An Evolutionary Leap

Modern has been shifting steadily ever since Magic Origins entered the format, but one thing we didn’t expect to see was the return of a super-fast Elves combo deck. CVM shares his build from #SCGCHAR and his thoughts on how to improve it for future events.

Moving sucks.

There really is nothing more that I loathe in this world than moving. Having to pack all of your worldly possessions and then move them somewhere else and then unpack them? Basically torture.

That being said, I’m sure none of you are here to listen to me talk about how much I dislike moving. You’re probably more interested in the Evolutionary Leap Elf combo deck that I played last weekend at the Modern Open in Charlotte.

Check out the deck tech here:

And the decklist is here:

To give credit where credit is due, I got the original list from Kenny Castor who apparently worked on it with Nick Spagnolo, Brad Nelson, and Jacob Van Lunen.

Kenny had posted on his Facebook that he had broke Modern and when I asked for the list he didn’t disappoint. In fact, he sent me the list while I was streaming the Modern Daily Thursday night with Amulet Bloom and the deck looked so sweet that I had to throw it together right away and get some games in with it.

There are two main combo engines in the deck: Evolutionary Leap and Cloudstone Curio. Here is a quick list of how the different combos work, and what you need to combo with them.

Cloudstone Curio Combos:

Heritage Druid + Essence Warden + any one-mana Elf = Infinite Life

With two of the three Elves from above on the battlefield you play the third, triggering Cloudstone Curio and then floating GGG with Heritage Druid’s ability and gaining a life if the Essence Warden is already on the battlefield. You then resolve the Cloudstone Curio ability and bounce one of the other Elves and replay it to bounce another. You use your last G mana to play the last Elf you bounced, which gives you three untapped Elves to float another GGG and repeat the cycle – gaining infinite life in the process.

Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel + any one-mana Elf = Infinite Mana

With two of the three Elves from above on the battlefield you play the third, triggering Cloudstone Curio and then floating GGG with Heritage Druid’s ability. You then bounce one of the non-Nettle Sentinel Elves. You cast it, triggering Nettle Sentinel to untap and then it will trigger Cloudstone Curio when it enters the battlefield allowing you to bounce the other non-Nettle Sentinel Elf. When you cast that one you will have G in your pool and three untapped Elves on the battlefield with the Cloudstone Curio trigger on the stack, you can float GGG and repeat the cycle. This will net you +1 G mana for each two times you recast those other Elves. If the one-mana Elf that you are using is an Essence Warden then you also gain infinite life.

Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel + Elvish Visionary = Draw Your Deck

With two of the three Elves from above on the battlefield you play the third, triggering Cloudstone Curio and then floating GGG with Heritage Druid’s ability. This will let you bounce a non-Nettle Sentinel Elf back to your hand and recast it, which will let you bounce the other non-Nettle Sentinel Elf back to your hand and recast it. This gives you three untapped Elves for you to make GGG again with your Heritage Druid. Much like the infinite-mana scenario from above, this time our extra Elf costs the extra mana that cycle would otherwise generate but draws us a card every time the replayed Elvish Visionary it enters the battlefield. Instead of making mana, each cycle is mana neutral (generating GGG and using 1GG) but nets a card. We can use this to find another Nettle Sentinel or one-mana Elf, which then allows us to make infinite mana and then draw cards until we find the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to cast.

You can add in a second and/or third Nettle Sentinel with these combos and it becomes super easy to loop things and gain an advantage.

Evolutionary Leap Combo:

These ones are a bit more intricate, and each requires two Nettle Sentinels to combo off.

Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel + Nettle Sentinel and another one-drop.

This is the combo that can happen on turn two.

Turn one: Nettle Sentinel.

Turn two: Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, activate Heritage Druid for GGG.

Cast Evolutionary Leap, untapping the two Nettle Sentinels. Use the last G in the pool to cast another one-mana Elf, which untaps the Nettle Sentinels and lets us tap them and the new Elf for GGG. We can then use G to Leap the new Elf, which will find us either another one-mana Elf, an Elvish Visionary, a Regal Force, or an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. If we don’t have an Elvish Visionary or another one-mana Elf in our hand then we risk fizzling if we hit either of the big drops, but with the odds in our favor we will likely hit a one-mana Elf. This lets us cast it with G left in our pool and untap the Nettle Sentinels. We can then make GGG with our Sentinels and the new Elf (giving us GGGG) total, and then Leap the new Elf away and repeat. Every one-mana Elf that we hit with the Evolutionary Leap will generate one mana, and every Elvish Visionary gives us an extra card and stays neutral on mana generation (make GGG spend 1GG to cast and Leap). At this point we can continue this cycle and generate one mana every time we Leap into a one-mana creature until we can cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn – as early as turn two!

It’s also important to note that you can mix in Evolutionary Leap and Cloudstone Curio when needed for combos. Like sometimes you will be able to generate infinite mana with Cloudstone Curio but not have any way to draw cards, but if you have Evolutionary Leap then you can just Leap your way into an Elvish Visionary or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Why Elves For Charlotte?

Once I had the deck together online, in the first game I played I cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn two. I won that match easily. Second game I punted the early turns but still comboed out on like turn six. It took forever though since the Nettle Sentinels were in the bottom portion of my deck. My clock ran out of time in game two while in the middle of comboing out. Glad to give my opponent some Play Points while I was learning the intricacy of the deck.

The original list didn’t have any copies of Horizon Canopy and had two copies of Weird Harvest, but after playing with the deck a bit I felt like I wanted another land and that we could support a couple Horizon Canopy in the deck, even with the Arbor Elves. Ultimately the list was off by a handful of cards, which was shown when Tom Ross gave me the Infect beatdown in round seven to give me my first loss. Sadly, after that I was on the wrong end of variance and died to a string of decks with Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Snapcaster Mage.

I had Amulet Bloom built and ready to go for this weekend, but I ultimately ended up on the Elf deck. I talked about it a bit in the deck tech as to why I decided to do that, but ultimately it comes down to the Season Three points race. Going into the weekend, I was 23 points behind Danny Jessup. I felt that with Amulet Bloom there was a pretty good chance that I would go 11-4 or 10-5 and make it in the Top 32, or the Top Sixteen if I was lucky, but with only that event before the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey now was not the time to play it safe and try to nickel-and-dime my way there. The Elf deck was relatively unknown and felt extremely powerful. It was either going to win the event or it was going to give me a chance to play OmniTell in the Legacy Premier IQ, which is a deck that I feel very confident with.

After starting out 6-0 I tweeted that I still wasn’t sure if I was running hot or if the deck was insane. Now I believe that the engine is insane, but the build that we had was wrong.

The first thing that I noticed over the course of the event was that the Weird Harvest and Regal Force weren’t what we wanted. Everything else is pretty tight as a four-of, although I could see going down to three or even just two Essence Warden’s in place of something like Boreal Druid or Dwynen’s Elite. I am also still torn on how many lands we need. It’s possible that we can actually only play sixteen, but that would only leave room for one Horizon Canopy since we still want to have twelve or thirteen actual Forests to support Arbor Elf.

Chord of Calling worked out pretty well, but I think that the three copies in the sideboard was too many and we could possibly have room in the main for one of them, likely over the Weird Harvest.

The main points of contention with the deck are the Weird Harvest/Regal Force slot and how to actually build the sideboard.

While playing the deck, outside of mana screw or mulligans there were really only a couple reasons that I was losing. First there is the issue of not being able to find the right creature that you are missing for the combo. We also run the risk of just never finding a Cloudstone Curio or Evolutionary Leap and losing. I think that this can be supplemented first by never ever siding any of them out (which I was doing at the event and it was wrong) and having a Lord to bring in or in the main as a way to just go on the beatdown plan.

Lastly, I was losing because my combo pieces (Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid) kept dying. Even if I tried to hold them for the turns that I was going off they would still die, most often to Lightning Bolt. This leads me to want to try out Defense Grid and Mark of Asylum.

Defense Grid is good against possible counterspells for sure, but it also makes Lightning Bolt and Terminate cost four and five mana respectively on our turn, which is just too much for them to be able to pay on a regular basis. In the same vein, Mark of Asylum protects all of our creatures from these pesky Lightning Bolts that are running all over the place.

I think we just need an Absolute Law reprint!

The sideboard was built in such a way as to try and grind out the decks that want to try and kill all of our creatures, but I think I would rather be a bit more proactive with cards like Defense Grid and Mark of Asylum, I’m just not sure which one is best. I even joked around at the event that I wanted to just play two Defense Grids in the main, but Gerry gave me some dirty looks.

I got a lot of messages over the weekend about how awesome people thought the deck was, and with some tweaking I think that the engine is powerful enough that there is actually something here. There even is the possibility of not playing white at all and going with red as a way to side in some Blood Moons to just “get ’em.”

I would love some feedback on different things that could be tried with the deck. Sadly, I don’t have a Modern event that I will be going to soon, so my focus this week is on Standard and Legacy for the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey.

I already have my Legacy deck (although not the exact 75) in OmniTell. I’ve already talked at length about why I think it’s the best deck, and the best ways to play the deck. Here is the list that I won the Premier IQ with last weekend in Charlotte.

The deck played great. I was more impressed with Boseiju, Who Shelters All last weekend than I had ever been, and I think it still deserves a spot. I am a bit iffy on the Young Pyromancers now though, since the quad Monastery Mentor Miracles deck is much tougher for us than the older versions, but I’m not quite sure what else we want to combat that – maybe Sudden Shock, since they can’t save their Mentor from it and it even gets around Mother of Runes against Death and Taxes.

As for Standard, I’m honestly at a loss. Bant Heroic is likely a good choice still, but I think that I want to play something that can completely ignore Hangarback Walker. G/R Devotion could be good for this weekend, as could some version of G/R Dragons. The last Standard event that I played in, I made the mistake of not playing Stormbreath Dragon. Maybe it’s time to not making that mistake.

Make sure you stop by and say hi if you see me in New Jersey this weekend as I will be making my drive to Seattle after the event on Sunday. Don’t worry though, I’ll still be around!