“Are you really going to play that deck Vidi?” I asked across the hotel room. The German television station that was on intermingled with the sound of cards shuffling as Vidianto Wijaya finished resolving a Summoner’s Pact for Birchlore Ranger. “I tested the lists I found on Magic-League and thought they were pretty bad if you didn’t draw Glimpse.”
Vidi looked up from his complicated game state and shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah why not?” He flicked his cards back and forth. “You can always just get ‘em with Predator Dragon if you don’t have Glimpse” he said grinning.
I laughed. “The deck is tempting but I just don’t feel like it’s good enough. There are going to be plenty of Firespouts and Explosives out there for all of the Zoo decks.”
“The deck is scrappy. You can win games in a lot of different ways. You’ll see.”
How quickly people forget. It’s bliss not knowing; to be stuck in the calm of the storm oblivious to the torrent on the horizon. But the storm always arrives. Oh yes it does. And when it reaches the banks of the shore the town unfortunate enough to run into the geographic anomaly is quickly silenced.
Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have a lookout on your side. So you can escape the storm. Or perhaps if you were so inclined to use it in your favor.
Well there’s a Green storm on the horizon.
- 3 Elves of Deep Shadow
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 2 Regal Force
- 1 Viridian Zealot
- 4 Boreal Druid
With the rotation of Wirewood Symbiote Wirewood Hivemaster and Birchlore Rangers many set the deck aside. Like a good story retold slightly worse an elf deck appeared on the Standard scene after M10’s release which had pieces of the Berlin deck. But with the rotation of Lorwyn block it vanished.
At Pro Tour: Austin one copy of elves made it into the Tournament Center’s top decks. And that was it. Worlds testing ensued. History became legend. Legend became myth. And some things that should not have been forgotten… were lost.
So it waited. Until it was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable…
Yes a spider. A ruler of arachnids to be more precise. Jesse Mason – you might know him better as Kingcobweb across the internet – found what has been lost to time and begin to work on it.
Jesse and I have always had an odd relationship. As the premier MTGSalvation forum troublemaker by which all new troublemakers are measured by we ended up chatting on AIM numerous times. Eventually the stern chats would evolve into deck discussion and over time we forged a friendship which continued even after he was banned from the website. Usually it would involve him showing me some homebrew combo deck and me dismantling him in a few quick games with some Blue deck but I digress.
Through our play and his foray into Magic Online Jesse grew as a player and over time he became formidable in his own right. He made his first PTQ Top 8 last season with TEPS and I suspect that is not the last we will see of Jesse’s success on the competitive Magic circuit.
This season when Jesse sent me a Facebook message on the first of the year about Elves I was excited. I thought Jesse was onto something. But with only a day to properly test before my PTQ and everybody around telling me there was no way elves could be good I was forced to set the deck aside.
I immediately began to work on Elves as soon as I could following the PTQ. Jesse and I worked hard and innovated made modifications and drew off what we knew. With his great mind for combo decks and my breadth of knowledge about strategies that have worked in the past we tried out every iteration of the deck we could and began to grind out Magic Online queues. Our opponents in 8-man after 8-man fell like children kicking upright dominos even making the Extended queues with their poor prize payout profitable. We moved on to Daily Events trying out the most extreme ideas to come to the optimal build. This past week alone the deck has had 8 finishes of 3-1 or better in Daily Events. On Saturday I played in a GPT for Oakland and made Top 4. On Sunday I made Top 8 of the Magic Online PTQ.
Right now there is no other deck I would play.
But I will warn you. It comes at a cost. This deck may be cheap to build and play a lot of elves but it is no Mono Red Burn in terms of playskill. This deck is difficult to play. For the first week you play it you may have migraines. The best way I can describe the deck is that playing it is like memorizing math algorithms. Knowing which order to cast your elves in when to Pact or Weird Harvest first and what you can and cannot go off with is a true exercise in memorization for this English major.
Every time I have lost with this deck in the past week with the exception of my Top 8 match in the online PTQ I can honestly say I know why I lost and pinpoint the mistake I made. This deck definitely rewards the better player.
For those who don’t understand how the deck works you use Glimpse of Nature and/or Regal Force alongside Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid to draw a bunch of cards and put your deck into play on your combo turn. You then kill them by Primal Commanding every land they have on top of their library gaining a bunch of life if necessary and then attacking them the next turn (don’t forget to pay for your Pacts first!) for far over whatever their life total is.
Every time you cast Command you shuffle your graveyard back in so you can continue the process. (Ideally Primal Command plus two Weird Harvests cast for 0 each time to net you a mana after you have cast two Glimpses in the turn so that each Elf you cast draws Harvest Harvest Glimpse.) Even if a deck like Martyr of Sands gains an inordinate amount of life you can still kill them by having over a hundred power of elves in play and them having no permanents.
And you can consistently do this on turn 3 or 4. (As early as turn 2 though!)
It should be noted that for Magic online play the deck is slightly different. Primal Command is currently bugged (although it’s supposed to be fixed in the upcoming January 27th patch) and you cannot use both the “put a noncreature permanent on top of its owner’s library” mode in conjunction with the “shuffle target player’s graveyard into their library” mode. While you can still loop with 3 Primal Commands in your deck and often I will sideboard into that plan you don’t really want three maindeck. As a result the online maindeck is -1 Primal Command +1 Akroma’s Memorial and the sideboard is -1 Thorn of Amethyst +1 Primal Command.
Some of the card choices in this deck are unquestionable. Nettle Sentinel Heritage Druid and Glimpse of Nature are cards you have to have four of and it is obvious why. Some of the other cards are necessary four-ofs too but it might be less obvious.
Elvish Archdruid is the one new addition from last year. Fortunately it is one of the strongest cards in the deck. If your opponent lets you untap with an Archdruid you have cast on turn 2 or 3 it is always disastrous for them. Until you tap him every elf you play essentially costs G less. Not only does that mean you’re going to put most of your hand into play – if not just kill them – but it tremendously aids your beatdown plan. With Archdruid your beatdown plan is surprisingly strong this year. I’ve had a lot of turn 4 beatdown kills. In fact I have probably won more games via elf beatdown than by comboing my opponent out.
The Archdruid also has the convenient casting cost of 3 which plays well with your elves by coming out on turn 2. Not to mention the surprisingly common draw of 2 one-mana elves a Heritage Druid and an Archdruid – putting 8-10 points of power into play on turn 2! I’ve joked about this deck’s draws resembling Affinity but sometimes it really does feel that way.
The 11 G-cost mana elves – Llanowar Elves Elves of the Deep Shadow and Boreal Druid – are there to help power out a turn 2 Archdruid and to ensure you can put as many elves into play as possible. You really want one on turn 1 as often as possible and having more is seldom bad. It’s important you have a threshold of one mana elves for comboing out and after testing them both I would much rather have Llanowar Elf and its brethren than Essence Warden.
The innocuous Elvish Visionary is incredible. He digs you deeper to your combo and sideboard cards and helps you to not fizzle while you’re going off. He gives you more gas on an aggressive Elvish Archdruid draw. He makes a combo hand of two elves a lot more attractive since he acts as two draws if you’ve cast a Glimpse of Nature. When you’re going off and have to Pact or Weird Harvest but aren’t going to have enough mana for a Regal Force Elvish Visionary is your man. The original list Jesse sent me only had three and after playing a few games moving it to four was the first change I made. I would not play less.
Summoner’s Pact is by far the best tutoring card available. It finds you whichever creature you are looking for at no cost and is even reasonable when you’re on the beatdown plan so you can go find Archdruid. It also untaps your Nettle Sentinels for free so it can also just provide you with free mana sometimes. You would never want to play any less.
Moving on the two-ofs Regal Force is a card which some might make the mistake of only playing one copy of. That’s wrong. So many times has the second Regal Force been crucial. Not to mention a lot of times you can just cast him on turn three or four if he’s in your hand and draw five or six cards which usually assures victory that turn or the next. You want to make sure you have multiples in case something happens to the first one too. He’s definitely better than Skullmulcher because of your beatdown plan. While I do tend to board one out when I’m moving off the combo plan in favor of more disruption you definitely want two maindeck.
Primal Command is there for the kill and is also very good at just locking the game up on turn 4 or 4 if you cast it plowing a land and search for a creature. For the online version of the deck with just one maindeck Primal Command it should be noted that’s not just because I needed a cut for Akroma’s Memorial. I wanted to move down to two Weird Harvests and move a card from the sideboard in and I felt like I would rather have 1 maindeck Primal Command than 1 maindeck Jitte. If you’re playing online feel free to experiment with either though.
Primal Command is the most elegant kill card because it actually does something outside of your combo. Grapeshot means you have to play something like Manamorphose and I would much rather have Primal Command anyway so I can just cast it if I need to
Weird Harvest is a card a lot of people experimented with last season but the better lists ended up with Chord of Calling. Chord is a lot weaker this year without Wirewood Hivemaster fueling it and Weird Harvest is better because of Elvish Archdruid. Some people have a card like Cloudstone Curio in this spot but in our playtesting we didn’t find Curio very good at all. It was usually only good when you were going off otherwise it was a three-mana do nothing card. Weird Harvest does a lot that Curio doesn’t. You can cast a Harvest against Zoo for example and whatever they find is irrelevant game 1 unless you can’t kill them the next turn. Granted there are plays Curio enables Harvest doesn’t but on the whole I think Harvest is the stronger choice for the deck.
You never want to see two early on (which is why we went down from three copies to two) but when you’re going off or need gas to go off the next turn it seals the deal. They come out a lot but it’s not because they’re bad. It’s just that whenever you bring in Primal Command you don’t really want Weird Harvest in your deck anymore. They have similar functions and you don’t want to be overloaded on cards like that. Based on how I sideboard I could see starting two more Primal Commands in place of the Weird Harvests but Harvest gives you stronger combo potential game one when it is more likely you are going to be able to combo out unhindered.
Finally there is the singleton Viridian Zealot. We had another Viridian Shaman here for a long time because you want maindeck ways to kill Jitte and Chalice but I’m fairly certain Zealot is just better. It costs one mana less which can be a game’s win worth of difference when comboing out and it can kill Jitte before it ends up with any counters. Shaman is better out of the sideboard because it nails Chalice or Shackles and sticks around to beatdown but game one a lot of people aren’t going to have any relevant targets so I would much rather have the two mana 2/1.
As for the manabase it is fairly straightforward. We wanted to splash so 8 fetchlands gave us nine sources for four cards. Additionally fetchlands do a ridiculous amount of work in this deck. In fact it might be the one deck where the thinning is consistently relevant. Drawing one Forest can be the difference between a win and a loss when going off so being able to take two or three out of your deck before that point is an extreme benefit. The single Pendelhaven helps your beatdown plan and allows your guys to safely attack through Mutavault and the forests are obviously necessary.
The only card which may raise eyebrows is the single Horizon Canopy. It’s just there so you can refuel if you draw it and get mana flooded which happens more than you might think. Additionally it just gives you another card you can draw when you’re going off that can give you a card and keep your combo alive. Any more than one and you might end up taking damage too often or removing too many forests from your deck since you have eight fetchlands but one feels just right.
The sideboard is a true work of beauty. But like anything beautiful it is tricky. If managed or built poorly it can stab you like a rose break up with you like a girlfriend and go over your head like the vast majority of modern art.
Four Jittes have proven to be the right number. We had three for a long time but we couldn’t really find a reason to not want the fourth in the matchups where we want it. Yes it’s legendary but you always want to draw one and if you have Jitte you’re probably ahead enough you can afford to go down a card. Against Faeries they are crucial. Jitte proactively destroys their Jitte which is good. It also proactively destroys their chances of winning which is a nice side benefit too.
The two Viridian Shamans as mentioned above are for decks like Dark Depths or Tezzeret. Destroying one artifact can set them back so much especially if it’s an artifact land. Chalice is obviously a problem and sometimes you just need them to crack the Explosives they’re sitting on.
The Thorn of Amethysts are for Hive Mind. Yes that’s right Hive Mind. Roughly two-thirds of my losses online were coming from that archetype and I wanted to have a way to deal with it since it’s picking up popularity online. The sideboard is constructed in such a way that you have 8 cuts for most popular decks already and sideboarding more cards for them just dilutes your deck. If you’re expecting no Hive Mind you should cut these for a card that’s good against dredge; if you’re expecting more Hive Mind you should add in a third Thorn over the Loaming Shaman.
The two Primal Commands are extra ammo against decks which can remove one Primal Command (Castigate for example) and are also good against control decks. Plowing their land and finding a creature can easily turn the tide of the game especially early on. They are also extra tools against burn and excellent against dredge.
The single Loaming Shaman is just for Dredge. As mentioned above this could become another Thorn or something else for some fringe matchup; however all of the most popular matchups are already accounted for.
Finally there’s Blood Moon. To properly explain Blood Moon I need to explain the three splashes this deck could use. From Black you can get Thoughtseize. From White Proclamation of Rebirth and Burrenton Forge-Tender. From Red Blood Moon.
Your Mono Red matchup is already very good so Forge-Tender isn’t necessary. Proclamation of Rebirth is tempting against cards like Firespout and to attrition Zoo but it seemed like either of the other two options was better. For a while – in fact as recent as the GPT on Saturday – I was playing Thoughtseize and Blood Moon with two Thoughtseize maindeck and two more in the board to actively combat strategies like Hive Mind. However by Sunday I didn’t really feel like they were necessary. The problem was I wouldn’t always bring them in anyway; Blood Moon and Thoughtseize led to diluting the deck too far. You would disrupt them but then be lacking in action yourself. It made comboing almost impossible because you would have upwards of 12 extra non-elf cards in your deck.
Blood Moon on the other hand is an all star. Your Tribal Zoo matchup is very close but a single Blood Moon early ends the game. Four Blood Moons is a lot but you always want to see one early – not to mention decks like Faeries and Dark Depths have disruption and often force you to discard it. With 11 ways to cast it on turn 2 it’s excellent against control decks as well. Blood Moon caught a lot of people off guard and it provides you with numerous free game wins.
As for the details of sideboarding this is how you sideboard in every major matchup. I know it seems like I take out 1 Regal Force and Weird Harvest a lot but that’s just because they’re often not as good in my post-sideboard plans
Sometimes they will have Everlasting Torment but I’m not sure it’s even worth keeping in the Zealot. If they just spend three mana not doing anything you’re probably okay anyway. This is a very very good matchup. The only time I have ever lost to it is in a match where I was stuck on 1 land two of the games and the Top 4 of the GPT when my opponent had a double Mogg Fanatic draw.
You don’t need either Regal Force here because that’s not your plan. Primal Command is usually enough to set you into a winning position.
-3 Elvish Visionary -2 Weird Harvest -1 Primal Command
+4 Blood Moon 2 Umezawa’s Jitte
This is a very close matchup. They have disruption for your combo and if they have a draw with two creatures backed up by a bunch of removal spells it can be hard to win. Game one is harder than the postboard games; a single Blood Moon after boarding usually locks the game up.
Surprisingly Jitte isn’t absurd here as it might seem. We kept sideboarding four in all the way through the PTQ and eventually we realized it was just bad to do so. The problem is that it can be a tempo black hole if they have burn spells and often you will lose a creature blocking just to get Jitte active. With that said if you deal freely deal damage with Jitte the game is over; it’s the best way to lock a game up post Blood Moon. If they have Jittes you definitely want to bring all of them in though.
You can safely board out one Primal Command in this matchup because if you combo out they don’t have anything they can do to kill you before your next attack save for burn and seven life plus a land on top of their library should take care of that.
-2 Weird Harvest -1 Regal Force -1 Elvish Visionary
+2 Viridian Shaman +2 Primal Command
They usually have eight basics plus Chrome Mox so Blood Moon isn’t very good against them. Regardless this is a pretty good matchup for you. They have some Wraths and Explosives but even then a single Elvish Archdruid and you’re usually set. Primal Command sets them back ridiculously far. Don’t walk into their wraths and don’t be afraid to use Glimpses as draw two or three cards. Answering their mass removal spells by reloading on Glimpses is the best way to overload them.
If they’re playing a non-Blue list or a list with less countermagic I’ll bring in 2 Primal Commands over two Weird Harvests. In general though this matchup is very good. The only real way they can beat you is Firespout. Otherwise cards like Remand are pretty poor against you. Blood Moon locks them out and save for a Cryptic Command it’s pretty hard for them to set up the game to win afterward. You should hopefully be able to win or find a second Blood Moon before they can set up an elegant sequence which gets them out from under your first Moon.
-2 Elvish Visionary
+2 Viridian Shaman
This matchup is very easy. Their only disruption might be Thoughtseize at most so comboing them out is seldom an issue. They usually don’t have any way to deal with your Archdruid either. You’re actually a faster deck then they are plus you have two Viridian Shamans plus a Zealot on your side to beat up on them even more.
You’re favored in this matchup though you can definitely lose. Iona is game over. After boarding you gain a bunch of graveyard hate spells including a tutorable one which is pretty nice. In generally if you cast one graveyard removal spell you should be able to win within a turn or two. I considered boarding in Jitte here to kill my own guys and remove bridges but I’d rather just plow their ‘yard and then kill them. It is very hard to lose after Primal Command searching for Loaming Shaman.
-1 Viridian Zealot -1 Regal Force
+2 Thorn of Amethyst
This matchup is a straight up race game 1. After board they often have Firespout which can be a nightmare. Thorn of Amethyst is very good against them though and they seldom board in an answer for it. This is probably the deck I have lost to the most online with Elves and if you’re worried about it I would put the third Thorn in the sideboard for sure.
-2 Weird Harvest -2 Elvish Visionary
+4 Umezawa’s Jitte
This is an advantaged matchup. They don’t have very good answers to your cards like Archdruid and one of their few ways to win is Jitte. Maintain Jitte parity or advantage and you should be able to win without much difficulty. And make sure to play your triggers right so you don’t accidentally fizzle due to a Vendilion Clique.
-2 Summoner’s Pact -2 Weird Harvest -2 Primal Command -2 Regal Force
+4 Umezawa’s Jitte +4 Blood Moon
This is it. The matchup everyone ballyhooed last season. The amateur Elves players always lost to Faeries last season while masters like Sam Black and Josh Wludyka were able to steal games from the winged menace. You just have to grind them out and make sure they don’t get to activate Jitte. Realize you’re probably not going to combo force their hand and beat them on Jitte and Blood Moon. Last year Josh sided out Glimpse of Nature in this matchup but this year I think it’s important to leave it in just so you have a way to stay up on cards. You can leave one Regal Force in if you want to as it’s amazing if it resolves but it can be tricky to get to that spot.
It’s worth noting that Jesse cuts all of his Archdruids on the draw because often they have Doom Blades and Deathmarks and playing Archdruid can be a tempo black hole. I’ve found success keeping them in because they provide me with the aggressive draws I feel I need to have but you can leave in Pacts a Regal Force and a Primal Command instead.
This matchup is pretty close. If they have a turn one or two chalice on the play it’s going to be very difficult to win at least game 1. After boarding things get a little better and Blood Moon is a pretty good trump they have to burn a Repeal on. I’ve won this matchup more times that I’ve lost it but I definitely think it’s pretty draw dependant. Sometimes you can win game one through bashing if they have a slow draw but after boarding they’ll often have Explosives or other Wrath effects to make the match harder on you.
So many games with this deck play out similarly that the summary of how each matchup works is pretty accurate. As such I’m not sure how much you are going to get out of an online PTQ report. Plus writing an online PTQ report just feels empty; part of what is so enjoyable about PTQ reports are the shenanigans surrounding the event. I could tell you how I sat in bed with a cozy blanket over me and ate a muffin during round one but I don’t think that has the same ring to it. Instead. I thought I try something different.
I checked on Wizards’ forums and there is a trick you can use to view others’ replays if you have a Magic Online account. Here is the description of how you do it:
“You can share games with your friends by opening the %AppData%Wizards of the CoastMagic Online.0.mygames file on your computer. Simply find the line(s) that contain the game you want to share copy the entire line and send it to your friend. Your friend can then insert that line into their .mygames file and your game will appear under their My Games tab (I suggest doing this while their MTGO is shut down to ensure it works correctly).”
Here are all of the replays for the matches I played. If you have Magic Online follow the directions above (if your computer doesn’t know how to open the mygames file as mine didn’t you an open it with Microsoft Word or a similar product) and paste all of the matches below into your mygames file. I tried this with Jesse and it worked fine for him so hopefully it will work for all of you too. A couple of the games are missing probably because Magic Online crashed but otherwise it should be complete.
I’ll still list which matchups I played against below for those without Magic Online or the time to view my replays.
Round 1: GB Rock (lose)
(In game 2 I made the mistake of not Pacting for Regal Force with several Elves in play. Instead I opted to Primal Command him and set up the for sure win the next turn. I ended up losing my board the next turn to a Wrath effect and never recovered. I would have won this match for sure otherwise.)
Round 2: RGW Aggro Scapeshift (win)
Round 3: Dark Depths (win)
Round 4: Burn (win)
Round 5: Tribal Zoo (win)
Round 6: Tezzeret (win)
Round 7: Faeries (win)
Round 8: Dredge (win)
(This deck knocked Jesse out of the tournament. It seemed like a pretty bad matchup but Blood Moon managed to win me the match anyway.)
Quarterfinals: Tezzeret (lose)
(Game 2 and 3 he taps out for Baneslayer. Game 2 I try and go off needing to draw one elf in two draws to combo out and don’t get there. Game 3 I have all of he right elves in my hand but no Glimpse.)
It was really disappointing to lose to a good matchup in the Top 8 after rattling off 8 wins in a row but oh well. I’ll no doubt be battling with this deck in several more PTQ’s to come. My largest advice with this deck is just learn how to grind out games. You’re going to get some bad draws you’re going to face some rough matchups. You just have to bash for five turns with Elvish Visionary sometimes. Learn when to attack and when to block. You can’t just goldfish a deck like this when so many people are going to be interacting with you. As Josh Wludyka said last season “there are no matchups in Extended just decks and players. I don’t care if all you have is a ham sandwich sleeve it up and get ready to grind out games.”
Extended is a format full of decks and cards. There are all kind of sideboard choices you can make you just have to look hard enough. Live in a very countermagic prevalent metagame? You can sideboard a Gaea’s Herald. Worried about Living End? How about Summoner’s Pacting for Gluttonous Slime? There are all kinds of options.
Then this is our story about the creation of Spider Elves. It has bits of marrow sticking to it and blood and beautiful bright-green flies. We have toiled over it and this is what we have come up with. The deck is hard to play but learn to master it and you should easily be able to take down a PTQ. If you have any questions please send me an e-mail at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com and I would be happy to answer them. Even better post in the forums and both Jesse and I would be happy to answer any questions and create further discourse on the deck. If you play in any PTQ’s over the weekend with this deck let us know how it goes. This is the best list of the deck we’ve come to so far but if you have any successful changes we would love to hear about them.
Talk to you soon!
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online Lesurgo everywhere else