New Green Aggro Decks For Modern

Steel Leaf Champion is real, and there are several ways to incorporate that into Modern! Ross Merriam, patron saint of all Elves, is happy to be the one to brew up homes for the newest, baddest Elf on the block!

I tend to play pretty straightforward Magic. Rather than rely on the
surprise value of a rogue strategy, I gravitate towards decks that are
known quantities and I build a solid list with little spice. For the most
part I think if I don’t screw things up too badly, I’ll have a good chance
to win some matches so I don’t take a lot of risks.

However, in my work with the Daily Digest series, I come across a lot of
different lists, often trying things I would’ve never considered. One
particular deck, which I featured here, has stuck in my head for awhile

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is a very powerful Magic card that hasn’t seen much
play in Modern yet, and I’m always intrigued to see new takes on a Devotion
strategy. However, for the above list, it was the inclusion of a Standard
all-star that stood out the most:

Mono-Green Aggro is one of the best decks in Standard, and the ability to
cast this beefy Elf on turn 2 with the help of Llanowar Elves is a big
reason for that. The stats on this thing are excellent for three mana,
especially against the red removal in Standard, most of which only deals
three damage.

Hmmm…three damage red removal? Where have I seen that before?

After a year in which Fatal Push took over as the premier removal spell in
Modern, Lightning Bolt is back on top, so Steel Leaf Champion should
translate well into the format. There are plenty of mana creatures to power
it out on turn 2 and that start is easy to follow to a turn 4 or 5 kill.
That’s not quite as fast as some decks in Modern, but with few moving parts
it’ll be consistent.

The question is what to surround our beatdown Elf with. I like the idea of
an aggressive Devotion deck to add some power, but the Daily Digest list
has a few subpar card choices that need to be cleaned up. If Jace, the Mind
Sculptor is only okay in the format, Giganotosaurus is not even close to a
Modern playable Magic card.

The other issue I had with that list is the lack of a real payoff for
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to turn it
into a big mana producer you need some ways to sink that mana and take over
a game. Trying to balance that with having the low curve that’s typical of
an aggressive deck is tricky, but attainable. Here’s my take:

The first mana sink is Kessig Wolf Run. Taking up a land slot makes it an
easy inclusion. It also helps turn your lategame mana creatures and
Strangleroot Geists into real threats, which is important against
removal-heavy decks. It’s absolutely essential in a deck like this and I
wouldn’t play without it.

The other mana sink is less obvious, but gives the deck an angle of attack
that I really like: Primal Command. You can’t include a lot of high drops,
but with Nykthos and the power of Arbor Elf + Utopia Sprawl, it’s easy to
get to eight or mana mana around turn 4. Primal Command lets you use that
mana to put a land on the top of the opponent’s deck, preventing them from
executing their gameplan fully while either tutoring for an Eternal Witness
to rebuy the Primal Command to repeat the process next turn, or a
game-ending threat like Craterhoof Behemoth once you get enough mana.

That pattern is often used in Green Devotion decks but here makes even more
sense here since Primal Command acting as land destruction spell is a great
way to keep control decks off critical sweepers and it lets you play a
couple tutor targets that are valuable to have access to but would clog
your hand if you play too many copies.

Craterhoof Behemoth is the end game, while Primeval Titan is the go-to when
you don’t have quite enough mana or threats to end the game with Captain
Hoof. Prime Time comes in and finds Kessig Wolf Run and either the red
source or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to supercharge it. Even if they have an
answer to the Giant, you’ll be well set up to finish them off with other

The last mana sink is Polukranos, World Eater, which provides some much
needed creature removal. Most of the creature decks in Modern don’t have
much in the way of their own removal so you should be able to generate
plenty of mana to sink into it and even if it’s only answering a Mantis
Rider that can easily swing a race.

The core of the aggressive element of the deck is Strangleroot Geist, Steel
Leaf Champion, and Bloodbraid Elf. The latter two play perfectly together,
and I like how Bloodbraid also generates at least two devotion via cascade,
so it plays well with both aspects of the deck. It’s also a great four-drop
to accelerate into via Arbor Elf + Utopia Sprawl, leading to some very
explosive starts. In fact, it’s possible for this deck to kill on the third
turn with an ideal draw.

It’s not that likely, but it’s nice to know that the deck is capable of
some truly busted draws. There are plenty of other hands that accelerate
into the Primal Command loop on turn 3, which will win plenty of games. And
against removal-heavy decks you have plenty of creatures that generate card
advantage and planeswalkers to pivot to an attrition plan.

The card I’m least sure of here is Burning-Tree Emissary since there aren’t
many things to cast off its triggered ability, but it’s the best card for
supercharging Nykthos early and non-interactive decks in Modern need to
maximize their chance of having powerful draws, even if it costs you some

The next shell I wanted to explore Steel Leaf Champion in is Elves.
Specifically, G/R Elves for Bloodbraid Elf as way of turning the deck into
a more traditional aggro deck with the ability to go over the top with
Elvish Archdruid and Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

There’s a slightly higher curve here with the extra four-drops, so I like
going up to nineteen lands when most Elves decks have eighteen. I’m also a
fan of having additional mana creatures over Nettle Sentinel, which is only
good in your absolute best draws with Heritage Druid. This deck’s bread and
butter is going to be curving a mana creature into a three-drop into a
four-drop that produces multiple bodies and I want to maximize the
probability of those draws.

Yes, Boreal Druid is awkward with Steel Leaf Champion, but Nettle Sentinel
wasn’t helping to cast it anyway so it’s not like we’re losing anything
there. I’m not willing to make the necessary sacrifices in the manabase to
support Arbor Elf so the snow creature will have to do.

This version of Elves has a robust aggressive plan, as the larger creatures
enter combat more easily and make it harder for your opponent to accept
chump attacks. Eating a 1/1 or 2/2 and taking some damage from other small
creatures is bearable, but against Steel Leaf Champion they are taking
enough damage that they likely must trade, letting your smaller creatures
get through more easily.

To reflect this new reality, I included more removal in the sideboard than
I typically would, as well as a couple of copies of Elvish Champion, which
should be great against any deck with forests that is trying to block. Pro
tip: green is the color of creatures so most decks with Forests are trying
to block.

I’m also quite enamored with Domri Rade, a card I played a lot with when it
was in Standard and have always liked to see in Modern. It’s a proactive
threat that generates card advantage, gets out of Lightning Bolt range
immediately, and eventually demands an answer from control decks since the
ultimate is nigh unbeatable. Steel Leaf Champion also gives you a creature
that can effectively fight with its -2 ability, so it should put in work
against midrange decks like Jund as well, even if they have Abrupt Decay to
spoil the fun.

The curve here might be too high, but I’m not willing to go too far down on
copies of Ezuri, Renegade Leader due to the synergy with Elvish Archdruid.
If the aggressive plan proves particularly effective, you can move away
from the traditional synergy elements of Elves decks in the past and
perhaps include a card like Wren’s Run Vanquisher as another standalone

The last shell for Steel Leaf Champion is as old as Magic itself:
Mono-Green Aggro. Aspect of the Hydra is a card I considered for the Aggro
Devotion deck above as a potential payoff for committing to green symbols,
but ultimately, I didn’t think it fit the deck. Still, the card is quite
powerful when you can cast it consistently for four or more, so I wanted to
build with it in mind:

Noble Hierarch isn’t often found in these decks, but I think that’s a
mistake, even in a deck with such a low curve. Casting Steel Leaf Champion
on turn 2 or emptying your hand by turn 3 is exactly what this deck wants
to be doing, and nothing facilitates that better than a mana creature. The
other one-drop options like Dryad Militant are underpowered, while Noble
Hierarch is one of the two best creatures in Modern (the other being
Snapcaster Mage) so I know which one I want in my deck.

The other one-drops are the best attackers for the mana, since Experiment
One can get quite big in this deck while Narnam Renegade’s deathtouch means
it’ll rarely be rendered useless in combat. I also like that deathtouch
plays quite nicely with Rancor, letting you get maximum reach from your
other pump spells.

I chose Scavenging Ooze over two-drops that provide two devotion again
because it’s a significantly more powerful card than Avatar of the
Resolute. You don’t need to go all in on devotion because you have one
devotion payoff in your deck. The synergy here is about making your already
good cards great, not about making a pile of bad cards better when
everything comes together.

The other choice is between Blossoming Defense and Vines of Vastwood. Vines
has some added utility in targeting your opponents’ creatures, which was
relevant in the days of Splinter Twin, but doesn’t come up as much these
days. If your metagame is very Infect-heavy go with Vines, but I want the
card that’s more powerful for one mana and can be more readily cast as a
pump spell for reach.

The bar for aggressive decks in Modern is quite high, especially with
Humans as a baseline. Steel Leaf Champion decks aren’t going to match
Humans in disruptive capabilities, but they sure can beat down. Green has
been getting so much card advantage in recent years, but with the 25th
anniversary of Magic, I think it’s time for green to get back to its roots,
and that means turning undercosted creatures sideways early and often.