A Tournament History of Elves, Belchers, and Vials

Today as a special deckbuilding exercise and homage to this great game, I’ll take you back in time over a brief tournament history of Elves, Charbelchers, and Vials, synthesizing some of the best ideas into a present Elf Belcher deck.

This history is not comprehensive and conclusive. It’s not meant to cover all decks but merely the ones that particularly inspired me for cards in creating a new deck.

Through this exercise you can expand your card knowledge and interaction vocabulary while transforming proven ideas from years past into something new.

Hopefully this exercise will help you see deckbuilding in a new way and improve your ability to create winning strategies.

Let’s get to it!

Elves Tournament History

While Llanowar Elves has been doing work since 1993, let’s start with the birth of Modern Elf Combo.

SIX of the Top 8 decks at Pro Tour Berlin were Elf Combo decks using Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel as a mana engine and Glimpse of Nature as a draw engine. Supreme Elf dominance.

This Elf deck could win in one big turn—as early as turn 2.

Luis Scott-Vargas
1st place Pro Tour Berlin 2008

Next we move to the printing of Elvish Archdruid. Elvish Archdruid is an amazing Elf lord tacked on to a Priest of Titania mana generator. Elvish Archdruid is a great ramper but it is the +1/+1 ability that really changes the Elf deck.

With Elvish Archdruid, Elves becomes much better at beating down. Even a dedicated combo Elf deck has a legitimate beatdown plan with Elvish Archdruid. Strong back-up plans make good decks great.

Matt Nass
1st Place GP Oakland 2010

Now flashback to 2005 when the highly advanced Elf and Nail deck burst onto the scene. This deck really broke Wood Elves.

Wood Elves is a decent ramper on its own but it combos. Wood Elves combos with Vernal Bloom to ramp toward Tooth and Nail. Wood Elves combos with Wirewood Symbiote to turbo fetch Forests. Wood Elves combos with Skullclamp to draw buckets of cards.

This masterpeice by Sameer Merchant was an important predecessor for the 2008 Elf Combo decks.

Sameer Merchant
1st Place NW Regionals 2005

Next we have the printing of Ezuri, Renegade Leader as a game-winning mana sink. Ezuri is direct and to the point about giving us a win condition from all of our mana.

Ezuri is amazing with Elvish Archdruid. The power boost to the team coupled with the mana to Overrun is a fast kill. But Ezuri + Archdruid is also great as a way to protect yourself from Pyroclasm. Archdruid keeps Ezuri at 3 toughness and Ezuri keeps everything else alive.

Ezuri can also infinite-mana combo with Devoted Druid.

This 4 Ezuri Elf list took me to a PTQ Top 8 and the list helped 14-year-old Zen Takahshi win his first PTQ.

Zen Takahashi
PTQ Winner 2011

Goblin Charbelcher Tournament History

Goblin Charbelcher started off with a bang with THREE Belcher teammates in the Top 8 of the first Belcher-legal Pro Tour.

This mono-blue Belcher list used fast mana from lands and artifacts and broken tutor effects to combo Mana Severance with a lethal Goblin Charbelcher.

This tournament showed us from then until forever that Goblin Charbelcher is a card to be taken seriously.

Gabriel Nassif, Yann Hamon, Nicolas Labarre
Top 8 Pro Tour New Orleans 2003

At that same time, Goblin Charbelcher was seeing serious competitive play in Goblin decks with Goblin Recruiter.

Goblin Recruiter let you stack your deck of 20 Goblins before using Skirk Prospector and Seething Song to fuel out a game-winning Goblin Charbelcher.

Jin Okamoto
Pro Tour New Orleans 2003

It took some time for players to use Goblin Charbelcher in shockingly land-light decks, but players figured out how to do it in Legacy.

By using Land Grant in a deck that only plays 1 or 2 lands, the Belcher deck is able to function with hands that don’t even start with lands in them!

Here’s a 2-land Goblin Charbelcher deck that is still almost all mana:

Cedric Phillips
6th Place SCG Open 2009

This next list hasn’t found tournament success like the others but it’s important because it’s a recent Goblin Charbelcher attempt in Modern.

The major innovation of this build is Chancellor of the Tangle plus Safewright Quest as our proxy Land Grant.

This combination allows us to push our land base to crazy lows in Modern in the same way as the Legacy Belcher versions.

YQM – Magic Online

Aether Vial Tournament History

Meanwhile, we have Aether Vial, one of the most popular artifact mana spells of all time.

Aether Vial got off to a great start by winning the Pro Tour and permeating into the Extended format before getting banned.

Any heavy creature deck has the potential to abuse Aether Vial which for 1-mana pays back 10 or even 15 mana in a game.

Here we have our start, Aether Vial in Affinity:

Pierre Canali
1st Place Pro Tour Columbus 2004

Since then deckbuilders have found bigger and bolder ways to abuse Aether Vial and to date the card is extremely popular in Legacy.

Aether Vial is used to fuel a number of creature strategies—especially red Goblins, blue Merfolk, and green and white creature decks.

While we conventionally think of creature decks as beatdown decks, creature decks can also be combo decks.

I draw inspiration from this next Aether Vial list which uses it to fuel creature combos to reanimate a giant hasty creature OR gain infinite life.

This Aether Vial build is one of the most mind-boggling and complex decks we’ve seen, and it shows how to really break the mold of Aether Vial.

Cephalid Breakfast
Lucas Glavin – Top 8 Grand Prix Boston

Aether Vial has also found success in Modern. Aether Vial Merfolk Top 8’d a GP, and Aether Vial + Eternal Witness + Cryptic Command took Shouta Yasooka to 2nd in the 2012 Players Championship.

Aether Vial has been slow to gain traction in Modern, mostly because of the (well-deserved) $100 playset cost, but Aether Vial will continue to have success as long as it is legal.

Path to Exile as Ramp

We know that Path to Exile is an insane removal spell, but this card has done serious work as a ramp spell.

The first deck I’ve seen really push Path to Exile as ramp is from Naya Scapeshift. Amazing to take a card that is already 10/10 and push it to 11.

This ramp deck is a heavy-value Scapeshift deck meant to take advantage of flexible tools to beat down or kill with Valakut.

Jon Smithers/Sammy T
GP Atlanta 2011
Top 32


Finally we come to Wargate which has done some damage as both a ramper and a tutor.

This sleek build uses Wargate to either find Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Prismatic Omen. From there it just keeps ramping and cleans up the game with lands.

Gerry Thompson – PTQ Top 8

Elf Belcher 2015

So we take the best Elf technology and the best Charbelcher technology and mix them together with Aether Vial bridging the gap and Path to Exile and Wargate as support.

This deck is almost exclusively full of historically powerful Magic cards with a long history of tournament success. The cards are powerful and they work well together.

While this deck has no tournament experience yet, that could all change. Maybe it stays a casual deck, but I think it could do damage in tournaments. We will see.

Synthesizing a Deck

I hope you enjoyed this trip down Magic’s memory lane as we found nuggets of innovation and technology en route to concocting something entirely new.

In general I feel that the more ideas we put into something the better, and the better those ideas the better. So while I do like trying to make a star out of Jungle Weaver I also like to pick the best parts from my favorite decks over my 20 years as a Magic player.

For all the deckbuilders out there, maybe this deckbuilding exercise will help you in your future brews. Good luck and have fun!

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