Deck Tech: Elves with Andrew Baeckstrom and Matt Nass

Posted in Event Coverage on March 6, 2016

By Corbin Hosler

One of the decks that has always existed at the edge of Modern has been one of Magic's oldest archetypes: Elves. While the deck has occasionally risen up to spike a tournament (as Michael Malone proved with his victory at Grand Prix Charlotte last year), it hasn't typically been a consistent top performer in Modern.

That may change with the rise of the Eldrazi. Not only did the addition of Dwynen's Elite and Shaman of the Pack from Magic Origins take the deck's power level up a notch six months ago, but the fact that the little green men actually match up quite well with Modern's Eldrazi invaders makes Elves a sneaky-good choice for Grand Prix Detroit.

Aggro Elves — Andrew Baeckstrom

There are several ways to go with the deck (and we'll cover both), but the deck's main strength — and the reason it performs well against the ubiquitous White-Blue Eldrazi deck — is that it can flood the board so quickly. Whether it's with a traditional Llanowar Elves-fueled start or the also-explosive Heritage Druid into Dwynen's Elite, the deck can produce a lot of mana very quickly, which it uses to fill the board with Elves. With the engine in place, the deck's top end consists of Collected Company and/or Lead the Stampede or Chord of Calling, which both serve to continue to pump more elves onto the battlefield. With so many creatures in play, the Eldrazi deck is hard-pressed to finish off the Elves player before there are too many creatures to attack through.

The ultimate goal of the Elves deck is one of two things. In the more common version that players like Andrew Baeckstrom and Andrew Cuneo are playing, games end in either a massive Ezuri, Renegade Leader Overrun or a bevy of Shaman of the Pack Triggers. In the “combo” version that Matt Nass and Josh Utter-Leyton are piloting, the goal is to churn through the deck with Beck // Call, draw its deck and produce enough mana to end the game with Shaman of the Pack or infinite tokens via Dwynen's Elite.

“There are about 45 cards that are locked in with any Elves deck, and then the last 15 there's some disagreement about depending on which of two fundamental ways you want to build it: combo with Cloudstone Curio or as a beatdown deck with Collected Company,” Baeckstrom explained. “Both builds have their advantages, and if you go with Collected Company you have some additional decisions to make.”

The primary one is whether to go the Chord of Calling route or Lead the Stampede. Against a removal-heavy and slow field, Lead the Stampede refills the hand effectively, while Chord of Calling allows the deck a faster clock thanks to searching out Ezuri, Renegade Leader while also finding the “silver bullets” in the sideboard like Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Reclamation Sage, Eidolon of Rhetoric or Scavenging Ooze.

“For this tournament, with all the Eldrazi around I thought the way to beat them was to be fast,” Baeckstrom said. “And if everyone else came to that same conclusion then I needed to have the fastest build of the deck possible, so I kept the Reclamation Sage and Oozes in the sideboard and just went fast.

Both builds of the deck take full advantage of Shaman of the Pack. Not only is an additional kill condition in the aggressive version and gets around troublesome spells like Worship or Ensnaring Bridge, but it also fills the role of an easily castable win condition in the combo version, removing the need for clunkier threats like Craterhoof Behemoth or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

“I was skeptical when I first saw it because I assumed the deck needed to assemble Ezuri and overrun opponents, but with Collected Company you get a lot of Elves very consistently so just one or two Shaman triggers can be 15-16 damage,” Baeckstrom said. “The biggest problem for the deck is that it's slightly slower goldfish than some of the other fast decks like Infect or Affinity or Abzan Company. But the advantage that it has over all those is that because it's so redundant it's less susceptible to the removal suite out of Eldrazi. One Path to Exile, Dismember or Thought-Knot can't ruin your entire game plan like it sometimes can against those other decks.”


Andrew Baeckstrom

There are several key difference between the aggressive and combo versions. While Baeckstrom has a suite of lands that help enable his primary game plan — Pendelhaven and Horizon Canopy keep the pressure coming — the combo build that Nass and Utter-Leyton brought to Detroit includes Dryad Arbor and Forbidden Orchard. The reason for both lies in the deck's primary engines: Cloudstone Curio and Beck // Call.

Beck is a callback to one of Elves' most defining cards in Eternal formats: Glimpse of Nature. Playing the card means that every elf that follows draws a card, and even tapping Forbidden Orchard for mana can do the same. With the engine going, the deck can draw through most of its deck — making mana with Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel and more — before killing with Shaman or tokens from Dwynen's Elite.

Cloudstone Curio is the other engine card, and it can do just about anything. Looping with Heritage Druid — which Summoner's Pact is often used to search up — Curio allows the combo players to establish several loops, whether that's drawing the deck with Elvish Visionary, gaining infinite life with Essence Warden, making infinite tokens with Dwynen's Elite or infinite mana with Nettle Sentinel to play all its Elves and kill with Shaman of the Pack.

It's a deck that Matt Nass has piloted in one form or another for a decade, and he worked on the deck with Josh Utter-Leyton for Detroit.

“When we did our first drafts, we compared our land bases and came up with just one card different,” Nass laughed while explaining their build. “We wanted to build an Elves deck that didn't need Elvish Archdruid or Ezuri to win so that removal isn't as good, and that's what we have. It can kill on Turn 3 or 4 most of the time, and it's really good against the Eldrazi decks. There's a lot of synergy with this deck, and it has game against a lot of things when the metagame is right.

“If people are playing a lot of Jund or Pyroclasm or Anger of the Gods, you don't want to play it. But if those cards aren't popular then it's a really good choice.”


Matt Nass

Combo Elves — Matt Nass

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