9th At GP Singapore With Elves

Hall of Famer Raphael Levy was ready to take back his title at GP Singapore (won in 2007) and came oh so close, missing on tiebreakers. Read about the Elf deck that almost got him there, beating up on Caw-Blade meanwhile.

Hello folks,

Only a few days after a disappointing GP Prague, I was on my way to what I believe is the best place on earth. I had been once to Singapore already and
loved everything about it: it’s clean everywhere; the people are all friendly and welcoming; it’s always warm and humid (well, maybe
that’s not the best part). I wanted to do well. I wasn’t there two years ago to defend my title, but I came to claim it back.

A Constructed GP a week before a PT in another format isn’t easy to prepare for. My last sanctioned Standard games happened in Barcelona, and
since then the format had seen a couple of changes with New Phyrexia.

Online decklists didn’t help either. Caw-Blade everywhere, a few Splinter Twin lists… Nothing I would feel very excited to play. I
didn’t feel comfortable playing Caw-Blade mirrors all day. Just like in Barcelona, I didn’t feel I had any edge over anybody since
I’d never really played with it before. So once again, I had to find an alternative. The solution came from my buddy Elric, a player from
Toulouse who told me about how good the current Elf deck was…

The deck has two angles of attack:

– It can produce a huge amount of mana during your attack step thanks to Copperhorn Scouts untapping your mana Elves (Elvish Archdruid in the best
case) to activate Ezuri, Renegade Leader’s ultimate. Overrunning twice with three attackers is usually what you need. You might need two attack
steps, but when you have both Ezuri and mana Elves, chances are you’re about to win soon.

– Or you can fetch/dig for your Vengevines and make it impossible for your opponent to deal with the recurring threats.

Both plans are solid, and very few decks in the format are able to keep up with it.

Decklists of Elves online are pretty much the same.

Land count:
Some decklists run eighteen with Sylvan Rangers; some play more lands. I don’t think replacing lands with Sylvan Rangers is a good idea. Eighteen
lands is a pretty low number, and you don’t want to spend two mana to fetch a land. You need to have at least two in your starting hand and avoid
drawing too many later in the game or miss on your Lead the Stampede. Eighteen is too few; twenty too much. Nineteen is the good number.

No Tectonic Edge. I still have a hard time understanding why you would play Edges in this deck. You don’t need the colorless mana at all, so it
would just disrupt your opponent a tiny bit past turn 4. But it’s not at all what you want to do. I don’t see that plan being useful in any

4 Lead the Stampede: Lead the Stampede saves a hand with lots of lands when it can get at least two or three more creatures (2.5 average). It helps you
keep your Vengevines coming back for more or helps you recover from a Day of Judgment.

4 Green Sun’s Zenith: You’d probably play more if you could. Go find the missing piece of your combo: Copperhorn Scout, Elvish Archdruid,
or Ezuri, Renegade Leader. When the game has stalled for a bit, you can go fetch a Vengevine or a Fauna Shaman to get the Vengevine engine going, if
you think it has a chance to survive.

Green Sun’s Zenith also opens opportunities for one-ofs, and so does Fauna Shaman. In the version I had, I played one Viridian Corrupter to deal
with Caw-Blade’s swords/Batterskulls in game one. With Zenith and Shaman, you’ll want to look for active cards (for the “combo”
or Vengevines), rarely defensive cards. Even though you don’t really need it since your matchup against Caw-Blade in game one is extremely good
(see below), I don’t see any card I’d want to search for as a one-of. I’ve never poisoned anyone nor had Viridian Corrupter do anything
extraordinary. I guess it can add a few percentage points more in that matchup and can give you a solution against random decks (some Tezzeret decks
maybe?). The main reason I played it maindeck was that I needed room in the sideboard (wanted two after board against Caw-Blade) and didn’t see
any card that would fill its slot.


Playing fewer than four Ezuris would be foolish. Yes, he’s a legend. But he’s the central piece of your deck. Leaving mana open during your
opponent’s turn protects your Elves from Day of Judgment. Overrunning once even with only one other Elf attacking puts serious pressure on your

Copperhorn Scout is mostly useful when Ezuri is on the board. However, it can do more than that. It plays an important part in your deck, as it
contributes to the nut draws that lead to unstoppable turn 4 kills. It’s often overlooked when the legend isn’t around. There will often be a
blocker ready to stop him if you attack without backup, but in some setups, it’s fine to send it to die. There are many situations where it will
be used as a Time Walk. With Lead the Stampede for example: You tap your other Elves to cast it and reveal a few recruits, but have to wait until next
turn to cast them all; however, you can send in the Scout and gain a few G’s by untapping your other Elves. Just figure out if the sacrifice is
worth it.

Another use is to untap Fauna Shaman. Being able to discard an extra Vengevine on the same turn might allow you to have three on the board on the
following turn.

Mana Elves: Well, you need them. All.

Elvish Archdruid: Him too. If he survives, you probably win.    

Vengevines are the alternative game plan. The problem with decks that rely on creatures to combo out is that they are vulnerable to mass removal.
Vengevines (along with Lead the Stampede) make sure you’re not too vulnerable to Day of Judgment.

Matchups and sideboard:

This format is not exactly the most diversified. You have to be ready to face Caw-Blade. A lot. Then there are these Splinter Twin decks. Some. And
Mono Red or any kind of aggro. A few. And that’s it. Fortunately for me, there’s a lot to say about the Caw-Blade matchup.

Vs. Caw-Blade:

As we know, Caw-Blade is the most popular and probably the best deck of the format. One very good thing about Elves is that you very rarely lose game
1. And by very rarely, I mean almost never. Seriously.

The new versions of Caw-Blade run fewer Day of Judgments in order to keep up in the mirror, and you’ll be taking advantage of that. Also fewer
Gideons and fewer removal spells overall. They have very few ways to disrupt you or keep you from attacking for a million with your Elf army or
unkillable Vengevines. One Day of Judgment usually isn’t enough, and they’ll rarely be able to sit behind a Jace for a long time.

If you don’t play like an idiot, leave mana up to regenerate your Elves, don’t rush into bringing back one Vengevine when you can bring
back two or three on the following turn, you should be fine.

While game one against Caw-Blade is usually very easy to win, games 2 and 3 are very, very tough. Their removal-light deck becomes stuffed with a ton
of Condemns, Dismembers, Ousts, and a couple more Day of Judgments. So you need a plan. And a good one.

If you play a few games against a sideboarded Caw-Blade without sideboarding, you’ll realize how weak the Elves are when they’re on their own.
Copperhorn Scout is a 1/1 for one that does nothing; Ezuri and Archdruid become more or less… Gray Ogres. Needless to say the power level
difference between Gray Ogre and Jace or Stoneforge Mystic is pretty big.

 So here’s the plan:

-4 Copperhorn Scout
-4 Elvish Archdruid
-3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
-1 Ezuri/Lead the Stampede/Whatever you feel like cutting

+4 Leatherback Baloth
+4 Spellskite
+1 Viridian Corrupter
+1 Molten-Tail Masticore
+2 Eldrazi Monument

Take out the Elves; put in some green beaters. The plan is to find a way to deal damage and protect your threats. Fauna Shaman/Spellskite is the most
obvious plan. First fetch as many Vengevines as you’re allowed to then attack with them and Spellskite. You don’t want your
Vengevines to be Condemned, might as well be your Spellskite.

Try not to commit to the board too much; that’s why the Baloths are there, four power on only one card. Let them deal with your threats one by
one unless you have a plan to either protect your board with Eldrazi Monument or swarm with Vengevines.

Sometimes though, some players won’t board in that many removal spells, and in that case, keeping the Elf suite might be a good idea. How do you
know whether they’re boarding a lot of cards? It’s very important to check how your opponent reacts after game one. If he’s an experienced
player, you won’t be able to get any information. Chances are he’s not, and you’ll take advantage of it. Is he taking the first ten
cards of his sideboard to put them in his deck? In that case, he’s probably ready to face your Elves. If he looks disappointed to face this
matchup, takes three or four cards from his sideboard, and puts them on the table, looks painfully through his deck… He’s probably not as
prepared to face the Elves.

If you have to play a game three but don’t see any real difference in his removal suite, you might want to go back to the Elf plan. It is indeed very
tricky, and you should gather as much information as possible before making up your mind. That includes talking to your opponent after game one and
checking everything he does while you make up your mind on the plan you’ll be following.

In any case, you have to bring in:

+1 Viridian Corrupter
+2 Eldrazi Monument

And probably cut:

-1 Lead the Stampede
-2 Copperhorn Scout

I did lose two game ones against Caw-Blade in the tournament, and twice it went like this:

Day of Judgment—which was fine since I was able to recover both times with Vengevines and more gas unless they played…

Mirran Crusader—and put such a fast clock on me that I wasn’t able to recover (blocks the Vengevine without dying too…)

I didn’t even know that Caw-Blade played Mirran Crusader. They are also good for blocking my Baloths in game two…

Vs. Mono Red:

While game one might be a bit challenging—Arc Trail is pretty bad for you—even though I believe you’re still ahead, you
shouldn’t have any problem winning the next two:

-4 Copperhorn Scout
-4 Elvish Archdruid
-4 Ezuri, Renegade Leader

+4 Leatherback Baloth
+3 Obstinate Baloth
+1 Molten Tail Masticore
+4 Spellskite

Cut your weak 2/2 for three for giant Baloths that will totally destroy your opponent. Add seven Obstinate Baloths (four more with Zeniths) plus
Spellskites to block their Goblin Guides and redirect their Bolts, and you’ll be a 90%+ favorite. Turn 2 Leatherback Baloth is usually a

Keep or take out the Corrupter after board in case they have… something? It doesn’t cost you much to keep it, just in case. So better safe
than sorry.

 Vs. Splinter Twin

Probably your hardest matchup. Game one is pretty even. They usually don’t play that many Pyroclasms and Slagstorms maindeck since they’re a
little weak against Caw-Blade. That should help you go off without being disrupted too much. Since you’re not really able to disrupt him either,
you’ll lose as soon as they find their two combo pieces.

-3 Copperhorn Scouts
-3 Elvish Archdruid
-2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
-1 Viridian Corrupter

+4 Spellskite
+4 Leatherback Baloth
+1 Molten-Tail Masticore

Winning with Overruns seems very unlikely after board (too many sweepers). So your plan is to play beaters that will survive the red sorceries and put
as much pressure early as possible. Beating with Vengevines is also part of the plan. Spellskite is a pain for them, and they’ll have to take
care of it first. Fetching them with Fauna Shaman (if you have the chance to activate it) isn’t a bad idea as long as you can win within a couple
of turns.

The matchup is overall pretty even, even after board. Not going for the Baloth strategy would definitely compromise your chances here.

As for the other matches, bring both Leatherback and Obstinate Baloths against any aggressive strategy. With the plans I gave you above, you should be
able to figure out your own strategy for each matchup.

As for my tournament:

Day 1

Round 1 – 3:



Round 4:

Mokhtaruddin, Mohd Haf




Round 5:

Reiser, Adam

Caw-Blade w/ Crusaders



Round 6:

Cardenas, Benedict




Round 7:

San Juan, Jamie Robert




Round 8:

Tan, Ian




Round 9:

Lv, Jiachong

U/W Planeswalkers




Day 2

Round 10:

Kubouchi, Naoki

Caw-Blade w/ Crusaders



Round 11:

Rogers, Matthew

RUG/Splinter Twin



Round 12:

Yasooka, Shouta




Round 13:

Chiu, Chris




Round 14:

Gräfensteiner, Daniel




Round 15:

Kreuz, Alexander





As you can see, lots of Caw-Blades and lots of W’s. I was thirteenth before round 15, and two of us with 36 points would make it. With 36 points,
only one made it, and it wasn’t me. While my tiebreakers didn’t give me much hope, I needed a 1% swing to make it and claim my title back.
But it wasn’t meant to be…

The deck performed extremely well. I won two die rolls in the whole tournament but only lost three of my game ones (including a very poor draw against
Vampires in round 4). The challenges really only came from games after sideboard. The feeling I had was that I could have lost many of the games I won
if my opponents had played better. Caw-Blade is such a hard deck to play, and Elves has so many angles of attack that it makes it hard to play against.
Chances are that if you’re playing PTQs, you won’t be facing the best Caw-Blade players and will overall be a favorite.

If you’re planning to play the deck, I strongly recommend you goldfish a lot with it and make sure you play game one correctly. Maths with Copperhorn
Scout can be very tricky, knowing with how many Elves you should attack to optimize Overrun damage. You won’t have that much time to figure it
out during the rounds so might as well be prepared.

After a few days spent sightseeing and playtesting for the PT with Adam Yurchick, Alex West, and Sam Black, I left Singapore both happy and

Happy because I would have signed for a ninth place at any point during the tournament (expect maybe in the last two rounds). Happy because I played
the kind of deck I love and did well with it, the kind of deck my friends referred to as “a deck that Raph would play.”

Disappointed because a ninth-place finish is always terribly frustrating!

I’ll do better next time.