After a crushingly disappointing performance in PT Eldritch Moon, which had me going through the motions of pretending I could quit Magic (to the tune of “I can quit smoking whenever I want”), I found myself with one week to prepare for the Magic Online Championship Series Playoff event. I am trying to finish in the Top 8 of the MOCS leaderboard for 2016 (excluding already-qualified playoff winners, so really top 14 or so). This tournament matters, but I still felt the itch to brew. Eldritch Moon has some powerful cards and relatively few expert deckbuilders had set their sights on this challenge. If I didn’t get anywhere, I could always fall back on a Modern deck I used before like Affinity or Blue Moon and not be too far behind.
I wanted to try making Emrakul cost 5-6 mana. The hosts of The Masters of Modern podcast asked me about Emrakul, the Promised End in Modern when Eldritch Moon was spoiled. I replied that it seems like too much work compared to something like Gurmag Angler as a finisher, and it can’t block on turn 3-4 like Angler can.
Well, I still kind of think that may be true. But Emrakul proved so good in Standard that I figured I better at least try to unlock its power in Modern.
The challenge: Create a deck that can use, but doesn’t rely on, a 5-6 mana Emrakul, the Promised End.
My first thought was a Gifts Ungiven package that either put all the card types you didn’t have in the graveyard, or contained Emrakul, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Noxious Revival, and 1 card of a missing type, to get you the Emrakul if you didn’t have it.
Even the first draft appreciated that using hand disruption and Tarmogoyf, and Abrupt Decay and Nameless Inversion/Eyeblight’s Ending would give me a solid foundation to play Magic without doing something crazy like targeting myself with Glimpse the Unthinkable or whatever just to get types in the ‘yard.
Remember, the goal all along is to play normal Magic until Emrakul randomly shows up and wins the game even if you were slightly behind.
This looks like a relatively minor step but Courser of Kruphix and the maximum number of Liliana of the Veil were innovations that proved critical, even before I shifted into straight Green/Black Midrange.
Gift Ungiven and Thought Scour are good enablers, but I still felt I was working a little too hard to turn on Emrakul rather than letting it happen naturally. Also, very importantly, Eldrazi Temple was a card that could shave a turn off Emrakul regardless of what was going on in my graveyard. Eldrazi Temple also makes Thought-Knot Seer playable, and actually quite good, and Traverse the Ulvenwald can find Temple or Thought-Knot Seer (or Reality Smasher). All of a sudden, I had stumbled onto a playable GB Eldrazi-Traverse deck that was winning without much help from Emrakul.
You can see the sideboard is still pretty half-baked. Bitterblossom isn’t a horrible choice and explosives are fine, but I hadn’t yet set out to really tune it against what I expected to face. Going to extra types (tribal, artifact) in the sideboard is an example of over-building toward Emrakul, and I wisened up before the final version.
When I showed the deck to my Pantheon teammates, Ben Rubin pointed out that Grisly Salvage is a Modern-legal card. Ancient Stirrings is one of Modern’s best 5 cards. Grisly Salvage costs twice as much (and isn’t quite as good), but it also puts at least 5 cards in your graveyard. It scratches the itch for anyone who feels like casting Glimpse the Unthinkable targeting themselves, and it does so while finding ‘Goyf, Temple, Emrakul, Tasigur, etc. Grisly Salvage is a Modern-playable card. That I’m sure of.
You’ll also see that as I was testing Modern, I realized that right now most tier 1 decks are committing resources to the board in the form of creatures, in a way that makes cards like Dismember and Abrupt Decay really attractive. I also learned that while Eyeblight’s Ending is clearly a worse card than Terminate, and Nameless Inversion worse than Lightning Bolt, you can afford to pay an extra mana for a very similar effect when you make up for it elsewhere with a good mana base and other cheap removal.
In the sideboard, Night of Soul’s Betrayal is a card many fast decks are simply praying you don’t draw and cast. Extra enchantments don’t hurt, but really the Golgari Charms and Night of Soul’s Betrayals are about beating Infect, Affinity, Chord of Calling, Flickerwisp/Thalia, etc.
Thragtusk is not just a burn hate card (if it was, I’d be siding in an extra Tasigur or two and multiple Feed the Clan). Thragtusk also rocks against Jund or Grixis, and people trying to kill you with Reality Smasher who happen to be using Eldrazi Displacer to clear the way aren’t thrilled to see it either.
As I mentioned above, it’s very possible that GB Eldrazi shouldn’t even go this hard for types and play Emrakul. Gurmag Angler plays perfectly well with Grisly Salvage. That may be the next step for this deck—certainly it’s worth testing. But if you have a local event coming up or want to have a ton of fun in Modern, stick with the Emrakul version. In some popular matchups like Grixis, Jund, or Tron, it can be well worth it. In other matchups, you can put your cards to work doing other things, and the 1 copy of Emrakul and slightly slower removal will sometimes hurt you and sometimes not hurt you.
Fun moments from the MOCS event: (where I started 4-1 with a loss to Affinity and then lost the last 2 rounds to Suicide Zoo (a 45%-or-so matchup) and Jund (a 55%-or-so matchup). Such is life in one of the hardest tournaments around).
This was my main phase, and for the first time in my life, untapped against Affinity and regretted not Abrupt Decaying my own ‘Goyf on my opponent’s end step! I targeted Ravager instead, knowing the math but also knowing I had only 1 copy of Emrakul in my deck (Traverse would be 1 short this game).
Of course I drew the Emrakul, which left me with a nice screenshot but not the victory. I’ll note that it’s nice to have 5 colorless creatures in your deck in an archetype (BG midrange) that is traditionally very soft to Etched Champion. On another day perhaps I would have randomly had an extra type in the ‘yard and stolen this game.
In this match my opponent got smoked by Emrakul in game 1. It came out of nowhere and was just game over. In game 2, a Thought-Knot Seer revealed that my opponent had been scared into bringing in Slaughter Games against GB Midrange (not generally advisable). I took something else with Thought-Knot, my opponent removed all 2 of the Traverse the Ulvenwalds from my deck (perhaps realizing midstream that tutoring up a ‘Goyf was going to be plenty good enough), and I won.
In another screenshot I didn’t save, my opponent cast Slaughter Pact on his main phase to kill my Thought-Knot Seer. I had Emrakul in hand, 6 mana, and 6 types in the graveyard. If I had drawn a land I could have controlled my opponent’s turn and declined to pay for the Pact! I didn’t draw the land to pull it off but the Emrakul won the game anyway a turn or two later. This deck is fun.
Final Thoughts and Random Observations
Hopefully my journey though various iterations gives you a look at many ideas that I considered, some that made the cut and some that didn’t. Grim Flayer is a card I played against in testing that I thought I might try at some point, but I couldn’t find room with Grisly Salvage at 2, and for the Eldrazi Temple version I feel Salvage is the better enabler that costs GB (a version with both cards might be good, though).
As dredge gains in popularity, it becomes even more important to be able to side into non-graveyard threats like Thragtusk and Reality Smasher if people want to try to Rest in Peace or Leyline you. It also becomes important not to cheat on graveyard hate of your own such as my main deck copy of Nihil Spellbomb, which can be supplemented with additional copies or the first Bojuka Bog to Traverse for if your local meta has many graveyard decks.
The snow-covered basic lands were a holdover from the Gifts Ungiven versions that I never bothered to fix. But I do not recommend using a mix, as it gives opponents with Path to Exile or Ghost Quarter too much information about your total number of basic lands (in addition to forcing you to track which version they saw when they Inquisitioned you turn 1).
I have no love for foil cards but when I went to purchase Twilight Mires, the Expedition ones were cheaper than the originals. Turns out I love a bargain more than I hate foils.
Lastly, I should say that brewing this deck and seeing it go from total first draft to playable version of a new archetype was really refreshing and helped me get over PT Eldritch Moon. We all play Magic for different reasons and I am certainly more interested in winning than brewing (I’m not a “must-brew” guy who plays his own deck 80% of the time), but it’s important to all of us, especially in a time of doubt about your abilities, to find something that’s fun and makes you feel good. Magic is a great game, and I couldn’t fully quit even if I wanted to.