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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Jan 02 2018 1:00pm
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From time to time a format I play changes to something I do not really like and that is the time to switch to another format. I had to take a break from Vintage, tried a little bit of Legacy and even played some Standard. Neither of the formats brought the fun I expected and for that I decided to see what some Modern decks do. The RPTQ was coming and I had no idea what deck I could possibly play, and that's the problem of someone who can build pretty much anything from their collection.

The thing is that I need to play a deck with which I do not feel completely powerless and a deck that has chances to win in as many matchups as possible. While I'm not a fan of Jund, it was the deck I could rely on. Jund doesn't seem to be in a good place anymore though so I need a different deck that can have similar flat win percentage.

In the past year when I needed a change from decks I usually played, I retreated to playing White Eldrazi/Eldrazi in Vintage, Death and Taxes/Eldrazi in Legacy or Death and Taxes/Bant Eldrazi in Modern.

When I played with either D&T or Bant Eldrazi in Modern I often didn't feel in control of the game or my deck. D&T has matchups it can't beat, other matchups are very good for the deck. Bant Eldrazi seemed to be very draw dependent and I often found myself with either too much land in hand and no Eldrazi around or the other way round. Explosive draws were nice but often I was in top deck mode waiting for a miracle (Reality Smasher/Drowner of Hope) to happen. The creature that attacked the most was Noble Hierarch and that felt pretty bad.

Not so long ago, someone asked me to lend them an Eldrazi and Taxes deck. I looked at the deck I had loaded on MODO and realized that it has actually a reasonable mana base (no fetchlands and shock lands), features Dark Confidant and doesn't run Reality Smasher, which were my biggest problems with this deck - or rather versions I saw around in the past. When I was looking at the this particular list I realized that this is exactly how I'd imagine an Eldrazi and Taxes deck to look like and wondered why I had not seen a similar list earlier. I've seen people play different mana bases, Fatal Push, noncreature discard, Blessed Alliance, Collective Brutality, Blade Splicer, Relic of Progenitus, Reality Smasher, Aven Mindcensor, Selfless Spirit and other cards.  I had a hard time understanding why they found their way into a main deck of a creature based prison deck. Those are certainly not cards I'm used to from Vintage or Legacy. Since I don't know much about Modern I thought that maybe I just do not understand the metagame. Even I had to include copies of Mirran Crusaders - not a card I'd want to play - into my Legacy Death and Taxes since 4c Leovold decks were too common. When I saw MiguelCaster's list though it immediately looked like a solid list so I wasn't surprised that '7-0 Modern Challenge' was written next to it. The deck's sideboard also looked reasonable and showed that the player obviously has experience with this kind of deck and knows what they need against other decks (no possibility of overboarding, no win more cards or unnecessary cards).

I decided to take the deck for a spin. After a series of concessions from my opponents in the TP room for whatever reason (seriously wonder why everyone conceded after they found out what deck I was on?) I had to accept the fact that I would have to enter some events with it. An interesting adventure started. In the end I was happy with this deck and as a final test I decided to bring it to LGS and participate in a Modern event (the most popular format here). I need to grind some planeswalker points and I also need to know if I can bring this deck to a GP. All went well and that is why I decided to write an article about this deck.

Eldrazi and Taxes - overview

As the name suggests this deck is a combination of two decks. The Taxes part means the deck runs prison cards or hatebears. We have Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to slow noncreature spell based decks. We have Leonin Arbiter that either slows a deck down because fetchlands are pretty common in the format or it can terribly crush someone since Ghost Quarter can become a Strip Mine when the opponent can't pay the two mana to ignore Arbiter's ability. There is Tidehollow Sculler that can get rid of a card we do not want to face or slow an opponent down. There is also Flickerwisp that is an awesome card because it can save our creature, let us reuse an ability of a creature, remove a blocker etc. If Eldrazi Displacer is around it can be used repeatedly.

The Eldrazi part is Eldrazi Displacer, Wasteland Strangler and Thought-Knot Seer. Eldrazi Displacer is in fact the central piece of the deck. Wasteland Strangler is a removal and can do a pretty good job at other things (about that later). Thought-Knot Seer is a pretty much the card you want to play when you include 'Eldrazi' in your deck's name.

Running Eldrazi in Death and Taxes shell comes with a price - we have to play lands producing colorless mana. Since this deck is actually a black and white deck, we also need lands that produce both white mana and black mana. In the past many people tried running fetchlands, shock lands, Eldrazi Temples and Ghost Quarters but the person I copied the list from (MiguelCaster) chose to play BW fastlands, Shambling Vent and Caves of Koilos. While everyone running these decks nowadays may play these, it's not what I had in the deck I previously played with some time ago. The mana base was atrocious at that time. Not only it didn't really work with Leonin Arbiter, it also hurt. I had to pay too much life in a format where fast and aggressive decks were played and that was pretty bad.

The deck runs some removal in the form of Path to Exile. The exile effect is relevant and sometimes the opponent does not get to find a land due to Leonin Arbiter. There is Aether Vial that can help deploy the threats or punish the opponent with a hatebear, Flickerwisp or timely Tidehollow Sculler/Thought-Knot Seer. The remaining card I didn't mention is Dark Confidant that creates a card advantage this deck needs against more controlling or slower decks.

A 3/3 by turn 2? No problem!

This deck is capable of explosive draws - meaning a turn two Eldrazi - but doesn't need that in most cases. Usually the better play is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Tidehollow Sculler. It can play a slow game, control opponent's resources and then hit them with creatures.

Mana Base

Caves of Koilos is the land that produces each type of mana this deck needs - white, black and colorless.

Concealed Courtyard is a fastland meaning that if we play it with 1 or two lands in play it comes into play untapped. I personally found out that having access to untapped lands early game is more important than past turn 3. This can most probably depend on the metagame. In a metagame which would be rather slow - full of midrange and control decks - Godless Shrine would certainly be the better card. Either way I felt safe playing this card over Godless Shrine.

Shambling Vent is another dual land. It comes into play tapped but is also a creatureland which is often relevant against either slower or more controlling decks. Lifelink on the card is actually relevant because it can get the player back to a relatively healthy life total (for example to avoid Lightning Bolt). I often recklessly just attacked or chumped with this card to gain two life. In those cases it was a game winning decision and that convinced me that a certain amount of these cards is correct.

Eldrazi Temple is the sol land of this deck, it produces two mana for casting Eldrazi spells. Thanks to that you can cast Eldrazi Displacer on turn 2 or Thought-Knot Seer on turn 3. The land also produces two mana when activating an Eldrazi ability - in this case Eldrazi Displacer's ability.

Ghost Quarter is a card that thanks to Leonin Arbiter can be turned into Strip Mine. I never made this analogy before my Modern paper event I mentioned (because that's where someone noted that I just Strip Mine'd his land) and I don't really like it but it is true in a way. If Ghost Quarter can be used this way it certainly can be crippling for the opponent and it makes Thalia, Guardian of Thraben much more stronger. I'd say though that Ghost Quarter is much stronger card than Strip Mine in this case because it can fetch a basic land for you from time to time (sometimes destroying your Eldrazi Temple to find a Plains is the right play). This deck doesn't run fetchlands and Blood Moon is a thing in Modern. Ghost Quarter is one of the cards that allows the pilot to fetch a basic land (the other one being Path to Exile) and it also produces colorless mana that the deck needs.

Any deck usually needs some basics, especially in a format where Blood Moon and Path to Exile is relatively common. There are 2 Plains and 1 Swamp in this deck.

Noncreature Spells

My poor opponent running into a 3 mana trap that I could cheat into play thanks to Aether Vial.

There are two noncreature spells - Aether Vial and Path to Exile. Aether Vial is a very important card. It means that you can put your creatures instantly in play, you can 'play' more creatures per turn, and you also avoid counterspells. With Aether Vial in play you can do a lot of crazy stuff. The card being the most known for Vial shenanigans is Flickerwisp.

Path to Exile is the premier removal in Modern and can deal pretty much with anything. This deck doesn't need to deal with many creatures, usually, just with a very low number of them, and this card is perfect for it. It exiles the creature which can also help with Wasteland Stranglers -3/-3 ability and sometimes there is no downside if the opponent doesn't have access to two mana and Leonin Arbiter is in play.

Creatures

Eldrazi

At first when I looked at the list it didn't really strike me as an Eldrazi list. I realized later though that it runs Wasteland Strangler and Eldrazi Displacer alongside Thought-Knot Seer which are Eldrazi. I was wondering how good these cards are and after several matches I realized that unlike in Vintage or Legacy Eldrazi Displacer is the central piece of the deck. It allows for some crazy tricks because it can blink your own creatures with a comes into play ability, protect your creatures from removal, it can tap opposing blockers, or it can destroy tokens.

Wasteland Strangler is another Eldrazi in the deck that can do pretty crazy stuff. It has a fairly big body at 3/2 and an ability that can kill a creature. What it needs though in order for this to happen is a card opponent owns in exile. This deck can exile a card with Path to Exile, Tidehollow Sculler, Flickerwisp, Rest in Peace or Thought-Knot Seer. The opponent themselves sometimes provides additional targets - cards with the Suspend ability, cards removed from the game in order to cast a card with Delve etc. Getting the Wasteland Strangler's ability to work is not that difficult.

Thought-Knot Seer is the card that shows up in my mind when a deck is labeled Eldrazi. It practically can't be missing from an Eldrazi list. It is 4/4 body with disruption ability attached to it. Even though opponent will draw a card after Thought-Knot Seer leaves play, it won't be the card you exiled. While two of the 3 Eldrazi require colored mana, the creatures are colorless which can surprise some unsuspecting Affinity players.

Taxes

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is not only a good attacker or blocker but her ability is very powerful. Even in Modern we find cantrip driven decks and some decks will also cry seeing Thalia in play (Living End). This was also one of the best cards against Infect and as I heard this deck is gaining some popularity again. On the other hand there are also many creature heavy decks that don't care about this taxing effect and that means that Thalia can also be boarded out.

Leonin Arbiter is a very powerful hatebear in Modern. There are many decks running fetchlands, there are decks that need to search their library (Scapeshift, Tron). When this card is in play, the opponent also has to consider the fact that when they tap out they may lose a land. This alone is very powerful. When you destroy a land like this it can be crippling - it can stop a control player from hitting their needed fourth land, it can considerably delay TitanShift in their game plan. Similarly to Thalia this card may be rather useless against some decks so it may be also boarded out (2/1 First Strike is often better than 2/2 vanilla).

Tidehollow Sculler is not a card that sees too much play in general. This deck is its ideal home though because apart from being a strong card in general it works wonders with Eldrazi Displacer, Wasteland Strangler and Flickerwisp. Tidehollow Sculler not only gives you information about your opponent's hand but it removes a card from the game for a certain period of time (until Tidehollow Sculler leaves the battlefield). Often the card doesn't immediately die so you can cast Wasteland Strangler to eat the card for good. If Eldrazi Displacer is around you can exile Tidehollow Sculler in response to its own ability triggering which will remove one card for a limited time and one for good (new cards with similar effects, do not function like this anymore).

Flickerwisp is a very important card in Taxes lists. With Aether Vial it is a card that makes any tricks or plays very tricky. For example it can protect a creature by hiding it until the end of turn. It can remove a blocker or permanent (a land for example, this is a good way to break Tron if you don't have Ghost Quarters around) from the game for a whole turn if used at the end of turn. It can let you reuse an ability of Tidehollow Sculler (or exile one card if put in play at instant speed) or Orhzov Pontiff etc. Note that the card can also 'reset' cards. For example if opponent has Chalice of the Void, (Engineered Explosives, or a creature with counters from Arcbound Ravager/Steel Overseer in play, you can get rid of the counters thanks to Flickerwisp (in the worst case scenario it can reset a planeswalker when it would ultimate). It is also the lone flyer in the deck which can be relevant.

The remaining creature in the deck is Dark Confidant. When I was playing with Eldrazi and Taxes in the past I always felt the need to have some card draw effect in the deck. The best card to include was Dark Confidant but many players did not decide to include the card in their decks. When playing with Dark Confidant I soon learned the card is not what it used to be. There are matchups in which you really do not want to cast this card. Depending on the metagame this card can be cut and replaced with different card (most common creatures to show up in this deck are Thalia, Heretic Cathar and Blade Splicer. The tendency now seems to be 'more UWR Tempo/Control, Tron, and Lantern Control').

 

Sideboard

The sideboard is something that each player should come up with and often I do not like the sideboard of someone else. Miguelcaster's sideboard though is an exception. I wouldn't change a single card.

 

The cards that you should definitely include are Stone Silence to fight Affinity, Lantern Control (which is gaining on popularity again), Ad Nauseam and both variants of Tron. While the Death and Taxes variants have a very good matchup with Tron the Eldrazi variant has way more even matchup with it.

Graveyard removal is very important in Modern. Rest in Peace not only shuts graveyard based decks off it can also wreck the game to a Junk/Jund (see Tarmogoyf) player or Grixis Control player (decks running Delve spells, Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan's Command etc).

To deal with more aggressive decks we have additional Wasteland Strangler, Fatal Push, Zealous Persecution and Orzhov Pontiff. The last two cards can totally ruin your opponent's plans in combat or outright kill everything on the table and can also be used as a pump spell to get the few remaining damage through. I used to run 2 Zealous Persecutions but Orzhov Pontiff is another creature that can be abused with Eldrazi Displacer/Flickerwisp.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar comes in against midrange and control decks (most control decks are in fact midrange anyway). Gonti, Lord of Luxury is also a card I board against value-based grindy decks like Junk. If Gonti sticks in play it can also create more value overtime if you manage to blink it. Who wouldn't want to cast opponent's cards and win the game with them?

Anguished Unmaking is a card that I board when I see a card I can't deal with otherwise. Most of the time you are able to deal with cards other decks can't thanks to Flickerwisp but sometimes a real removal is needed. That's when Anguished Unmaking comes in.

The last card I didn't talk about is my favorite sideboard card against Storm - Kambal, Consul of Allocation. That's your own Tendrils of Agony (if that were legal in Modern)!

 

Conclusion

I was looking for a long time for a deck I could pilot. I needed a deck that would allow me to have enough control over the game and be competitive enough to take it to a GP or PTQ. I needed a deck that has relatively flat win percentage like Jund because I can't stand not being able to do anything. It can feel nice to crush Tron with Death and Taxes but the feeling you get when facing Elves is just one I can't bear. I'm usually not a fan of hybrid decks but this one came out well very nicely. Eldrazi and Taxes is a strong deck that rewards a good pilot and is competitive. The deck is also one of the relatively easily affordable decks. Some people consider it a budget deck and for that reason underestimate the power of the deck. On Magic Online you can buy this deck for roughly 200 tix, in paper it costs about 600USD.

 

This deck is also ideal for learning purposes if you never played a prison strategy and would like to know what these kind of decks are about. Exploring this type of a deck in Modern is way less punishing than trying to do so in Legacy or Vintage and it will show you a game of Magic from a different perspective.

Thanks for reading!
S'Tsung (stsung on Magic Online, stsungjp on Twitter)

Me and Modern, Eldrazi and Taxes introduction

Decklist