Welcome to Kaldheim, Magic: The Gathering’s Norse mythology-themed world. It’s full to the brim with Gods, Dwarves, Berserkers, Giants, Trolls and (most importantly) Elves. For the first time since Dominaria rotated, Elves might be a viable deck in Standard. I’m not saying my Elves deck from back then was good in that meta, but at least there was one. What’s more, the set introduces some new cards that are in consideration for inclusion in Modern Elves lists, which is a pretty rare occurrence.
In fact, the set is so full of cards that are worth discussing, I’m going to have to split it into two parts just to cover everything. Given that an Elf review for a recent set like Core 21 would have been 4 cards long, this is quite a big deal for Elf fans.
Part One will discuss the actual Elves in Kaldheim and other cards that directly reference them. Part Two will cover the Shapeshifters, general tribal-matters cards and other supporting cast.
We’re going in Collector’s number order if you want to skip ahead to the cards you’re curious about (that’s the number in the bottom left of the card). I’ll talk about each card in turn and finish things off with a rating out of 5 Trees.
I’m going to cover every elf in the set. A lot of them are meant for limited rather than constructed, but I wanted to go over them for the sake of completeness. Talking about limited…
This angry elf seems pretty good for a 2-drop. Any pump effect means you’re left with a body when they die. While this makes the card an interesting inclusion if there are any good lords around, the token is a Zombie, not an Elf, so it’s not too useful for us in constructed.
This little guy reminds be of Thornbow Archer, but with an activation cost. Thornbow Archer never made it in Elf decks, so I don’t have high hopes for Duskwielder.
Here we have a reverse Elvish Visionary, which is a card very close to my heart. While the body left behind isn’t much to write home about, the effect isn’t too shabby. While I’m not excited about playing the Disciple, I’ll definitely try it out. Although it probably isn’t good enough, I do want to try using Collected Company to put one or two of these into play in my opponent’s draw step in Historic, but I expect it to mostly stay in Standard if it sees much play at all.
While this card is mostly for limited, there is some synergy with cards like Harald Unites the Elves and Raise the Draugr that is worth being aware of. Lifelink is nice too, but we don’t really want three-mana 3/1s for our constructed decks without a better ability.
I like what Avenger is doing: giving us a way to refill our hand when we get boardwiped is great, and the two-mana 3/1 body is quite aggressive. If there’s a more aggressive version of Elves, this will slot right in. I really wish that the card didn’t say ‘another’, though. Given the way it’s written, our opponent just needs to kill the Avenger first and then boardwipe us, and we’ll get nothing.
I love me some Shaman of the Pack, and while this isn’t Shaman of the Pack, it’s close enough for Standard that I’ll be putting some of these in my lists. I do like the ability to gain life when you can’t kill an aggro opponent and need a bit of a life cushion. Shadowsage won’t replace Shaman in any formats where the latter is legal, but in other formats it will do a good impression. Maybe you just need a 5th copy of Shaman in Modern, even if it can’t be hit off Collected Company.
While a three-mana 3/2 without an immediate effect isn’t great, I find Boreal Outrider interesting and start to wonder if there is a snow version of Elves that could show up in Standard. The problem is that mana produced by mana dorks doesn’t help with the Outrider’s ability unless they’re snow creatures. I just really like how these work in multiples.
It seems like Dwynen’s Elite has grown up since we last saw them. Paying two more mana for an extra point of power and always getting the token probably isn’t worth it. The two separate bodies you get would work well if we had a cheaper lord effect, but the Elf lord of the set is 4-mana, which is unfortunate. The Mentor probably isn’t going to make it, but I’ll keep them in mind in case we find ourselves needing a critical mass of Elves rather than efficiency.
A lot of people are talking about this card being the actual new Dwynen’s Elite. It makes up for being less immediately explosive (Heritage Druid + Dwynen’s Elite is a tried and true combination) by being better in the long run. Effectively, it’s giving you an Elf every turn as long as you can play one first; and a game-ending activation is quite a lot for a two-drop. This guy will definitely be a staple in the Standard list and I’ll be sure to try him out in other formats, too. I don’t think he’ll replace Dwynen’s Elite, but he might be a good include alongside it. I just wish he wasn’t limited to triggering once a turn.
Vanilla five-mana 5/5s are never going to make it into a constructed deck. I do like how this Bear-Elf team-up reminds me of HexaGorgon draft streams though. It’s an Elf and a Bear versus the world (sometimes with other friends coming along too).
My kingdom for Elvish Mystic. I know a one-drop mana dork has implications for Standard beyond our little tribal bubble. I just wish Wizards of the Coast would give us a Gnarlroot Trapper or something. That way, it doesn’t work for other decks and doesn’t mess up Standard. I’ll be playing Jaspera Sentinel because we need one-drops and it does accelerate us, but I won’t be happy about it.
Sculptor of Winter
This card might not be the best ramp ever as two mana is -strangely -a lot more than one. However, I’ve played Paradise Druid and Incubation Druid in my Elves decks before and they fulfil a role. If there is a snow version of Elves, this fits right in. To be honest, it’s a likely include even if snow doesn’t matter much. We’re likely to have plenty of Forests and making those Snow-Covered Forests isn’t very difficult.
The first thing I heard about Elves in Kaldheim was that we were getting an Elf-centric Planeswalker. I was not disappointed. While Tyvar doesn’t fit into the recent trend of three-mana broken Planeswalkers, he packs a lot into one card.
His passive turns all of our Elves into mana-dorks. This probably enables a second play on the turn we cast him. The +1 ramps immediately by untapping an Elf (which is a mana dork because of the passive) or gives that Elf deathtouch to make attacks easier if we don’t need the mana. The 0 ability gives us a steady stream of Elves and is possibly the mode we’ll be using the most. The ultimate is powerful, but we’ll be using the 0 so much that it often won’t be neccessary. However, I do like the fact that you can use Tyvar’s ultimate immediately when combined with Doubling Season on Legs.
All in all, Tyvar will be one of the main reasons to be trying Elves in Standard and I’ll be even trying him out in Modern at some point (whether or not a four-mana Planeswalker is any good in that format).
Harald, King of Skemfar
Harald reminds me a lot of Tajuru Paragon, a card that I’ve enjoyed trying in Pioneer Elves. While Harald costs one mana more at base, you don’t need to pay anything extra to get the card draw/selection. Harald seems like a bigger Elvish Visionary and that’s no bad thing. He’ll add to our board while digging deeper into our deck. They even let him hit Tyvar if we’re lucky. I’ll be trying Harald out in Standard and Historic and look forward to seeing him when I cast Collected Company.
Harald Unites the Elves
A four-mana saga isn’t really what Elves in older formats like Modern are looking for, but I really like this as an include in Standard. The fact that the first chapter immediately puts the Elf you want into play rather than your hand is a big deal. The pump on the second chapter might be better than the lord I’ll be talking about in a moment. Finally, the last chapter will be quite useful for clearing away blockers on what will hopefully be our alpha-strike turn. That’s a lot of value for four mana, and being able to get Tyvar with this is just gravy. This card also gets me thinking about what the biggest hit possible with the first chapter is. Maybe a Morophon, the Boundless or Gladehart Cavalry in Commander.
Darkbore Pathway // Slitherbore Pathway
I’m including this land here as it is one of the best bits of Green-Black fixing we’ve seen in a while. It will be a big help to us, seeing as we’re most likely going to be playing Green-Black in Standard. The pathways are good enough that we might see them popping up in Elves decks in other formats too.
The drawback of this being a tapped land in the early turns of the game is probably too much. It’s worth keeping in mind though, in case we have space for some utility lands. Clearing a creature from our opponent’s board while getting more Elves is a powerful effect from a land. I’m glad it makes Green mana, rather than Black, because that’s what we’ll be using most often.
While Kaldheim doesn’t have any Elf lords in the draft environment, the Theme Boosters provide us with one. Unfortunately, it costs four mana, which is probably too much. I’ll be giving it a go, seeing as it both pumps Elves and makes three mana. However, this one won’t be getting beyond Standard. Our four-drop slot is going to be quite competitive already. Tyvar, Shadowsage and the Saga all fill that slot. If we can go wide enough, a lord might still be worth it, whatever the cost. I do like the fact that the mana ability works really well with Tyvar’s untapping +1 ability, though.
Another card from the Theme Boosters, this one is less likely to make the cut. While getting an Elf back when it dies is good, the immediate value when played is just a three-mana 3/1. What’s worse is that, if this is the first Elf to die, it might as well have been a 3/1 vanilla creature.
I really wish this Theme Booster card cost one mana fewer, even if that meant it had a smaller body. A removal spell for a Planeswalker or a Creature on a body is really powerful; I just wish it were more efficient. I might try it in the sideboard as an answer to specific threats, but I don’t think it’s making the maindeck.
The last Elf Theme Booster-exclusive card is an instant-speed Elvish Promenade. Now, I like Promenade and have played it as a one-of in a few older (and probably not optimised) Modern lists. It was never really good in those decks, mostly functioning as a win-more. However, I still liked it as a pet card. Now, for Standard, the card might be good enough. While it’s still bad against removal and sweepers, the instant-speed version of this effect allows us to turn a medium boardstate into a big one on our opponent’s end-step.
There are a few other tricks to look out for, like casting this in response to Harald Unites the Elves’ second chapter trigger to make all tokens immediately become 2/2s. This is the sort of card that works well with a lord or Craterhoof Behemoth-like effect. The issue being that this, Tyvar, the saga and the lord we’ve been given all compete for the 4-drop slot. I’ll still be giving it a try though.
That’s all the Elves and Elves-centric cards in Kaldheim covered. Next time, I’ll finish up by diving into the Shapeshifters and supporting cast. If you’re wondering where the best card in the set for Elves is, it’ll be there.
Join us then for more Elves (or at least some strange masked creatures that apparently count as Elves).