Elves has been around for a long time. As one of Magic’s oldest and most beloved tribes, Elves has remained competitively relevant – if not dominant – across multiple formats for a long time. Legacy, in particular, has played host to a powerful combo-oriented Elves list that even today abuses powerful tutors like Green Sun’s Zenith and Natural Order to cheat out the beefiest Elf of them all, Craterhoof Behemoth, and end games on the spot. In Modern, tools like those tutors aren’t available, but that doesn’t stop Elves from making their mark on the format. Elves isn’t at the top of the tables in Modern – it’s a touch slower than the absurdly quick proactive decks that dominate the format at the moment – but it’s still a force to be reckoned with, and has done well for itself in recent leagues and challenges on MTGO. Fortunately for us too, Budget Modern Elves is a real possibility.
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There’s nothing too new in this list, as Strixhaven wasn’t overflowing with Elf cards, and poor old Karok Wrangler was never too likely to make it in Modern. However, Kaldheim did bring an important update to the list – Elvish Warmaster – which has quickly become a staple four-of. Warmaster is perfect in supporting this deck’s game plan, as it helps to flood the board and provides a sink for the absurd amounts of mana this deck has access to as the game goes long.
The creature suite is pretty set. Most top-performing Elves decks play 38 creatures divided between those set out in the list above, although there’s room to move on some of the numbers – you might see more Dwynen’s Elites, for example, or fewer Realmwalkers. For the most part, however, the 38-18-4 split of creatures-lands-Collected Company has remained relatively untouched, and it seems to be working.
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As for the lands, however, there’s a fair bit of flexibility, it seems (which is good for us, on a budget, as the lands are often the most painful part for the old hip pocket). I’ve seen lists with as few as six black sources! That’s far too few, obviously, but the fact that lists like that are still crushing leagues says something about how the mana base can be built.
For the list above, of course, it’s simple enough to make the usual substitutions and changes.
This configuration is cheap, cheerful and fulfils Frank Karsten’s mana requirements. Losing Gilt-Leaf Palace really isn’t ideal, as it’s essentially a dual land without a functional downside in this deck, but it’s also a $15 card and is super narrow. If there’s the option to spend that kind of money on lands, I’d instead look at buying Nurturing Peatland – it’s a card that’s much more likely to be played in other lists, whereas Gilt-Leaf Palace is enormously inflexible, restricted to just Elves decks.
Unfortunately, we don’t have much room to move when it comes to the rest of the deck. I have no hesitation in recommending Collected Company as a solid (albeit expensive) buy – the card is extremely strong without being banworthy and will likely remain competitively viable for a long time to come, so despite its price tag I think it’s worth snagging. Apart from that, Ezuri, Renegade Leader and Heritage Druid are the only other cards that require an outlay. Overall, the deck isn’t too pricey in the grand scheme of things.
Thankfully, this doesn’t change when we reach the sideboard, either. Here is a collection of various cards found in the sideboard of top-performing Elves decks from the past few weeks:
- Abrupt Decay
- Chameleon Colossus
- Damping Sphere
- Essence Warden
- Fatal Push
- Heroic Intervention
- Leyline of Vitality
- Plague Engineer
- Reclamation Sage
- Relic of Progenitus
- Scavenging Ooze
- Shapers’ Sanctuary
- Weather the Storm
The most expensive of these is Heroic Intervention at $15, and that only appeared in a single deck and probably isn’t necessary, especially as control decks seem to be on a slight decline in Modern. Apart from that, Abrupt Decay is $8 and Chameleon Colossus is $6, but… that’s more or less it, really. The sideboard cards for this deck are nice and cheap.
Right now, I very much like the look of Fatal Push, given the top decks all contain an abundance of cheap creatures (Heliod Company, Jund Death’s Shadow, Izzet Blitz – although Fatal Push feels miserable against Stormwing Entity). You can protect yourself against your opponents’ removal with Shapers’ Sanctuary.
Incidental life gain is very welcome with decks like Burn (and Blitz, for that matter), and while Essence Warden dies to a slight gust of wind, Leyline of Vitality looks pretty good. Not only do you get a soul sister type effect, it can work in conjunction with lord effects to take your Elves out of the range of red sweepers. Another useful life gain effect comes from Scavenging Ooze, although it’s much more useful as a piece of graveyard hate with all the green mana you’ll have laying about.
Damping Sphere is a great call against Storm, Tron and decks of that ilk, although be cautious when deploying it as it can stop you from having an Elvish Archdruid-powered “going off” turn. Finally, Reclamation Sage is a great answer to all sorts of nonsense, and I like including a couple of copies in the sideboard, just in case.
With all this in mind, here’s where we land.
So there you have it, a reasonably-costed, competitively viable tribal deck, with a proven track record of being able to keep up with the powerhouse decks at the top of the Modern format. Again, this deck might not be the best in the business, but it’s powerful and consistent, and sweepers are at an all-time low in Modern at the moment.
If you’ve got a list you think would be worth featuring on this weekly column, let me know. The best place to send your lists to me is on Twitter – hope to hear from you soon!