Modern Elves is one of the most powerful decks in the format. It had good matchup against Eldrazi with Eye of Ugin, and became a popular choice among many of the pros. The Legacy version has many things in common, but with a few critical differences that add power.
The basis of the Elves deck is cheap creatures that can make a bunch of mana. Heritage Druid is near the top of the list, being a 1-drop Elf that can turn all your other Elves (as well as itself) into mana producers. This is especially important on explosive turns, since Heritage Druid’s ability requires tapping Elves and doesn’t care if they’re summoning sick.
To combo with the Heritage Druids, Nettle Sentinels are the perfect engine. What was meant to be a drawback makes this a potent combo card. With Nettle Sentinels in play to go with your Heritage Druid, every 1-drop Elf you play will net mana. With 2 Nettles in play, casting a 1-drop Elf will untap the Nettles, allowing you to tap the new Elf as well as the Sentinels for 3 more mana to easily go off.
Wirewood Symbiote is great for protecting your creatures, but will also keep the engine going. Returning an Elf to your hand gives you another creature to cast, as well as untapping a creature and recasting the bounced creature.
As the glue that holds everything together, many players consider Elvish Visionary the most important card in the deck. It’s cheap, draws an additional card, and is exactly what you want to be bouncing with your Symbiotes when you’re in search of action. Being able to activate your Wirewood Symbiote on your turn to replay Visionary, and then again on your opponent’s turn, means you can recast Visionary, bounce it again on your turn, and see multiple extra cards per turn.
Quirion Ranger is an additional tool for the Legacy version to make sure you can generate tons of mana. Untapping Elves is akin to adding mana to your mana pool.
Craterhoof Behemoth is the card that will actually end the game. Giving all your creatures a big boost and trample makes for tons of damage since you’ll be playing every creature you can.
The key differences between Legacy and Modern start with Deathrite Shaman. Deemed too powerful for Modern, Deathrite is as powerful a mana creature as you can find. He adds reach or life gain in a close game, and disruption against Dredge, Reanimator, flashback spells, and Snapcaster Mages. It’s also a 1/2 Elf that blocks surprisingly well against a handful of decks.
Green Sun’s Zenith and Glimpse of Nature are 2 more cards that are banned in Modern. Green Sun’s Zenith had its opportunity to shine, and that it did, being a critical component in Primeval Titan and Wild Nacatl decks alike. In this deck, it’s a tutor to get you started with a Dryad Arbor, mana creature, a Heritage Druid or Nettle Sentinel for the engine, a Wirewood Symbiote to keep it going, an Elvish Visionary when short on action, or Craterhoof Behemoth to win the game. GSZ really does it all in this deck. Sometimes you’ll cash in Glimpse of Nature for a card or two to try to get off the ground, but 1-2 Glimpses means drawing through your entire deck, playing more Elves, and generating even more mana off of those to keep going.
The final difference between Modern and Legacy may be the most important. Gaea’s Cradle can generate an explosive amount of mana to kill your opponent in a single turn. The change in the legendary rule is great for Cradle as you can use the first as a “ritual” of sorts before playing another and getting that mana boost as well. Rarely tapping for less than 3 and often tapping for 10 or more, the power of Cradle makes Elves a really great Legacy deck!