower, the rest of our Sol lands don’t suddenly become [tippy title="Wastes" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] when we lose one. We don’t need to spend time and mana digging for “other” Sol lands, instead casting our spells off the ones we have.
Not only do our threats come down quicker than Tron's, they can be more difficult to interact with. Conduit into Ulamog doesn’t allow opponents much in the way of responses, as both creatures trigger on cast. Anyone can Mana Leak Karn Liberated, or Path to Exile Wurmcoil Engine. Have fun Remanding Ulamog! (For the record, Tron has started playing Ulamog itself to some success. It should be obvious which deck is best equipped to cast it.)
I'd sooner compare Bx Eldrazi decks to Affinity. In Modern, only Affinity has access to acceleration this consistent; until now, nobody else attacks with nine permanent power on turn three. Infect and Atarka Zoo can blitz pretty hard, but at the cost of their cards. By contrast, Affinity repeats the attack, or improves it, every turn after. The deck's speed and power are well-known among Modern players, and impactful hosers like Creeping Corrosion, Hurkyl's Recall, and Stony Silence keep the Robots in check. The only hoser I've found to damage the Eldrazi decks is Blood Moon, which exists in a single color and forces deckbuilders to craft conservative manabases if they want to play it at all. In other words, Eldrazi Stompy is shaping up to be harder to stop than Robots. Perhaps ironically, but not unfittingly, Affinity is our worst matchup.
Unfortunately, we can't play 24 Sol lands. I've picked three colorless lands to compliment my swamps.
Ghost Quarter: A bomb in the mirror and against manlands. Keeps us far ahead of other big mana decks like Amulet Bloom or Tron. Can also catch unwary opponents off-guard as they tap out for Blood Moon, sniping a singleton basic Swamp in response.
Gemstone Caverns: Allows us to take the initiative on the draw, enabling turn one Chalice of the Void and turn two Seer or Smasher. Accelerates into Drown in Sorrow, Sun Droplet, or Liliana of the Veil against aggro decks, and into Cranial Extraction against combo. Serum Powder increases the likelihood of opening Caverns on the draw. Keep in mind it’s sometimes correct not to get the luck counter, so we can cast colorless-specific Eldrazi. Since it's a legend that doesn't attract enemy land destruction, we shouldn't run more than three Caverns to avoid flooding on them.
Meet the Eldrazi
I've omitted Relic of Progenitus, and with it, Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder; I don't love threats that require another card to function optimally. [tippy title="Eldrazi Mimic" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] also requires another card to shine - a card, in fact, per turn.
[tippy title="Matter Reshaper" width="330" height="330"][/tippy]
Reshaper almost always comes down on turn two, and with Gemstone Caverns, sometimes on turn one. He mostly wants to tangle with enemy attackers, netting us a card in the process (hopefully a mana source, but we'll settle for Liliana of the Veil). Notably, [tippy title="Matter Reshaper" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] trades with every one-mana creature in Modern, as well as every two-drop besides Tarmogoyf.
On his own, Reshaper attacks like a Wild Nacatl. (With Eye of Ugin on the battlefield, he even costs the same as Wild Nacatl.) Reshaper pressures decks that clock us without attacking, like Scapeshift, Twin, and Ad Nauseam. He's a nightmare for grind-em-out midrange decks like Jund and Grixis, since their Bolts essentially put them down a card against us. If he "cascades" into another Reshaper, they're down multiple cards!
[tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy]
When Bx Eldrazi Processors reared its head in Modern, pilots and opponents agreed Oblivion Sower was the best creature in the deck. As of Oath of the Gatewatch, [tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] will surely usurp that title. Jund players have been chasing Thoughtseize with Tarmogoyf since Modern was born, and [tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] rolls both cards into one. He frequently comes down on turn two, and exiling the card helps keep early-game Tarmogoyfs at 3/4.
Turn two 4/4s are rarely permitted in Modern, with Tarmogoyf being the one exception to this rule. That Seer seizes the opponent's answer brings him from playable to degenerate. His effect disrupts linear combo decks without one-drops like Inquisition of Kozilek, allowing us to run Chalice of the Void and rely less on finding black lands early.
[tippy title="Reality Smasher" width="330" height="330"][/tippy]
After the three-mana [tippy title="Matter Reshaper" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] and the four-mana [tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy], [tippy title="Reality Smasher" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] plugs the five-mana "curve hole" left by Blight Herder, giving us something highly impactful to do on the third or fourth turn. I evaluate creatures based on ones I know intimately. To me, Smasher plays like some unholy mashup of Hooting Mandrills, Stormbreath Dragon, and Battlegrowth.
Given his bulk, speed, and evasion, [tippy title="Reality Smasher" width="330" height="330"][/tippy]'s ability is plain gratuitous. Creatures this fast and large need organic checks so interactive decks can keep them under control - for Smasher to play fair, Terminate, Path to Exile, and even Vapor Snag should answer him without forcing casters to Raven's Crime themselves. Smasher runs interactive decks out of either cards or life points very efficiently, and one often foreshadows the other.
Sower's ability discourages opponents from responding with Remand, and he does ramp us most of the time, Relic or no. Eye and Urborg eventually turn those humble Windswept Heaths into Ulamogs. But the real reason to play Sower is his size - 5/8 doesn't die to anything! 4/5 Goyf and a Lightning Bolt? Nope. Roast into Pyroclasm? Try again. Gurmag Angler plus Kolaghan's Command? LOL!
Conduit comes with a Sol land attached and searches the deck for big boss Ulamog. An Eldrazi Temple in hand guarantees we can cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger the turn after Conduit resolves. Otherwise, we'll merely wait a few turns, during which time opponents have a 5/5 to kill.
Ulamog's effect triggers on cast, meaning not even Counterflux prevents him from casting double Vindicate. Once he resolves, Ulamog defeats opponents with infinite life or pages of chump blockers with his second ability. One Ulamog suffices in most Eldrazi decks, but I play two so I can Serum Powder away hands with Ulamog and not miss him later.
The 'Drazi can't rule the world on their own.
Look, Ma! No Relic!
Many players consider mainboard Relic of Progenitus one of the reason to play Bx Eldrazi in Modern. Once Oath becomes legal, I don't think this argument holds much ground. Heartless Eldrazi decks have already traded the grave-hate package for speed, and the Eldrazis we get in Oath boast such immense power that we don't need to rely on two-card combinations like Relic plus Blight Herder to fill out our threat suites. [tippy title="Reality Smasher" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] attacks through Lingering Souls tokens, and Oblivion Sower dwarfs Tarmogoyf anyway. Our BGx matchup is so favorable I don't miss Relic here. Blanking Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, and cantrips with Chalice of the Void seems more valuable to me against interactive and linear decks alike.
Two of my favorite hate cards, Blood Moon and Choke, have seen Modern play since the format was announced. A third, Chalice of the Void, never lived up to the precedent it sets for hate cards in Legacy - where it helms the Stompy archetype - or Vintage, where it was recently restricted.
I've tried for years to squeeze Chalice into my Modern decks, but to no avail. Most recently, I flirted with a GRx Moon build revolving around Goblin Rabblemaster before abandoning the Chalices completely and running Lightning Bolt myself. The things we sacrifice to fit them make up the opportunity cost of running lock pieces. Chalice didn't work in that deck because the opportunity cost of running it - playing format-defining, on-color one-drops like Lightning Bolt - proved too steep to justify its inclusion.
In Eldrazi Stompy, this opportunity cost is virtually nonexistent. Modern Eldrazi decks do play a few one-drops, among themInquisition of Kozilek,Relic of Progenitus, and Expedition Map. [tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] covers the ground we lose by excluding discard spells, and provides a respectable body to boot. We've already explored Relic, above. And Serum Powder helps the deck find Sol lands, eliminating the need for Expedition Map - more on that card below.
Strategically speaking, Chalice of the Void “solves” this deck’s worst matchups. Bx Eldrazi loses to low-to-the-ground aggro strategies, or decks that ignore fat bodies and go off regardless. These decks include Burn, Infect, Bogles, Storm, and UR Delver (yes, with [tippy title="Stormchaser Mage" width="330" height="330"][/tippy]!). Incidentally, all of them struggle to win through Chalice.
Currently, Serum Powder only sees play in two Vintage decks. Espresso Stax, the format's reigning Stompy deck, uses the innocuous Darksteel artifact to aggressively mulligan into Mishra's Workshop; Dredge, to find Bazaar of Baghdad. We use it to assemble an opener with enough Sol lands to power out Eldrazis ahead of schedule.
Wizards has yet to print another card that modifies with mulligans, so the uninitiated may have difficulty evaluating Serum Powder at a glance. I'll introduce Powder with an excerpt from Marius Van Zundert's article on Espresso Stax, which applies perfectly to Eldrazi Stompy:
"Workshop decks, when they are at their best, are incredibly redundant things. Because of the limitations of Workshop, they have to be. They can’t control their draws like a blue deck. Serum Powder would allow the Workshop pilot to see more hands, increasing the chance that they opened with sufficient mana and threats. And what did it really matter if they removed some of their mana, or some of their threats? There were more. I played one game in particular against Nick [Detwiler] where he opened on a hand of seven and then used three Serum Powders, removing 21 cards from the game. As I looked through, I saw that he had removed three of his Smokestacks. I joked with him “Oh man, this is great, you won’t be able to beat me this game.” Nick opened with a Workshop, then a Chalice of the Void at 0 and another Chalice at 1. He dropped a Lodestone Golem and a Sphere of Resistance on turn two. He dropped another Lodestone Golem and another Sphere effect on turn three.
It didn’t matter that the Smokestacks were gone. He hit his mana and he hit his disruption."
Like Nick, I Serum Powder ruthlessly, binning land-light hands with extreme prejudice. I won't hesitate to exile all my Thought-Knots or even boarded-in hate if it means digging for hands that curve out better. At its most consistent, Eldrazi Stompy is a turn-four deck. Powder helps maximize that consistency.
That said, I don't exile every hand containing Serum Powder. My favorite way to analyze a hand with Powder is to picture it without Powder. If the rest is keepable, I settle. There are plenty of superb four-card hands in this deck (i.e. Temple, Eye, Thought-Knot, Urborg), so even hands with multiple copies of Serum Powder can be keepable.
The primary benefit of digging for Sol lands while we resolve mulligans, and not once the actual game has begun, is that we become faster. The Eldrazi decks I've paired with online spend the first two turns setting up their mana with Expedition Map or Ancient Stirrings. Not only does Chalice of the Void block these plays, if we instead spend those turns casting [tippy title="Matter Reshaper" width="330" height="330"][/tippy] and [tippy title="Thought-Knot Seer" width="330" height="330"][/tippy], we gain an edge in the race.
Powder helps hit relevant cards, too. This upside mainly comes in handy during boarded games, when landing a turn three Drown in Sorrow or an on-curve Cranial Extraction can save us from certain doom. I can also name plenty of matchups where I love having multiple shots at turn one Chalice of the Void.
To the naysayers, I'll ask a question: Why don't you want to play Serum Powder? We've discussed Chalice's opportunity cost, and Powder carries a similar drawback. After all, who likes drawing three-mana, colorless-producing artifacts in the mid-game? Um, we do! When it's not setting up unbeatable openers, Powder helps reach ten mana for Ulamog and essentially taps for a color in this deck. It even lets us cast colorless-specific Eldrazi under Blood Moon. As with Chalice, we can run Powder at virtually no cost to our deckbuilding choices. The more I play with Serum Powder, the more I'm impressed by the consistency it brings to Bx Eldrazi.
Dismember doesn't charge life with an Urborg out, interacts at instant speed for a single mana of any (or no) color, dodges Chalice of the Void, and kills nearly everything in the format. Paying life ostensibly hurts against aggro decks, but Dismember's potency there more than justifies its inclusion for these matchups. The biggest strike against Dismember in Modern is a given strategy's weakness to a specific kind of aggro deck: the one with Lava Spikes. Fortunately, Chalice of the Void and our fat Eldrazi ground squad make Burn the easiest of our aggro matchups.
Liliana hassles any aggro deck that doesn't immediately put three bodies onto the battlefield, and gives control and midrange decks a headache. She’s easy to cast with Urborg in play, and otherwise not too challenging between our Swamps and Gemstone Caverns.
The only thing I dislike about Liliana is her anti-synergy with Chalice of the Void; once we resolve the Chalice, opponents have a whole grip of cards to throw away.
The End Is Near
Our Eldrazi overlords are here to stay, though we don’t know what an optimized build will end up looking like. I imagine a few viable versions will crop up, including an aggro variant, a control variant, and something in-between. Peoples’ favorite colors may influence the direction future builds take. For now, I’ll continue playing with this version, which has shown great promise in its first week. I don’t have enough space in this article to cover matchups (in a nutshell: everything is favorable except Affinity, Merfolk, and Grishoalbrand) or land sequencing (which I’d like to call a prerequisite to success with the deck, but realistically this deck wins a lot even with stumbles). I'll address all that another week. In the meantime, consider buying some Blood Moons.