Breaking Oaths: Brewing With Emrakul, the Promised End

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Finding ways to make an 8/9 has always been an integral part of my Modern experience. When the delirium mechanic was spoiled, I exploded with excitement. Growing Tarmogoyfs had become my entire life at that point, and having something else to do with an 8/9 Tarmogoyf was like discovering a new reason to live. But delirium only rewarded me for hitting 4/5. It seems someone at Wizards also enjoys growing 8/9 Goyfs. And that someone designed Emrakul, the Promised End.

oath of nissa art crop

Emrakul is definitely Modern-playable to some degree. At the very least, she should become a sideboard staple in Eldrazi decks, taking over for Ulamog, Kozilek, and World Breaker when it comes to stabilizer-killers. I can also see her making waves in Tron, which Sheridan's testing also supports. All week, I've tried integrating Emrakul into midrange decks other than Tron.


Accommodating the End

Emrakul the Promised EndTo effectively run Emrakul, the Promised End in Modern, a deck needs to:

  • Frequently go into the late-game. Emrakul costs 13 mana. 13! Even with a significant cost reduction (let's say, of four), she'll run pilots a large sum if they want that nuked Mindslaver effect. Decks must regularly enter the late-game to make use of this Eldrazi.
  • Not have something better to do in the late-game. UW Titan, a value midrange deck with top-end bombs like Elspeth, Sun's Champion, probably doesn't want Emrakul. It already has lots to do on turn six. I'm guessing Emrakul will replace or compliment certain late-games, such as Tron's or Eldrazi's; she seems like a better Ulamog in many scenarios, and a better World Breaker in others.
  • Have plenty of card types. That doesn't necessarily mean eight, although it might for me. I'm already in the business of breeding big Goyfs. Some players might feel comfortable casting Emrakul for no less than six or seven mana, and that's fine too. But it's crucial to recognize how much she'll usually cost, given the card types a deck runs and how effortlessly those cards make it to the graveyard.

All the decks I experimented with ran these cards:

I think this core is where it's at for Emrakul in non-Tron decks. Tarmogoyf plays nice with Bolt effects, and Tarfire grows him faster than anything in Modern while being the only playable tribal spell. Traverse keeps the Goyfs flowing, and lets us dig out our singleton copy of Emrakul once we accumulate enough mana and card types to cast her. It also allows us to play a creature toolbox.

Another card that found its way into each of my decks is Oath of Nissa, an enchantment that bins itself given multiple copies and adds consistency. Oath especially enhances decks with valuable lands like Eldrazi Temple, or decks with high creature counts. As such, I don't consider it a staple for non-Tron Emrakul decks.

The Promised End in TarmoDrazi

The first place I tried to stick the Promised End was TarmoDrazi. Here's a deck that already plays plenty of card types to turn on Traverse the Ulvenwald, makes lots of land drops in grindier matchups, and has Eldrazi Temple to reduce Emrakul's cost even further.

One thing I love about this build of TarmoDrazi is that it gets way ahead with an early Hierarch, but it's also fine with the dork getting Bolted. In fact, Hierarch eating removal is our main way of ensuring a creature in the graveyard for Traverse. Bolt stinks against every other creature in the deck, but Hierarch incentivizes opponents not to board it out.

I initially tried jamming three copies of Emrakul into the deck, realizing she could cost just six mana if I dumped enough cards into the graveyard. Unfortunately, the pieces for that scenario rarely came together. TarmoDrazi simply didn't have enough ways to Entomb all its card types fast enough for Emrakul to matter.

When I cut Emrakul down to one copy, she started to impress me. Traverse gives us a way to search the boss monster without having to worry about clogging. If we're in a position to cast Emrakul, we definitely have delirium turned on.

Mishras BaubleMishra's Bauble was originally Spellskite, and I bounced around between these choices frequently in my testing. In TarmoDrazi, I think Bauble might be preferable, since it turns on delirium faster. Achieving delirium quickly allows Traverse to ramp us by tutoring Eldrazi Temple. But I don't like the numbers so much---ideally, I could make room for a third Bauble in this deck to hit the artifact type more often.

On a similar note, the games I played didn't consistently find me with an enchantment in the graveyard. To get one there, I had to draw two copies of Oath of Nissa in a game. Combined with the low Bauble count, this issue sometimes made it tough to adequately reduce Emrakul's mana cost.

Splashing Blue

A light blue splash for Thought Scour greatly alleviated these issues. The splash isn't absurdly hard on the manabase, but it does turn TarmoDrazi into a sort of four-color deck (RUGC). The biggest drawback to splashing blue is we lose valuable space. With the added air, we have to cut Matter Reshaper, something that hurts our odds against attrition decks. Most importantly, Lightning Bolt gets the axe so the deck can focus on turning on delirium, casting huge creatures ahead of curve, and hitting Emrakul mana in the mid-game.

Another piece missing from this list is Ancient Stirrings. I'm not sure a RUGC version of TarmoDrazi has enough colorless cards to take full advantage of the cantrip. Besides, we have a superior option available in Serum Visions. This card doesn't see play in Bant Eldrazi, and in that deck, Stirrings is definitely better. But I think Visions' ability to dig for Traverse the Ulvenwald, removal, or countermagic gives it an edge in this build.

One additional perk of splashing blue is access to countermagic. Stubborn Denial plays very well with Eldrazi fatties, making already disruptive beaters like Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher close to impossible to remove. Denying a kill spell aimed at Smasher after opponents discard a card to his targeting trigger is the most existentially satisfying play in the deck, but casting an uncounterable Mindslaver comes close.

Thought Scour's inclusion changes the kinds of cards we include. Spellskite gets the nod over Mishra's Bauble as an artifact, and Tarfire maxes out at Lightning Bolt's expense. Since these cards have two card types, they turn on delirium very efficiently. Dumping a Skite with Scour rewards us greatly, and equates to milling "three" cards. In TarmoDrazi, we have to be facing off against opponents who will actually remove our Spellskite to reap graveyard value from it. Some decks, like Ad Nauseam, are happy to ignore the 0/4 Horror and leave our Traverses (or Emrakuls) dead in hand.

The Promised End in Modern Midrange

Liliana of the VeilI still wanted to find a home for Emrakul, the Promised End in a fairer deck. A friend of mine expressed excitement at the prospect of Emrakul in a Sultai midrange shell, pointing to Liliana of the Veil as an ideal eighth card type for delirium affinity and Thought Scour as the simplest way to self-mill in Modern. His suggestion led me to test Emrakul in non-Big Mana, non-Eldrazi strategies.

Emrakul occupies a unique spot in Modern's traditional midrange decks. These decks have been at their best when they boast an I-win button---Splinter Twin was banned from Modern for effortlessly slotting into one of the format's premier interactive options. Midrange decks often have longer games, and with a stocked graveyard, Emrakul can cost as little as five mana, just a single mana off from the Splinter Twin combo.

Of course, we can't reliably expect to cast Emrakul on turn five in a midrange deck, but with four copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald, Thought Scour, and Snapcaster Mage, we have a very reliable way to search her up when we do assemble the mana and card types to cast her. And if Sheridan's Emrakul testing in Tron is any indication, casting Emrakul almost always wins the game.

BUG's Big Problem

Sultai decks have always had some serious issues in Modern. The wedge tends to breed decks as slow as (if not grindier than) Jund, making its Tron matchup abysmal. Without access to Crumble to Dust or Blood Moon, Sultai has an even harder time against Tron than its interactive cousins. And without Lightning Bolt, Sultai lacks efficient ways to answer creatures early. That the aforementioned Blood Moon is frequently terrific against three-color non-red decks adds insult to injury.

All these weaknesses led me to ditch Sultai after just a few games with a rough list. No red also meant no cheaper tribal option than Nameless Inversion, so Emrakul had less synergy in these colors than I'd originally thought. But the possibility of running Liliana of the Veil still intrigued me.

Rebuilding Temur Traverse

The optimal grinding colors for Emrakul, the Promised End seem to be blue-red-green. Blue gives us Thought Scour and Snapcaster Mage, green gives us Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald, and red gives us Tarfire and Lightning Bolt, as well as ever-relevant Blood Moon effects. Sadly, these colors leave out Liliana of the Veil. Or do they?

Liliana of the Veil is stunningly easy to cast in this deck. An on-board Oath of Nissa lets us slam her with any combination of lands, and we achieve delirium fast enough that the four copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald can search out a lone Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth if we need it. That's not just nine mainboard black sources, but nine mainboard double-black sources. The question is whether Liliana is a card Temur Midrange decks even want. I'm inclined to believe so, since she allows us to deal with previously unkillable threats like Tarmogoyf.

The rest of the deck is standard fare for Temur Traverse. The Snap/Traverse/Scour package helps us find whatever we need in a given moment, seven Bolt effects gun down synergy-based creature effects, and searchable bullets like Magus of the Moon randomly punish opponents for greedy openers.

One important aspect of Temur Traverse decks generally is their ability to play very efficient cards. Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt, and Snapcaster Mage are all seminal Modern staples, but more Modern all-stars live in the sideboard. I want to draw attention specifically to Blood Moon and Pyroclasm, blanket strategy destructors that singlehandedly hose a plethora of Modern decks and have ample utility against a good chunk of the top 10. Any deck that can play these cards should. In my opinion, their existence is what keeps wedges like Sultai from ever seeing play. Not that Pyroclasm does much against that color combination, but having access to it helps decks so much that "something red" is usually better than blue-black-green.

An issue I noticed in my early testing is that Lili Traverse doesn't bank on its late-game, often preferring a tempo strategy and digging for its lands. It might better serve the deck to cut some air for more mana sources and become a bigger midrange deck à la Jund, which would allow us to pack threats like Raging Ravine and make casting Emrakul more natural.

Mom's Spaghetti

World BreakerI've only had Lili Traverse built for a couple days, but I think it represents my strongest effort yet to integrate Emrakul, the Promised End into non-Tron or Eldrazi decks. As far as I'm concerned, she's a shoe-in there, costing the same or less than Ulamog or World Breaker, respectively, and wreaking a lot more havoc. When it comes to fair midrange decks, we'll have to see if Emrakul settles down or just invades another plane.

My spidey senses suggest the latter, as the easier-to-enable Traverse the Ulvenwald has only seen fringe play despite my high expectations for the card. That's fine with me. As far as I'm concerned, spoiler season is brewing season. Even if the cards Wizards spoils end up bad, it's up to us to figure out what makes them bad. Kudos to them for continuing to print cards that pique our creative spirits and resist immediate playability ratings.

Jordan Boisvert

Jordan is Assistant Director of Content at Quiet Speculation and a longtime contributor to Modern Nexus. Best known for his innovations in Temur Delver and Colorless Eldrazi, Jordan favors highly reversible aggro-control decks and is always striving to embrace his biases when playing or brewing.

View More By Jordan Boisvert

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21 thoughts on “Breaking Oaths: Brewing With Emrakul, the Promised End

  1. I’m also trying to brew something of my own. I’m pretty sure i can make here fit in a Through the breach/valakut shell and so far, both time i was able to cast her, it gave me the game. here’s my list if anyone want to test it :

    4x primeval titan
    4x sakura tribe elder
    1x Oldrakul
    1x Newrakul
    2x oracle of mul daya

    4x through the breach
    4x search for tomorrow
    4x oath of nissa
    3x lightning bolt
    2x farseek
    2x summoner’s pact
    1x summoning trap (not sure if i use a 3rd summoner’s pact)
    2x nahiri, the harbinger
    1x anger of the gods

    6x mountain
    4x stomping ground
    4x valakut
    4x wooded foothills
    3x forest
    2x cinderglade
    2x arid mesa
    1x sacred foundry

    I’m opened to suggestions to help make the deck better. With oath and the nahiri, i can drop Emmy’s cost to 7 at max and it isn’t rare that i have 8-9 mana on the field in the mid/late -game. Maybe the summoning trap should be replaced by a 3rd pact, and maybe i should cut the Old emrakul for something else.

    1. I don’t get the point of TTB’ing the new Emrakul, other than she guarantees you 13 damage. Is that usually enough? It seems a lot better to cast her and plus off the trigger.

      1. The point is not TTB Emrakul, you want to cast it if the game goes long. You have more than enough mana to hardcast it and generally get the game. It’s the perfect late game draw. You could TTB it to finish someone but it’s not the goal of the deck. You can win by TTB primeval titan easily, but if something is going wrong, it’s still nice “alternate” win.

  2. I actually find myself less interested in the discussion about EtPE than in the discussion about Traverse the Ulvenwald. There are just so many ways to build for that card; there are more options available than you can fit into a single deck. Here are some potential delirium enablers I’ve brainstormed so far (partially overlapping with your own ideas):
    Tarfire (as described)
    Nameless Inversion (remember that it can pump your own attacker)
    Seal of Fire (better source of an enchantment than Oath of Nissa)
    Executioner’s Capsule (interestingly, it kills both versions of Emrakul at instant speed)
    Boon Satyr (either you’re halfway to delirium, or you’ve got 4 power uncontested)
    Fleshbag Marauder (because sometimes, your opponent is ignoring/neutering/exiling your creatures instead of killing them)
    Shriekmaw (early, it’s creature-typed removal; late, it’s tutorable removal)
    Tidehollow Sculler (much like Boon Satyr, but with a better track record)
    Faithless Looting (one of the few ways to get delirium on turn 1)

    1. I agree, Traverse turns out even sweeter than I initially thought every time I build a deck with it. It’s rapidly becoming my favorite card to build around (after Goyf, but the two happen to be best buds anyway!). Nameless pumping creatures is pretty interesting, but I still think it’s leagues worse than Tarfire. Boon, Fleshbag, Sculler, Capsule, and Shriekmaw seem unplayable to me as Traverse enablers – just not efficient enough. As for Looting, I don’t think Traverse is a card you want to play on turn two unless you’re looking for Eldrazi Temple, so probably better to stick with Thought Scour and aim for a longer game. Good luck brewing!

  3. Love the look of that liliana traverse deck. May have convinced me to acquire an emrakul sooner rather than later (can’t be worse than my playset of preordered days undoing).

    I’ve had ok results with boon satyrs in goyf w stubborn denial decks. Sometimes you can bestow a dork or token eot to force removal, other times you can flash and protect w denial, other times they kill it and feed the goyf an enchant. And sometimes they just don’t have it and you get to clock them down with four dmg swings

    1. Hey, when it works it works. I just don’t love creatures like Boon Satyr that are unplayable on their own and need a bunch of great cards to work. Goyf and Stubborn are already good on their own, so I’d rather fill out the rest of a skeleton with other strong cards than dip into extra synergy. Decks like Jund make sure anything too cute never gets off the ground.

        1. No, since dealing two damage to a creature or player for one mana at instant speed in Modern is already playable. Even the 60-good-cards posterboy Jund has been known to sleeve up Seal of Fire and Tarfire. Same can’t be said for Boon Satyr.

  4. Been testing a bit online – oath of nissa does not find a creature or walker as often as id like – could be variance but ive drawn more lands than anything else with it, and had it actually whiff more often than would be ideal

    1. While it can be underwhelming to draw lands off Oath, in the early-mid game that’s usually what I’m looking for with the card. I didn’t count how often I resolved it with this deck, but out of about 50 games last week, I completely whiffed with Oath twice. Not sure if my experience lines up with the exact math on the card, but those are good enough odds for me to keep running it. Keep in mind that Oath has a bunch of other functions in this deck, including helping with delirium affinity and enabling Liliana of the Veil.

    1. Sure have. Check out my ritual-based Moon and Eldrazi decks.

      The Colorless Eldrazi deck from last season is actually a great example of how much more powerful tempo is in this format than card advantage. That deck would regularly mulligan down to 4 or 5 and be throwing Simian Guides around to impact the board more effectively early on.

        1. I think the main draws to RG for Eldrazi decks are Bolt, Tarfire, Tarmogoyf, and Traverse. Over half of those cost one mana, so you can’t really accelerate into Chalice. Guide is just accelerating like a dork, then, but only once. Having a dork on the board just makes you so much faster over the course of a game that I think Hierarchs are better in this kind of build than Guide. Not to mention Hierarch is frequently the only creature opponents will want to spend early Bolts on, meaning they help achieve delirium and grow Goyf to reasonable for turn two if they do die. Guide offers none of those synergies.

  5. Hey! I’ve been testing this deck since i first saw it here and i have to admit that it is a little masterpiece! Especially the Oath – Urborg – Liliana Tech. I have a few questions tho: How necessary is the New Emrakul in the Main? The deck feels already powerful to me (best Goyf Deck ever) and I actually cast him rarely and he feels awkward in the starting seven. As we can see with Nahiri, having some kind of Inevitability in the Maindeck is supernice, but i feel like Emrakul might be a clunky option here. What do you think about other silverbullets like Vendillion Clique or Eternal Witness? Are there any good alternatives for the 1of 4 Drop Huntmaster?

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