Brothers’ War, the newest set for Magic: The Gathering is out and that means it’s review season.
The set shows the modern cast of characters, desperate to deal with the Phyrexian threat that emerged in the previous set, looking back to a pivotal event in Magic‘s history. The event in question – the titular Brothers’ War – is a conflict between Urza, the closest thing Magic has ever had to a main character, and his wayward brother, Mishra. The fate of Dominaria itself hung in the balance and things did not end well.
Mechanically, Brothers’ War has a heavy focus on the colossal machines of war that the brothers built to win the conflict. Unfortunately for us here on Elves All The Way Down, colossal machines of war don’t tend to be Elves. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some cards for us to look at.
Of course, I’ll be reviewing every Elf in the set and any other cards I think are worth talking about.
As always, this review focuses exclusively on a card’s application in Elves decks across Magic‘s many formats. If you think there’s a cool card for your Transformers-themed Commander deck, this isn’t the review for that. (That card’s still cool though, whatever it is.) The rating given at the end of each entry is out of five Trees and applies to whichever format the card suits best.
Jaspera Sentinel was a card I begrudgingly admitted was playable in formats where you need additional one-drop mana dork. Then it surprised me with how useful it was. The reach helped me survive against some decks. The extra point of toughness let me block some 1/1s I wouldn’t normally be able to. Generating any colour of mana, rather than just Green, made it easier to play some off-colour cards. Unfortunately for Citanul Stalwart, it only has one of those three benefits while keeping all of the downsides.
I don’t want to underestimate this new card like I did with Jaspera Sentinel. However, Citanul Stalwart is really not doing enough to make me excited about it. Maybe it’ll be an interesting include in Green-based artifact decks to help ramp a bit. I just don’t know if those decks exist. I guess it’s a one-drop Elf for Standard, if that’s what you need.
A sweet reprint that I’ve played in the past, Fauna Shaman is back. Setting up your graveyard (if you care about that), while tutoring any creature you need is a powerful effect. The question is, can you take a turn off to play a 2/2, have it survive for turn, and then pay a mana and another card to go fetch up a creature? Can you tutor a creature that will make that investment worth it? In the past, I used Fauna Shaman to find Craterhoof Behemoth, which certainly is impactful enough. However, I eventually cut this pair of cards in most versions of Elves as the deck became more streamlined and synergystic.
Fauna Shaman was already legal in most of the formats we talk about, having been printed in a Historic Anthology. The format it is new to is Pioneer/Explorer – a format without Craterhoof Behemoth. You might be able to set up a toolbox of options in those formats that make it worth playing there. However, the Shaman feels very slow these days, so you likely need to be feeding graveyard synergies for it to be good enough.
Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea
Gwenna is a more consistent card than the alternatives. You always get two mana, whatever your board presence looks like. Once you have a third creature in play, however, Gwenna starts to fall behind. Gwenna also can’t cast Collected Company or other non-creature spells, but can be used to pay for the non-Green costs. Furthermore, she is natively a 2/3, making her far less fragile than the other options, both of which start with only one toughness.
Whether or not you want to include Gwenna over Marwyn and Circle of Dreams Druid will come down to which of the above points is most important in your specific Elf deck. Of course, in formats where you don’t have access to those two, like Standard, Gwenna might be your only option.
I’m mostly ignoring Gwenna’s second ability. Elf players aren’t really casting creatures with five power. If you’re running a beatdown strategy with Steel Leaf Champion, you’ll get a counter every now and then, woo!
Five mana is a lot for a mana dork. You need be going really big to make use of a card like Deathbloom Ritualist. Maybe there’s a deck in Standard where you’re using some Elves at the bottom of your curve to cast some of the massive machines in this set, but I wouldn’t neccessarily call that an Elves deck.
Given the inclusion of Fauna Shaman and this card, maybe there’s a graveyard-based Elf deck in one of the Arena formats that hasn’t been found yet. It’s not making waves anywhere else.
Kayla’s Reconstruction is the new White take on Collected Company. It’s obviously nowhere near as powerful as Company. Being a sorcery that starts at five mana to get the same effect – including three White mana – is much worse. However, White was one of the colours Elves appeared in for Streets of New Capenna, so maybe it has a place in Standard.
I do like how putting spare mana into it can get you more creatures than Company. It’s just never replacing the Green staple.
Diabolic Intent is another cool reprint. A card I mostly associated with an old version of Nic Fit in Legacy, Diabolic Intent could provide an interesting toolbox enabler. It can also help find the missing half of a combo by sacrificing a spare Elf token. However, as with Fauna Shaman, you had better be finding something extremely powerful to make it worth spending the mana casting this over something that progresses your boardstate immediately.
Maybe the graveyard-based Elf deck that I’m starting to speculate on will love this as an enabler. I just wish Grist, the Hunger Tide was in Explorer or Historic to make that deck a real thing.
Over the Top
Wait, what’s this? Red is having a go at a Collected Company effect, too? I guess it’s more of a Kindred Summons. While Over the Top isn’t a good card, it is an exciting card. I’ll probably build around it at some point to try and put a bunch of Elves into play at once. I can’t recommend it if you’re trying to be competitive, however. Maybe it’s time to brew janky Jund Elves again.
I really dislike how it’s Symmetrical, though. If I’m paying seven mana, I don’t want my opponent to get the effect as well.
Fade from History
I’ve played Creeping Corrosion and Fracturing Gust before in my sideboard, normally to defeat Affinity. If you need this kind of effect, Fade from History is probably the best version ever printed. It’s four mana, like Creeping Corrosion, but hits Artifacts and Enchantments, like Fracturing Gust. The only reason you might play a different version is if you really like the instant speed and life gain of Gust.
However, we currently have access to Force of Vigor in Modern, Legacy and Vintage. So, this card will only be relevant there if another Affinity-like deck comes to prominence again. If you only need to kill two Artifacts at once, Force is so much better.
It’s cool that it makes Bears, though. I’m sure my draft buddy will be happy to see that.
Queen Kayla bin-Kroog
Now, I know it might look weird that I’m including a non-Elf Red-White Legend in a review about Elves, but I am excited about trying out Queen Kayla bin-Kroog. For the third time this review, I’m going to claim we have a new Collected Company variant. It’s even the same colours as the other cards I’ve said that about.
While Kayla doesn’t get creatures from the top of your deck, she still does something similar to Company. You pay four mana, improve your boardstate by up to six mana worth of permanents. You don’t even lose card advantage because she replaces the cards you discard. What’s better is that you know what you’re getting when you activate Kayla. Got a Llanowar Elves, Elvish Warmaster and Elvish Archdruid in hand? Well, Kayla can get them all into play for four mana and replace your hand.
It’s a bit of a shame that Kayla is only usable at Sorcery speed. I do I understand that if you could ambush attackers with her ability, it would be too much.
I realise that I’m residing firmly in Magical Christmas Land here. I’ll accept that fact and her rating will reflect it, but I’m going to try her out nonetheless. I just wish they’d hurry up and get Shaman of the Pack onto Arena so I can try combining them in some four-colour brew.
While formats that have access to Grist, the Hunger Tide don’t have much of a need for an effect like this, if you need a tutorable removal spell in some of the younger formats, Skyfisher Spider might be a helpful card to have access to. We have a lot of Elf tokens sitting around, looking for something to do, so sacrificing them to this is a decent use for them.
Oh, here’s a better option for killing Artifacts or Enchantments right away.
Haywire Mite might even have what it takes to makes waves in formats like Modern. If you’re running a silver bullet package through Chord of Calling or Fiend Artisan, a one-mana option for killing Artifacts and Enchantments provides additional flexibility. It takes the same total mana as Masked Vandal to destroy something, but the cost can be split up. You even get a bit of extra life for your trouble.
I’ve also been known to run Urza’s Saga Elves on stream. This little guy immediately gets added to the sideboard of that deck. This adds a removal option to the cards that Urza’s Saga can search up, which is great.
It might seem small, but this might be one of the most important cards of the set.
Staff of Domination
Brothers’ War, like Strixhaven, has one card in every booster reserved for a selection of old cards. For Strixhaven it was a collection of instants and sorceries. For Brothers’ War this slot is dedicated to artifacts from across Magic‘s history.
Staff of Domination is a reprint that is already available in Modern. Its printing in the Retro Artifact slot of this set, however, adds it to Historic. Historic also has Elvish Archdruid, alongside some other mana dorks that add multiple mana at once. If you can get to five mana from an Archdruid, you can spend four of it untapping the staff and druid and have one left over – giving you functionally infinite mana. The staff can then turn that mana into infinite draws. So, as long as you can cast everything with Green mana, you can put your entire deck into play. Killing your opponent from there is left as an exercise for the reader.
Will this be viable? I have no idea, but it is worth noting for anyone playing Elves in Historic.
Argoth, Sanctum of Nature
Our last card is a neat utility land that might sneak into some Reclaimer builds. Argoth, Sanctum of Nature provides you with a different avenue to win the game. (Especially useful in matchups where you keep getting boardwiped.) It’s also particularly hard to interact with because it’s a land.
I’ve lost enough games to Castle Ardenvale to know a steady stream of tokens will eventually kill your opponent.
I’m not going to lie, I was hoping there would be more Elves in Brothers’ War. Argoth is a major part of the Brothers’ War itself, with Urza and Mishra fighting over the forest island for resources. I would have expected said island to be populated by more than four Elves.
That said, what Brothers’ War lacks in Elves, it makes up for with some interesting supporting cards. A few big spells for going over the top and some utility removal creatures really do help by increasing the options available to Elves players across multiple formats. Beyond Haywire Mite, nothing really jumps out as a multi-format all star, but multiple cards get my brain spinning through ways to play them.
For our next set, we’ve got Phyrexia: All Will Be One, where we’ll discover the Phyrexians’ master plan. New Phyrexia, as a plane, does feature Elves, but is mostly known for artifact shenanigans. However, maybe we’ll get to see a new Glissa or Ezuri. Let’s hope they throw us some cool new Elves.
I’ll be trying some of these new cards on stream in the near future, so while you’re waiting for the next review, come and say hi on a Thursday evening.
Jamie is a MtG and assorted gaming enthusiast who wants to bring his enjoyment and passion for games to everyone.