Hey folks! Stephanie here, bringing you my experience and understanding of playing Elves in Modern. These are my two-cents on the deck, my experiences with it, and the lessons I've learned from it. Not a definitive 'how to play Elves deck', I am no pro after all, but hopefully interesting to you or even helpful for anyone planning on picking up Elves for Modern.
Elves is a one of the more basic decks in Modern, easy to pick up and play but takes a lot of practice to spot optimal lines and compute calculations quickly. I picked this deck up after the banning of Summer Bloom (RIP Bloomtitan) after trying a variety of different Modern decks, and finding most of them pretty boring. Played it during 2016's Modern season, and frequently Top 8'd. While Elves isn't doing anything overly broken, it does have a strong capability of punishing players that are unprepared for it, and the different options available to you, make each match-up fairly interesting. Also, while not amazingly cheap, the deck is certainly on the lower side of the price range for a competitive Modern deck, with plenty of budget alternatives for non-competitive.
So, let's have a look at my current build of Elves.
4 Dwynen's Elite
4 Elvish Archdruid
1 Elvish Champion
4 Elvish Mystic
2 Elvish Visionary
2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
4 Heritage Druid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Scavenging Ooze
3 Shaman of the Pack
4 Chord of Calling
4 Collected Company
2 Cavern of Souls
3 Gilt-Leaf Palace
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Westvale Abbey
3 Windswept Heath
3 Wooded Foothills
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Eidolon of Rhetoric
2 Essence Warden
1 Kataki, War's Wage
1 Loaming Shaman
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Selfless Spirit
So this current build is three colours, White/Black/Green or Abzan. While mono-green is a very viable options, the additional colours allow a fair amount of versatility, especially post-board, and give you more options to deal with a variety of different match-ups. The deck is only Green/Black before board, however, and it is the lightest of splashes of black (for Shaman of the Pack).
So what is the main goal of this deck? To flood the board and punch through the opponent with a lot of hulked out, trampling green men. What do you need to do this? Well, a lot of little green men ready to hulk, and a lot of mana do so. Let me break the deck down.
Every build of Elves should contain the following as a minumum; 4 Elvish Mystics, 4 Llanowar Elves. Both are G for a 1/1 that taps to produce G. These are your key players. Without them, Elves would not be what it is. So good, Wizards is hesitant to allow them into Standard again. These are a requirement for the large amounts of mana this deck can create, and on turn one, they allow you to perform what is pretty much this deck's main line of play. Playing an Elvish Archdruid of turn two.
Elvish Archdruid is a 2/2 for 1GG that gives all other Elves +1/+1 and taps to produce G for each Elf you control. This is your main lord of the deck. If you play this guy and he survives a turn, your win percentage massively spikes. Archdruid is the card your opponents are likely most afraid of, due to the masses of mana he can create which allow for chaining Collected Company, large Chord of Callings but mainly; activations of Ezuri, Renegade Leader.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader is a 2/2 for 1GG that has two abilities. G: Regenerate another elf you control. 3GG: Elves you control gain +3/+3 and trample until the end of turn. This is the ability that this deck is aiming to activate, either with a lot of creatures on board or a lot of mana to sink (sometimes you get to life the dream and have both). This ability in combination with Elvish Archdruid's +1/+1 buff is very often too much for an opponent's board to be able to soak up, particularly in the early game. Having an Ezuri activation as early as turn 4 (sometimes 3) is the aim of the game, and the deck is tuned to do this as frequently as possible.
Your other creatures are all there to add to your critical mass of Elves in the deck, making Archdruid as strong as possible, but also provide utility and explosiveness to the deck.
Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel are a combo within the deck that allows absurd plays on Turn two, and masses of extra mana later in the game. Heritage Druid allows you to tap 3 untapped Elves you control to produce GGG. Nettle Sentinel untaps after each green spell you cast, making him a potent part of the combo with Druid's ability. Chaining spells with one in play allows for very early pressure, with multiple in play allows for huge pools of mana and allowing you to swarm the board and overwhelm your opponent.
Dwynen's Elite is a very basic addition to the deck, bringing a friend along for the ride. The 2/2 body is actually very effective against a lot of other creatures (Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Dark Confidant, an early Grim Flayer) in terms of blocking and it works well with Heritage Druid, immediately giving you a third body to tap with it's ability. The extra 1/1 it brings is strangely valuable, and not only for Archdruid (more on this later).
Shaman of the Pack is your alternate win-con. Benefiting from you having a critical mass of Elves, it also allows for surprise wins out of nowhere. Bleeding your opponent for each elf you control has been amazingly valuable in my time playing the deck and it's power seems to be on the rise with the increased play of Death's shadow.
Elvish Visionary is likely the weakest card in the deck, but sometimes drawing cards is just what you need. This should be a 4-of likely, but this build had cut 2 to allow for some utility one-ofs. Without the Wirewood Symbiote found in Legacy, Visionary unfortunately just isn't as powerful as she should be.
The last 3 creatures are mainly there for utility.
Elvish Champion is lord number 5, since playing a 5th Archdruid will have a slapped with a quick DQ. +1/+1 to all other Elves but this time, giving all Elves forestwalk. Incredible against Jund, Abzan and Bant Eldrazi (who's creatures are just way bigger than yours), it allows you to bypass they're blockers entirely, and is a much more wanted Lightning Bolt target than poor Archdruid. IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that this effect is symmetrical! So be wary of this card in any potential mirror matches.
Reclamation Sage is a simple 2/1 that destroys an artifact or enchantment on entering the battlefield. Great for removing Ensnaring Bridge, Phyrexian Unlife, killing a Sword or a pesky Eidolon of the Great Revel, and trading with some valuable creatures (similarly to Dwynen's Elite).
The final creature, and only non-elf in the deck, is Scavenging Ooze. Because life-gain and graveyard control should never be underestimated. This guy gives you a little edge against decks like Burn, Dredge and Reanimator that are sorely needed in Game 1 (especially the latter) and is also a threat that needs answered by your opponent. Against decks like Jund and Abzan, he can get out of control very quickly and demand an answer.
The last two cards are two very potent spells that are perfect for this deck. Chord of Calling and Collected Company.
Collected Company has already shown its power in other Modern decks as well as Standard. Instant speed to rebuild a board or add additional power during combat, it offers great (albeit random) versatility to the deck. Expect this to be a card your opponent will tend to prioritise for counterspells and Thoughtseize.
Chord of Calling is a fantastic card for Elves, and what allows you to play singletons in the board and make the use of 3 colours much easier. Being Chord for between CMC1 and 3 is never difficult and it allows you to search for a valuable card during any situation. Opponent just played an Ensnaring Bridge? Chord of Reclamation Sage to remove it. Control opponent cast a Supreme Verdict? Chord of Selfless Spirit to save your team. Affinity player just emptied their hand onto the board? Chord of Kataki and tax them for it. Even pre-board, you can Chord for an Ezuri or a Shaman at any time. Extremely powerful and versatile, but often you'd rather see Collected Company.
Lands time, and there's nothing overly special about it. A basic fetch manabase with shocks, some basics (gotta respect Blood Moon) and Cavern of Souls (gotta respect control). With Abrupt Decays and Thoughtseizes in the board, having a fetch manabase is important to guarantee your colours in the early game.
Your two utility lands are Pendelhaven and Westvale Abbey.
Pendelhaven is useful against other creature decks, allowing creatures such as Visionary to survive a fight against Goblin Guides and Snapcaster Mages. It's made worse by the presence of Archdruid, which is why we only run one.
Westvale Abbey is a spicy meatball. Most decks will have Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in this slot, but I've found it to occasionally be unreliable, and Abbeys flip side is astonishingly powerful. A 9/7 flying, indestructible, lifelink Ormendahl, is a being most Modern decks struggle to deal with and very often will win you the game immediately. Jund can only use Lilliana of the Veil to make you sacrifice it, Burn outright cannot beat it, it beats Griselbrand in a fight, it blocks Death Shadow forever. Your huge mass of creatures (plus extra tokens thanks to Dwynen's Elite) make flipping Abbey extremely easy and adds an additonal threat to your arsenal. IMPORTANT NOTE: Be wary of Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile decks! Don't flip Ormendahl against ANY deck that runs Path to Exile unless you are 100% certain you are safe to do so, or have absolutely no choice.
Sideboard time. This is where the deck flexes the most. Make changes to this board based on what you expect to play against and give yourself what answers you require. The more creature answers you have, the better.
3 Abrupt Decay: Because some pesky things just need to go away, and Decay gets rid of most of them. Liliana, the Last Hope, Ensnaring Bridge, Grafdigger's Cage. It can also be used to interact with faster creature decks, such as Death Shadow and combo decks such as Counters Company. Being able to remove key pieces from the board, especially in a way that can't be countered, is incredibly valuable.
3 Thoughtseize: Once again, allowing you to grab key pieces that can be used against you. We run this rather thank Inquisition, as it things such as Supreme Verdict and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that we need to be able to snag from our opponents. Thoughtseize is incredibly important in the board due to our complete lack of interaction against combo. Hand disruption is vital in removing key combo cards, let alone cards that beat you.
Chameleon Colossus: Protection from Black. So, fantastic against Jund and Grixis (both Midrange and control variants) and is also an incredibly powerful beat stick when you have surplus mana. Being considered an 'elf' is also relevant, with the Shapeshifter creature type. Sometimes, you need a huge creature that an opponent just can't remove. It dodges Terminate, Cut, Dismember, Fatal Push. This card requires two Bolts to take down, and with Bolt lacking in Modern and being replaced with Push, Colossus is better than ever.
Dismember: Things like Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, Tasigur and Gurmag Angler are frustrating to fight through, and having even one answer against them can help turn the tides in your favour.
Eidolon of Rhetoric: You are a dog to any combo deck in the format, and Storm has the greatest ability to ignore us completely and just goldfish. With their lack of removal, Storm decks likely struggle to remove such a powerful hate card as Eidolon of Rhetoric, and it must be removed before they can play any more Magic. All you need is time, Eidolon gives you that.
2 Essence Warden: There are only a handful of decks in the format that is faster than the Elves nut draw. Burn is one of those decks. And Burn's biggest weakness, is lifegain. Because they require a significant clock to win against Elves, Burn can't afford to not play their creatures, so you soak all the lifegain you can from both halves of the board pushing forward. The alongside Scavenging Ooze, is a much needed safety net against Burn.
1 Kataki, War's Wage: An even faster deck than Burn, is Affinity. With out lack of interaction, Affinity has no fear is over-extending onto a board against us. Kataki, War's Wage is such a hate card that we can tax a very mana light deck for over-extending and hold them back from powerful Cranial Plating boards. Also useful against Lantern Control, as they tax means they struggle to add more control pieces through the game, giving us time to draw answers and beat down.
1 Loaming Shaman: Because Dredge is not dead, and a Dredge deck with a graveyard is a dangerous thing. Even just getting rid of their Conflugrates increasing our win % so much, but you are also able to target dredgers or Amalgam's and tuck them. When you pull Dredge's legs from under it, with Troll gone, it struggles to regain control. Potentially also relevant against Snapcaster decks, and Reanimator (though may be too slow for the latter).
1 Reclamation Sage: Because our Tron and Lantern Control match-ups are dire. Having additional removal spells for things Abrupt Decay potentially can't hit is also incredibly valuable. At worst, this is a flex slot in your sideboard (depending on expected meta).
1 Selfless Spirit: Bring this in against any deck running Anger of the Gods, Supreme Verdict, Damnation, Wrath of God, Sweltering Suns, Oblivion Stone, Engineered Explosives. Any sort of mass removal. As a deck, Elves struggles if you don't have a developed board, and board wipes punish the deck so harshly. Spirit is a little insurance and is one of my favourite Chord targets.
Your sideboard plan will be based on the meta you expect. You want your answers to be creatures you can Chord for but this isn't always possible. Compromise where you can. As such, giving a guide to sideboard is quite difficult but here are a few guidelines I follow.
· Visionary is the worst creature in the deck. There are almost always an auto-side-out expect in grindy or control match ups where card draw is important.
· Do you expect enchantments or artifacts you need to deal with? If not, remove Rec Sage. Can you do without graveyard control or are you in a match-up where creatures won't die often (e.g. Bant Eldrazi)? If so, remove Scavenging Ooze.
· Bringing in lots of spells? Don't be afraid to trim a Collected Company or two, as your creature density decreases.
· If you expect to play against Grafdigger's Cage, trim Company's and Chords for removal.
· Take out Champion vs non-Forest decks.
Like most combo decks, you are likely to win your game 1's. Very few decks in Modern are well enough prepared to beat your game plan with their main deck configurations. Game's 2 and 3 are much more 50/50 against the majority of the field, so learning how to navigate each match-up is very important.
Here are some cards to be wary of:
· Anger of the Gods/Pyroclasm/Supreme Verdict etc: Any board wipe against a creature combo deck is the worst thing in the universe. Be careful not to over-extend games 2 and 3.
· Inquisition/Thoughtseize: Hand disruption is excellent against combo decks, though you should always be careful of your opening 7's resistance to it.
· Grafdigger's Cage: Stops your ability to Chord and Company. Remove it if you can, but you can win through it if you have to. It mainly slows you down.
· Ensnaring Bridge: This is Lantern Control's only way to beat you. You can still win with Shaman of the Pack, but once the start controlling your draws, its very difficult to win if you don't see Reclamation Sage before.
Overall, Elves has been an incredibly fun deck to play, and is kept interesting by the fluidity of the deck and by your deck occasionally allowing you to do some very, very silly things. It's fairly easy to play, even without extensive knowledge of the format (which some other decks require) and its certainly one I recommend for anyone starting in the format. There are also some varieties of the deck you can build, including Martin Juza's list that ran the Vizier/Devoted Druid combo; or if you have a smaller budget, play mono-green. Your overall game plan becomes stronger, in exchange you loss some flexibility post-board. Hope this (not so brief) piece has been interesting or useful for anyone considering playing this fantastic deck.