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By: AJ_Impy, AJ Richardson
Aug 25 2014 11:00am
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Elf Week!

Hello and welcome to Elf Week! This week we'll be looking at one of the most ubiquitous tribes in the entirety of the game, which has been a major tribal theme or subtheme for almost every block. You can count on one hand the blocks where they don't appear: Odyssey, Kamigawa, Innistrad and Theros. They have been a factor in every single format, and of the mere four creatures on the Modern banned list, fully half of them are Elves. In Commander, one of the four legends banned as a commander is an Elf. Elves! is still a solid contender in Legacy tournaments, and elvish one-mana mana producers have been a vital component in ramp decks since the very beginning. Elves are everywhere from casual piles to tournament top tables, and are currently the only creature type to have a planeswalker dedicated to them and them alone.

Bloodbraid Elf Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary Deathrite Shaman

 I'll let my colleagues and associates wax lyrical on the more conventional elf decks, and turn my attention to the roads less travelled. There are 265 elf creatures in the game, and a further five non-creature Tribal cards, four of which pump out yet more elves. There's a Snow elf, an Artifact elf, and 22 legendary elves, touching upon all five colours at least twice each, with only one example that isn't at least partly green. The vast majority of elves are pretty weedy, power and toughness between one and three apiece, their strength coming from being able to get numbers on the board quickly and using that for exponential shenanigans, forming combo decks with Glimpse of Nature, Umbral Mantle, Cloudstone Curio or even Craterhoof Behemoth, fuelling huge Genesis Waves or Green Sun's Zeniths through insane mana acceleration. So, what else can they do? For one thing, they have a remarkably large number of variable size creatures, with Jagged-Scar Archers and Heedless One counting the number of elves, Drove of Elves counting green permanents, and Allosaurus Rider counting the number of lands. Apropos of nothing, they also have a card capable of turning each and every one of those categories into the others. 

Threat Level Elf-ated
Lots of forests in play, all of them green elves
4 Jagged-Scar Archers
4 Heedless One
4 Drove of Elves
4 Ambush Commander
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Allosaurus Rider
4 Wood Elves
4 Farhaven Elf
4 Dryad Arbor
36 cards

Other Spells
4 Green Sun's Zenith
4 cards
20 Forest
20 cards
Ambush Commander

A fun little game plan: Use Wood Elves, Farhaven Elf and Green Sun's Zenith to ramp into additional forests, drop your elf/land/green permanent counting exponentially large guys, then punch through with Ambush commander turning all those forests into green elves to up the count. Relatively straightforward, but generally a good idea to leave up two mana for Ambush Commander in case someone tries to kill all your lands with mass removal. A bit off the beaten path, but still within spitting distance. Let's eschew the little green men altogether and focus on an elf deck centered around killing things and locking your opponent out of the game.

Maralen of the Mornsong Stranglehold

Maralen of the Mornsong has a bit of a drawback in that she lets your opponent search up the means to kill her and/or win the game before you get to exploit her tutoring effect. We can get around this with flashing her in at opponent's end of turn, which lets us nab a Stranglehold to prevent them tutoring anything off her at all, locking them out of everything except a few edge cases as means to get more resources. In the meantime, we use the rest of our deck to control anything they might have on the battlefield. 

Maralen's Curfew
Turning Grim Tutor into Lightning Helix
4 Maralen of the Mornsong
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Scarblade Elite
4 Lys Alana Scarblade
4 Hunter of Eyeblights
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Stranglehold
4 Nameless Inversion
4 Tendrils of Corruption
2 Exquisite Blood
2 Whip of Erebos
16 cards
4 Bayou
4 Badlands
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Winding Canyons
8 Swamp
24 cards
Scarblade Elite


Deathrite Shaman is key, as Maralen's life loss means we need at least seven life before trying to enact the combo. Exquisite Blood essentially gives our team lifelink, and turns opponent Maralen triggers into enough life to reach equilibrium, covering our loss each turn. The Whip is a cheaper lifelink option, and Nameless Inversion serves quadruple duty as removal, a discardable elf for Lys Alana, an exilable assassin for the Elite, or just a shock with Deathrite. Winding Canyons lets us cheat Maralen into play. On the whole, a decidedly un-elfy deck, or at the very least, bad for our opponent's elf.

Totem Speaker Advocate of the Beast Wirewood Savage

For my next trick, let's take those three cards there. Potentially powerful abilities, provided you can keep a constant stream of beasts entering the battlefield. So, let's indulge in a little Simic-style genetic manipulation, and add in beastliness to every elf we play. Oh, and Garruk, because nothing says 'Unending stream of beasts' like that particular planeswalker.

Beastie Boys
It's a bit of an animal
4 Totem Speaker
4 Wirewood Savage
4 Advocate of the Beast
4 Coiling Oracle
4 Master Biomancer
4 Imperious Perfect
4 Thelonite Hermit
28 cards

Other Spells
4 Xenograft
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
8 cards
4 Tropical Island
4 Breeding Pool
4 Windswept Heath
12 Forest
24 cards

 All sorts of fun things going on here. With Xenograft in play, Master Biomancer is an ideal target for Advocate's +1 counters, You can keep your Thelonites morphed until flipping them nets you 4 cards, 12 life or whatever else takes your fancy. Garruk can both help trigger beast triggers, or just draw into the combo pieces, or both. Path to victory is beating down with elf beast mutants. The deck is somewhat over reliant on Xenograft, but if the clever stuff doesn't work, you can always do some brute force elfing with the perfect or just flip over a Thelonite. Think of this deck as an intricate machine which also works perfectly well as a heavy blunt object if the gears get jammed.

Elves are not one of my favourite creature types, mainly due to the fact that labels like 'ubiquitous' or 'generic' are all too easily woven out of all-natural fibres by their exceedingly long-lived, better-than-human hands. It is possible to do interesting things with them, but most of the time they get used for tried and tested strategies, As long as they are still capable of getting results, this will continue to be the case. None the less, until next time,




Egg sell ant start to the by Paul Leicht at Mon, 08/25/2014 - 11:09
Paul Leicht's picture

Egg sell ant start to the week! (Sorry but you provoked the play on words even if they don't mean anything :p.) I am surprised no love for the best elf of them all, Deranged Hermit.

Considered hermit for that by AJ_Impy at Mon, 08/25/2014 - 17:43
AJ_Impy's picture

Considered hermit for that last deck, but the Thelonite version gave an earlier body.