Don't call it a comebeck.
Elf decks never really left. They have certainly varied wildly in playability, from ridiculously broken during the glory days in Extended to hovering around the fringes of the Modern in the past few years.
But the day of the Elf uprising grows near. It's time for Combo Elf decks to Glimpse their former glory.
The list I'll be sharing today is certainly a callbeck to the original combo lists.
Even though Green Sun's Zenith and Glimpse of Nature are still rightfully trapped in the Phantom Zone (AKA the Banned List), Elf decks have other reasonable options to enable you to combo off at breakbeck speeds.
For the last Modern Pro Tour (which was also the last Modern Pro Tour, I suppose),I spent a lot of time trying to get Elf Combo to work for me. Whenever control isn't a viable option or well-positioned, combo decks are where I look next. I wish I hadn't given up, because Elf decks were actually one of the few archetypes capable of fending off the Eldrazi menace.
I've taken some more time to work on it, and I think I've got a becklist that is not a loser, baby.
- 3 Arbor Elf
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Essence Warden
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Wren's Run Packmaster
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Turn 3 or 4 wins are what we're aiming for when goldfishing with the deck.
Ideal games will play out like so:
Turn 1: Mana Elf.
Turn 3: ???
Turn 4: Profit!
Going more in-depth on turn 3, which is ideally the final turn of the game, you hope it will start off looking like this:
And turn into something like this:
Spewing out Elves is a lot of fun. There are plenty of ways this deck can draw any number of cards, create arbitrarily large amounts of mana, gain arbitrarily large amounts of life, and make an arbitrarily large number of creatures arbitrarily big.
Intruder Alarm is essentially a combination of Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel when paired with your regular “add one mana” Elves or Dryad Arbor. Every creature that enters the battlefield will untap your entire team and generate mana for each non-summoning-sick mana producer you have. That adds up really quickly with even two mana producers, and with Heritage Druid entering the battlefield at any point, it gets downright ridiculous.
You'll usually need some Elves without summoning sickness before you can combo off, so remember to check your Elf before you Beck your Elf.
The Spirit tokens Forbidden Orchard makes for your opponents are double agents that will usually help you out more than your opponent. Tapping Forbidden Orchard will draw you cards once you've cast Beck, since Beck doesn't care how the creatures are entering the battlefield or whose side they're on. The Spirit tokens will also untap all your creatures once you have Intruder Alarm out, which means they're often generating two or more mana. Sounds better than Eldrazi Temple to me. They can even gain you life with Essence Warden.
You might be Curio-us why I'm running four Cloudstone Curios alongside Intruder Alarms and Beck // Call, as those are a lot of clunky cards that appear to do nothing and completely bottlebeck your slower draws. Cloudstone Curio is the slowest card in the deck and will often require at least another turn of setup before you can get going with it, but all these clunky cards work very well with the rest of the deck, and with each other.
The basic combo. Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel + another one-mana Elf (each being returned by Cloudstone Curio, then tapping them for mana, and repeating the cycle) turns into arbitrarily large mana. Heritage Druid + another two one-mana Elves means arbitrarily large life from Essence Warden or as many draws as you want from Beck. The biggest bonus now, though, is that Heritage Druid + Dwynen's Elite converts into arbitrarily large Elf tokens. No fuss, no muss.
Dwynen's Elite is the new card that supercharges the archetype. It works well with Beck // Call, drawing you two cards; Cloudstone Curio; and Intruder Alarm, triggering its untaps two times. It is also just nicely sized at three power for two mana, if you're planning on beating down.
Beck + Cloudstone Curio
Possibly the most costly combo to assemble, but it means Heritage Druid and a couple of friends will translate into drawing your deck (which should be good enough to get you arbitrarily large mana as well.)
Beck + Intruder Alarm
Just be careful not to bounce your Elves without summoning sickness if you don't have Heritage Druid, since then they won't be able to tap for mana anymore. As a general rule, to maximize the amount of mana you can generate, you want to play your mana Elves first, then your Intruder Alarm, and then your Cloudstone Curio.
Wren's Run Packmaster is a great tutor target for Summoner's Pact when you already have Heritage Druid. If you have Wren's Run Packmaster, Intruder Alarm, Heritage Druid, and a couple of Elves, you can make an arbitrarily large number of Wolf tokens, generate arbitrarily large amounts of mana, and, if Beck is involved, draw as many cards as you like (and eventually draw Craterhoof Behemoth for the win).
You can even combo off with Wren's Run Packmaster (don't forget it's an Elf itself and you can tap it for Heritage Druid) and Intruder Alarm by making Wolves while its champion ability is on the stack, if you're low on Elves.
I think Wren's Run Packmaster is the best option for arbitrarily large token generation. It is actually also a really nice body on its own against Jund decks and capable of winning the game by itself even when you can't combo off. The deathtouch Wolves are great at attacking and blocking and match up well against creatures like Tarmogoyf.
The other options are decent but I think they fall short. Ant Queen has too high a casting cost and isn't an Elf. Imperious Perfect is the best option when you're not comboing off, as it's just an Anthem effect, but it needs a turn before it can make tokens. Last, I'm saving Sprout Swarm for a super-secret control deck that will take the metagame by storm.
Great against Burn, Hexproof, and Lightning Bolt decks.
Good against Burn and in grindy midrange matchups where you want to return lands (like Dryad Arbor).
Snipes Cranial Plating and Inkmoth Nexus.
Enjoy Burn! Might be overkill having three, but Eidolon of the Great Revel is so good against you (you should bring in answers to it), you want to stick it to them.
Good against sweepers, although I'm not a fan of diluting the deck too much to run a bunch of them. I'm in the “hope they don't have it” camp, but running more would be reasonable.
Die, Islands. Dielands.
Great against Eidolon of the Great Revel and Affinity.
Redundancy for your main combo against lots of removal and good against Jund.
You lose to the arbitrarily large life combo from Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Kitchen Finks, even if you draw you entire deck in Game 1. You need some way to break it up and Scavenging Ooze is a good option, but Dismember (or something else to disrupt them) works as well. Once you've disrupted their combo, you can bounce Craterhoof Behemoth with Cloudstone Curio and make your team bigger than the amount of life they've gained. This doesn't work Game 1, because they can gain more life at instant speed once you've set a number for your Craterhoof and turned it sideways.
Just the Beckginning
The Elves have plenty of natural predators in Modern right now.
Jund decks and Jeskai Control have enough disruption and spot removal to make life difficult. Other combo decks might be a shade slower than Elves, but Elves Combo does have a few issues with consistency.
The deck is dependent on a tight curve, almost like it still suffers from being a ramp deck, even though it's only ramping to three mana. You'll have to make many difficult exbeckutive decisions on close-call mulligans.
I think Elves combo is close to being very good, though. Perhaps the perfect list hasn't been found, or perhaps the format just needs to be right for it. I certainly think the deck is powerful...
Either that, or this is all just a devious ploy to introduce more decks that Jeskai is strong against.
The call to brew beckons! Feel free to beck out my Twitch stream for a chance to see the deck (and others) in action.
Do you beck me up and think that Elves exceeds exbecktations? Or should the Elves find another calling?