A lot of Magic players have a soft spot for tribal decks. There is something intrinsically attractive about playing a themed deck centered around a horde of Goblins or crew of Humans. All these creatures have something in common, make one another stronger than they would be individually—a beautiful motif. In order to have a playable tribal deck there have to enough sufficiently powerful cards of a type, which is not always a given. That's why Humans are very strong and Faeries not so much.
The first Modern Horizons dealt tribal decks a huge blow, and the blow's name is Plague Engineer. It almost singlehandedly wiped tribal decks off of Modern's competitive landscape. Almost singlehandedly because there's also Lava Dart—another notorious creature hater. However, Modern Horizons 2 reversed directions and essentially created a new tribal deck from scratch. It even started to dominate the top tables at Modern Challenges. Let's break down why Elementals succeed in the metagame.
|Modern Challenge #12323765, 1st Place, 8-0, derk714|
There are two main approaches to building an Elementals deck—going for a creature-heavy version or one heavy on planeswalkers. One aspect both have in common are the new Modern Horizons 2 cards with the Elemental subtype, the cycle of Incarnations. Let's take a look at each of the three in use here.
Endurance—one of the strongest in the cycle. It can easily be hardcast thanks to its low cost, and the package it brings to the table is not one you can ignore.
Graveyard hate alone is nothing to write home about. However, when you consider that it can be either instant-speed hate for zero mana or three-mana hate on a relevant body, you see its power.
Solitude—a hard removal spell. It's supremely useful for a creature deck to have such an unconditional effect. With it, you don't have to be afraid of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Gurmag Angler, Death's Shadow, or Murktide Regent. The card does not facilitate racing as it gains the opponent life equal to the creature's power. For example, getting rid of a 10/10 Shadow does make it quite a bit harder to kill the opponent. It's not a problem, though, when your main game plan does not revolve around racing. (That's covered later in the article.)
Last but not least, Solitude can stabilize your own life total if you manage to hardcast it later in the game, which is a nice perk.
Fury—a mass removal of sorts. That it can ping off many creatures at once is unbelievably useful, especially against Dragon's Rage Channeler, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Noble Hierarch, or Memnite decks, and against many more. Most of the time it will kill one to two creatures, which nicely offsets the fact that you have pitched a card to it. If you are able to kill three or four, it's pure value. Bear in mind that the damage can also be directed at planeswalkers, so you can kill off a Jace, the Mind Sculptor or split it between a walker and a creature. The flexibility is real. When hardcast, it's a board dominating double striker, which closes games fast.
What truly puts all of the Incarnations over the top is of course that they can be cast free of mana charge. Obviously, being free is an intrinsic upside, but this deck handles the downside, the required card investment, pretty well as well. The deck employs Risen Reef to draw a bajillion cards, and the only thing stopping it from winning having accrued so many cards is … dying with them in hand. It's a classic problem that usually control decks face. Now, you can actually unload these cards for immediate board impact.
In addition, you have four copies of Omnath, Locus of Creation. It's a powerful card in itself, but what I have to direct your attention to is the fact that it pitches to any of the Incarnations. The crazy mana cost is an actual upside this way. This also allows you to max out on the Omnath playset, because you can always pitch redundant copies. With Flamekin Harbinger you can always find whichever is most needed. If you do it on turn one, you've got guaranteed interaction from turn two onward.
Oh, and this Ephemerate card? It's clearly busted here. Just imagine playing against an aggro deck and, on turn two or three, going Solitude for zero mana, exile one creature, Ephemerate, exile another creature, block with the 3/2 lifelinker. It's something most aggressive decks cannot recover from. Playing against go-wide Elves? Fury plus Ephemerate has got your back. What's key is that you not only get a second trigger, but you also get to keep the body.
There are two main shells floating around. The first one is listed above. It's very much creature focused. Literally the only noncreature spell is Ephemerate and all the rest is Elementals. There are some sweet bullets in the main such as:
Some other interesting interactions include playing Omnath, Locus of Creation with Reef on the battlefield. Reef can hit land drops off Elementals entering the battlefield. If you manage to hit a second land drop and get mana you can ephemerate Omnath and keep drawing cards and hitting land drops off Reef, resulting in a quasi-storm turn.
There is another shell though. It ventures more into noncreature spells and has been popularized by Piotr "kanister" Głogowski.
|Modern Challenge #12326162, 27th Place, 5-2, by kanister|
This deck retains the core of Reef/Harbinger/Incarnations/Omnath. However, instead of using the rest of the spell slots for more Elementals, it runs very powerful noncreature spells.
Utopia Sprawl is an excellent accelerator. It enables turn two Reef and turn three Omnath.
Between Ending, Teferi, Solitude, and Fury, the main deck alone features fifteen pieces of interaction. Half of them can be ephemerated and/or found via Harbinger.
Neither build plays like a traditional tribal aggro deck would. It's midrange with combo aspects, able to both pivot and win fast or grind out and act like a creature control deck. I highly suggest checking the deck out! It's heaps of fun and undeniably tier one.
As always—remember to hold my hand and pass the turn together. Cheers!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.