wo weeks ago I promised a column on Heartless Summoning, but I'm not confident enough in my Heartless Summoning list to share it with you in good faith. And last week I was out due to technical difficulties. Make sure to tune in next week for a column on Heartless Summoning. I should have that deck in a good place by then. (I promise it's worth the wait!)
In the meantime...
Worlds has given us a jolt of new Modern tech, and the next Constructed PTQ season will consist of Modern events. It's safe to say that Modern is on the minds of aspiring deck builders around the world. There are a lot of Modern interactions that haven't been fully explored yet. Today, I'd like to dissect an overlooked rare that I've been trying to break for at least a few years.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant | Art by Matt Cavotta
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant has always had a lot of potential. Many players chose to include the blue legend in their Affinity decks at Pro Tour Los Angeles about a half decade ago. Things seem like they've gotten a lot better for Erayo in the new Modern format. The likelihood that your opponent will combo you on the first few turns of the game has greatly decreased. This makes a relatively consistent Erayo engine into something that can really break the format wide open.
Your opponent will be in a pretty rough spot when you flip Erayo, but you can lock the game up entirely with an Arcane Laboratory–type effect. Ethersworn Canonist seems like the best option in Modern.
Here's the goal. Flip an Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and have an Ethersworn Canonist on the battlefield. This will lock almost all opponents out of the game. Players will only be able to play one nonartifact spell per turn and their first spell of each turn will be countered. Opponents will be in a hard lock unless they're packing an extremely high density of artifacts.
Having a flipped Erayo feels really good, but how do we expect to flip it with any amount of consistency? New cards like Gitaxian Probe and Noxious Revival make flipping an Erayo a lot easier than it used to be. Ponder and Preordain seem like they would have been awesome here, but, ironically, those cards being eliminated make this deck significantly more feasible.
There's a huge world of possibilities for deck builders that are looking to work on an Erayo, Soratami Ascendant deck. I intend on building a version of the deck that sets up a hard lock with Erayo and Ethersworn Canonist after a timely casting of Congregation at Dawn. Unfortunately, the Bant version of the deck will have very difficult mana and I can't make the deck passable as budget, even when I cut the maximum number of corners.
Side note: If you do want to try building the Bant version of the deck, then you should try some of the following Congregation piles. Bloodbraid-Erayo, Soratami Ascendant- Ethersworn Canonist is going to be the most common pile. Two "free" spells will be enough to establish a hard lock in a very short period of time. Enlisted Wurm – Bloodbraid Elf – Erayo, Soratami Ascendant may cost a lot of mana, but it only requires one free card to flip your Erayo.
Three-color Modern mana bases are difficult to put together, so I'd like to stick to a two-color strategy. We need to be playing blue to play Erayo, and white seems like the natural supplementary color. Playing a lot of white lets us play Tempered Steel. If we play Tempered Steel, then we get access to a lot of very cheap creatures that make flipping Erayo very easy.
I'd like to discuss the card choices and the implications they have on how you play the deck:
Memnite and Ornithopter are going to be very interesting in this type of strategy. There will be many situations where it is incorrect to cast these creatures on the first turn. For example, if you have an Erayo in your opening hand along with one or two zero-mana creatures, then it's definitely worth the wait to assemble the flipped Erayo. Your opponents will have a nightmare trying to deal with a flipped Erayo, and you're not losing much value by not playing these on the first turn. The clock presented by Ornithopter and Memnite comes from the strength of Master of Etherium, Steel Overseer, and Tempered Steel.
There's a careful balance to knowing when you should dump your hand on the table and when you should be reserved and wait for a key turn to put your opponent in an awkward spot. There are a lot of situations wherein an opponent will be forced to use a board sweeper when you have only two or three threats on the table. Flipping an Erayo by casting threats is a game-winning play in roughly 99.9% of games.
Ethersworn Canonist is lackluster without Erayo Essence, but once the legendary enchantment is active then it becomes the best card in the deck. Cards like Tempered Steel, Steel Overseer, and Master of Etherium all do a pretty good job of making the body worthwhile without Erayo.
Gitaxian Probe has a lot of applications in this type of strategy. It's important that you use Gitaxian Probe to scout for board-sweeping effects; this can give you the information you need to make correct decisions about board commitment. If your opponent is out of reactive spells, then it's usually correct to commit all of your threats to the board and just cross your fingers that a Firespout or Day of Judgment isn't on the top of your opponent's library. Gitaxian Probe is great at flipping an Erayo. It draws the deck more cards without a mana commitment. In a lot of ways, it's like playing a 56-card deck. It's better, though! Gitaxian Probe counts as a spell for your Erayo. Flipping Erayo on a whim is pretty easy when you're playing with Gitaxian Probe, Mishra's Bauble, and eight zero-cost creatures.
Path to Exile | Art by Todd Lockwood
Path to Exile may be a bit difficult to acquire, but it's a card that you should probably have four of. The card will be a staple removal spell in Modern forever, and it also has a lot of usefulness in Legacy sideboards when a player is looking to play Swords to Plowshares numbers five through eight.
Master of Etherium, Tempered Steel, and Steel Overseer are the deck's paths to victory. The deck may have one of the coolest disruptive elements in the format, but it's also capable of a relatively consistent turn four kill.
I chose to not play Mox Opal because it's difficult to acquire. However, if you're lucky enough to have a few Mox Opals then you should probably include up to three, replacing a Plains, an Island, and a Mishra's Bauble.
Here's the decklist once I put it all together:
Erayo Tempered Steel
The deck does an incredible job applying pressure, and the inclusion of Erayo, Soratami Ascendant does an excellent job of disrupting opponents. I played a few games with the deck in the tournament practice room on Magic Online.
I lost the roll and kept Island, Seachrome Coast, Mishra's Bauble, Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, Gitaxian Probe, and 2 Tempered Steel on the draw. My opponent played a Shivan Reef, cast Serum Visions, and passed the turn. I drew a Plains, played my Seachrome Coast, and passed the turn. My opponent played a Steam Vents tapped, cast a Sleight of Hand, and passed the turn. I drew a Memnite, played my Plains, cast Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, cast Gitaxian Probe, drew Ornithopter, cast Ornithopter, cast Memnite, flipped Erayo, cast Mishra's Bauble, cracked it, and passed the turn. My opponent passed the turn with no play. I drew Court Homunculus for the Bauble trigger, drew another Erayo for my turn, cast Tempered Steel, attacked for 5, and passed the turn. My opponent again passed the turn with no play. I drew Adarkar Wastes, cast Tempered Steel, attacked for 9, played the Adarkar Wastes, cast Court Homunculus, and passed the turn. My opponent conceded.
This game may have seemed boring and noninteractive, but fighting through a flipped Erayo is a very tall order. Sometimes, this deck doesn't even need Erayo to beat down.
I won the roll and kept Adarkar Wastes, 2 Island, Ornithopter, Court Homunculus, Steel Overseer, and Master of Etherium. I played the Adarkar Wastes, cast Court Homunculus, and passed the turn. I chose not to cast the Ornithopter because it wouldn't be attacking for damage until turn three anyway and I may have drawn an Erayo, Soratami Ascendant to make the zero casting cost spell gain a lot of value. My opponent played an Overgrown Tomb tapped and passed the turn. I drew Gitaxian Probe and decided to take a look at my opponent's hand. I saw a Dark Confidant, a Kitchen Finks, a Putrefy, a Death Cloud, and lands. I drew a Path to Exile, cast Ornithopter, attacked for two, cast Steel Overseer, and passed the turn. My opponent played a land and cast Dark Confidant before passing the turn. I drew an Ornithopter, cast it, played my land, cast Master of Etherium, activated my Steel Overseer, and attacked for 6, my opponent took the damage. My opponent revealed a Thoughtseize with Confidant, cast Kitchen Finks, and passed the turn. I drew Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, cast it, cast Path to Exile on the Kitchen Finks, activated the Steel Overseer, and attacked with my team, my opponent blocked the Master of Etherium with Dark Confidant and took 11. My opponent drew a card and conceded.
This game really showcases the deck's ability to play an aggressive game that puts its opponents on their heels immediately. It's worth noting that Death Cloud decks usually do very well post-sideboard against this deck. Death Cloud players usually have cheap spot removal and (sometimes) Ancient Grudge.
I lost the roll and kept Seachrome Coast, Plains, Path to Exile, Ethersworn Canonist, 2 Gitaxian Probe, and Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. My opponent started things by sacrificing a fetchland and grabbing a Forest, he cast Wild Nacatl and passing. I drew a Court Homunculus, played my Seachrome Coast, cast Court Homunculus, and passed the turn. My opponent played an Arid Mesa, sacrificed it, found a Sacred Foundry, went to 16, cast Qasali Pridemage, attacked for 4, and passed the turn.
I found myself in a bit of a quandary: Qasali Pridemage's activated ability can be used to destroy Erayo Essence post-flip. I drew another Court Homunculus and decided to play it safe. I played my Plains, tapped it for white, cast Court Homunculus, attacked for 2, and cast Path to Exile on the Qasali Pridemage. My opponent searched for a land and put it onto the battlefield tapped. I passed the turn.
My opponent cast Elspeth, Knight-Errant, gave Wild Nacatl +3/+3 and flying, and attacked me for 6. I drew a Path to Exile, cast it on the Wild Nacatl, attacked Elspeth for 4, cast Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, cast two Gitaxian Probes for life and dropped down to 6, and passed the turn with a flipped Erayo. My opponent made a 1/1 with Elspeth, cast a Lightning Bolt to be countered by the Erayo trigger, then a Tarmogoyf, and passed the turn. I drew for my turn and started digging for anything that could help me. Nothing played hero off the top of my deck, and I was down a game.
I've played a good deal of matches with White-Blue Erayo decks and, unfortunately, I feel that they lack strength in the Game 2 and 3 metagame. Ancient Grudge has become very popular and it's difficult to power through that card. However, the general strategy of the deck is quite sound and the power level of the cards in the deck make it a very dangerous foe for just about everything. I believe Erayo is currently being overlooked, and I hope this column piqued your interests in the often-overlooked Saviors of Kamigawa legend.
Tune in next week for a finely tuned version of Heartless Summoning!