Monday 25 April 2016


Llanowar Elves
While trying to archive what I have and haven't done lists for I was shocked to see no lists for an elf deck of any sort and so have thrown this together as a matter of urgency! Elves is one of the oldest and most powerful archetypes in cube and has the feel of playing with all the artifact and blue power cards while goldfishing. Despite being one of the highest raw power decks with some of the most impressive goldfishing displays the deck is vulnerable to quite a lot of things. Wrath of God effects are common place in cube, many costing quite a bit less yet still wiping not just your entire army but also all your mana production. Common cards like Fire, Arc Trail and Forked Bolt can set you back at least two turns, Goblin Sharpshooter is basically unbeatable!

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.

Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
This version is a mono green list with a heavy combo focus. The modern combo elves list that eventually got Glimpse of Nature banned was able to do things this list can't. With only one copy of Nettle Sentinel available you cannot create a certain infinite loop therefore mostly removing the need of an actual win condition. Despite that this list can go pretty nutty pretty quickly easily ending games on turn three just with stuff. Redundancy is nice for combo decks but stupid levels of power go a long way too. Modern lists never had access to Gaea's Cradle, Skullclamp, Rofellos, Priest of Titania and so on. In terms of a constructed deck this is most alike to it would be "Elf and Nail" in standard about 13 years ago!

Glimpse of NatureThis 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.

Quirion Ranger
26 Spells

Llanowar Elves
Fyndhorn Elves
Elvish Mystic
Joraga Treespeaker

Quirion Ranger
Heritage Druid
Wirewood Symbiote

Glimpse of Nature
Arbor Elf
Skyshroud Ranger
Llanowar Mentor
Wirewood Symbiote
Priest of Titania
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Wirewood Hivemaster
Elvish Visionary

Elvish Archdruid
Elvish Spirit Guide
Eruzi, Renegade Leader

Garruk Wildspeaker

Primal Command

Chancellor of the Tangle
Regal Force
Wirewood Hivemaster
Craterhoof Behemoth

Green Sun's Zenith

14 Lands

Dryad Arbor
Gaea's Cradle
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
11 Forests

Other Decent Elf Deck Cards

Nettle Sentinel
Brichlore Rangers
Joraga Warcaller
Priest of TitaniaConcordant Crossroads

Wirewood Herald
Fauna Shaman
Devoted Druid
Seeker of Skybreak
Land Grant

Fierce Empath
Reclamation Sage
Caller of the Claw
Imperious Perfect
Tangle Wire
Song of the Dryads
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Eternal Witness
Thousand Year Elixir

Natural Order
Elvish Ringleader
Skyshroud Poacher
Oracle of Mul Daya
Deranged Hermit

Craterhoof BehemothAs 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.

Primal CommandYou 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.

Concordant CrossroadsYou 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.

Chancellor of the Tangle
Elves is very much a momentum deck, once you get going you can do anything and everything but early mishaps can set you back in a game ending way. A simple shock to your first dork is usually a two turn setback. On the flip side of this having an Elvish Spirit Guide or Chancellor in your opener can accelerate you to a turn three kill. I prefer these cards to Fair Mox in the list, you only really want that little bit of burst at the start, the elves take card of the rest. The Fair Mox are generally a bit too awkward to pitch things too and are even more horrible to have when you don't want the mana.

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.

Shaman of the PackThere 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.

Gaea's CradleBlack 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.


  1. On the topic of tutors, I see you have mentioned Fauna Shaman, Wirewood Herald, Skyshroud Poacher, Green Sun's Zenith, and Natural Order. Is there any way you could additionally comment on Elvish Harbinger, Crop Rotation, Worldly Tutor, Chord of Calling, Expedition Map, Birthing Pod, and Survival of the Fittest as they relate to Elves? Did you not include these because they are strictly worse than ones you mentioned? I only ask because I've been trying to cut some non-elves from my list and it seems much easier to cut Skyshroud Poacher than Worldly Tutor...
    I also place importance on the non-basic land tutors because of Cradle/Nykthos, Wirewood Lodge, and Maze of Ith, which all combo nicely with Argothian Elder for infinate mana. Any comments on this line of thought?

  2. Nice combo with the Elder, I am stunned to say I was until now unaware of it. All told I don't think it is worth lowering the consistency of the general theme of the deck to support the infinite mana combos, you have enough normally to cast all your things very fast!

    Worldy Tutor - too much card disadvantage and too slow in this kind of deck

    Elvish Harbinger - too expensive of an Elf, if it drew the card rather than just putting it on top we would be talking. You need to be fast and this card just isn't. Tutoring up Rofellos using this won't help, you are just better off running a better balance of the kinds of elf you want in the deck. most of the tutor targets you really want are non-elf. Herald is nice because of how it triggers ontop of being cheap enough.

    Chord of Calling - decent card all round but leads to bad opening hands and so I much prefer the Zenith. So much of your deck makes mana convoke is often less value that tapping your elves for mana!

    Crop Rotation is the best non-basic Land tutor because of how it can power out your start. Generally, as with Worldy Tutor, the deck doesn't like the card disadvantage and so the risk is not worth the return. I say this from the persepctive of not running the Argothian combo. I prefer Sylvan Scrying to Expedition Map but don't think either pack enough punch to be worth it without heavy focus on the combo, which again, I don't think is the optimal way to build the deck.

    Survival of the Fittest is very good but it changes how you build and play the deck. It is also fairly hard to use it well, inexperienced people will end up with a handful of forests far too quickly! I typically prefer raw draw effects to Survival in my Elf decks.

    Birthing Pod is fairly similar to Survival in that respect, I would just rather play draw stuff. They require too much attention in how you build your deck with them in. As tutor effects they are slower than alternatives and the value they offer can be obtained in other ways when you have lots of mana and creatures. Incremental value isn't really what elves want, they are bursty. Both cards command having lots of high utility creatures and with elves mostly all you want is mana production, Overrun effects and draw effects which doesn't leave much room for utility cards. Elves have plenty but it doesn't have the cream of the crop. Why play tutors and Pod when they are finding subpar things. Basically it boils down to building a deck that does one thing well, Pod is a thing, do a Pod deck or do an Elf deck.