Modern Elves

by Simon Nielsen on 29 June 2018, Friday

Simon Nielsen

Modern Elves

These days I mostly play Standard, but with Modern events popping up now and then, like Grand Prix Barcelona coming up a month from now, I am frequently forced to consider the format. And while I still have a soft spot for Primeval Titan and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, I've found a new beloved Modern deck that I think is quite good right now. 

It should be apparent to us now that 5-color Humans is the best deck in Modern. At the MOCS playoffs, Humans took both finals spots, and that is in a field of strong players who knew they had to be prepared for Humans. But I'm not one to jump on the bandwagon and play the best deck. However, when I saw how happy my teammate Eduardo Sajgalik was with his Green-White Elves list at Grand Prix Hartford and Grand Prix Toronto, I was sold.


Elves are inherently good against decks that don't play cheap spot removal. It's too explosive for Humans to follow, and unless they draw a lot of Reflector Mages, it's quite hard for them to keep up. Elves even happen to be strong against some of the decks that are popular, partly because of their Humans match-up. Decks like Hollow One and especially Bogles tend to get steamrolled because they play so little interaction.
Eduardo went 11-4 at Grand Prix Hartford and 12-3 at Grand Prix Toronto with the deck.

And... it is certainly my top choice for Grand Prix Barcelona!

An Overview of the Deck


Collected Company Ezuri, Renegade Leader


The primary game plan of this deck is to play mana-producing Elves to explode onto the board with a significant number of creatures. With the powerful instants Collected Company and Chord of Calling you can quickly assemble the "combo" of Elvish Archdruid and Ezuri, Renegade Leader, which is almost always lethal, as you will typically have a bunch of innocuous elves in play. 


Devoted Druid Vizier of Remedies

But the beautiful thing about this deck is that it isn't just a go-wide strategy that plans to pump all of its creatures. With your tutor effects, you can also assemble the actual infinite combo of Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies

Since Vizier of Remedies still lets Devoted Druid activate its untap ability but prevents the -1/-1-counter from appeared, you can just untap Devoted Druid as much as you'd like and make a boatload of mana. And what better place to put it to use than with the Ezuri, Renegade Leader that you already play four copies of?

This combo lets you win the game on turn 3, (as opposed to Elves' regular turn four goldfish), which can be incredibly crucial to stealing games against otherwise bad match-ups such as Tron or Storm.

Another great thing about this deck is how well it can grind when it needs to, especially post-board. Eduardo had found that Chord of Calling gets a lot worse in the post-board games since opponents bring in more creature removal (and Grafdigger's Cage!), so it can be hard to make Call of Calling good. But if we remove it from the main deck, we lose the opportunity to go for the Devoted Druid combo when needed.


Chord of Calling Lead the Stampede

The solution? Board out Chord of Calling for Lead the Stampede whenever a large amount of interaction is expected. 

Even against decks like Humans, I like to board out 2 Chord of Calling for 2 Lead the Stampede, just to mess up their Meddling Mages and potential Grafdigger's Cages.

The Specifics


Nettle Sentinel Heritage Druid

Maybe you have noticed, that I'm running no copies of the typical combo enabler Nettle Sentinel. How do I even plan to go off with Elves without this fella? Nettle Sentinel is a relic of past Elves decks. When you had Glimpse of Nature or similar powerful draw engines, having Nettle Sentinel in conjunction with Heritage Druid would give you the mana engine you need to enable all of your extra draws.

But this deck is not like that. You just burst your hand onto the board early, and don't draw many cards past that. Nettle Sentinel enables you to do the infrequent turn 2 Collected Company, but most of the time it's just a 2/2.

I'd rather have more mana dorks so that I'm more likely to have one in my opening hand because that's what enables this deck to explode, which is why I play 2 Boreal Druid instead of 2 Nettle Sentinel

You also might think that just a single Vizier of Remedies is not nearly enough to justify the inclusion of the Devoted Druid combo. But actually, I think the fact that you can run just a single copy to tutor up with Chord of Calling (and occasionally just draw or hit off of Collected Company), is what justifies the combo. Vizier of Remedies has no other synergy with our deck, and Elves already has a lot of mana and cards that are low-impact, so if I had to run more than a single Vizier, I just wouldn't play it at all. 

Now, how about the other singletons in the deck? 

All of these are included as tutor targets for Chord of Calling, but one big trap when playing with tutors is to add too many random 1-ofs in your deck that just end up diluting your draws. The three that are represented here have been carefully selected, and I believe all of them have their spot warranted.


Selfless Spirit

At first, I was skeptical of the main deck Selfless Spirit. It has no synergy with the game plan of the deck, and I didn't think I'd get to use it that often. But against sweepers like Oblivion Stone and Supreme Verdict it completely flips the script on how the game will play out, and it's sometimes useful to draw to protect your combo. It has even come up a couple of times that I needed to find an instant-speed flying chump blocker for a Mantis Rider so that I could win on my next turn!


Reclamation Sage

Reclamation Sage can be quite a dead draw in the majority of match-ups, but at least it's an Elf which is what I think warrants its inclusion. In the match-ups where it is relevant, though, it matters so much that you have access to this effect at instant speed. Whether you want to blow up an Ensnaring Bridge, a Cranial Plating or a Detention Sphere it can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Plus, in the match-ups where you'd want to have Reclamation Sage, you frequently want access to two of them post-board anyway, so might as well include one of them in your main deck.


Shalai, Voice of Plenty

Shalai, Voice of Plenty is the newest addition, narrowly edging out Eternal Witness which got moved to the sideboard instead. Not only is Shalai a delicious (albeit costly) tutor target against Burn, Valakut, Storm or even in response to removal spells, it also acts as a powerful mana sink. I think that even if I didn't play Chord of Calling in this deck, I'd still run a single Shalai. Think about that. 

The Sideboard

I already let you in on the biggest shenanigan going on with the sideboard: the shift from Chord of Calling tutor package deck to Lead the Stampede grind strategy in the matchups that call for it (which is any match-up you are not purely trying to race).

This also means that you frequently board out the tutor targets that don't apply to the match-up, though remember that Shalai often gets even better post-board. If you want to remove all Chord of Calling or playing against a deck with a high amount of interaction, you can just board out the Vizier of Remedies and 2-4 Devoted Druids. You don't need to combo them, and these cards are often just super mediocre when your game plan is to overrun them with more elves than they have removal.

Other typical cuts include 1-2 Boreal Druid, 1 Dwynen's Elite, 1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader, 2-4 Chord of CallingI'm okay with leaving in the combo even if I board out a couple of Chords of Calling in match-ups where it's still threatening, such as Humans. You still bring in Lead the Stampede, which can help you find Vizier of Remedies when needed. 

You might notice that the sideboard has 0 Path to Exile, which is a fairly common card to have in an Elves sideboard. However, there aren't actually that many threats you'd want to get rid of, and when you do you'll still have access to the one Fairgrounds Warden. Even though you frequently shave on Chord of Calling post-board, you still leave in a couple, so having the ability to find a sweet one-of when needed is still in place. Plus, you only bring in your 1-ofs when the effect is good against your opponent, so you are fine even if you naturally draw it.

Also, there are no Burrenton Forge-Tender or Kataki, War's Wage. I worked with Eduardo Sajgalik to make sure that we only played the most high-impact 1-ofs in our sideboard. Instead of these cards that you can tutor for but will often be too slow or mediocre, you have powerful enchantments like Rest in Peace, Stony Silence and Worship. These hit hard and make their presence worth it in the sideboard. 


Rest in Peace Grim Lavamancer

Rest in Peace even doubles as the best answers to the most feared sideboard card against Elves: Grim Lavamancer

Eternal Witness, Scavenging Ooze and Chameleon Colossus are all part of the grindy sideboard plan. They could easily have been three copies of the same card, but since we sometimes leave in a couple of Chord of Calling, I think there is value in splitting them up. All of them are great hits off of Lead the Stampede in a grind fest.


Scavenging Ooze Chameleon Colossus

Scavenging Ooze doubles as a dredge hate card, and in a long game, it can easily turn into a giant threat that keeps you alive, since you have so much mana and so many creatures dying. Eternal Witness is just awesome to rebuy the value from Collected Company and Lead the Stampede. And Chameleon Colossus wrecks anyone relying on black removal while threatening lethal very quickly. It's even an Elf to boot!

I hope this quick primer got you interested in trying Elves. I'm nervous about the recent success of Krark-Clan Ironworks, but at least this is a proactive deck that features both Rest in Peace and Stony Silence.

So maybe it will all work out alright!


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