At some point in time, Elves will be a tier 1 deck in Modern.
Now that the bold proclamation is out of the way, let’s take a look at why.
First off, we are missing two major components of the Legacy elves deck. Modern has no viable substitute for Gaea’s Cradle and Glimpse of Nature is banned. Without these, we can’t do a direct port, and we have to look for a different approach.
At its heart, the Elves deck exists in the quasi-realm between being a true combo deck and an engine deck. There are certain cards that are “essential”, cards you will see in almost every elf build.
Most Elves decks begin something like this:
Travis Hall –Elvish Essentials
A full third of the deck is built around this mana engine, allowing elves to explode for a turn 3-4 win. These will consistently make up the majority of elf decks.
What will take elves to the top (or leave it in the stagnant waste land of Tier two, where it currently resides) are the “helper cards” – the ones that fuel the shenanigans. There are many cards that can be used situationally to push elves, but finding the proper build is difficult. Do you want to steer your deck towards a combo approach? Do you want to try and swarm your opponent with as many of the pointy-eared bastards as possible? Are you wanting your elves to hulk-out and turn into gigantic ass kickers? The core of the deck allows you to flexibly approach a meta game. We can build an elf deck to attack the format from a variety of angles, so long as we use the proper helpers.
Let’s look at some of those cards.
– Cloudstone Curio: A card that has popped up in Elves lists in the past, it’s only a matter of time before this card is broken in some way in Modern. Seriously, I’ve also been using it to build Shaman decks. This card is one of those that always sticks in the back of my mind, waiting for the appropriate card to pop out and vault a unforeseen combo deck to the top of the format. Combining it with the Heritage Druid/Nettle Sentinel mana engine can lead to infinite mana or even allow you to draw your entire deck with Elvish Visionary.
– Intruder Alarm: I heard you like combo. How about making infinite elves while gaining infinite life? This is my pick for the one card that could eventually make Elves tier 1. Intruder Alarm is one of those cards you’ll play and your opponent will immediately reach for it. “What is this? What does it do? Is this even in the format?” Intruder Alarm lets you turn creatures that produce mana into a true engine, dropping your whole hand quickly. Pairing it with a mana elf and Imperius Perfect will give you infinite creatures. Add Essence Warden for infinite life. This can be accomplished as early as turn 3. After watching Jeskai combo decks pop up for a season, we should be prepared to re-evalaute cards that let you untap your whole team.
An (updated, I’ve been down this road before) Intruder Alarm Elves deck might look something like this:
Travis Hall –Elvish Alarm
– Genesis Wave: Another card you’ve probably seen before in Elves. The biggest problem with Genesis Wave is that it doesn’t necessarily win immediately (unless you land a Craterhoof). Resolving a Genesis Wave can be the worst thing ever if your opponent follows it up with a sweeper.
– Tangleroot: How many of you had to click on this card to see what it does? Another forgotten Mirrodin card that is just biding its time. It could be that you find a way to pair this with Cloudstone Curio. Or with:
– Beck // Call: As I noted earlier, Glimpse of Nature is banned in Modern for being absolutely busted (and yet, I will occasionally have to shake my head at people who suggest it’s safe to unban). Beck is our closest approximation. Tacking a blue mana onto the spell slows the entire combo down by at least a turn, but it can still be an efficient engine. Maybe something like:
Travis Hall – Artificial Elves
– Dromoka’s Command: While this card doesn’t do anything to further the combo itself, it does shore up some of the weaknesses for the Elf deck. Being a betting man, I would put forth that, “Counterspell that,” is the one phrase uttered the most in Magic’s history (because, blue mages are dicks). Second would probably be, “Bolt the Bird,” with, “Bolt the Elf,” not far behind. Modern is the Lightning Bolt format. “The Little Pain-In-the-Ass Burn Spell That Could” might just be the most defining card of the format. Dromoka’s Command is cheap and flexible enough to combat Bolt while providing additional value. And, I would love to see an opponent’s face when you counter their Pyroclasm and pump one of your best Elves. It won’t ever define the deck, you’ll never see it listed as “Dromoka’s Elves,” but it could allow the deck to become a force. Providing a maindeck answer to Splinter Twin or Pyromancer’s Ascension (decks that elves HATES to be paired against) is pure gravy. Green White Elves also gives you access to Ranger of Eos a fantastic card for refueling against removal heavy decks. As it’s an instant, it also pairs well with:
– Collected Company: This card is getting some hype for the format as a Birthing Pod replacement, but it might work fine as an instant speed way to fuel creature heavy decks. I still want to try this in a RG good stuff deck (and, good Lord above help me, a Slivers deck), but it seems like one of those cards that might prove valuable enough to move the Elves deck another fraction of a percentage closer to being Tier 1. Lead the Stampede is great, but the value in an instant-speed upgrade to your creature count may be better.
Travis Hall – Company of Elves
It doesn’t hurt that the GW color pairing would also allow for one of the best sideboards in the format, full of cards that make the top decks absolutely miserable (Choke, Leyline of Sanctity, Fracturing Gust, etc).
Elves is close to being good enough. Tarkir block may not have provided enough to push it to the top, we’ll have to see how the format evolves to say for certain, but keep the deck in mind. It always feels just a card away from being back on top.
If you like my suggestions, you can follow me on Twitter: @travishall456. I throw around random observations and deck ideas every day. You can also hear me on the Horde of Notions podcast, discussing deck ideas for FNM level events and the PPTQ grinders.