Four-Color Elementals is an emerging archetype in Modern, build around the synergies between 《Risen Reef》, 《Ephemerate》, 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》, and Modern Horizons 2 Evoke Incarnations. Recently, it has become my favorite Modern deck to play; I played and streamed a lot of it on MTGO and have been very happy with it in leagues and challenges.
Today, we’ll go through the decklist I’ve been playing in detail.
Elementals is, for a lack of a better term, a midrange deck. It can’t really present an aggressive start, so it plays a reactive deck in most matchups. On the other hand, it can go really big; it might not be apparent just how big it goes just from glancing over the list, but we’ll go over some common play patterns in the gameplay section later. First, let’s discuss the deck’s contents:
《Risen Reef》 is the main power card enabler of the deck, for its synergy with Modern Horizons 2 Incarnations. Free interaction is great, but losing cards to interact not so much. MH2 Incarnations in combination with 《Risen Reef》 and 《Ephemerate》 can flip that concept on its head, helping you interact for no mana while going even or even ahead on cards.
《Ephemerate》 lets you Evoke an Incarnation as soon as turn 1 and blink it. That way you get to keep the creature and trigger it a total of three times. With a 《Risen Reef》 in play, you’d also draw three cards.
《Solitude》 is the easiest one to play, as it’s on-color and synergizes fully with both 《Risen Reef》 and 《Ephemerate》. 《Fury》 is harder to find pitches for, but it can answer multiple small creatures (and planeswalkers!), which compliments 《Solitude》 really well. 《Fury》 is also surprisingly good to hardcast and clocks quickly with Double Strike.
《Subtlety》 doesn’t really synergize with 《Ephemerate》, as you can’t Evoke + 《Ephemerate》 to counter two creatures with it. Countering creatures is redundant with killing creatures. 《Subtlety》 can still be a good sideboard card, providing a useful tool against big mana decks. Countering is much better against 《Primeval Titan》, 《Walking Ballista》, or 《Karn, the Great Creator》.
《Endurance》 is a great card, although it’s much cheaper and doesn’t benefit much from blinking, so it’s the odd one out. I’m happy to play 《Endurance》 against all 《Dragon’s Rage Channeler》 decks, but I don’t Evoke it here. Of course, it’s a valuable tool against more graveyard-reliant decks like Living End or against Mill.
Unfortunately, all of the on-Omnath-color Incarnations are reactive. 《Grief》 would be an invaluable tool, letting you proactively fight on a non-creature axis, but the only way to support 《Grief》‘s black card requirement is to go full 《Cavern of Souls》/《Primal Beyond》 manabase, with dubious black cards like 《Horde of Notions》 or 《Lightning Skelemental》 in the deck. As I much prefer to play a cohesive deck, 《Grief》 is unfortunately off the table.
Incarnations require you to pitch cards of the corresponding colors to Evoke them. Intuitively, you’d probably try to follow the minimum amounts of blue cards that Legacy players refer to when playing 《Force of Will》, but those numbers are accounting for 《Force of Will》‘s relative uncastability in that format.
《Omnath, Locus of Creation》 pulls heavy duty in that department, being an awesome Elemental, but also just as a 4-color card. As a rule of thumb, though, all the Incarnations are not only realistically hardcastable, but actually, it’s just quite attractive to do so.
Therefore, I’m going to accept only having a 70% chance to have another red card to pitch to 《Fury》 in my opening hand, and I will avoid adding subpar cards I wouldn’t want to play otherwise in order to increase those odds.
What About Other Elementals?
There are a few extra routes to go with with the deck. Before MH2, Elementals was, in fact, already a very fringe deck in Modern, frequently using a five-color manabase and 《Thunderkin Awakener》 + 《Lightning Skelemental》 synergies. What makes the build of Elementals I’ve been playing better?
I tried to make Elementals work in various configurations for a few weeks, but to medium success. The key revelation was realizing that I don’t need to run poor filler Elementals to round out the deck; turns out 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 pitches to 《Solitude》 just as well as 《Unsettled Mariner》 does.
The 《Risen Reef》 parts of the deck were great; drawing a bunch of 《Voice of Resurgence》 didn’t lead anywhere. While 《Voice of Resurgence》 and 《Unsettled Mariner》 can protect your 《Risen Reef》 and aren’t the worst cards in your good draws, trouble arises when your draw is all 《Voice of Resurgence》 and 《Unsettled Mariner》.
Those worse hands will struggle to convert into winning the game. Cutting those cards was therefore a huge breakthrough. Besides 《Flamekin Harbinger》, there aren’t really any explicitly “bad” cards now. It just turns out that you don’t need every card in your deck to be an Elemental to happily run 《Risen Reef》.
Putting 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 in this deck felt like a big development. It’s a great card individually, but he’s also synergistic. Passive protects your Elemental synergies from harm and let’s you use 《Ephemerate》 much more effectively.
《Utopia Sprawl》 lets you play 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 as early as turn two, which is great at shutting down Cascade decks, hosing 《Bring to Light》, or giving you more interaction and digging you towards more 《Risen Reef》. Since all of your creatures have enter the battlefield effects, bouncing your own creatures comes up a decent amount too.
《Utopia Sprawl》 and 《Prismatic Ending》 are strong turn one plays, which is very welcome in a deck with a bloated curve like this. I’m considering going to four 《Prismatic Ending》, to maximize the amount of turn one plays possible, the only problem being flooding the deck with too many removal spells.
I’m currently playing 24 lands, as I’ve noticed that most of my losses come from being mana screwed. Deck produces a lot of card advantage, but can’t afford to lose it’s third mana source, so playing 28 total mana sources with 《Utopia Sprawl》 makes sense.
I started with just 22 lands; spent a lot of time playing 23, trying to use 《Wrenn and Six》 as my extra sources. I was not overly happy with 《Wrenn and Six》 and I was gradually removing them from the deck. Initially, my justification for including them was that they were pitchable to 《Fury》, yet still served as the manabase of the deck.
In practice, trying to balance a manabase that’s going to play 《Cavern of Souls》, 《Utopia Sprawl》, and mana requirements of 《Wrenn and Six》 into 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 at the same time proved to be too much of a challenge.
Without 《Wrenn and Six》, all of the red cards are Elementals, which makes 《Cavern of Souls》 fix your red requirements fully, so if you draw one you only need to care about three colors. With all of those factors in mind, I do not recommend playing 《Wrenn and Six》 in this deck, at least not if you want to keep playing 《Cavern of Souls》, which I like a lot against occasional Counterspell gamers.
《Raugrin Triome》 is decent, as often you’ll skip turn one. 《Raugrin Triome》 supplements any Forest, which as a 《Utopia Sprawl》 deck you’re going to have in play. 《Ketria Triome》 is slightly less valuable, on top of being bad with 《Utopia Sprawl》 – taplands and one mana ramp are a little bit antithetical; I don’t want to draw them.
Since I’m closer to playing no Triomes than playing two, I don’t recommend playing 《Ketria Triome》. If you’d like to stick with 《Wrenn and Six》, playing two Triomes can be an upside for cycling, so I’d consider it then.
When naming a color with 《Utopia Sprawl》, most often you’re going to go with White or Blue. Remember to procure necessary colors for turn 2 《Teferi, Time Raveler》, which might require you to enchant a shockland. Avoid naming colors your Forest already produces, as that’s a way to lock yourself out of paying 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》‘s cost. You’ll need to enchant a shockland relatively often, but there aren’t too many 《Field of Ruin》 in the format, so it’s ok.
Not playing non-Elementals red cards lets you skip 《Steam Vents》 with no regrets. 《Steam Vents》 are the weakest shockland, as there are no blue one-drops. I played a lot without an 《Island》; I’d say it’s the flex, 24th land; you could play the 4th 《Cavern of Souls》 instead. 《Island》 does help a little bit against 《Blood Moon》.
Speaking of, 《Blood Moon》 is a pain, but 《Utopia Sprawl》 combats it well and you can operate at one source of each Bant color. Not every hand will be able to beat 《Blood Moon》, but it’s ignorable enough that I’m unwilling to sideboard 《Foundation Breaker》 against strong decks that use 《Blood Moon》 as an additional angle of attack out of their sideboard.
《Risen Reef》 doesn’t force you to put the land into play, so you can grab it to your hand if you want an untapped one or need to fetch for 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》. You’ll often do this, as an untapped fetchland is just better than a tapped fetchland.
When playing an 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》 with 《Risen Reef》, it’s always going to be better to draw first, then resolve 《Risen Reef》 trigger, so you have more information when deciding whether to play that land or not.
《Omnath, Locus of Creation》, 《Risen Reef》, and 《Ephemerate》 can lead to some storm-like turns. Especially with double 《Risen Reef》 in play, it’s easy to trigger all three landfall abilities of 《Omnath》. Ephemerating 《Omnath》 resets its landfall abilities.
To maximize your 《Omnath》 triggers, you can 《Ephemerate》 it as soon as it hits landfall #2 or #3, leaving some 《Risen Reef》 triggers underneath to increase your odds of hitting enough lands. Mana from trigger #2 can help you cast extra 《Omnath》 to reset landfall count again. If your cards line up really well, you can theoretically deal 20 damage, although it’s fairly rare.
《Kaheera, the Orphanguard》‘s big upside is that it’s a card you can pitch. The body is not meaningless, and can occasionally speed up your clock by one turn. You can often use 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》‘s mana to pick up and play 《Kaheera, the Orphanguard》.
Sometimes you have to choose what colors of mana you leave up before seeing more cards in a turn. Typically you want to prioritize leaving up White for 《Ephemerate》. Leaving up Red for 《Flamekin Harbinger》 comes second. Keeping a green to play 《Utopia Sprawl》 is the least important.
Trying to balance using 《Ephemerate》 proactively versus using it as protection from removal can be a little tricky; obviously, 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 is a way to make it easy mode. Without 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 in play, I tend to try to be conservative with my 《Ephemerate》. If I’m playing a grindy matchup and my opponent has lots of removal, I’ll try to use it only to protect my 《Risen Reef》 if I can set that up.
《Fury》/《Solitude》 + 《Ephemerate》 feels very powerful and attractive, but against interactive decks, those hands are actually one of your worse ones. 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》/《Dragon’s Rage Channeler》 decks most often pace their threats and hold up removal, so you won’t often just exile three creatures with your 《Solitude》.
Setting up 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 protection lets you go for this play on later turns with no fear. If your opponent is presenting threats, you still might want to take a few hits before you go for the combo, to set up a 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 or a 《Risen Reef》 first.
In general, 《Flamekin Harbinger》 is almost card disadvantage. I avoid playing 《Flamekin Harbinger》 on turn 1; given this deck’s curve, most of the time you will be able to play a turn 2 《Flamekin Harbinger》 if you considered a turn 1 one, and delaying 《Flamekin Harbinger》 lets you make your decision with more information available.
《Risen Reef》 is going to be the most common target early in the game. If you are not sure what you want, or if you want anything at all, just hold 《Flamekin Harbinger》 in your hand. 《Flamekin Harbinger》 will always lock your draw step into a spell, so don’t play it if you only have two lands in your hand. Keeping it is fine, as you can always draw a 《Fury》 and might want to pitch it.
You could play 《Tangled Florahedron》 as a way to fetch a land with 《Flamekin Harbinger》, but I personally do not recommend it. 《Tangled Florahedron》 is way too bad of a card for me to comfortably play on both sides; if you could have fetched an untapped land this way, I wouldn’t be opposed to this idea.
《Flamekin Harbinger》 with 《Risen Reef》 lets you tutor elementals into your hands if you stack 《Flamekin Harbinger》 on top of the stack. Otherwise, if you aren’t planning on using the tutored elemental this turn, you’d prefer to resolve 《Risen Reef》 first, so you have more information when choosing what you get. If you have spare Red mana, you can just chain 《Flamekin Harbinger》 to get more creatures.
When you have two 《Risen Reef》 in play, the default way to stack would be 《Risen Reef》 -> 《Flamekin Harbinger》 -> 《Risen Reef》. Naturally drawing a 《Risen Reef》 rewards you handsomely for holding onto your 《Flamekin Harbinger》. Always think about how you want to stack your triggers.
《Flamekin Harbinger》 can get you elementals you need immediately in other situations too. A common play pattern is to play 《Flamekin Harbinger》, fetch 《Fury》, use 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 to bounce your 《Flamekin Harbinger》, and pitch it to 《Fury》.
When facing down a 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》, 《Flamekin Harbinger》‘s body suddenly becomes very relevant, and I will play it. Awkwardly though, if your opponent decides to spend a removal spell on 《Flamekin Harbinger》, 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》 will steal the card you tutored.
《Solitude》 can exile your own creatures for lifegain. It can even exile other evoked elementals right before they get sacrificed if needed. Mainly relevant against Burn.
《Endurance》 can break 《Thassa’s Oracle》 wins if 《Thassa’s Oracle》‘s controller graveyard is big enough. If you have a 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 in play for protection, it’s actually fairly hard for a deck like Ad Nauseam to successfully win through an 《Endurance》 in your hand.
When playing against decks with 《Drown in the Loch》, remember that you can target yourself with 《Endurance》. It’s typically fairly close as to which player you should target, so you need to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.
When using 《Endurance》 against Mill, remember to stack Evoke on top of its ETB trigger, so that it goes to the graveyard and then shuffles itself. Otherwise, not only do you shuffle one 《Endurance》 less into your deck, you also leave it in your graveyard as a juicy 《Surgical Extraction》 target.
Against Living End, it’s common to evoke cards just to put them into your graveyard. Oftentimes, it’s worth considering using 《Solitude》 on a 《Grief》 or 《Subtlety》 that your Living End opponent has evoked themselves, before their evoke creature has a chance to go to the graveyard.
When mulliganing, I keep most lands and spells hands. Hands with 《Risen Reef》 are premium, but I’m not trying to go down to a low handsize to find it – I’ll draw 《Risen Reef》 or 《Flamekin Harbinger》 at some point with 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》 and 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 redraws. In bad matchups, I’d recommend trying a bit harder to find a 《Utopia Sprawl》 into a tree-drop hand.
In general, Elementals excels against proactive decks relying on creatures, especially if they don’t kill 《Risen Reef》 well.
For example, Mono White Hammer is a dream matchup – your 《Risen Reef》 survives, all your incarnations are relevant. 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》 or Prowess decks are typically not as favorable as Hammer, but even if 《Risen Reef》 die, having a pile of 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》 and 《Flametongue Kavu》-like creatures to topdeck will typically prevail in a longer game.
There are also hate cards that people can play. 《Torpor Orb》 or 《Tocatli Honor Guard》 shut down all of your creatures. 《Dress Down》 is occasionally played in some Grixis decks too, but this one is only temporary.
With 《Prismatic Ending》 and 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 you aren’t powerless against those cards, and their narrowness puts a heavy limit on how many of them people can realistically play against you, but you need to be wary. Keep in mind 《Torpor Orb》 means your evoked creatures just won’t die, so you can play free Furies and try to race, but it’s not a plan that’s very likely to succeed.
I’ve been playing with 4 《Force of Negation》 in my sideboard. If creature removal is poor, 《Negate》 effects are most likely going to be potent. It’s possible to go with different countermagic, but 《Force of Negation》 plays well with explosive 《Risen Reef》 + 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》. One thing I’m sure of is I don’t want any soft counterspells in my sideboard. Games of Elementals are often very long, and 《Mystical Dispute》 and such would go dead too easily for my tastes.
I don’t sideboard 《Subtlety》 often. I have low confidence in them, but I’m trying to use them against big mana decks, as I mentioned in the beginning.
《Engineered Explosives》 is a strong and flexible card. It’s powerful against Hammer. If it were only for Hammer, I would most likely go with more 《Disenchant》 effects. I mainly chose 《Engineered Explosives》 for its utility against Temur Rhinos.
Extra 《Mulldrifter》 in the sideboard is great. It’s my favorite tool for grindy matchups. I frequently sideboard it in alongside 《Force of Negation》, and then being a blue card is relevant. Other grindy options include 《Titania, Protector of Argoth》, or 《Reveillark》, but I find 《Mulldrifter》 to be more reliable than those.
《Gaea’s Blessing》 – Since Elementals can be quite passive, Mill is a bad game one matchup. 《Endurance》 help a lot, but playing a lot off 《Endurance》 doesn’t stack up well vs extraction. Blessing is just another layer of protection that will make the matchup favorable post-board, but it’s obviously a card with no use in other matchups.
Despite 《Tasha’s Hideous Laughter》 getting printed, 《Gaea’s Blessing》 is preferable to an Eldrazi Titan. Eldrazi Titans aren’t compatible with 《Kaheera, the Orphanguard》, 《Gaea’s Blessing》 can pitch to 《Endurance》, and you can cast 《Gaea’s Blessing》 and shuffle it back.
《Fulminator Mage》 is an option. Mana cost is prohibitive, so I’m playing with Subtleties for now, but I keep 《Fulminator Mage》 in the back of my head. First 《Fulminator Mage》 is worth the most, as 《Flamekin Harbinger》 can tutor it. 《Alpine Moon》 or 《Damping Sphere》 are always available as more land hate too.
《Chalice of the Void》 is an option against Cascade decks, but it’s a narrow one as you can’t realistically put it on one.
IV. Sideboard Guides
The games you lose involve failing to draw 《Risen Reef》 or getting it 《Path to Exile》. Since they don’t have reach, you can often take a lot of damage and try to use your 《Solitude》 optimally, using 《Ephemerate》 and getting 《Risen Reef》 triggers.
Medium confidence about boarding out 《Flamekin Harbinger》 here. They block 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》, but they are an awkward play against one, as a removal spell lets them exile the card you tutored. The games go long too and you enter a topdeck battle often. If your opponent keeps 《Counterspell》 post-board, 《Flamekin Harbinger》 matches up very poorly against those if you fail to draw 《Cavern of Souls》. You can also get 《Thought Scour》.
Keep 《Blood Moon》 in mind in this matchup and fetch basics early.
Hedging with the sideboard plan here a little bit. 《Prismatic Ending》 can be a godsend when you need to catch up, but trading a card for a Rhino can be poor. 《Force of Negation》 is bad to have too many of, but between countering 《Crashing Footfalls》 and answering 《Blood Moon》 I like having a few.
Flooding is an easy way to lose to a barrage of discard spells, so I like boarding out 《Utopia Sprawl》. 《Engineered Explosives》 is especially relevant against 《Tourach, Dread Cantor》. Not every Rakdos deck is playing 《Tourach, Dread Cantor》, but 《Fury》 is your only non-white removal and he can grow out of 《Fury》‘s reach, so it’s good to have more answers.
I don’t like to sideboard into more than 60 cards against Mill, I don’t think you can realistically gain more equity by being ever slightly harder to mill. 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 is deceptively powerful; sticking one early makes the game much easier.
Crabs need to be killed, but it’s hard to say how much removal should there be exactly in your deck. 《Fury》 is hard to pitch with this setup, but it’s an actual clock when hardcast, which matters. If you have 《Endurance》 in your hand, try not to tap out of it unless you have a green card to pitch, to avoid getting extracted.
Bring to Light Scapeshift
《Endurance》 is a big tool here, but they have counterplay in 《Grief》 and 《Subtlety》. They can Evoke 《Grief》, and when you respond with an 《Endurance》, they can cast a 《Violent Outburst》 to still get aboard.
For this reason, you might want to use some end-of-turn windows to flash in 《Endurance》 and clear their graveyard. You can easily beat a small or medium-sized 《Living End》. Evoking your own creatures is great.
《Prismatic Ending》 seems like the best disenchant effect against 《Torpor Orb》 and similar, as you can get 《Expedition Map》 with it. 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 is not great, but he’s a blue card. Mulligan for a 《Utopia Sprawl》, as you need a fast draw, set up a 《Risen Reef》, and try to counter everything they play.
Threatening parts of Eldrazi Tron are Tron lands, 《Walking Ballista》, and 《Karn, the Great Creator》. 《Ephemerate》 is a one-mana card that gets cast later in the game, so it’s especially awkward against 《Chalice of the Void》 and I could see cutting another one in favor of an 《Prismatic Ending》.
I hope you can find this guide helpful! From my experience so far Elementals definitely has the power to stick with Moderns tier 1 and boasts a handful of great matchups. I will most likely continue playing and streaming the deck in the near future.