Way back before even Berlin, Alan Comer was scrubbing out of PT Hollywood with Heritage Druid. Elf combo was the deck choice the Israeli national team used to bomb out of day one of Worlds. Elf combo has long been a terrible deck in Standard, but Alara Reborn has injected new life into the deck. Bloodbraid Elf is a powerhouse card that fits into the deck’s plan perfectly, and Dauntless Escort is the potential panacea for the deck’s biggest problems.
Did Reborn actually make the deck good?
At least, if there is a way to build a competitive elfball deck, I haven’t found it. There is still hope that the archetype can be made to work, and it is a fun alternative if nothing else, so I figured it would be worthwhile for me to share what I have.
Let me reiterate that this list is terrible. It is the best I have been able to come up, but I would not recommend running it in any tournament you care about winning. As I go over my thoughts on the deck, keep in mind that I haven’t been able to make it work. I am just trying to give you a good starting point for figuring out what does and does not work well.
There is no draw engine in Standard comparable to Glimpse of Nature, but you can still generate some pretty explosive mana with Heritage Druid, particularly in conjunction with Nettle Sentinel, and Standard does offer some reasonable sources of card advantage and good ways to use lots of mana. The deck’s primary plan is to vomit a bunch of dorks on to the board, generate some mana, and use Mirror Entity to go lethal with your army of mana producers.
Just like Extended Elves, you are not wholly dependent on your “combo” plan and can value opponents out with your dorks. This is not very feasible against the format’s creature decks, as their guys are so much bigger and decks like Tokens are just so good at grinding through creatures. Against these decks, you want to focus as much as possible on a non-interactive combo-like kill. This is fine when these decks can’t interact with you very well, but that isn’t really the case right now. I have found that spot removal and sweepers, which all of these decks do have, foster just enough interaction to keep you from going crazy, and you just can’t win a fair fight against a deck like Tokens. Game ones aren’t so bad, but once the Wraths come out to play it gets much harder for you. The widespread adoption of Zealous Persecution, maindeck even, bodes especially poorly for Heritage Druid and pals. Against Faeries and 5cc, though, your anemic beatdown and solid card advantage actually lets you play a game of attrition somewhat effectively. 5cc’s typical trumps like Broodmate Dragon and Cruel Ultimatum are not terribly good against you, as if you have a solid board position and hand when they tap for these, you can often just kill them that turn.
Ranger of Eos is by far the most important card in the deck; it is mana engine, protection, card advantage, and finisher all in one sick little efficient package. Ranger single-handedly jumpstarts your mana engine by fetching Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel, protects the engine with Forge-Tender, and once your engine is online you can funnel Ranger into a finisher through [card]Flamekin Harbinger[/card]. The card literally is everything this deck ever wanted.
Elvish Visionary is not a crucial piece, but it is too good a cog to cut. Your two mana investment for the body generates near instantaneous returns with Heritage Druid online. You need a critical mass of bodies for producing mana and eventually killing, and you can’t find many creatures better than Visionary for this purpose. Bloodbraid Elf is essentially an Elvish Visionary with a bigger body. When you are trying to goldfish combo kills, Bloodbraid is solid but unimpressive in the same way that Visionary is. The bigger body goes a long ways towards activating Mosswort Bridge, which is pretty huge. Where Bloodbraid really shines, though, is in games where you are on the value plan. Bloodbraid is extremely efficient card advantage, and a superb way to fight countermagic.
Mirror Entity is the finisher of choice because it is quite good when you are on the value plan. Overrun and Regal Force are better for goldfishing, but are useless far too often and really limit your ability to have game when your opponent is able to interact with you. Mirror Entity will never clog up your hand, and is good whether you have two creatures on the board or twenty. You will usually want to play Mirror Entity the turn you kill to avoid making spot removal especially relevant. If instead it is Volcanic Fallout, Infest, or Zealous Persecution you are worried about, you can throw down an early Mirror Entity with some mana up to protect against these. Note the interaction between Mirror Entity and Devoted Druid: you can activate Entity for some amount to grow your Devoted Druids, then untap your Druids to generate mana for a bigger Entity activation. You can’t actually go infinite with this, but you can use the trick to get up to a huge Entity activation from even a modest amount of starting mana.
Regal Force makes a better Harbinger target than Entity often enough that you are happy to have one, but I think that Mirror Entity is in general the way to go. Reveillark is by far the most suspect card in the deck. It’s quite miserable when you are on the combo plan, but it is a nice option to have with Harbinger as it can be very good in attrition fights and against sweepers.
Manamorphose does so much in this deck. First and foremost, it is an important mana fixer, as the lands alone are a little inadequate at getting white and red mana. It untaps Nettle Sentinels, good for both generating additional mana and getting in some extra attacks. Using Manamorphose to sneak damage in through a Cryptic fog is pretty relevant. It makes Bloodbraid Elf slightly more potent, as it increases the amount of mana Bloodbraid nets on average, without actually affecting your curve. It can give you access to a Harbinger target the turn you play Harbinger. There are definite costs to playing Manamorphose, like the times you cannot cycle it or have to mana burn to cycle it, and in it giving you less information for mulligan decisions. However, the costs are not even close to the benefits that this deck gets from it.
In my opinion, space in this list is very tight, and it is difficult to find more than a few slots you can change. Obviously if this deck is going to be competitive, though, some significant changes need to be made.
The card I most want to run that is absent is Commune With Nature. The most important thing the card does is dig you into Ranger of Eos, but it can also help get your engine together sans Ranger. And once you have a bunch of mana at your disposal, Commune can conveniently dig into your finishers. It provides a nice bridge between your acceleration and expensive spells, alleviating problems from having plenty of one and not enough of the other.
One direction I could see the deck taking is to become much more focused on Regal Force. Seven mana is much, much easier to hit than what is required for a lethal Mirror Entity or even an Overrun. I definitely don’t like Regal Force against the blue decks, but it might be just what is needed against everything else. Though Regal Force can be easily stranded in hand post-sweeper, you can actually get up to seven mana without having to untap with very many men in play, whereas Entity requires untapping with tons of guys in play to go lethal dodging spot removal. Regal Force may be resilient enough against most of the format to warrant more attention than I have given it.
Windbrisk Heights may be too powerful to not play. It is quite awkward on the mana base, as you don’t want very many White sources and few of your lands will be able to pay the White to activate it, but there is no denying its power. Mosswort Bridge’s condition is harder to reach, but it still does quite the Windbrisk impression in this deck, and tapping and activating for green is much better. Eight hideaway lands may be the way to go, in which case Regal Force and Overrun become much more compelling.
I am not expecting this deck to make any waves at PTQs or GPs, but the potential is there. Draw Ranger of Eos early and often, and you might just have something special.