Though Shadowmoor’s monster-haunted wilds beckon, she never leaves her post.
Hi everyone, and welcome to the sixth episode of Paupers & Kings, my series on porting Pauper decks into the Modern format while staying on a budget. Today we’re not only talking about Elves, a tribal theme that works in every format (except Standard, I suppose), we’re going to talk specifically about Combo Elves.
I’m excited because it’s one of my favorite archetypes and, were it more powerful, I’d play Elves in every format I could. From the first printing of Llanowar Elves in Alpha, there have been more and cooler elves added to the toolbox in nearly every expansion.
I’ll be clear from the get-go, though. While Elves can win games, and even matches, and maybe even an event or two, they are not powerful or consistent enough to be “tier 1” in either Pauper or Modern.
They’re pretty darn fun, though, so if you like to swarm the board and hit giant combos, tutor out Emrakul, gain tons of life, and make things miserable for your opponent, then by all means, read on.
Let’s take a look at Pauper first this week.
Elves in Pauper
There are more straightforward lists in Pauper. Their goal is to swarm the board with elves and win with Timberwatch Elf activations. They may or may not be better than this list, but the combo player in me loves the idea of “going off”, so here you go.
We hit our combo in this list by getting a Lys Alana Huntmaster (or two or three) and maybe some Nettle Sentinels (or two or three) and at least one Birchlore Ranger (one is enough) and then chaining a bunch of elves into a Distant Melody into a bunch MORE elves into, finally, a singleton Mob Justice.
Yes, a lot of cards are involved. But since everything we are doing along the way serves our purpose anyway (nothing is there solely for the combo, save the 1x Mob Justice) we can still never hit the combo and play a great Elf game. Here is the full list, courtesy of Deluxeicoff.
Combo Elves by Deluxeicoff (Pauper)
|Mana Stuff (18)|
4 Land Grant
4 Springleaf Drum
2 Abundant Growth
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Scattershot Archer
4 Priest of Titania
4 Timberwatch Elf
4 Lys Alana Huntmaster
4 Birchlore Rangers
Elf Magicks (10)
1 Viridian Longbow
1 Mob Justice
4 Distant Melody
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Flame Slash
1 Disturbed Burial
3 Spidersilk Armor
Running a list with only 8 lands is fun and helps not stall out in the mid-game via flood. Wellwisher and Timberwatch provide a lot of resilience and threat, respectively, and Quirion Ranger, the deck’s allstar, backs up anything that taps to do something cool (Wellwisher, Timberwatch, Scattershot, Priest, or anything holding a Longbow).
Oh yeah, and that Longbow is a valid win condition, too. If you’re playing Bant Fog, or the board is stalled and you can’t get through, a combination of Longbow and Quirion Ranger and a boatload of both creatures and mana can equal quite a few activations per turn. You can use that to hit your opponent in the face (ideal) or clear the board to get through with combat damage (also acceptable but less cool).
Good match-ups include Mono Blue Delver, any creature list, and anything else that isn’t concentrated on blowing your elves up all the time. UR Control can be tough, as can MBC and any other “true” control list, while Burn and Goblins both run more or less even.
There’s nothing too spendy here, in Pauper terms, but with Gitaxian Probe seeing play in a number of formats, it has risen in price to $2-3 each, so you could consider Manamorphose as a cantripping alternative, though it doesn’t have the benefit of allowing you a glimpse into your opponent’s game plan. It can help you hit for Melody and for Justice, though, so it’s not without benefits.
Nettle Sentinel is slightly spendy but indespensible, so don’t skimp there. She also does double-duty in our Modern list, so if you’re building both, you definitely can’t skip picking up a playset.
Speaking of Modern, let’s check out that list.
Combo Elves in Modern
I looked at a lot of lists to try and put something together that was competitive but didn’t use any of the spendier cards. Craterhoof Behemoth is the main finisher in most Elf lists, and for good reason. I had the idea, though, that if you’re really “going off”, then he’s an excessive use of $20. I put in Purphoros, God of the Forge instead, who I had from last week’s Boros Soul Sisters list, and who finished the opponent off quickly if you get the Cloudstone Curio engine going.
Here is the list I came up with. Adding more $ could definitely make it better, but it still works pretty well as it stands AND is super-budget in this form.
Cloudstone Elves (Modern)
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Heritage Druid
2 Joraga Warcaller
2 Joraga Treespeaker
1 Eternal Witness
3 Wren’s Run Packmaster
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
1 Wild Cantor
Spells and Artifacts (9)
3 Cloudstone Curio
3 Lead the Stampede
3 Chord of Calling
3 Viridian Shaman
2 Beast Within
3 Essence Warden
3 Back to Nature
The classic combo with Cloudstone Curio is Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid. Add any other one mana elf and you are bouncing guys and netting 2 mana every bounce. Add in Elvish Visionary and you are (eventually) drawing through your entire deck.
And if you’re playing online it is truly the clunkiest, least short-cuttable combo in the history of history. You’re gonna get carpal tunnel doing this thing, all to gain one mana and one card per rotation, until (eventually) you hit something interesting.
Interesting cards include a Chord of Calling (to hit Purphoros, God of the Forge), or the super-awesome (and cheap) Wren’s Run Packmaster, who can put Splinter Twin to shame by creating endless 2/2 wolf tokens with Deathtouch, but only if you’re willing to click until your hand falls off. Some lists run Emrakul, the Aeons Torn which is another legit way to end a game off an endless mana combo into a big Chord. Emrakul is only $10 and fits in a number of interesting lists, so if you have a little scratch, it’s a worthy investment.
I had a hard time figuring out the right number of Chord and Lead the Stampede. Most games I preferred coming up with Lead, mainly because I wasn’t running the big guys I needed to Chord into a big win, but I just wanted to draw a bunch more Elves and keep my board (and combo) moving along progressively. Running 6x of the two may be too much, though, so cutting some for other choices could work.
I picked up Cavern of Souls because it fits into so many tribal strategies (the natural budget strategies for most formats), but they could easily be forests here. If you get a couple, you can name “God” with one to make sure Purphoros doesn’t get disrupted; otherwise they’re not doing a whole lot except helping you work around countermagic and (I only learned this from comments on my soul sisters videos) Chalice of the Void if your opponent brings it in to mess with you.
The key pieces here are the combo slots: Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, and Cloudstone Curio. None of them are really “cheap”, but after you spend that $20 or so, you can really build any kind of elf list you want. Find a mana sink or a good target for Chord and the rest of the list kind of puts itself together. There are plenty of good ideas in this thread at Salvation, and various others on Reddit.
If you come up with any cool strategies on the cheap, be sure to let me know in the comments. I like the list I made, but keep feeling like I’m missing something that would make it better.
But hey, we’ve talked the talk, now let’s walk the walk. Here are the gameplay videos for Elves this week.
On the Play with Combo Elves
We had some good match-ups in Pauper, which may make it seem like we’re unstoppable. Hey, sometimes that’s true. Modern is a bit less forgiving, but we do get to combo off and show the unstoppable power of a good Elf engine once it gets going.
Do you have your own favorite elves lists, in any format? Let me know. As I mentioned, I love Elves and would play them all the time if I could get away with it.
Next Week on Paupers & Kings
Next week we’ll be blitzing our opponents with aggressive Izzet lists. As always, if you have recommendations for Modern / Pauper lists that crossover formats, let me know in the comments.
Until next time, may your Melodies ever be Distant.