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Insider: Pro Tour Oath Observations

Mike-Lanigan QS Magic the Gathering MTG

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The Pro Tour! Every set release, competitive Magic players eagerly await the Pro Tour coverage. Many of us aspire to play on the Pro Tour and others just enjoy watching the high level of competition.

Unlike with professional sports, these events only happen a few times a year. With football or basketball, we get to see our teams compete for a season and then we have to wait until the next year. With Magic though, we have a delay in between each of the events. This delay makes for an exciting event to watch.

For this particular event, I found myself driving to Chicago for a Super Bowl party. While it’s surprising that Wizards scheduled the Pro Tour on the same weekend as the Super Bowl, the two events didn’t overlap at all, so for those of us who also love football, we had an epic weekend of media!

Although it sounds like I would have missed out on all of Day 2 of coverage, there is always a way to make it work. So, on my eight hour drive, I streamed coverage of the event in my car. Sure I couldn’t watch every single play, but once you’re familiar with Modern it’s fairly easy to follow the games from the commentary as long as someone decent is in the booth. While it may not have been ideal, we had a blast listening to coverage in the car on the drive out.

By now, you have seen the results of the tournament and how much Eldrazi dominated the field. I think most of us knew this new deck was going to make a splash in Modern, but there were few among us who truly knew the power of the dark Eldrazi side. The great minds of a few different teams figured out three different ways to build this deck. Not everyone who piloted these decks found resounding success, but an extremely high percentage of them did.

I don’t have all the stats for these decks but one that stood out to me was the four players who ran the UR Eldrazi list only lost a combined one match on day one. That’s astounding. The other versions also had a very high win rate.

Assessing Eldrazi's Power Level

The big question is whether or not these decks are too good. I posted on Twitter that something needed to be banned so we can have a healthy format for GP Detroit (which I will be attending). In Modern we don’t see players switching decks en masse very often. This may be one of those times when they actually do. I’ve been working hard on new concepts in Modern, but with the current state of the format I feel like we’re in a beat ‘em or join ‘em mode right now.

All of the pros that were interviewed about their success with Eldrazi concluded that their deck was fundamentally broken in the event. They went on to say the deck had no bad matchups. If I hadn't watched every match of the coverage, I might not have believed a deck with no bad matchups existed, but that’s my opinion of where the format is right now.

There were three successful decks from this archetype and although the blue-red version won, all three are viable. The colorless version was created by Channel Fireball and Face to Face. This version gets to run manlands and Chalice of the Void. The blue-red version has more creatures that you should be able to find in your limited leftovers, which is why I nicknamed it Draftdrazi.

The third version from Frank Lepore is closer to the original version of the deck. He was trying to keep cards like Blight Herder in the deck and didn’t quite get to the level of the other two versions. While I feel that the processor version is weaker, it is by no means bad and further tweaking might increase its playability as well.

If you are still on the fence about the power level of these decks, consider a couple cards from Legacy and Vintage. In these formats cards like Mishra's Workshop, Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors are incredibly powerful. These lands are obviously crazy-good and of an unacceptable power level for Modern.

Similarly, the Tron lands, Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower, tap for additional mana once you've found all three. These three lands have been the core of a Modern archetype since the banning of Cloudpost (another busted multi-mana land).

Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin are in a similar vein. Unfortunately they're a lot closer to the Legacy/Vintage cards than they are to Tron---each one works on its own, no assembly required.

The New Affinity?

Recently I was reminiscing with some friends about when Mirrodin block was Standard-legal. During that time, Affinity was so prevalent that you had two options. Either you could play all your artifacts and do degenerate things in the first couple turns of the game, or you could play lots of artifact destruction to counter those players. There were some decent decks in the format, but the whole structure surrounded that two-sided fight of artifacts versus beating artifacts.

The Eldrazi decks are structured very similarly to Affinity when it first was released. Each of the Eldrazi decks is mostly creatures and few spells. There is no Cranial Plating, but you could run Ghostfire Blade if you wanted to. Even though you won’t have equipment, your creatures are already big, so it’s like they’re pre-equipped.

In the first builds of Affinity you could play all the artifact lands, which cast your Frogmite on turn one and Myr Enforcer on turn two. This is a common sequence for the Eldrazi deck. With either of the Eldrazi lands you can cast a two-power Eldrazi Mimic or Endless One on turn one and then follow up with a Thought-Knot Seer on turn two.

There is one main difference between Eldrazi and Affinity though. Eldrazi have fewer weaknesses. Affinity could be wrecked by lots of cards in the format, including destroying nearly all their permanents with Shatterstorm. There are no such cards that thwart the Eldrazi.

From a flavor perspective, that’s exactly what the situation is supposed to be like, but from a competitive standpoint it’s rather dreary. Never fear though, there are some strategies that can compete with Eldrazi. Let’s dive into those.

Successful Pro Tour Decks

Blue Moon

First up on our list of possible reactions to the Eldrazi metagame is Blue Moon. This fringe deck has had some success over this past year. Its main strength is of course the maindeck Blood Moon package alongside the controlling shell. It’s doubtful that this deck was chosen based on Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple aggro decks, but it does line up well against them.

The matchup is still not wonderful for Blue Moon though. Slowing Eldrazi down is great but you need to present a reasonable clock to defeat them, otherwise they will just cast their creatures a couple turns later and still beat you with them.

I’m most curious about the absence of Vedalken Shackles. That seems like one of the biggest payoffs this deck can muster, but the PT list contained zero copies of the Control Magic effect. I could see that card turning the matchup into a more favorable position as well.

Lantern Control

Next up we have a deck directly opposed to my play style in Lantern Control. This bizarre deck is brought to you by Ensnaring Bridge, which has been frustrating aggro opponents for twenty years.

Without Bridge, the deck's defenses crumble pretty quickly. But locating and holding onto your artifact removal will prove difficult, as the deck systematically strips cards from your hand and controls your draw step.

Not many players will jump on board with this slow-paced pillow fort, but it does seem like a counter to the all-in aggressive nature of the Eldrazi decks.

Naya Zoo

The name for this deck is tricky business. One thing is for certain though, this deck is definitely not Naya Company as it was labeled. There are no copies of Collected Company in the 75!

We could call this Naya Aggro, but that might get it mixed up with the Naya Burn deck. That is probably better than calling it Naya Midrange because although there are four-drops in the list, the deck is aggressive in nature.

Names aside, this deck is interesting in that it’s capable of running Magus of the Moon as well as Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells, both of which seem like decent tools to fight Eldrazi. You can also search out Ghost Quarter with Knight of the Reliquary to slow them down.

All told though, this version seems like it would fall short against the metagame. The concept is intriguing though and could be further explored and tailored to fit the meta.

Abzan Company

Now onto an actual Company deck:

Ari Lax as well as six other players had much success with the Birthing Pod leftovers deck, Abzan Company. The strength of this deck has always been that it can present a reasonable clock while threatening to gain infinite life or deal infinite damage. These new versions are much more focused on assembling the combo through Collected Company and Chord of Calling. In addition to the search tools, they have more of each combo piece, in addition to Spellskite to protect their interactions.

On one hand, Eldrazi have very few ways to interact with this combo. On the other hand, they present a much faster clock than what Melira and friends are used to handling. This is one of the best decks I can recommend right now because of how it is positioned against the field. You could even get crazy and sideboard the spiking Worship and make the Eldrazi bow to your greatness.

Chord Combo

Chord Combo is a variation of Abzan Company that swaps Melira combo for Spike Feeder plus Archangel of Thune to gain infinite life and make infinitely large creatures. Just like Abzan Company, this deck does a good job of slowing down Eldrazi and then finishing with a combo they don’t have many ways to interact with.

It’s unclear which version is the best choice but both seem to be doing the right types of things to counter what the rest of the meta is presenting. As you can see, there are a pair of Worships in this sideboard, so maybe that is a legitimate way to buy yourself enough time to combo your opponent.

Last year I wrote an article advocating for a similar deck. The concept was to rebuild Aristocrats in Modern.

Most of the information there is old news but much of it relates to this same discussion about various Abzan decks. No matter your flavor of Abzan, they seem well positioned to hold their ground despite the overwhelming dominance of the Eldrazi menace.

Grixis Goryo

Wanna beat everyone? Just play a fast combo deck like Goryo's Vengeance. With no one to stop you, discard Emrakul to Faithless Looting and put him into play with Vengeance courtesy of Simian Spirit Guide. All of this can be done on turn two!

Then what? So you have your opponent at five life and they have no permanents but you are left with no way to finish them off. That’s my main problem with this deck. Sure it’s amazing to be able to do that so early in the game, but I would rather have the capabilities to draw my whole deck and end the game immediately with the Grishoalbrand version.

You don’t win immediately though because it’s going to take you five to ten minutes to show your opponent the combo, but these reanimation decks are very strong right now. I stand by my claim that Goryo's Vengeance needs to be banned, but as long as you are allow to play it, more people should.

The same thing goes for other fast combo decks like Storm and Ad Nauseam, but I think the Griselbrand decks are by far more powerful in addition to being more consistent. Fast combo is great against all-in aggressive decks so we could see the format adapt completely to fight against the best aggro deck Modern has ever seen.

Jund

Traditionally, the best way to beat aggro is to control what they are doing. This proves difficult because Eldrazi can be so fast, but also because Thought-Knot Seer disrupts you while Reality Smasher strips an extra card from your hand to remove it. I’m not sure if this is the right version for the metagame now, but Jund can be tailored to fit whatever metagame we have. One big downfall of red in this deck though is that Lightning Bolt matches up so poorly against the threats being presented.

You can also try to control what your Eldrazi opponent is doing with decks like Merfolk and Living End. Merfolk can run Spreading Seas as well as Sea's Claim to shut down the double-land mana base. But in the end, I think the Eldrazi will still overpower the Merfolk army.

Living End is great except when your opponent casts Chalice of the Void for zero and then you can never cast the deck’s namesake. This is the main problem with Eldrazi---the cards they run naturally are good against the counters to the deck.

Although the Top 8 of the Pro Tour shows that Affinity doesn’t match up well against Eldrazi, I think racing is a fine way to go about winning this matchup. We will have more time to test against this deck than the pros did, so that might swing the matchup.

The pros did get the switch from Etched Champion to Master of Etherium correct though. With so many colorless creatures in the format, Etched Champion seems more like a three-mana 2/2 than the color-protected, potent threat it has been in the past.

~

All of these decks presented today were successful at the Pro Tour. They found success through a wave of the Eldrazi army. Now that we know the Eldrazi are coming for us, hopefully a weakness can be identified and a counter can be developed.

This may be one of those times when I actually join them instead of trying to beat them, but if that’s the case, you know I’ll have my own sweet version. I’ve been tinkering with other colors of Eldrazi but I think the best we can do might be colorless or blue-red.

Modern is definitely exciting and although I wish something were banned post-Pro Tour, I do admire Wizards for continually shaking up the format. It makes it hard to keep up financially sometimes, but new and exciting makes for a fun time.

What do you think about Eldrazi in the metagame? Should something be banned to balance the format again? Are these decks I recommended good enough to thwart the Eldrazi invasion? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com

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