I really miss
I am a complete mark for the Elfy Bois. Elves is one of my favorite Modern decks to play (until that stupid
Plague Engineer showed up, ya jerk), and there's nothing better than the one-mana dork to start your game. Sadly, the loss of the elves means that there isn't an always-repeatable one-mana ramp creature in Standard. Yes, there's
Gilded Goose, but you only get that once for sure unless you're in a dedicated foods deck. So, as rotation took place, I was convinced that the Era of Big Mana was over in Standard for a while and I'd be resigned to playing a three-drop on turn 3. Like a sucker.
Faeburrow Elder happened.
I initially got the idea from reading an early article from Wyatt Darby about an Abzan list that used the new
Faeburrow Elder to create a lot of mana. In my experience,
Faeburrow Elder is one of the most under-the-radar cards in Standard right now because it looks so innocuous. In most cases, a mana dork needs a huge upside to be worth more than 2 CMC, and is almost never worth it for more than that. But the Elder is unique in that (a) he makes multiple colors of mana, (b) he scales up as the game progresses into an actual threat to attack or defend, (c) vigilance means that he can attack and THEN be used for mana in the second main phase, and (d) his presence means that the other mana dorks you have are expendable in the middle- and late-game. You would almost never block anything with a
Paradise Druid and your opponent will often attack into a board with one (assuming that you're never going to block with one), but in many cases you're willing to trade that Druid for a
Knight of the Ebon Legion in the early game if your mana is right. So you're getting all of these benefits with
Faeburrow Elder and demanding that your opponent kill it before you untap and start producing value.
Since the Elder is my new addiction, and I thought that Darby's Abzan list was a lot of fun, I also thought "...there are other colors in Magic...". And since the Golos horde is running rampant in Standard right now (at least until the Normal-Totally-Not-An-Emergency-B&R-Announcement later this week), why not try red as your third color instead of black? You get the aggressive starts that can put Golos in a bad early game position, AND you get to sideboard land destruction that could win the game on the same turn, regardless of the number of zombies across from you? I got to work on this list, and it's been working really well in a lot of different circumstances.
The first thing that the deck needs is a way to (a) get
Faeburrow Elder on the board, and (b) a way to get the colors of mana on the board that will let you untap on turn 4 with as much action as possible. Beyond the obvious mana dork duo of
Paradise Druid and
Incubation Druid, this means you get some of the best aggressive early-game threats in Standard with
Gruul Spellbreaker, Bonecrusher Giant, and
Zhur-Taa Goblin. The two Gruul stalwarts bash in early to get you ahead in life total, and provide that red mana symbol you need for the Elder. The Giant is simply nonsensically flexible, a combination of a slightly overcosted
Shock and a huge 4/3 body with upside for only three mana? I'm always down for that.
If everything is going well, we have an early threat and a
Faeburrow Elder on the board by turn 4. So the next question... what are we going to do with this mana? To begin, we're going to cast a lot of great planeswalkers. If we think we need more ramp, the pair of little and big Domri can make mana, provide that red mana symbol for the Elder, and also pumps our early creatures if we've just decided to try to win a race.
Nissa, Who Shakes The World, while possibly not as dominant as a few months ago, is still a huge threat to take the board over and allow you to untap and cast your whole hand.
Chandra, Awakened Inferno is still a fantastic card. Uncounterable, huge loyalty, can wipe the board if necessary in many circumstances, can kill a single creature if you need it. And in one of her Arena voice lines she snorts when she laughs, a definite plus. That's a lot of planeswalkers for a creature deck, but they have a great advantage over most Superfriends variations in that you have blockers and protection for them, and they work well together to stay on the board. I've won a lot of matches by getting Nissa or Domri to their ultimate abilities because the opponent can't build enough of a board fast enough to challenge them.
If the planeswalkers aren't your bag, then just play BIGGER threats. My favorite inclusion in the deck is
Rienne, Angel of Rebirth. This M20 Buy-A-Box promo card has seen virtually no Standard play to this point, but shines in this build. It's the right color to build up
Faeburrow Elder, it's a huge evasive threat that makes our hasty creatures even bigger, and most importantly she is decent protection from board wipes. Most of our early plays are multicolored, so Rienne means that most of them come back to our hand and allow us to rebuild our board on the next turn.
Questing Beast is a no-brainer and should possibly have more copies in the maindeck than it does. So much text on one card, and all of it is good. There are a couple of copies of
Cavalier of Flame, mainly because it's a huge body that provides just a bit of card filtering in the late game to get rid of extra lands and to find action. Finally, and this may just be because I love the card so much,
The Great Henge draws cards, gains life, pumps the crew, AND is very castable on turn 4-5 simply because we have so many undercosted big creatures. Something as simple as a turn 3
Gruul Spellbreaker without haste makes a turn 4 Henge a reality if we're developing on curve. And Henge often means scoop 'em up and get ready for the next game.
The sideboard has morphed into several different variations as the early meta has shifted around, and will probably shift again after the next B&R. But I'm happy with what it has done so far in the meta.
Knight of Autumn and
Thrashing Brontodon are more cards with bodies to fight against artifacts and enchantments when needed.
Loaming Shaman is my answer to Stax and mill decks, where I can get important cards of the opponent back into their deck or cards that I've milled back into mine.
Kraul Harpooner is great against flyers and can be a backdoor way in the lategame to get a
The Great Henge out, and
Hushbringer is good against aggro (although a non-bo against some of our deck so smart sideboarding is necessary). But the current most-important card is
Tectonic Rift. This worst-card-in-M20-draft-All-Star destroys copies of
Field of the Dead while at the same time breaking a board stall caused by a handful of zombies allowing an all-out attack for the win if the time is right. If Golos or Field gets banned next week, it'll come out and something else better suited for the format will come in.
I've been pleasantly surprised with how good the list has performed in the ladders, and I think you will be too. Of course, there's one other color that we could try with
Faeburrow Elder, but that's the next article. Until then, let me know what you think of this one, and as always... drive friendly!