Monday, 25 April 2016
Elves is unique in that it can be described as numerous kinds of deck simultaneously. It is tribal, it is weenie and it typically wins by beating down. Despite this it is much more like an engine combo deck in how it plays and feels. There are so many ways you can go with an elf deck as well. Not only can you benefit from splashing any of the other colours (which I will cover in a little ore detail later) you are able to build the deck distinctively in one of three main directions. You can aim to be like a combo deck and do as much stuff as you can and win with a big turn out of nowhere, you can be like a ramp deck mainly using elves and elf synergy as a means to ramp quickly, or you can be like an affinity style aggro deck that dumps out onto the board with alarming speed.
This list uses Glimpse but it is typically just an efficient way to fully develop a board that threatens lethal while having a hand left to back it up should they Wrath you in some way. Rarely will your Glimpse turn be the turn you kill or at least secure the kill on, it just helps you set it up. Skullclamp is a much better tool for the job at hand as it persists and doesn't harm your ability to curve out optimally. The drawback with Clamp is that you have to lose elves to draw cards thus diminishing your explosive outlay. To compensate for this and improve the quality of Glimpse in the deck there are a number of more situational or throwaway one drop elves in this than the other lists run. You barely ever want to Clamp Llanowar Elves but Llanowar Mentor on the other hand is great for turning into cards.
At first glance this list has an awful lot of overlap with green ramp decks and could be confused. The ramp decks tend to have a few more things that ramp with land so as to be safer against mass removal effects. The ramp decks are easily built from main cube cards however the elf deck uses a couple of much more niche cards you rarely see in non-tribal drafting cubes. Cards like Priest of Titania put most other ramp tools to shame and make elves able to ramp to higher mana values and also ramp quicker than the more conventional ramp lists.
Glimpse of Nature
Priest of Titania
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Elvish Spirit Guide
Eruzi, Renegade Leader
Chancellor of the Tangle
Green Sun's Zenith
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Other Decent Elf Deck Cards
Seeker of Skybreak
Caller of the Claw
Song of the Dryads
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Thousand Year Elixir
Oracle of Mul Daya
As with most elf decks the most effective and common way to win comes off the back of Overrun effects. Nowadays we are spoiled for choice in this area and have no need to look to the original. Craterhoof Behemoth is a lot more punchy, is not dead when all your elves just ate a Wrath and is easily tutorable. Garruk is an obscene ramp card with Cradle or Nykthos while also offering a cheeky Overrun, while again, not being dead when you have nothing else to cast and no dorks to pump. Lastly in this role you have Ezuri, not gripping but cheap enough that he isn't useless in the early stages of the game.
There are lots of tutor options but given that you can easily just draw your whole deck by turn three I don't really think you need them. Even the mighty Natural Order isn't really worth it in this list. The risk on the 2 for 1 and the weaker starting hands it gives make it quite a liability and you can pretty consistently just cast your massive things so the mana saving aspect of Natural Order is pretty negligible. Green Sun's Zenith is my favourite pure tutor effect for the list as it really helps early and late. Despite this, without the Dryad Arbor combo I probably wouldn't bother with the Zenith either.
You do need the Primal Command however and not for the tutor bit (although that is nice!). I may have mentioned you can draw your whole deck by turn three. That can become an issue if you don't happen to win right away and so you really need the Command to keep the gas flowing. There are other options for this effect but they are all a bit slow or do nothing else for the deck leaving Primal Command the clear winner. Primal Command was basically the win condition in the modern list that could loop its who deck infinitely as it would put all the opponents cards back on top of their deck making it very easy to win.
There are a lot of Onslaught powerhouse cards that not really on peoples radar in this list. At the time Goblins ruled constructed which left elves rather out in the cold. Four copies of Sharpshooter makes for sad elves. Onslaught is too old for modern and pure tribal elves are generally too niche for most cubes to run. As such cards like Wirewood Hivemaster and Symbiote are not respected as much as they should be. I have won an awful lot of cube games with basically just Symbiote and a couple of filler elves. Hivemaster makes Skullclamp and Cradle really silly and accelerates you rapidly to the point where any sort of Overrun effect is game.
You can go a bit more combo orientated and add cards like Concordant Crossroads and Thousand Year Elixir to speed everything up and even Earthcraft to further mimic that Heritage Druid effect. These cards do allow you to win basically out of nowhere but they do reduce the consistency of the deck, I prefer to keep things purer. An alternative way to help your elves live long enough to use their tap effects, instead of giving haste you can use Tangle Wire or other mana denial effects. Again, these are great at the right time but otherwise just hurt the consistency of the deck.
The least damaging way to endure a Wrath effect is the combination of Wirewood Herald and Caller of the Claw. You have to have three mana open which is manageable most of the time that they can afford a Wrath but is annoying. Generally however this staves off any mass removal until they can afford counter magic as well or have something like a Pernicious Deed as a second instant speed Wrath for the tokens. If you just straight Wrath and elf deck on turn four and they cast an end of turn Caller of the Claw it is almost always good games.
The game plan is pretty simple, ramp as hard and fast as you can for a couple of turns then either draw a bunch of cards, cast an Overrun and win, or just skip the card drawing bit and move straight to the winning bit. Despite this ramping safely and efficiently is not an easy task to manage. The deck presents so many alternate routes to ramping you have to carefully consider the cards they might have and those which you want to try and play.
There are lots of splash options for elves each with their merits. You don't ever want to go too far from a splash, not only will this tend to over dilute your elf synergies but it will also hurt your Rofellos and Nykthos. Opposition is always temping but the double blue is off putting and it has never really seemed to need it. When you have 15 dorks and 30 mana you dont really care that much about their 2 dorks and 3 mana!
Blue is still a good splash despite Opposition seeming to under perform. Upheaval is likely better than Opposition for elves and still loads worse than Overrun! Coiling Oracle and Edric, Spymaster of Trest are great elves that up the quality of your cards but are not worth a splash on their own. It is Beck of "Beck and Call" that is the main reason you splash blue as it is the best redundancy for Glimpse. Should you really want to push that avenue then this is the way to do it.
White has been used for Ranger of Eos primarily but there are a few other white elves of mild interest you can stick in. Ranger of Eos was far more useful in the modern lists aiming to combo off with Glimpse, a Heritage Druid and a couple of Nettle Sentinels as it could find most of the things you wanted.
Black has now too become a colour of interest for elves with Shaman of the Pack. While not quite as killy as the Overrun the Shaman is cheaper, safer and reusable. Black also complements green well with some removal options, even ones on elves! There is Patriarch's Bidding as an alternate solution to being Wrathed. Some of the highest power elf cards are black so if you are going the Skyshroud Poacher route black is probably the way to go.
Despite having so much card choice and so many directional options the core of all elf decks is roughly the same. As many one mana elves that produce mana as possible, then as many two mana elves that tap for a bunch of mana as there are, enough card draw to keep up with your mana production and then a way of winning, usually Overrun effects and of course Gaea's Cradle and now Nykthos too. The Nythos you can forgo but the Cradle is the most powerful card in the deck. In many ways this is a Cradle deck not an Elf deck. The deck gains a lot of its power as a result of being the best housing for a Cradle.