Oath of the Gatewatch is dense with efficient and powerful cards designed for competitive play, which means the set promises to alter the landscape of Standard. The best cards are sometimes the most difficult to figure out, so it's going to be a while before we feel the full impact of the new set. One week in, though, we have already seen a wide array of new decks appear to shake up the metagame. Today I'm going to explore a few of the new unique decks that players took to battle last weekend. Not only do these decks showcase novel ideas, they were also competitively successful. These decks are more than mere untested ideas, and their proof of concepts are worth exploring further.
This deck is focused around Eldrazi Displacer, which it uses to "blink" a variety of creatures out of and back into play for value. It's quite effective with Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc, but the best card with Eldrazi Displacer is Brood Monitor. Turning extra mana into extra tokens is great, but becauseBrood Monitor's three Eldrazi Scion tokens can be immediately cashed in for three mana to blink Brood Monitor with Eldrazi Displacer, the combination can create an infinite loop. This doesn't accomplish anything, but adding Zulaport Cutthroat to the mix will drain the opponent for an arbitrarily large amount of life and win the game immediately. Brood Monitor adds a lot of power to the board and is a great late-game topdeck with an impact roughly comparable to Wingmate Roc, so it's not a poor creature even without the combo.
The ability to assemble this game-ending combination is the centerpiece of the deck, and stopping the combo will be at the forefront of every opponent's mind once they figure out what is going on. Maindeck Duress goes a long way in protecting the combo pieces from creature removal, but the deck can never plan on having its combo, so it's designed to be completely functional without it. The ability to curve Anafenza, the Foremost into Siege Rhino into Wingmate Roc gives the deck an Abzan Aggro-like feel, and the individually high power level of these cards will often win the game without any need for fancy footwork.
This deck is fine as is, but some simple changes to this deck might improve it going forward. My theory is that moving the deck away from the combo and towards a more traditional Abzan Aggro game plan will increase its win percentage. The combo is a great part of the deck, but the reality is that the majority of wins will come through traditional means. Trimming down on combo pieces would allow the deck to be more flexible and play higher quality individual cards. Cutting one Zulaport Cutthroat opens some space but won't dramatically lower the deck's ability to assemble the combo over a long game, especially with Oath of Nissa helping out.
Oath of Nissa immediately came to mind as the perfect card for this deck because it's so good at finding any of the specific creatures it needs to assemble the combo. The deck also has high mana requirements and wants to hit Brood Monitor by turn six, and Oath of Nissa helps the deck play a land every turn. Oath of Nissa is effective no matter what plan the deck is on, combo or aggro, and it helps this deck blend between the two.
Beastcaller Savant helps the deck assemble the combo more quickly, but traditional Abzan decks don't play it for a reason; playing mana acceleration is a recipe for losing attrition battles because it leaves you with less threats in the face of their creature removal. Replacing Beastcaller Savant with higher-impact cards makes the deck more solid and more capable of playing a fair game.
Elvish Visionary is great with Eldrazi Displacer and carries +1/+1 counters for Anafenza, the Foremost, but it's normally a very low impact play and doesn't meaningfully develop the battlefield. I would increase the number to four in a deck more focused on the combo, but in a aggressively-minded deck I'm cutting both of them. Nissa, Vastwood Seer is similarly unnecessary.
To make this deck as aggressive the possible, I'll add four Warden of the First Tree. It's arguably the best card in Abzan Aggro, and playing it on turn one and activating it on turn two creates a threat unmatched in the format. It's critical to many of Abzan Aggro's wins and will be excellent in this deck. It might seem like Warden of the First Tree is moving far away from the combo, but because it's so aggressive that it demands the opponent's attention, it's actually protecting the combo because it draws out opposing removal spells, similarly to how Tarmogoyf used to protect the Splinter Twin combo in Temur Twin in Modern.
Duress is great for protecting the combo, but it's not played in the maindeck of Abzan Aggro because it doesn't always find a target, and it's a very poor topdeck in the late game. It's better suited for our sideboard.
All of the extra space in the deck should be dedicated to creature removal. It's important to disrupt whatever the opponent is doing, and efficient removal like Silkwrap, Abzan Charm, and Murderous Cut stop the vast majority of creatures the deck will come across.
Those changes bring the decklist to:
Eldrazi are the driving theme of Oath of the Gatewatch, and these competitively-priced creatures give even the powerful gold cards in Khans of Tarkir a run for their money. Instead of stretching mana wide like three-color cards do, Eldrazi demand a manabase focused on colorless Wastes mana. That's no problem because the new set offers plenty of great mana fixing, and the high density of quality Eldrazi and support cards make the focus worthwhile.
The main draw to playing a hyper-aggressive Eldrazi strategy is Ghostfire Blade, which conveniently works with colorless Devoid creatures. Ghostfire Blade can be played and attached to an attacking creature as early as turn two, and doing so creates a threat on-par or better than anything else available in Standard. Making this dream a reality means having plenty of colorless one-mana plays.
The new Reaver Drone is an excellent threat even without Ghostfire Blade, and early starts involving multiples are excellent, but having just four one-mana plays is not enough to support turn-two Ghostfire Blade. Sludge Crawler is surprisingly effective in the role of one-mana threat. Sludge Crawler fills in as an additional body to hold Ghostfire Blade and an additional way to enable Wasteland Strangler. If Sludge Crawler ingests a card and enables Wasteland Strangler, then it's easily worth the card spent. The activated pump ability of Sludge Crawler may seem cost-prohibitive, but consider that in combat engagements with blockers the threat of using it is often as useful as actually using it, and in late-game topdeck situations this cost is negligible.
My favorite Eldrazi in the deck is Bearer of Silence, which reminds me of an old favorite, Gatekeeper of Malakir. They can both be cast on turn two - as an aggressive play, the flying Bearer of Silence outshines Gatekeeper of Malakir - but they can be cast later at an extra cost to make the opponent sacrifice a creature. Cruel Edict attached to a creature is a tremendous amount of potential for value, and it might be the single best reason to play a black Eldrazi deck. It's especially great here because having creature removal built into a creature allows the deck to play less removal spells and maintain the high creature density required to make the most of Ghostfire Blade.
Thought-Knot Seer tops the curve as a the largest creature in the deck. It's an excellent follow-up to early aggressive creatures because of Its ability to strip opponent's of their reactive measures. Against decks like Four-Color Rally, Eldrazi Ramp, and Esper Dragons, the ability to remove key threats makes it very valuable even when immediately destroyed.
Matter Reshaper isn't extremely aggressive, and it doesn't block very well, but it's pure value. It will often put a creature right into play, which makes it a crazy tempo play reminiscent of Kitchen Finks. It's a key creature in a deck with small threats that seeks to flood the board with quantity over quality.
Spatial Contortion provides a valuable colorless answer to cards like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Warden of the First Tree, and in a pinch it can convert to extra damage when cast on an unblocked Thought-Knot Seer or a 3/2 creature carrying Ghostfire Blade. It's much easier to cast than Grasp of Darkness, which can't be cast reliably in a deck with so many colorless lands.
It's important to mention the manabase of this deck, which includes plenty of lands that generate value.
Four copies of Sea Gate Wreckage act as a late-game card drawing engine that ensures the Eldrazi deck will never run out of action. The deck can't be beaten in an attrition battle by removal spells and card advantage — it can only be overpowered or outraced.
The activated ability of Ruins of Oran-Rief puts a +1/+1 counter on any colorless creature about to enter play, and over time it will generate significant value. The creatures in this deck are small relative to creatures in decks like Abzan Aggro, so any additional size goes a long way in combat. Ruins of Oran-Rief is also excellent against control decks because it makes each individual creature more threatening and all the more urgent to destroy.
Mirrorpool can copy an Eldrazi or a removal spell, but sacrificing itself is a real cost. The deck doesn't want many, but playing one adds even more value to the manabase.
These value-generating colorless lands and others are a payoff for staying colorless and devoting to the Eldrazi, and their importance to the deck can't be understated. On the basis of pure power level, card-for-card, the spells and creatures in the mono-black Eldrazi deck are lower than opposing decks, but the manabase of the Eldrazi deck is an asset. This compares favorably to the three and four color fetchland-based manabases that serve as liabilities in opposing decks like Jeskai Black and Four-Color Rally.
This deck could benefit from some tuning, and I have made a few changes that trim disruption in exchange for higher creature density. Thought-Knot Seer and Matter Reshaper are very powerful and among the payoffs to playing Eldrazi, so I see no reason not to play the full amount of each.Maindeck
Another Eldrazi concept is to combine the powerful colorless creatures with the best that Esper has to offer. In theory the colorless creatures aren't actually color-restrictive, and because so many of the best colorless-producing lands can produce multiple colors, it's not a stretch to play three.
This deck is essentially a B/W Eldrazi Aggro deck that splashes blue for Reflector Mage. Reflector Mage is extremely powerful — so powerful that I am considering splashing it in Abzan Aggro. It's a card that I want to play in any deck I can, and it looks great here. It combines with Eldrazi Displacer to create a bonafide creature removal engine. Along with Bearer of Silence, this Eldrazi deck contains a ridiculous amount of removal built into its creatures.
This deck gives up Ghostfire Blade, but it gains additional one-mana creatures in Mardu Woe-Reaper and Bloodsoaked Champion. Mardu Woe-Reaper even enables Wasteland Strangler, and so do Silkwrap and Stasis Snare. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is one of the best cards in Standard, and it's a no-brainer in any aggressive deck that can cast it.
This deck gives up many of the powerful colorless lands available to other Eldrazi decks, but the power level of the cards is much higher, so it's a very viable strategy.
Share your thoughts on these decks in the comments section, and I'll answer any questions!