Elves has been a mainstay of Legacy for a long time now and has largely maintained the same core for almost a decade now. However, over the past few months, Elves players have been diligently testing the archetype and tuning a version that steps away from almost all of the traditional elements of the archetype. This deck, which I call Fiend Artisan Elves, has been putting up some great results recently and is well-positioned in this metagame. Recently, Magic Online player Testacular (Curran Delahanty) put up a solid Top 16 finish in the Legacy Challenge and this seemed like as good of a time as any to cover the archetype.
This deck looks quite different from the Elves decks most people are used to so let’s jump right in and take a look at why you might build you deck in this way.
Legacy Fiend Artisan Elves by Curran Delahanty
Unlike traditional Elves decks, this is primarily a midrange toolbox deck that shares more similarities to a deck like Maverick. While this deck does have a small combo element in Natural Order, you will mostly spend time playing to the board with reasonably sized creatures and threaten your opponents with the ability to search up just about any threat at any time. This will leave opponents struggling to keep up as you begin to overwhelm them. Part of the reason this works is because of the power of Gaea’s Cradle, which this deck finds more often than other Elves decks due to Elvish Reclaimer. The boost of mana provided by Cradle will bury your opponents in short order and provide you with enough of an advantage that you can easily take over the game and threaten to kill your opponent.
Let’s start with the most unique (and arguably most defining) card of this version. Fiend Artisan is an awesome card in this deck. It doesn’t take much work to be a massive threat by itself, which provides this deck with a two-mana threat that can easily outscale your opponent’s pressure. The fact that it dodges Lightning Bolt a decent amount of the time makes it really annoying to interact with. On top of that, it threatens to start finding more copies of itself or any of the key threats from the toolbox, which will quickly make your opponent’s life difficult. While this particular build of the deck has a fairly modest toolbox, you can go pretty deep with it, which makes this deck problematic to play against.
Like Fiend Artisan, Elvish Reclaimer is another marquis card of this version. Reclaimer not only significantly increases the consistency of finding Gaea’s Cradle, the most powerful card in the deck, but having access to a small toolbox will really help answer some of the issues you might face. On top of that, Reclaimer becoming a 3/4 makes it a fairly impactful threat and this can leave opponents falling behind early and give you the opportunity to capitalize on your early pressure.
There aren’t that many decks that can take advantage of Once Upon a Time, but Elves is the perfect shell for it. Having it in your opening hand significantly increases the deck’s consistency. Since this deck is both a creature-based and land-based toolbox deck, being able to find both your key elements, such as Cradle or Artisan, your singletons, such as Endurance or Bog, or even the pieces that allow you to function early, such as Llanowar Elves or Forest, makes this a great inclusion here. This deck also tends to have enough mana in play to off-set the two-mana cost later in the game, which makes it function like a faux-Green Sun’s Zenith, which is also pretty nice.
Allosaurus Shepherd is certainly one of the most powerful Elves printed in recent years and can really make the lives of opponents that rely on countermagic very difficult. This deck doesn’t lean into the full four copies because it actually doesn’t play that many Elves, so the pump ability is not quite as impactful as it is in Combo Elves. Still, it does have a meaningful impact on the game and it can easily help you end the game against any Force of Will player.
Grist is perfectly suited for this deck. It’s a resilient threat by itself, it can be found with any creature tutor and it can answer just about any creature that might show up. Being three mana means that you might be liable to flood on them if you play too many of them, so two copies is a really solid compromise.
Snuff Out is a big part of the reason this deck can be built like this. It allows you to fully assume a midrange role and have an efficient answer for (almost) any meaningful threat. Most Elves decks don’t turn to removal spells in the main deck, but considering that this version is leaning into individual card power rather than cards that entirely work together, Snuff Out makes a lot more sense here.
This deck is often endearingly called “Cradle Control,” since Gaea’s Cradle makes this deck really hard to manage. It provides an incredible amount of mana, which allows you to easily blank cards like Daze and enables all of your key tutors. Additionally, it allows your most explosive starts and can even enable you to cast Craterhoof Behemoth from your hand with relative ease. There’s a huge difference between games with and without Cradle, which is part of the reason this deck leans into Elvish Reclaimer
The Mana Base
A fairly traditional mana base, this deck needs to run more Bayous than other Elves decks because of Snuff Out. Remember that your fetch lands can always get Dryad Arbor, which is a key synergy of this archetype.
I reached out to Curran about this because I was having trouble seeing the reason for it. Essentially, Gaea’s Blessing is an anti-Painter card that has some additional utility against random graveyard decks. In fact, he started turning to it as a way to disrupt delirium out of Delver. This makes sense to me and while it is not the best anti-graveyard card, it is an excellent card against Painter, so this is a great way to get some extra mileage out of a single sideboard card.
Vendetta is a somewhat costly removal spell to cast but it has almost no limitations, which makes it an inefficient option out of the board.
Tips and Tricks
- I mentioned it earlier, but I think it’s worth reiterating that Natural Order does not always have to get one of its marquis targets. Finding cards like Grist or Endurance can help keep Murktide Regents/Dragon’s Rage Channelers in check in situations where you can’t kill your opponent and would otherwise lose the race.
- Chip damage matters a lot in a deck like this so always be on the lookout for a spot to get a quick hit in.
- Endurance can target yourself to put Craterhoof Behemoth back in if it was Thoughtseized or otherwise interacted with.
Sideboard and Matchup Guide
Out: 1 Collector Ouphe, 3 Natural Order, 1 Craterhoof Behemoth, 1 Progenitus
In: 3 Endurance, 1 Gaea’s Blessing, 2 Vendetta
Cutting Natural Order is a commitment to taking a more midrange approach, which this deck is more than set up to do. Your threats can easily outsize their removal and you can easily play through their countermagic. At the same time, they need to respect your ability to combo them, which will influence their decisions. For the most part, time your removal and Endurances appropriately and you should be able to navigate through this matchup in a fairly straightforward manner.
Out: 1 Bojuka Bog, 1 Endurance
In: 2 Vendetta
This is a light sideboard approach because this matchup is actually pretty reasonable. Initiative is still one of the most powerful decks in Legacy, so you can only be so well-positioned against it. However, the combination of cheap threats and efficient removal goes a long way in this matchup. On top of that, they don’t have the tools to manage a Progenitus which will end the game in short order.
Out: 1 Collector Ouphe,
In: 2 Thoughtseize
Elves has traditionally been tricky for control decks to play against and while this version’s engines don’t threaten control in the same ways it used to, there are more than enough tools in this deck to make their life difficult. Progenitus is pretty effective against this version of control and will sidestep a lot of the removal they have against you, so overall I think this is a pretty reasonable matchup.
Out: 1 Progenitus, 1 Bojuka Bog, 1 Lair of the Hydra, 2 Grist, the Hunger Tide, 4 Snuff Out
In: 2 Thoughtseize, 2 Mindbreak Trap, 1 Chalice of the Void, 3 Endurance, 1 Opposition Agent
While you do have a ton of effective tools in this matchup, you will likely need them quickly. More than anything, you need to have the ability to disrupt them early, so value that highly when mulliganing. Other than that, make sure you can apply consistent pressure and force them to go off before they’re fully ready (and cross your fingers that you dodge their best draws).