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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Sep 01 2014 11:00am
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

 

 Everybody that ever read a post-Tolkienian fantasy novel or played a RPG knows what an elf is. Exactly 60 years after the first publication of The Lord of the Rings, it has become basically impossible to even conceive an epic high fantasy setting (or even "sword and sorcery") without including elves and, to a lesser extent, dwarves. To the point that the original Germanic folklore behind them has been almost entirely replaced, in popular culture, with J.R.R. Tolkien's own take on it.

 Magic: The Gathering was initially more focused on trying to make the whole, revolutionary trading card game concept work, than it was on creating a rich, original fantasy setting, which means it started as a the most generic of the generic fantasy universes, populated by hill giants called Hill Giant and a black knight called Black Knight. After some years had passed and the game would start creating its own identity, they sort of tried to downplay the original, inescapable links to Tolkieniana. For instance, both Dwarves and Orcs became less and less a part of the setting in later years – things may be changing soon for Orcs, with Khans of Tarkir featuring them again, but Dwarves, who are such a big component of Middle Earth-like flavor, are a virtually discontinued creature type these days.

 Not Elves, though. They still are very much the main race/type in green, and if 276 tournament-legal creature cards (plus 5 noncreature tribal cards) are far from the 1558 existing Humans, they still amount to the third race in the game (after Human and Zombie, and exactly equal to their enemies, the Goblins), and the 11th most featured creature type overall, after Human, Wizard, Soldier, Warrior, Spirit, Elemental, Zombie, Beast, Shaman and Cleric.

 The Elf type rarely took a break across 21 years of Magic expansions. Let's see how, by revisiting their whole evolution, set by set, from Alpha to nowadays.

Chapter 1: ORIGINS

 

 This is where all started, from these two little guys. One, Llanowar Elves, would become the signature Elf, and it's still probably the most widely played and reprinted, despite two different functional reprints (Fyndhorn Elves and Elvish Mystic). It's what established since the get-go that Elves, and more specifically Elf Druids, are linked to the mana from the land, a concept that has some inherent interest because it's an original interpretation of Tolkien's Silvan Elves. As far as mana-producing 1-drops go, meaning the most direct way to have 3 mana on turn 2, Llanowar Elves set the main example at common, with Birds of Paradise providing the rare upgrade. Elves are very much still the creature type of choice for this type of cards. Even Human has two only instances of it, both fairly recent: Noble Hierarch and its later, pauper downgrade Avacyn's Pilgrim.

 Elvish Archers, on the other hand, is the progenitor of the Elf Warriors. It certainly appears like a poor, forgotten card by today's standards, and especially misguided as one of the green rares (it would feel underwhelming at common these days!), but it's the indicator that Elves were meant to have members capable of holding their ground in a fight, at least ideally.

 Aesthetics-wise, Ansom Maddocks with Llanowar Elves was one of the boldest choices in Alpha, creating this crazy punk guy with a pink mohawk and weird wooden headpiece. His looks and attitude speak more of a warrior than a druid. The card's looks will be updated at first in 7th Edition (which had a lot of one-time re-imaginings that didn't really stick), then with 9th Edition through M12 (the card made all the core sets except 8th Edition, but was never reprinted elsewhere, except in anthology sets). Weirdly enough, both the new version still fail somehow to convey the idea of a druid, both depicting elves with weapons in hand, ready for battle.

 


 Chapter 2: EVOLUTIONARY DEAD ENDS

 

 After both Arabian Nights and Antiquities didn't feature any Elf (the former for obvious reasons), the first two follow-ups to elvenkind came with Legends, a tiny addition for such a large set. Also not what you would expect in hindsight: both the new Elves are high-cost creatures meant as beaters. Incidentally, both are terrible: Elven Riders is an attempt to give green a pseudo-flyer, but it just falls short in cost and power, even to 1994 standards. Marhault Elsdragon is somehow even worse, as a 6-mana Earth Elemental with a mostly irrelevant, ill-conceived ability that would soon be retired. Therefore it's probably little known that this would  go down in history as the original Elf Legend.

 Red Elves would generate a total of 8 instances, a few of them notable, mostly from Alara block. None of them would ask for double red, though, and certainly not a larger amount of red mana than green mana, which is hard to justify and feels especially misguided in a creature that still has toughness higher than power. Granted, back then Marhault wasn't technically an Elf, because gold cards only had the "Legend" subtype (and it wasn't even actually a subtype yet). But Marhault is clearly depicted as an Elf in the art, which lead to his reworked type following the Grand Creature Type Update.


Chapter 3: BABY STEPS

 

    

 Of the remaining three sets of the standalone era, Homelands doesn't feature any Elves, yet The Dark and Fallen Empires both do. And we're beginning to see the kind of diversification that would lead the tribe to become the representative all-purpose humanoid for all things green.

 Elves of Deep Shadow, most famous for the captivating Jesper Myrfors' goth girl art (apparently inspired by a real person, but also clearly to Neil Gaiman's Death, that was particularly in the zeitgeist in those years), is the first direct follow-up to Llanowar Elves, and it would be played to this day if it didn't have that severe damage-dealing downside, which isn't acceptable anymore (still, to this day, there aren't green 1-drops capable of providing black mana, except of course for Birds of Paradise).

 Savaen Elves is really too weirdly specialized to be useful, but you can appreciate the flavor and the intent of pushing Elves into a larger range of utility. Elvish Farmer is also a specialized guy, but linked to an archetype that, if never too strong, is certainly still alive. It's also the first time an Elf was serving another tribe, one with a strong linear tribal identity even. Finally, both the Hunter and the Scout (which got the triple art all the commons would get in Fallen Empires) try to be useful with their activated abilities, and the former isn't even too terrible to be honest, featuring a freezing effect that would leave green in later years but was still in green's color pie at this point in time. The Elf tribe's variety, too often negated by their signature mana-producing shenanigans, begins here.


Chapter 4: THE GREAT JOURNEY BEGINS

  

  

  

 Ice Age was the game's first, half-baked attempt at a block (it would be properly completed a decade later with Coldsnap). Despite its insecurities, it featured a unity of place and themes between the original two sets, the namesake and Alliances. And a lot of Elves, more than any previous expansions. In fact, the overall Elf population doubled over the course of these two sets. The tribe was there to stay as a main protagonist, and the designers' support started to show.

 Most notably, we met the Fyndhorn, the first Dominarian Elf ethnicity other than Llanowar. And if Fyndhorn Elves is indeed an exact functional reprint of Llanowar Elves (with 100% more terrible art), which is however a crucial factor as the first building step towards Elf ramp, Fyndhorn Elder doubles the outcome for triple the price, a ratio that we'll find several times over the years, even with different tribes (Nantuko Elder).

 Elsewhere, the Elves of Ice Age timidly introduce other kind of abilities like lifegaining, damage prevention, and permanent manipulation. Elvish Ranger, meant to give Elves a high-power beatstick, was mostly known for the over-the-top, controversial art by a Terese Nielsen at her most provocative (she did a male version, too, but that's rarely remembered, for some reason). Elvish Bard, which in turn features the signature Susan Van Camp visual montage, is a very overcosted first attempt at Taunting Elf. And to complete the trilogy of renowned female artists of the time, Rebecca Guay's Kaysa is the second legendary Elf ever, the first to feel playable enough, hinting at the idea that you might want green, and Elf green in particular, to play board invasion with a number of small, fast creatures.

 Elvish Healer is most (or uniquely) notable for being the first of only 16 non-green Elves, and one of only 5 mono-white Elves (all of which, unfortunately, are essentially useless).

 The one card that would remain in use to this day, though, is definitely Elvish Spirit Guide, that introduced a revolutionary concept where you could temporarily ramp up your mana through a creature, without that creature being on the battlefield at all, and most importantly for free. We know 0-cost effects almost always end up being used in competitive play, and this is true for the Spirit Guide too, which along with its color-shifted red counterpart from Planar Chaos, Simian Spirit Guide, is still very much played in storm-type decks or other builds that call for an all-in approach in the first turns.

 A side note regarding Fyndhorn Elves' art, which is often considered one of the worst ever: it got updated for From the Vault: Twenty (later reprinted online in Vintage Masters, too). Igor Kieryluk's take on the mana dork Elf finally loses the inappropriately belligerent attitude of both all the Llanowar Elves versions and Justin Hampton's weirdly cackling assassins. I'm not sure the green mana is collected by cutting down trees, though.


Chapter 5: MIRAGE

   

 

 Mirage block, the first actual block in the game, added 5 Elves across the three sets.

 Meet the Quirion tribe, providing other crucial ways to generate mana. Quirion Elves is an upgrade of Llanowar Elves that allows you to an additional color of mana in turn 2. It wouldn't stand the test of time, especially the moment Elf builds would become more and more linear and self-sufficient (or would find faster ways to generate any color of mana), but it felt due and balanced at the time. Of course the real star here is Quirion Ranger, the first truly overpowered card in the tribe. Maybe at the time it was meant to harmlessly untap a mana dork, or even just an attacker. But it would soon find very broken ways to exploit its ability. Plus, returning a forest in hand is a false downside in turns where you don't have a land to drop, since the ability doesn't specify that the land had to be untapped. Also, landfall. Also, "number of cards in hand matters". Quirion Ranger's application are endless.

 Then in Weatherlight  we finally meet the Llanowar again, first time since Alpha. The Druid saw some play at the time as a way to mass ramp in midrange. The Sentinel had an interesting, novelty mechanic, and was the first mana sink for a tribe that was starting to generate crazy amounts of mana.


Chapter 6: TEMPEST

    

 By the time Tempest block wrapped, the influx of new members in the Elf tribe had become steady. The block added 9 new Elves. Overall quality is somehow lacking, though, with most of them used as filler. Highlights: Eladamri is the third Elf Legend, probably the most powerful to date; initially popular, his applications would wane over the course of the years, and with the continuous emergence of stronger and stronger contenders to his slots, he would see less and less play. Seeker of Skybreak adds to the tribe's untap theme. Skyshroud Archer, one of the various members of the namesake elven tribe, is very limited removal, which is still noteworthy in green, especially at this date.

 Finally, Wood Elves is still unparalleled as a land-fetching creature, since it can conjure an untapped Taiga or Bayou, actively giving you back a mana of any color. The card was first printed in that year's summer (with different Rebecca Guay's artwork) as part of the first Portal set, which also featured a couple other original Elves, curiously both mono-white, that would never be reprinted in a regular set (Devoted Hero has been reprinted in Starter 1999, the Portal's heir).

  

 The following summer, June 1998, Portal Second Age also had a certain number of new Elves (more precisely, 5 of them), reinforcing the idea that if you have to create vanilla green creatures, they might well be Elves. The only notable Elf of this lot is Norwood Priestess, that would be later reprinted online within Vintage Masters, and unexpectedly predate Elvish Piper itself (see below) by one full year.

 Of course, no Elves would be featured in the 1999 release of the Chinese history-inspired Portal Three Kingdoms. The very basic, entirely useless Willow Elf would debut in the Starter 1999, be reprinted in Starter 2000, then never again, for obvious reasons. And that put an end to the entire "beginner's expansions" deal. There's a chance Willow Elf might be one of the elusive cards that have never been played by anyone, ever, considering Llanowar Elves was reprinted as a common in the same sets.


Chapter 6: THE URZA EXPLOSION

   

   

 

 By Urza's block (during which the old "Summon" line was replaced by the current "type—subtype" format), Elf was already firmly established as one of the major tribes in the game, so it came to no surprise to see it strongly supported. Still, 18 new members is a huge, sudden surge in population that had no equal previously, and would be surpassed only in two occasions afterwards.

 Some of these would become highly recognized members of the tribe. The first being of course the one and only Priest of Titania, that marks the moment everything changed and Elf tribal was not just flavor or a vague idea anymore, but a proper, scary archetype. Combining Llanowar Elves, Priest of Titania and Quirion Ranger would generate a ramp so fast and so large that you would easily be put in the condition to end the game right there. It would still be frail and awfully prone to run out of gas at this stage, but the foundation of Elfball and all its variants was already there.

 If the Priest outshines everybody else, she doesn't necessarily outshine Rofellos, another prime target for Quirion Ranger's activations. He's been somehow less played in Elf builds because he relies on a resource, lands, that becomes redundant when most of your permanents produce mana, and it's therefore kept to a minimum in those builds. This doesn't change the fact that Rofellos is fully equipped to generate crazy ramp by himself alone, especially in a more generic green build.

 Aside from the mana department, Elvish Piper (coming one set after Quicksilver Amulet, and one year after the prototype Norwood Priestess from Portal Second Age) is still the most powerful, cheapest way to repeatedly cheat creatures into play, giving you a one-sided Show and Tell for 1 mana. Over the years it has been considered too frail and somehow clunky to work at the higher competitive levels, but it's a constant favorite of casual builds and part of green's all-time signature cards and effects. After going Scottish in 7th Edition, it was updated with Rebecca Guay's art in 9th Edition, and that's probably the most recognizable form it took, as it's been reprinted that way since.

 

 As unassuming at it seems, Taunting Elf is actually a key component against aggro and in mirror matchups for Elf tribal decks. And Deranged Hermit is still one of the most powerful instant token creators in the game, exploiting the echo mechanic to be allowed to go overboard with those Squirrel tokens, generating a total of 9 power on 5 targets for 5 mana (also: squirrels!).

 Finally, a mention for Gamekeeper, which briefly had its own combo deck at some point, and it's still attempted occasionally in Legacy as a way to summon up Emrakul and such.


Chapter 7: MASQUES

  

 After the Urza's baby boom, Elves took a little break in Masques block, with just two new additions from Nemesis. The first of which, the Elf Spellshaper Plague Witch, is also the first instance of an Elf wearing black, that will end up being the most featured non-green color in the tribe.

 Skyshroud Sentinel, along with Howling Wolf and Nesting Wurm, is instead the grandfather of the mechanic that years later would become famous, and lethal, with Squadron Hawk. It wasn't quite there yet.


Chapter 8: INVASION

   

   

 After the brief Masques pause, here comes a second boom with Invasion block featuring 16 new Elves. The average power level is lower than with Urza's block, though, with most of the Elves simply attempting new, underwhelming ways to generate mana (Nomadic Elf or the whole Quirion family, including a reprint of Mirage's Quirion Elves). However, 2-drops like Urborg Elf and Llanowar Dead do have some value, even if in order to generate black mana, the latter requires to already have black mana, which sort of defies part of the purpose.

 Invasion is a tribal and multicolored block, so the Elf tribe, as the representative of the green side of things (with its counterparts being Soldier for white, Merfolk for blue, Zombie for black, and Goblin for red), partakes in the fun with Elvish Champion being the most notable card in the tribal department, a straightforward lord that still has occasional, present-day applications. More so, Sylvan Messenger is the Elf part of the "Envoy cycle" that covers all the five main tribes, as a decent way to refill your hand with more gas, a problem that Elf builds always had.

 Gaea's Herald was a typical "green hates blue and fights countermagic" card of the time; as such, it saw some sideboard action, even if it feels too limited and easy to deal with.

 The multicolored Elves from Invasion block are generally decent little cards (particularly the "bear" cycle of protected 2/2s for 2, not so much the cumbersome Steel Leaf Paladin), but especially interesting in that they represent the Elves mixing with all colors and all kinds of different creature types, most notably Merfolk with Gaea Skyfolk, generating the only blue Elf ever printed, a fact that confirms the feeling that of its two enemies colors, green historically shares more traits and favors the union with black.


Chapter 9: ODYSSEY, or THE VOID OF POWER

 In what has become a trend by this point, a high peak in the tribe's influx is closely followed by a drastic low. Which, in case of Odyssey block, translates into the first time a 3-set period amounted to zero new Elves. But it would just be a matter of waiting for the next peak...


Chapter 10: ONSLAUGHT, or THE FIRST TRUE ELF INVASION

    

   

 Onslaught was the first block entirely devoted to a tribal approach (Legions in particular is the only set to ever be composed uniquely by creature cards). As such, Elves, by now the undiscussed kings of the green realm, had a huge, huge role in the block's proceedings, resulting in a record 36 new members for the tribe, a number that has been surpassed only once so far.

 The tribe got a quantity of relevant new members, albeit few of them feel as crucial as Quirion Ranger and Priest of Titania were, and as the Modern Elves to come will be. Still, Birchlore Rangers is an important step towards mana production able to bypass summoning sickness; Wirewood Herald is a key element of tutoring in Elf decks; and Bloodline Shaman is another good source of card advantage for the deck.

 Wellwisher is possibly the card that saw more play among these, providing an engine of massive lifegaining in linear Elf builds. Considering the quantity of new cards that would make the Elf pilot able to untap one of its minions (see below), an active Wellwisher becomes a force to be reckoned with, not able to win directly the games, but certainly able to stall long enough for the Elves to achieve inevitability.

 The first set also tried to provide different approaches to the Elf linearity, which is something the entire block was blatantly building up to at this point (the popularity of Elf.dek wasn't in discussion anymore by this time). Both Heedless One and Voice of the Woods reward you for having a lot of small Elves on the battlefield; these are battleplans that wouldn't amount to much in the competitive field, but are still very much workable in casual.

 Two cards hailing from the Wirewood tribe and introduced in Onslaught would immediately prove decisive in Elf builds, while not being Elf cards themselves: Wirewood Symbiote and the tribal land Wirewood Lodge. Both work to create the chance to untap key Elves like Priest of Titania or Wellwisher, or the other ones with activated abilities that would show up in the following sets.

 

 Speaking of which, here's two Elves from Legions that put this lesson to good use.

 

 Timberwatch Elf can make any unblocked Elf lethal. Wirewood Channeler is maybe too slow to be good, especially in a world where Priest of Titania comes two turns earlier, but its effect is still massive and more versatile.

 Caller of the Claw would become a frequent, pro-level sideboard card against mass removals, one of the main weak spots of the Elf world, always so eager to go all-in and quickly commit its entire hand to the battlefield.

 

 Totem Speaker and especially Wirewood Savage linked the Elves to another green tribe that was becoming important at the time: Beast.

   

 Finally, Scourge had more of a focus on fattie in green, so its Elves featured big guys with the Mutant subtype, or other cards that go big like Ambush Commander. Fierce Empath is also a useful tutor, that one day would become particularly useful in the EDH/Commander format.


Chapter 11: MIRRODIN

  

 

 Magic changed graphics and abandoned Dominaria, but the Elves were still there. Even in the mechanical world of Mirrodin they were found thriving with 13 new members. Most of these are the protected from artifacts guys from the Tel-Jilad tribe, but the block most notably gave full strength to the idea that Elves are very good at killing artifacts and enchantments, as much as their color as a whole. Glissa Sunseeker is mainly good in a  Commander environment, while Viridian Shaman and Viridian Zealot would remain the go-to cards for the job until the long-waited advent of Reclamation Sage.

 Two cards that would become more useful later: Joiner Adept as a (albeit minor) way towards pentacolored builds; and especially Viridian Joiner, as the future half of the Umbral Mantle combo.

 And then we had the only colorless Elf in existence. There certainly wasn't a more fitting environment for it than a world of automatons.


Chapter 12: KAMIGAWA, or THE ELF THAT WASN'T THERE

 No Elves in Japanese folklore, and yet Kamigawa block gave the Elf decks one of their most powerful weapons to date: Glimpse of Nature. The one-mana sorcery that solved all the problems of running out of gas, as you just have to get to the point where your Elves generate their typically crazy amounts of mana, then cast this spell, followed by yet another of your Elves, and you have a good chances to trigger a chain reaction that will potentially end the game, or at least put you past the point of no return.


Chapter 13: RAVNICA

  

  

  

 The Elves are at home in urban setting, too, since all the green Ravnica guilds but Gruul featured some of them (15 in total). The most notable are the Simic ones, particularly the Snake-hybrid Coiling Oracle, for its potential acceleration, and Momir (whose Vanguard avatar would even create a whole format based on himself), for being a Commander powerhouse.

 Weirdly enough, the unaligned Elves are the most widely played here, with Nullmage Shepherd providing powerful, repeatable noncreature removal, if more casual-oriented, and the elusive Silhana Ledgewalker having a role in green Stomper decks, especially in Pauper.

 

 Ravnica block also features a card that would become popular in Elf builds, Cloudstone Curio. Solving the problem of empty hand by recycling ETB Elves and re-triggering the ones that care for it, particularly after the printing of Nettle Sentinel and Elvish Visionary.


Chapter 14: TIME SPIRAL

  

  

 13 new Elves were found during the return to Dominaria of Time Spiral. Following the experimental nature of the block, most of these try and propose new avenues for the tribe, or green in general.

 Essence Warden is a color-shifted Soul Warden. Green can't make an archetype out of it, but is still more than able to exploit it.

 Llanowar Mentor is an interesting Spellshaper (therefore a discard outlet, and a cheap one at that) that creates Llanowar Elves.

 Riftsweeper has the unique ability to bring exiled cards back in the fold.

 Thornwald Archer is the most evident proof of how underpowered Elvish Archers was/has become.

 Radha is an interesting, underplayed 2-drop that mixes aggro with mana-production in a sleek way. The red requirement and double red production are probably the key factors that keep her away from decks.

 Finally, two good cards revisit the link between Elves and Saproling, dating back to Fallen Empires. We finally learned where all those "Thelonite" cards came from.

 


Chapter 15: LORWYN/SHADOWMOOR, or THE WORLD IS A HAPPY ELF

   

   

 When they decided to devote one 4-set block to the Celtic folklore (to the point that there's no Humans at all in this world), they knew that Elves would have a big, big, BIG role in it. BIG! And that means 53 new Elves big (58 counting the noncreature cards). This impressive number, partially due to the additional set in the block, is very likely never to be repeated again.

 Lorwyn/Shadowmoor changed the face of the Elf tribe forever. They were already strong by this point; now they became tier-1 across the formats, or at least potentially able to win serious events (and they won some, indeed). The cards more directly responsible for this are Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel, the latter able to influence Pauper environment too, being a common. They create a board position where you keep tapping Nettle Sentinel to Heritage Druid's ability, generating the mana necessary to cast something that will inevitably untap the Sentinel, ready to start again.

 There's another card in the block that is not an Elf but has defined Elf builds since, as much as Kamigawa's Glimpse of Nature.That card is Umbral Mantle.

 It's a simple deal: equipping Umbral Mantle on Viridian Joiner ends up instantly generating infinite mana. Just like that.

 Another non-Elf that would be invited to all the Elf parties afterwards is Regal Force, as there's nothing better than drawing a number of cards almost equal to the cards you've played until that point. And the 7 mana, well, those aren't certainly a problem in Elf decks, are they?

 By this point in their history, the Elves had almost all the pieces of their combo puzzle, and still enough firepower to legitimately be called one of the scariest and/or most annoying linear tribes in the game.

 Anyway, several other Elf cards were notable within the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor system. Immaculate Magistrate is Timberwatch Elf on steroids. Both Imperious Perfect and Lys Alana Huntmaster work to achieve board domination. Devoted Druid is another combo piece, particularly once Necrotic Ooze entered the scene.

 Wolf-Skull Shaman and Wren's Run Vanquisher are more suited for straightforward aggro builds, that the tribe is still very much adept to create. The former is also a respected member of the Shaman tribe, where its kinship trigger still works.

 A few other Elves are "just" among the best ways to ramp, albeit in ways that appear modest compared to the infinite.

  

 Gilt-Leaf Archdruid had a dedicated deck in Extended at some point, and is a cool card that provides both an endgame and the fuel to get there. It references the Druid tribe, which is however essentially a sub-tribe of Elf.

 Speaking of cool, Maralen (one of the main characters in the block's story) is a build-around-me Johnny card that can be properly exploited in the right build, as AJ_Impy perfectly illustrated.

 Other cards will mostly find room, and a good career, in Commander.

   

 Scarblade Assassin is an important member of the Assassin tribe who also happens to be an Elf.

 Finally, we have a couple of Elves that are stronger in non-Elf builds, free from the linearity of combo Elves, and open to more midrange options, particularly in the still-to-come Modern format.

 


Chapter 16: ALARA

  

 

 17 new Elves in Alara is a good number, particularly coming right after the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor juggernaut. Only one of them will be really relevant in Elf builds, though, and that's Elvish Visionary. Such a simple card (that sort of existed as Multani's Acolyte back in the Urza block, when there weren't the right tools to complement it), such a great power. Visionary helps essentially any kind of Elf build, be it a Cloudstone Curio variant or anything involving Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid. Even builds that just aim to equip Viridian Joiner with Umbral Mantle care for some Visionaries, because basically you really want to put one Elf more on the battlefield without losing gas. Visionary is the most stealthily influential Elf cards since Quirion Ranger.

 The rest of the block had one strong Elf card in Bloodbraid Elf, which is however only incidentally an Elf, and is played in entirely different decks in Modern; then a great commander like Mayael (capable of putting the most inescapable clock on any table), and little else.

 At the end of Alara block we are in summer 2009, though, and that means that Magic 2010 was being released, and with it a new way to handle the core sets, now with a number of original cards in them. Among the first ones, this came out:

 Priest of Titania was back, in the form of an old man that costs 1 mana more but also functions as a lord. We could say "nothing will be the same again", if that wasn't what we could have said for any of the many, many milestones in Elf history. Elvish Archdruid is definitely one of them, though, and would become auto-include in pretty much all Elf decks out there. Some posit Priest of Titania's turn-2 arrival makes her the stronger one. It might be the case. Still, the Archdruid is Modern-legal, and the Priest is not, so there's that.


Chapter 17: ZENDIKAR

  

 

 14 new Elves in Zendikar, with a couple new ways to ramp. Arbor Elf, initially just a backup/replacement to Llanowar Elves in Standard, would later prove very useful in ramp builds based on Auras. Joraga Treespeaker, with his "2 mana on turn 2, 5 mana on turn 3" deal, had his moment under the limelight, and is still generally a good mana dork. Joraga Warcaller is probably the most notable new member for linear Elves, providing a way for the Elves themselves to seal the deal, and as such it's still more than occasionally used to this day.

 Oracle of Mul Daya and Mul Daya Channelers are both strong creatures, the former for land ramp decks (especially, but not exclusively, in Commander), the latter as a versatile player in aggro builds. Both aren't linked to the Elf tribe too much, or if anything are more linked to the Shaman tribe.

 Zendikar was paired with Magic 2011, that had 2 new Elves: the serviceable land fetcher Sylvan Ranger, and Fauna Shaman, aka Survival of the Fittest on a stick. Despite not really comparing to the original enchantment (she's slower, frail, only works once per turn), the effect is strong enough that she's seeing play in different kinds of builds, some of them dedicated.

 


Chapter 18: SCARS OF MIRRODIN

   

 The Elves that came out during the return to Mirrodin were 12. One among them is the unopposed star of the set: Ezuri, or the best way to date for the Elves to have a built-in endgame, what with his dedicated mana sink Overrun, with additional protective ability to boot.

 The newly corrupted version of Glissa is a good, sadly underplayed creature that does a lot of good things, and works fine either in a devoted build or, even better, in a generic Rock-style deck. She's a killing machine in combat, after all.

 Finally, as a 1-drop with infect, Glistener Elf is a vital part of the green infect archetype. In this is similar to the only new Elf in Magic 2012, Gladecover Scout, that has a role in some Bogle builds.

 In June 2011, right after the end of Scars of Mirrodin block, the Commander decks also came out. There was one new Elf there: his name is Edric, and is pretty good at what he does. He doesn't get played too much in Elf builds (he's played enough elsewhere, not just in Commander, even if being only legal in Vintage and Legacy environments limits him a bit), but he probably could and probably should, because he's mad card-drawing in creature decks, and he shines in 1v1 games as opposed to multiplayer (where he's more of a political card).


Chapter 19: RETURN TO RAVNICA, or THE WATER IN THE DESERT

   

   

 After the pause with Innistrad (not many Elves in horror tropes), the first since Odyssey, another good injection of Elves (16 new members) came with Return to Ravnica, and it's the latest to date, because Theros block also had zero Elves, being set in Ancient Greece and all.

 The most famous of the neo-Ravnican Elves is definitely the uberpowerful Deathrite Shaman, that became so ubiquitous to earn himself a ban in Modern. None of the decks that used him across the eternal formats were specifically Elf builds, though, as he's not particularly effective in those (they mostly don't use fetch lands, and don't care for the attrition game he plays).

 The same can be said for a strong commander/sacrifice outlet/late game player like Jarad, and even a strong card like Master Biomancer, that never found a real home anywhere, while Emmara Tandris could have, hadn't she been victim of a colossal cost misjudgment.


Chapter 20: WHAT NOW

  

 Theros had no Elves, Khans of Tarkir looks like it might not have any as well. Of the last three core sets, Magic 2013 gave us Yeva, who's a solid card, while Magic 2014 revisited the Elf/Beast symbiosis and most notably had a functional reprint (this time Druid-like!) of the old Llanowar Elves. Magic 2015 didn't have new Elves.

 The Elves are both looking back to their origins and exploring new routes. Sometimes literally, like with Conspiracy/Vintage Masters' own Selvala and her Elf scouts.

 

 One thing is certain: we might currently be in a low phase for the Elf tribe, but they will never entirely go away. Unfortunately? The answer is directly proportional to your tolerance for ramp shenanigans and endless turns spent watching the opponent goldfishing. After all, the Elves have always been arrogant. Even, let be honest, those overly noble guys from Tolkien's books.