Beating Your Opponents Down with Green-Black Elves

During a conversation last week, my friend Stefan asked me if I would be interested in playing in a large Modern tournament the following week. He has a large collection of Modern staples, which he offered to lend if there was a deck I wanted to play in particular. He had decided on playing Grixis Shadow for the tournament, and I picked up Black-Green Elves. Here's the deck list for my 75.

Picking Up the Deck

Black-Green Elves by Hans Davidson

I had three reasons for wanting to play this particular deck: affordability, novelty, and accessibility. The deck is quite cheap on MTGO, where you can even swap out the Cavern of Souls for the budget Unclaimed Territory to reduce costs even further. All-in-all, you're looking at a deck that costs 170 or so tickets, and considering the fact that MTGO allows you to play whenever you want for however much you want, it's a great way to prepare for an upcoming event on a short notice. Because of that price tag, I went ahead and traded in the Blue-Red Kiln Fiend deck I had been playing over the past couple of weeks for this iteration Black-Green Elves and began testing and tinkering with the deck.

Llanowar Elves

BG Elves turned out to be one of the most enjoyable decks I've played in a while. It's one thing to be sitting across from the table wondering if my opponent has a back-breaking Chord of Calling in hand, and it's another thing to Collected Company into double Elvish Archdruids at the end of my turn. I'm a big fan of combat math, and the aggressive playstyle of the Elves deck was something that I immediately gravitated towards.

In regards to the aspect of novelty, I've never played Elves in any competitive setting, despite the fact that it's one of the decks I've played against the most in the format. While having a main deck that you can pilot well is a key element of success in Modern, branching out and trying new decks to become proficient with them is just as important. As with any aggressive deck, the matter of sequencing properly becomes the focus of playing well, as there are fewer decisions to make than when playing with a midrange deck. I played plenty of games in which I missed lethal because I had played, for example, Ezuri, Renegade Leader in my second main phase instead of my first main phase. I also missed out on points of damage by forgetting to maximize the effect of Shaman of the Pack and not sequencing accordingly.

Shaman of the Pack

Despite these mistakes, however, Elves is a relatively easy deck to play, and that was the final reason why I chose the deck: accessibility. Aggressive decks - especially ones as linear as Elves – puts the onus on the opponents to find the right answers to their strategies. This means that there isn't a radical shift in the game plan every match, a point made evident by the fact that the Elves deck swaps at most five cards during sideboarding. This not only makes the sideboarding process easier, but it also takes the pressure away from mulligan decisions because you're not forced to mull to four for a matchup-saving Rest in Peace, for example. Combined with the fact that the tournament is a week away, my desire to go with an aggressive strategy that is nowhere near as complex as midrange decks made the choice of Black-Green Elves a fairly easy one.

Matchup Overview

I've found Green-Black Elves' good matchups to be those against UW Control, Mardu Pyromancer, creature decks, and Grixis Death's Shadow.

UW Control and its numerous iterations pack a good number of wraths and getting wrathed on turn 4 without a backup plan is naturally going to be a bad time for the swarm deck. However, Collected Company does a great job of building your board back, and Ezuri also acts as wrath insurance (as long as it's not Wrath of God that is wiping your board). I've found that the lack of cheap, single-target removal in UW makes it difficult for the control decks to stem the onslaught of elves, and the deck is fast enough that it can end things before the control deck can set up its win-cons.

Mardu Pyromancer is a deck has more or less replaced Jund as the de-facto grindy midrange deck, and one of the reasons why I've felt favored has been the way cards match up. Lingering Souls and Young Pyromancer tokens aren't nearly as beefy as Tarmogoyf or as problematic as Dark Confidant, and therefore are much more susceptible to Collected Company than Jund is. Additionally, damage-based removal is much easier to deal with than Abrupt Decay or Maelstrom Pulse.

Young Pyromancer

Creature decks like Green-White Valuetown or Kiki-Chord don't have enough ways to outmuscle our very feisty trampling Elves. While they might accumulate value better in the form of Restoration Angels and ETBs or Tireless Tracker clues, Elves is far too aggressive to care about whether the opponent got to draw an extra card or two when those cards drawn don't deal with the threats on the board.

Finally, Grixis Death's Shadow feels like a great matchup based on Elves being able to pressure life totals, provide plenty of chump blockers, and threating a lethal Shaman of the Pack at many points in the game. Temur Battle Rage is a great card for GDS in these spots, but the way our cards match up with theirs makes me feel pretty good about how the games play out.

On the other hand, Jeskai Control, Affinity, combo decks, and decks playing Grim Lavamancer feel pretty bad to play against, although not necessarily in that order.

Jeskai Control has access to the single-target removal that UW control lacks but shares the same card advantage engines. This means that the opponent is flashing back Lightning Bolts and Lightning Helixes with his or her Snapcaster Mage, a much more daunting challenge for the Elves deck than a flashed-back Path to Exile. Red also gives Jeskai access to softer-yet-cheaper boardwipes such as Anger of the Gods. The red splash in the manabase changes everything in this matchup for the control deck.

Lightning Bolt

Affinity is a race, with both decks looking for their hate cards after sideboarding, and the fact that the Elves deck has practically no answer to Inkmoth Nexus makes Affinity more difficult to block and thus much faster. There's not much to do in game one other than to hope that the opponent mulligans, you keep a great hand, and they don't top-deck anything too dangerous.

Combo decks, such as Grishoalbrand, tend to play on a completely different axis than Elves, and if they're faster, they'll handily win. In my experience, game 1 has usually gone to the combo deck, and the Stain the Minds that are brought in from the sideboard have to work overtime along with pressure.

Finally, the card I want to see the least from my opponent's deck is Grim Lavamancer, and any deck that runs it in multiples is a very bad time for Elves. Because we're not running any removal in our deck – not even Dismember – a Lavamancer that resolves is usually game-over.

Grim Lavamancer

Should You Pick Up the Deck?

As I mentioned earlier, I've had tons of fun piloting the deck the past several days, and my general instinct would be to answer, "Yes." However, I get that there might be other points you would want to consider before plopping down a wad of cash for a new deck, so here are a few things to think over if you want to find out whether or not the deck is for you.

You should pick up the deck if…

Ezuri, Renegade Leader
  1. You enjoy doing the same thing over and over in all your games. When I'm playing Elves, I'm plopping down as many of my green boys and girls onto the battlefield as I can and smashing them into my opponents, hopefully with trample. Knowing how the game is supposed to end (since it usually ends the same way) makes it enjoyable to navigate the game because you approach it like a puzzle.
  2. You're on a budget. The deck is very cheap on MTGO, and even in paper the deck hovers around the 600 euro mark. Taking out the expensive lands (such as Caverns or Horizon Canopy that some lists play) puts a big dent in the price of the deck, and it's a fun place to get started in an otherwise pricey format.
  3. You like Elves as a tribe! There's a lot to like about elves and considering that they're a tribe that's found everywhere in the Magic multiverse, future sets will continue to provide toys for Elves players. If you play GB Elves, you can certainly play Green-White Elves, and you could even branch out into playing a much grindier Jund Elves that maindecks Bloodbraid Elf. Knowing that sticking to a tribe lets you play different flavors of decks is a fun aspect of Magic, and Elves is no exception.

On the other hand, you shouldn't pick up the deck if…

Engineered Explosives
  1. You don't like counting. You're going to be calculating combat math and how much mana you need for a turn in every single game, so if that sounds too taxing for you, you're not going to enjoy playing this deck.
  2. You need to play something interactive. Elves is a linear deck, which means you're exacting the same game plan in your matches and ignoring (for the most part) what your opponent is up to. If you enjoy the decision making of which card to take with Thoughtseize or when to flashback your Kolaghan's Command, this deck is going to be quite a departure for that.
  3. You don't enjoy losing to a single card. Grim Lavamancer is quite popular nowadays, and it's disheartening to know that one card is going to decide the fate of the match. This is more or less the case with all-in aggressive decks, but that doesn't mean you have to like it!

Anyway, that's all for this week. Wish me and Stefan luck, and let me know if this article has convinced you to give the Elves tribe a chance!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

1 Comment

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photog(2018-08-25 23:23)

Splashing white for the devoted Druid Vizier combo is worth considering.
White opens up a lot of good sideboard cards.
BWG can however be a strain on the mana.

Elves are great fun to play although they are very susceptible to removal.