Modern Elves is not an infinite combo deck, at least not in most of its current iterations. There are versions of the deck that use Cloudstone Curio to loop Elves and generate infinite mana, then can churn through the entire deck given the right pieces, but it’s rarely the version of choice. Instead, most builds of Modern Elves look to build up mana and use value creatures to finish the game.
The most important ways to assemble the right combination of Elves are the non-Elf spells. By now, everyone is more than familiar with Collected Company. The boogeyman that made Standard so much less fun for so many people is also a Modern all-star. With every creature in the deck at 3 mana or less, Company acts as an instant-speed way to dig deep into your deck and assemble the best board state possible. There are many Elves that produce mana, draw cards, pump power, or even regenerate other Elves, so being able to fetch them at instant speed is incredible.
By this same logic, Chord of Calling may be even more important. There are many combinations of Elves in Modern that are redundant, but finding that one key piece of the puzzle will sometimes end the game immediately. Chord can get a mana generator, a card drawer, or a finisher, so it’s going to be one of the best draws in the deck against anyone who can’t remove all of your creatures. It can, however, be shaved post-sideboard against decks like Jund that will kill so many of your creatures that you can’t convoke consistently. It can still be good, but you don’t want to draw too many when you don’t have a board.
Your creature force starts with ways to explode your mana quickly. The original Llanowar Elves and the more recent Elvish Mystic are functionally the same card. You’re happy to have the full 4 copies of each in many versions of Elves. These 1-mana Elves let you keep land-light hands and threaten to play important 3-mana spells and Collected Companys earlier than you would be able to otherwise.
Heritage Druid will take advantage of the fact that you can get so many creatures into play by generating tons of mana. Heritage Druid has functional haste, as summoning sickness doesn’t impact the ability. You can do crazy things at instant speed when you have Heritage Druid, like Company into 2 creatures and then even Company again, leading to blowout turns that your opponent won’t expect.
Nettle Sentinel is actually one of the heavy-hitters in this deck, mostly as a combo with Heritage Druid. Every spell you cast will untap it, meaning Nettle Sentinel can be used over and over again for more mana. If you have 2 Nettle Sentinels in play, every Elf you cast can be tapped along with the Sentinels to generate 3 mana with Heritage Druid’s ability. Since almost all of your Elves only cost a single mana, this results in multiple mana floating during each iteration. When you then cast a Company or a big Chord, this will also untap Sentinels and generate more mana. As you can probably imagine, this gets out of hand quickly.
Elvish Visionary is your big value card. It’s a reasonable hit off Company, it acts as mana to generate a bigger Chord while replacing itself, and is just a solid draw at all points in the game. It’s not as game-changing in Modern Elves as it is in Legacy due to the lack of Wirewood Symbiote, but it’s still a solid card.
Instead, Dwynen’s Elite is your biggest value creature in Modern. 4 Heritage Druid and 4 Chord of Calling give you tons of mileage out of creating 2 Elves. The fact that they have 3 power combined for only 2 mana and represent 2 bodies for your big payoff Elves makes the Elite one of the most important players in the deck.
Unlike Legacy, the payoff in these Elves decks isn’t a Craterhoof Behemoth that you can Natural Order for. Instead, it relies on Elvish Archdruid to do most of the dirty work. Archdruid will commonly produce 6 or more mana, plus it will pump your entire team. While Elvish Archdruid does die to basically every removal spell in Modern, fetching it out at instant speed with a Company or Chord will give you some room to play around them. If they don’t have the removal spell, then a turn-2 Archdruid threatens to end the game on turn 3. This is one of the reasons why Elves had a strong matchup against Eldrazi even before the banning of Eye of Ugin.
The other big payoff is Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Ezuri can save your team with regeneration, or Overrun multiple times in a single turn. While a single Overrun for your team tends to be enough to take over a game, there are some cluttered boards where this won’t always be the case. Being able to plow through even the big Eldrazi creatures makes the Renegade Leader a real powerful threat.
With Chord of Calling and Collected Company, there’s plenty of room for a few silver bullet creatures. Spellskite is obviously not an Elf, but it’s also so powerful against strategies like Bogles and Infect that it warrants a single copy in the main deck.
Eternal Witness is the queen of value. A Chord for a Witness to return your Chord back to your hand gets you a free 2/1 creature that also acts as more mana for convoke. It can also be found with and then return Company, and is cheap enough to cast from your hand for value to return an important piece that’s been removed.
Reclamation Sage gives you an answer to problematic artifacts and enchantments like Cranial Plating or a Phyrexian Unlife. Scavenging Ooze is, of course, key against graveyard interactions such as Snapcaster Mage, Goryo’s Vengeance, or Dredge.
The lands really add valuable percentage points. Cavern of Souls makes cards that would already be pretty mediocre against the deck such as Remand into downright bad draws. While they can still counter Company or Chord, it’s hard to leave mana up in the middle portion of the game against a deck that should consistently have a board presence. This also makes a card like Spell Snare into a dead draw.
While there are no white cards in the main deck, there are plenty of viable options in the sideboard. This makes Razorverge Thicket a useful tool—you rarely care about your 4th land entering the battlefield untapped with so many Elves that tap for mana. Horizon Canopy is excellent against decks that aren’t putting serious pressure on your life total. While it can be a liability against Burn and Affinity, having a land that can be cashed in for an extra card will mitigate mana flood.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx combines with Ezuri to generate more mana than anyone can deal with, creating multiple Overruns in the same turn. The first copy of Pendelhaven is fairly close to a freeroll as it’s only really punished by Blood Moon. Being able to pump up one of your many 1/1 creatures in combat at instant speed can make blocking problematic, and at the least should net an additional point of damage a few times.
Liam Lonergan, 1st Place at Invitational
The name of the game is simple with this deck. You’re looking to go wide and amass as many Elves as you can. This deck is capable of winning the game really quickly, but it’s not necessary. You have a good midgame and late game thanks to Company and Chord. Ezuri and Archdruid can both win the game on the spot while Visionary, Canopy, and Eternal Witness can win the attrition war.
There are so many ways to get into a similar position. A turn-1 Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic means a turn-2 Elvish Archdruid. Any two 1-mana Elves plus Heritage Druid also mean a turn-2 Archdruid. There are more ways than I can count to produce a turn-3 Company, and big Chords happen from turn 3 onward in this deck.
Archdruid, Nykthos, and Heritage Druid can produce a large number of Ezuri activations. This deck is only playing 18 lands, so you have 34 creatures and 8 spells that will go get more creatures. This means your board should be flooded early and often.
There are plenty of great sideboard cards against Elves. A sweeper will set you back dramatically—Anger of the Gods, Wrath of God, Supreme Verdict, Damnation, Engineered Explosives, and Pyroclasm will all have a huge impact against Elves. Chalice of the Void on 1 can shut down many of your spells, but remember you can still resolve your Elves with your Cavern of Souls.
While all sweepers are going to be great, as are spot removal spells, they don’t just win the game automatically. If you’re on the Elves side against sweepers, don’t overcommit. Yes, you’re likely going to get 3-for-1’d, but make sure you get in some damage first. If you’re able to pass against a deck with sweepers and can follow that up with a Collected Company, you’re already untapping and attacking again. All of the incidental damage adds up, and with only 18 lands in the deck, you will always be spell-rich. If you get to that middle portion of the game and they were able to 3-for-1 you twice, you will likely have still drawn more spells than they have thanks to playing effectively 8 fewer lands. If you’re drawing Company and Visionary, you’re going to be able to fight these attrition wars well.
As for sideboarding with the Elves deck, the sky is the limit. Lonegan opted for white cards in his sideboard, but that isn’t mandatory. Some Elves lists play black, for example, which opens up completely different sideboard cards.
Burrenton Forge-Tender is one of the biggest draws to white, but you really don’t have to be white to play it. Forge-Tender is of course awesome against red as it can block forever, but the real highlight is in conjunction with Chord of Calling. Players will work hard to set up an Anger of the Gods against you, and being able to respond by tapping a couple lands and creatures to fetch a Forge-Tender to counter all that damage can turn a loss into a win on its own.
Kataki, War’s Wage comes in against Affinity, Melira, Sylvok Outcast against Infect. Elvish Champion can break the mirror or in any matchup with green creatures that goes wide. Eidolon of Rhetoric shuts down Storm, Ad Nauseam, Living End, or Snapcaster Mage.
Aven Mindcensor has seen varied amounts of play, but with the results of Worlds and the popularity of Primeval Titan decks expected to increase, Mindcensor is poised for a comeback. Shutting down searching can stop ramp cold, or other combo decks with Chord, Expedition Map, or Tolaria West.
Chameleon Colossus is a trump against black midrange decks like Jund. It’s not great against Lingering Souls, but it can’t be Bolted, Terminated, or Pulsed. If Abzan continues to surpass Jund and people have more Paths and Souls, you might have to look elsewhere.
Fracturing Gust is a sweet game-ending tool against Affinity or Bogles. It’s not cheap, but you have lots of acceleration.
Kitchen Finks is a great value card against decks using lots of removal to slow you down such as Jund. It’s incidentally awesome against any red aggressive decks. The 4 life and reasonable power make this one of the best turn-2 plays imaginable.
Phyrexian Revoker is a catchall against problematic permanents such as planeswalkers or combos, that you can fetch at instant speed with Chord. Being able to respond to an opponent even casting their planeswalker by getting a Revoker into play and naming it is pretty sweet, but that might be too cute.
Essence Warden is… well, beats me. It would be pretty good against Deceiver Exarch infinite combo decks, and incidental life gain is good against some archetypes, but it doesn’t stand out as an impactful enough sideboard card for Modern to me.
While this version of Elves was able to take down a high profile and competitive tournament, it is far from the only version. There are plenty of cards you don’t want to cut, but the deck is customizable in a number of ways, so don’t be scared to try some new things.
As with any deck in Modern, the sideboard can and should be customized to your expected metagame. All of the numbers are flexible and I’m not sure there’s a single sideboard card here that you absolutely have to play.
Elves is a great option in Modern as a resilient deck that can get in some early creatures for incidental damage early and threaten to go big late. So many of the cards are excellent in both the early and late game, which makes for an exciting package. It can function and even thrive on a low land count, while still being able to produce massive amounts of mana.
Elves is one of the many great Modern decks. Which version do you happen to think is best? Have you found any sideboard cards that are especially good against Elves that may not be obvious? Sound off in the comments!