For all the moaning about the Pro Tour and its lack of diversity, did anyone not have fun watching it? I had a blast. The whole thing felt very surreal. We knew Chalice of the Void and colorless Eldrazi made a perfect match in Modern, but had no idea they would crush the format. I couldn't do anything this week without faintly hearing the announcers' incredulous exclamations bounce around my head: "Reality Smasher off the top!" "CRUNCH in for nine!" "This deck is absurd!" "Fifteen damage!" "CRUNCH!"
Eldrazi decks are staking out their Modern territory as we speak, surpassing a horrifying 40% metagame share online since Saturday. "Crunch," indeed! I worked on the deck a little leading up to the Pro Tour, but didn't engineer the consistent monster the pros did. Those players opened my eyes to Simian Spirit Guide and Endless One, and man, are they worth the slots. This article explores the directions deckbuilders can take when piecing together Modern's brand new Chalice of the Void deck: Eldrazi Stompy.
What Is Eldrazi Stompy?
Eldrazi Stompy is an aggressive Eldrazi deck that combines fast mana from Sol lands and Simian Spirit Guide with early lock pieces like Chalice of the Void. With a lock piece in place, the deck starts slamming threats, hoping to finish opponents off before they draw their answers. In lieu of a Chalice, the deck can simply play enormous creatures and race even linear opponents with minimal disruption.
What Isn't Eldrazi Stompy?
It seems like new Eldrazi decks rear their heads in Modern daily. GW builds with Path to Exile, BG lists with Tarmogoyf, and Tron-succeeding GR World Breaker strategies have all seen success on Magic Online. These Gx variants, and many Bx ones, do not play Chalice of the Void, or any lock piece, in the mainboard. They instead rely on staple one-drops like Ancient Stirrings and Lightning Bolt to win their games.
These decks aren't necessarily worse than Eldrazi Stompy. In many metagames, they may perform better. But this article deals specifically with Eldrazi Stompy decks as I see them in Modern, so we'll leave those to another article. Subsequently, we won't focus exclusively on lists from the Pro Tour. Some differences between my builds and the Pro Tour Oath ones include the perceived value of Eldrazi Mimic and the argument for playing four copies of Serum Powder.
Serum Powder and Consistency
Laying a turn one Chalice (or in other formats, a turn one Blood Moon) is about as peachy as it sounds, but the play comes with a slew of consistency issues. Historically, stompy decks have struggled in this regard. They can blank early on lock pieces, threats, or mana, and need all three to execute a dream game plan. That's where Serum Powder comes in.
In my experience, the games we lose with this deck are the ones in which we don’t draw Sol lands. Powder remedies this issue. Between four Temples, four Eyes, and four Powders, it's tough not to see one of these twelve cards in an opener. Almost always, if I draw Serum Powder and no Sol lands, I'll exile the hand and take a new seven. If I draw a nice hand with Serum Powder (i.e. threats, Sol lands, disruption), I'll just keep it. This seven-card hand sans Powder would probably get there, since Sol lands bring Eldrazi Stompy so far ahead. Having Powder in an already keepable opener to pitch at enemy Reality Smashers, discard to Liliana, or protect against mainboard Blood Moon is just icing on the cake.
Owen Turtenwald's article, "Modern Shouldn't Be a Pro Tour Format," outlines the pro's gripes with the format - among them, its heavy reliance on mulligan decisions. He writes:
"The nature of the Modern format is such that in most or all of the matchups you play, the influence of a single card in your hand is enormous. I know that if I play Infect against an Affinity or a Collected Company deck that I will have a much easier time winning if I draw Blighted Agent versus when I do not. It’s just so good against those decks, and they play little-to-no removal. Or look at Eye of Ugin in the Eldrazi deck—every matchup is better for them when they have that card in their opening hand, and the rest of the draws simply aren’t anywhere near as good."
Owen posits the card disadvantage of mulliganning matters less for decks as fast as Eldrazi, especially when they get so far ahead by opening a specific card. Similarly, the card disadvantage of keeping a "virtual mulligan" with Serum Powder in it is offset immediately by the card advantage of the Sol lands present in that hand. Besides, Eldrazi Stompy is no stranger to trading card advantage for mana - check out Simian Spirit Guide! Like Guide, Powder makes a pretty miserable topdeck. But so does Eldrazi Mimic, and I know which of the two cards I'd rather draw as I count my way up to seven mana for Eye activations.
Eldrazi Stompy Core
Assuming 24 lands, the following proposed core only makes room for eight other cards. For reference, the Pro Tour’s Colorless Eldrazi decks skipped over Serum Powder and played 4 Eldrazi Mimic, 4 Matter Reshaper, 2 Ratchet Bomb, and 2 Spellskite in the flex slots. Without Powder, pilots get 12 slots to tinker with; with Powder, they just get eight. The flex cards chosen - and their colors - impact the lands this deck plays.
Endless One: My first take on Eldrazi Stompy included Oblivion Sower as a wall for sated Goyfs and other huge creatures. Endless One simply fulfills this role better, despite its softness to Decay and Flickerwisp effects. It comes down for six mana as a 6/6, or at any earlier time for however much we can spare (notably, at 4 off Urborg and Eye of Ugin, two lands that can't cast any other creatures together since they don't produce colorless). This flexibility gives it a sizable edge over Sower in matchups for which we want early pressure (Tron, Ad Nauseam, Burn) and allows us to outgrow 5/8 in a longer game.
No Matter Reshaper: This creature shines against Bolt-Snap-Bolt strategies, but pales in comparison to bigger Eldrazi in the mirror. Despite his Pro Tour ubiquity, Matter Reshaper might not do enough moving forward. MTGTop8 reveals that players are already winning with Endbringer by trimming Matter Reshaper, and I'll bet my previously worthless Launch Day promo playset this trend continues into Eldrazi Winter.
No Eldrazi Mimic: Let's start with the positive: Mimic allows Eldrazi Stompy some truly explosive starts. Coming down at zero mana with an Eye of Ugin and attacking for 4+ as early as the second turn, few cards allow us to initiate aggression as effectively as Mimic. That said, it's a horrible topdeck, and dead to Lightning Bolt and even Gut Shot in the mirror. I anticipate URx decks in the same vein as Jason Chung's Blue Moon from Pro Tour Oath cropping up, but better tuned to fight the Eldrazi menace. Mimic is a liability against these decks, which boast Electrolyze and Anger of the Gods in addition to their set of Bolts (not to mention Izzet Staticaster from the side!). With Eldrazi in mind, the modified URx midrange strategies I've tested against have little trouble dismantling Mimic-powered Eldrazi builds, leaning on Remand, Snapcaster Mage, Mana Leak, and Blood Moon to shut colorless pilots out of the game. Mimic is a strong include for linear metagames, but in my eyes, not versatile enough to warrant auto-inclusion.
Chalice of the Void: Last weekend showed us how susceptible Modern is to a Chalice at one. In a shell that naturally avoids one-drops and can therefore run the artifact cost-free, Chalice seems poised to completely turn Modern on its head. This card is the reason to play a stompy shell at all. I would start with four, but I can see boarding some for mirror match interaction should the deck pick up a lot of steam in a given meta.
Dismember: Team East West Bowl's UR Eldrazi lists ran only three Dismembers. Stompy builds prefer to run the set. Dismember is a first-turn play that gets around Chalice, and it’s free while we’re tapped out with Simian Spirit Guide. We can cast it off a turn three Serum Powder, or tap three mana with Urborg to not take any damage. It kills almost everything in Modern, and shrinks larger creatures at instant speed so Reality Smasher can finish them off in combat.
Eldrazi Temple, Eye of Ugin: Everybody and their parents know how powerful these lands are by now. All weekend, I heard people debating whether Temple or Eye was the "problem land." In fact, they're just busted together. No reason not to play full sets of these, despite Eye's legendary supertype - Eldrazi Stompy wants to maximize the odds of opening one or both every game.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: One of the primary incentives for moving into black, Urborg makes Dismembers painless and turns Eye of Ugin into Lotus Vale. Even colorless builds should include this land in some number (I suggest three).
Ghost Quarter: Taps for <> and disrupts almost every deck in the format. Allows us to race Tron and keep the mirror off his Eye. Modern has no shortage of utility lands, and the Eldrazi archetype lends itself to a variety of color combinations. But stompy decks should pack four Quarters before filling the manabase out with anything else.
[mtg_card]Serum Powder[/mtg_card]: We talked about maxing out on Sol lands to increase the probability of hitting them in our openers. Should we miss anyway, Powder gives us extra chances to draw seven cards with explosive potential. More on the card here.
Simplicity often predicates success for stompy decks, and nothing screams simplicity like an entirely colorless deck. The wave-making Pro Tour decklists ran with this principle to great effect, hogging the camera for the entire event. Staying colorless has a few benefits over splashing, primarily in the creature department.
Oath of the Gatewatch doesn't stop at Reshaper, Seer, and Smasher when it comes to incredible Eldrazi.
Eldrazi Mimic: I went over Mimic's downsides above, but the card still fronts more early aggression than any other option in Eldrazi decks. In highly linear metagames, Mimic races like nothing else.
Endbringer: While Mimic loves linear metas, Endbringer dominates interactive ones. We haven't seen much of Endbringer yet, but I think this card is the future of Colorless Eldrazi. It literally does everything. Think of it as an Eldrazi planeswalker. Endbringer crashes in for five with pseudo-vigilance, draws up to two cards per turn, and shoots enemy Mimics, Glistener Elves, Blinkmoth Nexi, Signal Pests... you name it. It even gives the deck reach since it can tap to ping the face, providing an out to Ensnaring Bridge and Ghostly Prison locks.
Eldrazi Temple conveniently activates Endbringer's draw ability for cheap. A bomb in the mirror and against the Crumble to Dust-backed midrange decks taking form to combat more aggressive Eldrazi variants.
The creatures above can be argued for or against depending on the metagame. But Modern’s storied history makes it hard to disparage the inclusion of flying manlands in a colorless deck.
Blinkmoth Nexus: Our preferred colorless manland. Aggressive decks love reach, and in Modern, flying is pretty close. Blinkmoth frequently gets in under Ensnaring Bridge, flies over the mirror, and trades with Vendilion Clique and Insectile Aberration on defense.
Mutavault: The next best manland, Mutavault brings twice the pressure of a Blinkmoth on an empty board, and trades with attackers like Goblin Guide in a pinch. It's even a Blinkmoth itself, allowing other manlands to give it a pump on offense or defense.
Limited Sideboard Options
Playing colorless doesn't reward us in the sideboard, lacking the land destruction, life gain, recursion, and board wipes of black. Still, the Modern card pool contains plenty of colorless tools:
Marrow Shards: A Phyrexian-mana sleeper that addresses some of Eldrazi's troublesome matchups: fast, linear aggro decks that go wide. Mono-red Goblins, Elves, and Young Pyromancer decks can all pose problems for Colorless Eldrazi, which can't Pyroclasm. Shards toasts a flock of Lingering Souls tokens, an aerial assault from Affinity, or just a lone, smug Vendilion Clique. It's also phenomenal against UR Eldrazi, killing Skyspawners, Scions, and untriggered Mimics.
Relic of Progenitus: Graveyard strategies, notably Grishoalbrand, can be tough for Eldrazi to interact with. Relic shuts them right down and cycles when we're through with it. A massive stick in the spokes of graveyard value decks like Temur Delver and Blue Moon.
Ratchet Bomb: Along with Spellskite, Bomb is one of the two interactive tech choices featured in the mainboard of PT OGW's Colorless Eldrazi decks. It destroys difficult to remove permanents like Blood Moon and Ensnaring Bridge and keeps aggro from overcommitting.
Sun Droplet: When it comes down early, Droplet eventually negates each attack aggro opponents get in before we neutralize the board. In multiples, the card actually nets us life. Relatively worthless later on.
Damping Matrix: The poor man's Stony Silence. Unfortunately doesn't touch Affinity's mana, but still shuts off Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, and Steel Overseer. Also deals with Aether Vial, Oblivion Stone, and Viscera Seer effects.
Oblivion Sower: A top-end fallback for grindy matchups that over-performs in the mirror.
Splashing black means cutting manlands for Swamps, and playing all the Urborgs. In return, we get a competent sideboard suite, advantages vs. other Eldrazi decks, and Modern's best planeswalker.
Black is traditionally synonymous with creature removal, but the color's options ironically pale in Modern to those in white or even red. We can't really run Thoughtseize alongside Chalice of the Void, either. That means the interaction we gain from splashing black mostly comes from the sideboard, but Liliana of the Veil may be powerful enough on her own to earn the splash. Liliana interacts very efficiently with goodstuff aggro-control decks, including Jund, Temur Delver, and even Colorless Eldrazi - especially Endbringer builds. She chews through the hands of control opponents and often removes two threats otherwise.
Dynamic Sideboard Options
Eldrazi pilots can access some fantastic sideboard cards by splashing black. Among them:
Fulminator Mage: The longstanding champion of Modern land destruction. Mage blows holes in the mirror, slows down combo, and holds his own against various midrange strategies. Perhaps worthy of the mainboard, depending how the meta takes form.
Flaying Tendrils: Wipes the board of smaller creatures and an Abzan Company opponent's face of a confident grin.
Slaughter Pact: Surprise, nearly-unconditional removal that dodges Chalice.
Whip of Erebos: A trump in grindy matchups or against damage-based aggro decks.
Adaptability and the Future
The wealth of choices afforded to Eldrazi decks makes me feel like they can take on anything. If players turn to fast, wide strategies to combat the boogeyman, we can always count on Marrow Shards. If Delver surfaces to police us, Liliana of the Veil has them in for a rude awakening. And should Blue Moon start popping up in droves, Cavern of Souls and Oblivion Sower wait in the wings. Beefy curve toppers like Endbringer overpower the mirror, and faster critters like Eldrazi Mimic can get under inevitability decks like Tron.
Regardless of whether Eye of Ugin is broken beyond policing, Eldrazi decks have enough options at their tentacle-tips to passably adapt to anything, and definitely won't go away in the next couple of months. "CRUNCH!"