A 4th Place Tournament Report and Izzet Eldrazi Deck Guide
I must have read Paul Rietzl’s article “A Champion Returns” well over fifty times at this point in my life. No tournament report (outside of Jeff Cunningham’s Invitational report–”Get Big or Die Trying”;1,2,3) comes close to its re-readability. Inspired by Rietzl, I have always felt if I did well at a Magic event, I would put pen to paper and see what words I could muster up about that weekend.
While a few years ago this finish may not have been as big of a deal to me personally, now that I get out way less often to play in large tournaments this finish is something I do not take for granted given that many of my close calls have led to disappointment. I have been losing win-and-ins since Hayden Bedsole was in diapers, so a rare conversion into the elimination rounds was exciting to say the least.
If you only want to learn more about the deck/sideboard strategy and ignore the tournament report itself, feel free to scroll down to the “Deck Guide” section.
Our story really does not begin very long ago. I have not delved into Standard with any focus since early February and because of that I was out of touch with the format. I went out of my way to cash out of Standard on my Magic Online collection while fetchlands and Khans staples were still rather valuable. I fooled around with some Season’s Past decks and different Red Goggles variants, specifically a Boros build with Mage-Ring Network, but I could not consistently win 4 or 5 matches per league (which has grown to become my litmus test on whether or not I have found something worth taking to a tournament). I found that I loved Mage-Ring Network’s spot in the format as it lets you ramp to large planeswalker a turn early as well as build up a large mana advantage in the late game.
Early in the month of May, I graduated college and realized I had a lot of free time to play some Magic. The first deck that caught my eye was Raymond Perez’s Izzet Eldrazi deck featuring Mage-Ring Network alongside a lot of counterspells. This is a potent combination as often players will hold their spells to play around counter magic, which allows you to use your mana to add counters to your Mage-Ring Network without facing much pressure.
After doing some testing and research on other Izzet Eldrazi decks, I came to the following list which has changed very little over the course of my deck building process.
The deck contains a lot of redundancy and it very much feels like a ramp deck that just plays counter magic rather than ramp spells. This allows you to scale better into the late game since historically drawing a Rampant Growth on turn seven is quite worse than drawing Counterspell on turn seven.
One question I have been asked a few times is what is this deck bad against. The three main cards in order of difficult to beat are: Lambholt Pacifist, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Reality Smasher.
Prologue, GP Minneapolis:
After graduation, I went home to visit my family in Wisconsin. My parents happened to have a trip planned for that weekend and I did not want to rain on their parade, so I booked a MegaBus to Minnesota. I did not know many people there, but fortunately I got to pal around the convention center with Zan Syed. Day One I started 6-0, lost to White Eldrazi (the deck’s worst match-up) then split the last rounds to finish 7-2 which was a disappointing end to a strong start. On day two I made some costly mulligan decisions and dropped after my fourth loss so I could catch a bus home and make it in time for dinner.
I was a little sad doing poorly at the event because I had been performing so well on MTGO, but I thought I got a little unfortunate with match-ups playing against only one black control deck (Matthias Hunt playing GB Aurora) and facing both White Eldrazi decks that made Day 2.
That being said, it was nice to be playing Magic at a somewhat high level and I knew with SCG Atlanta on the horizon, Minneapolis was just a testing ground for the Open.
Day 1, SCG Open Atlanta
I began the tournament in a rather embarrassing fashion losing quite handily to GW Tokens piloted by Atlanta local Martin Yeh. Along the way I accrued a pair of warnings for looking at extra cards as my sweaty hands clumsily knocked cards every which way while moving my deck.
Being 0-1 with two warnings was an inauspicious start. I even mentioned to Korey McDuffie and Arya Roohi that I was heavily considering dropping as I had not received a game loss in years and did not think I could emotionally handle it for such a dumb reason like looking at extra cards in an incredibly humid convention hall. Nevertheless, sound minds prevailed and I remained in the tournament.
I did not lose another match in day one, here are some of the highlights:
Against a GW Tokens opponent his board was Thopter Token, Sylvan Advocate with five lands and mine was a Eldrazi Spawn token with a lot of mana. I played a Chandra and plussed to five and attacked for six. On his turn he attacked me directly with the Thopter and my Chandra with the Advocate, I blocked with the Spawn. He played two more Advocates and a sixth land tapped, then passed the turn with me at 4 life. Since he did not attack my Chandra, I was able to -5 and plague wind his entire board then cast a freshly drawn Drowner of Hope.
I played against three straight Ramp decks on day one (and would end up facing two additional on Sunday). I do not consider Ramp a terribly poor deck in this metagame, but it was just very unexpected. It is a fun match up as you usually know if you won or lost by turn 5 depending on if you use your counter magic correctly. This weekend fortunately, I won all of the games against it except one in which I made a terrible error countering a Nissa’s Pilgrimage with Clash of Wills only to get my Negate stripped by a turn 4 Thought-Knot Seer.
In my last round of day one, I got paired against Cedric Phillips. We had played once before in a PTQ circa 252 B.C. where he bullied a young Michael Segal with his Destructive Flow Zoo deck. This time I got my revenge in what is quite possibly my best match-up Orzhov Control. I may be remembering wrong, but this may have been the only black based control deck I faced in the entire tournament. What was interesting about this match however was I got to activate Jace to bounce my Ulamog in game 1 and my Drowner multiple times in game 2. Talk about getting value out of your creatures!
Day 2, SCG Open Atlanta
Coming into the second day with only one loss, I was a good feeling. Having scanned the standings the night before there were few decks I feared and a handful of black based control strategies for me to prey upon. However, it panned out that all of the black based control decks lost and I had mostly coin-flip matchups such as GW Tokens and Bant Humans for most of the day.
Two of my matches were recorded on camera and you can check them out via SCGLive coverage archives. Rewatching those, I question a lot of the plays my opponents made, but I guess that is the benefit of playing a slightly unknown deck.
Here are some day two highlights that did not happen on camera:
In round 10 after exiling three Ulamogs from my opponents deck with my own attacking Ulamog, my opponent cast an Ulamog of his own, which was unexpected because that meant he played four of those bad boys in his main deck. I could never imagine registering four Ulamogs, but at that moment it would have been good if I did not have Spell Shrivel. I was able to cast a couple more threats and run him over as Drowner of Hope plus Wandering Fumarole races very well against Worldbreaker.
Prior to Day 2, I did some smack talk to Gerry via Twitter. I was pretty confident I would break his unbeaten streak. I was on somewhat of a heater myself as I only lost once up until that point and it was largely because my opponent hit running Hangarback Walkers on Evolutionary Leap in round one. As I played against Gerry, things pretty much lined up per usual in Game 1. I fully felt I had it all under control. My hand was Spell Shrivel and Anticipate and stood firm at 4 life with a Chandra, Drowner of Hope and an Eldrazi token in play. He had a 1/1 Thopter, an Avacyn and a Sylvan Advocate in play with no cards in his hand. I was a favorite to find a Ulamog in the top seven or so cards of my library then could cast it and flashback the Kozilek’s Return and stabilize. Unfortunately for me, he drew Hangarback Walker hit me with the Thopter after I tapped down his Avacyn and put me to 3 then played the Hangarback for 0 to kill me on my Upkeep. Imagine if that Spell Shrivel was a Void Shatter. You win some, you lose some. Game 2 of that match was rough, I mulliganed to find a counterspell or Anticipate, missed a land drop then died to a barrage of Gideons. I didn’t do a very good job backing up my smack talk.
Probably my happiest moment in the tournament was getting to draw with my longtime friend Chi Hoi Yim into the Top 8 of the tournament. Quickly after was the scariest point in the tournament as we realized during the drive to Chipotle that there was a small chance we may have made a mistake and he could have just drew himself out of Top 8. Well, that did not happen and he made it. Hooray.
Top 8, SCG Open Atlanta
This top eight was pretty stacked. I firmly believe if you ranked the standings in order of the best players in the event, Gerry Thompson and Tom Ross would be number one and number two and Chi Hoi Yim could very well be in the Top 5 or so. Coupled with how strong the Top 8 at GP Costa Rica was, it is safe to say this format really rewards stronger players. Luckily, I was the second seed and those ringers were all on the other side of the bracket.
My quarterfinals match was relatively easy. I was on the play and had the counter magic I needed to deter his ramp spells and then pressured his life total with my large threats. His threats came late to the party which is not a good place to be in when Drowner of Hope can simply just tap them down. Our second game was similar to the first, but instead a pair of Negates took care of a pair of Nissa’s Pilgrimmages and a Thought-Knot Seer nabbed his last ramp spell. Three turns later my Eldrazi and Wandering Fumarole had taken care of business as he failed to cobble together enough mana for his large threats as he had mulliganed to five cards.
In the semifinals I kept a relatively great hand Game 1, but all of my draw steps were Ulamogs and Highland Lakes which made for a rather quick death as my guildgate draw failed to cast any of the three Ulamogs stranded in my hand. Game 2, my opponent had quite a strong draw, but I came back and won a squeaker only to suffer a speedy loss in Game 3. My decision not to mulligan in Game 3 is one multiple people have asked about, but I think I had all the spells required for me to the win the game in my hand and needed only one of the following things to happen in order to get survive long enough to cast a stabilizing spell:
- Him playing around a counter-spell on turn 4
- Him not playing a 2 drop creature
- I draw a single piece of counter magic or removal
However, the opposite of those things happened and I died rather quickly. It was a calculated risk and it didn’t work out for me, but I do not regret it.
Epilogue, Trivia and Birthdays
One of my favorite things about Magic: the Gathering is its storied history. For those of you who have watched the Smash Bros. documentary on YouTube, you probably agree with me when you wish the Enter the Battlefield documentary focused more on the history of the Pro Tour rather than a snapshot of a couple different contemporaries. Well, because of Magic’s long history there are so many random tidbits of information and trivia.
Lately, I have been on a dinosaur kick because of Jurassic World being one of my new favorite movies. As a result, I discovered that Magic has its own Jurassic World which is known as Muraganda and there are three cards that exist on this Plane. To test the Muraganda knowledge of resident SCG grinders Gerry Thompson, Michael Majors, Kevin Jones and Noah Walker, I made a wager. If they could answer the following question correct, they would win five dollars: “Three cards in Magic’s history hail from the plane of Muraganda. The first two are Muraganda Petroglyphs and Imperiosaur, what is the third card?” Hearing their guesses was a super fun way to pass time waiting for the Legacy Classic and Standard Open to finish. They finally were able to put their heads together and Kevin Jones came up with the correct answer after I provided the following hints:
- The card does not appear in a regular MtG expansion (it is in a set like Commander)
- It appears sometimes the legacy deck Cephalid Breakfast
This weekend was also awesome as it was Adrian Throop’s birthday and he won the Legacy Classic with Death & Taxes which is a deck he has been playing for quite some time.
Props & Slops
Before I get into the deck guide, I want to include something that seems to have died and sporadically makes its way back into one or two articles per year. I personally miss it a lot and wish it were once again an industry standard.
- Petey Opolka Power Rankings
- Chi Hoi Yim’s hickey
- Gerry Thompson’s current hairstyle (it is fairly tame and normal)
- Adam Johnston, Keenan Davidson and Joe Demestrio for support from afar
- Filthy Casuals facebook group and Raven’s Nest Games in Marietta, GA
- Enforcing a missed trigger on Thraben Inspector
- Evolutionary Leap always hitting more Hangarback Walkers
- My current hairstyle (not really even hair to style at this point)
- Round 13 Opponent
- Whoever threw out my Chipotle
Rather than go over all of my choices, I simply am going to go over a few of the ones that differ with other Izzet Eldrazi decks played by prominent players. If you have any questions feel free to ask, I try to get back to everybody.
3 Drowner of Hope – Do not be fooled by Ulamog’s lofty mana cost and splashy abilities, in fact,Drowner of Hope is the best creature in the deck. Some deck lists will often play four, but I have relegated the fourth to the sideboard in favor of playing smaller mana cost cards and more lands. I keep hearing people make generalizations about this deck such as “it just stalls until Ulamog” or “It just loses to a resolved creature/planeswalker”. Well, this is the card that proves all of that invalid. I believe my feature matches give a good example of this. It may be correct to play a fourth main deck, however I would not advocate for shaving any other card in the deck other than the 3rd Ulamog or 2nd Chandra, Flamecaller.
3 Ulamog – Ulamog is an interesting card as you will win a lot of games where you cast it, but you will lose probably as many games because it sits in your hand. That being said, it has a powerful effect. I like to think that this deck could cut Ulamog for any ole seven drop and it’d still be very consistent because it has a high land count and redundancy among its spells, however Ulamog is a great finisher and provides a big payoff for playing 32 mana sources. I think two is too few as you do want to draw one in a grindy game and if you Anticipate one towards the bottom of your deck or discard one to Chandra, Flamecaller’s 0 ability it may be difficult to find one later on. Four is too many because, well, Ulamog costs 10 mana.
4 Anticipate – I see some lists ranging between 0 and 4 Anticipate. It is one of the few cards you want at every stage of the game, I can’t imagine playing less than four. It is worth noting that the range of hands you can keep with this deck is quite high. The biggest reason for that is playing 4 Anticipate and 28 lands. I think that is important as most other decks in this format mulligan a lot so you generally are up on cards.
Void Shatter vs. Spell Shrivel – I was on the Void Shatter train up until Chi Hoi Yim convinced me the night before the tournament to play Spell Shrivel. Which is better? I am not sure. I lost Game 1 of my match against Gerry Thompson because I had Spell Shrivel instead of Void Shatter, but I did win one game where Spell Shrivel countered an Avacyn off of two Eldrazi Spawns and an Island. I still am not sure which is better, but in theory Spell Shrivel is better as your colorless lands can be less of a liability early on and there is a possible curve of turn 5 Hedron Archive with Spell Shrivel still open off of the Archive and blue source.
3 Fevered Visions – This is possibly the best sideboard card in all of Standard. It is extremely difficult for any Swamp strategy to compete with this card for a few reasons:
- It lowers the impact of any discard spells they cast as you will be drawing more cards and your cards have a high level of redundancy, thus what they discard does not generally matter too much.
- It lowers the impact of any draw spells they cast, such as Read the Bones or Ob Nixilis, as they will already be “card flooded” and likely draw more low impact cards such as other draw spells or discard spells.
- It lowers the impact of Infinite Obliteration as you will likely draw more threats via the extra cards you are drawing.
- It is incredibly difficult to remove from play
The first two of these reasons are amplified by the fact Fevered Visions itself poses a relatively quick clock alongside a Drowner of Hope or a Chandra, Flamecaller.
Quick aside: If they use Gideon’s +1 ability, do not redirect Fevered Visions’ damage to it at their end step as it will be prevented.
3 Negate – This is your best card against the most popular deck in the format (GW Tokens) as it counters Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It also helps countering ramp spells in the GR Ramp match up.
3 Fiery Impulse – This kills Tireless Trackers and Duskwatch Recruiters on sight and is a semi-clean answer to Eldrazi Displacers as long as you reach Spell Mastery. One-for-one removal will not win you very many games in this Standard format, but not having an answer to specific threats is sure to lose you plenty of games.
1 Deceiver of Forms – This card is a doozie. This is probably the card I see the weirdest responses from. The initial reason is I need an Eldrazi creature that I can use to flashback Kozilek’s Return. Seven mana is ideal and you want to curve turn 3 Kozilek’s Return into turn 4 Hedron Archive then turn 5 flashback Kozilek’s Return. Let’s look at our options:
- Endless One…not very many abilities, pretty poor against Eldrazi Displacer. It’s plus side is it is flexible against Mono White Humans as a 4/4 for 4 is a great road-block.
- Ruin Processor…you are often boarding out your Spell Shrivels against the decks that pressure your life total which is when you want this card.
- Deceiver of Forms…this card scries. Often when you need to cast it you are low on resources against a deck pressuring your life total and it helps you find more. Against Infinite Obliteration it is an 8/8 that needs to be answered and helps you find more threats. On top of that it has great artwork.
To summarize it, I think it is rarely correct to cast Endless One for under 7 and any amount over 8 is less valuable than the Scry ability from Deceiver AND Ruin Processor is rarely going to have a card in exile to process. Throughout this tournament I counted 11 lands which were scried to the bottom. In many of those games if I drew those lands, I would have lost almost assuredly.
0 Reality Smasher – I do not understand why anybody would play this card in the sideboard of this deck. I think a lot of it is people are lazy and do not test post-sideboard games. This card does not smooth out your draws very all and often times is mana inefficient along your curve. In addition, most decks you’re against where you would want this card bring in their own Eldrazi or Silumgars and will just bop you over the head faster and more consistently. I think playing Forests in your sideboard might be better than playing Reality Smasher.
0 Roast – This one is a deceiving card. The only thing it really answers that Spatial Contortion can’t is Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer. However, they will often strip it with their Thought-Knot Seer and against Reality Smasher you have already taken 5 damage and been two-for-one’d. Also, randomly players will leave in cards like Dromoka’s Command this just makes that card actually good against you.
0 Prophet of Distortion – I was extremely excited to see this card out of Jim Davis’ sideboard as it was one never on my radar. Then I realized it is a Fevered Visions that just dies to everything and could potentially be a liability against Kalitas. It also seems bad against any match-up where you may want to Kozilek’s Return or utilize Chandra’s minus ability.
Match-Ups and Sideboarding
What I really like about this deck is a lot of the match-ups are extremely close, but the deck plays a lot of lands and cheap interaction so you can execute the same game plan regularly without many hiccups (which I believe Chapin pointed out in his article). On top of that, you are a control deck so playing enter the battlefield lands does not impact your gameplan nearly as much as it will a deck like GW Tokens or Bant Humans. For this reason alone, I think the GW Tokens matchup for Izzet Eldrazi is slightly favored as in a non-zero number of games they suffer for having a guildgate draw and fail to put on the pressure they need to.
My belief is that the best five decks in the format are GW Tokens, BW Control, and Bant Company. As I said above, the GW match-up is a little better than a coin flip. I think BW Control is an incredibly good matchup and you should expect to beat it every time. Bant Humans is rough as they have Lambholt Pacifist which can just clown you early on. However, your late game is incredibly lethal against them as you do not need to play around as much as you do against GW Tokens.
This format is widely diverse, but here is a sideboard guide. I follow it pretty loosely, for example I’ll keep more Spell Shrivels in than Clash of Wills if my opponent plays conservatively around Clash of Wills for one or two. As this means they probably will do it regardless of whether the card is in your deck or not. Play vs. Draw also matters some. I will often board out a Mage-Ring Network on the draw against decks that pressure my life total or a Highland Lake against decks that are grindier.
Green White Tokens
-2 Clash of Wills, -2 Spell Shrivel, -1 Mage-Ring Network, -1 Jace, Unravel of Secrets
+3 Negate, +1 Kozilek’s Return, +1 Drowner of Hope, +1 Deceiver of Forms
Because this is the most popular deck I will give some tips in addition to the sideboard guide.
- There are two easy was to lose this match-up:
- First, not being able to counter turn 4 Gideon.
- Second, flashing back Kozilek’s Return into flashed in Archangel of Avacyn.
- Do not Spatial Contortion Sylvan Advocate if they have Dromoka’s Command mana up.
- Often the best value you’ll get out of Kozilek’s Return initial cast is killing one or two Plants/Ally tokens–do not wait and hope for better, it is important for it to be in your graveyard
- Use Anticipate on turn 2 to find counter magic.
- Do not counter Hangarback Walker or Sylvan Advocate. You eventually can put those in check with Drowner of Hope or a planeswalker then exile them with Ulamog.
- Kozilek’s Return’s flashback ability cannot be prevented by Dromoka’s Command.
-4 Spell Shrivel, -1 Mage-Ring Network, -1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
+3 Fiery Impulse, +1 Kozilek’s Return, +1 Drowner of Hope, +1 Deceiver of Forms
Rites Company Decks
-2 Clash of Wills, -2 Spell Shrivel, -1 Mage-Ring Network, -1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
+2 Fiery Impulse, +2 Kozilek’s Return, +1 Drowner of Hope, +1 Deceiver of Forms
-4 Spatial Contortion,-1 Clash of Wills, -1 Highland Lake
+3 Fevered Visions, +2 Negate, +1 Drowner of Hope
-4 Spatial Contortion, -2 Clash of Wills, -1 Highland Lake, -2 Hedron Archive
+3 Fevered Visions, +2 Negate, +1 Drowner of Hope, +1 Deceiver of Forms, +2 Thought-Knot Seer
Red Green Ramp
-2 Spatial Contortion, -2 Kozilek’s Return, -1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, -1 Highland Lake
+3 Negate, +2 Thought-Knot Seer, +1 Drowner of Hope
Mono White Humans
-2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, -4 Spell Shrivel, -1 Mage-Ring Network
+3 Fiery Impulse, +2 Kozilek’s Return, +1 Drowner of Hope, +1 Deceiver of Forms
Golgari [Including Sultai, Great Aurora and Abzan]
-2 Spatial Contortion, -3 Clash of Wills, -1 Highland Lake, -1 Chandra, Flamecaller, -2 Kozilek’s Return
+3 Fevered Visions, +2 Negate, +2 Thought-Knot Seer, +1 Deceiver of Form, +1 Drowner of Hope
Not sure. I always lose this match-up since people play Reality Smasher and I do not since I find it narrow otherwise. I think your best bet is:
-4 Spatial Contortion, -2 Kozilek’s Return
+3 Negate, +2 Thought-Knot Seer, +1 Drowner of Hope
-4 Spatial Contortion, -1 Highland Lake
+3 Negate, +2 Thought-Knot Seer
One interesting question I get asked a lot about my decks is “Is this deck good?” In fact, this was the first question Michael Majors asked me on Sunday when he arrived to watch the Top 8. I am not sure. While the deck is incredibly clunky, I think it has very few terrible match ups and has a handful of 75%+ matchups such as Orzhov Control and Mono Blue Prison. However, I think against non-black decks with Gideon or Reality Smasher, you really are looking at coin-flip matchups (it won’t seem that way as the games you lose you get demolished and the games you win you survive at anywhere between 2 and 15 life). The worst matchups are Mono White Humans and White Eldrazi (this deck has both Gideon and Reality Smasher!).
Going forward, I would probably add the 4th Drowner of Hope to the Main Deck and move the 3rd Ulamog to the Sideboard. Also, I could see shaving 1 Kozilek’s Return for a card that is good against Eldrazi Displacer and Lambholt Pacifist. However, since you cannot play five Spatial Contortions, I am unsure what it would be. I am still not sold on Roast as it has never tested well. The nice thing about how the format is shaping up, people are trying to defeat GW by going over it. This is beneficial to Izzet Eldrazi’s spot in the metagame as it is able to go over any other deck.
If I had to pick a deck and play in a tournament tomorrow, I would most likely end up playing this deck, however I think the way the format has shaped up the best choice to attack the current metagame would be Zan Syed’s GB Aristocrats deck.
I feel that it poses strong opposition to GW Tokens and Mono White Humans while having a solid sideboard plan against decks that play Kalitas (which seem to be waning in numbers anyhow).
Feel free to ask me any questions. Thank you for reading.