If you told me last month that the Modern deck most improved from Throne of Eldraine would be Bant Eldrazi I would have laughed in your face. The deck hasn't been a real part of the metagame in years, and I know some would argue it never really was. By some perfect twist of fate right from the pages of a fairy tale, the deck has emerged as a perfect home for the two cards that have risen as the very best in the set—Once Upon a Time and Oko, Thief of Crowns.
With these two potent new tools in its arsenal, Bant Eldrazi is suddenly back in the picture as a competitive deck. Selesnya Eldrazi did see a small revival with the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic, and two weeks ago even Top 8ed the SCG Open Indianapolis with Once Upon a Time, but online players are beginning to embrace Oko, Thief of Crowns as well. Last weekend Bant Eldrazi won the Modern Challenge on MTGO:
The following day a white-less version finished in the Top 8 of the online PTQ:
This decklist shows off another recent upgrade to the strategy, Prismatic Vista, which can find Wastes and enable the Eldrazi, making it more consistent than ever.
Both versions have posted 5-0 League finishes in the days since, and are clearly gaining converts and increasing their metagame share, threatening to break out as a major force.
Once Upon a Time is at its best in a deck based around lands and creatures, which explains why it's helping Amulet Titan emerge as the deck-to-beat in the post-Faithless Looting metagame. It's an absolutely perfect card for finding Eldrazi Temple, which is the most important card in any Eldrazi deck. Draws that include Eldrazi Temple as acceleration can make Eldrazi seem broken, which is why Eye of Ugin was banned, but draws without it are often too slow for the format and can feel more like playing Standard. Once Upon a Time goes a long way toward pulling Eldrazi Temple, and unlike Ancient Stirrings can help to find and play it on turn one to enable the most powerful draws, including the dreaded double Eldrazi Temple draw. The near-necessity of having acceleration is why the deck plays both Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise, and Once Upon a Time's ability to find these to play turn one is yet another way that it helps the deck be consistently fast enough to compete.
When mana is plentiful Once Upon a Time can turn its attention to creatures, helping to find things like a devastating turn-two Thought-Knot Seer or that game-ending Reality Smasher topdeck. The Bant version of the deck was pretty straightforward, but the white-less version got a bit more creative with its creature package with a mix of one and two-ofs, which further increases the utility of Once Upon a Time by introducing some powerful situational options—including Collector Ouphe out of the sideboard.
Once Upon a Time helps to tie together the Eldrazi strategy and makes it a much more consistent deck, but its impact can be hard to see because it only helps to make the cards around it better. That's not the case for Oko, Thief of Crowns, which is the center of attention of any game where it sees play, in any format. It's proving to be the best card in the set, and is currently dominating Standard and even winning in Vintage. Oko is an incredible tool for all variety of decks, and last weekend I spent a lot of time discussing some of the many places it appeared in Modern.
Oko is fantastic in midrange decks as a threat and removal engine all wrapped in one versatile tool, and for a bargain cost. A deck that's essentially nothing but threats and removal spells, it's easy to imagine why Eldrazi is an ideal home for the planeswalker. Its mana acceleration creatures allow it to be played as early as turn two, and many opponents will be unable to get it off the battlefield, where it will inevitably take over the game with its stream of value. Eldrazi are naturally weak against creature removal spells, and Oko helps fight back by generating more threats that will be tough to keep up with. It also helps to round out the deck as a versatile solution to opposing permanents, and helps to disrupt opposing strategies while dealing with problem cards. For example, during Eldrazi's zenith a popular answer to the tribe was Ensnaring Bridge, which is certainly still a major problem, but one easily answered by Oko. Elk-ing things is especially strong in this deck because 3/3 creatures are easily contained by the larger Eldrazi. Add in Oko's life gain, and its powerful ability to swap permanents, and it's the tool of a lifetime for this blue-green strategy. With its new perfect enabler and powerful planeswalker, Bant and Simic Eldrazi are in a position to come into their own as top-tier Modern decks.
Bant Eldrazi used to rely heavily on its sideboard to disrupt the more unfair decks in Modern, and that hasn't changed. Modern presents a wide variety of problem strategies to contend with, and Eldrazi decks need to have a far-reaching, flexible sideboard in order to put up a fight against them all. Countermagic is the best solution, and can deal with most of the problems the deck can expect to come up against. Supported by a mix of more dedicated hosers, it comes together as a well-rounded deck capable of applying immense pressure backed up by meaningful disruption to stall the opponent and steal the game.
I've looked at the top decks in the metagame to get an idea of how these Eldrazi decks are positioned. I've analyzed each major matchup, and put together some sideboarding guidelines on how to best attack each of them. Because there are two major versions of the blue-based Eldrazi decks, Bant and the rising Simic deck, and both are still in development, I don't want to give exact sideboard plans for a specific list. Instead I'll offer a template that should serve any particular build.
The elephant in the Modern room is Amulet Titan, which continues to put up massive finishes at SCG Opens, and last weekend won the PTQ on Magic Online. It's an extremely powerful deck and the sort of unfair strategy that the relatively uninteractive Eldrazi deck can struggle to stop, but it does have some useful tools in Thought-Knot Seer and even Path to Exile, which can clear away Primeval Titan and possibly buy time to win when backed up by the massive pressure Eldrazi is capable of applying. Oko, Thief of Crowns should be a huge help here, with the ability to turn off Amulet of Vigor, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, or even Primeval Titan.
Ins and Outs
The sideboard is important for this unfair matchup, with Disdainful Stroke and Unified Will as the best options. Stubborn Denial is a bit narrow but potentially effective. Bring in these along with any dedicated hosers like Damping Sphere. Cut Matter Reshaper, which doesn't really do anything but attack against a deck that doesn't really play removal spells.
One of the most popular decks in Modern right now, Burn is a tricky matchup. Eldrazi aren't reliably fast enough to race Burn, but it also lacks meaningful ways to interact, and that's exactly what Burn preys on. The biggest saving grace is Oko, Thief of Crowns, which as a source of Food will quickly bury the Burn deck and put victory out of reach. Its high loyalty also means the opponent will be forced to spend a lot of damage destroying it, so it effectively will gain at least 8 life unless the opponent can ignore and win through it, a tall order.
Eldrazi relies heavily on its sideboard to win the matchup, with the staple Stubborn Denial as the most effective and important tool for interacting and buying the time to win. It's telling that last weekend players turned to a variety of dedicated hosers to help win the Burn matchup, including Feed the Clan, Weather the Storm and Knight of Autumn, and it's probably sensible to do so as long as Burn is so popular.
Ins and Outs
In this matchup countermagic and any hosers come in, while any six-plus mana Eldrazi can come out for being too slow, and Dismember for being too painful. Bant versions should cut Eldrazi Displacer, which is vulnerable to burn spells and lacks good targets for its blink ability.
Eldrazi Tron has been on the rise, and the trend seems to explain some of the success of Bant Eldrazi. The matchup against the other variety of Eldrazi is sure to come up, and it's an interesting one. On one hand, Eldrazi Tron can go bigger with more powerful spells, and Karn, the Great Creator into Ensnaring Bridge is a serious issue, but at the end of the day it seems like Oko, Thief of Crowns is just better. Not only does it stop Ensnaring Bridge or other artifact shenanigans, but the ability is great for turning dangerous Eldrazi like Reality Smasher into something a bit more manageable. Along with access to countermagic in the sideboard, and the overall higher consistency, the matchup seems firmly in favor of the blue-green-based decks.
Ins and Outs
Disdainful Stroke will be useful for gaining a tempo advantage against a deck that typically doesn't play more than one Cavern of Souls if any, and is important for dealing with their best card, Ugin, the Ineffable. Lists with Damping Sphere may want to bring it in here, but I wonder if it's actually that good in this matchup. For my cuts I'd turn to Matter Reshaper, which is too small to matter against most other Eldrazi.
The best plan against Urzatron is to play as aggressively as possible and try to race their endgame. The haste on Reality Smasher can be great for taking down Karn Liberated, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is surprisingly poor against colorless Eldrazi. Oko even makes short work of Wurmcoil Engine, and can even catch an unsuspecting Oblivion Stone, which is their best card in the matchup.
Ins and Outs
The sideboard countermagic really shines here, and all of them can be brought in. A great addition for lists that include it is Collector Ouphe, which can really hose some of their draws. All the removal spells can go, and Eldrazi Displacer is of little use for the Bant deck.
Midrange decks like Jund were historically prey for Eldrazi decks, with cards like Reality Smasher and Matter Reshaper exemplifying the pitfalls of trying to play a fair game against one of Magic's most powerful tribes. All of those problems remain for Jund, and Eldrazi's new tools only make them worse. Once Upon a Time is great against a deck that wants to pick you apart, but the real boon is Oko, Thief of Crowns, which must be dealt with or will take over the game. It's also an ideal answer to Tarmogoyf, which is Jund's best card against Eldrazi decks simply because of its size.
Ins and Outs
The typical Eldrazi sideboard doesn't offer much against Jund, but that's because Jund tends to be un-hosable, and Eldrazi doesn't really need the help. Do bring in Engineered Explosives, which is a great tool for dealing with their many two and three-mana plays, over a couple Eldrazi Displacer.
Midrange decks like Azorius Control are typically pretty good for Eldrazi, because the combination of robust threats and disruption is hard to stop completely. Oko is especially strong in this matchup as Detention Sphere is practically their only answer. Cavern of Souls also really hoses them, and Once Upon a Time can help find it.
Ins and Outs
This is another matchup where all the countermagic can be exchanged for removal spells and Eldrazi Displacer.
Dredge is the epitome of an unfair matchup, and one that's particularly hard to disrupt since Eldrazi's go-to disruption of Thought-Knot Seer doesn't do much here. When Eldrazi was last popular Dredge was one of its biggest problem matchups, and I doubt that has changed now, especially since the addition of Creeping Chill. The best bet it to be as aggressive as possible while trying to play around Conflagrate, and then mulligan aggressively for those sideboard cards.
Ins and Outs
This matchup is all about Grafdigger's Cage, but countermagic can do some work too. Path to Exile is effective removal, but move away from Eldrazi Displacer and Dismember. This is also one of the very few matchups where I'd consider cutting Oko, since turning any of their creatures into a 3/3 is probably an upgrade and it seems too slow to really be productive. On the other hand, as a lifegain source it could help lock up the late game against their burn plan which is one of their best routes to victory, so one or two is ok.
The Paradoxical Outcome/Urza, Lord High Artificer deck is one of the most broken in Modern, and naturally will be pretty strong against an Eldrazi deck it should be able to race. Eldrazi needs to put on the pressure and disrupt as much as possible, with Thought-Knot Seer doing a lot of the heavy lifting game one.
Ins and Outs
On the plus side, the deck gains access to a huge portion of its sideboard in the matchup, with all of the countermagic, Engineered Explosives and Collector Ouphe as very strong inclusions. Matter Reshaper and Eldrazi Displacer are quite weak here, and clunky Eldrazi like Drowner of Hope and Endbringer can go, which will open up plenty of room for heavy sideboarding.
Eldrazi's aggressive nature backed by versatile disruption makes it a relatively straightforward deck to play and sideboard in most matchups. Countermagic is the go-to solution to most problems, and will typically replace creature removal. The most troublesome opponents may require specific sideboard hosers, so tuning Eldrazi's sideboard to the actual metagame at hand is important. By tapping into Modern's deep pool of sideboard options, it can be better tuned for local fields or the constantly evolving online metagame.
Adam Yurchick is a competitive Magic player and writer. He writes about Modern and Eternal formats and keeps a weather eye on shifts in the metagame.