The Modern metagame tends to move at one of two speeds. When a card or archetype becomes dominant, the metagame will change relatively slowly, and it may take a ban or an impactful set to shake things up. But if such a change does happen, the metagame may begin to shift rapidly, with decks changing position from week to week.
With the advent of Modern Horizons 2, we’re in the latter type of Modern metagame, and we’re seeing new decks spring up almost every week in the Magic Online queues. Case in point, last week, I wrote about three Modern decks that had been flying under the radar, and one of those decks — Five-Color Elementals — has been all over Magic Online since.
While I’m unsure of the exact origins of Elementals, the deck has been gaining popularity since Kanister’s Modern Challenge win two weeks ago. Given how well-represented the deck has become, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at it.
Elementals by Kanister
1 Breeding Pool
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Raugrin Triome
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
2 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth
Elementals is a beefy midrange deck that aims to dominate the midgame. Like traditional midrange decks, Elementals aims to win the game through controlling the board — either by establishing a dominant board presence or by burying the opponent in card advantage.
Now that we know the general gameplan, let’s put the deck under a microscope to see how all of the cards work together.
Fury, Solitude, and Endurance are all undeniably powerful, but they’re basically tailor-made for Elementals. Historically, Elementals struggled to find enough interactive cards in the early game while maintaining enough card advantage to have a powerful top of the curve. Fury and Solitude allow you to interact with early creatures, while still having real threats available once you get to the later parts of the game.
In the past, I’ve mentioned how powerful Dauthi Voidwalker is because playable main deck graveyard hate is both uncommon and incredibly powerful. Endurance is a strong card for exactly the same reason. A 3/4 for three with flash is nothing to scoff at, especially when Dragon’s Rage Channeler is one of the most popular creatures in Modern. Not only does Endurance interact with opposing graveyards, but against Mill, Endurance can win the game almost on its own.
Risen Reef, Omnath, Locus of Creation, and Ephemerate make up the value core of Elementals. While I’m not thrilled casting three mana 1/1’s in Modern, Risen Reef makes the cut when you pair it with a pile of zero-mana Elementals. Normally, evoking Solitude, Fury, or Endurance would leave you down a card in the exchange, but Risen Reef does a solid job at keeping you at parity when casting them for free.
Omnath, Locus of Creation has quite the pedigree in Modern, and it continues to be just as strong as it was before. Beyond the normal things that Omnath does — making mana, drawing cards, and dealing damage — it has a secret mode in this deck: you can pitch it to all of the evoke Elementals! It is well within the realm of possibility to play Omnath with a Risen Reef on the battlefield, put a fetch land into play off of Reef’s ability, gain four life, crack the fetch, make five mana, and then play Fury or Solitude to trigger Risen Reef again!
Ephemerate is another card that we’ve definitely seen before in Modern, but it gives Elementals a much-needed power boost. Doubling down on enter the battlefield abilities and getting a rebuy on your following turn is just the base-level use of Ephemerate. It pairs incredibly well with evoke because if you cast it with the evoke sacrifice trigger on the stack, not only do you get a second enter the battlefield trigger, but you also get to keep the creature!
But wait, there’s more! Ephemerate also makes opposing removal spells a complicated ordeal; costing only a single white mana means it’s easy to hold up after the first couple turns. Should your opponent try to remove one of your creatures with an enter the battlefield ability, things could go badly for them in short order.
Prismatic Ending, Wrenn and Six, and Teferi, Time Raveler make up the removal suite. With these three cards combined, you’ll have coverage against small creatures, larger creatures, counterspells, and most non-land permanents.
Prismatic Ending has made its mark in Modern despite only having been legal for under two months. Fairly often, we’ve seen Prismatic Ending in two- or three-color decks, but a four-color deck can make Prismatic Ending answer nearly everything in Modern.
Wrenn and Six keeps the lands flowing to make sure the four-color mana base can function without hiccups (which is one of the easiest ways for Elementals to lose). Due to the popularity of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Wrenn’s minus ability may be the best it has ever been in Modern, which adds a lot of value to an already strong choice.
Teferi, Time Raveler continues the trend of interacting while providing other value, which is just what Elementals wants. Not only does Teferi make sure blue decks can’t counter your creatures — which is a disaster when you’ve evoking frequently — it can bounce opposing blockers or even pick up one of your value creatures, all while drawing a card.
Utopia Sprawl is the unsung hero of this Elementals deck. Given the demanding early mana requirements, having access to a one-mana card that both fixes mana and ramps into the powerful three-mana spells is undeniably strong. Oh, and to top it off, it does a good job at mitigating the effects of Blood Moon — one of the best cards in all of Modern against Elementals.
Rounding Out the Deck
Flamekin Harbinger and Mulldrifter round out the main deck with a couple more utility options. Flamekin Harbinger is a one-mana blocker that can tutor an Elemental for basically any occasion, which makes it well worth the slot. Mulldrifter just serves as a cheap way to keep the cards flowing, and it turns Ephemerate into a one-mana draw-two.
This sideboard suggests that Hammer Time, Temur Footfalls, Living End, and Mill were all on Kanister’s mind. Endurance is here to beat up on Mill, while being solid against all of the Dragon’s Rage Channeler decks. Engineered Explosives is one of the best cards available against Hammer Time, while providing extra coverage against any aggressive decks. Four copies of Force of Negation handle cascade pretty cleanly, while giving you a little extra juice in the Burn match-up. Force of Vigor and Foundation Breaker are both solid tools to help deal with Blood Moon and the wide variety of Food decks. Mulldrifter provides a little extra boost in the interactive matches. And Kaheera, the Orphanguard is basically free when your plan is already to play Elementals, so picking up a lord as a companion is quite nice.
We know how Elementals works, but how does it fit into the Modern metagame?
It turns out Elementals can tangle with other midrange decks fairly well. Lurrus decks of just about every flavor are solid match-ups for Elementals. Wrenn and Six put in a lot of work picking off their earlier creatures, while Ephemerate makes it difficult for those decks to remove your threats. Solitude and Fury both cleanly answer bigger creatures out of those decks, and Endurance can shut down Lurrus by shutting off the graveyard.
The match-up against Izzet Murktide plays out similarly. Murktide Regent can be a little trickier to deal with, but Endurance is strong here. If you can time it well, you can stop your opponent from casting Murktide Regent, but be careful about targeting your opponent’s graveyard once Murktide Regent is in play, as it will only get bigger. Solitude is also an all-star here, as it cleanly answers Murktide. Teferi shuts off their counterspells, and bouncing Murktide Regent is nearly as good as killing it.
The Food decks end up just playing small ball compared to Elementals, but it is a bit too slow to get going. Asmor is powerful at removing Elementals, but as always, Solitude and Fury do a great job at checking it. Eventually, Elementals just assembles a battlefield that is too overwhelming for the Food decks to deal with.
Elementals is going to struggle against decks that don’t care very much about creature removal, or those that go significantly smaller or larger than it.
Green Tron doesn’t care very much about creature removal, and it can go way over the top of Elementals. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Oblivion Stone are also powerful options when it comes to dealing with wide battlefields. While Green Tron isn’t extremely popular right now, if Elementals continue to put up results, we could see it pop up more often.
Hammer Time is at the opposite end of the spectrum: instead of going over Elementals like Tron, it can get under the deck quickly. While Solitude is a powerful option to combat Hammer Time, it’s one of the only real tools in the match-up. Getting clobbered by ten damage on the second or third turn puts a real clock on the Elementals player.
Bring to Light Scapeshift is the last type of deck the Elementals will struggle against. It’s creature-light and relies on a spell-based combo finish — both of which are bad news for Elementals. While Bring to Light Scapeshift isn’t the fastest deck, it will often be able to put up enough disruption to keep slower decks like Elementals at bay.
If you’re looking for a new and interesting midrange deck to beat up on the Ragavan players, I would strongly recommend picking up Elementals for the time being. That said, I would certainly suggest taking a look at your local metagame — if your area is light on Hammer Time and big mana decks, casting Risen Reef seems like one of your best options.
Until next week, stay safe, and keep having fun with our rapidly evolving Modern format!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.