Deck Spotlight: Elves On the Horizon

Elves have a storied history in Magic the Gathering but in the context of Modern they have always been somewhat hit or miss. There has never quite been a consensus on the best way to build the deck; not even on what colors to play. Despite their recent dormant status, I believe that the little green men are poised for a comeback. Today I will go over a fresh build of Golgari Elves that has been reinvigorated by Modern Horizons. The highlight for me is a statistical analysis of Collected Company as well as Lead the Stampede versus Winding Way.

Lands (18)
4 Blooming Marsh
2 Forest
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Nurturing Peatland
4 Cavern of Souls
Creatures (34)
4 Dwynen’s Elite
4 Elvish Archdruid
2 Elves of Deep Shadow
4 Elvish Clancaller
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Heritage Druid
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Nettle Sentinel
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Shaman of the Pack
Spells (8)
4 Collected Company
4 Winding Way
Sideboard (15)
2 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Collector Ouphe
2 Damping Sphere
2 Icon of Ancestry
2 Plague Engineer
3 Ravenous Trap
2 Weather the Storm
75 Cards Total

Going Golgari
In the distant past, I honestly could never get behind Golgari builds. My initial interest in the deck came when the Amonkhet block gave us Vizier of Remedies and provided and grant Selesnya builds a Turn 3 win via the Devoted Druid combo. Going with these colors provided Horizon Canopy for flood mitigation and amazing sideboard hate to boot. Why would I want to play a Golgari beatdown build? Black only afforded the deck two advantages. A painless, untapped dual land in Gilt-Leaf Palace and a Fireball effect in Shaman of the Pack. These are solid cards but these two just could not outweigh the aforementioned white advantages.

As the years dragged on though, the gap has narrowed and narrowed. It seemed like every few months we added another straw onto the camel’s back. The printing of Elvish Clancaller provided the deck with a two mana lord; greatly increasing the effectiveness of the beatdown plan. Then Damping Sphere came along and made it much more realistic to win the historically tough Tron and combo matchups. Previously, Selesnya was better positioned against these decks by virtue of the Turn 3 win potential. After that we got Assassin’s Trophy which provided the deck with unconditional permanent removal. Setting back Tron, answering the largest of creatures, popping planeswalkers, and even acting as a Disenchant; Trophy does it all. If these were straws on the camel’s back, Modern Horizons snapped the poor thing in half.

The Build
This is by no means a brew so I will not cover what most Elf players already know. Instead we will focus on recent inclusions and a bit of statistical analysis.

Collected Company
Collected Company is the best card in the deck and no deck in all of Magic can leverage it quite as effectively as Elves can. Collected Company comes with two key deckbuilding restrictions and they are not always easy. You need to run as many creatures as possible to improve the probabilities on Collected Company. The absolute minimum for this is twenty-eight creatures and that is honestly a bit low. The other restriction is that you need mana dorks. While this is not an absolute requirement, it might as well be. You need four mana to cast Company and a higher lander count will statistically weaken Company; dorks are functionally lands that are creatures. Furthermore, you do not want to wait until Turn 4 to play Company and dorks will ramp you into it early.

Unfortunately, mana dorks are dreadful hits off of Company. When you have four mana, you are usually not interested in putting Birds of Paradise into play. So you need to run some dorks to make Company good but finding dorks off of Company is quite bad. In this regard, Elves laughs at the other Company decks. Elves are the original mana dorks and we have a bunch of playable options so we can go down to eighteen lands and  thirty-four creatures; making CoCo statistically much more powerful. On top of this, we do not whine when we Company into dorks. Elves has eight lords so our dorks are usually bears. Compared to other Company decks we naturally play into the deckbuilding restriction and can do so without negatively impacting the effectiveness of Company.

With this thirty-four creature build in mind, the statistics on Collected Company are as follows. You will have your choice of three or four creatures about 60% of the time. About 30% of the time you will have either two or four to pick from. There is only a 5% chance that you will pull up one or fewer creatures. Even when this happens, you basically just scryed six in your fetchless deck; those unwanted cards will stay on the bottom and statistically improve your draws for the rest of the game. With all of these calculations formulated together we find that the average Collected Company in this deck finds 3.41 creatures.

Collected Company
0 Creatures: 0.5%
1 Creature: 4.5%
2 Creatures: 16.8%
3 Creatures: 31.2%
4 Creatures: 30.1%
5 Creatures: 14.5%
6 Creatures: 2.7%
Weighted Average: 3.41 Creatures

Winding Way
I know this will be a contentious inclusion so if you want to ignore it, more power to you. Lead the Stampede is a staple of the archetype and Winding Way is the new kid on the block. Lead is three mana to dig five deep. Winding is a two mana to dig four deep. What we are looking at is decreasing the mana cost by 33% while losing only 20% of the spell’s effectiveness. Simply put, Winding Way is the more efficient spell. I am not dead set on this though.

You could easily argue that the mana cost is not particularly relevant in an Elf deck. Most games we will be producing three mana on Turn 2 and producing much, much more in later turns. Furthermore, we often will not cast this spell until we are hellbent; at which point we will have our mana production engine roaring. That being said, scooping up a bunch of cards but not being able to cast them all is frustrating and this will occur less often with Winding Way. Additionally, Winding Way can do something that Lead could never do; you can call for lands.

This is admittedly a rare choice but it will come up. The nature of the deck is that you often will keep hands with one land and one mana dork hoping to find another land for your second turn. Let’s say you are in this situation and on the play. You go to your Turn 2 draw step and bricked. Fear not, Winding Way can help. In this situation you can cast Winding Way calling for lands and there is an 80.7% chance that you will find one or more so that you can play it and immediately cast another one drop; making Winding Way functionally cost one in this context.

Ultimately, the choice is your own and either card is great. They have the same deckbuilding restriction as Company and for us that is no restriction at all. Also like Company, the unwanted cards that you bottom are truly gone. There are no fetchlands to shuffle them back in so your draws are statistically improved for the rest of the game; unless you bottom a Company that is. That is a huge feel bad. Anyways, the completed statistical analysis for these cards is as follows.

Winding Way (Lands)
0 Lands: 19.3%
1 Lands: 40.1%
2 Lands: 29.9%
3 Lands: 8.8%
4 Lands: 0.9%
Weighted Average: 1.30 Lands

Winding Way (Creatures)
0 Creatures: 3.0%
1 Creature: 18.1%
2 Creatures: 37.4%
3 Creatures: 41.4%
4 Creatures: 9.5%
Weighted Average: 2.27 Creatures

Lead the Stampede
0 Creatures: 1.2%
1 Creature: 9.3%
2 Creatures: 26.7%
3 Creatures: 35.6%
4 Creatures: 22.1%
5 Creatures: 5.1%
Weighted Average: 2.83 Creatures

Nurturing Peatland
My god is Horizon Canopy good in Elves. You want an early untapped land but that land will often be useless within a few turns. Cashing said land in is superb value for such a deck. This was a key advantage for the Selesnya builds until now. By playing four copies you give yourself a 52.8% chance to find one by Turn 4 on the play; the typical flood-out point. Basically, this means that every other game you will get to draw an extra card on Turn 4. Peatland has gifted this advantage to Golgari builds and I am more than happy to have four copies.

Collector Ouphe
Yet another advantage Selesnya once had now comes to the Golgari. A key benefit to running white is the powerful sideboard hate. Stony Silence had long been a unique effect in the Modern format and virtually takes some archetypes out of the game. If only Golgari could cast it. If only it was a creature so that we could CoCo/Wind/Lead into it. Oh, hello Collector Ouphe. The deck now has an arguably better Stony Silence. Reclamation Sage was neat and on-theme but it could not hope to compete with this Null Bod.

Icon of Ancestry
A recent addition from M20 and one that has overperformed for me. While Modern Horizons has helped the archetype it also hurt quite a bit. The little green men are being pinged out by Lava Dart, W6, and Plague Engineer. Against these cards it is crucial to have a lord effect and for it to remain in play. Through Icon we can board in a lord that does not die to creature removal. Then as the game goes late it will let you grab the best Elf in the top three cards of your deck every turn. The grind card of choice is up to you but for the current format, I strongly recommend Icon.

Icon of Ancesty (Elf)
0 Creatures: 9.6%
1 Creature: 35.3%
2 Creatures: 40.6%
3 Creatures: 14.5%
Weighted Average: 1.60 Creatures

Plague Engineer
The printing of Engineer is such a double-edged sword for the deck. We no longer have to envy Human’s Izzet Staticaster. We can put a nasty permanent Shrivel effect on opposing tribal strategies, Devoted combo’s Vizier of Remedies, Infect’s killers, Thopter Swords thopters, and more. It is an all-around great card and an effect that simply was not legal in the format until now. That being said, it is brutal when played against us out of Humans and Jund. Once Hogvine gets banned and we open up some sideboard slots, I would like to work in Dismember to answer opposing Engineers more effectively.

Weather the Storm
This is a narrow card and not one that I am super excited to be running. That being said, red decks are surging right now and it is very effective against them. You will usually wait till Burn plays two spells so that you can fire it off and gain nine life to slam the door on them; watch for Skullcrack though. More importantly, it is hilarious against Mono-Red Phoenix. It is very easy to gain twelve or more life and set yourself at a very safe life total to take over the game. It is also good against Storm as no matter how much damage they can deal with their Grapeshot, you will gain triple that amount in response. That being said, it is one of the first card I am looking to cut once the metagame readjusts.

I have long had a soft spot for the little green men but I have never enjoyed them quite as much as I do with this list. I am now a firm believer that Golgari is the way to go and the deck has some serious potential. Do you think it is a little too out there for me to cut Lead the Stampede? Are there any other recent printings that Elves should adopt? Please share your thoughts with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.

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