Pioneer as a format is relatively open in terms of deck selection. There are many archetypes available to play at a high level, and something for every play style, so any itch that needs scratching has a way to cover it. Occasionally, I’ll get the itch to completely overwhelm and dominate an opponent’s board state, and no archetype has more experience at covering this niche throughout Magic’s history than today’s deck. Let’s take a look at one of Magic’s classic beatdown strategies; today, we’re diving into Elves.
Budget Pioneer Elves by Darren Magnotti
Some notes before beginning:
- We’re working with a $100 budget for Pioneer decks, as this is a commonly accepted entry point to the format.
- This deck isn’t designed to take you to the Pro Tour, it is meant as a place to begin one’s Pioneer journey. While the strategy is sound and the gameplay is fun and exciting, this is not the end goal product.
Elves is a classic creature beatdown strategy revolving around two main components – early mana generation, leading into overwhelming board presence by way of creature spam. The deck operates in a rather linear fashion, typically creating large swaths of power in the early turns and riding it to victory while outpacing an opponent’s removal spells or lesser creature threats. Elves is one of the classic Magic archetypes and has been around since the beginning. The green ramp package is also an integral pillar to the Pioneer format, and curving a turn one mana dork into a turn three three-drop has been a mainstay of the format since day one. By combining lean speed, cohesive tribal synergy and some thicc threats, Elves can swiftly take over a game with regularity.
One of the foundational pillars of the format is the proverbial and humble turn one mana Elf. Advancing mana by an entire turn right out of the gates is an incredibly strong play that many decks look to take advantage of.
Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic and Gnarlroot Trapper form the core of the game plan. One of the tactical advantages that this specific archetype has over other turn one Elf decks is that they’re better draws in the later turns due to the tribal synergies, one of which being that they help fuel Marwyn, the Nurturer, one of the deck’s payoff cards that can help further push into the deck by creating tremendous bursts of additional mana in the later turns. Collected Company likewise acts as the final step in mana advantage by offering up to six mana’s worth of creatures for the cost of four. With the ability to power this out via the earlier plays as well, it can easily be the critical piece in establishing dominance on a board state.
Creating mana isn’t the only thing that the Elves of Magic are known for, as they also pack some powerful tribal advantage to power out early game threats.
Dwynen’s Elite starts things off by offering two bodies for the price of one. The main method of attack is by mass creature-pump, so having these additional bodies in play increases the damage output capacity exponentially. Elvish Clancaller is the preferred method of making this creature-pump happen, due to its cheap cost and availability as a mana sink to further increase the pain by fetching additional copies of itself. Elvish Warmaster sort of acts as the best of both worlds here, creating additional boots on the ground in the setup phases of the game and pivoting to give that tremendous boost later on to finish opponents off.
The deck also packs two additional tools in the beatdown package to provide some bonus utility throughout the match. Gala Greeters is the real toolbelt in the list, being able to provide some tactical mana in the form of Treasures, stave off other aggressive threats by gaining life and becoming a large threat over time as more and more creatures enter play. Shaman of the Pack on the other hand offers a sort of alternate win condition with its ability to deal damage without attacking. A frequent issue for beatdown decks like this is a lack of evasion gumming up the board because attacking a 2/2 threat into an opponent’s 2/3 blocker isn’t going to be the most beneficial. Having the capacity to play around board stalls makes the Elves deck a real threat to be feared for sure. Then when all of that fails, Steel Leaf Champion comes to play as a turn two threat that just doesn’t care about anything. Evading early turn blockers and crashing in for five damage a turn is an excellent way to close out a game, or otherwise keep an opponent distracted while the real board state is accumulated.
A typical pitfall of creature centered aggressive decks like this is the tendency to run out of gas in the face of removal spells. Fortunately, Elves is one of those decks that is capable of moving past that with some offerings that it has access to.
Collected Company has already been mentioned, but it cannot be overstated how impactful putting two bodies onto the board for the cost of one card can be. Lead the Stampede and Sylvan Messenger can additionally work together to refill a hand after playing everything out, and are very potent tools for rebuilding after the likes of a board wipe. Beast Whisperer and Chord of Calling, while not featured in this particular list, are yet even more tools that the deck has access to to keep the cards flowing or find specific additional pieces. With Elves’ inherent ability to generate mana, the only thing that they’re regularly missing is a constant stream of cards to spend it on, so it is crucial to include some number of these cards in a particular repertoire.
Elves in Pioneer has been a deck that has had players interested since day one. Many players, myself included, have fond memories of piloting the deck in the days of Magic Origins Standard, the Modern format or even as far back as any of the years that start with 19. It was only recently though, that the strategy really found its roots in the Pioneer competitive scene with the timely additions of Warmaster and Gala Greeters. As more and more powerful Elves were added to the format, the deck grew more and more resilient to the popular removal which is turning out to struggle to keep up. As the meta shifts, the deck waxes and wanes in potency, but on the whole the creature beatdown plan is a tried and true method. The funniest thing you had ever heard in fourth grade really holds true with this archetype: keep it simple, stupid. Elves doesn’t need to be flashy to eek out its wins, it succeeds through resiliency and consistency. There are few decks outside of Burn where so many of the cards in the list fill the same roles.
As far as its position in today’s metagame, the deck performs well against the midrange piles of the format, the tempo decks and the myriad of untuned brews running around. The deck’s main purpose within the greater meta is to punish those who play with less consistency or who make the egregious misplay of drawing the wrong cards in the wrong order. The deck’s consistency can absolutely bury any opponent who stumbles through their plan or any pilot who may not have the prerequisite experience to navigate a new deck through the onslaught. While there are some glaring weaknesses such as a vulnerability to mulliganing and discard-based disruption that most critical mass decks have, the deck is very capable of performing well in the right hands while offering a simple and straightforward game plan to anyone new to the game or the format.
Pioneer Elves by Smradd
One of the greatest benefits to this archetype at the moment is that the nonland core is extremely cheap in terms of dollars. A couple of tools such as Realmwalker that see significant play in EDH can help drive up the price a bit, but this is one of the more forgiving archetypes for those who are yet to accumulate their suite of lands for the format. Generally, the deck has very few upgrades, which is a major boon to we the budget crowd.
That’s all for this one! Elves has had a place in my heart since my days of Standard where I took it to my first PTQ Top 8 and cash prize. The deck is one of those with a low floor and higher ceiling, which makes it much more enjoyable to play on repeat. Even though the games can be repetitive from Elves’ side of things, most other decks in the format have very different approaches to tackling the strategy and navigating through those can offer a fun and exciting play experience.
As always, stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading.