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Budget Magic: $98 (13 tix) Combo Elves (Modern, Magic Online)


Aluu, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Next week, we'll kick off our exploration of Ravnica Allegiance Standard with a string of of budget decks focused on the format, but for this week, we're heading back to Modern for one of the sweetest tribal combo decks we've played in a long time: Combo Elves! We played Beatdown Elves in Modern a while ago, which was focused on stacking up as many lords as possible and beating the opponent down, Merfolk-style. Well, today's deck is a lot different. Rather than beating down with a bunch of buffed Elves, our main plan is to generate infinite-ish mana, draw our entire deck, and then win with just a single attack. Oh yeah, and when things go well, we can go infinite as early as Turn 3 or 4! Can Beast Whisperer make old-school Combo Elves work in Modern on a budget? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Combo Elves (Modern)

The Deck

Combo Elves is basically a tribal combo deck. While we do have a couple of Elf lords in our deck, so we can occasionally win by curving out and attacking, our primary plan is to go pseudo-infinite in mana and card draw, play through quite literally our entire deck (hopefully on Turn 3 or 4), and then kill our opponent with a single attack. To understand the plan of the deck, we first need to talk about the combo engine, then our finishers, and finally the filler cards.

The Combo

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The card that makes Combo Elves possible is Beast Whisperer. In the past, Glimpse of Nature allowed Elves to combo off and draw through their entire deck in one turn, but Glimpse of Nature is banned in Modern. While more expensive, Beast Whisperer essentially gives us a Glimpse of Nature that also comes attached to an Elf body (which is a meaningful upside, since extra copies draw us a card). Since Elves are really good at producing extra mana, it's pretty realistic that we'll get Beast Whisperer on the battlefield by Turn 3, and once we have a Beast Whisperer on the battlefield, it becomes pretty easy to play through our entire deck in one turn.

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While the card draw from Beast Whisperer is essential to our combo, we also need a way to make a bunch of mana, to keep casting the Elves we draw from Beast Whisperer. While we have a ton of mana producers in the deck, our most powerful mana engine is Heritage Druid with Nettle Sentinel. Heritage Druid basically turns all of our Elves into Llanowar Elves. While this is fine when played fairly, it gets especially crazy when we have a copy or two of Nettle Sentinel on the battlefield. The trick is that Nettle Sentinel untaps itself whenever we cast a green card, which allows us to tap it again for mana with Heritage Druid. With two copies of Nettle Sentinel, we can go pseudo-infinite with mana. We tap both Nettle Sentinels (and something else) for mana to cast a cheap Elf and untap our Nettle Sentinels; then, we can tap the Nettle Sentinels and whatever Elf we just cast to do it again. More importantly, since most of our Elves are one or two mana, we actually make extra mana through this process. Let's say we tap everything for three mana and cast a Llanowar Elves. This leaves two mana floating. After we go through this process a bunch of times, we typically end up with 10 or 20 mana floating, which gives us enough mana to cast our finishers when the time comes. Throw Beast Whisperer into the mix to keep drawing more and more Elves, and it's very possible that we will literally draw through our entire deck and generate a ton of extra mana along the way.

Backup Mana

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While Heritage Druid is our best way to produce mana for our combo, we have some backup plans as well. Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic get the fun started on Turn 1, getting us up to three mana on Turn 2. While adding extra mana is important, both cards also do double duty in our deck as cheap Elves to work with the Heritage Druid / Nettle Sentinel combo we were just talking about. Meanwhile, Elvish Archdruid is in our deck because it can potentially add absurd amounts of mana, which is helpful while we are drawing through our deck with Beast Whisperer. While the lord aspect of Elvish Archdruid is fine, and we do occasionally win by dumping our hand of cheap Elves, pumping them with a lord or two, and beating down, the real reason Elvish Archdruid is in our deck is to make a ton of mana.

Cheap Elves

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Elvish Visionary and Dwynen's Elite are our best support Elves. Elvish Visionary puts an Elf body on the battlefield while also drawing us a card, which makes it solid with both Beast Whisperer and Heritage Druid. Meanwhile, Dwynen's Elite is helpful in comboing off with Heritage Druid while we only have a single Nettle Sentinel because it puts two bodies on the battlefield, which gives us enough creatures to make three more mana with Heritage Druid by tapping Nettle Sentinel, Dwynen's Elite, and the Elf token. Both of these cards are also important for our backup beatdown plan of flooding the board with cheap Elf bodies and pumping them with our lords. Plus, mid-combo, the fact that Elvish Visionary and Dwynen's Elite only cost two mana is important, allowing them to essentially generate an extra mana when we cast them with the help of two Nettle Sentinels and Heritage Druid

The Win Condition

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Our primary win condition is a single copy of Craterhoof Behemoth. As we've talked about before, during our combo turns, we literally draw our entire deck and end up with 10 or 20 mana floating, which means we'll draw into our one Craterhoof Behemoth sooner or later, cast it, and have a board full of the biggest Elves in the history of Magic thanks to Hoof's enters-the-battlefield ability. The awkward part of the combo is that we often tap most of our Elves in the process so they can't attack, but Craterhoof Behemoth solves this problem by having haste and pumping itself. Most of the time, we finish the game by attacking with a 30+ power, trampling Craterhoof along with whatever Elves we have that happen to be untapped. 

Backup Win Conditions

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The other way we win the game is by beating down with our random Elves, pumped by various lords. Apart from Elvish Archdruid, our best option here is Ezuri, Renegade Leader. After we finish comboing and have 20 or more Elves on the battlefield, we can play Ezuri, activate its Overrun ability with all of the mana we have floating, and sort of build our own Craterhoof Behemoth. The only problem is that most of our Elves end up tapped to Heritage Druid, so if we're planning on winning with Elf beats, it's important to try to keep some un-summoning-sick Elves untapped to attack with. Otherwise, we'll have to pass the turn, and our opponent could find a sweeper like Terminus or Damnation to ruin our plan. The other upside of Ezuri, Renegade Leader is that it can protect our other Elves by regenerating them. If we can't combo off and win the game, Ezuri, Renegade Leader is a great way to buy some time by blocking and regenerating, and then eventually we can use our mana to Overrun and steal the non-combo win.

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Our last Elf is Elvish Clancaller, which gives us a backup lord for the beatdown plan. At just two mana, Elvish Clancaller generates extra mana with our combo, and since our deck is so good at making insane amounts of mana, we can easily pay six mana to tutor our additional copies. While not as immediately game ending as a Craterhoof Behemoth attack or an Ezuri, Renegade Leader Overrun, stacking up all four copies of Elvish Clancaller is a fine way to win the game with a board full of random Elves.

Other Stuff

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The one non-Elf card in our main deck is Lead the Stampede, which is basically just a backup source of card advantage. Since Combo Elves plays a massive 39 creatures, the odds of hitting three or more creatures with Lead the Stampede are fairly high. Apart from just raw card advantage, Lead the Stampede also gives us a way to dig five cards deep to find our important combo Elves like Beast Whisperer, Heritage Druid, and Nettle Sentinel. Throw in some wrath protection by allowing us to rebuild by refilling our hand with Elves, and Lead the Stampede is more than worth a slot in our deck. In fact, it might actually be better than Collected Company in Combo Elves, since it often hits more than just two creatures and because casting creatures rather than putting them on the battlefield allows us to draw more cards with Beast Whisperer

Wrap-Up

Combo Elves was pretty awesome. We ended up 4-1 in our matches and played almost exclusively tier decks along the way, beating GB Midrange twice, Dredge, and UW Control while only losing a close three-game match to Tron. More importantly, the deck is super fun to play. Thanks to Beast Whisperer and all of our fast Elf mana, it's pretty easy to combo off and win the game (after drawing our entire deck) on Turn 4, and with a great draw, we can potentially combo for the win on Turn 3!

As far as changes I'd make to the budget build of the deck now that we've played some games, I'm not sure I'd touch the main deck at all. The only card I really didn't like was Gaea's Herald in the sideboard. While it looks like a budget version of Cavern of Souls on an Elf body, it's actually a lot worse, since it can get countered on the way down or killed on the battlefield, which makes it less consistently good against control than I'd hoped. Plus, it might not really be necessary, considering we managed to beat UW Control without it.

All in all, Combo Elves was not only a ton of fun to play but surprisingly competitive. Beast Whisperer really changes the equation of Elves in Modern, giving it the Glimpse of Nature that has always been missing in Modern. If you like combo decks or are a fan of Elves, give it a shot. The deck is fast and consistent enough to compete with the best decks in Modern and is pretty close to being optimal even in budget form, making it a great budget option for the format!

Let's start with the bad news: Combo Elves can't really work in ultra-budget form. While most of the deck is cheap, just one copy of Craterhoof Behemoth and a playset of Heritage Druid costs around $50, and there isn't really any way to cut either from the deck and still have Combo Elves work. Toss in a bunch of random $1–2 Elves, and there simply isn't a way to make the combo deck function for $50. The good news is that Beatdown Elves is fairly effective and pretty easy to get down under $60. It's the most realistic plan if you're looking to play Elves in Modern in ultra-budget form. While the crazy "draw our entire deck" combo turns are missing from Beatdown Elves, the deck can still win a reasonable number of games by dumping its hand quickly and making its small Elves into huge threats with an endless stream of Elf lords.

One of the upsides of Combo Elves is that the deck is fairly close to optimal in budget form. The one big, expensive addition to the non-budget build is Cavern of Souls, and while the card is great against control and pretty close to a free roll, since Lead the Stampede is the only non-Elf card in our deck, it's probably not 100% necessary. This being said, if you have copies, it's a great inclusion for counterspell-heavy matchups. Otherwise, we get some small upgrades to the sideboard with Grafdigger's Cage, Dismember, and Choke, none of which is extremely expensive but just expensive enough that we couldn't squeeze them into the budget build. All in all, while the non-budget build is technically an upgrade, apart from the sideboard improvements, I'm not sure the upgrades are meaningful enough to run out and spend $260 on a playset of Cavern of Souls. If you already have them in your collection, you should toss them in. Otherwise, just improve the sideboard a bit, and hope for the best against control.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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