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.
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
- 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.
Mishra'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.
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
I 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.
I'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.