I must be honest in saying that the banning of Aetherworks Marvel was a bit of a surprise to me. Obviously it was clear that it was up for banning and, based on perception of the format, had every right to be, but I thought that ultimately the costs of a third set of bannings in a year would be too steep. That thinking proved to be wrong, though; Aetherworks Marvel was taken out, and all of sudden, Standard looks a lot different.
I don't want to give the impression that Standard went from trash to treasure all of a sudden, however. While getting rid of Marvel may remove some of the frustration that turn 4 Ulamog brings with it, it does not instantly turn the format into an all-time great. There is certainly room to work with now and I think the format has a lot going for it, but it is going to take some tender loving care to reach that point. This means we need some pioneers pushing the boundaries so we can experience what this format has in store rather than simply remain the wake of Marvel.
The way I see it, your decks these days need to fight two specific things to even be considered. They must have some plan for the long-game decks using counterspells and Torrential Gearhulks to bury you in card advantage, and they must have a plan for the synergy-driven aggro decks that all have some explosive start available to them.
Of course there are midrange decks out there and various combo decks lurking, all of which we want to beat, but we can often do that through gameplay and versatile sideboard cards. If we do not have a plan for the two format poles or Gearhulks and aggro, however, we just aren't likely to beat them.
This becomes a little more difficult when we stop to think that the synergy-driven aggro decks don't actually all beat you in the same way. We will certainly have some overlap in our hate options, but generally speaking, the ways you beat Winding Constrictor are different from the ways you beat Relentless Dead, which are different than the ways you beat Thalia's Lieutenant. The more reactive our deck is, the more accurate we are going to need to be with our hate options in fighting these marquee two-drops, but we can also bring the fight to them proactively, which is a good catch-all if done well enough.
Last week, I showed off a U/R Eldrazi list that I thought would have some traction in a world ruled by Zombies and Marvel, but seeing as how that is definitely not the world we live in anymore, I wanted to take a second look at the shell. Testing it throughout the week, I was having some annoying manabase issues where too many of my lands were entering the battlefield tapped and I was missing on-curve plays. While this isn't the end of the world, in a deck looking to capitalize on tempo, it certainly is not desired.
The idea of slimming the deck down to a single color seemed appealing to me, but the color that I have always relied on to carry my Eldrazi shells has been black. Gaining access to Transgress the Mind, Wasteland Strangler, and Bearer of Silence has always been difficult for me to pass up; perhaps now was as good a time as any to start?
In particular, one card I have been itching to try in this style of deck is Censor. I actually find Censor to be one of the strongest or at least most influential cards in Standard. It dramatically impacts the way your opponents play without asking much from you other than to leave open some mana some of the time.
Now, Censor is not naturally the best fit for a deck that is theoretically going to be tapping out for Eldrazi creatures on its own turn a bunch, so we should keep that in mind and try to accommodate as best we can. Dimensional Infiltrator is a great card to pair with Censor, as you can leave both open and then cast whichever one is most effective that turn. In its own way, Ruins of Oran-Rief plays well with Censor by rewarding you for waiting until turn 3 to cast your two-drop. Having two incentives reward you for waiting until turn 3 makes the play that much better.
There also is some subtle synergy between Censor and Thought-Knot Seer, a card we focused in on last week. If the opponent fails to play around Censor, they have their spell countered, but if they choose to play around the Force Spike, Thought-Knot Seer can come down and snag the card before it has the chance to be cast. Obviously this won't always work on two- or three-drops, but it's still a nice interaction to have in our 75.
Because you can probably see where this is going, I think it's time to break out the list. If nothing else, seeing the entire shell should help paint a better picture for the individual interactions found within, which we will get to shortly.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Dimensional Infiltrator
- 2 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Eldrazi Skyspawner
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 3 Ruination Guide
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
Once again, you can see that I am at it with Ruins of Oran-Rief, but this time it picks up Metallic Mimic to help it in its quest for +1/+1 counters. Both cards help to protect your Thought-Knot Seer from Grasp of Darkness, Glorybringer, and Chandra, Flamecaller. They also increase our clock and threat density in meaningful ways.
Curving out a turn 2 Mimic into turn 3 Eldrazi Skyspawner is seven power worth of creatures that threatens a turn 4 Reality Smasher at the same time. This puts our opponent in a position where they almost certainly need to stop what they were doing and go on the defensive. We can run into some problems if our opponent is on the play and gets out to a faster start than ours, but even in that world we have a battlefield full of blockers to stabilize. These bursts of pressure ultimately give this deck its biggest advantages.
We have eight creatures in the maindeck that can be played at instant speed. Yes, Warping Wail does make tokens and they will often be bigger than 1/1 thanks to those Mimics and Ruins. When coupled with haste or removal, a small end-step play can win the game. The token aspect of Warping Wail and flash on Dimensional Infiltrator are especially savage when you can turn on an Aethersphere Harvester at instant speed for a surprise block.
Speaking of flash creatures, it would be a mistake not to talk about Elder Deep-Fiend some more. While many decks featuring the 5/6 will max out on copies because they are often built around it, we choose to use it as a finisher and curve-topper. Chaining out a pair of Deep-Fiends (via Sanctum of Ugin) allows us to turn around races or to win a close game out of nowhere, so it is nice to have those lines. That said, if we don't draw Deep-Fiend or can't cast it, it is still entirely possible that our deck operates swimmingly and we win anyway.
I think it is also worth mentioning that Sanctum of Ugin does not always have to grab more Deep-Fiends. While Elder Deep-Fiend may be the only creature to trigger the land, tutoring up Reality Smasher or Ruination Guide will often be correct, depending on the game state, or possibly because you have already drawn your second Deep-Fiend.
We have a higher number of three-drops than normal to help curve into Deep-Fiend, which is certainly an argument for including the third in the maindeck. This helps make use of your extra Ruination Guide or obviously works wonders with Matter Reshaper, but most of the time you will be waiting a little longer than turn 4 to start tapping four permanents.
One of the downsides often attributed to mono-colored decks is that they lack sideboard options and depths. Luckily, colorless spells effectively extend us into a second color, which gives blue access to spot removal and other cool utility. Spatial Contortion is not exactly what I would call a "good" card, but it kills problematic creatures like Winding Constrictor and Lord of the Accursed, something blue is pretty bad at doing.
What blue is good at, though, is countermagic, which we are definitely taking advantage of in the sideboard. Three copies of Negate and two Void Shatters give us some ways to interact with combo decks or to stop sweepers out of control (another duty that Warping Wail is excellent at).
Baral's Expertise could easily be worth another sideboard slot, as we love the swing it creates in opposing aggro matchups, especially those running tokens, such as Zombies. Expertise into Thought-Knot Seer is an incredibly potent line of play that takes the opponent's best creature away from them while generating a ton of tempo and battlefield advantage in the short-term. I currently have a Jace where that second Expertise would go, to assist more with control, but could see the final list moving either direction.
One final card I should mention is Blight Herder, which stands out a little bit, as the card has not seen much (or any) play until this point. The basic premise here is that, against aggro decks, you often don't want as many Reality Smashers as you have.
While drawing one to finish off the opponent or kill a planeswalker is fine, they are not particularly good at stabilizing or turning a losing game around. Blight Herder, on the other hand, produces four bodies, all of which receive bonuses from Mimic, should you have one. Those bodies help to stop or slow down the assault you may have been receiving and can also provide you enough mana on your following turn for a sequence of plays that push you ahead. We have enough ways to exile cards that we should be able to find a pair for Herder, but also keep in mind that you can piggyback off pre-exiled cards. This is important, as Bomat Courier and Scrapheap Scrounger decks are exactly where Blight Herder makes an entrance.
Areas for Improvement
There are a lot of areas where numbers can potentially be improved to massage out the perfect list, but thus far in testing it has been difficult to isolate what slots qualify as needing improvement. Usually, after just a handful of games, one or two cards stick out as not pulling their weight, but in this case, each card seemed to impress me much more than I expected. That is not to say that all of the numbers in the list are correct, which is almost certainly not true, but simply that there is no low-hanging fruit to be picked.
It might easily be the case that we want the third copy of Deep-Fiend in our main deck to more easily enable an end-game of Deep-Fiend, sacrificing Sanctum of Ugin, into Deep-Fiend. Similarly, we could want the fourth copy of Ruination Guide to provide a similar burst of damage, although I think it is more likely we will go down in numbers on our colorless lord rather than up.
There is also the issue of our manabase. Originally, I had one copy of Sanctum of Ugin, one Blighted Cataract, and one Sea Gate Wreckage to test which was best. The Cataract was proving slow and clunky, so I cut it in favor of a second Sanctum, but the jury is still out on the Sanctum/Wreckage split, so keep that in mind.
It is possible we need to make more concessions to aggro, which is what I originally expected when arriving at this list. As I played more, the amount we could race or turn a corner was quite surprising to me and we managed to take down most aggro we ran into. Still, I don't want to rely on such a small number of matches to make such a conclusion, so this is definitely an area we will pay attention to.
All right, so I would be lying if I told you I went out this week looking to break away from black in my Eldrazi lists. The truth is that I actually went back to black before trying anything else. I was not getting quite the return in results that I was hoping for, however, which is how I ended up moving down to a single color. That said, U/B Eldrazi has some real bright spots and I would not be surprised if a well-tuned version of the deck was the best place to put your Eldrazi dollars.
Right now I would say this deck needs more iteration than the Mono-Blue Eldrazi, but it is hardly a lost cause and could be a worthwhile place to spend some of your brewing time (if that is your thing).
- 3 Bearer of Silence
- 4 Dimensional Infiltrator
- 4 Fathom Feeder
- 3 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 2 Ulamog's Nullifier
- 4 Wasteland Strangler
Fathom Feeder is actually one of the bigger incentives to be these two colors despite it kind of looking like a concession. Deathtouch is a particularly useful ability right now. With decks like Humans and B/G Counters producing enormous creatures very quickly, being able to trade with them for two mana is nice.
Fatal Push does a similar thing, but unlike Push, Feeder does not ask you to have a dead card against Gearhulk decks. Remember that we are looking to fight the format from two angles. If we include four copies of Fatal Push or Grasp of Darkness into our list, we certainly have a better time against Winding Constrictor and Thalia's Lieutenant, but how much are we giving up against everything else? Fathom Feeder is a hedge, but a really solid one. Ingest also ends up mattering with four Wasteland Strangler and some Ulamog's Nullifiers ready to gobble up the exiled fodder.
Black does offer a wider range of sideboard options that come in handy. Flaying Tendrils is a card I have talked about a few times by now and I do like having access to that sort of sweeper at the moment. We even have a bit of a transformational sideboard plan here where we can bring in Scroungers and Eternal Scourge to play a longer, grindier game against control. Remember that Scourge plus Scrounger is effectively an undying pair that constantly places six power on the battlefield (or more with Ruins).
In general, this deck has more removal and more interaction than the Mono-Blue Eldrazi list, but sacrifices its clock and early-game consistency for that. My biggest concerns lie in the manabase, which has proven difficult, as lands too often enter the battlefield tapped or cannot cast a desired spell in a timely fashion. This could easily be an error on my part, though, as I certainly am not 100% confident in the land configuration currently employed.
I have spent a lot of time exploring Eldrazi over the past month, as it feels like an untapped source of power and synergy that no deck in Standard is taking advantage of. While we have plenty of decks looking to use energy or +1/+1 counters or tribes, Eldrazi and devoid have multiple sets of support just waiting to be configured correctly for success. I still feel that Ruins of Oran-Rief remains one of the most powerful lands in the format and it is being criminally underplayed. Let's change that!
With that, I bid you farewell and the best of luck in your brewing.