The State of Modern: Eldrazi Tron, by Justin Kessel

After the banning of Eye of Ugin, players have been trying to find a way to harness the power of the Eldrazi Menace.

Bant Eldrazi became a strong replacement for the Eldrazi Winter deck, as it had access to many great sideboard cards in white. After Infect was essentially banned with Gitaxian Probe’s banning and the printing of Fatal Push, the format began to shift around. Infect’s No. 1 prey, green-based Tron, suddenly became a strong deck choice, as it no longer had a huge auto-loss to one of the most played decks in Modern. It began looking like green-based Tron was going to be the best deck in the format when Death’s Shadow and Dredge showed back up.

This format shift has allowed Eldrazi decks to gain power. Slowly the community started to see the power of the Eldrazi when teamed up with Urza’s network of lands. Those aforementioned format shifts to Death’s Shadow and Dredge have made Eldrazi Tron wonderfully positioned at the top of the best decks to play in Modern.

The deck

For me, it took a while to jump over to Eldrazi Tron as I loved playing Bant Eldrazi. Eldrazi Tron looked clunky and seemed like it would never reliably get Tron online. But I saw Eldrazi Tron was putting up finish after finish, and that was a strong case for me to give it a try. I have been happy with that decision and the deck has treated me well ever since.

Let’s get to a decklist. Here’s what I would currently play:

Eldrazi Tron, by Justin Kessel

Eldrazi Tron’s main gameplan is playing Eldrazi a turn or two earlier than their casting costs would dictate. This is done through Eldrazi Temple tapping for two mana for Eldrazi spells, assembling Tron, or using a Mind Stone for mana acceleration.

I used to think that Expedition Map’s goal was to find Tron pieces. The big trick here is learning that it is typically utilized for fetching out an Eldrazi Temple. Personally, when I started to focus on getting Eldrazi on the board and then assembling Tron later, I started to see the strength of the deck.

Playing early Eldrazi is the most common line, but sometimes the deck takes players on another route that’s more familiar. Assembling turn 3 Tron and playing Karn Liberated is possible and is the dream scenario in many matchups. You don’t always have to have Tron online, as I have cast many Karns with seven lands, and that’s still powerful. Usually, your opponent will have fought to defend against the initial Eldrazi and will be low on resources. That allows Karn to break in like the Kool-Aid Man. Oh yeah.

The untouchables

4 Matter Reshaper
4 Reality Smasher
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Walking Ballista
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Expedition Map
2 Endbringer
2 Karn Liberated

The cards above are what you’ll be using to win the game. Matter Reshaper is the weakest of the bunch, but I consider it necessary to have a blocker against aggro and an attacker against control. Usually you’ll blow past Matter Reshaper and play Thought-Knot Seer and then Reality Smasher as that’s how the mana works out, but Matter Reshaper helps tie slower draws together. It’s fantastic against one-for-one removal and it sometimes helps put you on the play when you’re on the draw (when it dies and you get a land in play, for example).

Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are the meat of the deck. Thought-Knot Seer is a very annoying threat that gives you information on your opponent’s hand and steals their best non-land card. Reality Smasher is just brutal and difficult to deal with. It’s also pretty disgusting in multiples. Remember the crashes of trampling Siege Rhinos? It’s about like that; just replace the life drain with haste.

Chalice of the Void locks out parts of so many decks that I can’t justify cutting it. When Chalice of the Void is good in the format, Eldrazi Tron is good.

Expedition Map is your only way to find your Eldrazi Temples, Tron lands, and utility lands. Endbringer shines as a 5/5 that can kill off X/1s, draw cards, keep creatures out of combat, and quickly kill your opponent. When equipped with a Basilisk Collar, it’s a creature-killing machine.

I have seen some decks trim or replace Karn Liberated, but his exiling a permanent ability is crucial. Sometimes you run into decks running Blood Moon in their main deck and your only answers are Karn or All Is Dust. Karn also deals with Ensnaring Bridge. On top of all of that, you can’t have the dreaded “turn 3 Karn” without Karn in the deck. Just having that possibility in some games is worth it.

And finally, Walking Ballista can sometimes be weak, but given time and Tron it can be a huge threat. The Walking Ballista machine gun where you equip Basilisk Collar and mow down your opponent’s creatures is the ideal, but it can be useful in tons of other situations. It can block, dispatch potential blockers, and simply be a Fireball to aim at your opponent’s head.

The flex spots

1 All Is Dust
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Basilisk Collar
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

In my current list, I’m expecting both Dredge and the mirror match, so I have a split of one and one between Relic of Progenitus and Basilisk Collar. I could see having two Relic of Progenitus for a Dredge and Death’s Shadow heavy meta.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is a nice catch-all, especially with a possible Solemnity deck floating around the format. It adds a little extra help against Blood Moon decks, and his attack trigger exiling 20 cards from your opponent’s deck gives you an out against infinite life combos.

All Is Dust is yet another metagame call. I like having access to at least one in the main deck to clear up random colored permanents. It’s the absolute worst card against another Eldrazi deck, Affinity, or Lantern Control, but its power against a random Blood Moon or swarm deck is worth having. If you’re expecting fewer Eldrazi and Affinity decks and more colored permanents from opponents, I could see two maindeck All Is Dust.

There are a few other options people have been playing lately. I have been trying out Emrakul, the Promised End, as she can swing games in your favor. She’ll usually cost around 10 mana, but with Tron or Eldrazi Temples her cost can a bit more manageable. Emrakul is a bit slow, so she’s not great unless you can get to the late game.

Batterskull is another great option if you’re in the market for lifegain and sticky threats, and it gives you a late-game mana sink to keep returning to your hand and replaying. It also feels great to equip this on a Reality Smasher. A 9/9 trample, lifelink, and vigilance creature that requires discarding an additional card to kill it is quite disgusting.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is reasonable in the main deck if you’re looking for another board sweeper, but it suffers the same issues as All Is Dust. I like having it in the sideboard to be an instant KO against random Bogles and Elves players. It’s also nice to have a planeswalker to board in against control and other decks that can’t easily pressure one.

I have seen a few random players running Duplicant and Culling Scales. I don’t know if this is some crazy testing or powerful tech, but I can see both being great in the mirror and some of the field. A Duplicant exiling a Death’s Shadow will make a 13/13 creature on your side of the board, so that’s something to consider.

And finally, if you’re expecting more one-for-one removal and needing some lifegain, Wurmcoil Engine can help you out. Wurmcoil is also useful in the mirror, as deathtouch is nice in combat, and it keeps the common theme of card advantage rolling with the deck. If this dies, it splits into two 3/3s, so it’s on a similar level as Reality Smasher when it comes to cards required to kill it.

The manabase

One of the best parts of Eldrazi Tron is the mana. The deck is mono-“colored,” doesn’t have lands that come into play tapped, and none of your lands cost you life. There are two Wastes as well as two Mind Stones to provide colorless mana under a Blood Moon. The Tron lands and Eldrazi Temples should never be touched, as they are the lands that give you the extra mana for faster starts and late game shenanigans.

Ghost Quarter is fantastic against the mirror and other Tron decks and also pulls weight against creature lands (Add in a Crucible of Worlds for extra fun!). Cavern of Souls helps you fight through counterspells, and running two now is a good idea due to the uptick of Ceremonious Rejection in sideboards. Make this a priority to fetch up when facing off against a blue deck.

The only land in question is Sea Gate Wreckage. I will swear by Sea Gate Wreckage and defend it every day. If the game goes long you will surely have no cards in hand. Being able to draw two cards a turn is great. Picture this land as a noncreature Endbringer. Other people have cut this for some other utility land, but I think that is a horrible decision. Once Tron is online you’ll usually be able to play anything you draw, so you can use this on your upkeep or main phase without fear.

Sideboarding

I highly recommend having access to four Relic of Progenitus in the 75, as it’s great against Dredge, Tarmogoyf decks, U/R Storm, and Grixis Death’s Shadow. It can also give some insurance for an unknown field that could contain some form of less played graveyard strategies, such as Goryo’s Vengeance or Thopter Gifts decks. The other nice part of the card is that it can cycle you into something new if it becomes useless. I also bring some of them in against Snapcaster Mage control decks to help manage their graveyard, and to act as a form of late-game card draw when you have a ton of mana and you need something to do with it.

Grafdigger’s Cage is also a must-have due to Dredge and U/R Storm, and it’s nice to have against Collected Company/Chord of Calling decks.

Surgical Extraction rounds out the graveyard hate. Exiling all of Dredge’s Prized Amalgams or Bloodghasts can help a ton in that matchup, where exiling random combo or problem pieces from other decks is great too. One of the problems with this is that most of the effects we have exile (Thought-Knot Seer, Karn Liberated, Ugin the Spirit Dragon), but a Dismember on a Vizier of Remedies into a Surgical Extraction helps stop that part of Counters Company. Using Ghost Quarter to take out a Tron piece and then Surgical Extracting that away is a common play.

Ratchet Bomb is a general catch-all and another way of getting things into the graveyard for Surgical Extraction. I would always play two of these. I bring them in against Death’s Shadow (many one- and two-CMC threats), Blood Moon decks, U/R Storm (for when they go for the goblin tokens plan), and any deck with Ensnaring Bridge. Ratchet Bomb is your main way of getting rid of problematic artifacts that All is Dust can’t hit. It’s slow, but I’d rather have it over not having an answer.

The rest of the sideboard is up for personal preference. I like Hangarback Walker currently as it can provide a few turns of blockers against aggressive decks. It also fits in with the rest of the hard-to-remove threats by at least replacing itself with a thopter or two. I bring this in against Burn, Death’s Shadow, and G/B/x decks.

Ugin the Spirit Dragon and the second All Is Dust are there when you need sweepers. Counters Company, Elves, and Bogles fold to Ugin’s -X ability. You can exile their board over and over and keep them from doing anything. All Is Dust gives you that same effect, but it’s only a one shot. I usually take out Karns for these two cards, as Karn loves hitting decks that deploy one threat at a time, while All Is Dust and Ugin love to clean the board up.

Pithing Needle is a great one-of to have access to. Again, there are so many cards that can show up in Modern that I love having some answer to them. Random planeswalkers, creature lands, etc., can be neatly shut down with this. The list of decks that this can come in against is huge, but some common decks I bring Pithing Needle in against include Merfolk (Aether Vial or Mutavault); U/x Control (Planeswalkers or Celestial Colonnade); Bant Eldrazi (Eldrazi Displacer, Drowner of Hope); Lantern Control (Codex Shredder, Lantern of Insight); Affinity (Cranial Plating, Inkmoth/Blinkmoth Nexus); and G/x Tron (Karn Liberated). This card is always a “go with your gut” type card. If you feel like you can get some value out of it, bring it in. But if you struggle to find a spot for it, you might just be better off going with the main gameplan.

Good matchups

Eldrazi Tron is one of the best decks right now due to the popularity of other decks. If you’re expecting the following in your meta, then I highly suggest sleeving up the Eldrazi team.

Death’s Shadow

This is probably why I personally play Eldrazi Tron. A Chalice of the Void on one shuts down a ton of the deck. While the Death’s Shadow player can hope to find Kolaghan’s Command to destroy the Chalice and get out of the lock, the Eldrazi player can hopefully win the game with the time advantage given. Games without Chalice are more skill testing, but certainly the Eldrazi have the advantage. Just remember that Endbringer has a “Target creature can’t attack or block” ability and ride Reality Smasher and friends to victory.

Dredge  

Dredge feels very favorable due to having access to four Relic of Progenitus, two Grafdigger’s Cage, and two Surgical Extractions in the 75. There will be times that the Dredge player will drop 10 power on turn 2 or 3, but if you can make them stumble with the aforementioned graveyard hate you can secure the win.

U/R Gifts Storm

With Chalice of the Void to slow down their cantrips, the clock from Reality Smasher, the hand disruption from Thought-Knot Seer, and the sideboard graveyard hate, Eldrazi Tron packs a strong punch against the Storm player. Usually, Eldrazi Tron can keep Baral, Chief of Compliance or Goblin Electromancer off of the board with Dismembers or Walking Ballistas while attacking in with big creatures. There are also Ratchet Bombs available in games 2 and 3 to clean up any goblin tokens that may arrive.

Abzan/Jund

The G/B/x decks have always had issues with Tron decks. This is certainly the matchup you want turn 3 Tron and Karn, but Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher work very well too. Reality Smasher gives you a big leg up in the matchup as it is usually a 2-for-1. Liliana of the Veil’s -2 ability is usually the only clean answer to a Reality Smasher. I also have to mention one of the best turn 2 or 3 plays is Matter Reshaper. Matter Reshaper replaces itself while using up one of your opponent’s precious removal spells. G/B/x decks are all about the 1-for-1 removal, and the Eldrazi prevent your opponents from having clean answers. Also, be sure to kill any Dark Confidants you see as they can help mitigate this advantage by refilling the G/B/x player’s hand with removal spells. Beyond that, you can pull ahead with all of the value from your creatures and find that it’s difficult to lose.

Bad matchups

Scapeshift/Titanshift/Breach Titan

It’s hard to battle against these decks, regardless of the flavor. A Thought-Knot Seer may have to pick between a Primeval Titan or a Summoner’s Pact here, or a Scapeshift or Primeval Titan there. These decks have quite a bit of redundancy, and I have found myself winning more off of sheer luck or bad draws from my opponent. It’s extremely difficult to pull out a win when Titan’s engines are running smoothly.

G/x Tron

This matchup is tricky because green Tron is built to reliably get Tron online. The best bet here is to use Expedition Maps to find Ghost Quarters and keep them off Tron while applying pressure. Ghost Quarter into Surgical Extraction on a Tron piece in games 2 and 3 helps buy you a lot of time, but you certainly have your back against the wall in this matchup.

Ad Nauseam

This is probably the worst matchup for Eldrazi Tron. Whenever I play against it I’m usually hoping that my opponent stumbles, a Chalice of the Void on zero (for Lotus Bloom) or one (for Sleight of Hand, Serum Visions, Angel’s Grace) slows them down enough, and that Thought-Knot Seer hits crucial cards. If you can exile a Lightning Storm from their hand you can win on the spot if they don’t have Laboratory Maniac. But usually you’ll be able to hit a singleton combo enabler and try to win before they recover. It’s not a good feeling to just cross your fingers and hope that you can take them down quickly, so I’d rather just hope to not meet up with it in a tournament.

Gameplay

Eldrazi Tron’s basic gameplan is to find the best way to cheat on the costs of your Eldrazi spells. You won’t always be able to keep a hand with Eldrazi Temple, Expedition Map, or natural Tron, but you can still try to play like you’ll draw one.

The best example here is if you have an Eldrazi Temple, two lands, and a Thought-Knot Seer. You’re certainly playing a turn 3 Thought-Knot Seer, assuming no disruption from your opponent. But if you sequence your lands properly, you can have a shot at a turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer if you draw a second Eldrazi Temple on your next turn. The only time I wouldn’t do that is if I was playing against Merfolk or some other deck that can mess with my lands (Ghost Quarter and whatnot). In that case, hold on to Eldrazi Temple and play it with the mentality of it giving you a little burst of mana for one turn. If it dies, it dies, but you at least got a use out of it.

The No. 1 land you should be searching out with an Expedition Map is Eldrazi Temple. Assembling Tron is rather uncommon with the deck and once I realized that it was just icing on the cake I found myself winning more. If you have two Tron pieces and an Expedition Map, absolutely fetch up the final piece! But keep in mind that we’re not the previously mentioned green-based Tron decks that are built to hit Tron every game on turn 3, so if you can get past that mentality you’ll surely find yourself winning more.

Here’s an example on why I advocate making Eldrazi Temple your main fetch target with Expedition Map:

Turn 1: Land and cast Expedition Map.
Turn 2: Land. Crack Map for Eldrazi Temple.
Turn 3: Eldrazi Temple and cast Thought-Knot Seer.
Turn 4: Land and cast Reality Smasher.

There aren’t many decks that can handle that kind of a start. And if they can, they have used up some removal and answers. That’s fewer cards for your opponent to handle whatever you have left in hand and whatever comes off the top of your deck.

Here are a few other tips and tricks on playing the deck.

  • Eldrazi Temple’s two mana for Eldrazi spells can be used to cast All Is Dust, as it is a Tribal Sorcery – Eldrazi. It sometimes still surprises people when they think you only have 5-6 mana and you hit them with an All Is Dust off an Eldrazi Temple.
  • In the mirror it is crucial to be on the play or to somehow get yourself back on the play. The best ways to do this are to assemble Tron before your opponent or to have your Matter Reshaper killed off. If you can find a way to have your Matter Reshaper die at any time, take it. The potential land you can get off of Matter Reshaper, or even the card draw, could flip you to being “on the play.”
  • Against Death’s Shadow, make a Chalice of the Void on one a priority. That should buy you enough time to set up shop and smash their realities.
  • More Ceremonious Rejections are showing up in sideboards due to Eldrazi Tron’s popularity. Combat this with a Chalice on one (potentially using up their Ceremonious Rejection if they have it) and fetching up Cavern of Souls. If you play a build with two Caverns, set the second one to Construct so you can cast your Walking Ballistas and Hangarback Walkers without fear. If you play Wurmcoil Engine, remember that it’s a Wurm and not a Construct, so you’ll need to plan accordingly there.
  • Chalice of the Void is a powerful card, but having it set on one can hurt you a little because you have Expedition Map, Basilisk Collar, and Relic of Progenitus. But locking out large chunks of your opponent’s deck is worth this awkwardness. Also, feel free to look like a fool and cast your spells into your own Chalice to be countered. This may get your opponents to give you weird looks, but you’ll need to empty your hand so you can use Sea Gate Wreckage later. Just remember that the spell does get countered so you don’t end up in an awkward judge call situation.
  • A final tip that some people forget about is Endbringer’s ability to stop a creature from attacking or blocking. I have seen a few games where the Eldrazi Tron player missed lethal damage because they thought they couldn’t get through blockers. Or maybe they didn’t want to potentially die from a swing back on the next turn. Endbringer can open up a path for you to attack through, and then untap on your opponent’s turn to stop attacks. It’s hard to remember this mode for Endbringer as pinging and drawing cards are so enticing, but it’s good to know that it’s there.

Wrap-up

I hope this has given you an insight into the world of Eldrazi Tron. I have always found that reading different takes on the same deck from different authors helps spark understanding, creativity, and forging your own path with the deck.

I love presenting hard to deal with threats and forcing my opponents to make difficult decisions. Sometimes your opponents make the wrong choice, and sometimes your opponent’s deck won’t give them the cards to even be able to make any. Forcing your opponent to “have it” over and over again is what Eldrazi Tron does best. Every threat demands an answer, and most decks can only handle a small amount of that.

Justin Kessel is a computer programmer from Urbana, Ill. When he’s not playing Magic he is usually found playing music, learning a foreign language, chatting with his fiancée on Skype, or relaxing and watching Netflix with his cats.

 

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