Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch saw Eldrazi completely dominate the Modern format. Eldrazi variants took six of the Top 8 slots and many more throughout the Top 16. We haven't seen a Pro Tour in which a deck dominated the Top 8 in a long time. The last I remember was Pro Tour Berlin 2008 when Extended Elves dominated the Top 8, taking six of the Top 8 slots including all four semifinals slots.
Lately my social media feed has been full of players begging Wizards to initiate an emergency ban in Modern. Eldrazi decks have made up almost 50% of the MTGO Modern metagame as well as the majority of SCG Louisville. Today I'm going to try to convince you that we don't need an emergency ban and what we can do to help Modern get back to normal.
First, a timeline of the Eldrazi takeover.
This may look like somewhat of a problem, but I think that everything is getting blown out of proportion. There have been times where things were much, much, worse. I've lived through most of them and can verify that the dominance of Eldrazi is not even close to what we've had to deal with in the past.
First, we had what was known as “Combo Winter,” a time right after Urza's Saga was released and Standard was overrun by combo decks. Two cards, Tolarian Academy and Windfall, were banned in December 1998. When that ban didn't do anything, Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Fluctuator, Lotus Petal, Recurring Nightmare, and Time Spiral were banned three months later, and Memory Jar was soon added to the list before it even had a chance to see Standard play. This was the only emergency ban in the history of the game, during a time where the format was literally broken. I was not playing competitive Magic during this time and can't really give my opinion as to what went so wrong. All I remember was that Wizards ran a promotion in Duelist Magazine where if you pulled any of these banned cards from a pack, you could send it back to them for a brand new pack (not a great deal).
Six years later in March of 2005 Standard got out of hand again with Skullclamp. This time, I was a serious competitive Magic player and I remember that you had to run a Skullclamp deck to be competitive. There were a few options for us in Goblins, Elf and Nail, and Affinity, so it wasn't like it was a one-deck format. Regardless, Skullclamp decks made up roughly 100% of the format and a ban was called for.
After the ban, Standard did become a one-deck format. Affinity was the deck to play and if you chose not to run this monster you had to play maindeck artifact removal to even compete. I remember I won Regionals that year with a Goblin deck with three maindeck Shatters. Can you ever imagine playing Shatter in any recent Standard format, maindeck no less? Affinity made up close to 100% of the format and few months later, the entire Affinity deck was banned, including Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, and all of the artifact lands.
The most recent Standard ban was during the Caw Blade era. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was so strong that you would be foolish not to play him. You basically had two options: play Caw Blade or play Temur, known back then as RUG. Both decks contained four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and four copies of Preordain. Standard was skewed so much towards Jace, the Mind Sculptor that I remember an SCG IQ I played in where all nine rounds I played were against Caw Blade, and I was playing Caw Blade myself. To me, it seemed like the metagame was made up of 75% Caw Blade and 25% Temur, with no possibility of another deck existing. With Jace making up of 100% of the decks, it had to go.
Flash forward to today. The format is Modern, and Eldrazi is about 45% of the Online metagame. This looks pretty bad, but not even close to what we've gone through before. The Eldrazi deck is incredibly strong but I feel that there are other reasons why it's everywhere.
First, the reason why the deck was so dominant at the Pro Tour was because many players dismissed the deck and just thought it wasn't good. We hardly saw it on Day 1. Some teams innovated on the Eldrazi deck and made it great for the predicted metagame. No one was prepared for it, so it dominated.
After the Pro Tour, many players picked up the deck. In my opinion, Eldrazi is easier to play than Caw Blade or Affinity. Affinity was all about who did Disciple and modular math better and one wrong move could be game over. I know that many players piloted Affinity poorly while other players were turned away from playing it altogether due to its complexity. Similarly, Caw Blade had a lot of interesting decisions to make when piloting the deck. For example, knowing if it was better to run out your Stoneforge Mystic or hold back Mana Leak is just one small decision that separated average Caw Blade players from great Caw Blade players. The complexity of the Caw Blade mirror definitely turned players away from the deck.
Eldrazi is just creatures and a few removal spells. When you have Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple in play, you know that the correct play is to cast your Thought-Knot Seer. Your creatures are always bigger than your opponent's in all non-mirror matches so it's obvious when it's correct to attack. This deck looks easy to play on paper and that's what draws players in. If the best deck in the format was Kiki-Chord, a deck that is much harder to just pick up and play flawlessly, you'll see it make up a much smaller percentage of the metagame because players will look at the deck and not know what to do with it. Eldrazi is very grokkable and is a great deck for newer players. The deck is also very strong, hence the high numbers.
After the Pro Tour, players had a choice of what to play. They could either join the Eldrazi or come up with ways to beat them. Modern is full of innovation. There are so many things you can do. The majority of players chose to innovate on Eldrazi and not really on anything else, and that's why we saw Eldrazi dominate the SCG Open last weekend.
Despite feeling that an emergency ban isn't necessary, I do think Eldrazi is the best deck in the format right now. Eldrazi is one of the most flexible decks in Modern and it's so easy to tune it to beat the predicted metagame. Besides Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple, painlands are the strongest Eldrazi lands. They are three color lands with very little drawback, and they don't even enter the battlefield tapped. Think of how silly we're being when we try to perfect a three color manabase with fetchlands and shocklands when painlands just give you all three of your colors at such a low strain on your mana base.
It's really easy to innovate on Eldrazi decks due to having access to ten different painlands. When the format evolves and decks begin playing Worship, the Eldrazi deck can play Karplusan Forest for Worldbreaker and Nature's Claim. When the format begins to revolve around creatures, Adarkar Wastes allows us to play Path to Exile and Eldrazi Displacer. You can play whatever utility cards you want in your Eldrazi deck without changing your core creatures and core lands. Just change up your painlands and you're good to go. That's another reason why Eldrazi is dominating.
Beating Eldrazi comes down to knowing how to combat the Eldrazi flavor of the week. Right now it's W/U Eldrazi. Eldrazi Displacer was the best innovation in Eldrazi ever since the deck was formed. It removes blockers but more importantly resets your Drowner of Hope so that you can always tap opposing creatures. W/U Eldrazi also allows you to play Path to Exile and Worship, two mirror-breakers that also double up as anti-aggro cards. Decks like Merfolk and Burn aren't going to be happy staring down a Worship. W/U also gives you access to counterspells and Disenchant so that the hate cards like Ensnaring Bridge matter less.
Eldrazi decks are capable of dealing with any permanent but their weakness is in opposing spells. There are great two-mana counterspells in Modern like Remand and Mana Leak, which are great plays against four and five-mana threats. Many Eldrazi decks play Cavern of Souls so sometimes counterspells are not ideal, but as I've said, the Eldrazi deck is literally just creatures, and tries to spew as many creatures onto the battlefield as quickly as possible.
If I were going to Grand Prix Detroit next weekend, I'd play something like this:
This list looks a little untuned to me but it plays many cards that match up very against Eldrazi. The idea of a white/blue shell with a lot of hate cards is very appealing. When Eldrazi curves out, a turn-four Supreme Verdict is devastating. The best thing about Supreme Verdict it is that it can't be countered, so any sideboard counterspells out of the W/U Eldrazi are nullified.
Eldrazi decks have a really hard time dealing with Planeswalkers outside of attacking them, and the Planeswalkers in this deck are especially good against large creatures. Elspeth, Sun's Champion's minus ability can take out all of the Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers at once, and Gideon Jura is also great at taking out big stuff while doubling as a threat.
A white/blue deck such as this one plays plenty of ways to slow down Eldrazi. Spreading Seas and Path to Exile do a great job of buying time to find a Supreme Verdict or a Planeswalker. Wall of Omens and Timely Reinforcements may only provide chump blockers at times, but that extra turn is often crucial. Ghost Quarter is usually a Strip Mine when you're also playing Path to Exile against a deck that only plays two basic lands.
The best thing of all is that many of the removal in this deck does not care about Reality Smasher's discard clause. Gideon Jura, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and Detention Sphere all remove Smasher without caring about the drawback.
Overall I feel that there is still plenty of innovation to be done in Modern to put a halt on this deck. It's only been one month since Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and we really don't have enough data to tell if things are out of control. It's possible that a ban is necessary down the line once all of our resources have been exhausted, and upcoming Grand Prix Detroit, Melbourne, and Bologna will give us a good idea of where the format stands. Until next time, brew well and beat those Eldrazi!