Modern has always been a creature format. That's why, despite a lull in play last year, nobody's ever doubted Path to Exile as a perennial staple. And why dumb beaters like Tarmogoyf find their way to the top tables in the face of Goryo's Vengeance and Ad Nauseam. Cheap, large bodies command a premium in Modern, and Oath of the Gatewatch has the most efficient threats we've seen since Siege Rhino.
I think the Oath Eldrazi have what it takes to reach Modern mainstay status. This article explores some of the possibilities for them in non-Eldrazi archetypes.
Eldrazi Splashing 101
Why Splash Eldrazi?
With so many great creatures in Modern, we need some convincing reasons to splash Eldrazi into existing archetypes. Let’s consider the creatures printed in Oath of the Gatewatch.
- Matter Reshaper: Kitchen Finks-tier value in any color. 3/2 stats trade with almost every one- or two-drop creature in Modern not named Tarmogoyf. Reshaper is cantripping removal against aggro, and a clock that sucks to kill against midrange. In my games with him, I’m always happy to see him die, and when he lives he’s still attacking for three every turn.
- Thought-Knot Seer: Thoughtseize and Tarmogoyf on one card. It makes you feel bad for the 3/1 Vendilion Clique. Opponents have to actually remove Thought-Knot to draw from him, and when you take their best card upon resolution, their odds don’t look so good. As anyone who’s played with Hooting Mandrills can tell you, even with Siege Rhinos and Tasigur, the Golden Fangs running around, 4/4 is really freaking huge in Modern.
- Reality Smasher: Over the last few years, we’ve seen midrange decks run a variety of five-mana haymakers to close out games. Thundermaw Hellkite, Stormbreath Dragon, and Keranos, God of Storms all fit the bill, and Reality Smasher may add his name to that impressive roster. Smasher’s main benefit is his lack of color - players no longer need to splash red for a 5/5 hasty five drop with evasion and built-in removal protection.
Opportunity Cost of Splashing
To quote Lil' Jon and Oobie, "Nothing's Free." Opportunity cost refers to the things we give up to include Eldrazi in our decks.
For one, we have to include nonbasic, colorless-producing lands. Many decks do this anyway, which makes splashing Eldrazi relatively painless. Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge now see more widespread use than ever to combat big mana boogeyman Tron, and to gracefully answer manlands. Speaking of manlands, Mutavault and Blinkmoth Nexus fit into a variety of Modern decks and tap for colorless themselves. So do utility options like Gavony Township, Vault of the Archangel, and Sea Gate Wreckage. In this highly aggressive metagame, I can even see Quicksand getting some love.
Color-fixing lands provide an attractive alternative to lands with effects. Filter lands like Twilight Mire, Mystic Gate, and Fetid Heath allow a potent marriage of colorless-specific Eldrazi to color-intensive bombs like Cryptic Command. The classically mediocre pain lands, including Karplusan Forest and Shivan Reef, suddenly become phenomenal in a deck with Eldrazi beaters - they now tap for three different types of mana.
Since the Eldrazi rely on nonbasic, colorless-producing lands, including them makes us softer to Blood Moon. A resolved Moon makes casting Thought-Knot Seer a nightmare, as no archetypes outside of dedicated Eldrazi can or should run mainboard Adarkar Wastes (which is pretty difficult to fetch). Colorless-producing mana rocks like Talisman of Dominance are rare/bad enough in this format that I wouldn't count on ever putting colorless-specific Eldrazi on the stack with a Moon in play.
With the pros and cons of splashing colorless in mind, let's see if any existing Modern decks could provide a nice home for our new Eldrazi friends. Looking over the Modern Nexus Top Decks page, over fifteen decks can already splash them without much trouble. It's another question whether they want Eldrazi - Affinity and Merfolk, for example, would never compromise their synergistic creature suites for a 4/4 Thoughtseize. These other decks show more promise:
- RG Tron
- Jund/Abzan Midrange
- Grixis Control/Midrange
- UW Control/Midrange
- Jeskai Control/Midrange
- Abzan Company
- BW Tokens
- Kiki Chord
- Death and Taxes/Hatebears
Last weekend, Hobie Hagen took an RG Tron build with Thought-Knot Seer and Matter Reshaper to the Top 8 of StarCityGames' Columbus Classic. Granted, Tron already plays Eldrazi cards in Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Emrakul, the Eons Torn, and Hagen only included one of each Oath creature. But Hagen's successful inclusion of the brood's cheaper beaters in a deck that's otherwise all ramp and business speaks to their future.
BGx midrange might be a little color-heavy to indulge the Eldrazi, mostly thanks to Abrupt Decay and Liliana of the Veil. Green gives them Kitchen Finks, and they already have Thoughtseize and Tarmogoyf. I don't think Eldrazi belong here.
By contrast, Ux Midrange seems rife with Eldrazi potential. In my opinion, Grixis Midrange doesn't quite get there in Modern since it lacks Tarmogoyf. But imagine Thought-Knot Seer and Matter Reshaper in a Grixis shell with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, Snapcaster Mage, Ghost Quarter, and Kolaghan's Command to grease the engine. Ux Midrange decks play a handful of colorless-producing lands already, and I wouldn't be surprised if they at least tried a colorless splash.
The last four decks on the list are the most natural fit for colorless Eldrazi. These disruptive aggro decks walk the line between goodstuff and synergy, and back up their creatures with a hearty serving of colorless lands. Collected Company into Matter Reshaper seems really mean against value decks, and Thought-Knot gives the Chord of Calling toolbox an instant-speed, searchable Thoughtseize. BW Tokens might not mind giving Pyroclasm-proof legs to one of their discard spells. But right now, it seems to me that Leonin Arbiter decks are best poised to assimilate the Eldrazi, since their color requirements are low enough to include Eldrazi Temple.
El Drizzly Bears
Am I trying to say "the rain" in Spanish? Or did I have Snoop Dogg open an Oath of the Gatewatch booster pack? Wrong on both counts! That's just my punny name for WCx Hatebears. As Ghost Quarter positions itself among Modern's strongest mana denial cards, it makes sense the best Quarter deck would enjoy a resurgence. Splashing green or black into the Death and Taxes skeleton gives us a range of possible options.
This deck has a few things going for it. As with traditional Hatebears, Aether Vial lets us run a conservative number of lands and still deploy threats rapidly. In lieu of a Vial, Hierarch does a passable impression while buffing our attackers. I've always shied away from Vial decks in Modern because they're so slow without the artifact. Hierarch's presence makes me much more comfortable. This might not be news to most of you, but I'm not one to generally mess around with this type of creature deck: exalted on a mana dork is crazy!
Eldrazi Temple gives us access to the dreaded turn two Thought-Knot Seer, and otherwise powers out early Matter Reshapers and Eldrazi Displacers. Notably, Temple also pays for activated abilities of colorless Eldrazi, making Displacer an affordable, re-usable blinker.
Speaking of which, Eldrazi Displacer is an Oath creature we haven't discussed yet, for the reason that he boasts limited applications outside of enters-the-battlefield-based decks like Death and Taxes/Hatebears. In those decks, however, he really shines. Here, he resets Kitchen Finks at will, buys back endless cards from the graveyard with Eternal Witness, and casts instant-speed, reverse-Clique effects with Thought-Knot Seer. Blinking also proves powerful without a 187 effect. Displacer saves our threats from removal and can even target our opponent's creatures. Since targets re-enter the battlefield tapped, Displacer gives our beaters psuedo-evasion, tapping down as many blockers as we have 2C for. On the defensive, he removes attackers from combat and prevents pump effects and auras from resolving. At three mana, he's easy to Vial in and even easier to hardcast off a Temple. The only downside to this creature is his weakness to Lightning Bolt, but opponents frequently have a myriad of juicy targets to choose from in this deck. To Bolt the Displacer, they'll have needed not to Bolt the Hierarch, or the Arbiter.
Bolt still rules against creature decks like these, so we play Tarmogoyf ourselves. Goyf is the best insurance policy for dead dorks and Cat Clerics alike. He combines with Thought-Knot Seer to bring some formidable beats to the red zone, and comes down off a Vial to surprise-block an opponent's 4/4.
Goyf grows to 6/7 in this deck if opponents find a way to remove Aether Vial. If not, Oath of Nissa buffs him in multiples, all while finding extra copies of the creature. I lauded Oath of Nissa in my Cobra Moon article, but it performs even better in GW Drizzly, where it's practically Aerial Responder. The only cards it doesn't find are Aether Vial, Path to Exile, and other Oaths. That means Oath can search for the other half of Arbiter/Quarter, or for the other half of Finks/Displacer. Or for a Thoughtseize effect. Or just for Tarmogoyfs.
While the deck's core remains unchanged, BW trades the mana consistency of Hierarch and Oath of Nissa for a stronger aggro matchup and increased hand disruption.
The main draw to BW is the Militant/Tidehollow/Strangler package. Dryad Militant and Tidehollow Sculler exile an opponent's cards, then Wasteland Strangler swoops in to process them and kill creatures. If the Strangler processes a card exiled with Sculler, opponents never get it back.
Eldrazi Displacer can blink these creatures to repeat the process, and works alone with either one. With a Strangler and some cards in exile from Dryad Militant, Displacer essentially casts Lightning Bolt on opposing creatures for 2C. The Tidehollow Sculler interaction proves a bit trickier, but allows Displacer to provide a late-game hard-lock with six mana available. First, Displacer blinks the Sculler for 2C, and our opponent gets his card back. Then, Sculler re-enters, and his ability triggers. In response, we can pay another 2C to blink Sculler again, triggering his second ability that gives our opponent his card. Sculler re-enters and takes a card, and his older enters-the-battlefield ability resolves, allowing us to exile a card for the rest of the game. Doing this trick every draw step denies opponents the chance to ever draw new cards.
Space won't permit me to include every viable white creature in these decks, so it's fully possible I've omitted some crucial ones. Here are a few I left out.
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben: Neither build plays many noncreature spells, and Thalia punishes opponents that do. She also eats the ground up against Burn with first strike, and contributes to our Arbiter-rooted taxing plan.
- Blade Splicer: Serious ground pressure that rapidly multiplies with a Displacer.
- Flickerwisp: A one-shot Displacer with flying. Notably erases charge counters on noncreature permanents and resets planeswalkers, which Displacer can’t do.
- Restoration Angel: I don’t want to clog the four-CMC slot in these mana-light decks, and Thought-Knot Seer seems much better to me than the Angel. Displacer already gives us a recurring version of her blink effect.
A Horrible Future
Given recent events, I should specify that I'm not referring here to the supposed state of Modern (which doesn't worry me at all). I'm just quoting the flavor text of a card that hyper-enables players to splash aggressively costed, colorless-specific Eldrazi into any deck with low color requirements.
I don’t expect the largely untested lists in this article to win the Pro Tour this weekend. But I’ll bet my Not of This World playset the Eldrazi invasion of Modern won’t end with Relic of Progenitus decks.