Insider: Building Eldrazi After a Possible April Ban

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In case you still thought Eldrazi wasn't a format-warping deck, Star City Games' Louisville Open added another damning datapoint to the picture. 48% of Louisville's Day 2 metagame rocked some kind of Eldrazi deck, representing the core of Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin, along with playsets of 4-5 other cards.

This is on top of the Eldrazified Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch field, and the overall metagame which creeps closer and closer to 25% Eldrazi.

Modern's ability to self-regulate the Eldrazi invasion is looking increasingly unlikely. An April intervention, however, appears more probable by the day.

The Invading Eldrazi Core

I don't see Wizards making an emergency ban before the March Grand Prix weekend. Nor should they! Early action sets a dangerous format-wide precedent for future bans, and runs the risk of Wizards banning the wrong card for lack of data. That said, an April ban feels inevitable with the current numbers, which are the worst I've seen since Modern started in 2011.

Hope you sold out while you can, as I advised last week---prices are already dropping in response to the feelings of ban inevitability.

Assuming the metagame situation does not improve, and assuming Wizards acts to correct it in April, many players will likely wonder about Eldrazi's future after a possible banning. Eldrazi pilots will want to know if their deck is still viable if something gets axed. Hardened Eldrazi foes will want to know if they still need those maindeck Spreading Seas or sideboarded Worships. As for investors, they'll want to get ahead of Magic-market shifts precipitated by a ban.

In today's article, I'll discuss three ban possibilities and how those would affect Eldrazi decks. Our colorless overlords are likely to survive most of the realistic ban scenarios, and today I'll explore some cards and synergies that could enable the Eldrazi deck to survive April.

Ban Options and Rationale

I'm hoping Wizards uses the next few months to amass MTGO data and conduct some intensive analysis of different variables: which cards show up in which matches, the turn those cards hit play, when games end, matchups, the number of offensive cards, etc. I'd love to be part of this kind of format evaluation, and I'm optimistic Wizards will take a similar approach in deciding what Eldrazi card needs to go.

Most players point to Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple as the biggest problems in the Eldrazi core. Fast mana is infamous for causing problems in Modern, and it's easy to see parallels between Cloudpost and the Eldrazi duo. Urza lands have also been criticized under similar premises, but Tron decks never even cracked 10% of the format, let alone the obscene shares we're seeing in Eldrazi.

Banned Fast Mana in Modern

Given the historical treatment of such fast-mana staples, and the contextual power of the Eldrazi lands in their current decks, I believe Eye and Temple are the likeliest bans we might see in April.

There are strong arguments for banning either card in the next update. Both could even find themselves in Wizards' crosshairs. In essence, Eye leads to the most dramatic starts (the fabled double Eldrazi Mimic and/or Endless One) and the deck's inevitability. By contrast, Temple brings more gradual mana development, but is non-legendary and opens up the turn three Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer lines.

Eye was relatively fair in other decks before Eldrazi came around. Temple was never used and is now part of a broken deck. That said, Temple better fits the "turn four rule" pace of Modern. Eye, especially paired with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, is much more explosive and unpredictably powerful.

I'll need to do more testing and data collection to point to the primary offender here (it might be both!). Instead of figuring out what will be banned, I'll focus instead on how Eldrazi survive after that ban.

Surviving an Eye of Ugin Ban

Between its inevitability, its early game explosiveness (heightened by Urborg and Simian Spirit Guide), and its cost reduction effect (as opposed to Temple's flat ramp), Eye strikes me as a slightly more likely ban target than Temple in the possible April announcement. Eldrazi become unquestionably worse without Eye, but they would still be playable: good news for Eldrazi pilots and bad news for those that never want to see a Reality Smasher again.

Losing Eye of Ugin makes Eldrazi less of a burst-damage, Affinity-style beatdown deck. By the same token, it also undercuts Eldrazi's chances to win a long game on a stalled board. This shifts Eldrazi back to a more midrange or mid-game Stompy deck, which would be overall safer for Modern than the current builds we see.

Without Eye, Eldrazi immediately free up their four slots on the legendary land, as well as their Urborg slots---losing the virtual Mishra's Workshop synergy renders Urborg relatively useless. This probably pushes Eldrazi to find fast-mana replacements, the most obvious and interesting of which is Vesuva.

Paired with an active Eldrazi Temple, Vesuva powers you up your curve, even if you have to wait a turn to cash in. Some Eldrazi pilots are skeptical about Vesuva's relevance in their speedy deck, but I've tested some preliminary lists and the play-lines are still decent, even if rarer. Turn one Temple into Dismember or Mimic, followed by turn two Vesuva, leading into turn three Reality Smasher or Thought-Knot Seer. Your turn two is a bit of a deadzone on this progression, but you're getting enough power on the board for it not to matter against many fair decks.

Vesuva loses out big against the aggressive strategies, where you can effectively squander a turn building up to a bigger play. Affinity, Burn, Infect, and even Merfolk will punish you for this---a Spreading Seas dropped on your tapped Vesuva really stings. Losing Eye means you also lose your fastest Mimic lines to race them. Despite such weaknesses, the deck would still be viable as a powerful anti-midrange option, even if it falls to aggro.

Another fast-mana option, which is more likely to be paired with Vesuva than to preclude it, is trusty Simian Spirit Guide.

Between Guide and Vesuva, you are often one turn ahead of your organic mana development. It could be two turns as well, if you effectively bank a land drop on a tapped Vesuva to get there after you untap. Guide also moves Eldrazi back to the Chalice of the Void strategies, improving its aggro matchup. You're also solidifying the midrange matchup with a reliable turn three Seer or a turn two Matter Reshaper.

Abzan Company, U/W Control, Kiki Chord and Affinity are much more effective against these Eyeless builds than Eldrazi is accustomed to, which would help ensure the deck stays viable while not also warping the format.

The big investment takeaway here is Vesuva, but also Eldrazi that are falling out of fashion such as Matter Reshaper. Similarly, Urborg's value tanks after an Eye banning, and Chalice/Guide are likely to keep rising once Eldrazi move back to this pairing.

Surviving an Eldrazi Temple Ban

Perhaps Wizards looks at Eye and determines the legendary type and Tron collateral damage make it an inappropriate ban. If so, Eldrazi Temple would take the ban as the remaining offender in Eldrazi. This banning approach preserves Eldrazi's most explosive starts but makes the deck deeply dependent on combos in Eye, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Simian Spirit Guide.

Amusingly, the Eye ban doesn't disproportionately benefit Eldrazi Temple itself. The card was a Modern Masters uncommon, which puts a ceiling on how high it can realistically go. A Temple ban, however, has the opposite effect on Eye. Eye is already in the $40 range despite the terror of an impending ban. If Eye can survive April, the sky is the limit on this card, which only enjoys a few printings: mythic in Worldwake, rare in Modern Masters, and an Expedition in Oath.

Assuming you either own the Eyes already, or buy them immediately following the ban update, you'll need to round out your Eldrazi shell with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, which becomes an immediate three- or even four-of to improve your Eye/Urborg odds in the first two turns.

I admit it's odd to run so many copies of legendary lands, but this is just a testament to the importance of that one-two punch of Eye into Urborg in a no-Temple build. The no-Temple Eldrazi lists have no choice but to commit to early lines---the more explosive, the better. Eye's legendary status prevents you from reaching Temple's cumulative mana advantage, which means you're dedicated to decks like the Pro Tour's colorless builds rather than the blue-red, blue-white, red-green, or other anti-Eldrazi pairings which emerged later.

Unsurprisingly, Simian Spirit Guide would also be a formative player alongside Eye and Urborg. Like the so-called Mishra's Workshop combo, Guide facilitates these early blitz plays, including the vaunted turn three Reality Smasher and even a turn two Smasher with Urborg/Eye already on the table.

Temple's banning might also move Eldrazi players to an Urzatron setup, which some have lauded as a strict upgrade to the old R/G Tron strategies, a fixture of Modern for much of 2015.


This configuration would probably also use Urborg (why not use the combo start if you can fit it in?), making it a mashup between Tron's ramp plan, featuring heavy-hitters like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and Colorless Eldrazi's lightning-fast openers.

Financially speaking, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is the huge winner here, a relatively low-print card which has already seen big spikes following Eldrazi's rise. Guide remains another good investment, even if I've seen some fairly compelling arguments for the banning of Modern's Lotus Petal, as do Urza staples (All Is Dust comes to mind).

Surviving a Dual Eye/Temple Ban

The dual ban, although not terribly likely, would be decidedly fatal for Eldrazi as we know it. There is no current Eldrazi strategy which survives without at least one of its critical lands. Some may point to this finality as reason for Wizards to make a ban in this approach, citing the artifact lands as a possible precedent.

It's not an impossible scenario, but I doubt Wizards wants to kill the archetype entirely. Eldrazi have the chance to be a fair contributor to the Tier 1 and Tier 2 world, not just a Tier 0 behemoth.

If both lands walked to the banlist gallows, Eldrazi as a deck would die, but the Eldrazi as Modern contributors would live on for years to come.

Relevant Eldrazi in Post-Ban Modern

Looking exclusively at the Eldrazi above, we see at least four Eldrazi which are likely to find homes after the invasion ends. The biggest one here is by far Thought-Knot Seer, a monstrous Vendilion Clique which tangles favorably with Zoo and Burn's ground forces and picks midrange and combo hands apart. It's Lightning Bolt-proof, Abrupt Decay-proof, and presents a scary clock against opponents who can't stall it.

I expect we see plenty of Seer even after a possible double ban. It's the rare card combining a clock and disruption, all at a cheap price and with innate removal resilience.

The other Eldrazi aren't quite as commanding as Seer, but are still likely to remain relevant after the Eldrazi storm. Matter Reshaper is an anti-midrange and -control Kitchen Finks that makes removal parity unattainable. Decks like Abzan Company, Death and Taxes, and Hatebears are almost guaranteed to get value off the Reshaper, turning all removal exhanges into one-for-twos. Burn and Zoo strategies also struggle to attack into the Reshaper.

Smasher is even hardier than the little Reshaper, shrugging off even Galvanic Blast and turning even "true" removal like Path into unfavorable exchanges.

Not all the Eldrazi are as fortunate as Smasher, Seer, and others. Endless One and Eldrazi Mimic are likely to get significantly worse without Eye and Temple to back them up, although it's possible some under-the-radar synergies keep them viable (Phyrexian Dreadnought in Legacy is particularly exciting with Mimic).

Remember to keep your minds open to other Eldrazi possibilities and you'll surely find home for your eldritch expatriates after the possible April ban. Don't just sell them off in a panic!

Surviving Until April?

Bans or no bans, the Eldrazi are beatable. Jeff Hoogland manhandled numerous Eldrazi opponents en route to his Louisville Top 8, and we saw Abzan Company, Merfolk, and even U/W Control enjoy success in this field over the past few weeks.

Unfortunately, these "adaptations" remind me too much of the anti-Deliver evolutions we saw during Treasure Cruise's time in Modern, or the maindecked Molder Slugs of the 2004 Affinity era. The format is still warped heavily towards Eldrazi, both in metagaming against the deck and in the deck's raw shares. All of this bodes ill for the March Grand Prix weekend.

I do believe the deck is on track for a much-needed April ban, and I also believe the deck and cards can survive bans. A nerfed Eldrazi might be a reasonable contributor to Modern, and I'm hoping we get to see this played out once order is restored to our format.

Until then, keep fighting the good fight, and make smart financial decisions ahead of the possible---plausible? definite?---Eldrazi ban in April. I'll see you all in the comments to answer questions, talk trash about the Eldrazi, and chat about where Modern might go from here!

11 thoughts on “Insider: Building Eldrazi After a Possible April Ban

  1. Good article, and I hope the ban is Temple, because all other things being equal, banning Eye nerfs 2 decks, which just doesn’t seem right.

    Also I’ll point out that there’s no way to cast Smasher on turn 2 without Temple. You have no colorless source.

    1. I actually think this is a good reason to ban Eye over Temple. I wouldn’t mind any banning at this point though. Whether it’s both lands or just one, that would be fine by me as a way to decrease the potency of the deck. Simian Spirit Guide may also see a ban as well though. That is another example of fast mana that can be played in any deck so I think it should probably go as well.

    2. I can see Wizards going either way, either Temple to blow up Eldrazi alone, Eye to stop the explosive and unpredictable starts, or both in a throwback to the dual TC/DTT ban of 2015. We’ll have to wait and see! I’m sure SOMETHING changes in April, and hopefully we get an unban as a kind of apology.

  2. Banning Temple makes far more sense. Without Temple, Eye into Urborg is “five” mana on turn two, but not mana that can cast TKS or Reality Smasher. While it DOES still facilitate stuff like multiple mimics into a 5/5 Endless One, that is frankly less powerful than what the deck does now. Furthermore, maximizing that draw would require playing full sets of Eye (already happens) AND Urborg. The pros who piloted the deck at the PT noted that it did have a somewhat higher failure rate than many other decks because of the potentially awkward opening hands, but that the power level was worth it. If you’re playing eight legendary lands, those hands are even less good, and the payoff lower.

    My gut says Guide would continue to be okay. It can pair with eye and a Colorless land for the turn two TKS, but that’s a one-shot deal, nowhere near as powerful as Eye into Temple as its not fueling subsequent turns as well.

    Another possible beneficiary from a ban would be Gemstone Cavern. I know it was in one PT list (I believe Frank Lepore’s?) as a one of. In the wake of a ban, going up another copy or two as a colorless land with occasional upside for explosive starts might be a thing. It’s noteworthy, however, that even Cavern+Eye into Urborg STILL can’t cast TKS or Reality Smasher on turn two, as the bonus clause for Cavern also forces it to produce colored mana.

  3. I own the colorless version in paper (minus the chalices), and was ready to to sell the deck with an impending ban. After reading your article I’m having a very difficult time deciding to keep the cards or buyback my investment. What what you do?

    1. Eye seems like an increasingly likely ban target, especially if the obscene metagame numbers hold through the GP weekend. If you got out of the Eyes at a profit, I’d stay there through the ban update. You can always snap-rebuy the expensive cards the morning of the announcement.

      1. Sheridan, thank you for the response. Now let’s spice it up a bit. I couldn’t help but notice that Eldrazi lists could very well become legitimate in Legacy:

        If eye were banned in modern, would the financial loss be as deep if it picks up legacy momentum? I wouldn’t expect an eye ban in legacy since it is accompanied by even more fast mana offenders in land slots than just temple.

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