Tuesday, 1 January 2019
Beast Whisperer Elves .dec
I nearly did this as a card spotlight and not a .dec article as it is just a fairly typical classic elf deck. I even intentionally down powered it in the build so as to get a better, more even run with it. I just wanted to play with the new Beast Whisperer in the proper home for it. Whisperer has unsurprisingly performed poorly in the drafting cube but I felt that in the right place it would be absolutely nuts and I was not wrong. Well, I was wrong but in magnitude terms rather than direction. The card was far better than I expected and is a pretty significant boost for the tribe. I am hearing rumor that Whisperer is performing well now in other formats too.
My intentional down powering of the list included not running, among other things, Craterhoof Behemoth or Garruk Wildspeaker as extra high quality overrun win conditions. The former is a fairly big part of what makes elves so good. Skullclamp was another card I typically run in elves given the option however having tested this build I think it is no longer the optimal way to go for most elf decks for their card draw. I had no trouble drawing most of my deck with this list, the troubles I had were not having second copies of key finishers like Ezuri and not having a deep enough library. On more than one occasion I had to reign in an explosive turn where I could still play things and draw more cards because of risk and waste. Libraries and hands are only so big!
What was most noteworthy about this take on elves is how able it was to pickup after a board clear and get back in the game. I managed to win a game where I had my entire board wiped twice netting at least a five for one in my opponents favour as well as a significant (but irrelevant) mana swing each time. This deck was outputting such a filthy amount of mana so quickly and consistently that mana advantage just isn't a metric you want to compete against it with. If it is just about mana production and mana spent then few decks are coming close to this. The mana was such a joke that I seriously had to think about whether Walking Ballista was a better win condition than Craterhoof would be. It works better on its own, it is playable earlier and most relevantly it is a useful interactive tool throughout the game. Probably both is where you want to be but the fact that it is even close goes to show quite how much mana this deck has access too. The lesson about the recovery capability is mostly that green card draw and card selection has taken a jump over the years and is far more reliable and playable. Gone are the days of Regal Force being one of the better options and that is great for green. Combinations of cards coming together help this effect go further too. A clear example in this list is that you now have a way of tutoring for a Glimpse of Nature effect with something like a Green Sun's Zenith. Here is the list I ran, after I shall look at some of the ways to refine it and some of the good things about it;
Glimpse of Nature
Priest of Titania
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Marwyn, the Nurturer
Lead the Stampede
Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Green Sun's Zenith
While this list looks a lot like most elf decks I have done in the past it is noteworthy that the roles have spread out and the curve has dropped. Your card advantage is not tied to one or two cards, you can handle situations in several ways and don't rely on one key card for any specific situations. I was just winning through consistently playing and drawing most of my deck within the early stages of the game. This was through disruption as well which is the most exciting part. You just win by the numbers then, it doesn't matter so much that they took away your "finishers" or that you have to make "bad" attacks. You just seem to get there through having too much stuff too soon. Your stuff is a little less important than it used to be due to the higher quality and greater redundancy. Old elf decks felt like they were set back massively with any small bit of disruption while this list didn't care all that much.
While Beast Whisperer stood out as the new amazing tool that took this archetype up a notch in power it was a golden oldie that surprised me most. Timberwatch Elf is actually pretty lethal. I mostly ran him to combo with Marwyn the Nurturer and while she sucked pretty hard and should absolutely be cut the Timberwatch owned. I won more games with him than Ezuri although I suspect that was more due to how well understood it is that Ezuri is the game ender. Always having more dorks in play means you can always ensure that you pump an unblocked elf with Timberwatch and that is a lot of damage. It also makes the blocks pretty awkward as one can be made a chump block if that is what is needed. The untap effects also work very nicely with Timberwatch and give this elf deck a much bigger punch in combat. Elves used to just hold back until the Overrun came, this list gets stuck in. It has some better combat dorks and effects but it can also afford to lose dorks which elves never used to be so good at. It makes me thing Elvish Branchbender might be viable!
Dwynen's Elite is a subtle boost to the deck but a significant one. A lot of your cards simply want you to have a load of elves in play and Elite is a reliable, card and mana cost effective, tempo positive, safe way to do this. It lets you get stuck in and it takes the strain away from other cards. It felt like it was outclassing Elvish Visionary pretty hard and I would class Visionary as a core "glue" card.
Lead the Stampede is about as good as it gets in this deck and Sylvan Messenger is not that far behind. While the latter is an old card the older elf decks needed to lean on so many non-elf cards that it under performed. Both can pack over 50% hit rates in this deck with ease with Lead being over 60% hits. Sac lands and things like Land Grant could further empower these numbers.
The potential cuts are Marwyn (which you should cut), Growing Rites of Itlimoc (which is just a little greedy and on the overkill side) and Copperhorn Scout. If you were really looking for space Nettle Sentinel could go but I really don't like cutting the one drops as they are your most reliable way of powering out. Sentinel is nice as it offers a bit more aggressive options. Scout has some high roll potential but is a bit of a cute card in practice. I expect I would only be happy replacing either of these one drops with other one drops.
So, what are we putting in these slots? Mostly it is going to be the good Overrun win conditions and Walking Ballista as mentioned at the start. Joraga Warcaller is a cute way of keeping the one drop elf count high while getting some of that nice mana sink game ending push you want more of. Chancellor of the Tangle and Elvish Spirit Guide can allow for some filthy good starts but I don't think you need that high roll element. This deck is powerful and consistent enough already so you don't need to take those kinds of risks. Just stick to more consistent high quality cards and all will be well.
I looked at Elvish Clancaller and Imperious Perfect for the list but they are really not as on theme as it might seem. Both are pretty slow as for what this deck can do. Both also do very little on their own as most of your elves are 1/1s to begin with. Most also want to tap to do things rather than attacking. Yes, this might be quite an aggressive version of elves but it is still winning with big mana dumps and massive pumps. Just giving +1/+1 to your small poor scaling dorks isn't enough return on your card when you could be doing something more meaningful. I would play Vanquisher's Banner over either of these elf lords in this list but it is more of a Beast Whisperer with some lord on the side, much like Archdruid is really just another Priest of Titania masquerading as a lord!
The other tweaks you could make to the list would require some concessions on the mana base and would likely mean you cut Rofellos. One is simply to include Kessig Wolf Run and sufficient red to activate it. The card is one of the best mana dumps going and gives you a solid means to push through. The other is going into black. This would make Deathrite a little more interesting to bolster those one drops (although with a few sac lands he should probably already be in the list even without any lands producing black) but more relevantly it would allow you to play Shaman of the Pack. While not as powerful of a finisher as Craterhoof it takes far less of a toll on your consistency and can actually be quicker as it requires no attacking. Again, you probably still play both Shaman and Craterhoof but it is always nice to be able to compare well against the established best in the business!
Elves has always been one of my favourite decks. It lets you go nuts on both cards and mana and it lets you do loads of things in a turn. Cards and mana is magic and so this deck is one of the most magical! It certainly feels obnoxiously powerful when you are going off with it. One new card, even in singleton formats like cube can make all the difference and this is a good example of such a thing. Elves has always been very powerful but it has also always been fragile. It is easily countered and naturally has some terrible matchups. Simply just with the addition of Beast Whisperer it is right back at the top of the pile. Tutors and things make one card able to count for more. They can bring the best out in existing cards and give you new build options. Beast Whisperer seems to have done all this for elves. What this probably means going forward is that I need to look at banning Gaea's Cradle to keep things more balanced.