Elves All The Way Down Episode 3: Pauper

Welcome back to Elves All The Way Down, the Magic: The Gathering series about playing Elves in as many formats as possible. Last time, we tussled with Modern using a Green-White combo list. This time, we ventured into Pauper, the format where you’re only allowed to play cards printed at common.

Pauper

Without the ability to play Rares and Uncommons, we don’t have access to our normal suite of lords and finishers. We get to keep our core of mana-elves to flood the board, but what can we field to actually finish the game?

Pauper Elves

Creatures (37)
Birchlore Rangers
Elvish Mystic
Elvish Vanguard
Essence Warden
Fyndhorn Elves
Llanowar Elves
Lys Alana Huntmaster
Priest of Titania
Quirion Ranger
Sylvan Ranger
Timberwatch Elf
Wellwisher

Spells (9)
Lead the Stampede
Distant Melody
Gruesome Fate

Land (14)
13 Forest
Island
Sideboard (15)
Gleeful Sabotage
Hydroblast
Moment’s Peace
Scattershot Archer
Spidersilk Armor
Viridian Longbow
Weather the Storm
Wrap in Vigor

Wincons

Fortunately for us, Pauper has a bunch of cards that care about playing Elves, or the number of Elves in play. Lys Alana Huntmaster, Timberwatch Elf and Elvish Vanguard all turn our mass of Elf cards into more power on board, be it in the form of tokens, counters or temporary pumps.

Huntmaster also feeds the other wincons by increasing your Elf count. The additional tokens it generates make it easier to get an attack in, too. If even one of them goes unblocked, it makes the perfect target for a Timberwatch activation.

It’s also worth mentioning Gruesome Fate and Wellwisher here. Gruesome Fate is only a one-of in the deck, but it kills our opponent without even going to combat. We can only make the Black mana it requires with Birchlore Rangers, but with only one copy, that isn’t really an issue. This slot could be filled by Mob Justice, but Gruesome Fate specifically gets around Prismatic Strands, a card that could otherwise ruin our day.

Wellwisher doesn’t exactly win us the game on the spot when we activate it, but against some decks in the Pauper metagame, an active Wellwisher can put us completely out of reach. If a deck is trying to beat us through combat or pointing Lightning Bolts at our face, gaining a big chunk of life a few times is effectively Game Over in our favour.

Mana

Here we have the usual suspects: one mana 1/1s that tap for G. Pauper has access to all three versions of this card. Here, we run a mix of them in order to make things harder for Echoing Decay.

Birchlore Rangers and Quirion Ranger are familiar to anyone who has played Legacy Elves. Birchlore Rangers are an auto-include because they generate mana from our Elves that can’t make it themselves. They also give us access to non-Green mana for our off-colour spells. What’s even better is that the ability on Birchlore Rangers is similar to Heritage Druid, which we were playing in Modern. We can tap Elves to use the ability even if they’ve just entered the battlefield. Often, that’s enough mana to put our entire hand into play.

Quirion Ranger might not make mana by itself, but it untaps Elves that can. Also, in land-light hands, picking up a Forest and replaying it as our land for turn gives us access to an additional mana if we didn’t have a spare land already. The Ranger also has synergy with our wincons: untapping Timberwatch Elf and Wellwisher gives us additional activations.

Priest of Titania is Pauper’s equivalent of Elvish Archdruid. Having a two-drop Elf that can make multiple mana enables truly explosive starts. (Especially when untapping it with a Quirion Ranger.) To be honest, I’d play Priest of Titania in Modern Combo Elves builds if I could. While the more beatdown-oriented build of the deck really loves the Lord effect, being one mana cheaper is a huge deal.

Card Draw

Now, if we were just playing Elves with no support cards, we’d probably have our entire hand in play by turn two or three… And be out of cards in hand to follow up. To avoid this, we need to play some spells that can refill our hand and keep the Elfball rolling.

For this purpose, we play Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody. Some builds also opt for Winding Way, but there’s only space in the deck for two of these options.

Generally speaking, Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody fill the same utility slot in the deck. However, Melody opens up the possibility to draw the majority of our deck when things are going our way. It can also help us dig for important sideboard cards. Lead the Stampede, on the other hand, can only find them if they also happen to be creatures.

Sideboard

While I won’t go into every card in the sideboard as that would require an overview of the entire Pauper Metagame, there are two cards I would like to address.

Hydroblast seems like a strange include in our deck and Spidersilk Armor is just a strange card in general, so why are we playing them? Well, the card we are the most scared of in this format is Electrickery. There aren’t many sweepers in Pauper, but this one is one-sided and at instant speed. A well-timed Electrickery can wipe our entire board, letting our opponent use their spot removal on the few Elves that survive.

What helps Spidersilk Armor even more is that a lot of the tempo decks in the format are trying to kill us with a 3/3 flyer and some 1/1 friends. Turning all of our Elves into at least 1/2 creatures with reach makes it very hard for those decks to punch through.

The Games

Let’s get straight the point: the games did not go well. Essentially, we played against three copies of Blue-Black Tempo and a near fourth copy in Blue-Red Tempo. At least we managed to get our revenge on Blue-Black right at the end. Worse still, the only other deck we encountered was Black-White Pestilence; probably our worst matchup in the metagame. (No, it didn’t end well).

Despite how badly things went, I know Elves are viable in Pauper. So our record here tells us more about the spread of other archetypes in the meta than about the Elves themselves. We didn’t really get a good cross-section of decks to find out what different matchups are like. I hope that, when we return to Pauper, we get a wider spread of matchups to really showcase what the deck can do.

Next Time

When we next come back to Pauper, I’d like to break out an old Land Grant variant of the deck and push our land count as low as it can go. I certainly hope we can do better than we did this time around.

As for next episode, we’ll be going over our first revisit of a format – Historic – with an updated Combo Elves list and a more aggressive Beatdown variant. See you then.

Elves All The Way Down Episode 2: Modern

Welcome back to Elves All The Way Down. Having enjoyed our stint in Historic last time, we’ve moved to Modern for a look at a personal favourite variant Elves deck from a few years back. That deck is Green-White Combo Elves.

Modern

“Combo Elves, huh? What combo are we using?” I hear you ask. Well, let me introduce you to Devoted Druid. Devoted Druid taps for mana, like so many of our other Elves. However, Devoted Druid can also be untapped at the cost of placing a -1/-1 counter on it. If we can either remove that counter from the druid or mitigate the cost of putting the counter on it (with a toughness boost), we can potentially make an arbitrarily large amount of mana and do what all combo players desire – go ‘infinite’.

Devoted Druid had been around in Modern since the format’s inception with a few inconsistent or fringe combo decks built around it over time. These often included cards like Quillspike or Morsel Hoarder and Necrotic Ooze. However, we Elves players hadn’t really been looking for a way to exploit Devoted Druid until Amonkhet released and gave us Vizier of Remedies.

Suddenly, Devoted Druid had a card that it made infinite mana with easily without jumping through any hoops. Unlike cards like Melira, Sylvok Outcast that prevent the -1/-1 counter being placed on the druid and therefore stop it being untapped, Vizier of Remedies reduced the untapping cost from 1 counter to 0, effectively making it free.

This combo immediately had multiple people trying to find the best way of utilising it. A Green-White combo deck that used Walking Ballista to actually end the game was the main deck to come out of this, but as Elf players, we realised that this combo could easily fit in the Elves shell we were already playing. We already have a game-ending outlet for infinite mana in Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

As an aside, fortunately for us, Ezuri already goes infinite with two Devoted Druids. This was never enough on its own to include Devoted Druid in old Elves lists, but is a nice bonus if we’re including the druid for other reasons.

Now, why would I choose Combo Elves over a more direct aggressive version or a traditional tribal deck? Well, Modern as a format is increasing in speed and efficiency over time. While there are still decks that want to drag things out, the decks that can kill you quickly are getting more and more tools with which to do so. And the decks that want to combo off or establish a game ending boardstate as soon as possible are becoming more optimised. As a result, I moved towards playing Combo Elves so that I would always have a quick route to victory in the face of these other fast and optimised decks. The deck can still play the long game with Collected Company and a wide board of Elves backed up by a lord, but if your opponent is trying to kill you by turn four, having a turn three potential win is always an available out.

This sets the stage for the deck we’re bringing back today, so let’s take a look at it.

Modern GW Combo Elves

Creatures (34)
Elvish Mystic
Heritage Druid
Llanowar Elves
Nettle Sentinel
Devoted Druid
Dwynen’s Elite
Spellskite
Vizier of Remedies
Elvish Archdruid
Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Instants (8)
Chord of Calling
Collected Company
Lands (18)
Cavern of Souls
Forest
Horizon Canopy
Razorverge Thicket
Temple Garden
Westvale Abbey
Windswept Heath

Sideboard (15)
Veil of Summer
Collector Ouphe
Gaddock Teeg
Phyrexian Revoker
Scavenging Ooze
Selfless Spirit
Wheel of Sun and Moon
Yixlid Jailer
Aven Mindcensor
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Knight of Autumn
Magus of the Moon
Setessan Petitioner
Shalai, Voice of Plenty

Some of the deck will look familiar to the list we were running in Historic last time and will overlap with a lot of our decks going forward. This comes from the fact that the core of Elves decks stays mostly the same across formats, making use of the best parts of that core that are available in whatever format you’re playing.

Let’s go over what’s different from the Historic list we played before:

Mana

Here in Modern, we get access to a Llanowar Elves clone in Elvish Mystic, letting us run effectively 8 copies of that effect. We also get one of the most important pieces of what makes Elves viable in Eternal Formats – Heritage Druid. This card effectively allows us to turn all of our Elves (in groups of three) into mana dorks and also to be able to circumvent summoning sickness as she lets us tap Elves who have just entered the battlefield. I have also included Nettle Sentinel here, as the interaction between Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel allows us to make mana to cast green spells that then untap the Sentinel so we can make more mana to cast green spells etc.

The final new piece of the mana puzzle is Devoted Druid, who we discussed above.

Win Conditions

Now that we have an infinite mana engine in the deck, Ezuri, Renegade Leader becomes a lot more powerful and, as a result, we are running the full four copies.

We only have to run a single copy of Vizier of Remedies as we have both Collected Company and Chord of Calling to find it. The same is true for finding the other pieces of the combo: however, all the other pieces are Elves that further our backup plan – playing a bunch of Elves and attacking our opponent for a non-infinite amount of damage.

Sideboard

The sideboard, as always, is a constant work in progress. As metagames change and evolve, the right cards to include will change with them. For this sideboard, I settled on 12 singleton creature to tutor up with Chord of Calling when they are needed, two Veil of Summer to beat counters/removal and a singleton copy of Wheel of Sun and Moon which has a lot of utility against graveyard-based decks and can save us from mill or lantern decks in a pinch.

The two cards I want to talk about individually are Magus of the Moon and Shalai, Voice of Plenty

It may seem weird that a deck that can only generate Red mana from an off-brand Cavern of Souls would include a card like Magus of the Moon (the same goes for Yixlid Jailer), but the key part here is the interaction between the Magus and our instants – Collected Company and Chord of Calling. For starters, these two cards put the Magus directly into play rather than having to find Red mana, but more importantly, there isn’t a window between those spells resolving and the Magus being in play. If we cast a Chord or Company and our opponent doesn’t tap their non-basics for mana in response, they will only be able to use them for Red mana once the spell resolves. They don’t get to know we’re playing a Magus until it’s too late. If they do tap their mana ahead of time, we can always go get something else if it’s relevant (or still get Magus in the matchups where the card is most impactful).

Shalai, Voice of Plenty has a similar instant-speed interaction that is worth keeping in mind. She is still a good sideboard card against decks that want to target you or your stuff, and is an infinite-mana outlet to boot. However, where she shines is at instant speed (via Chord of Calling) in response to a flurry of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers targeting you or all of your Elves. Fetching Shalai in response means that, unless your opponent can remove her immediately, all of the triggers that have already had their targets chosen will be invalid upon resolution, effectively countering them.

The Games

So, how did we do? Well, we went 3-2 across the League. Our biggest enemies haven’t changed since last time either – we’re most scared of control decks and decks that pack a lot of cheap removal.

Our losses were to Rakdos Aggro and Bant Reclamation. The former presented a fast clock while using its burn spells to make short work of our small creatures. The fact that cards they include to point at their opponent’s face double as removal for our key pieces allows them to make us stumble long enough for their prowess threats to close out the game. We can kill them fast enough, but it’s pretty much a race whatever we do.

Bant Reclamation, on the other hand, packs a ton of interaction with our creatures and on the stack which we have to punch through to beat them before they lock us out entirely with Cryptic Command and Mystic Sanctuary. This matchup felt a lot harder than the race with Rakdos Aggro because we can’t really interact with them where we need to (on the stack). However, our Sideboard plan of Magus of the Moon did pull out the win in one game for us, which gives me hope.

Next Time

Next time we return to Modern, we’ll be giving Shaman of the Pack its chance to shine with Green-Black Elves. Beyond that, we’ll see what Elves can do in the Modern metagame and, over multiple iterations, how our Green friends can best attack the format.

However, for the next Episode of this series, we’ll be heading to Pauper, where we’ll get to compete with a 14 land deck, including Legacy Elves staples Birchlore Rangers and Quirion Ranger. Join us then to see if a 2-mana Elvish Archdruid is any good.

Elves All The Way Down Episode 1: Historic

Welcome to Elves All The Way Down, the quasi-fortnightly Magic: The Gathering Stream/Video/Article series where we try to play the best tribe in Magic in as many formats as possible. “What is that tribe?” I hear you ask, as if the title hadn’t already given the game away. Well, my dear reader, that tribe is Elves.

The Elf creature type has always fascinated me as a Magic player. Within Magic, Elves fulfil the role of Green’s ‘characteristic creature type’, but beyond that categorisation, they have one of the strongest mechanical identities of any creature type in the game.

Elves make mana.

Lots of mana.

Once you’ve got lots of mana, it’s somewhat trivial to win the game. Craterhoof Behemoth? That’ll do it. Activate Ezuri, Renegade Leader a bunch of times? That’ll do it too. Cast Finale of Devastation for an X of ten? That’s a lot.

As this series progresses, we’ll tackle a wide swathe of Magic formats, tuning and adapting our Elf decks over time as we revisit formats. On that note, for this Episode, we’re starting in…

Historic

The non-rotating format designed specifically for play on Magic Arena was originally devoid of an Elf deck, but Wizards of the Coast printed a few Elf pieces into the format via the Historic Anthology sets. Then came Jumpstart, a product about mashing together different themes, where Elves were lucky enough to get some new toys. We gained the shiny new Allosaurus Shepherd and had Elvish Archdruid and Craterhoof Behemoth added to the format (both of which are staples of Elf decks in other formats). Finally, Amonkhet Remastered provided the cherry on top – it added Collected Company to the format.

So, where does that leave us? Well, here’s the deck we’ll be starting with for Historic:

This deck is my own take on some Elf lists I’ve seen floating around. Some player prefer to take a more aggressive slant on the deck. They tend to include big beaters like Steel Leaf Champion and more lord effects in Elvish Clancaller. I’m sure we’ll try that version out at some point, but for now we are sticking to what Elves do best. [Editor’s Note: He’s talking about making mana again.]

The decklist falls into a few main categories:

Mana

The selection of mana-dorks in Historic isn’t ideal, but we can make do. We have the original ‘mana elf’ in Llanowar Elves, which is secretly the best card in the deck. The Modern Elves staple, Elvish Archdruid provides us with large amounts of mana from one creature and pumps our whole team for when we want to get aggressive. To supplement these two, we have Marwyn, the Nurturer, who is doing a good impression of being Archdruid copies 5 through 8 and Paradise Druid as a resilient 2-drop mana-dork. If Historic ever gets another 1-drop mana elf, such as Elvish Mystic or Fyndhorn Elves, Paradise Druid will be the first to step down. Finally, we have Llanowar Visionary, which is the combination of my favourite elf (Elvish Visionary) and Llanowar Elves.

Multi-Elves

Now, a lot of the cards we play care a lot about the number of Elves (or creatures) we control. To help prop up these counts, we play two cards that can put two Elves into play at the cost of one card. That’s almost like card advantage or something, whatever that is.

Collected Company also has the additional benefit of being an Instant, which allows us to play around countermagic and boardwipes by playing on our opponent’s turn.

Win Conditions

While playing a bunch of Elves and making a big Marwyn or pumping them all with an Archdruid can lead to some wins, we have a few cards that can really push things over the edge. All three of these cardstake the large number of Elves we’re playing and directly convert them into our opponent being dead.

Allosaurus Shepherd and Finale of Devastation provide additional utility in beating countermagic and tutoring for specific cards, whereas Craterhoof Behemoth just straight up kills people.

Sideboard

The sideboard for the deck is currently a work-in-progress. Hopefully we’ll get a better feel for it after we’ve played some games with the deck and seen what the Historic metagame looks like.

I’ve included some general purpose answers to things like board wipes (Heroic Intervention and Lead the Stampede), graveyard strategies (Loaming Shaman and Scavenging Ooze) and aggressive decks (Primal Might and Setessan Petitioner). We’ll see how well I’ve covered our bases against different archetypes during our games.

The Games

So, how did we do? I’d say pretty well, overall. We achieved 5 wins over 7 matches with our only two losses being to the same deck: Blue-White Control. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t come across any Goblin decks, seeing as people are talking about it being the boogeyman of the format at the moment and I think we have a real chance to compete against them in terms of speed. (I’d also rank our little red friends as the second best tribe in Magic after our Elves).

Grixis Control

Two of our matches were against Grixis Control, which we managed to do much better against compared to Blue-White. I’d put this down to a few factors. For starters, the Grixis board wipes could sometimes be beaten by making our creatures too big, rather than relying entirely on our sideboarded Heroic Interventions. There were situations where an activation of Allosaurus Shepherd would save us from an Anger of the Gods or our Marwyn was too big for Hour of Devastation. Furthermore, the Grixis decks lacked Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, a card that could seal the deal after a boardwipe, and Settle the Wreckage, which is probably the best ‘board wipe’ against us because it beats Craterhoof.

Grixis Pyromancer and Gruul Aggro

We were able to outmatch other more board-state oriented decks, like Grixis Pyromancer and Gruul Aggro, by generally outclassing them in board presence and synergy. Our game loss to Gruul came as our opponent removed a key elf, presenting a very fast clock while we stumbled to rebuild. I generally consider these to be good matchups and, as long as we respect how fast they can be, we don’t need to change the deck too much to deal with them.

Breach Combo

Fortunately for us, the one time we faced a combo deck, we were able to present a fast enough clock before they could assemble their combo in game one. This meant that our sideboard cards only had to pull their weight in one other game. This particular match-up would benefit greatly from more graveyard hate, but Scavenging Ooze did enough this time round to power us through. I don’t want to focus too much on this specific combo deck as there are many variations on the combo archetype that we can face and we need to be able to compete with them all.

Blue-White Control

Blue-White Control presented a near-insurmountable number of answers to what we’re trying to do. We really could do with a second one-mana mana-dork to help speed up the deck so that we can have a board presence AND an answer by the time they’re casting boardwipes. Furthermore, we can consider adding white mana to our deck so that we can run Shalai, Voice of Plenty in the sideboard as a silver bullet against Settle the Wreckage. Finale of Devastation gives us the ability to run a single copy of cards like Shalai and still reliably find them when needed.

White mana can also give us access to better graveyard hate in Rest in Peace and a bunch of additional silver bullets like Aven Mindcensor, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Containment Priest. This greatly improves our sideboard while also giving us the chance to try out some hidden gems like Huatli, Radiant Champion if we want to try and go even bigger than before.

The deck held up extremely well, however the exact numbers of cards can almost certainly be tweaked to make the deck run more smoothly.

Next Time

I’m excited to see how Zendikar Rising can help the deck. Next time we come back to Historic, we’ll be trying out Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood as a way of dropping our land count while increasing our chances of finding Craterhoof Behemoth. We’ll also be testing out the white sideboard plan, with new silver bullets Yasharn, Implacable Earth and Archon of Emeria helped along by the perfect new MDFC (Modal Double Faced Card) land, Branchloft Pathway // Boulderloft Pathway. We’ll also try out the more aggro version of elves at some point and see how that competes with the field.

However, we’re going to step away from Historic for a few weeks. Next time, we’ll be playing some GW Combo Elves in Modern and finding out what’s happened to the format in the last year. Join us then to see how often we can go infinite and make some arbitrarily large elves.