(Modern) Eldrazi and Taxes Primer


I’ve been running into different forms of the “Hatebears” deck since I began playing Modern but never felt that the deck had the right tools to stand its ground in a competitive modern environment.  In the last year or so, a deck cleverly titled “Eldrazi and Taxes” has began to put up more and more 5-0 finishes in league results.  I’m becoming a believer.

While the current selection of tier decks may be a contributing factor to this, Eldrazi and Taxes seems to truly have reached the peak of a very slow evolution into a deck that plays out a game of crippling resource deprivation balanced with aggression.  Meet some of the major players that have made that possible…

Seeing as Eldrazi Temple was clearly designed to reduce the costs of ‘haymaker’ eldrazi spells costing 7 + mana, the pairing of this land and the most potent mid-range eldrazi creatures seems like pure abuse.  Both Thought-Knot Seer and Eldrazi Displacer provide useful functions to support the strategy of resource denial with the added upside of being a potentially under-costed attacker to apply pressure while your opponent stumbles to catch up.

EDIT: If you’d like to see this deck in action, please check out the CKL Plays (Modern) Eldrazi and Taxes video series that was recorded since this primer was posted.

Eldrazi and Taxes (Penips, 6/10/17)

Creatures (30)
Aven Mindcensor
Dark Confidant
Eldrazi Displacer
Leonin Arbiter
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thought-Knot Seer
Tidehollow Sculler
Wasteland Strangler

Spells (4)
Path to Exile

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (22)
Caves of Koilos
Concealed Courtyard
Eldrazi Temple
Ghost Quarter
Shambling Vent


Burrenton Forge-Tender
Fatal Push
Mirran Crusader
Orzhov Pontiff
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence

Rise of the Taxes

Eldrazi Displacer is the real centerpiece of this deck.  Cards like Aether Vial will often take the burden of casting creatures off of your lands allowing you plenty of resources to activate Displacer’s “blink target creature” effect.  This ability packs a lot of utility:

  • Creatures ‘blinked’ by Displacer enter the battlefield tapped.  Targeting pesky blockers with unused mana at the end of an opponent’s turn can clear the room for an attack.
  • Exile tokens (ie. Lingering Souls, Voice of Resurgence’s elemental token, Blade Splicer’s golem).
  • Complicate combat math by removing blockers in multiple-blocker scenarios, killing one and leaving the other tapped.
  • Re-activate your creatures’ “enter the battlefield” abilities (ie. Flickerwisp, Orzhov Pontiff, Wasteland Strangler).

One interesting play to note (which also works with an end of turn Aether Vial activation) involves blinking your Flickerwisp during an end step.  Since Flickerwisp reads “return that card to the battlefield under its owner’s control at the beginning of the next end step“, whatever permanent that is targeted will remain AWOL for the duration of the next turn.

Flickerwisp brings its own utility to the table.  This card, which is often described as the “best card in the deck” when referring to its legacy counterpart, “Death and Taxes”, provides similar functions to Eldrazi Displacer in its ability to re-use your creatures’ enters play triggers, but also has the added bonus of keeping a permanent removed from the game until the next end step.  With this, that permanent can be put from exile into the graveyard via Wasteland Strangler never to return to play.  Notably, the same is true of a card exiled by Tidehollow Sculler.

…which brings me back to Eldrazi Displacer who would be happy to blink either piece of this interaction to do it again.  Isn’t it nice how this all fits together?

The Classic Core

Beyond the aforementioned plans for attacking an opponent’s hand, creatures, and life total, this deck has been historically menacing towards resources.  Imagine this scenario…

TURN 1: Ghost Quarter > Aether Vial
TURN 2: Concealed Courtyard > Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
TURN 3: Another Ghost Quarter > activate Aether Vial to put Leonin Arbiter into play, destroy two lands.

Yes, this is a bit “magical christmas land”…but not a terribly unlikely scenario.  In fact, the interaction between both Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter/Path to Exile is one that this deck is designed to abuse.

When this plan falls into place, you are reminded of how dirty it would be to have access to Strip Mine in Modern.  It’s real dirty.  It’s the dirti-EST when your opponent gets greedy with their mana base and is expecting to be able to comfortably play a deck with 3 colors and just 19 lands.  Ahem…Grixis Shadow.

Eldrazi and Taxes Vs. the World

Cards like 4 maindeck Ghost Quarter and 4 maindeck Aether Vial give Eldrazi and Taxes a natural advantage against Tron and Control builds respectively.  Clearly, having access to a land that can surgically remove one piece of your opponent’s “tron-fecta” is worth utilizing even without the added bonus of Leonin Arbiter or Aven Mindcensor preventing a replacement land from coming into play.  Vial, on the other hand, can blank a control player’s counterspells much like Cavern of Souls with the added incentive of allowing you to put your creatures into play at your opponent’s end step after he or she has tapped out for a Supreme Verdict.

The core of this deck is relatively consistent but the one Aven Mindcensor that Penips has included in the list posted above occupies what I’d call the ‘flex spot’ in the maindeck.  In other takes, players have tried Mirran Crusader in this spot, citing a strong presence of Jund, Junk, and GBx Shadow.  At times, you may find Blade Splicer here to squeeze even more value out of Flickerwisp and Eldrazi Displacer blink abilities.  Take a good look at local meta and include what helps most against the largest majority of your predicted matches.

Eldrazi and Taxes players tend to say that their most difficult match-ups are found in decks that play cheap removal (ie. Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push) and particularly, decks like Jund that have access to both.  Burn packs plentiful removal for this creature package as well, but sideboard options help to sure up these matches.  I might suggest boarding out some number of Vials against decks such as Jund that run Kolaghan’s Command and, as previously mentioned, shift a focus towards more resilient creatures like Mirran Crusader. Against Burn, I’ve found success bringing in Kor Firewalker and Burrenton Forge-Tender.

Black and White truly provide some of the most versatile sideboard threats.  Seemingly, there is some kind of answer to any situation you might find yourself in.  Case in point, take a look at this screen shot of a perfectly timed top deck Orzhov Pontiff as I stared down an army of Young Pyromancer and babies.

…and Taxes

If you are interested in a thought-provoking game of Magic that rewards a good understanding of what each deck in Modern aims to do, Eldrazi and Taxes is likely a good choice.  If you’d prefer to play a linear combo-oriented strategy, steer clear.  This deck requires a very proactive approach to stopping opposing game plans before they form and will demand quite a bit of attention to detail.  Bring a notebook and write down the contents of your opponents hand whenever it is shown to you; count and track the number of basics he or she runs; and stay one step ahead of your opponent at all time.

Most importantly, have fun.  It’s a game after all.