Hey all! Super thrilled you’re here for my first article on CoolStuffInc! Some of you may know me and some of you may not. My name is Frank and I’ve been making Magic content for over a decade now. I’ve written for most of the sites out there at one time or another, as well as having a Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8 to my name. My content typically focuses on brews - specifically trying and finding the more obscure cards and decklists that tend to go against the grain - and as a full time Twitch streamer who accepts a lot of deck critiques, I’m in a fortunate position to have a lot of new ideas presented to me.
With Grand Prix (or Magic Fest) Tampa right around the corner, I wanted to talk a bit about one of the strategies that seems surprisingly well-positioned right now in the Modern format: exiling cards from graveyards. This is one of the premier sideboard strategies in the format, and it shines against some of the more popular decks right now, such as Dredge, Phoenix, and most decks with things like Snapcaster Mages and delve cards.
Now, the traditional problem with this is cards that exile from graveyards are often relegated to the sideboard. Sometimes they’re dead against certain matchups, and sometimes you don’t have the time to spend simply cycling something like a Relic of Progenitus; Modern can be an extremely cutthroat format. You need these cards to do more, or have applications beyond solely exiling cards from the graveyard, powerful as that can be in certain situations.
A month or so back I had the pleasure of playing a deck that was submitted by a long time subscriber and stream supporter, sarahsee. The deck centered about Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, of all cards, and I wasn’t too sure how the Ravnician planeswalker would perform. Three mana is about the lowest cost you can get when it comes to powerful planeswalkers, but she was also competing with the likes of Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope. Meanwhile, she didn’t protect herself in the same way, and her ultimate might not be game-winning nearly as often.
That being said, after coming out of our testing session with a 4-1 record, this was the final list I landed on for the deck in question.
Kaya Eldrazi Processors | Modern | Frank Lepore
- Creatures (17)
- 2 Oblivion Sower
- 3 Blight Herder
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Wasteland Strangler
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 Rest in Peace
- Lands (24)
- 2 Snow-Covered Plains
- 2 Snow-Covered Swamp
- 1 Wastes
- 2 Field of Ruin
- 2 Shambling Vent
- 3 Godless Shrine
- 4 Caves of Koilos
- 4 Eldrazi Temple
- 4 Marsh Flats
Before everyone starts looking for the secret tech, I’ll let you know ahead of time that the snow-covered lands were included solely for the luls.
As I mentioned, I was reluctant about Kaya, but she kept doing more and more work. I actually ended up adding a copy to the deck’s original two. Maybe this particular deck was the reason she over performed, but that doesn’t change the fact that she felt powerful.
Both of her “less powerful” abilities were useful at different times, either to gain incremental life against aggressive decks, or to remove any of the following cards that are omnipresent in the format: Hardened Scales, Arcbound Worker, Champion of the Parish, Noble Hierarch, Expedition Map, Amulet of Vigor, Death's Shadow, Goblin Guide, Flameblade Adept... the list goes on. We even managed to use her ultimate at one point, draining our burn opponent for eight extra life in a game we eventually won.
One of the main things we were discussing was having a use for all of the cards that we exile, so it isn’t just exiling for the sake of exiling (which can still be strong in several matchups, don’t forget). This deck does so by using cards close to my heart, like Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder. Exiling random cards is great, but being able to “process” them in order to give something like a Dark Confidant or a Young Pyromancer -3/-3, or creating three 1/1 Eldrazi Scions is a very powerful effect.
Along with Kaya, we also have three copies of Rest in Peace, three copies of Castigate, two copies of Anguished Unmaking, and a full set of Thought-Knot Seer and Path to Exile to exile cards for our processors. That’s a lot of potential exiling to utilize with Kaya’s ultimate if you ever get to that point. The important cards that interact with Modern graveyards, however, are Rest in Peace and Kaya herself. I initially had fewer copies of Rest in Peace in the deck, but I realized you almost always wanted to have a card exiled by turn three to make sure that you can get to work with your Wasteland Stranglers. There are definitely times they do nothing, but there are so many cards that benefit from the graveyard in Modern, from Tarmogoyf to Snapcaster Mage to delve cards, that you’re almost always getting some kind of incremental advantage.
While there are numerous upsides to the enchantment, there are a couple things to keep in mind with Rest in Peace being in the main deck. The first is that it does, in a way, invalidate Kaya’s +1 ability, which is unfortunate. That being said, you are still able to use the +1 ability in order to get to her -5 ability. Another thing is that you no longer get access to cards like Surgical Extraction, which is often an alternative to Rest in Peace. I have grown more and more fond of Surgical over the past few months, as it has seemed more and more effective at combating linear strategies, like Tron or Arclight Phoenix decks; there’s no greater feeling to me than using a Ghost Quarter or a Field of Ruin on a Tron land, only to surgically extract all remaining copies from the deck.
Finally, we can’t really justify including Lingering Souls, which is a huge benefit of playing Black and White in Modern, but what can ya do?
The thing is though, that both the Eldrazi themselves, along with the Modern format, are so greatly affected by Rest in Peace - in both positive and negative ways, respectively - that the card was great in many situations. The card is somewhat reminiscent of Blood Moon in that when it comes down, a lot of decks simply have to struggle to keep up and there aren’t that many ways to deal with it in Game 1.
One of my favorite things about the color combination in Modern is you basically have access to every form of disruption you could want. You have ways to tear apart the opponent’s hand, you have ways to remove graveyards, you have ways to deal with lands, you have ways to gain life, ways to sweep the board, ways to deal with artifacts and enchantments. I’ve long held the belief that White is the unequivocal best sideboard color in Modern, and I still think that’s very true.
If I were going to change anything about the deck, I might add the fourth Blight Herder, maybe at the cost of an Oblivion Sower. While I love Oblivion Sower as a card, I can’t say I ever cast it in the matches I played. I also don’t know how I feel about a 6-drop in the deck that doesn’t necessarily affect the board. That being said, I’m not sure what card I would replace the second one with. I feel like we’re well-stocked on discard, removal, exiling, and beefy creatures that can win us the game. I love the idea of something like one Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, but when we’re preemptively exiling any creature that may hit the graveyard, he ends up being a bit neutered. Similarly, Liliana, the Last Hope can’t really use her -2 ability effectively in this deck either. Maybe a Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is the ticket.
Another thing to note is Tidehollow Sculler is another option that could potentially take the place of Castigate, or maybe even Rest in Peace. Just like Castigate it exiles any card for processing, but you do turn on things like Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Fatal Push this way, while most of your other creatures will provide value first (or will survive).
This deck was a blast to play and tweak, and the options that Black and White have at their disposal in Modern is staggering. I hope someone picks this up and gives it a try, because as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have more fun than casting Eldrazi and obscure planeswalkers in Modern! Thanks so much for reading, everyone, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!