Welcome back to Elves All The Way Down. Having enjoyed our stint in Historic last time, we’ve moved to Modern for a look at a personal favourite variant Elves deck from a few years back. That deck is Green-White Combo Elves.
“Combo Elves, huh? What combo are we using?” I hear you ask. Well, let me introduce you to Devoted Druid. Devoted Druid taps for mana, like so many of our other Elves. However, Devoted Druid can also be untapped at the cost of placing a -1/-1 counter on it. If we can either remove that counter from the druid or mitigate the cost of putting the counter on it (with a toughness boost), we can potentially make an arbitrarily large amount of mana and do what all combo players desire – go ‘infinite’.
Devoted Druid had been around in Modern since the format’s inception with a few inconsistent or fringe combo decks built around it over time. These often included cards like Quillspike or Morsel Hoarder and Necrotic Ooze. However, we Elves players hadn’t really been looking for a way to exploit Devoted Druid until Amonkhet released and gave us Vizier of Remedies.
Suddenly, Devoted Druid had a card that it made infinite mana with easily without jumping through any hoops. Unlike cards like Melira, Sylvok Outcast that prevent the -1/-1 counter being placed on the druid and therefore stop it being untapped, Vizier of Remedies reduced the untapping cost from 1 counter to 0, effectively making it free.
This combo immediately had multiple people trying to find the best way of utilising it. A Green-White combo deck that used Walking Ballista to actually end the game was the main deck to come out of this, but as Elf players, we realised that this combo could easily fit in the Elves shell we were already playing. We already have a game-ending outlet for infinite mana in Ezuri, Renegade Leader.
As an aside, fortunately for us, Ezuri already goes infinite with two Devoted Druids. This was never enough on its own to include Devoted Druid in old Elves lists, but is a nice bonus if we’re including the druid for other reasons.
Now, why would I choose Combo Elves over a more direct aggressive version or a traditional tribal deck? Well, Modern as a format is increasing in speed and efficiency over time. While there are still decks that want to drag things out, the decks that can kill you quickly are getting more and more tools with which to do so. And the decks that want to combo off or establish a game ending boardstate as soon as possible are becoming more optimised. As a result, I moved towards playing Combo Elves so that I would always have a quick route to victory in the face of these other fast and optimised decks. The deck can still play the long game with Collected Company and a wide board of Elves backed up by a lord, but if your opponent is trying to kill you by turn four, having a turn three potential win is always an available out.
This sets the stage for the deck we’re bringing back today, so let’s take a look at it.
Modern GW Combo Elves
Some of the deck will look familiar to the list we were running in Historic last time and will overlap with a lot of our decks going forward. This comes from the fact that the core of Elves decks stays mostly the same across formats, making use of the best parts of that core that are available in whatever format you’re playing.
Let’s go over what’s different from the Historic list we played before:
Here in Modern, we get access to a Llanowar Elves clone in Elvish Mystic, letting us run effectively 8 copies of that effect. We also get one of the most important pieces of what makes Elves viable in Eternal Formats – Heritage Druid. This card effectively allows us to turn all of our Elves (in groups of three) into mana dorks and also to be able to circumvent summoning sickness as she lets us tap Elves who have just entered the battlefield. I have also included Nettle Sentinel here, as the interaction between Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel allows us to make mana to cast green spells that then untap the Sentinel so we can make more mana to cast green spells etc.
The final new piece of the mana puzzle is Devoted Druid, who we discussed above.
Now that we have an infinite mana engine in the deck, Ezuri, Renegade Leader becomes a lot more powerful and, as a result, we are running the full four copies.
We only have to run a single copy of Vizier of Remedies as we have both Collected Company and Chord of Calling to find it. The same is true for finding the other pieces of the combo: however, all the other pieces are Elves that further our backup plan – playing a bunch of Elves and attacking our opponent for a non-infinite amount of damage.
The sideboard, as always, is a constant work in progress. As metagames change and evolve, the right cards to include will change with them. For this sideboard, I settled on 12 singleton creature to tutor up with Chord of Calling when they are needed, two Veil of Summer to beat counters/removal and a singleton copy of Wheel of Sun and Moon which has a lot of utility against graveyard-based decks and can save us from mill or lantern decks in a pinch.
It may seem weird that a deck that can only generate Red mana from an off-brand Cavern of Souls would include a card like Magus of the Moon (the same goes for Yixlid Jailer), but the key part here is the interaction between the Magus and our instants – Collected Company and Chord of Calling. For starters, these two cards put the Magus directly into play rather than having to find Red mana, but more importantly, there isn’t a window between those spells resolving and the Magus being in play. If we cast a Chord or Company and our opponent doesn’t tap their non-basics for mana in response, they will only be able to use them for Red mana once the spell resolves. They don’t get to know we’re playing a Magus until it’s too late. If they do tap their mana ahead of time, we can always go get something else if it’s relevant (or still get Magus in the matchups where the card is most impactful).
Shalai, Voice of Plenty has a similar instant-speed interaction that is worth keeping in mind. She is still a good sideboard card against decks that want to target you or your stuff, and is an infinite-mana outlet to boot. However, where she shines is at instant speed (via Chord of Calling) in response to a flurry of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers targeting you or all of your Elves. Fetching Shalai in response means that, unless your opponent can remove her immediately, all of the triggers that have already had their targets chosen will be invalid upon resolution, effectively countering them.
So, how did we do? Well, we went 3-2 across the League. Our biggest enemies haven’t changed since last time either – we’re most scared of control decks and decks that pack a lot of cheap removal.
Our losses were to Rakdos Aggro and Bant Reclamation. The former presented a fast clock while using its burn spells to make short work of our small creatures. The fact that cards they include to point at their opponent’s face double as removal for our key pieces allows them to make us stumble long enough for their prowess threats to close out the game. We can kill them fast enough, but it’s pretty much a race whatever we do.
Bant Reclamation, on the other hand, packs a ton of interaction with our creatures and on the stack which we have to punch through to beat them before they lock us out entirely with Cryptic Command and Mystic Sanctuary. This matchup felt a lot harder than the race with Rakdos Aggro because we can’t really interact with them where we need to (on the stack). However, our Sideboard plan of Magus of the Moon did pull out the win in one game for us, which gives me hope.
Next time we return to Modern, we’ll be giving Shaman of the Pack its chance to shine with Green-Black Elves. Beyond that, we’ll see what Elves can do in the Modern metagame and, over multiple iterations, how our Green friends can best attack the format.
However, for the next Episode of this series, we’ll be heading to Pauper, where we’ll get to compete with a 14 land deck, including Legacy Elves staples Birchlore Rangers and Quirion Ranger. Join us then to see if a 2-mana Elvish Archdruid is any good.