Four-color is back! Since the banning of Yorion back in the fall, players have tried to make four-color work. On a few occasions it has succeeded, however, ultimately the deck quickly fell off the competitive radar as decks like Breach, Hammer and Murktide dominated the metagame.
However with the release of All Will Be One, a new card was added to these decks that completely changed the game: Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines.
This card caught a lot of attention over the holidays when previewed due to its extreme power level in formats like Commander, where its effects are incredibly potent. However, many players missed it for Modern, and understandably so. A five-mana creature that doesn’t have immediate returns on the investment is just something you can’t do in Modern. But there were a few factors missing that lead us to where we are now.
First, players underestimated her ability to stop enters-the-battlefield triggers from the opponent. Cards like Torpor Orb have been a part of Modern since its inception, and admittedly have not been great outside of a few exceptions (like against Splinter Twin). However most players failed to realize Elesh was Orb on steroids. Permanents entering the battlefield don’t cause abilities to trigger. This means things like Valakut won’t trigger, which has not had a real answer outside of Blood Moon-type effects in Modern’s history. That in of itself would be a huge boon for many white decks. The Amulet Titan deck actually just can’t function with an Elesh in play. And there are even more relevant decks that are hit by this line of text. Breach combo has been one of the best Modern decks for the last year, and Elesh causes both Thassa’s Oracle and Grinding Station to not trigger, meaning your opponent can’t just mill themselves with Station to find the sideboard card they need, like they used to be able to do. This changes the dynamic of those matchups a lot.
If it was just these two matchups we wouldn’t be having this conversation. However Elesh Norn just randomly hits half the Modern format, including four-color mirrors where she is a house. Look at the Modern format; most permanents just have strong enter-the-battlefield abilities, making Elesh the perfect counter to like half the format. A good random example is Goblins. This deck isn’t a large portion of the Modern metagame, but highlights exactly why this card is devastating for some decks. All of their card advantage and removal is baked into enters-the-battlefield effects. Modern design has trended towards permants being the most fun and prevalent type of card. Which means Elesh Norn was set up for success from the start. Lots of decks just randomly fold to Elesh. Now most of this wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the next underrated ability.
Elesh Norn has a secret ability. Fans of the Yugioh anime are used to this but Magic players are not. Here’s her secret ability: she is basically unkillable. It sounds like a joke at first but really stop and think about it. In Modern, what are the five most played removal spells?
On this list, only Prismatic Ending for all five colors answers Elesh Norn, and even then that’s assuming the Elesh Norn player has no way to protect her. The seven toughness means she won’t be able to be easily removed by red making her a two for one against all the red removal decks. Her ability to shut off enters-the-battlefield triggers really does add to this problem. As we mentioned before Modern design has a lot of value tied to things entering the battlefield. Her second ability combined with her mana value and toughness has led to Elesh Norn being one of the hardest to remove cards in Modern (that doesn’t have hexproof, anyway).
The final underrated thing is the doubling of the enter the battlefield triggers. It is the thing that everyone freaked out the most about during preview season, especially for Commander players. In Modern you don’t need to build your whole deck around Elesh Norn to get value. In the same way we listed all those commonly played removal spells, two of those work great with Elesh Norn and accompany her often: Solitude and Leyline Binding. Once these cards become two-for-ones instead of one-for-ones the opponent is instantly in a significantly worse place. Currently most Elesh Norn lists are also being played with Omnath, Locus of Creation. Omnath works with Elesh Norn so that you get two abilities of his per land. So it only takes two lands in a turn to get all three modes. This makes killing your opponents incredibly easy now, as every fetch land does four damage to them. Elesh Norn is just a house.
Looking over everything we talked about today here is my current four color control list.
You’ll notice a few things right away. First we are playing only one Elesh Norn main. That’s a choice I made to be more of a control deck. The card is incredibly powerful and we have a second copy in the board, but it’s still five mana. This deck does see a lot of cards, however, so it will be able to find her most of the time when needed. We have the second copy in the board for matchups she is great in.
Some players choose to play an Eladamri’s Call to find her more consistently. I am a big Ice-fang Coatl believer as I find it to be really good versus Murktide and a great way to prevent players from punishing us too hard when leaving counterspell mana up. But if you wanted to play an Eladamri’s Call, then that’s totally reasonable.
I have chosen to play the deck as a control deck but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to play. The four-color decks are highly customizable and able to adapt and play multiple different strategies. So if you’re into highly customizable decks, four-color is the deck for you in Modern.
Mason Clark is a grinder in every corner of the game who has played at the pro level and on the SCG Tour with Team Nova. Whether he’s competing in Standard, Historic or Modern, Mason plays with one goal in mind: to be a better player than he was the day before. Check out his podcast, Constructed Criticism, and catch his streams on Twitch.