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Five Decks You'll Play This Weekend

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Welcome to Gathering Magic's weekly quintet of decks you should be aware of this weekend, whether you're playing a major online event, going to a Grand Prix, or hitting Friday Night Magic. This week, with three Modern Grand Prix—Bologna, Detroit, and Melbourne—it's possibly our last look at Eldrazi Temple and friends, with a peek at how recent sets have affected Legacy.

The Joy of Drazi-ing

Here's what went 3–1 or better at least twice in Dailies this week (Bold = won a Daily):

Affinity: 6

R/G Eldrazi: 4

U/R Eldrazi: 3

W/U Eldrazi: 3

Abzan Company: 2

Ad Nauseam Combo: 2

Living End: 2

R/W Eldrazi: 2

Kiki-Bring to Light, Melira and Company, and W/U Control each won a Daily in its only 3–1 or better appearance.

If you cover up the deck names, Modern looks diverse, with several decks listed in the table. If you cover up the numbers, it appears non-Eldrazi decks in Modern are lucky to be considered at all. With a complete set of pain lands available, what colors the Eldrazi shell takes depends largely on what sideboard you want and whether you want Eldrazi Displacer, Kozilek's Return, and/or Ancient Stirrings to complement the strategies seen at the last Pro Tour. The latter two performed well together this week, with user 509 placing twice:

So why R/G? Besides Kozilek's Return throwing a wet blanket on anyone going under or going wide, Ancient Stirrings makes the deck more consistent, and World Breaker cleans up opposing copies of Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple. But it wouldn't matter nearly as much were it not for the sideboard. With Affinity as the Eldrazi's primary enemy, being the Eldrazi deck with access to Ancient Grudge is a big deal. Kozilek's Return is already quite good against Affinity—instant-speed board wipes are infinitely better against it than sorcery-speed ones—but Ancient Grudge plus Nature's Claim makes the matchup even better. For this reason, I expect R/G Eldrazi to be the best performer this weekend among the various Eldrazi decks.

Speaking of Affinity, it's trying to adapt in different ways. Stubborn Denial was in the sideboard this week, as was Torpor Orb, good against the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker decks, limiting Eldrazi Mimic to a 2/1 and giving Thought-Knot Seer a pure drawback. But although those are tweaks at the margins to an archetype everybody knows, this version goes into different territory:

What is going on here? The goal is going as wide as possible as fast as possible. Contested War Zone loves a wide game plan, and playing actual affinity creatures—welcome back, Frogmite and Myr Enforcer!—enables a hand dump unmatched in Modern. For all the Eldrazi decks that aren't running Kozilek's Return, this is a bit much to handle. Besides the surprising and amusing Bump in the Night in the sideboard, Cathedral Membrane is here as anti-Eldrazi defense. It has a sort of deathtouch, except that it's better against combat tricks (as long as it blocks something large, anything killing it after that will result in 6 damage to the blocked creature). And unlike deathtouchers you can play at 1 mana, its 3 toughness gets around a few tricks (like the Kozilek's Return many Eldrazi decks are relying on). It might be that only an Affinity deck with affinity creatures wants a 0/3 defender, but it might also be some great tech for this weekend.

The current third pillar of Modern consists of the post-Birthing Pod decks—Chord of Calling and/or Collected Company builds, many of which run combos, be it +1/+1 counters (Melira, Sylvok Outcast with persist or Restoration Angel with Spike Feeder) or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker with Restoration Angel. One of the reasons those decks have had so much staying power is their adaptability, and Sunday's Daily winner is no exception:

The basics are all present, so it's the margins that reveal the metagame calls. Here, it's Shriekmaw and Fiend Hunter in the main deck. With fewer Lightning Bolts in the format than ever, Fiend Hunter is a much safer play than anyone is used to; with Viscera Seer to sacrifice Fiend Hunter in response to the exile trigger, it's a completely safe play. Intrepid Hero in the sideboard hasn't seen Constructed play since anyone can remember, but in an Eldrazi universe, it can dominate. With a load of possibilities, further inspired metagame calls can push this deck over the top of even the toughest fields. If a Chord of Calling deck doesn't Top 8 one of the three Grand Prix this weekend, that would be incredibly surprising.

(The Kiki-Bring to Light deck than won Friday's Daily ran zero Chords of Calling but three Bring to Lights and four Glittering Wishes, with an entirely multicolored singleton sideboard ranging from Safewright Quest to Void. It's also the first deck I've seen with Birds of Paradise, Restoration Angel, and Dimir Signet.)

One Spicy Metaball

Everybody knows special lands are what fuel the Eldrazi deck. Moesis knows how to get rid of them. Going 5–0 in a league this week:

This deck uses Simian Spirit Guide, just like many broken decks, but here it's powering out second-turn Molten Rains. First-turn Flagstones of Trokair plus Simian Spirit Guide into Boom on an Eldrazi Temple or Eye of Ugin can turn a keepable Eldrazi hand into complete dreck. All the land destruction makes Ghostly Prison and the forgotten Magus of the Tabernacle hard to keep up with, and Ensnaring Bridge keeps most big threats at bay. The deck has few win conditions; Magus of the Tabernacle as a 2/6 isn't going to light up the red zone, but it's the biggest repeatable source of damage in the deck, with Chandra, Pyromaster and Keldon Megaliths next in line. Ajani Vengeant can serve as a damage source, but he's much more frequently keeping a Reality Smasher or Eye of Ugin locked down until the time is right to destroy all lands (which is probably when Crucible of Worlds shows up). I would play this deck in a heartbeat, but it's far from most pros' style. I'd love to see some brave souls go deep this weekend with it though.

Legacy Innovations

The all-colorless Eldrazi deck played by ChannelFireball at the last tournament hasn't fared well in Modern, but it has ported well to Legacy, where it has meshed with the mana base of Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors and some of the features of Stax (like Lodestone Golem and Thorn of Amethyst) to make a dominant deck—not quite as dominant as Modern Eldrazi, but it is concerning. On the flipside, a deck that wants to run that many nonbasic lands—I saw twenty-two in one list—is asking for Price of Progress to ruin its day. Armed with several Standard-legal cards, this League deck is happy to oblige:

The well-known Zoo favorites are here, spearheaded by Domri Rade. Domri is a little better here than in other builds because of Oath of Nissa fixing mana to cast Domri while also supplementing the card selection aspect. Between Domri, Oath, and the cascade of Bloodbraid Elf, there's a surprising amount of card advantage for an aggro deck.

While Oath of Nissa isn't a major surprise here, Scab-Clan Berserker is here as a two-of. There are certainly plenty of noncreature spells for it to take advantage of, but given that it costs 3 mana and has to be renowned to be effective, it wasn't at all clear that it was strong enough for the format. It is the most pushed of this effect—Mondronen Shaman/Tovolar's Magehunter was too slow, Mindsparker was too narrow, and Ichneumon Druid was even narrower—but given its predecessors, that didn't say much. Given its spot on the curve, it seems to be less about hosing spell-heavy decks (like Mindsparker was intended to be) and more about sealing a victory when the opponent is around 6 life and digging for answers. Like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Scab-Clan Berserker forces other decks to fight on Zoo's terms—and few Legacy decks are ready to do so.

Conclusion

This weekend will be the primary referendum on whether Eldrazi lands stay or go. A load of articles and social-media posts have been posted the last few weeks, full of optimism that the Eldrazi aren't the be-all-end-all of Modern. In my opinion, they've been coming from a lot of theory-crafting and not a lot of results. This weekend is when all those theories turn into data—one way or the other.


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