The Arbor Elf / Utopia Sprawl engine is terribly underutilized in Modern, given its incredible power. A single copy of each in your opening hand lets you generate four mana on turn 2 and six or more mana on turn 3, depending on the rest of your draw. Thus far, the most successful deck built around that engine is G/R Land Destruction, using mana disruption to keep its opponent on the back foot before slamming huge threats like Inferno Titan and Stormbreath Dragon.
But I've always been more interested in the Devotion-style lists, taking advantage of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Garruk Wildspeaker to go way over the top of whatever its opponent is doing. Unfortunately, Modern has such efficient disruption that you can't rely on having your complete engine online for three or four turns, so the lists that are the most powerful (the densest with powerful, expensive cards) are also the most vulnerable to disruption, not to mention inconsistent.
This list goes out of its way to be less vulnerable to disruption while still having over-the-top powerful plays. Gone are the copies of Burning-Tree Emissary that are often featured in these lists, instead playing consistently good cards like Kitchen Finks and Scavenging Ooze. There's also only one copy of Genesis Wave, perhaps the poster child for high-ceiling, low-floor ramp cards.
Instead, the mana sinks are cards that are still good with a few mana and great when you have a ton of it. Banefire can end the game on the spot or simply kill an early creature. Walking Ballista is much the same, with the added potential of taking over a battlefield over time, even if you cast it on turn 2. The goal here is flexibility on casting cost, leading to resilience when your opponent attacks your mana creatures.
We've seen Walking Ballista work a similar trick in Eldrazi Tron, transforming that deck from a combo deck hellbent on assembling Tron as quickly as possible into a midrange deck that rarely cares about Tron but gladly uses it when possible. Both decks have overpowering mana engines and solid value threats, so I could see a similar path for Modern's undersung mana creature.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Eternal Witness
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Whisperwood Elemental
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed