Elves has been a powerful tribal deck since Urza’s Saga block, when the printing of Priest of Titania created the first iteration of the archetype, Elfball. This deck looked to flood the board with Elves and then won with a Priest of TItania-fueled Fireball to kill the opponent. In the Modern era though, Elves has gotten several useful tools that have made it a powerhouse deck as far back as Legacy, starting with LSV’s win in Pro Tour Berlin. At the beginning of the Modern format, though, several of these tools – Glimpse of Nature and Green Sun’s Zenith – were banned, meaning the deck didn’t do well until around halfway through the format’s life.
The printing of Collected Company in Khans of Tarkir block gave Elves new legs, and the powerful four mana instant is a four-of in every Elves list today. Today I’m going to be talking about what I think is the most powerful version of Elves at the moment, Abzan. This gives the deck White mana to access some amazing sideboard cards and the infinite mana combo of Devoted Druid with Vizier of Remedies, giving the deck a great backup plan, and gives us black mana for Shaman of the Pack, a modern version of the Fireball that gave early Elves lists so much power. Now, let’s get into it!
Elves – by Sylvan Schrank
The most important card in this deck is Elvish Archdruid. The card allows us to do so much – it helps our aggro game plan, gives us a much easier way to win with Ezuri, Renegade Leader and allows us to play one mana cards and Dwynen’s Elite for essentially zero mana, allowing us to play out our hand on turn three. It’s also the easiest way to get mana for Collected Company and Chord of Calling.
Elvish Archdruid As mentioned, this guy helps several of our gameplans, including the main one with Ezuri. He also gives you explosive draws that allow us to play out our hand very fast, and realistically comes down on turn two off of a mana dork or Heritage Druid most of the time.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader This is our main win condition, as our best mana sink for both Elvish Archdruid and the infinite mana we make with Vizier of Remedies and Devoted Druid together. He also allows us to survive boardwipes with his regenerate ability, which is very useful because our deck can be so weak to certain wraths.
Heritage Druid This one-drop dork may look worse than the others at first sight, but there is one crucial thing that makes it so good – he can use his ability on a creature with summoning sickness. This allows us to play out our hand on turn two in our fastest draws, and turn three pretty regularly.
Llanowar Elves/Elvish Mystic I grouped these cards together for what should be obvious reasons. They’re the same card, so we can run eight, which is very worth it. They let us cast our three drops, with Elvish Archdruid being the most common of these, on turn two. They also are essentially free to cast with an Archdruid or a Heritage Druid out.
Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies The combo basically gives us the potential to race decks like Storm that are usually faster than us. It can be relevant in fair matchups, but often they will have too much interaction.
Dwynen’s Elite This card is insane. It helps us outgrind fair decks, helps us go wide to help Ezuri, is free with Archdruid, helps turn on a turn two Heritage Druid, and taps twice for Chord.
Playing the Deck
I’ve found that the deck has three main play patterns it can use well. These are:
Turn one dork, turn two Archdruid: This strategy is based around getting an Archdruid on the board on turn two and subsequently flooding the board on turn three. It’s the best strategy against decks with a lot of boardwipes, because we can cast Ezuri on turn three and hold up mana to regenerate our team, and then we can often cast a Company or Chord on their end step.
Turn two Heritage Druid: This was, for a while, our fastest strategy. You may be asking why we don’t cast Heritage turn one. We sometimes do, but only when we have a Dwynen’s Elite as our turn two play to enable the “combo.” This draw allows us to play out our hand as fast as possible, and works well with Archdruid, Shaman of the Pack or Ezuri as our finisher.
Turn three combo: This plan uses the Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies combo. This is the best plan against decks like Storm that can outrace us, as they can’t beat it on the draw without using a one-of Remand, which also can delay them by a turn, and they have trouble with it on the play. To be completely clear, this is not our deck’s main plan. We are a swarm deck that just happens to run an “Oops, I win,” combo.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
This is a very close matchup. In general, I’ve found that Elves is favored if we can stick a turn one mana dork and unfavored otherwise, as is the case against most Midrange decks. We also want to dodge Liliana, the Last Hope, which can take over the game if our opponent untaps with it. Our plan here is to flood the board and stick an Ezuri, since his Regenerate ability is so good here. Postboard we get Graveyard hate and Revokers to answer their Lilianas. Since they almost always have some sort of boardwipe, you also want to add Selfless Spirits.
In: 2x Rest in Peace, 1x Phyrexian Revoker, 1x Selfless Spirit
Out: 1x Vizier of Remedies, 3x Devoted Druid
Now that GR Tron has fallen out of favor, this is a close matchup. Their single target removal is weak against us, meaning they need to draw a Ugin, a Ballista or an Oblivion Stone, which still can leave them weak to an Ezuri or, postboard, a Selfless Spirit. Karn isn’t too much of a threat here; his -3 needs to target an Ezuri to be relevant, and we can win easily with a Shaman of the Pack or an end step Chord or CoCo into Ezuri. Postboard we get cards to interact with their boardwipes and Aven Mindcensor to make assembling Tron difficult for them.
In: 2x Thoughtseize, 1x Selfless Spirit, 1x Phyrexian Revoker, 1x Aven Mindcensor
Out: 1x Elvish Visionary, 1x Eternal Witness, 2x Nettle Sentinel, 1x Ezuri, Renegade Leader
This is another favorable matchup. We can keep them from getting damage in and eventually win with a Shaman of the Pack, which almost always does enough damage to win in this matchup. This makes it the most important card in the deck. This is our default Chord target. The risk we run is losing to a Temur Battle Rage preboard, and in games two and three we can lose to it or an Engineered Explosives or Liliana, the Last Hope. We bring in disruption to deal with these threats, and graveyard hate to hurt delve and Snapcaster Mage.
In: 2x Rest in Peace, 2x Thoughtseize, 2x Phyrexian Revoker
Out: 4x Devoted Druid, 1x Vizier of Remedies
This is a favorable matchup. We just have to race them, and with the exception of nut draws on their side, we tend to be slightly faster. We mostly have to watch out for the Inkmoth Nexus kill. Postboard we get Artifact hate and Phyrexian Revoker.
In: 1x Kataki, War’s Wage, 1x Fracturing Gust, 1x Phyrexian Revoker
Out: 1x Elvish Visionary, 1x Eternal Witness, 1x Devoted Druid
Note: Add Selfless Spirit if you’re worried about Whipflare.
This is a close, but slightly favorable, matchup that depends a lot on player skill. It usually comes down to a race, at which point we are slightly favored. We add Burrenton Forge-Tender as a great blocker who can eat a burn spell for us in the end, and Push to kill of their dudes.
In: 1x Burrenton Forge-Tender, 2x Fatal Push
Out: 1x Elvish Visionary, 1x Chord of Calling, 1x Eternal Witness
Humans, along with many other creature decks of modern, is a great matchup. Historically the deck preyed on Merfolk, Death and Taxes, and other fair creature decks, and humans is no different. We go too wide for the deck, and we have multiple win conditions, meaning that even Meddling Mage doesn’t do enough against us. Kitesail Freebooter is often dead, due to the low amount of noncreature spells we run. Reflector Mage doesn’t bounce enough creatures to deal with the massive board state we can get so easily. Postboard, they can bring in Izzet Staticaster, so we bring in cards to deal with boardwipes. We cut a Shaman of the Pack because they are weak to Staticaster and we cut a Chord of Calling because it can be slow.
In: 1x Phyrexian Revoker, 1x Burrenton Forge-Tender, 2x Thoughtseize
Out: 1x Eternal Witness, 1x Elvish Visionary, 1x Shaman of the Pack, 1x Chord of Calling
This matchup is not great, due to the fact that they play boardwipes, Cryptic Command and sometimes Electrolyze, along with removal to slow us down and give them a chance to cast these cards. Although this isn’t one of our worst matchups, it is hard. However, postboard we can bring in disruption, and we board out our combo because of all the interaction they have to stop it.
In: 2x Thoughtseize, 1x Spellskite, 2x Selfless Spirit
Out: 3x Devoted Druid, 1x Vizier of Remedies
I would like to thank everyone for reading this article, and I hope some of you will consider trying the deck out for yourself. It’s a powerful deck with a lot of great matchups, and I think if one of its bad matchups left tier one, or with a good new printing, it could easily spring into the top of the format. I’m excited to write more for Matchup Guru in the future, and I those who read this article should feel free to ask questions on the Matchup Guru Discord server. If you want to play Modern with me you can also find me on the Untap Open League Discord server and join our Modern league, or follow me on Twitter @filthyc4sual1.
Thank you all for reading!