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The Eldrazi in the Room

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With the restriction of Lodestone Golem from Vintage Magic: The Gathering, Mishra's Workshop based artifact decks have taken a small step back. They’re making a resurgence in what is still a Gush-fueled, Blue metagame, but, in their place, a shadow of tentacled doom has been cast over the format. As it turns out, there are new big-mana lands, home to an eldrich race of elder gods, and in my opinion they’re the most fun, most interesting thing we’ve seen in Vintage in a while.

At Grand Prix Columbus, there were four Vintage side events, culminating in a Swiss-rounds “Vintage Challenge” on Sunday that got 28 players. In that Sunday event, I played colorless Tribal Eldrazi, based on the list Jason Jaco played at the 162-player NYSE Open IV the previous weekend.

https://twitter.com/JMJACO/status/739256500061868032


Jaco went 6-1-1, missing the top-eight and a piece of Power because he miscalculated the tournament math and intentionally drew into ninth place in the last round. My list was one card different, cutting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger for a second Spatial Contortion. I finished at 4-1, losing my final round mainly because I hadn’t practiced with the deck.

Seasoned Vintage players will notice a few interesting things about the deck immediately, but I’ll go through what makes this deck the most interesting thing in the format.

It’s the Economy

First, there is zero Power Nine. None. Most decks at least run Black Lotus and on-color Moxes. Blue decks will almost always include Ancestral Recall and Time Walk, and Shops decks will play the rest of the Moxes. Jaco built this with no acceleration on purpose: it maximizes the advantage Null Rod and Chalice of the Void give over opponents, reducing hands that accelerate into Rod and dead draws late game. All of the mana advantage comes from having eleven 2-mana lands and eight Wasteland effects.

Being Powerless means this is immediately one of the cheaper decks in the format. There’s little need for a player to cut cards for budget reasons, especially coming in with a modest Legacy or Modern collection. I started with Wastelands, Ancient Tombs, and Null Rods in my collection and bought a stack of cards that say “Creature – Eldrazi” for just over $100. That’s the deck.

This price point should make the deck very accessible for new players, but it also makes a fantastic “backup deck” or “loan deck” for established Vintage players. I can plan on playing a Powered deck and have this on hand for someone else to borrow without worrying about a stack of expensive cards getting lost, damaged, or stolen. As a result, players can expect to see a lot of this deck simply because it’s so affordable. (This role used to be held by Dredge, but that’s less true since a playset of Bazaar of Baghdad now runs to $3,000 or more.)

Know Your Role

This is also the first winning Vintage list in a while I would say leans more toward aggro than aggro-control. Endless One, Eldrazi Mimic, Matter Reshaper, and Reality Smasher really don’t do anything besides beat down, and Thought-Knot Seer isn’t much more controlling. Endbringer has a suite of neat abilities, including card draw, but as a 5/5 its primary use is going to be getting into the red zone. The non-creature cards either bring your opponent in line with your game-plan (Null Rod, Chalice of the Void, Crucible of Worlds) or make it so your creatures connect for damage (Dismember, Warping Wail).

The matchups for this deck also suggest that it favors the aggro role, considering the basic model of aggro > control > combo > aggro. Tribal Eldrazi has a strong game against traditional Counterspell and spot removal-based control since it has so many big creatures and can play them through counterspells with Cavern of Souls. It’s also weak to fast combo, as it needs one turn to play Rod or Chalice (or bring Wail online to counter sorceries), and a second turn to play Thought-Knot Seer. Jaco’s sideboard reaffirms this as both Leylines are good against Dark Petition Storm and provide a turn-zero answer to a troublesome matchup. Taking the control role means boarding out some aggro cards.

Most creature-based decks in Vintage (including White Eldrazi) are going to be clear aggro-control, pushing even closer to prison-control with creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben whose main purpose is to prevent an opponent from doing anything. Contending with a truly threatening, widely played, creature-based deck is going to be a watershed moment for Vintage. Tribal Eldrazi aren’t the typical Stompy or Burn decks. Blue players who had time to set up big finishes with protection are going to have to develop a strategy that contends with 4/4s and bigger on turns two, three, and four.

I expect to see more White and Black removal (Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, and Doom Blade) and fewer Lightning Bolts, as well as more mass removal than we’ve ever seen in Vintage. If these creature-specific answers increase, I also expect to see more combo decks capable of getting in before Eldrazi win and ignore cards that deal with permanents.

It’s All New!

When Clay Spicklemire won GP Columbus, much was made of his being only 16 years old, while some of his Legacy cards were over 20. Likewise, Vintage decks are associated with older cards, hallmarked by the Power Nine I mentioned earlier. Many of the cards in this Eldrazi deck are significantly newer than that, with more than one third of the deck having been printed in Oath of the Gatewatch, released in January 2016.

Creatures have gotten better in the past decade; we see more being printed at the better end of size/cost ratios and with stronger abilities. In many cases it just takes a particular relevance in the Vintage format for a creature to be immediately accepted, which happened with Monastery Mentor. With this deck, the Eldrazi tribe has a superior amount of synergy, with their own big-mana producing lands and Cavern of Souls to boot.

I generally enjoy when new decks come from new sets, though it’s kind of hard to refute the “Wizards designed this deck” sentiment for this one.

Notes from the Grand Prix

Endless One
I played Jaco’s Tribal Eldrazi deck in the Sunday Vintage Challenge event at GP Columbus. Though it wasn’t a huge turnout, with 28 players there was a diverse field, and most of the players were experienced Vintage pilots.

In round one, I played against Craig with White Eldrazi. I knew my matchup and went in figuring my list had bigger creatures and more of them. When it comes down to it, neither deck really has a draw engine, so if we fought each other into topdeck mode, my topdecks should beat his. That’s essentially how it worked in Game 1, except I was also aided by a misplay on his part where he could have used Eldrazi Displacer to kill my Endless One by blinking its counters away. Game 2 saw Null Rod and Wastelands shut off Craig’s mana (including Mana Crypt), and he put up little resistance against a Reality Smasher.

Eldrazi Displacer (particularly its combo with Containment Priest) is one of the best tools for the White Eldrazi deck against the colorless version, allowing it to manage the battlefield to its benefit. The drawback, in addition to its smaller creatures, is that its mana is also less consistent, making it difficult at times to play the White creatures. Tribal Eldrazi can take advantage of this with land removal and Null Rod.

Round two was Charles playing Dredge. He kept Bazaar of Baghdad in his seven-card opener, which is usually enough to run away with the game, but I had Strip Mine to knock him off of his draw engine and it turned out he had no dredgers and couldn’t get started. I played Warping Wail to remove a Bloodghast from the game, played some eldrazi, and won before he could get to eight cards and start dredging the hard way.

A win versus Dredge in Game 1 is unusual, but Eldrazi has several ways to destroy lands as well several ways to get rid of Bridge from Below by sending creatures to the graveyard (for example, Endless One with no counters).

Warping Wail
Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger's Cage both came in for Game 2, as well as the additional Warping Wail, dropping Null Rod, Chalice, and the higher-end creatures to make room. I mulliganed to six and started with two hate cards, some land, and, eventually, a pair of Reality Smashers. It was enough to prevent anything graveyard related Charles would try, especially since he mulliganed to four.

I played against Nam Tran in round three on Thought-Knot Seer Shops, similar to this, played by Roland Chang at the NYSE Open. TKS Shops is the evolution of shops post-Lodestone Golem, cutting three Golems for three Thought-Knots. It plays similarly, but the Eldrazi is more difficult to cast, since it isn’t an artifact and has no synergy with Mishra's Workshop itself (so it’s not a frequent turn-one play like Lodestone).

I kept a seven-land hand with four Wasteland effects in Game 1, hoping to knock my opponent out of mana before he could establish anything. That plan worked out. Eventually I had lands and he had a Phyrexian Revoker and an Arcbound Ravager without enough to eat. I played two 8/8 Endless Ones that cleaned up in short order.

The second game was my first Eldrazi Mimic and Reality Smasher combo, sending Nam to two life with one attack on turn three. I’ll say I was fortunate to get out of this round easily, especially considering the events of round five.

But in the meantime, round four against Arturo on U/R/w Delver was a fun challenge. The worry I had here was he would have a quick, Powered draw and overwhelm me with Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer tokens. Beyond that, his Lightning Bolts aren’t very effective against a lot of my creatures (though Path to Exile is), and Cavern of Souls makes his counterspells awkward.

In the end, my Eldrazi did rule the battlefield in games one and three, but Game 2 was my first loss on the day as my fears came true. Arturo opened with Delver and followed up with Pyromancer. Draw spells kept coming, and he had a counter for my Warping Wail and then played Time Walk and sealed the deal. The only thing that might have saved me was an Endbringer, but I think even that would have been too slow.

Warping Wail was an all-star in games one and three, since it was able to remove unflipped Delvers and Pyromancers and dodged Mental Misstep. I had doubts about that card, but its success in this matchup makes me want to test it elsewhere. (Mostly, I’d like to counter a sorcery with it. Maybe Tinker.)

My final round was against Jeff, a player who came to Columbus all the way from Calgary, Alberta, and was playing Thought-Knot Seer Shops. This match proved how dangerous that matchup is for Eldrazi, but there’s a ready solution.

In Game 1, I opened with Eye of Ugin and 6 power of Eldrazi Mimics and Endless Ones that he couldn’t race. Games two and three were the same: I lost quickly to an early Crucible of Worlds plus Wasteland combo that kept me from ever getting above 2 mana. (This is one of the reasons not playing Moxes and other artifact acceleration is risky.) He had enough creatures to manage the meager offense I presented, so I was essentially uncompetitive either game.

As we waited in line for prize tickets, I realized that the answer I needed was Leyline of the Void, which not only limits his Wasteland effects to one-time uses, but also shuts off things like modular on Arcbound Ravager. When I talked to Jaco after the event, he suggested also potentially switching out one or more Phyrexian Metamorphs for an additional Crucible in the main deck. There are a lot of Wasteland effects in the Eldrazi deck that could take advantage, and it does hedge against getting locked out that way.

Wrapping Up (with Tentacles)

Like I said, I expect to see a lot of this deck and similar ones in the coming months, especially at sanctioned Vintage events where new players can buy in cheaply and others will have the deck on hand to lend. Tribal Eldrazi has strong matchups against anything that won’t kill it on turn one or two, will tangle with just about anything in the red zone, and is ridiculously fun to play. (Seriously, I realize players of other formats might be less enthusiastic about an aggro deck like this, but for me it’s new and very exciting!)

If Tribal Eldrazi does make a lasting impression on the format, Vintage players are going to have to change their thinking about how to plan on interacting with opponents. Decks will have to prepare to remove or fight 4/4s and 5/5s that aren’t artifacts, and that’s a big change!

Thanks for reading!

Nat Moes

@GrandpaBelcher


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