By now, we’ve all rejoiced at the Eye of Ugin banning and rejoiced even harder at Wizards’ reparations. It seems the banlist moderators understand that actions speak louder than words, so instead of issuing a plodding “we messed up!”, they actually gave us some new toys. Apology accepted!
Readers know I’ve spent some fine afternoons in the hot tub with Thought-Knot Seer, but the Eye ban came as good news to me, too. The Eldrazi deck all but solved itself in Louisville, and for me, the deck’s appeal counted on its brewing possibilities. Now, building a viable Eldrazi deck is actually challenging. In this article, I’ll unveil my new Colorless Eldrazi Stompy build and explore some ideas for blue-based decks running Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek.
The Fun-Banned Police
Not every card on Modern's banned list is "broken." Even the more busted ones have natural checks, and could potentially be okay in a format that grew around them (operative term: potentially). Trevor already described the implications of Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek in Modern, so I’ll mostly focus on integrating them into deck skeletons today. But first, I want to mention a few Modern cards that interact very well with the format’s new toys. I'll only consider cards that do something other than beat Modern's recently unbanned cards; you won't get any Nix discussion from me!
Spellstutter Sprite: Even if it gets Bolted, Sprite will counter an Ancestral Vision. Michael Majors has already written about Visions-powered Faeries in the new metagame, and this interaction alone is a great reason to try it out.
Imp's Mischief: Redirects Bolts, Decays, Thoughtseizes… and now, Ancestral Recalls! Mischief might see sideboard play as a trump in the Ancestral Vision mirror. Resolving it against the card once should secure quite a lead.
Ricochet Trap: Similarly, Ricochet Trap changes the target of Vision to the caster’s opponent. Control decks should be especially wary of this card against Living End, and should Vision decks explode onto the scene, even aggressive decks might start playing it.
Invasive Surgery: One of my favorite cards from Shadows over Innistrad. I wasn’t sure Surgery would prove good enough for Modern, but with Ancestral Vision and Traverse the Ulvenwald entering the format at the same time, it’s at least worth considering alongside Dispel.
Night of Soul's Betrayal: We’ve seen this card used to combat Splinter Twin, BW Tokens, and x/1 decks like Infect and Abzan Company. Now, it stands to gain relevance even against control decks. With Night on the battlefield, the Thopter combo gains life, but doesn’t generate any bodies.
Illness in the Ranks: A far cheaper and more specific counter to the combo. Affinity has played this card in the past and I don’t doubt they’ll return to it should Thopter/Sword pick up steam.
Izzet Staticaster: Traverse-searchable, and in competitive colors. Staticaster might have to activate every turn and dodge a few removal spells, but he outshines Pyroclasm at keeping the field clear of Thopters.
Kolaghan's Command: A major player in pre-Eldrazi Modern, Kommand should make a big comeback with Thopter/Sword around.
Surgical Extraction: Grishoalbrand hate that happens to disrupt Abzan Company’s infinite life combo, and now control’s new potential win condition.
Rest in Peace: The best grave-hate card in Modern. Singlehandedly cripples so many decks, and prevents Sword from ever returning to the battlefield.
Eldrazi on Life Support
On to the decklists. First thing's first: we've got to fix Eldrazi Stompy. This ultra-sweet deck ended up an unfortunate casualty of Wizards' refusal to test for Modern, but I think it can still survive in some form. Turn one Chalice of the Void is simply too good to pass up against a lot of the format. Chalice can even pre-emptively counter a suspended Ancestral Vision for zero... yum!
A husk of its former self, sure. But Eldrazi Stompy nonetheless. I've debated the card's inclusion before, but since the Eye of Ugin ban, Serum Powder becomes an absolute necessity in this deck. If we don't find an early Sol land (of which we now play only four, not eight), we effectively are playing a worse version of just about every midrange deck in Modern. Same deal with Simian Spirit Guide - we simply can't afford not to play this guy anymore. Eldrazi is too slow without it. That pushes the archetype into two directions: the more controlling GR version with mana rocks, Kozilek's Return, and World Breaker, and the aggressive Chalice version, featured here. I don't think UW will survive without Eye of Ugin fueling explosive Skyspawner plays.
Between the set of Temples, four Spirit Guides, and Serum Powder, Eldrazi Stompy can still resolve turn two Thought-Knot Seer with some frequency. But the loss of Eye means the loss of Eldrazi Mimic, and with that card, our explosive aggro starts.
As a result, this version of Eldrazi Stompy plays a longer game right out of the gate. Endless One can be a great topdeck while flooding or put beefy pressure on opponents if we open the right lands, but it's no longer reliable enough to play at four. Thanks to the Eye and Urborg interaction, Endless One was a dream curve-fixer before, and now mostly plays "fairly:" come down for as much mana as we have. Considering Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, and Oblivion Sower all benefit from improved stats or abilities for the same X cost, that makes our Ugin-less Endless Ones pretty unexciting. But I like that he can come down at any point in the game, so it's one for now.
More midrange also implies more interaction. My older versions of the deck excluded Ratchet Bomb and Spellskite from the mainboard, as I preferred to run Serum Powder and maximize my chances of an explosive hand. (A bit too late, I realized that if I desired explosive aggression over efficient interaction, I should have just played UW Eldrazi.) With Eldrazi Mimic out of the picture, though, I’m happy to include these cards alongside my Dismembers. Bomb removes problematic permanents like Ensnaring Bridge and Blood Moon, while Spellskite shuts down soup-em-up decks like Infect and Bogles while safeguarding our marquee threats.
Finally, a slower plan allows us to run more costly threats. Oblivion Sower is my mainboard fatty of choice, powering up Sea Gate Wreckage and allowing us to cast multiple expensive creatures in a turn. I've included an Ulamog in the sideboard for help against grindier decks, and Sower is crucial to hitting ten mana.
That brings us to the deck’s deepest change. In my previous versions of Eldrazi Stompy, Sea Gate Wreckage showed a lot of promise as a mini-Eye of Ugin, netting me cards before I had seven mana to activate the Eye with. Unfortunately, games often ended before I could get any value from it, or I would hit seven mana before I wanted to use the Wreckage. In this deck, I’ve replaced Eye with Wreckage, running the full four copies to ensure we hit one by the time we’re out of cards.
Obviously, Eye is much better; searching for specific Eldrazi trumps drawing random cards, and Sea Gate doesn't pump out monsters any faster than Wastes. But hey, we can't have everything (anymore). Wreckage still does a decent job of securing the late-game. Interestingly, it stacks, so multiple copies are far from dead. The worst thing about Wreckage is that drawing multiple lands in a turn prevents us from keeping the engine going, since we can only play one land per turn. The next version of Eldrazi Stompy I’ll test will return to black for Liliana of the Veil, who solves this problem by discarding extra lands to the graveyard.
Rally the Ancestrals
We know Ancestral Vision slots into existing blue midrange strategies pretty handily; Jeskai, UW, and UR can all expect a boost from this card. I’m more interested in its applications for rarer color combinations. In Eat My Dust: Blowing Smoke With BUG Faeries, we discussed Sultai’s limitations in Modern. Vision’s card advantage should at least make the shard playable in the format, even if the deck ends up a worse version of something with Lightning Bolt.
This deck is more of a blue BGx deck than a green UBx one. Jund's and Abzan’s famous disruptive package of Inquisition of Kozilek, Abrupt Decay, Liliana of the Veil, and Tarmogoyf forges the deck’s backbone, while Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, Serum Visions, and Ancestral Vision give it the digging faculties needed to play a slew of one-off bullets and out-grind control strategies. In exchange for this added late-game power, Sultai loses out on Jund's early interaction capabilities from Lightning Bolt. All it misses from Abzan is Lingering Souls and Siege Rhino, which I’m pretty confident are just worse than our blue cards at this point.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound gets the nod here over the full Snapcaster Mage playset, since we primarily operate at sorcery speed. I don’t really buy the notion that Jace is incompatible with Ancestral Vision. Between Serum Visions, Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize effects, and various removal spells, we’re bound to have juicy targets for his -3 regardless, and the play style Jace encourages meshes with the kind of deck that wants to play Ancestral Vision anyway. In this deck, the flip-walker loots past extra lands, grows Tarmogoyf at instant speed, and fuels Tasigur and Ooze. He also cycles through “dead” copies of Ancestral Vision in soon-to-end midgames, and forces opponents to keep their Lightning Bolts in against us for Games 2 and 3.
On to the bullets. Snapcaster Mage is a nice surprise card we can dig for, but I don’t think this deck can truly abuse a set of him. Since we primarily cast spells on our own turn, flash is mostly just relevant for combat tricks. Scavenging Ooze can take over grindy games and is a trump in the Goyf mirror. Kalitas helps stabilize against aggressive decks, and Tasigur helps stabilize against everyone. These bullets mostly serve as a starting point. Sultai colors have plenty of options in these slots, and depending how the meta shapes up, I can also envision Vendilion Clique or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver making the cut.
I think Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound works best with a spattering of different removal options, explaining the Dismember/Murderous Cut/Sultai Charm/Abrupt Decay split. Go for the Throat, Darkblast, and Disfigure might also have homes here, but it’s still too early to tell what the best removal spells will be in these colors. Again, our interactive choices depend on the decks that show up in the coming metagame.
Lastly, I really like our ability to play Creeping Tar Pit. Other UGx shells might favor Lumbering Falls, but as long as we’re in black, I think Tar Pit is the best manland for an attrition strategy. It overcomes board stalls to hit for a never-negligible three points every turn.
Once in a...
Blue Moon had a decent on-camera showing at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, until the Channel Fireball Eldrazi deck gobbled up al the coverage. We haven’t heard much about the Batterskull-toting control figurehead since then, but Ancestral Vision should change things. Blue Moon also seems well-equipped to splash the recently unbanned Thopter-Sword combo.
Like most control-oriented midrange decks, we boast a fairly compact threat suite. Batterskull, Keranos, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and Vedalken Shackles are our dedicated beaters, and the Thopter-Sword combo sits on top of them for good measure. Pia and Kiran can decimate developing boards in small-creature aggro decks like Abzan Company or Infect, and provides at least four power on their own. Even without Foundry, a Thopter made by Chandra’s parents returns Sword of the Meek from the graveyard to the battlefield and makes a 2/3 flying creature, which trades with a Plating-equipped Ornithopter. I originally tried Stormbreath Dragon in this deck, but settled on Pia and Kiran instead because of their immense versatility.
This version of Blue Moon relies heavily on artifacts. Academy Ruins revives more than half of our threats should opponents find answers to them. We can also cycle artifacts away with Thirst for Knowledge, a big draw to packing Thopter-Sword in any blue midrange deck. Thirst is a card so efficient it was once restricted in Vintage, and it simply reads “Draw 3 cards” if we discard Sword of the Meek, which we want to have in the graveyard anyway. Remand also meshes well with Thirst for Knowledge. If we’re holding up mana to counter spells, we can capitalize on the tempo gained from opponents not trying anything by tapping out on their end step to reload. Another artifact I've included is Talisman of Progress, whose presence allows us to drop an early Moon and lock ourselves out of white, but still resolve Thopter Foundry later. Extra Talismen make terrific Thirst food.
I've also opted for a pair of Thought Scour. Scour makes our graveyard into Snapcaster Mage’s ultimate playhouse, giving him nearly endless targets. It also enables graveyard eaters like Grim Lavamancer in the sideboard, and messes up enemy scry, which should be relevant if a lot of decks start playing Ancestral Vision. Dumping Sword of the Meek with Thought Scour is our best-case scenario, since Scour then becomes a draw two for blue, at once cantripping and binning the equipment for later use.
Before we wrap up, I’ll address the elephant in the room: this Jeskai-colored deck plays zero white spells in the mainboard! New metagames usually signal brief periods of hyper-linearity, and Blood Moon preys on the greedy strategies players opt for. Dipping too far into white compromises our ability to run the hoser effectively. On the other hand, with decks like Burn and blue anything surely in our immediate future, we don't want to play too many copies mainboard. I plan on sticking a third in the sideboard for now, and adjusting as the metagame shifts. As for the white cards, Path to Exile seems like our strongest option, but it butts heads with Blood Moon. I'd rather keep the splash as minimal as possible, just to enable Thopter-Sword. We can run powerful white cards in the sideboard, including Lightning Helix and Leyline of Sanctity.
Wreckage No More
I haven’t played much Magic since GP Detroit, and that’s entirely because of the state of the format. Luckily, the trash can that was Modern is now a brewer’s paradise again. I look forward to seeing the waves made by Vision and Sword decks, and adapting my Delver builds to take on the new challengers. Hopefully, so do you!