Welcome to Strixhaven, Magic The Gathering‘s take on Wizard School. This set introduces new takes on five of Magic’s two-colour combinations in the form of Strixhaven’s colleges. Each college specialises in a different way to study Magic, so the set has a heavy Instant-and-Sorcery theme. Here at Elves All The Way Down, a new set means new cards to review, so let’s get to them.
As always, I’ll be giving each card a rating out of five, shown at the end of that card’s entry.
Our first new tool isn’t an Elf, but gets to join the list of useful utility creatures that we often include in sideboards. Sometimes we just need to make our opponent not have a graveyard anymore. Callous Bloodmage is one of the best versions of this effect we’ve seen. When you don’t need to exile a graveyard, there are two other options you can choose from. To top it off, we can find him using Collected Company in Historic, Pioneer and Modern. Callous Bloodmage is a great addition to Green-Black Elf sideboards in multiple formats.
The first Elf of the set is a bit of dud. Accomplished Alchemist might be a mana dork, but a four-drop mana dork needs to do a lot of work. It does makes me want to try a life-gain focused version of Elves with Essence Warden and some untap effects. However, most Elf decks aren’t running enough life-gain to make this card into anything more than an overcosted and over-statted Paradise Druid.
Now here’s the card in the set that I’m most excited to talk about. I fully understand that Ecological Appreciation won’t be replacing powerhouse cards like Collected Company or Chord of Calling anytime soon. But the sheer flexibility and power ceiling of this new card make it interesting to build around and try out. I’m a sucker for cards like this: Gifts Ungiven is one of my favourite cards of all time. Digging around for cool cards to include as a single copy to power up a card like Ecological Appreciation is always fun.
Even though it won’t be making the cut in the most competitive Elf decks going forward, it’ll be a fun option to have.
Here’s the first of Strixhaven’s limited-focused Elf cards. Karok Wrangler is great in draft, but that’s where it’ll stay. Unfortunately, Elf decks are poorly positioned to take advantage of an ability that cares about casting multiple instants and/or sorceries.
Another limited card, so there’s not much to say here. It is interesting that power/toughness doubling effects work really well with lords, at least. Chameleon Colossus this is not.
Kianne, Dean of Substance//Imbraham, Dean of Theory
Kianna is an Elf Druid, but that’s all she’s really got going on. At three mana, you want a creature to do more than maybe draw you a land. The late game mana-sink to make Fractals is a nice place to put excess mana, but we can do better in the three-drop slot.
If Kianne was good enough to include in our decks, it would at least be fun that we also had a Bird Wizard we could sometimes play. However, I can’t come up with a theory with enough substance about an Elf deck that would want to include Kianne or Imbraham.
Witherbloom Command is an interesting, cheap utility spell. Unfortunately, the sorcery speed really kills it. Had the command been an instant, allowing for the -3/-1 mode to be used in combat while destroying a Chalice of the Void, maybe it would have had a chance. Similarly, if the destruction mode could hit permanents that cost three, like Ensnaring Bridge, that might have been good. However, the actual card doesn’t do enough to warrant trying over cards like Abrupt Decay or Assassin’s Trophy. This limits Witherbloom Command’s utility to the format where those two cards aren’t available: Standard. Elves aren’t doing great in Standard with only one set of real support, but if the upcoming D&D set gives us enough new tools to play with, Witherbloom Command might be an interesting sideboard card.
The Snarls add to the growing selection of of enemy-colour duals we have access to in Standard and Historic. While they’re probably not out-competing their fastland equivalents, they are a big boon to Standard. Let’s hope for some more Black Elves we want to cast using this to join Skemfar Shadowsage and Harald in the D&D set. Drow anyone?
Strixhaven Mystical Archive
Strixhaven also brought a swathe of powerful reprints to the Historic format in the form of Mystical Archive cards. Unfortunately for us Elves players, all of the Archive cards are instants or sorceries, so we don’t gain any old Elves. The only card that Elves have played historically – Natural Order – they preemptively banned. What’s worse is that a lot of them are powerful removal spells. If you’ve never had two mana dorks Electrolyzed, you’ve lived a blessed life. What this has effectively done is increase the power of the Historic format as a whole, without adding anything to Elves. As a result, Elves now feel much worse off. At least we get Krosan Grip, Inquisition of Kozilek and Weather the Storm for potential use in the sideboard.
That’s everything we’ve got to cover from Strixhaven. We’ll see everyone for another review when Modern Horizons 2 rolls around. While we wait for that release, we’ll be doing a retrospective on the effect Kaldheim has had on Elves. Join us for that next time.
Welcome back to the Elves All The Way Down review of Kaldheim – Magic the Gathering’s Norse mythology-themed expansion. Last time, we went over all of the Elves in the set and discussed their application in formats ranging from Standard to Modern. This time, we’re covering the cards with Changeling and other supporting cards.
I’d recommend having a look over Part One before reading this article if you haven’t already. Remember, all of this is from the point of an Elves player. If a card would be great in your Goblins or Homarids deck, that’s great and all, but we want to know how good it will be for Elves.
I’ll be going through the cards in Collector’s Number order again and giving every card a rating out of five trees (because who doesn’t like the Green mana symbol?)
What’s this, a three-mana wrath? That’s really not what I wanted to hear. As a player who loves tribal decks and playing to the board, Doomskar terifies me. I’m including it in this review because it’s just such bad news for Elves. In fact, it almost removes points from all our other cards just by being in the same set.
The problem here is that a lot of Elves lists I’ve played can go under a normal four-mana wrath effect. When we can’t, we can often have a counter ready in time – like Heroic Intervention or Selfless Spirit. When our opponent uses turn two to foretell Doomskar and then turn three to cast it, we’re probably doom(skar)ed.
I don’t have a graphic for negative Trees, but this card earned them.
Now here’s a card that can help us beat a boardwipe. While I’m most likely to be playing Green-Black Elves in Standard, I have dabbled with White in other formats. If a Green-White list does pop up, I can see this Angel making it into the sideboard for the Control match-up. The double White cost is a bit difficult, but foretelling it removes this hurdle.
The way Glorious Protector can help is by casting it in response to a boardwipe. We can effectively hide all of our (non-changeling) creatures under the Angel so that when it’s destroyed by the wrath, we get our creatures back.
Rally the Ranks
I’m including Rally the Ranks for completeness’ sake, but I’m not going to be running it in my Green-White Elves lists. We really need a critical mass of creatures for a lot of our other payoffs. As a result, a non-creature anthem effect isn’t what we’re looking for.
Reidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector’s Shield
Another potential sideboard option if we’re playing White, Reidane has a multitude of applications. On her front side, she can preemptively slow down boardwipes and decks with a snow manabase. Her ability to slow down big spells is worse against boardwipes than Glorious Protector, but having access to a mix of these two cards in the sideboard could be interesting.
Valkmira, on the other hand, provides utility against some damage-based sweepers and slows down targeted removal. As a bonus, it also messes up combat maths for our opponent.
All told, the two faces of this card aren’t the best at what they do. However, using a single sideboard slot to have access to both faces might still be worth it.
Getting to Blue means we’ve hit our first Shapeshifter. Now, Kinseekers are a card intended purely for limited, I realise. However, I’m contractually obliged to cover every Elf in the set and these Shapeshifters have Changeling – making them Elves.
I don’t see Littjara Kinseekers making a splash outside limited, but I do enjoy drafting it, so that’s a plus.
Here’s another faux-Elf for our Elf review: changeling strikes again. I’m definitely more excited for some of the Shapeshifters that we’ll cover in Green, but the Blue ones really aren’t cutting it.
Now this is an interesting card. Most of the cool applications I can think of for it will never be good enough for a serious constructed deck. However, I enjoy some of the theorycrafting I’ve seen around this card. You can cast Mystic Reflection on a Shaman of the Pack and then cast Collected Company and guarantee two more Shamans.
This is probably worse than just having another Elf in your hand to play, but it’s definitely cool. I kind of want to try and live that dream at least once, just so I can say I have.
Orvar, the All-Form
Orvar is another cool card, but this time I’ve got no cool applications in Elves decks to talk about. I guess if some weird Blue-Green list turned up, we could use bounce spells and protection spells to both save our Elves and make additional copies. The best thing I can think of is having Orvar in hand when our opponent casts Kroxa and discarding it to make another Lord.
Reflections of Littjara
Here’s a card I intend to do fun stuff with in EDH Elves. Doubling all of our Elves sounds really powerful, especially with enters-the-battlefield effects and Lords. Five mana is probably too much for this in 60-card formats. That said, I might throw it in the silly Mystic Reflection version I’ve got half brewed.
Crippling Fear is a really interesting sideboard option. If we’re struggling with aggressive creature-based decks, we can play our early turns as normal and accelerate into this rather than a Lord. I considered playing Eyeblight Massacre when Origins was in standard, but -2/-2 was never enough. Maybe -3/-3 is what the effect needed to be good enough?
Interestingly, we could even use it in Elves mirror-matches when we’re behind on board, by naming a different creature type. I expect pinpoint removal is better in that situation though.
This is the kind of card that I really want to be a good answer to boardwipes. However, getting to seven mana after all our Elves are killed is a tough ask. Costing two more mana than Patriarch’s Bidding is a lot, even if it is one sided. I’ll still be trying it for the grindy/controlling matchups because getting all of our creatures back is really appealing. I just think we’re better served by other ways of beating wraths.
Raise the Draugr
When Modern Horizons came out, I took note of Return from Extinction. While that card was never going to make the cut in Modern, it was worth remembering for formats like EDH. In the late game, drawing your best two dead Elves is nothing to sniff at; and if you’re ever trying to assemble a two card combo, this gets it back all at once.
Still, I don’t think Raise the Draugr will make the cut in any of the formats we’re looking at. It is a common though, which is worth remembering for Pauper.
Return Upon the Tide
I’m mostly bringing up this card because it makes some Elf tokens. We don’t really have any big Elves we want to bring back in Standard; nor can we afford the space for a slow card like this in our deck just to bring back a Canopy Tactician or Skemfar Shadowsage in the late game. If we had Craterhoof in Standard and could mill it with Harald Unites the Elves to bring back with this, that might be interesting. Still not worth the slot though.
Rise of the Dread Marn
I’ve always liked Caller of the Claw effects for beating boardwipes in more casual environments. While something like Skemfar Avenger can draw us a bunch of cards when all our Elves die, cards like this give us an immediate board presence to end the game. Both Caller and Rise of the Dread Marn might not make Elves, but the fact that we can probably swing for lethal the turn after a wrath is very interesting to me.
What adds to this card’s utility is the fact that it only needs one mana on the turn when it’s relevant. Caller of the Claw and Fresh Meat need you to leave up so much mana, so it can be really hard to do while also advancing our boardstate. Rise of the Dread Marn, on the other hand, can be foretold and then cast for a single Black mana. If Doomskar becomes prevalent, this is a card I’m sure to turn to.
This FTK call-back is the only Red card I’ll be covering in the review. Ravager does a similar thing to Skemfar Shadowsage (killing an opponent) or Thornmantle Striker (killing a creature or planeswalker). I won’t be running it over Shadowmage in any deck that’s running Black. I just wonder if there will ever be a Red version of Elves in Standard in which this could be a weird off-tribe include.
Blessing of Frost
I’m always looking for more ways to draw cards in Elves decks to keep us going after we dump our hand onto the battlefield. In Snow-based versions of the deck, Blessing of Frost could provide that kind of utility.
I’m just worried that our Elves won’t be big enough to make this draw more than two cards. If we had more Lord effects, it could be interesting. However, Lead the Stampede was in Ikoria and is much more reliable than this.
Fight spells are handy when you need to kill off a utility creature. While our Elves don’t tend to get big enough to kill midrange threats, the indestrucible bonus on Blizzard Brawl allows us to kill other small creatures without losing our Elf. This gives it way more utility than previous cards like Prey Upon. It only really fits into the dedicated Snow versions of Elves as a sideboard card, although I do wonder how often Primal Might will just do more in that slot.
I probably should have mentioned Elven Bow last week because it’s effectively a three-mana Elf in the set. I’ll be honest, I kind of overlooked it because it’s an equipment. If anything, it’s limited filler at best. Our Jaspera Sentinels already have reach for when we need to block things in the air, so an equipment that provides this utility is not going to make it.
Our first Green Shapeshifter is a bit of a miss. I’ve played weird Green-White builds of Elves in Standard before with Pollenbright Druid. However, that card was mostly used for the Proliferate mode. Our two-drop slot isn’t really lacking at the moment. Even it it were, two power for two mana with no other abilities isn’t really what we’re looking for.
Jorn, God of Winter // Kaldring, the Rimestaff
Jorn might not be an Elf, but if our Standard decks revolve around Snow-matters cards, he’s worth considering as an include. Being able to tap all of our mana in our first main phase and then getting to use it again after combat seems pretty strong. Jorn can even untap any of our Snow creatures, like Sculptor of Winter and Boreal Outrider, effectively granting them vigilance. While Jorn probably won’t be making it into many of my lists, I will probably try him as a one-of in my Snow variants.
Kaldring won’t be played very often. For starters, in the Mono-Green Snow lists, we’d need two Jaspera Sentinels to make the right colours. However, once in a blue moon it might enable us to keep replaying Sculptors and Outriders from our graveyard.
Another limited card that I need to cover due to the word ‘changeling’, Glade-Warden can be a real beating in draft or sealed. It’s not going to make it in constructed though. A four-drop 3/3 that doesn’t do anything immediately and can only be used at sorcery speed (rather than in response to a burn spell) is nowhere near good enough.
While Masked Vandal is very much a sideboard card, it’s a pretty good one. We don’t have access to Reclamation Sage in Standard at the moment and the next best best options are at threemana. They also aren’t Elves, which is a big deal when we need a critical mass for our synergies.
There will be games where we don’t have a creature in our graveyard to power the Vandal, but with the rate my Elves are dying on turn one or two at the moment, we’ll be fine most of the time.
We finally get to the card I’m most excited for in Kaldheim. While Elvish Warmaster might be the best card for improving Elves in multiple formats, Realmwalker has to be my favourite card from the set. I love cards that let you play with the top of the library. Oracle of Mul Daya, Courser of Kruphix and Vizier of the Menagerie have been great cards for me in the past. Realmwalker combines my love for playing with the top of the library with my love for tribal decks. Finally, an Elf that lets me play Elves from my deck!
Combined with cards in older formats like Birchlore Rangers of Heritage Druid, Realmwalker can just let us completely ‘go off’. We can build our deck with shuffle effects so that we can reset when there’s not an Elf on top. We can even name Beast on a second Realmwalker so that we can cast Craterhoof off the top (once they fix a bug to allow the second Realmwalker to work on MTGO).
To be honest, Realmwalker should probably get a lower rating than I’m giving it, but it’s my favourite Elf to be printed in a while – and it doesn’t even say Elf anywhere on the card.
Toski, Bearer of Secrets
If anyone tells you they don’t love Toski, they’re lying. Toski is the best Legendary Squirrel they’ve ever printed. It might not be an Elf, but we can draw a card for every Elf that hits our opponent? Sounds great to me.
In all seriousness, I will be trying Toski out because I’m reminded of Edric, Spymaster of Trest. Drawing cards whenever we hit our opponent is good, but we might struggle to get attacks in against some decks. As a result, Toski is most likely going to end up tested in the sideboard.
Moritte of the Frost
Moritte of the Frost is a cool card, but double Blue mana is a lot to ask. Had it been a clone that could copy any permanent – one that also counted as an Elf for our synergies -for only a single Blue, it might have been interesting. The flexibility to copy a Lord, Harald Unites the Elves or Skemfar Shadowsage based on what we needed more of at any given moment would have been handy. As it is, Moritte will just be too hard to cast and is probably too expensive at five mana anyway.
For Elves players, this is an Elvish Vanguard that starts one power and toughness bigger, for one more mana. Unfortunately, the one place that Elvish Vanguard is relevant is Pauper and this card is an uncommon.
Also, three mana compared to two mana is a huge difference for a card you want to play before all your other Elves. All-in-all, this isn’t Elvish Vanguard and this isn’t making our decks.
There have been a few effects like this in the past. Conspiracy, Xenograft and Arcane Adaptation were all cards that enabled some pretty wonky combos. For us, the effect will be picking up a Wirewood Symbiote to untap a creature and then just replay the Symbiote. This allows us to get around the once per turn restriction on Symbiote. However, as fun as this interaction is, I’ll be keeping it exclusively to EDH. In other formats, a four-mana play that doesn’t do anything immediately is not good for a deck that needs to be as assertive as Elves.
Something I haven’t mentioned in these reviews is that my favourite card of all time is Birthing Pod. I was playing KikiPod decks in Standard and then Modern before I ever cast a Heritage Druid or Ezuri. Now Wizards of the Coast have given me a special Elven Birthing Pod back after banning the original years ago!
However, there’s a catch – this Pod only works for a single creature type at a time. I really want this to be good, but the power of Pod lay in gaining access to a bunch of different utility creatures. That deck was often called a toolbox because it had access to so many different effects, and I don’t think we can emulate that with just Elves. Sure, we can play Dwynen’s Elite, leave the token behind and turn the Elite into a Reclamation Sage to destroy their stuff. We can draw a card off an Elvish Visionary and turn it into an Elvish Archdruid. I just don’t think there are enough Elven tools to fill a whole toolbox.
I want it to be good, but I don’t see it getting there.
Has a face. Who commissioned this?!
Facelessness aside, this is a cool snow land that could potentially go in the Mono-Green Snow variant of Elves. However, I’ve never put Mutavault in my Elf decks, so I don’t have high hopes. Utility lands take a premium spot in Elves lists because we really need Green mana on turn one and two. Drawing two of these as our first two lands would be devastating.
Our last card is one final Changeling. It gets a place here for technically being an Elf and having a kind-of-cool effect. A bigger, greener Faerie Miscreant is an interesting design (and this one scales if you have multiples), but I don’t think it’s going to do enough in the three-drop slot for us. I do want to Collected Company into two of these at some point. That’s more of a meme deck than anything though. I guess the joke is that you’re meant to make copies of these with the copy effects on Moritte and Mystic Reflection.
So, we’ve covered all the Elves and Elf-adjacent cards in the set. I have a newfound respect for people who review the entire set.
I hope my insights into some of these cards have been interesting and potentially informative. I’ll be sure to cover future sets as they come out. Let’s see what they bring for fans of our little Green friends!
I’ll be back to Elves All The Way Down articles next time. For now, thanks for reading.
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-manabrokenPlaneswalkers, 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).
Magic: The Gathering – Kaldheim’s Cutest Creatures Ranked
Gather round, young and old, for here’s a tale freshly told: Magic: The Gathering is off to Norse-land! The new set promises Viking-inspired sagas and ten whole realms to explore. What better way to mark the occasion than by introducing our cutest new friends from Kaldheim?
Lore-lovers and art-fanciers alike are in for a treat, because Kaldheim has its own series of showcase art treatments. To match the Norse theming, the special versions have their own frame, styled after the interlace designs found in Viking art.
But the resemblance is more than skin deep: read on to get a glimpse into the impressive world-building behind Magic’s latest plane. Because while the cuties are hogging the limelight here –out there? –there are sure to be dragons.
…Congratulations to our Honourable Cutie of Kaldheim, Infernal Pet!
Kaldheim’s Cutest Spells
Now, not all of the cutest creatures live on creature cards, especially with all the rune-magic and seidr going on in Kaldheim.
(Although they weren’t cute enough to make the list, it’s worth checking out the art on Kaldheim’s Saga cards. See if you can tell which ones were actually carved in wood!)
Before we dive into the top ten creatures, I’ve rounded up the three cutest non-creature spells from Kaldheim. I think you’ll agree they’re too lovely to exclude.
3. Wings of the Cosmos
“Argh, why am I doing this? Did you know we could fly?” I love how the rest of the pack is posed like a Renaissance tableau, with each wolf frozen in its best reaction pose. Bonus points for the wolf pups hiding at the edges.
2. In Search of Greatness
In Search of Greatness offers two cuties for the price of one. Toski and Sarulf (of Realm Eater fame) are definitely up to something here. It’s all a bit troubling: should this make me feel kinder towards Sarulf, or suspicious of Toski with his wee Viking braids?
1. Esika’s Chariot
If the glowing fluff-balls in the normal art are ‘how I think I look in the morning’, the showcase Viking art is more ‘WHO DARES DISTURB MY SLUMBER?!’ Raoul Vitale has also contributed this very fluffy cat token to match the draught cats.
Esika is the god of the World Tree, with a chariot based on Freya’s one from OG Norse mythology. I like to think we’re seeing Esika’s viewpoint as she despairs of getting the cats out of the chariot so she can get back on the road.
We’re calling it the Catmobile, sorry.
The Big Ten: all the cutest creatures in Kaldheim
The results are in! By which I mean “I made a spreadsheet.” Buckle up for a whistle-stop tour of the cutest creatures we’ll be meeting on our trip to Kaldheim.
10. Spirit of the Aldergard
Sounds suspiciously like ‘spirit of the elder god’, so possibly not cute in the scheme of things, but certainly bear-like. Its home, the Aldergard Forest, boasts scenic spots such as “The Cursed Tree, a massive oak that is perpetually covered in snow” and “The Skelle Mire, a dreary swamp”. No wonder he looks miffed.
You know a list is good when it starts with a bear!
(Don’t worry folks, I looked up the etymology of Aldergard. No old ones here! Alder: from root *el- (2) “red, brown,” used in forming animal and tree names; Gard: from PIE root *gher- (1) “to grasp, enclose.” Don’t say Hexagorgon isn’t educational.)
9. Goldspan Dragon
Wings? Four. Antlers? You bet. Talons? Fabulous. I initially thought the goldspan part referred to its wings, which are very much not gold. On closer inspection, the dragon is guarding the span of an ornate golden bridge. Probably helps deter tourists.
The most likely location for the bridge is Axgard, since the dwarves managed to build their city on top of an inexhaustible lake of molten gold, which they use like concrete.
I’m a fan of tiny dragons, but this certainly isn’t the cutest example, so it’s down at #9.
8. Fearless Pup
“Awoo”. From the background, our pup could be living among the Tuskeri, a boastful tribe of red-flavoured humans.
Is that a pile of curse-sticks he’s guarding? Has he been taught to play fetch with short stories? Wizards, if you want Fearless Pup to top this list, these are the questions you need to be answering.
7. Battlefield Raptor
Not that kind of raptor. This battlefield bird won me over with its rad composition and filigreed wings. At a glance, the armour could be mistaken for barred feathers; on closer inspection, it looks like beaten gold inlaid with rubies.
I’m no ornithologist, but I do know eagles are a type of raptor, which leads me to think this feathered friend might be aligned with Halvar, the white-flavoured god of battle. Conveniently, he was found as a baby in the nest of a giant eagle, so perhaps this is a long-lost nestmate. Either way, be glad the raptor has your back.
(FYI, pseudo-Odin-god Alrund spotted baby Halvar in the nest, named him, then left him to be raised by dwarves for twenty years because he had other stuff going on. I have a lot of time for Halvar.)
6. Boreal Outrider
You know how reindeer look really cool as mounts but always require a six-month scavenger hunt and a severed head to unlock? What I’m saying is, don’t mess with Boreal Outrider.
From a lore perspective, the elves of Kaldheim are a particularly hardy bunch (read not to be messed with). They survived losing a war against the current gods, being kicked out of the pantheon, and even having their race cut in half with a magical axe* (that’s why some are Green-aligned tree-dwellers and others Black-aligned tunnel-dwellers.)
It takes otherwordly resilience to wake up every morning and decide to stay in the forest realm where your former leaders are eternally imprisoned in trees. The scenery is pretty nice, to be fair.
*Surprise! This one’s on Halvar.
5. Pilfering Hawk
I don’t think this stone-cold badass cares what you call it. The flavour text refers to the Beskir, a white-flavoured tribe of humans working to bring peace to Bretagard (the human realm). I like to think she has a Robin Hood pilfering situation going on, whereby her controller benefits from her canny ways.
4. Gods’ Hall Guardian
Surprise surprise, it’s another cosmos monster.
The best ratter in the ten realms, depicted here chilling in the rafters of the Gods’ Hall in Istfell. All the souls of animals end up in Istfell, so this cat probably has its work cut out.
Funnily enough, the gods surrounded Istfell with a river-moat and a stonking great wall specifically to keep the cosmos monsters from getting in and nibbling the roots of the World Tree. Was the Guardian too cute to keep out?
3. Vega, the Watcher
It’s a magical owl (yes, and a cosmos monster.) What were you expecting at this point?
Bonus points for the showcase art, which manages to look metal as all Hel without losing the fluffy owl texture. I think that’s what makes me look at a winged predator with a revolving head and go ‘awwww!’
Vega hangs out near the Gods’ Hall, presumably clearing up any ghostly mice that evade the Gods’ Hall Guardian.
2. Toski, Bearer of Secrets
Cutie with a prosthetic arm and a mystical scroll-tail. Will keep your secrets super safe on account of being unable to talk.* Apparently he communicates telepathically with Esika, god of the World Tree… So why is his tail covered in writing? Does he have trouble remembering the secrets?
Despite his diminutive size, Toski is actually one of the cosmos monsters –you know, like the world-eating serpent Koma. So that’s a bit less cute.
*Except that one time Alrund beat him up and took his secrets for some epic quest chain.**
**Yes, Alrund was busy punching the secrets out of cosmos monsters when he could have been raising Halvar.
Wait, number 2? What did you think was cuter than Toski?!
1. Axgard Cavalry
Tally-ho! Look at the face on that charger! Who else will carry you so joyfully into battle, in that getup?
Surprising nobody, the dwarves brought the cutest cavalry to the cosmic battle.* You’d be mad not to. This goat is having the time of its life, and you’re going to love hearing about it at the afterlife-party in Istfell. Somebody get this hero a drink.
*Did I mention dwarves are cool? Their currency is iron, which is both metal and something of a flex.
Oh, what stories will be told! This set is one for the skalds. We can’t wait to get our hands on pre-release packs, but in the meantime you can find all your new friends on Arena.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hello everyone and well done on surviving 2020. With the year finally coming to a close, I thought I’d look back at my personal highlights and favourite cards of the last 12 months. I’ll get to the main list momentarily, but first…
I know Skyclave Apparition is a good card and I accept that it’s probably better for the game that it exists. However, as a player whose favourite deck is synergy-based and plays to the board, my strategy is easily dismantled by the Apparition’s ability. The fact that when the Apparition dies (often from having to trade with one of my Elves) I only get back a rubbish 3/3 rather than my Elvish Archdruid really hurts me on a personal level.
Omnath, Locus of Creation
Omnath mirrors were a guilty pleasure of mine. While I understand that the card was probably a bad idea for Standard and put a lot of players off, I will miss being able to have two of these decks jam huge turns against each other. Omnath, you will be remembered, for better or for worse.
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Blue-Green is my favourite colour combination. If you’d told me a year ago that they would print a recurrable threat in my favourite colours that drew cards, ramped and gained life and was legendary to boot, I’d have been pretty stoked. What we got though, was a card tuned up so much that it became a ubiquitous include across multiple formats and made everyone even more sick of Simic, especially after the Oko debacle. I should be happy that my favourite colours get the best toys. Instead, I’m just tired of them breaking formats and making everyone sad.
Now, a note on the actual top 10. This is an extremely subjective list – I’ve picked cards that exemplify high points of the year for me in terms of Magic. This includes cards that represent favourite draft archetypes, novel mechanics, great art and new cards for old decks. Anyway, without further ado:
#10: Chromatic Orrery
We start with a costly colourless card from M21. However, it’s not Ugin. Instead, it’s the 7-mana mana rock, Chromatic Orrery. This card hasn’t made much of a splash in competitive formats, but it has become a pet card of mine.
In Magic: The Gathering Arena, it lets me build what can only be called nonsense 5-colour Green decks: a bunch of ramp, Karn, the Great Creator and some big X-spells to finish things off. Need to draw more cards off your Orrery? Fetch Sphinx of the Guildpact from your Karnboard. Need to kill your opponent dead? Electrodominance will do the trick. Need to hit more lands and spells? Escape to the Wilds costs 5 mana and that’s exactly the amount Orrery makes. I’m not saying this deck or Chromatic Orrery were good, but I sure did find them fun, and that’s why it’s one of my favourite cards this year.
Unfortunately, a lot the key pieces I was using didn’t survive rotation, but the Orrery itself did. Maybe it’ll make a comeback later on this year, but for now, it’ll live on in my memory.
#9: Miara, Thorn of the Glade
They made my favourite tribe a draft archetype in a Commander product, you say? Count me in. It’s been a long while since I was able to draft Elf tribal in any format (last time Lorwyn flashback drafts were on Magic Online, to be exact). As a result, I was very happy to find out that this year’s multiplayer product was an EDH draft format called Commander Legends. The very first time I got to draft the set, I managed to pull together a very strong version of the BG Elves archetype with Miara and Kamahl, Heart of Krosa as the commanders. Kamahl might as well be an honorary Elf as far as I’m concerned.
My experiences playing the deck were a blast and it was Miara who led the charge. Let’s hope that BG Elves make the upcoming Kaldheim an enjoyable draft format.
#8: Indulging Patrician
Indulging Patrician wins my award for best art of the year. Does that award count for anything? Not really, but it’s how it made this list. Miranda Meeks really knocked this one out of the park. The visual storytelling in the piece combined with the strong use of colour hit me immediately. It only got better the more details I spotted.
It also helps that the WB archetype that Indulging Patrician is the signpost uncommon for is quite fun. (Even if it isn’t my favourite archetype in the set – more on that later). I drafted the set a lot and had fun with multiple copies of Indulging Patrician closing out games with alarming speed.
#7: Dreamtail Heron
Dreamtail Heron is here as a poster bird for the Mutate mechanic. Despite initial concerns that the mechanic would lead to too much rules complexity, the designers at Wizards of the Coast kept things manageable. In part, that meant ensuring cards with Mutate didn’t come with a pile of additional complications. (I’m looking at you, Characteristic Defining Abilities.) The mechanic played a lot better than expected, especially with this year’s Magic mostly being played on Arena, which handled all the details of the mechanic for players. I found the mechanic itself extremely enjoyable, despite the risk involved with going all-in on one creature.
So, why did I pick Dreamtail Heron? Well, my favourite thing to do in the format was to mutate a Dreamtail Heron onto a Thieving Otter. Not only do you get draw cards from the interaction (the best thing to do in Magic), you also get to give a cute otter some majestic wings. That’s a win-win from me.
#6: Llanowar Visionary
I’ve always said that my favourite card in Elves was Elvish Visionary (to the point where I’m a little sad most Modern lists have cut it). Such an innocuous card at face value, Elvish Visionary has been the glue holding together a lot of the decks I’ve played over the years. This year, Wizards decided to mash together my favourite elf with one of the best mana-elves from the very beginning of Magic: Llanowar Elves. What we got was a card that, while not the best in either slot, fulfils two key roles.
Llanowar Visionary made it into my Historic Elves decks for a short while before Jumpstart made Elvish Archdruid legal in the format. I even tried it in Pioneer, where Archdruid isn’t available, and it managed to advance the board state while digging for key pieces. However, I think Llanowar Visionary‘s time to shine has yet to come. Kaldheim is just round the corner and I’m hoping for my favourite tribe to make a foray into Standard for the first time since Dominariarotated.
#5: Sprite Dragon
When I’m not playing Elves, I enjoy playing a vary wide range of decks in all sorts of formats. A pet deck style of mine is ‘Miracle Grow’: you play cheap creatures that grow as you play spells and protect them with light disruption while they finish the game for you. Sprite Dragon, along with M21’s reprint of Quirion Dryad, rekindled my interest in the deck and I’ve been jamming it in Historic alongside Deeproot Champion from Ixalan. I’m happy that the faerie dragon has given me another chance to play the deck, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it make it all the way back to Vintage as a threat that benefits from all the restrictedcards.
#4: Sublime Epiphany
As mentioned previously, I drafted a lot of M21. I found the format extremely fun and my favourite archetype was UR spells. I wanted to include Sublime Epiphany here as a representative of that draft format, but also as my favourite card combo to try for when drafting the set. It might be a little Magical-Christmas-Landy, but I managed it multiple times.
All you need is a Sublime Epiphany and as many copies of Shipwreck Dowser as you can get. Now you can lock your opponent out in a manner similar to the Modern EternalCommand decks of old.
Counter your opponent’s spell, copy your Dowser and get back your Sublime Epiphany. Also, draw a card and maybe bounce a thing. The world is now yours. Opponent tries to get round this by not doing anything on their turn? Just bounce their best thing, copy your Dowser, draw a card and get back your Epiphany. Congratulations, you’ve most likely won the game.
Best New Old Card: Bramblewood Paragon
Before we move on to the top 3, I wanted to give out a Best New Old Card award. The ‘Best New Old Card’ award is given to a card that’s been out for a while already, but found new use in my decks due to other new cards’ being printed or changes in formats and metagames.
Bramblewood Paragon is an elf that gives a payoff for playing Warriors in your deck. I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind, but it’s never seemed good enough to include in my elf decks because the warrior count has never been high enough.
This new version of Elves is great fun and brings a new angle from which to attack the Modern metagame, with a more aggressive bent. Being able to pick from multiple variants of the deck is always an advantage.
When the Modal Double-Faced Cards were announced, there was a lot of scepticism surrounding them. It has been dangerous in the past to allow decks to run low lands counts and still be able to cast spells. Goblin Charbelcher and Oops All Spells can utilise these new cards to cast their combo pieces that rely on the decks’ not having any actual land cards in them. As a result, these styles of deck have had a resurgence in Modern.
However, I’m here to talk about the more fair uses of the MDFCs. In a deck that only wants lands that make Green mana (Elves), the opportunity cost of including Turntimber, Serpentine Wood is extremely low. The upside in the lategame is huge. Instead of drawing another land, we effectively draw the best creature in the top seven cards of our library. We can hit a Craterhoof, we can hit a Lord and even if we hit a less-than-stellar creature, it gets to come in with three +1/+1 counters, making it a threat by itself. The best ‘miss’ I’ve had is Steel Leaf Champion, for a 8/7 elf that’s hard to block. The counters even synergise with Bramblewood Paragon and Growth-Chamber Guardian in the Bramble Elves deck to give trample or go fetch another Guardian.
Turntimber Symbiosis is the best sort of card a tribal player such as myself could hope for from a set which doesn’t include your prefered tribe as a theme. It joins other favourite cards like Collected Company and Chord of Calling as great options for Green-based creature decks.
#2: Conspicuous Snoop
Despite my love for Elves, I’m not a purely one-tribe kind of person. I really enjoy tribal synergies wherever I find them. From Merfolk to Elves, from Cats to Scarecrows, if I can find some lords and/or some payoffs, I’ll give it a go.
Core 21, in addition to making a bunch of early entries on this list, gave my second favourite tribe a new toy to work with. Conspicuous Snoop made me hopeful for Goblins in Historic and gave us some great new combos to work with in Modern. While Jumpstart pushed Historic Goblins too far with the addition of Muxus, Goblin Grandee, Modern Goblins have been a blast. Snoop allows us to combo off almost as if we were playing Splinter Twin – getting to play our normal strategy (a tribal deck, rather than a tempo deck in Twin’s case) with a combo that can immediately end the game always looming for the opponent to worry about.
To top it off, Conspicuous Snoop also has great art. A characteristically comedic goblin, Snoops can’t help but fail at sneaking around, but we love him anyway.
#1: Allosaurus Shepherd
There is no other card that I could give my #1 card of 2020 to than Allosaurus Shepherd. The best elf printed this year – in the Jumpstart Elf pack no less – brings so much to the table that I’m sad I don’t get to play it in the formats between Legacy and Historic.
Allosaurus Shepherd provides insurance against counterspells for all of our spells (even cards like Collected Company or Green Sun’s Zenith) while also giving us an alternate win-con by mounting all our elves onto dinosaurs and mauling our opponent. This activation also provides safety against damage- or toughness-based sweepers and a way of attacking for chip damage by threatening to use it.
All in all, it’s probably no surprise that Allosaurus Shepherd is my favourite card of the year, seeing as I’ve even tried jamming it in Vintage (to little success so far, but I have high hopes). Let’s hope that 2021 provides us with as good an elf as 2020 did. Here’s looking forward to Kaldheim.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 prowessthreats 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 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.
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.
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…
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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