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Gilt-Leaf Elves


As of this year, a true Elves deck finally exists in the Modern format. And by exists, I mean it’s placing well and taking down major events. It’s the real deal.

Two G/W, toolbox-style Elves decks showed up at the 2014 Magic Online Championship in the hands of Magnus Lantto and Olle Rade; Michael Malone took down Grand Prix Charlotte with a similar list; and more recently, Andrew Sullano made Top 4 of Grand Prix Oklahoma with a list that went full aggro, replacing Chord of Calling with Lead the Stampede and the toolbox creatures with Sylvan Messenger and Dwynen's Elite. Each of these lists splashed white for sideboard options like Burrenton Forge-Tender and Kataki, War's Wage.

But today, I want to talk about B/G Elves—or Gilt-Leaf Elves, as I prefer.

Earlier this month, Alexander Drapaylo took down a fifty-six-player Ukrainian World Magic Cup Qualifier with a finely tuned Gilt-Leaf Elves deck. Replacing the Razorverge Thickets with Gilt-Leaf Palaces and Overgrown Tombs gave Alexander access to the most powerful Elf card printed in recent memory: Shaman of the Pack.

Here’s the list:

Gilt-Leaf Elves has a fairly simple plan: Put a critical mass of elves onto the battlefield and then chain Shamans of the Pack until the opponent becomes dead. Failing that, Ezuri, Renegade Leader can be tutored up with Chord of Calling to help overrun our foe with multiple activations of his second ability.

Elvish Archdruid
And how do we produce the mana to find those Elves and fuel our plans A and B? That would be with Elvish Archdruid. In the early game, we have Heritage Druid, Llanowar Elves, and Elvish Mystic to accelerate into the Archdruid, either with an early Chord of Calling or by casting him the traditional way: from our hand. Meanwhile, Elvish Visionary gives us our only form of card-draw while providing a relevant body for the Archdruid and Heritage Druid to produce mana.

The other relevant new addition to the deck is Dwynen's Elite, which almost always comes down with a 1/1 Elf token in tow. Putting two Elves into play off just 2 mana is a beating for the opponent, as it provides an extra mana for Elvish Archdruid, an extra point of life-loss for Shaman of the Pack, and an extra body for Ezuri to turn into a beat stick.

Our toolbox creatures are two copies of Eternal Witness and a single copy each of Fauna Shaman and Essence Warden. Eternal Witness is an insurance policy against Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Lightning Bolt, and so on. Opponents can take our Shamans of the Pack, but they can never take our . . . our other Shamans of the Pack!

Braveheart references aren’t always effective.

Anyway, Essence Warden gives us an edge over other aggro decks like Affinity, Burn, and Zoo. An early Essence Warden can pull us far out of harm’s way, especially considering that our game plan is to flood the board with creatures. It also has the added benefit of nullifying a Deceiver Exarch enchanted with Splinter Twin, as each copy of the Exarch triggers our Warden and gains us a life, rendering the hundreds of thousands of Exarch copies null with their measly 1 power. Finally, Fauna Shaman acts as yet another tutor, enabling us to find a crucial Ezuri or a string of Shamans of the Pack over multiple turns.

Collected Company
Notably, this list has relegated Scavenging Ooze and Spellskite to the sideboard, whereas most of the G/W variants of the deck run them as one-ofs in the main. As it turns out, making room for Shaman of the Pack is totally worth it.

Collected Company is the final piece of the puzzle. It’s the card that pushed Elves into competitive territory. The ability to put any two creatures into play at instant speed for just 4 mana is incredibly powerful, especially in a deck that can potentially hit a couple Shamans of the Pack.

One of the major upsides to splashing black is that we gain access to Gilt-Leaf Palace, which will almost always come into play untapped. Four copies of Cavern of Souls guarantee that we can push our Elves onto the battlefield through countermagic. Finally, the typical suite of basic Forests, a couple Overgrown Tombs, and four green fetch lands round out an excellent mana base for a two-colored deck. Notably absent from Alexander’s list is Pendelhaven, which could easily replace a basic Forest.

Like most Elves decks in Modern, the sideboard is full of silver-bullet creatures to tutor up with Chord of Calling. Spellskite continues to prove its worth as a Modern staple, as it nullifies the Splinter Twin combo, Bogles, Infect, and a number of other decks. Melira, Sylvok Outcast also comes in against Infect, while Reclamation Sage acts as a catch-all against decks running particularly important artifacts or enchantments.

Scavenging Ooze and Kitchen Finks are great against Burn, Jund, and other attrition or burn-heavy decks. Chameleon Colossus is a beating against Jund, as it dodges everything but Liliana of the Veil, and we have too many Elves to use as fodder against her anyway; its status as a changeling is of particular interest, as it adds to our Elves count. Finally, Elvish Champion is a lord that makes our Elves unblockable against any deck running Forests, which happens to be quite a few of the popular archetypes.

Marsh Casualties
The most interesting card in the sideboard is Marsh Casualties. Acting as a one-sided board wipe, the card takes care of Affinity and opposing Elves decks without issue. Golgari Charm protects our own Elves from most board wipes and can also ruin an Infect or Affinity player’s day if timed correctly. Abrupt Decay takes care of Deceiver Exarchs, Pestermite, Phyrexian Unlife, and a whole host of win conditions and problematic creatures. Choke comes in against most decks running Islands and will usually come down on the second turn if drawn early, causing quite the headache.

You haven’t lived until you’ve chained three Shamans of the Pack, draining 6, then 7, then 8 life from an opponent who thought he or she was safe at 20. It’s the little things, you know? And Gilt-Leaf Elves ain’t so little when it really comes down to it. If you’re looking for aggression and synergy in tandem, look no further.

You have my bow,

Jimi Brady

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