Some play Magic to win, and others play to have fun. Most players move up and down the spike scale depending on context---the casual nature of certain tournaments provides a perfect backdrop to test wacky ideas. With this principle in mind, I good-naturedly brought a neutered Eldrazi deck to FNM last week that splashed blue and green for playsets of Tarmogoyf, Ancient Stirrings, and Ancestral Vision. I also threw a Gut Shot into the main because mise.
Despite losing horribly, the deck taught me a few interesting lessons. First, in many games, Tarmogoyf is practically an Eldrazi. In others he's even better. Second, Eldrazi Temple is still busted. To those convinced that Eldrazi is "dead" post-ban, just remember one thing: what dies grows the Tarmogoyf.
I spent the following few days marrying Goyf to Eldrazi shells. My first order of business was to cut the blue for Goyf's favorite color: red. Lightning Bolt not only keeps us alive long enough to deploy massive beaters, it turns Goyf into an honorary Eldrazi faster than anything. Well, faster than anything besides a tribal Lightning Bolt. Here's what I ended up with:
TarmoDrazi is best understood split into parts. It combines the Eldrazi core with green and red splashes.
The Eldrazi Core
Eldrazi Mimic, Endless One, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher formed the 16-card creature core present in nearly all Eldrazi decks from last season. GR variants often exchanged Mimic for the Kozilek's Return-proof Matter Reshaper, but the other creatures seemed sacred to the archetype.
Without Eye of Ugin around, Eldrazi Mimic and Endless One plummet in value. Gone are the blistering starts of double or triple Mimic into a 4/4 or 5/5, and Endless One's miraculous curve-fixing on the road to Reality Smasher mana. With those two cards relegated to the flex spot bin, we've got plenty of space to work with as we craft a new Eldrazi deck.
Matter Reshaper: Reshaper merits new attention with Eye gone, as it at least trades with every one- and two-mana threat in the format barring Tarmogoyf and triggers an improved Coiling Oracle effect on death.
Spellskite: Versatile hate cards can also make their way back into the mainboard. We saw Skite and Ratchet Bomb in the colorless lists from Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, but these interactive pieces stayed in the sideboard after the tournament, as Eldrazi players began gravitating towards hyper-linear UW builds.
Chalice of the Void: Another possible option to fill in for expired core components is Chalice of the Void, but I've omitted the artifact from this list. GR really aren't the colors for Chalice, since some of the best reasons to go into them (e.g. Ancient Stirrings and Lightning Bolt) cost one mana. Chalice is an undoubtedly powerful Modern card, and I'd be surprised if we don't see an Eldrazi deck surface that abuses it. But TarmoDrazi isn't the place.
I mentioned a lull in our curve-fixing options left by Endless One. Green cards do a fine job plugging that hole.
Tarmogoyf: I'm beginning to think Tarmogoyf was an Eldrazi all along. The creature has always defined Modern, serving as the format yardstick for raw efficiency and bulk: a cheap, huge, hard-to-remove threat that excelled at offense and defense. Sound familiar? The reason Eldrazi.dec was so good pre-ban is that it got to play 12 Tarmogoyfs, most of which had icing-on-the-cake abilities. Without Eye of Ugin, Endless One is no longer a "Tarmogoyf," as we can't cast him off Eye plus Urborg for four. But we can still play 12 Tarmogoyfs by dipping into green for the real thing. Goyf even inhabits the same place on the curve, coming down on turn two in lieu of a Temple. And since we're playing type-heavy cards like Tarfire and Spellskite to turn on Traverse the Ulvenwald, Goyf frequently outgrows his Eldrazi mentors by the midgame.
Goyf's main benefit in the post-ban Eldrazi deck is the amount he helps us curve out. Running him gives us enough curving options that we almost always have something to do with our mana. Some example curves go like this (asterisks indicate the number of Eldrazi Temples necessary for a play):
As with OG Eldrazi, these curves boast interaction starting from turn one and make proactive plays nearly as good as those of Modern's linear decks.
- Grow turn-two Tarmogoyf past Bolt with a Wooded Foothills.
- Find Eldrazi Temple for turn two Reshaper/turn three TKS/turn four Smasher.
- Find an Eldrazi to compliment our in-hand Temple.
- Find Cavern of Souls against Cockatrice's sea of Ancestral Vision decks.
- Help turn on delirium.
It was difficult for me to wrap my head around the power of this green cantrip until I tried it. Stirrings remains relevant throughout a game and thus far has never whiffed.
Traverse the Ulvenwald: When I decided to splash red over blue, it occurred to me that delirium wouldn’t be that hard to turn on. A few Tarfires later and my dream of mashing every Tarmogoyf deck together became a reality.
Traverse has two very obvious jobs in this deck, and one bonus position. Early on, it finds a basic land to ensure we hit our land drops or can rush out a 2/3, Bolt-proof Tarmogoyf. Once we’ve hit delirium, it finds whatever threat we want---generally Reality Smasher, but sometimes bullets like World Breaker---or Cavern of Souls to push them through. Traverse’s extra mode reads, "delirium: Sol Ring." Delirium sometimes turns on very quickly in this deck. Consider this opening:
I’ve also had opponents accidentally turn delirium on as early as turn two, when they Terminate my Spellskite or something. That means I’m free to Traverse for a Temple and play a huge Eldrazi on turn three while enjoying a mana advantage for the rest of the game.
World Breaker: Breaker is less of a curve-topper and more of a bullet in this list. We can search it with Traverse to remove a problematic artifact or enchantment, and against attrition decks missing Path to Exile, it's an impossible-to-remove threat. Breaker might prove unnecessary in the mainboard with more testing, since it's all but dead against Modern’s more aggressive decks. But so far, I’ve liked having access to a single copy before boarding into Reclamation Sage.
TarmoDrazi’s red spells allow us to cheaply interact with opponents while enabling our graveyard-reliant cards as efficiently as possible.
Lightning Bolt: Goyf loves his Bolts, and so do I. As Sheridan’s recent metagame snapshot reveals, Lightning Bolt is still king among interactive spells in an Eyeless Modern. That said, I’ve only included two here, shaving its numbers for the more on-plan Tarfire.
Tarfire: My love for this card knows no bounds. I found early in testing that the creatures I wanted to kill rarely had three whole points of toughness, and that I needed to turn on Traverse the Ulvenwald faster to get the most out of it. I initially tried a split between Tarfire and Seal of Fire to maximize my Goyfs, but Tarfire’s double typing has so much synergy with Traverse the Ulvenwald that I ended up cutting Seal entirely. Tarfire stops Delvers and Cliques from flying over us to victory, puts Infect and Burn on hold long enough for Thought-Knot to disrupt them beyond repair, and greatly improves our Goyf clock against linear combo decks.
Dismember: Okay, so this card isn't red. But it falls in line with both Bolt and Tarfire when it comes to function. I started with four Dismembers, then cut back to three and two as I added other interactive options. Dismember kills things deader than Bolt, but the four-life cost becomes very steep after we've activated one. Still, the card is too unconditional to omit.
The Eye of Ugin ban hit Eldrazi decks square in the manabase, so I think it’s important to talk explicitly about the lands in this deck. With eight green cantrips, and the set of Serum Powder to help us ramp, we can afford to run a miserly 22.
4 Karplusan Forest: Essentially tri-lands in Eldrazi decks, painlands compliment the strategy perfectly. I originally tested Grove of the Burnwillows in this spot, but didn’t like having to attack with Reality Smasher another time to finish the game. The damage from Karplusan has been less relevant for me than the life gain from Grove. Especially in aggressive decks containing reach, like ours, it’s important not to give opponents life points.
2 Cavern of Souls: When I tried Traverse in the deck, I cut back to a single Cavern, knowing I could just search it up as needed. The problem with this thinking is that we never want to search for Cavern---we want to draw it naturally. We'd much rather spend those Traverses on uncounterable Reality Smashers. Cavern gives us huge game against Mana Leak decks, which struggle immensely to deal with Smasher outside of the stack.
1 Sea Gate Wreckage: One copy of Wreckage is testing the best. When things stall out, having access to a source of recurring card advantage is gamebreaking. I especially like Sea Gate with Eldrazi Temple, since we can tap more than half of our lands and still be able to play the fatty we draw.
1 Ghost Quarter: Quarter isn’t here as a bullet, although I guess at one copy that’s what it’s become. I started with a set of Quarters before picking up Traverse, and have cut back to a single copy after shaving numbers for lands I needed more. I still like the one copy and would play more if space allowed.
1 Wastes: A colorless source we can search with Traverse. Especially relevant when we board in Magus of the Moon, since we can cast him with just a Forest and take solace in the fact that our deck contains nine colorless sources to draw into.
4 Serum Powder: Powder taps for mana, sure, but it compliments the manabase in another way by finding us mana-efficient hands. Setting up a slow hand with Ancient Stirrings and Traverse the Ulvenwald can cost us both mana and time. The free mulligans from Serum Powder are even more relevant in a format that only lets us run four Sol lands, since finding one is paramount to explosive openings. Tarmogoyf can only pull so much weight in the other direction when we don't have a Temple handy.
Powder also improves our post-board games. It helps aggressively mulligan into hosers like Kozilek's Return or Feed the Clan, and makes sure we have hands quick enough to deal with Modern's linear decks. Against slower interactive decks, we can safely board out Powder for "real" cards, since we're guaranteed a longer game that gives us time to make our land drops.
A Not-So-Horrible Future
Early-stage testing with TarmoDrazi shows that the deck has real promise, but I won’t take all the credit. I can attribute much of my success to the crazy power of Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf, and Thought-Knot Seer. I’m also unsure whether TarmoDrazi will end up being the best Eldrazi deck---and mark my words, there will be a best Eldrazi deck. Modern hasn’t seen the last of Reality Smasher. Eldrazitron variants seem to have lost the least oomph from the Eye banning and are likely here to stay. There could also be hope for a black version combining Liliana of the Veil, Chalice of the Void, and Sea Gate Wreckage.
Regardless what the future holds for Eldrazi, this build does everything I could ask of a Modern deck, and I’ll continue testing it as the format develops. Sorry, Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration. At least for now, my heart lies with another breed of efficient beaters.