For better or for worse, the events of tomorrow will forever go down in history. Children will be told tales of the weekend’s events; be they whispered over a smoldering fire in some remote cave, or trumpeted from the ramparts of some lofty castle. Eldrazi, or the Allies? The delicate fate of our very existence hangs in the balance, and the war for our future will be fought on three battlefields. Detroit. Melbourne. Bologna.
I know not what the future will hold, but by looking at the past we can anticipate the results, or at least be forewarned of our coming doom. Let’s get started.
The First 30 Days
February 8, 2016. The Day After Judgement Day
Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.
February 7, 2016. Judgment Day.
There we go.
- Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch Top 8
- Winner: Eldrazi
- Finals: Eldrazi vs. Eldrazi
- Top 8
- 3 Colorless Eldrazi
- 2 U/R Eldrazi
- 1 Processor Eldrazi
- 2 Affinity
From a dozen evil geniuses, Eldrazi was born. Atlanta was Ground Zero. Epics and tales aplenty have been written already on this event, but it’s worth looking back to see where we’ve been. Six Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 was seen as a harbinger of things to come, the genesis of the End of the World as we knew it. While a 75% single-archetype Top 8 doesn’t make for a “normal” baseline, it’s worth remembering how “bad” things have been when viewing present/future results. Often, when we’re tentatively looking at results through the lens of “Eldrazi is busted” even relatively normal results can seem disproportionate. One Eldrazi deck in the finals, win or lose, is just “expected”. Three Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 is “evidence”.
For reference, post Pro Tour OGW discussion went something like this:
Well at least the bans made the format more diverse ;p
— [Tempo] PVDDR (@PVDDR) February 6, 2016
— Jeff Hoogland (@JeffHoogland) February 10, 2016
Most of the discussion leading up to this weekend's events have similar. Those not playing are scoffing at those that are; patronizing them for wasting both time and money fighting the Eldrazi menace. Those who are playing are toe-ing the water hesitantly, or worse, slowly trudging towards the chopping block, certain of their fate. If the results of the Pro Tour are to be trusted, then the future is all but certain; Eldrazi, or death.
February 20, 2016. The Louisvile Slugfest
- SCG Louisville Open Top 8
- Winner: Affinity
- Finals: Affinity vs. Eldrazi
- Top 8
- 2 U/W Eldrazi
- 1 U/R Eldrazi
- 1 R/G Eldrazi
- 2 Affinity
- 1 Kiki-Chord
- 1 Merfolk
The results of PT OGW *could* have been explained away with the “destroyed an unprepared field” narrative. Then, SCG Louisville seemingly put the nail in the coffin for naysayers. Two weeks to prepare, and another Top 8 with at least 50% Eldrazi decks? Past that, 6 more Eldrazi decks in the Top 16? A full 10 out of 16 lists are Eldrazi!? Run for your *#)$* lives!
Still, there are some lessons to learn from Louisville. For one, Eldrazi didn’t win. That honor belongs to Affinity, with a couple notable characteristics.
Most of the unique inclusions here are not new technology, and have been played before based on metagame factors/personal preference. Eldrazi’s presence in the metagame does put some pressure on the Affinity pilot to make a few changes, which we can see here. For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of Affinity deckbuilding, it’s normally a good idea to pull up some “stock” list to more quickly detect variations. Here, catch!
Affinity often chooses between Thoughtcast and Galvanic Blast, depending on where the metagame lies on the linear-midrange spectrum. Obviously Galvanic Blast is best when you want to slow down Infect/Burn, kill a troublesome creature, or finish off combo before their pivotal turn. Thoughtcast, on the other hand, is best when you need to power through disruption, fight midrange, and out-card removal spells. Eldrazi is, at its core, a high-powered, linear, aggressive deck with disruptive and combo elements. One-mana removal that kills almost everything is an excellent form of disruption.
Moving forward down this line, we see two Dispatches in addition to the playset of Galvanic Blasts. A Path to Exile with no drawbacks, we can be sure to almost always have metalcraft in every matchup, especially against an opponent with limited ways to clear the board.
Some specific things to note are the reduction of Etched Champion (poor against devoid creatures) and the inclusion of Master of Etherium (pseudo-haste the turn it comes down, and punishes opponents with limited removal). Also, Ensnaring Bridge in the sideboard is excellent, albeit slightly one-dimensional. We’ll often have our hand on the board by turn three, we can attack under it with Signal Pest tricks and Cranial Plating swaps after attackers are declared, and we can even go the Lantern Control route with Ghirapur Aether Grid. Unfortunately, opponents will be more likely to remove the Bridge as they’ll have Ancient Grudge and the like for us already, but the matches where we want this (linear semi-mirrors) will often see opponents with a minimal amount of interaction. Eldrazi and Burn can’t get rid of everything.
February 28, 2016. Classic Modern in Philly
- SCG Philadelphia Classic Top 8
- Winner: Jund
- Finals: Jund vs. Eldrazi
- Top 8
- 2 U/W Eldrazi
- 1 Jund
- 1 Burn
- 1 Storm
- 1 Abzan Company
- 1 Blue Moon
- 1 Living End
Fast forward a week, and we’re seeing the story start to change. Yes, Eldrazi (specifically, U/W Eldrazi) is still the most represented deck in the Top 8. Yes, Eldrazi archetypes are still collectively putting up 40% metagame shares on MTGO. However, we’re also seeing evidence that Eldrazi can be beaten. We can never view one weekend’s events out of context and attempt to claim everything is “fine” (nor should we) just like we can’t look at one weekend’s events and demand an immediate ban. Step back from bias and look at SCG Philadelphia analytically, and take what you can from it. Maybe it’s a precursor for this weekend’s events. Maybe it’s a flash-in-the-pan. We won’t know until this weekend, but what we can know now is some tools to beat Eldrazi. We’ve already seen what Affinity can do (and Grixis Control!). How about... Storm!?
So, look, Storm is Storm. Either you love it or you hate it, it doesn’t really change much. If our opponents are busy casting things like Drowner of Hope and removal spells for Drowner of Hope, then Pyromancer Ascension is definitely where I want to be. Thought-Knot Seer is still annoying, but this deck still had to fight Thoughtseize and we saw it from time to time, and Pyromancer Ascension gets to come down before Seer in most situations. Besides, we’re cantripping so much anyway that Thought-Knot is really only taking a ritual, Serum Visions or something expendable, which is nowhere near as bad as turn one Thoughtseize taking a Pyromancer Ascension.
With Jund winning this event, I would be a little more hesitant than normal to attempt running-back Storm, as Thoughtseize/Abrupt Decay is definitely something I don't want to face. Thought-Knot Seer by itself isn't that scary, but if we're expecting a lot of discard this weekend then Pyromancer Ascension is not really where I want to be.
Comin’ atcha. Here we see a deck built to systematically destroy anyone looking to attack with creatures. Tarmogoyf wins heads up versus any non Reality Smasher monsters (Relic of Progenitus cases aside), and Liliana of the Veil is our three-mana win condition. Playing with Liliana of the Veil in Grixis Control showed me how potent it can be against Eldrazi’s plan of attack. For one, we kill Reality Smasher with no drawback, and can spend a “non-Terminate” removal spell to kill a “Terminate-only” creature (read: something bigger than x/3) while leaving a threat behind in the form of repeated discard/sacrifice effects.
However, Eldrazi comes prepared to fight Liliana of the Veil with the manlands Mutavault and Blinkmoth Nexus. Often, Jund’s best plan is to Bolt/discard on turn one, kill something on turn two, and play Liliana of the Veil/kill something on turn three. Unfortunately, when a Mutavault is waiting in the wings, that plan is a lot less potent. In Grixis, I’ve had success playing Liliana of the Veil later, even if it means just playing a Kolaghan's Command on curve to have something to do.
Reid Duke debuted Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet back at Pro Tour Oath, and we still see it here today. I’m warming up to the card. Readers in the comments of my article last week suggested Kalitas as a nice addition when we’re on the attrition/removal plan, so it’s no surprise to see it here in Jund. Goblin Dark-Dwellers might not have a place in Grixis (or it might: just my opinion) but Jund doesn’t have access to Snapcaster Mage, making it a lot easier for me to get behind here.
Jund has always fared poorly against Tron-style strategies, and we see it benefiting once again from big mana being pushed out of the metagame. Tron has all but disappeared in the face of so many Spreading Seas and Blood Moons, and it seems we can draw parallels to pre-Eldrazi SCG Charlotte Jund as a result. Without having to fight Tron, Jund can start trimming on Fulminator Mages/Crumble to Dusts in favor of extra help for Burn and Affinity. Two Obstinate Baloth, Thragtusk, and a Kitchen Finks make up for the move away from Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells in the main, and this list looks to be as fine as it always was against those matchups.
Also, maindeck Damnation.
Just saying 🙂
Some more SCG Philadelphia quick hits:
- With U/W Eldrazi moving away from Relic of Progenitus, we are starting to see decks like Living End creep back into the fold. Something to keep in mind, and more reason to play a singleton Tasigur, the Golden Fang in Jund.
- Play Tasigur, the Golden Fang in Jund! Yes, I know I’m biased towards that card; after all, I just advocated moving back to it in Grixis Control. Still, playing a one mana 4/5 on turn five in addition to other spells is still awesome. BBB is hard to come by, but dropping a Tasigur alongside Liliana of the Veil is excellent at any stage of the game.
- Blue Moon is intriguing, but I still find it a little underpowered. Since the debut of this deck, the power level of Modern has gone up, not down, which by itself isn't necessarily an indicator of archetype viability, but it is still something to keep in mind. We’re trading Celestial Colonnade, Path to Exile, Restoration Angel and white sideboard spells for Blood Moon in the main and more consistent mana? Still, it made Top 8, so I might be undervaluing Blood Moon. I have to imagine this deck falls apart if we see an uptick in Kolaghan's Command (for Batterskull) or Relic of Progenitus again. All those underpowered removal spells and counterspells really rely on Snapcaster Mage to keep up.
A holdover from last week:
You’re giving us SCG Classic Info and calling it Gold? ANYONE can win an SCG Classic!
I almost didn’t include this because to do so would give this argument weight. Any event with a cut to Top 8 is worth some discussion. IQs are on the edge, because we have no way of knowing if the event had 8 players or 40, but Classics are still relatively high-level in my opinion. Philadelphia even had 194 players! It’s not a question of lowering our bar, and it’s not about “taking what you can get”. Even though this isn’t Standard and it’s true we don’t have a high level event every weekend to analyze, that doesn’t make non-GP and Open events less worthy.
If I were fighting for the future of my children this weekend, I would be playing Jund. Yes, it won the last event, but that’s not why I’m playing it. Jund has both the power and disruption to go toe-to-toe with Eldrazi, and can be customized to beat almost anything it puts its mind to. Without Big Mana and Splinter Twin running around, Jund can hone in on matchups that have traditionally be 45-55 or 55-45 and start developing a significant advantage.
For those not interested in playing Jund, hopefully I’ve shown that technology exists across the archetype spectrum. Yes, Eldrazi still has fast mana which isn’t fair. Because of this, we might see it banned in a month. Still, until that happens, I’ll be focusing on ways to beat it, and hopefully you find this type of content helpful. If not, I’ll gladly talk about my interests in lasercutting or how awesome The Division is going to be until then (add me on PS4! TheArchitect-ID).
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!
The_Architect on MTGO