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Trouble with Tribal: Elves

March 21, 2011

Ever since the Dawn of Magic there has been one tribe after another but none as ever potent as the Elves, whether it be from Dominaira or Lorwyn, elves have been around for as long as you can back in the multiverse.

Different Elves have affected game play over the years, these elves have almost become staples in almost ever green deck, from casual to legacy to extended to standard. Elves exist to mess up your plans faster than you can say pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism the fact of the matter when it comes to elves is that their weakness as simple as board sweep, or as messy as an engineered plague or explosive. However to the point they are a dangerous tribe no matter what format they are in, more so in Legacy than another since, since Legacy itself allows access so the most powerful elves in the game.

Luis Scott-Vargas played one of the most potent elf decks in extended a couple years ago, it was a elfball deck a aggro-combo deck that he took to the top 8 in Berlin in 2008 and won.

His deck ran a storm combo by dropping and drawing out his deck usually turn two or three. in the old extended format, before it was changed in 2010 had access to several years of magic’s greatest elves.

Luis Scott-Vargas, Grapeshot Elves

4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Pendelhaven
9 Snow-Covered Forest
4 Birchlore Rangers
4 Elves of Deep Shadow
4 Elvish Visionary
1 Eternal Witness
4 Heritage Druid
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Nettle Sentinel
1 Regal Force
2 Viridian Shaman
4 Wirewood Symbiote
4 Glimpse of Nature
1 Grapeshot
4 Summoner’s Pact
3 Weird Harvest

1 Mycoloth
1 Nullmage Shepherd
1 Pendelhaven
2 Thorn of Amethyst
4 Thoughtseize
4 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Viridian Shaman

well the deck had several variants, none were as powerful as the storm combo, which marks this deck as one to play. Myself I ran this deck build several times at various matches and always placed within the top 8 with this powerful build. Mind you faeries were always a bad match up especially if they stalled you, or circumvented your plays.

Moving on to a more legacy style build of the deck elves rely on their strongest points, fast mana excel, quick drops, speed and threat after threat, more so in the case of accelerating to drop huge bombs, such as one of the Eldrazi, which in most cases is Emrakul

Elves isn’t exactly an archetype that is set in stone either. What you play is of course is largely dependant on your meta. If your meta full with tribal you might even make a splash for black so you can play Engineered Plague. Did you know there was an elf that taps for black?

Elves definitely isn’t a good deck in all meta’s either. If everyone in your meta is playing combo then Aggro Elves most definitely isn’t the deck of choice. When there are a lot of Goblins in your meta Elves is a decent choice against Goblins (the MU is 50/50 better or worse depending on your build) but the hate people are packing against Goblins works against you as well. It certainly isn’t a deck that can dominate every where but with knowledge about what you’re up against you can certainly put up good results as has been shown in the past.

Other then meta there are a couple of reasons why you would want to play Elves as a deck:

– It’s consistent
– It’s explosive
– It doesn’t care much about targeted removal
– It is strong against any deck packing Tarmogoyf (thanks to forestwalk)
– It’s resilient against wastelands because it doesn’t require non basics
– It’s strong against Land Destruction because of alternative ways of creating mana
– Mana anti aggro strategies don’t work against it (Ghostly Prison, Tabernacle, Propaganda)

Elves deck consist of the following:

Mana acceleration
Global Pump
Card Advantage

An elf deck you make usually consists of a combination of the above 4, having a good mixture is the key to success. while albeit success is also dependent on knowing what to play, and when to play it. Elves are an amazing deck of choice.

So what does legacy elves look like? welllllllllllllll rather than me laying it all out for you, I am just going to copy and past from mtg salvations in this case:

The creatures and utility

Mana acceleration

Llanowar Elves, Fyndhorn Elf and Boreal Druid: Every elves deck starts with Llanowar Elves. It’s your main accelerator. Sometimes the numbers are reduced but packing a couple is always good. Boreal Druid is used as a possible #9 and #10.

Quirion Ranger: Surprisingly this is a card that gets a cut a lot of the time, but at the same time most of the time the deck just works more fluent with her then without her. It’s a solid 1 drop that protects you against land destruction. While it’s true that Elves don’t care that much about LD, contrary to popular belief; with proper LD and targeted removal Elves can still get mana screwed.

Priest of Titania: The best mana producer in a single card for an elves deck. This card needs to be dealt with ASAP. The longer Priest of Titania stays alive, the better your board position becomes.

Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary: Essentially this is Priest #5. While weaker, it has its good sides as well. You usually don’t have a lands in play, it giving 3 mana is usually an exception but when it does, it’s a lot better then a llanowar elves. Don’t include more then 1 though as it’s legendary.

Heritage Druid & Nettle Sentinel: Mana producers adopted from the famous Combo Elves. While there haven’t been many agro lists that adopted these cards yet they work extremely good in aggro elves. Heritage Druid gives you another 4 copies of Priest of Titania in terms of brokeness and together with Nettle Sentinel it allows you to empty your hand as soon as turn 2. My personal belief is that the pair will take Aggro Elves to the next level.

Birchlore Rangers: Redundand, or neccesary? This card is the llanowar elves version of Heritage Druid. I think it requires more testing, the mana production slots are limited and having too much cards that are dependand on having another elf in play (heritage druid, priest, quirion ranger) can hurt the consistency and hard matchups. Birchlore Rangers does allow much more explosive starts and is therefore a very interesting option.

Elvish Spirit Guide: This card is tricky, as it’s the definition of card disadvantage for tempo. If you’re going to use it, don’t use it as a land replacement in aggro elves. Instead, I can definitly see it as an extra tempo boost. And as an elf, it isn’t a bad card to draw off a Sylvan Messenger

Global Pumps

Imperious Perfect and Elvish Champion: Many Elf decks pack 4 of each, sometimes less are used but it’s always a good idea to have them around. Elvish Champion is a very powerful card in the current meta considering it makes all your elves unblockable against any deck that packs Tarmogoyf.

Mirror Entity: A great card for both comboing and just as a general pumper. The only downside is that you need to splash white, making your mana base weaker.

Tribal Forcemage & Gempalm Strider: Gobal pump cards. Extremely powerful as it can give you the edge in a battle you were losing. Gempalm Strider has the advantage of being uncounterable and replacing itsselve where Tribal Forcemage gives a bigger boost and trample, which is huge against creature based decks.

Garruk Wildspeaker: At first, I was sceptic of this card, considering it’s not an elf which has some downsides. But it improves so many matchups so drastically, it’ll be usually cast for only 2 mana (because it untaps 2 lands) and with a Gaea’s Cradle into play you get some amazing acceleration out of it. Don’t diss it before you’ve tried it, this is one of the strongest cards that Elves can use.

Card Advantage

Sylvan Messenger: This card is the most important form of card advantage in an elves deck. If you run 30 elves you draw 2 cards on average. Most lists run far more then that however and it shouldn’t be uncommon to draw 3 cards off a messenger.

Elvish Visionary: A mini Sylvan Messenger, there are many interactions that make this card worth it. For instance, it’s 1 extra mana off Cradle and Priest of Titania. It makes your lords and global pumps more effective and in the worst case scenario it’s a self replacing chump blocker.

Wolf-Skull Shaman: Another card that has been adopted from the combo elves lists. Good form of card advantage and swarm tactics become even more effective.

Wirewood Herald: Technically, this isnt CA but instead a conditional tutor. This card is popular in a deck that also runs a toolbox of creatures as 1 offs, like Caller of the Claw and Viridian Shaman. When your opponents play main board mass removal this is a good include, it doesn’t help the game plan of Aggro Elves much though as it’s a reactive card and without removal a 1/1 for 2 mana. A good chump blocker however.

Wirewood Hivemaster: Very powerful 2 drop, very strong and if you’re intending to use a lot of cheapcost elves and for instance Concordant Crossroads, this card is a must. As spots are limited in elves, don’t just put this in the deck, depending on the shell you choose this card can be sub-optimal. It’s a very suitable card if it gets to the long game and gets better in multiples, if you play it go all out with it. Mirror’s Entity is absolutely great alongside it.

Deranged Hermit: This card is a bomb, landing it and keeping it in play gives you a good clock, and it’s relatively resilient against targeted removal. Its ability to win you the game out of a losing position makes it interesting and probably more worthwhile then I currently give it credit for. The thing is, it costs 5 mana and that’s big. You shouldn’t ever be capable of hard casting it with just lands. The reason I say that is that it doesn’t help you in a situation where you’re already losing unlike Garruk Wildspeaker. Unlike Garruk, it isn’t “legendary” and gets much better in multiples. If someone can make this card work in Aggro Elves I’d test it out but in the current deck lists it’s slightly sub-optimal.

Living Wish: New card, not necessarily card advantage though it could certainly lead to it. Its only downside is that it’s not an elf, its upside is that it can be any elf and even a Gaea’s Cradle.


Wren’s Run Vanquisher: A category on its own, while the card doesn’t offer a whole lot of synergy with the rest of your Elves, it’s invaluable in a meta with Tarmogoyfs and Phyrexian Dreadnoughts. Deathtouch is an amazing ability. It strengthens your Agro matchups by a lot. At the same time, against hardcore control this is usually the first card to leave.

Nettle Sentinel: Was mentioned before but he’s a hybrid, if your card needs more sturdy cards that can fit the dual function of fighting and mana production, this is your guys. His 2/2 body is great against mana aggro decks and he can create near infinite mana with Heritage Druid.

Skyshroud Elite: A solid conditional Grizzly Bear.. but slightly stronger. Skyshroud Elite is a good choice against agro decks but doesn’t offer a whole lot when you’re going for synergy. Still, unlike many elves he isn’t weak against mass damage based removal and he’s a solid 1 drop if you don’t have any mana producers in hand.

Talara’s Battalion: This card is extremely strong for its cost. However, it’s a bad topdeck and it can screw you over as well. Not as strong as Wren’s Run Vanquisher but a very powerful card none the less. Mostly played in X-Stompy Elves for its synergy with Land Grant.

Silhanna Ledgewalker: Elf with troll shroud and evasion. with Lords pumping her, she shouldn’t have any problems connecting some lethal damage to the opposing head. Played in X-Stompy Elves.


Wirewood Symbiote: This card allows for a lot of cool interactions and infinite combos. It’s also capable of protecting other elves, though it’s usually the first to fall against targetted removal. The only downside is that it’s not an elf.

Eladamri, lord of Leaves: Its 2/2 body is nice and forestwalk is great to have against many decks. Don’t include more then one as it’s legendary.

Lock Pieces

Winter Orb and Thorn of Amethyst: If you want to put some control elements in your deck, start with these two.

Root Maze: Not as common as the above 2 but interesting none the less. It slows your opponent down more then it does you but it makes you less consistent. It’s also bad in multiples.


Gaea’s Cradle: The majority seems to agree that this is a 3 off, yes you are put at risk of drawing multiples but once this land is in play your acceleration doubles. Auto include in any elf deck.

Mutavault: If you feel like 3 cradles is too much, you can always include one or more of these. They work very well with the deck. I’d include 4 but the decklist for elves is usually extremely tight already.

Wasteland & Rishadan port: Another would be auto include if it wasn’t for the tightness of the deck in its current form.

Wooded Foothills & Windswept Heath: Auto includes if you’re splashing a color but there’s something to be said for them even when you aren’t. The deck thinning aspect is quite relevant when you’re in topdeck with Sylvan Messenger.

Forest: One of the best lands available! I have found running 12 is the minimum. I usually want more and go for 14, 15 can work too. Don’t pack more then 18 lands total. 17 is usually optimal.

Horizon Canopy: Weapon of choice when splashing white, a self replacing land is sexy. However, it makes you wasteland sensitive. Which is all too common in the legacy format.

Land Grant: As far as I’m concerned, strictly worse then fetch. They both do the same thing, but one gives information about your hand where the other doesn’t. This gives your opponent way too much information. In addition, FoW is more common then stifle, using Land Grant isn’t safe and when you use it (no lands in hand) then you’re probably screwed when it fails. If you use it, then use it in conjunction with Elvish Spirit Guide.

For a more combo feel to your elf deck I suggest the two cards:

I feel these two cards are two of most potent choices when playing elves in Legacy, the card advantage, and the dropping the bomb that gives you an extra regardless if it gets exiled by a counter (mind break trap or whatever) your edge is pretty much set in stone at this point.

Well Elves are susceptible aggressive tribal hatred they are resilient and can bounce back quickly. Just be patient and don’t be so overwhelmed with their speed and capability, sideboarding properly for your meta and anti-hatred hatred is always a wise choice.

Well that is all for now. Tomorrow Goblins.


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