With SCG Louisville in the books, we’ve seen our first major Modern tournament since Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and the second since Oath of the Gatewatch released. The top 8 was as diverse as ever: in addition to Kiki-Chord, Fish, and two copies of Affinity, there were two blue/white decks, a red/green deck, and a blue-red deck. The top 16 further hit home that blue is not dead in Modern, as there were four more blue/white decks and another blue/red deck, as well as Tron, a colorless deck, and one more Affinity deck. Clearly, the format is diverse.

…setting aside the fact that those 11 unnamed decks are all Eldrazi decks.

World Breaker

The world of old has indeed been broken. Now, we’re in living interesting and unusual times. Eldrazi has solidified itself as not only a tier one deck, but as a series of tier one decks which are competing for dominance against each other and the decks that hope to beat them.

I don’t mean to come across as complaining—this metagame is unique and fascinating. It has been dramatically changed by two cards which have been around for six years ([casthaven]Eye of Ugin[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Eldrazi Temple[/casthaven]), but only recently received cheap cards to combine with. The only other card I can think of that had so dramatic an impact on Modern was [casthaven]Treasure Cruise[/casthaven], a card so powerful it lasted one Modern season before being restricted in Vintage and banned almost everywhere else.

[casthaven]Treasure Cruise[/casthaven] was banned with good reason; not only was it so powerful that it was difficult to justify playing a deck lacking it, but [casthaven]Treasure Cruise[/casthaven] itself was difficult to combat ([casthaven]Chalice of the Void[/casthaven] was likely the best weapon). Eldrazi appears to be a comparably powerful and format-warping deck, and one potentially even more difficult to combat. There don’t appear to be many, if any, silver bullet cards to fight it. Are [casthaven]Big Game Hunter[/casthaven], [casthaven]Painter’s Servant[/casthaven], [casthaven]Spreading Seas[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Blood Moon[/casthaven] really adequate—enough tools to combat it?

Invasive Species

There’s more to Modern than Eldrazi, despite all of the overblown statements of Modern’s demise. Robots remains a powerful choice as it always does (it beat a bunch of Eldrazi decks to win the tournament). Kiki-Chord does its best to resemble the [casthaven]Birthing Pod[/casthaven] decks of old and smash Eldrazi with value. Fish has returned to drown this year’s most powerful deck with disruption and mana denial. However, many other Modern decks, including pillars of the format both old and new, seem to be missing not only from the top tables, but from the metagame entirely.

  • [casthaven]Tarmogoyf[/casthaven] is gone, as is [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven]. Why play them when you can play [casthaven]Thought-Knot Seer[/casthaven] and get both, possibly for just the cost of [casthaven]Tarmogoyf[/casthaven]?
  • [casthaven]Snapcaster Mage[/casthaven] decks have historically been bad against [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven] decks, which every Eldrazi deck essentially is (not to mention cards like [casthaven]World Breaker[/casthaven], [casthaven]Reality Smasher[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Oblivion Sower[/casthaven], all of which are 2-for-1 win conditions that blue decks have difficulty dealing with).
  • [casthaven]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/casthaven] and burn are weaker against decks which take little to no damage off their mana bases and are perfectly happy to never cast a spell which costs less than four mana, not to mention that Eldrazi decks can play four copies of [casthaven]Chalice of the Void[/casthaven] in the main.
  • [casthaven]Lightning Bolt[/casthaven] doesn’t kill much anymore.

That’s not to mention all of the other decks which have had their time in the sun: [casthaven]Goryo’s Vengeance[/casthaven], [casthaven]Living End[/casthaven], Soul Sisters, Faeries, Tron, and Elves, just to name a few. They’re gone (or at least, that’s what this SCG Open and the Pro Tour suggest). So what? Not every deck is going to be good forever.

Unexpectedly Absent

There’s an unspoken, alluring promise to Modern: barring bannings (which are their own beast), your deck will always be playable. Furthermore, you’re likely to be rewarded for mastery of your deck, rather than just playing ‘the best deck,’ which is normally one of a group of decks.

The Eldrazi break this unofficial promise by combining various strategies into one (every Eldrazi deck is a linear aggro/combo deck with disruption, mana acceleration, and card advantage, in addition to whatever the color choice provides). This combination is able to combat, or at least disrupt and race, almost every deck in Modern. It winnows the competition down to decks specifically tuned to outrace or outlast the Eldrazi. The end result is a lot of decks just don’t seem (or perhaps, actually aren’t) competitive anymore.

It’s not fun for people to not be able to play with their cards, and that’s what Eldrazi seem to be doing. That said, if (or rather, when) Eldrazi get banned, the aforementioned promise is violated in a different way; Eldrazi players don’t get to play with their cards, those who experimented to beat the Eldrazi aren’t rewarded for their efforts, and Modern threatens to reset to the way it was before we returned to Zendikar, which is its own kind of disappointment. There really is no great way out of this, but then again, format breaks and bannings are never a cause for celebration (and I thoroughly expect both [casthaven]Eye of Ugin[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Eldrazi Temple[/casthaven] to be banned come Shadows Over Innistrad).

Reality Smasher

For now, we can wait,  watch, and laugh as [casthaven]Reality Smasher[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Thought-Knot Seer[/casthaven] make for hilarious Magic. I mean no disrespect to the pilots of Eldrazi decks, but the raw power of the deck seems able to reduce a lot of Magic to die rolls and mulligans. I’m reminded of the stories I heard when I got back to Magic, of people hating on [casthaven]Bloodbraid Elf[/casthaven] because it reduced games to who drew it more and who cascaded better (in addition to the people who loved it and those who recognized it was an important weapon for keeping [casthaven]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/casthaven] in check).

I’m looking forward to Shadows Over Innistrad. Not only will it be a new Limited format and a return to one of my favorite planes, but it’ll also likely see a Modern where I’m not actively avoiding going to tournaments. It’s the first time I’ve ever chosen not to play my favorite Constructed format (including canceling plans to attend GP Detroit), and I hope to either be proven wrong about the Eldrazi’s dominance or proven right and see it be banned (or perhaps we’ll be given the ultimate non sequitur and [casthaven]Cranial Plating[/casthaven] and nothing else will be banned). Only time will tell.

And as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer (currently going for an MFA in Game Design at NYU). He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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