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Feature Article – ELVES! is Back, and is Just What the Doctor Ordered

 

First off, I would like to introduce myself. I am best known in the Magic community for winning PT San Diego two years ago with Jacob Van Lunen. Since then I have been on the Pro Tour, taking a short break to check out life in the Caribbean for half a year. This is the first year I will be able to attend every Pro Tour and I am really looking forward to it. I love playing Magic and sharing my opinions about it, and hopefully you all like what I have to say and keep reading. After all, they don’t call me “the Doctor” for nothing.

First, the decklist:

Everyone thought that with the loss of Birchlore Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote that the elf deck was dead. I even thought that, before I saw a much slower list that someone had played in Austin. It was pretty top-heavy, playing Elvish Archdruid, Primal Command, and other clunky spells. After some tuning, the above list is what I came up with for the online PTQ on Jan 14th. My overall record was 5-3; not that respectable at first glance, until you consider my losses. One was to a Dark Depths deck that went Thoughtseize turn one then make a 20/20 turn 2 both games, and the other two were both game three’s where I had lethal Grapeshots on the stack and ran out of time. My good friend (and the other 2HG PT Winner) Jake Van Lunen was watching me play the PTQ, and we both decided we wanted to run it at a PTQ in Connecticut two days later. Disaster nearly ended the PTQ for me before it began. My friend who was bringing me the deck got lost on the way to the site and nearly didn’t show up in time. A quick thanks to the Tournament Organizer and Head Judge for delaying the start of the tournament and allowing a few extra people to get there in time. My friend showed up with no time to spare at the end of the player meeting.

Round 1 – Chester Li

I’ve played with Chester before, many times. He is a great guy, and has been known to dominate the dance-off scene. I had no idea what Chester was playing, but it turned out to be probably one of the worst matchups for my deck. He was playing Blue/Red faeries with maindeck Firespouts and a Kiki-Jiki / Pestermite combo kill. Game one his first spell was Firespout, which wiped my board. He then Spellstuttered my next 2 spells and played a Kiki-Jiki. Close Game. Normally against a Fae deck my sideboard Blood Moon plan works very well, but in this case it did nothing. Game 2 was similar and I was handed my first loss in round one; not exactly where I want to be.

0-1

Round 2 – Mike Gemme

His turn one Artifact Land revealed him to be Affinity. The Affinity matchup is a tricky one. You are much faster than they are; you just have to make sure you don’t drop low enough for them to be able to dump all their modular counters onto a guy to kill you. I was on the play for game 1, and I killed him on turn 3, so it wasn’t particularly close. My sideboard was very prepared for Affinity, with both Viridian Shamans and Ancient Grudges. Game 2 his start was land, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Arcbound Worker, Frogmite, Frogmite. I just played turn one Boreal Druid which didn’t seem fair. Turn two things started looking up when he attacked and passed. I quickly Viridian Shaman’ed his Springleaf Drum to keep him off colored mana. The game came down to him needing to rip a Shrapnel Blast or Cranial Plating over two turns, after I played a bunch of guys and Grapeshot to put him on a clock. His next two draws were unexciting and I picked up my first win.

1-1

Round 3 – Dan

Game one was unexciting; his first play was a turn 2 Pentad Prism off Mountain, Mountain, which he then used to Ponder. I killed him next turn. I wasn’t sure what he was playing at this point, but thought it was either Hive Mind or Dragonstorm. I decided not to sideboard at all to keep my deck as fast as possible. This time he got 2 counters on his Pentad Prism turn 2. I tried to go off on my turn 2, but ran out of 1 drops to play. He untapped, cast Seething Song into Hive Mind, and killed me. Game three he cast his Pentad Prism turn two again and I killed him turn 3 again.

2-1

Round 4 – Chris

Chris was playing Kibler Zoo, a matchup I think is very good. They have a bunch of removal but it is hard for them to keep a clock on you and stop you from comboing off. Game one he goes Nacatl, Punishing Fire, Grove of the Bunwillows, and I never had a chance. Games 2 and 3 weren’t close, as I got an early Blood Moon and that easily bought me enough time to combo off and kill him.

Round 5 – Mystery Opponent (UW of some kind)

Sorry for forgetting my opponent’s name. This match was solely decided by a mistake made by me. I had the choice of casting Weird Harvest and killing him next turn or casting Summoner’s Pact and trying to kill him on turn 3. I chose to Weird Harvest for 2 Heritage Druid and 2 Nettle Sentinel. He got 3 Meddling Mages and a Vendillion Clique. He untapped and played 2 of the Mages, naming Heritage Druid and Glimpse of Nature. GG.

I sideboarded in the Blood Moons and Jittes.

Game 2 I get a quick Jitte active but he rips one of his own. The game ends up stalling out after I play [card]Blood Moon[/card] and he plays Chalice for 1. I eventually start beating with an Elvish Visionary and it takes about 10 turns for me to kill him.

Going into game 3 we don’t have much time left and my opponent is still playing pretty slow. I get a Jitte active early and its looking good for me until he rips one of his own. We draw the game.

3-1-1

So I need to win out and hope breakers are good enough. I like my chances.

Round 6 – Mystery Opponent Number Two (with another UW deck!)

Sorry, I forgot my opponent’s name again. He led off with a suspended Visions and then 3 Meddling Mages, locking me out of the game. Game 2 was close until I drew a Curio to gain infinite life. Game 3 I went off on turn 3 and he scooped, even though I sided out both my Manamorphoses and couldn’t kill him that turn.

4-1-1

Round 7 – Jason Ford

He mulled to 4 game one, so I slow played until my hand was perfect to go off with. He was playing something with Life From the Loam, Lightning Helix, and Path to Exile. I sideboarded in the Blood Moons and landed one on turn 2. As usual, this bought me enough time to easily combo off. Jason was a great guy and took his bad luck with class, something not a lot of people are able to do.

5-1-1

Round 8 – You know the drill

Sorry to my opponent: I didn’t write down your name. He was playing dredge, and he killed my first guy with Darkblast. Who plays Darkblast main?? Honestly.

I sideboarded in the 6 Blood Moons.

Game two he Darkblasted my first guy again. I decided not to play and more guys and try to build up to combo off in one turn. He had some bad dredges and I managed to gain infinite life one turn and he scooped.

Game 3 I had a turn 2 Blood Moon in my opener unless he had Darkblast again. He didn’t, and never cast another spell.

6-1-1

Round 9 – Sharbel Chalhoub

Sharbel is a good friend of mine and it was a shame we had to get paired together. He was a lock for Top 8 with a win or draw but I needed a win to get in. He understood how much the PT means to me and scooped me into the Top 8. Thanks again Sharbel!

Jake was X-1 going into the last round and drew into the Top 8. It really felt great to have both copies of my deck in the Top 8 of a 260-person PTQ. Jake and I looked over the Top 8 decks and decided on our sideboard strategy. I was playing against Zoo and he was playing against Dredge.

Quarterfinals – Stephen Ruck

I was on the draw and I shipped back my first 7. I kept a decent 6, but drew all lands and his Zoo deck made short work of me.

Game two I didn’t have Curio or Glimpse, so I had to Weird Harvest for 4, then next turn cast a bunch of guys, then Witness back the Weird Harvest, and then cast some more guys. I didn’t draw anything relevant off my Elvish Visionaries, so I only could Grapeshot for about 13. That was good enough to put him to 3, and he didn’t draw anything relevant on his next turn, so we were on to game 3.

In game 3 I mulliganed into a 6 card hand with a turn 2 Blood Moon, but he started on Forest, Plains, Mountain. He killed the first few guys I played while bashing me with a Goyf.

6-2-1

So I was out, but Jake could get revenge for me in the semis. Game one Jake went off on turn 3. Game two went a little longer, and Jake had everything he needed to win, but Stephen had a Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt to slow Jake down. The result was Jake attacking over two turns for the win instead of winning that turn.

So, it was Jake against hometown hero Robert Beverly in the finals. Beverly was playing a 5-Color Zoo deck.

Game one Beverly came out quick with 1-drop, 2-drop, and then a lot of removal. On the deciding turn, Jake had all the cards he needed to gain infinite life but Rob clearly had removal with 4 lands up. Jake started to try and loop a Heritage Druid and two other one-drops with Cloudstone Curio to make Rob believe he wanted infinite spells for a Grapeshot. When Jake asked if he could infinitely loop the creatures, Rob went into the tank. The result was a Path to Exile on Jake’s Heritage Druid. This was just what Jake wanted, and he used his second Summoner’s Pact of the turn to get another Heritage Druid and then used the Essence Warden in his hand to gain about a trillion life.

Game two, Jake kept a hand that had Forest, Llanowar Elf, and Blood Moon, hoping to get there with a fetch land in the first two turns. He didn’t and Rob’s deck made short work of Jake.

Game three was very unexciting as Rob tanked on turn 2 about playing a creature or leaving up removal. He finally decided to play a creature and Jake went off the next turn.

I think I am even happier having Jake win the PTQ, as it will be great to have him on the Pro Tour again. Sorry if the game reports seem a little boring, but the deck really just goes off that fast. If your opponent doesn’t have a lot of disruption it is very hard for them to win. I think Jake said it best when he said it felt like he was playing a Legacy deck in Extended.

So with the PTQ a success we got in the car for a long drive back home and talked about what we would change about the deck. Here is the updated list.

I know it looks pretty similar, but the main deck is very tight. We added the second Essence Warden because it is very easy to gain infinite life with the deck but sometimes they can deal with your first Essence Warden. The sideboard will most likely change over the coming weeks as the metagame changes. If you expect a lot of Firespout and Pyroclasm effects you can add one Temple Garden and some Burrenton Forge-Tenders. If you expect the deck will rise in popularity, add some more Jittes and some Ethersworn Canonists for the mirror.

Now I will tell you some things I learned from playing the deck for the past week. There are a few interactions in the deck which create infinite loops that you should memorize if you plan on succeeding with the deck. They all involve having Cloudstone Curio in play. First, 2 one-drops and a Heritage Druid is infinite spells. You always want to play the Heritage Druid third so you can at least get three mana. Then, with the Curio on the stack tap all three for mana and bounce one of the other two. Replay it and bounce the other one drop. Replay that, bounce the Heritage Druid and replay it. You have an infinite loop you can repeat as many times as you want. This works in the deck multiple ways. You can gain infinite life with Essence Warden, or Grapeshot your opponent, or draw your whole deck with a Glimpse of Nature. The next one is Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid and Elvish Visionary. Again, play the Druid last and with Curio on the stack tap all three for mana then bounce the Visionary. Replay the Visionary, untapping the Nettle Sentinel, drawing a card, and returning Heritage Druid. Replay the Druid and you have an infinite loop that can draw you as many cards as you want.

Now I will give you a quick sideboarding guide for the matchups you can expect to face.

Zoo/Bant Beatdown

+ 4 Blood Moon
+ 2 Magus of the Moon
+ 2 Jitte

– 1 Manamorphose
– 1 Weird Harvest
– 4 Summoner’s Pact
– 1 Eternal Witness
– 1 Boreal Druid

I’m not sure how good the Blood Moon plan will be in the next couple weeks against Zoo. Now that they know about it they should have some basics to fetch (if they don’t already).

Tezzerator/ Thopter Combo

+ 2 Viridian Shaman
+ 3 Ancient Grudge
+1 Fracturing Gust
+ 4 Blood Moon

– 4 Summoner’s Pact
– 1 Weird Harvest
– 1 Eternal Witness
– 1 Manamorphose
– 2 Essence Warden
– 1 Cloudstone Curio

This is the one match I haven’t played a lot of so I’m not exactly sure about the sideboard. The plan is to hinder their mana with the Blood Moon and the use the artifact removal to destroy their combo pieces and Chrome Moxes.

Dredge/ Scapeshift

+ 2 Magus of the Moon
+ 4 Blood Moon

– 1 Manamorphose
– 1 Weird Harvest
– 3 Summoner’s Pact
– 1 Eternal Witness

These two matchups are just about who is faster, but you get to bring in the Blood Moons which make it very hard for them to win.

Affinity

+ 2 Viridian Shaman
+ 3 Ancient Grudge
+1 Fracturing Gust

– 1 Manamorphose
– 3 Summoner’s Pact
– 1 Weird Harvest
– 1 Eternal Witness

The Blood Moon effects aren’t good here because they can dump their hand on the table quickly and still have [card]Springleaf Drum[/card] for colored mana. You are just trying to manage their board until you can go off.

The deck is not easy to play and I wouldn’t recommend just picking it up for a PTQ, especially not an online PTQ unless you can click very fast and make quick decisions. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave me any comments about the deck or any questions you have.

Chris “The Doctor” Lachmann

49 thoughts on “Feature Article – ELVES! is Back, and is Just What the Doctor Ordered”

  1. Great to see the Curio get some play. Had it in our Berlin list, but it obv wasn’t quite right there. Grats to JVL and good luck to you at the next one.

  2. Hey, great article! I very much enjoy your writing, and I’m looking forward to more.

    p.s. Welcome back, Elves!

  3. I pwned your boy van lunen round 5 but he was super cool and I was glad he won, he was my nicest opponent all day. A real peoples champ. Blood moons aren’t very good against thopter combo fyi, we have plenty of basics, moxes, talismans etc. You are better just running a less diluted version of your deck and focusing on comboing out, the artifact hate is annoying though and I would keep that.

  4. How you can call Primals and Archdruids “clunky” and run a deck with 4x Cloudstone Curio is absolutely beyond me.

  5. How do you manage to have visionary and sentinel in play, then cast the druid and, with curio on the stack, tap those three for mana? I’ve been trying to test on MTGO, but have been unable to make it work. It prompts me if I want to use curio’s ability, then immediately makes me choose a creature to return. Is there a key I need to hold down to maintain priority after my druid resolves?

    Great list 😀

  6. @Kingcobweb: I didn’t lose a single game where I played turn 2 curio. It’s not clunky at all.

  7. Though you shouldn’t even have to use that, Curio should go on the stack and both your opponent and you should have the opportunity to respond.

  8. Sorry for the double post. Nevermind, I had the auto-yield on. Also, you don’t have the third jitte in your boarding strategies, and I think you want to cut an elves of deep shadow before a boreal druid.

  9. So i was wondering if you thought about Cords or Entity?
    Wouldn’t Regal force help you out a lot since you can pact for it and the only way to get your combo is to really draw the curio. i like the 2nd Essence warden. I also think a second stomping ground would be good and wouldn’t hurt your mana base at all. If no one sees this coming it is going to really good. Thank you for giving me something to brainstorm about.

  10. This deck looks petty sweet, and i can def. see myself slinging some elves at the next ptq

    Looking at the mainboard though,, weren’t you guys a bit worried about a chalice on 1 before you could combo? i mean i know tezz generally only plays one in the mainboard, but can’t you just get randomly mised by it? additionally, decks like AIR and dark depths play chalice and can also play then on 1, turn 1. Maybe I’m just overthinking here

    Great article nonetheless and i hope there’s more in the future

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  12. I guess vs chalice they just hope to draw artifact removal? Primal C is clunky, but it sure felt good to lock the other guy down to 0 lands all lands on top of his deck ;-).

  13. Elves is my favorite deck of all time and I certainly am looking for any excuse to pick it up, so I will definatly try this one!

    Just a few questions:
    – Is chord of calling any good/have you tried it out?
    – All of last season people played 1 viridian shaman MD, is that worth looking into?
    – Can this deck still kill on t2?

  14. Looks hella fun to play. Congrats to your pal on the Q! 🙂

    @kingcobweb

    Three mana artifact compared to a five mana sorcery…yea, very clunky : /

  15. Three mana artifact compared to a three mana elf that makes mana, actually. The primal command compares rather favorably to the manamorphose/grapeshot kill.

  16. I know I should get it, but I’m missing something on the inf combo: How are you playing a creature with the curio trigger on the stack? What am I missing…? (besides a brain)

  17. @Marc: He isn’t playing a creature with Curio on the stack; he’s using Heritage Druid to float GGG with Curio on the stack. Then he’s using that mana to keep the loop going.

    As for Jake’s finals game 1, did he have the mana to pay for 2 Summoner’s Pacts? Or did his opponenet just prematurely scoop to infinite life? It would be very funny to me to see someone go infy and his opponent not realize he could still win.

  18. @ Kingcobweb – The archdruids and primall commands are clunky because they don’t really help you go off at all. The archdruid can give you a lot of mana but if you are trying to go off it might as well just be a gray ogre if u draw it. Primal command is a real nice effect but you want to have your opponent dead by the time you have access to 5 mana. Curio is not clunky as it gives you the ability to go infinite multiple ways in the deck as I wrote.

    @jack Ya he did have the mana but his opponent could have drawn a removal spell and killed a mana elf for the win.

    For the people who asked about chord-mirror entity, this was one of the versions we tried but without wirewood hivemaster its really hard to get enough guys to make this effective. If people really start hating out the deck with chalice then the package might be needed along with V shaman for another way to win.

    Thanks for all the posts guys feel free to keep them coming I will answer all your questions.

  19. Great article! I was just talking to my friend about elves making a comeback and then you actually did it!

  20. The lack of a Regal Force and Viridian Shaman main seems odd to me as well. Could you explain the reasoning behind their exclusion?

  21. one question with sideboarding, I know its a little one, but is there a reason that you boarded out a boread druid instead of elves of deep shadow. I dont see any black anywhere, so I think that boreal druid would just be better.

  22. Awesome, I <3 Elves! I’ve never played Extended before, but I’m putting together an Extended Elves deck, and this gives me lots of ideas. I had been thinking of using the Archdruid + 1000 Year Elixir and Heritage Druid + Elvish Promenade as my mana engines, Glimpse and Regal Force for massive card draw, and Akroma’s Memorial for the win condition, but it’s definitely slower than you describe here. Also, I’m on a very tight budget, so my wallet and I dread having to get a Jitte or 3, and splash red and/or white for whatever else. I’ll probably still get killed though, I’m still very much a n00b.

  23. Regal Force just isn’t necessary, it is very easy to draw your whole deck already and you just want smaller guys for when you are going off with glimpse. There is no viridian shaman main because not many decks are playing jitte or chalice main anymore. Shaman will prob be necessary from here on out as i suspect there will be a lot more jitte, chalice, explosives.

    U should obviously take out elves before boreal druid, I was looking at a different list that didn’t have elves of deep shadow when I was writing the sideboard guide sry.

  24. I had a fair amount of success last season with Elves and I would love nothing more than to play the deck again.

    But, I can’t help but feeling a little pessimistic about it in this current environment. The control decks run maindeck Wrath, Path and EE. The Combo decks run Firespout (in the Sideboard). The Aggro decks run a million removal spells, and every deck runs 4 Deathmark in the Sideboard.

    Now, it’s true that these same issues plagued the deck last season, as well. But, we had Symbiote, which meant we could play around removal at instant speed (and Chord to get answers, though we can, and I think should, play that card now). Last season, we could just grind the opponent out.

    This season, we can’t really do that. We don’t have Hivemaster, and Curio is definitely not Symbiote. The deck now seems to be much more of an “all-in” combo deck, without much of a plan b. And that’s fine, if you’re Dredge or Hypergenesis or Scapeshift, since you can largely ignore whatever the opponent is doing. But every other deck in the format is pretty much already set up to beat Elves, without even trying.

    It was a spectacular choice this past weekend when no one was expecting it, but not that the cat’s out of the bag, people are going to know how to play against it.

    Though I’d love nothing more than to play this deck, I’m very hesitant to actually do so.

  25. Wow. Your deck is *eerily* similar to the one I slung in Seattle. I think we’re off by about 4 cards. It’s not a surprise, as we both drew on the same inspirations, but wow. Curse you for doing so well, I’m going to miss my surprise factor.

  26. Sideboard suggestion:
    -1 Jitte
    +1 Grapeshot

    You don’t use the 3rd Jitte against any of the opponents listed. Having the 2nd Grapeshot available out of the SB seems good against opponents prepared to stop the combo with Mindbreak Trap.

  27. I loved all the detail in this article. Sorry to be brain dead, but I am still missing how this combo works within the rules. I thought that when things were on the stack, they did not yet affect the battlefield. How can Cloudstone Curio allow you to bounce elves back to your hand to replay when it has not left the stack and “resolved”? Can an opponent respond to a “combo-out” by destroying the Cloudstone with artifact hate and bring down the combo? Thanks for your patience.

  28. @ Rich: Blue decks and zoo decks are actually fine matchups. Zoo is very good for you. You need to play carefully, but the match is actually very difficult for them.

    Chalice would obviously be a problem, but people stopped bringing chalices two weeks ago. If that changes the deck may need a chord/v shaman sb. Until we see evidence of decks actually changing, though, I think we should stick with the current plan. It’s broke we don’t need to fix it.

  29. @Chris

    Really like the deck and am considering playing it in an upcoming Australian PTQ.

    Interested to know where you would squeeze the Viridian Shaman into the maindeck? Would it have to be at the expense of the second warden?

  30. play chord of calling, ranger of eos, mirror entity and wild cantor instead of manamorphose. you’ll be surprised how better the deck can be 😉

  31. I find it had to believe that this deck would do well vs UB fae. The deck is popular (I faced four mirrors in Sunday’s MODO PTQ) and doesn’t care that much about Blood Moon. If your play is to win with Blood Moon I’d reevaluate as Blood Moon should not be boarded in against UB fae in most cases.

  32. @scott

    It’s the cloudstone curio trigger on the stack, not the card itself.

    And yes, artifact hate on cloudstone would be good.

  33. Raider- I would cut an elves of deep shadow for the shaman u can even cut the other one if you want something too.

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  36. @Rich: while I love Symbiote as much as the next guy, but you aren’t giving curio credit. Symbiote + Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel + Elvish Visionary != (not equal to) game win. Curio + Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel + Elvish Visionary = game win
    Symbiote + Heritage Druid + Essence Warden + any 1 mana elf != game win. Curio + Heritage Druid + Essence Warden + any 1 mana elf = game win (or close enough).

    Also, I was a big fan of Chord of Calling last season, and will probably test it some this season, but you know what I searched for more often than not? Wirewood Symbiote! (funny how I’m dissing and praising the card all at once) — That card made the instant speed factor on Chord so much more relevant. It’s just not as good in this deck.

    Main point, though: don’t try to play this deck like you did last season. Instead, remember that instead of just 4 glimpses you have 4 glimpses, 4 cloudstones, which gives you a much better chance of trying to go off, get stopped, try to go off, get stopped, finally go off and win — something I’ve done several times already after having only played the deck 10 times or so.

    Also, against the right (wrong?) manabases, blood moon gives you as much time as you need to go off through a removal spell or two or three.

    Chris — you seem to board out the pacts a lot — I’ve found that makes it pretty difficult to go off. Against most decks, I strongly prefer to board out the grapeshot and manamorphose, along with maybe a pact and a random dude against decks control decks I board out the manamorphose because it usually takes a little longer to go off and by then I can have my stomping ground untapped. Boarding out the pacts is fine against decks like Faeries that play infinity counters and other instant speed cards the mess with you, but with no birchlore ranger you absolutely need a heritage druid to go off. It seems weak to give yourself such a small chance of going off ESPCIALLY since people bring in removal. Just play smart and don’t play a pact until you either have 4 land or your opponent is tapped out and you plan to win that turn.

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  38. Thanks for the dancing praise, Chris, happy to accept challengers. Just a piece of advice for playing against blue decks with firespouts: I’ve been playing my Faeries/Kiki-Jiki deck a lot (came in 9th place the PTQ JVL won), and my opponents aren’t properly baiting spells. If you don’t play enough creatures I won’t firespout and simply counter them. If you over commit, I’ll just wipe your board. Chords of calling would be annoying, but i think properly thinking about which spells you want countered and which spells are necessary to keep is very important. I know that Jake really didn’t want to play me that day so it probably is still a very bad matchup.

  39. dark depths seems like a really, really bad matchup. Am I missing something, or do you just hope not to run into DD too many times?

  40. LOL Dudes, who would say this deck would be great in MODERN?!
    Thanks for the post!!! Except we have to live without Glimpse, but no problem

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