[Modern] Elf, Elf, Baby!

Hello everyone, and welcome to another Modern article here on Strictly Average. With it being the beginning of December there is one thing on the minds of most people: Christmas. However there is something about this holiday I need to talk about before I talk about Magic’s most festive tribe.

For a long time we have been told what an Elf is around this time of year, and we have been told incorrectly.

That’s right. The “Christmas Elf” is not really an Elf. What is it then?


A gnome. That’s right. GNOME! Gnomes enjoy to tinker, and create things. Gnomes also like to create gardens, and grow things. They are small, have pointy ears like elves, and are found in many environments (even in the cold).

So now that we got that out of the way it’s time to discuss what you all are here for: Elves.

In the beginning

Early in the days of Magic: the Gathering each color seemed to have it’s own “tribes”, but they were not tribes like we know them know. Some groups of creatures seemed to work together with others when building a deck that follows along a proper curve of converted mana costs (a 1 cost creature on turn 1, a 2 costs creature on turn 2, etc etc). Green did not have a lot of elves prior to Ice Age so you would find other ways to produce more mana to cast larger creatures. However, Elf creatures were still very popular, and are one of the fantasy archetypes fans of the game want to see whenever a new set is released (even if it’s a reprint set).

It wasn’t until Alliances where we received our first lord, Kaysa. Merfolk and Goblins were far and away the better tribes in these early years.

The Elves of Lorwyn, and 10th edition

Up until the release of Lorwyn there wasn’t a lot of help besides spells to make the elves bigger than 1/1s. Yes we had Elvish Champion in Invasion (and reprinted in 7th through 10th), but most of the playable elves were 1/1. In order to win you had to swarm the board, and hope to not be hit by a Wrath of God. Lorwyn changed all of that, and made elves a real threat while keeping the swarm-the-board feel of the tribe.

The Elf pre-constructed deck was the first indication that elves, as an archetype, would be a force in Standard during the Lorwyn era. Here is an example deck from that time.

Creatures (25)
4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Imperious Perfect
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Llanowar Elves
1 Boreal Druid

Instants (4)
4 Terror

Sorceries (8)
4 Profane Command
4 Thoughtseize

Lands (23)
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Mutavault
4 Treetop Village
3 Forest
3 Swamp
1 Pendelhaven

Sideboard (15)
4 Squall Line
3 Faerie Macabre
3 Sudden Spoiling
2 Primal Command
1 Cloudthresher
1 Incremental Blight
1 Kitchen Finks

This deck was piloted by Trevor Jones to a 1st place finish for a Regionals event back in 2008. He utilized the power of the elves in Standard to have an attack force bigger than 1/1s, and black support spells to secure the win. This era was my first memory of an Elf deck when I first entered Friday Night Magic (FNM) events back in 2006. A lot of 1 drop creatures powered out your larger creatures, and ways to keep pressure on your opponent. While not as quick of an aggro deck like a mono-red build would be it’s only a little bit behind the quickness of those decks. This was a fun time for Elf fans in Standard.

Nissa Revane, and Scars of Mirrodin

Upon the release of Zendikar we were introduced to Nissa Revane. A planeswalker that left Lorwyn when her spark ignited, she wound up on Zendikar and helped protect her elves from the threat of the Eldrazi. Still being able to generate a lot of mana thanks to the new lord Elvish Archdruid, this deck was able to attack with multiple creatures that often times had more than 2 power.

Creatures (26)
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Arbor Elf
4 Joraga Treespeaker
4 Nissa’s Chosen
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
2 Joraga Warcaller
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

Artifacts (3)
3 Eldrazi Monument

Planeswalkers (3)
3 Nissa Revane

Sorceries (4)
4 Genesis Wave

Lands (24)
20 Forest
4 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

Sideboard (15)
4 Leyline of Vitality
3 Overwhelming Stampede
3 Naturalize
2 Acidic Slime
1 Nissa Revane
1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
1 Tajuru Preserver

In this version of the archetype, which Mark Miller piloted to a 1st place finish at States back in 2010, the black was dropped for a mono green approach. By building up enough mana you could either cast a large Genesis Wave, a Joraga Warcaller kicked multiple times, one of the Eldrazi, or even pump your team via Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Using Nissa Revane with Eldrazi Monument allowed for a never-ending supply of Nissa’s Chosens to feed to the monument.

Modern, Magic: Origins, and moving forward

Since the days of Zendikar through Scars of Mirrodin we have not only received additional elves, but also a new format in Modern. The version of elves in that deck feels like an evolution of the archetype over the years, settling on a theme quite similar to the Zendikar-Scars of Mirrodin Standard. It relies heavily on overwhelming the board with multiple lords while pumping the team with Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

Creatures (34)
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Shaman of the Pack
4 Dwynen’s Elite
4 Elvish Clancaller
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Heritage Druid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Instants (5)
4 Collected Company
1 Chord of Calling

Sorceries (3)
3 Lead the Stampede

Lands (18)
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Forest
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Llanowar Elves
1 Pendelhaven
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Sideboard (15)
3 Duress
2 Reclamation Sage
2 Heroic Intervention
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Fracturing Gust
1 Damping Sphere

How the deck works

This is my current build of Modern Elves. You want to land an early mana creature, such as Llanowar Elves to power out a turn two Elvish Archdruid giving you acceleration in the early game. When playing against decks that do not interact with you, a start with Heritage Druid into Dwynen’s Elite is possible, and perhaps even more powerful.

Lead the Stampede keeps the party going as it can draw you as many as FIVE CARDS for just three mana. Casting this with excess green mana open allows you to be able to play some (if not all) of those elves you just drew. While attacking your opponent, especially after giving your team Trample with Ezuri, Renegade Leader there is another way to win the game without even attacking.

Shaman of the Pack from Magic: Origins allowed players to amass an army of elves, and have an opponent lose life equal to the number of elves in play. This is a triggered ability so you can respond to it by finding another one with Collected Company, or Chord of Calling. This past FNM I was able to win a game vs Dredge because my opponent lost 17 life due to triggering two of these prior to combat (which finished him off). Getting a win this way sometimes feels way more satisfying than attacking.

In the sideboard you have to have ways to deal with decks such as Storm, Tron, Dredge (and other graveyard decks), and keep your team alive.  This deck’s sideboard can be balanced to confront many metagames so keep track of what is popular at your store before constructing one.

Why should I play this deck?

Elves offers an aggro deck with combo elements that also plays proactively. Your opponent has to have answers to your threats or they will lose. Quickly. Your sideboard helps prevent their plan of attack against you as well so board smartly. Also if this is a different style of deck than you’re used to then it’s a good change of pace.

Why should you not play this deck?

  • You don’t like to play aggro decks.
  • You already have an aggro deck to play.
  • You think I am wrong about Santa’s helpers being Gnomes
  • You don’t like Christmas (perhaps more than I do)

In conclusion

The deck is a lot of fun to play, and (with the exception of some lands) can be affordable. Perhaps if you are nice to Santa Claus he will bring you this for Christmas.

That’s all for this week. What do you think of the deck? Sadly I don’t have Legacy Elves done (but I’m close) so this is as far as I can go with the archetype at the moment. Are you playing this deck? What do you like? What do you not look like? Make sure to comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

NEXT WEEK…I’ll keep the Christmas theme going by talking about Gifts in Magic: the Gathering.

Until then…


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