There’s no two ways about it; I’m an Eldrazi fan through and through. Ever since their inception, I’ve jammed them in every deck I could and in every format I could. As a Legacy aficionado, for the longest time that meant that I was playing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. It was the only viable Eldrazi creature. I played it in OmniTell, 12Post, and even Doomsday, but I always felt like I could be doing more.
You can imagine my utter joy when Oath of the Gatewatch arrived and with it a horde of new playthings to work with. While everyone and their grandmother was frothing over the power level of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher in Modern, I quietly sat in the corner brewing up how to abuse these beasts in Legacy. In fact, I had written about an Eldrazi shell the very weekend of the Pro Tour where Modern Eldrazi premiered. Since then, Legacy Eldrazi has proliferated through the Legacy format, and to this day it is one of the most prevalent aggro decks going.
4x Eldrazi Mimic
4x Endless One
4x Thought-Knot Seer
4x Reality Smasher
4x Oblivion Sower
4x Matter Reshaper
4x Chalice of the Void
2x Warping Wail
4x Eye of Ugin
4x Ancient Tomb
4x Eldrazi Temple
4x City of Traitors
4x Cavern of Souls
2x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4x Thorn of Amethyst
2x Warping Wail
2x Umezawa’s Jitte
2x All is Dust
2x Ratchet Bomb
3x Faerie Macabre
So just what makes it so powerful in a format where Force of Will, Tendrils of Agony, and Griselbrand run rampant? On the surface, the deck looks like it just plays a bunch of big creatures and attacks, and frankly, that’s not inaccurate. Aggro decks in Legacy have traditionally used 3/4 Tarmogoyfs as the benchmark for attack creatures, and anything bigger had to be cheated into play with Show and Tell or Sneak Attack. Looking at the above list, we see a whopping 13 creatures larger than that Tarmogoyf, with Eldrazi Mimic and Endless One each being capable of growing even bigger. Couple this with just how quickly the deck can get rolling and you have a seriously terrifying archetype. On top of that, the deck runs many more creatures than traditional aggro decks. In a classic RUG Delver deck, you have a set of Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf, and Nimble Mongoose as your main threats. The Eldrazi deck runs nearly twice as many threats, and considerably larger ones at that, so it becomes clear why the former top dog would feel outclassed.
Another factor to Eldrazi dominance is its manabase. What made Modern Eldrazi so strong back in the day was the combination of Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple in the manabase to power out your creatures at a faster rate than the opponent can handle. In Legacy, we not only have access to those lands, but Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors as well, giving the deck an impressive 16 lands that produce two mana. This not only gives you the power to get your creatures online at a blistering pace, but also to abuse one of the strongest cards in the deck: Chalice of the Void. Being able to potentially cast Chalice for 1 on the first turn can be a death knell for a dangerously large percentage of the metagame. Shutting off everything from Brainstorm to Deathrite Shaman to Entomb can obliterate a lot of strategies, leading to a large of amount of effectively “free” wins.
As well, with the way the mana-base is set up, you can reliably curve your creatures in such a way that you can net progressively larger amounts of damage through growing your turn one Eldrazi Mimics. A turn one Mimic into turn two Thought-Knot Seer nets you 4 damage on the second turn. Curving into a Reality Smasher on turn three is another 14 damage. Given how fetchland-dependent most Legacy manabases are, this can be game over on its own.
The manabase is also built to maximize the odds of jamming a five or six-drop creature on the third turn. The main reason the deck even runs Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is to give the deck more ways of using Eye of Ugin to its full potential. By allowing it to tap for one more mana, you can turn otherwise awkward hands into a perfect curve. Normally an opening hand with Eye of Ugin and Chalice of the Void is incredibly awkward due to the Eye’s inability to tap for mana, but with Urborg you can still play Chalice on turn two and shut off the opponent’s spells.
The creature base for the deck is the standard Eldrazi fare that is nearly a direct port of the Modern versions of old. Eldrazi Mimic gives the deck an early attack that gets progressively larger as the game goes on, while Matter Reshaper acts as both a chump blocker for Tarmogoyf and a cheap threat to pressure slower opponents. Matter Reshaper also has the advantage of netting you a card when it dies, either putting a permanent directly into play or drawing you a large creature like Reality Smasher to play the following turn. It’s also worth noting that hitting a land off of Matter Reshaper doesn’t trigger City of Traitors to sacrifice itself since you aren’t technically playing a land. Couple this with the fact we’re running 26 lands and we have a way to ramp ourselves even further through the drawbacks of our own fast mana.
Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are the backbone of the deck, and are pretty much the main reason we’re playing Eldrazi to begin with. The sheer power of these cards in the metagame is staggering since they’re much larger than anything a fair opponent can do on turn two and three. Thought-Knot Seer outclasses Vendillion Clique at every angle, and a 4/4 body for effectively two mana makes it very hard to remove save for Swords to Plowshares, and even then we have Chalice of the Void to render such a removal spell useless.
Reality Smasher is the most aggressive play in the deck since the combination of trample and haste can cause some devastating blowouts. Even impenetrable defenders like True-Name Nemesis get flattened by Reality Smasher, and when coupled with Eldrazi Mimic, we can attack for massive chunks of damage much earlier than the opponent is prepared for. Smasher has the added bonus of requiring the opponent to discard a card when they target it with a spell; which, given the lack of proper card advantage in Legacy, can force an opponent into a situation where they have to choose between their life total and their resources for their subsequent turns.
Rounding out the creature base is Endless One, Oblivion Sower, and Endbringer. Endless One is one of the most flexible creatures in the deck, being able to be cast as a 2/2 on turn one all the way to an 8/8 on turn four. Another fun trick with Endless One is that Eye of Ugin effectively adds two mana to its cost, so you can play Endless One as a 2/2 off of a turn one Eye of Ugin. This is great for swarming the board alongside Eldrazi Mimics early on. Also, and this is the corner case to end all corner cases, Endless One can also be cast for zero against Dredge to remove their Bridge from Belows from the game. Given how fast such a deck can go off, having a main-deck means of stifling their development is huge, and it just adds to the versatility of a card like Endless One.
Oblivion Sower, on the other hand, is just plain big in Legacy with its massive 5/8 body, but it serves a far more devious purpose in this deck. When cast, Oblivion Sower exiles the top four cards of the opponent’s deck and you can choose any number of lands from their exile zone and put them into play under your control. While this often results in whiffs as far as usable lands go due to most Legacy manabases being too fetchland-heavy, it does also mess with one of the most popular cards in the format: Brainstorm.
More often than not, players will cast Brainstorm in response to your Thought-Knot Seer to protect the cards they want to use. Following up the Seer with Oblivion Sower can exile at least one of these cards alongside whatever spells they would draw afterward.
Finally, Endbringer is a flexible tool for longer, more drawn out games through its card draw, pinging, and combat control abilities. Card draw is fantastic against Miracles since it allows you to dig your way out of Jace, the Mind Sculptor lock as well as restock your board after a Terminus. Pinging also helps against control by keeping Young Pyromancer and opposing planeswalkers under control. This is especially important for picking off nuisance blockers like Baleful Strix so they can’t trade with your other threats. Stopping creatures from attacking or blocking is particularly strong against decks like Sneak & Show and Reanimator which tend to rely on one giant attacker at a time. Preventing these creatures from attacking render them inert and you can easily attack around them.
The deck also employs Dismember and Warping Wail, because contrary to popular belief, Legacy does require you to interact with the opponent. Dismember is fantastic at dispatching the creatures in Infect, which typically rely on pumping a singular attacker through Invigorate and Berserk, so having a one-mana way to kill a creature even through Invigorate is a necessity. Dismember also shines in the mirror match since it picks off everything outside of Oblivion Sower, and while the cost of 4 life can be steep when you’re on the defensive, it can often provide enough of a tempo swing that you can claw your way back into the game. On the other hand, if you’re on the offensive, Dismember can be backbreaking since you can get rid of their biggest defender and swing for the fences. As well, Dismember does wonders against Stoneforge Mystic decks because it can kill the Batterskull token before they can get a chance to gain life with it.
Warping Wail serves multiple purposes in this deck through its first two modes. Exiling a creature with 1 power or toughness hits virtually every creature in Death & Taxes, Elves, and Infect, especially Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic.
While the majority of the most powerful spells in Legacy are instants, there are some seriously terrifying sorceries out there, and having a two mana counterspell for them can make or break certain matchups. The most egregious one is Terminus, which is a board wipe that can often be played at instant speed thanks to Sensei’s Divining Top. This is the card that can singlehandedly cause you to lose to Miracles, since after this board wipe is when they typically get full control of the game and grind you to death with Jace and Monastery Mentor. Shutting down the Terminus during a clutch combat phase is often what clinches victory, and Warping Wail is usually the card to get that done.
Another use for Warping Wail is stopping Show and Tell, which is especially troublesome in game one since it can go off as early as turn two even through a Chalice of the Void. Here it basically plays backup to Thought-Knot Seer by shutting down the subsequent Show and Tells that they dig for after ripping the initial one from their hand. The end step Intuition for three Show and Tells is seriously rough after a Thought-Knot Seer, so having a way of stopping them on their turn and using up the rest of their key cards can win the game on its own.
The sideboard is always in a state of flux given how the Legacy metagame shifts nearly weekly, but there have been tried and true staples that have always been a part of my lists. For example, a full set of Thorn of Amethyst is necessary for combating the faster combo decks like Storm, since adding an extra mana to their spells makes it incredibly difficult to chain spells together for their storm count. It also does a tremendous job of slowing down decks like Miracles since they tend to choke up a lot of their mana spinning Sensei’s Divining Top, which leaves them with fewer opportunities to actually cast spells.
As extra Miracles hate, I’m running an extra two copies of Warping Wail to go up to a full set to increase the odds of drawing one for those crucial “stop the Terminus” turns. I also like to board them in for Dredge since you can make a token and sacrifice it to exile their Bridge from Belows so they won’t get zombie tokens when they flashback Dread Return. The final nail in the Miracles coffin is All is Dust. This is a catch-all to Jace, Blood Moon, Monastery Mentor, and even the odd True-Name Nemesis. What’s also fun is that All is Dust is technically a colourless Eldrazi spell, so Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin help cast it. This means you can potentially fire it off as early as turn 4.
I’ve also elected to run several cards that can handle the smaller creature swarm decks. While our deck can get explosive early turns, we really are a midrange deck and can get out-aggro’d early on. Ratchet Bomb and Umezawa’s Jitte are perfect for these roles since you don’t really have to invest much into them to be effective sweepers. The majority of creatures in aggro decks tend to be one or two mana, so a Ratchet Bomb on turn two can easily turn into a board wipe by the time you’re ready to start jamming threats. This is also perfect against Goblin Charbelcher as an answer for their Empty the Warrens plan in which they just make a dozen goblins and attack twice for the win. Since tokens have a CMC of zero, you can crack the Bomb immediately and blow them out.
While Jitte isn’t as fast as the bomb, it’s certainly flexible enough to warrant two sideboard slots. Being able to trade counters to pick off X/1 creatures, gain life, and pump up our own creatures is a boon in these matches, and all you have to do to recharge it is deal combat damage with the equipped creature. It doesn’t even have to be to the opponent! Attack a planeswalker or block a creature and you can rack up the counters. Furthermore, you can activate it even if you don’t have anything equipped, so should they remove the equipped creature you can still snipe their attackers and gain life so long as it has counters.
Last but not least is Faerie Macabre. Now, these slots have been occupied by everything from Spine of Ish Sah for OmniTell to Coercive Portal for Legacy to Trinisphere for Storm, but with the rise of RB Reanimator I’ve elected to run them as Faerie Macabre. The Faerie allows us to discard it to remove up to two cards in graveyards from the game. I’m running this over something like Surgical Extraction because we can use it through our Chalice of the Voids and the occasional Trinisphere unlike Surgical, and while most graveyard hate cards can be countered or destroyed like Leyline of the Void, Faerie Macabre isn’t actually being cast so it can only be stopped by Stifle. This isn’t even a concern since Stifle has declined dramatically in Legacy over the past year. Stopping the turn one Griselbrand/Elesh Norn/Blazing Archon is imperative, and not having to use mana to do it gives you an edge when you’re on the draw and may get comboed out before you can even play a land.
Legacy Eldrazi has cemented itself as one of the top decks in Legacy, and it might just be my favourite non-Dredge deck that I’ve ever played. The versatility and size of your threats coupled with an immensely powerful prison element push the deck above and beyond the competition. It’s something that every Legacy player has to at least respect as a part of the metagame, whether they want to or not, and it’s something I wholeheartedly recommend for players looking to jump into the format since so much of the deck is Standard and Modern legal. The cost to build this deck is paltry compared to most decks since you can buy it all for less than a set of Underground Seas, and if you’ve ever played the Modern version it’s very easy to understand the majority of the lines of play. If you’ve been on the fence about jumping into Legacy, grab a pack of sleeves, a box of Oath of the Gatewatch, and start playing!