Modern Musings: Elves

Caleb Gordon
November 01, 2022


Time for some sElf discovery!

This week, we're featuring Modern's famous Combo-masquerading-as-Aggro deck, Elfball! Bolt the bird doesn't quite fly against this monstrosity, as they'll run out of bolts long before you run out of elves. Elves have always been around as an archetype, but as they're not currently at the forefront, it's quite easy to take advantage of your opponents not knowing the breakpoints of your deck and crushing them underfoot!

We build a small board presence early, lulling our opponents into a false sense of safety – after all, the second Llanowar Elves isn't going to win us the game, right? Then our Archdruids and Heritage druids begin to pump out obscene amounts of mana, and before they know it, we have a Craterhoof Behemoth battering at the gates. Check out the list below:

This deck is all about efficiently casting your creatures, while also reading what removal your opponents are running. If they're the type of deck to run a board wipe, you'll want to slow-roll as much as possible until your combo turn, so that you can finish them off in one swing. Conversely, if you're against a tempo deck, you'll want to overwhelm them with value, effectively giving them too many targets to choose from. 

This is a combo deck pretending to be an aggro deck. We're hoping that our opponents will be overwhelmed with our creatures that seem like they produce value, when in reality we're hoping to drop a mana-ramp that allows us to go through our entire deck and drop a Craterhoof Behemoth on their face. In any other deck, a Llanowar Elves is a tempo gain that opponents cannot generally afford to let live. In our deck however, we have much more efficient tempo gains – Our Archdruid, Marwyn, and Heritage Druids give us access to so much more mana that smaller mana dorks do not. 

We also have two combo wins. The first is using Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel to generate all the mana we'll ever need. We tap our Sentinels to pay for Heritage Druid's ability (which can be used the turn it is played) and then play a green spell, which triggers the Sentinels into untapping. We can begin to play tons of elves if this is allowed to occur, and combined with a Realmwalker, this can quickly get out of hand. Fierce Empath allows us to search up our win-con at this point: the oft-spoken-of Craterhoof Behemoth, which will end the game in short order. 

We also include three copies of Aetherflux Reservoir, as we'll be casting a metric ton of spells on our combo turn. It's an added insurance, so even if our opponents have a board wipe or measure of surviving the Craterhoof Behemoth win, they're not likely to be able survive being zapped for 50 damage. It can also help against other aggro decks intent on ignoring your elves and going for the throat; I'm looking at you, Burn players.

Our deck is slightly slower than most of the Modern format, which is why we try to slow our opponent's game plan down to our speed. Ensuring that we have a large amount of lifegain and resources available means that most Tempo and Aggro decks will eventually fold to our numbers and have to play the game on our terms. 


In terms of sideboard, we have a plethora of answers to artifacts, enchantments, and other potential issues that our opponents may bring in against us. We're hoping to dictate the game's tempo on our terms, and that can get mixed up if our opponents bring in Grafdigger's Cages or boardwipes to slow us down. Heroic Intervention keeps our creatures alive against control matchups, while cards such as Collector Ouphe, Acidic Slime and Reclamation Sage are brought in to deal with problematic artifacts. Granted, you need to be able to judge the board and determine which is the best answer to bring in: Ouphe is perfect against Oblivion Stone and Karn's Sylex, while Reclamation Sage is better for Pithing Needles and Cages.  

Elves is a great tribal deck for players who enjoy swarming their opponents with creatures, and finishing them off in a great destructive stampede. It appeals to Johnnies and Timmies alike, and regardless of outcome, always leads to a great FNM story. 

This week's skill testing question is about Realmwalker (and other effects that let you look at the top of your library). If you cast a spell from the top of your library using Realmwalker's ability, when are you specifically allowed to look at the next card? Tell me @Melitius!