Recently, I got a request to stream U/R Eldrazi Control in Standard. I was skeptical at first. Is playing a deck with Ulamog but without Marvel at all realistic? Certainly this wasn’t the right way to go. But if there’s one thing that’s true of me it’s that I’ll try almost anything in Standard—I’m always on the search for the next innovative strategy, or tweak to take the best deck to the next level. In addition, U/R Eldrazi has been a force in Standard on and off, and turbo’ing out Eldrazi with Shrine of the Forsaken Gods alongside counterspells is surprisingly strong.
U/R Eldrazi Control
This deck plays out a lot like U/R Control lists that rely on Torrential Gearhulk inevitability, with a huge distinction. This deck goes bigger. A lot bigger.
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
You’d have to be living under a rock if you didn’t immediately know the answer to, “What’s the biggest finisher in Standard?” Ulamog is almost always game over when cast, which is a large part of why the best deck in Standard tries to turbo it out on turn 4. What Temur Aetherworks can’t do though is cast Ulamog consistently. There are weird games where that ends up happening, but that’s a far cry from U/R’s plan A.
So when exactly are you aiming to cast Ulamog here? The answer is turn 7. Hedron Archive or the Scions from Drowner of Hope combine perfectly with the extra mana from Shrine of the Forsaken Gods to reach 10 mana that turn. Obviously that’s not as fast as turn 4, but there’s a lot more consistency here. You don’t have to get lucky on a Marvel spin, and you also have a lot more control building up to that point. Additionally, the consistency means you’re actually building toward a key turn where you’re exiling two important permanents rather than hoping to spike an Ulamog at the right time. This allows for better planning, letting you decide which threats are worth neutralizing now and which you’ll save for Ulamog’s clean-up duty.
There are other obvious benefits trying to ramp to Ulamog. One is that you have to dedicate very little else to actually winning the game. In fact, Ulamog is the only true finisher in the deck. Chandra is certainly capable of winning games by herself, but more often she works as board control and card advantage. Drowner of Hope is nice, but it wouldn’t be present without Ulamog in the deck. It’s much more of a way to stay alive than to kill your opponent, though conveniently it still does that from time to time.
This is the other big payoff card. Kozilek’s Return used to sweep again and again in Standard Emrakul or G/R World Breaker ramp decks, but has been on the downswing ever since. As an obviously powerful card it was just waiting for the right moment to pounce on the metagame. The card is actually pretty horrendous versus Marvel decks, though it can be used to slow them down a little. But many of the decks attacking a Marvel metagame are simply throwing everything they have into play and that’s where Return shines.
I’ve had situations come up where I’m losing to indestructible Gods plus a wide board, but thankfully Ulamog deals with all that when paired with the flashback on Return. The brutal part is that your opponent can’t usually play around the card even though they know it’s coming. If they under-commit you can just wait to cast Ulamog, or just leave the Return for the next Ulamog (a joke I know, but every once in a while the first Ulamog isn’t enough). Over-commit and they lose all their resources. As a control deck you have even more ways to press this advantage too. With your permission spells and removal you can often craft the board state to perfection before landing a game-winning Ulamog.
Many blue decks in Standard play more countermagic, or at least some that’s more unconditional, but these provide enough defense to keep your opponent honest. Censor is particularly amazing here because it can cycle into powerful spells in the late game when it’s no longer useful. As one of your few interactive spells on 2 mana, it plays a critical role and is part of what has breathed life back into this archetype.
Spell Shrivel is somewhat embarrassing, but I’ve played my fair share of the card, even registering it at a Pro Tour when I could have played Collected Company instead. Whoops! As bad as the card looks, it’s completely functional and importantly only costs a single blue mana. Countering on curve yet failing to counter late in the game is much more important in this deck than having a hard counter but failing to meet the double-blue requirement on turn 3. After all, if your late game is Ulamog, you can often let a threat slip through the cracks on turn 6 or 7. And if you can’t counter that threat with Spell Shrivel, at that point it probably wasn’t even that bad in the first place.
These counters are also useful in disguising your plan a bit. If you lead on a couple of U/R lands and cycle a Censor, or better yet counter a spell, your opponent might think you’re on U/R Control. If you can, use this to your advantage. Sequence your lands so that you can sell the U/R disguise as long as possible. Your opponent might slowroll key threats for too long, and you’ll be closer to Ulamog than you would be otherwise. This means waiting on playing giveaway lands like Shrine of the Forsaken Gods if possible. Of course, you should usually hold that until land 7 in most cases.
One of my favorite parts of this deck is the set of Thought-Knot Seers in the board. They come in almost every matchup for a few different reasons and are usually fantastic. The first reason is that your opponent will often cut removal for more resilient threats. Though-Knot Seer can grab some of these problem cards like Tireless Tracker, but even better is that top decked Trackers are much less problematic for on-board TKS’s than the removal that was sided out would be. Additionally, TKS presents a huge threat that has to be dealt with. It often goes under what your opponent was planning. They’ll try and build out a fast board before you get to your late game but that just plays perfectly into the Thought-Knot plan. Lastly, different cards get boarded out in different matchups and Thought-Knot is the perfect card to swap in. If somehow Standard moves to an even more Marvel-centric meta I would consider making room for TKS main by shaving Kozilek’s Return and Spatial Contortion.
The rest of the board just helps raise or lower your curve of interactive spells. This can be done via proactive measures like Dispel, which actually promotes more aggression on your end in controlling matchups, or purely reactive cards like Magma Spray, which makes otherwise difficult matchups actually winnable. The one sideboard card I added after my testing was Ceremonious Rejection. It’s a backbreaking card and lets you play big, expensive cards at times without actually tapping out. Be warned though—this card is a really popular sideboard card in Standard and is devastating against this deck! Many of your powerful but expensive cards get shut down by this, including Thought-Knot Seer. If you aren’t careful you might tap out at the wrong time and get blown out. Instead, try and be the one getting your opponent. See you Marvel!
I’m not sold on Release the Gremlins but I do think you want some specific hate versus Mardu. Heart of Kiran is a big problem for this deck and it’s nice to have a clean answer to it. As a big mana deck you can even win of a horde of Gremlins somewhat easily with a timely topdeck. I really like game defining sideboard cards in general and this one definitely falls into that category. You can add more to the board even, but I think if there’s that big of an uptick in Mardu you should probably just switch to a different deck.
I enjoyed playing this deck mostly because it wasn’t a Marvel deck. I do think it’s slightly favored versus Marvel, but of course it’s hard to be great against Marvel and the field at the same time, so you do risk more polarized matchups. This deck has a pretty bad G/B matchup, for example, because that deck goes big quickly and has disruption. Still, if you like control style decks but are looking for something other than U/R Gearhulk, I recommend giving this a go.
Marvel is great but I don’t think you have to play it. Hopefully I don’t regret those words in a few months! Have fun casting Ulamog the old fashioned way! See you next time.