Hey everyone! As you might remember from my last
column, I’m Jess Stirba and I’m going to be writing (biweekly) for this column for the foreseeable future. I’m excited, and I hope you are too!
Fun is what guided me to this week’s column. Some personal history: I played Magic when I was young (The Dark through Mirage) and then took a break until I
was in college (casually playing during Ravnica and Time Spiral), but I didn’t really get back into the game until later. It was during Lorwyn block, and
my ladyfriend (Dana) and I were tooling around in a particularly uninteresting South Jersey mall. Shockingly, we were pretty bored, at least until we
noticed that the local nerd store had preconstructed tribal-themed decks. And not just any tribes! These were Tribal Elves and Tribal Goblins, two of the original tribes that had been so compelling back in
our foggy memories. We spent the next couple of hours jamming games back and forth, and this started us back down the road to playing Magic again.
Of course, it wasn’t immediate. It wasn’t until the Duel Decks we really got re-hooked. Jace versus Chandra was fun, and that’s what got Dana for good, but
I’m more of a Junk-mage. For me it was Duel Decks Elves versus Goblins that really rekindled my planeswalker spark. It captured all the joy of that
afternoon jamming games in a mall food court while also giving me the bones of an actually competitive deck. From there we dug up our old collections,
realized we had a ton of old money (no Power, but plenty of duals), and we haven’t looked back since. Although when Duel Decks: Anthology comes out we might try to
recapture some of that nostalgia.
Back to my point. It’s an understatement to say that I’ve got a soft spot for tribal elf decks. I’ve played the deck in Legacy, tried the Modern version
(not good!), and have made a couple of Commander versions of the deck over the years. Recently, I’ve been contemplating adding Yisan, the Wanderer Bard to
the mix since I think he’d make a good Commander for the deck despite not actually being an elf, but more traditionally those decks run Yeva, Nature’s
Herald or Ezuri, Renegade Leader if they’re trying to be Mono-Green.
There are some who would rather embrace the corruption of Lorwyn or the rebirth of Shadowmoor and run Rhys the Exiled, Rhys the Redeemed, or Nath of the
Gilt-Leaf as their commander. These are perfectly reasonable decisions! Going black gets you some neat tribal removal spells, and going white gives you
access to Mirari’s Wake. Personally though, I tend to prefer the classic Mono-Green versions. To each their own.
Anyway, it’s with this context in mind that I present to you this week’s column, from a reader named Adam. Take it away, Adam!
It seems like a strong list! There is some room for change though, especially with respect to the tribal theme of the deck. Cards like Coat of Arms cry out
for more tribal synergies, while cards like Beast Within seem to be generic removal where we could easily substitute some slightly less powerful elves.
While I tried to keep some of the top end consistent, I ended up blending in much of the elf-ball DNA from Legacy, and that includes a slightly different
suite of finishers.
Let’s get to it!
Adam’s deck started with 31 lands. Arguably, it’s 30, since Eye of Ugin doesn’t tap for mana. I get the reason for running it since it searches up your
finishers, but realistically, you should only end up activating a card like that once per game. So let’s replace it! Fierce Empath searches out a finisher,
is an elf, and it’s more flexible in what it can find. This opens up some spots for new lands, so let’s bump this up to 34 lands. I get that
mana-dork-based decks need fewer lands than the rest of us, but I still think this deck wants three lands in the first three turns, and that means roughly
1/3rd of the deck should be land. Here’s the swap:
Mosswort Bridge is a great card, and you can trigger it either by going wide with ten creatures, or by having fewer creatures pumped by your anthem
effects. Oran-Rief, the Vastwood isn’t amazing, but it does act as a force multiplier, and it’s a good way to make your tokens a little more powerful.
Thawing Glaciers is a great engine card, and it’s particularly good with cards like Oracle of Mul Daya. I looked at Yavimaya Hollow and Pendelhaven for the
final land slot, but neither of them seemed worth the price tag in this deck. If you have access to them, they’re worth considering; otherwise, just add in
an extra Forest and you should be good.
I took out the mana-ramp spells for purist reasons. They’re not bad, although I would personally hesitate to play Rampant Growth outside of dedicated ramp
decks or decks where the key plays are all four drops, just because it’s a one-for-one. I just don’t think you need them. Play a few extra lands, a few
more mana dorks, and you don’t need to be playing cards that are blanks when you need bodies.
Let’s talk about those mana dorks. They’re a key piece to the tribal elf strategies. Early, mana dorks are ramp on turn 2 or turn 2; late, they’re bodies
to pump Coat of Arms, Door of Destinies, or the mana output of Elvish Archdruid and Priest of Titania. The one weakness of mana dorks is that they’re slow,
and usually require an entire turn cycle to wake up. We can fix that.
Concordant Crossroads and Thousand-Year Elixir are going to do some work for you. Of the two, Concordant Crossroads is going to be the more dangerous since
it’s an Enchant World. This means two things: it’s going to mean your opponents can come at you a little faster than usual, and it can be blown up if
someone else casts another Enchant World. The first is more relevant than the second since I can’t think of another Enchant World that sees play in
Commander, but it’s a rules wrinkle worth noting. I still think it’s worth it; your only concern is going to be fast tramplers, since you should be able to
gum up the field, and the boost in speed it gives you is worth a little risk. Obviously, Thousand-Year Elixir is also a powerful card, with its slightly
slower speed offset by the untap ability and the one-sided nature.
These enablers come in for Norwood Priestess and Elvish Piper, which are functionally just ways to get mana discounts on creature spells, particularly in a
Yeva, Nature’s Herald deck. Norwood Priestess doesn’t even offer the pseudo-flash that Elvish Piper gives you access to, and I’ve always been skeptical of
the Piper. As you’ll see in a second, I’ve cut back on the finishers a bit, and that means the Piper is going to be stealing fewer games while drawing the
same aggro. So I cut it! I think the end result will be a little more stable even if there are some obviously powerful things you can do with Elvish Piper
Next I cut Fyndhorn Elder, Greenweaver Druid, Mul Daya Channelers, Omnath, Locus of Mana, and Birds of Paradise. I’ve always been a little cool on the CMC
three cards that tap for two mana. If you need to get from three to five or six I can see their use, but your curve is mostly four and under. Mul Daya
Channelers in particular is less reliable in this type of deck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the card, but primarily in decks that stack the top
of their library. This isn’t really that deck. Omnath and the Birds come out because they’re off theme. If you really need another one-drop mana dork,
consider Arbor Elf, but you’re never going to tap the Birds for off color mana. It’s a non-elf body, which means it’s not going to grant any of the
ancillary effects that tribal synergy gets you, and I don’t think it being a flier is enough to make up for those disparities. Omnath was a tough cut,
because it’s a great card. In the end, I’m just a little tired of seeing it in every Mono-Green deck. It’s off theme, and your Yeva should mean that you
don’t need to be banking mana when you can be casting spells.
In its place, I brought in the five-card backbone of Legacy Elves – Nettle Sentinel, Birchlore Rangers, Heritage Druid, Wirewood Symbiote, and Quirion
Ranger. If you’re unfamiliar with the basic synergy behind these cards, it’s a pretty powerful one; Birchlore Rangers and Heritage Druid both let you tap
all your elves for mana, immediately, and Nettle Sentinel untaps every time you cast a green spell. This gives you the ability to dump your hand fairly
easily. Wirewood Symbiote and Quirion Ranger are interesting because they provide mana by untapping your other mana elves. In Legacy that’s usually Priest
of Titania/Elvish Archdruid, but they both have ancillary benefits even when targeting Llanowar Elves: Wirewood Symbiote bounces elves, letting you recast
the same cards for benefit, and Quirion Ranger bounces Forests, making sure you’re dropping a land every turn (even if that doesn’t get you ahead). As
you’ll see in a bit, they can get degenerate pretty quickly.
Finally, I brought in two of my pet elves. Elvish Aberration should be familiar to anyone who’s played Conspiracy, as it was most recently reprinted in
that set. It’s good early, when you can cycle it for a Forest, and it’s good late, when it jumps you from six mana to nine. Plus, the body is a base 4/5
which is pretty sweet when most of your other mana dorks are 1/1s. Viridian Joiner is a little weird, I know. Sometimes it’s just going to be a pricey
Llanowar Elves with all the casting cost of Greenweaver Druid but tapping for less mana. Other times though, you’ll have things like Coat of Arms out, and
all of a sudden you have a Gaea’s Cradle that you’ve got several different ways to untap. Sure, it’s higher variance, but with a thumb on the scale on the
side of power.
If you talked to anyone I play EDH with, they’d tell you I like to draw cards. Shockingly, I like doing things when I play Magic, and drawing cards is the
best way to find new and interesting things to do. So when I build a deck, I like to make sure it has a couple of different engines to draw cards.
First though, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about a change I’ve made to your combo pieces since it seems relevant to our discussion.
Previously, you were leaning on the “untap during everyone else’s turn” theme, with both Seedborn Muse and Quest for Renewal. I can get behind Seedborn
Muse since your general grants flash, but I don’t think Quest for Renewal is for this sort of deck. It takes a little help to get going, and I don’t know
that you need the redundancy for this effect. Cloudstone Curio, on the other hand, opens up a bunch of really brutal possibilities.
For example: You have some elves out. Let’s say it’s a random elf, Yeva, Elvish Archdruid, Elvish Visionary, Wirewood Symbiote, and Cloudstone Curio. All
of a sudden you can draw your deck, make infinite mana, and win the game on the spot. Tap the Elvish Archdruid for four mana, untap it with Wirewood
Symbiote by bouncing Elvish Visionary, replay Elvish Visionary bouncing Wirewood Symbiote with the Cloudstone Curio trigger, replay Wirewood Symbiote, and
then you’re up a card, up a mana, and you can keep doing this until you have a way to win the game. And this isn’t even why you run Cloudstone Curio!
You run Cloudstone Curio because it’s a pseudo-draw engine. Every creature you have entering the battlefield now functionally reads something like
“sacrifice another creature: search your library for a copy of that creature, and put it into your hand.” In a deck with a bunch of Mulldrifters, I’d play
that card in a heartbeat!
Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of Harmonize since it’s a one-shot draw spell that isn’t tied to a body. In a creature deck that makes it harder to abuse, and
it also means cards like Sylvan Messenger, which can draw you up to four cards, are more likely to blank. Regrowth isn’t even a proper draw spell, but
that’s how I tend to classify it in decks like this that don’t focus on abusing recursive strategies. It’s a very good Think Twice in this deck, and so I
did. And Howling Mine is a fine card, but it’s off theme. I don’t have any problems with letting my opponents draw extra cards, but in a deck like this,
it’s probably better to be on theme.
Elvish Visionary may only draw you one card, but it powers up all your other “elf matters” cards while filling a weak point in your curve. Masked Admirers
is an engine in its own right; if it were just Shaman of Spring I wouldn’t include it, but the ability to pull it back from the graveyard whenever you cast
a creature spell gives the card legs. Especially when you reach the point of Big Mana! Finally, Regal Force is a huge draw spell tacked to a body. You can
tutor it up with Tooth and Nail or Chord of Calling, unlike Harmonize, and it will generally refill your hand.
Of course, drawing cards is not the only way to get ahead on card advantage. Card-search can also do a fairly solid role of getting cards in your hand or
onto the battlefield. It helps that green’s the color that does that best; play to your strengths, mono-colored Commander decks!
I’ve already talked about taking out Eye of Ugin for Fierce Empath, but it’s worth mentioning again in this, its proper section. The other three cards are
pretty straightforward. Amusingly, none are elves! I took out Primal Command because I think it’s more generically powerful than good in this context; a
deck like this wants removal tied to sticks, and it was a bit pricey for its search function. Green Sun’s Zenith does that better, while also being great
at any point on your curve. Skyshroud Poacher is a fun little human most people overlook, but the ability to tutor any elf out of your library and onto the
battlefield (for a mere three mana!) is pretty good. Finally, Yisan is a potential back-up Commander, if need be, although I don’t know that this deck
wants to go that route. You don’t quite have the right curve for Birthing Pod antics (thus its absence), but Yisan is searchable and it’s a fun card. Give
him a try!
Now, I’ve danced around this for long enough. I don’t love generically powerful removal in themed EDH decks. I may be in the minority on this issue; I may
not. What I do know is that green has access to some of the best non-creature removal on a stick in the game, and several key pieces are of the elf-tribe.
Obviously, Beast Within is a strong card. It’s instant-speed Vindicate in Green that leaves your opponent with a fairly irrelevant token as its drawback.
There are many decks I would play that in. This, however, is not one of those decks. The same goes for Naturalize, although I am generally loathe to play
that sort of one-for-one spell in a deck without a huge number of draw engines. Instead, I think you should play Reclamation Sage, Viridian Shaman, and
Yes, they don’t have Beast Within’s ability to take out creatures, lands, or planeswalkers, but I think that’s mostly okay. You can take out planeswalkers
in combat, there aren’t too many problem lands that you need to worry about in Commander (unless one of your playgroup runs Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale, in
which case social pressure is probably going to be a more effective strategy than Beast Within could ever be), and I think you can mostly ignore opposing
creatures. I’m still leaving you with Karn Liberated and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre for those troublesome permanents, and one of them is relatively easy to
search up. The three elves do great jobs holding off the trouble artifacts and enchantments though, and those are the types of permanents you really need
to look out for.
As for Hurricane versus Jagged-Scar Archers… Hurricane is a powerful card. Having a way to do direct damage to players and fliers is often a useful thing.
But Jagged-Scar Archers does a decent job of providing flak for the skies while also doubling as a finisher a la Heedless One. I’m a fan of the card in
tribal decks, and when you’ve got a haste effect or Seedborn Muse on the table it’s going to be almost as good as, if not better than, such a spell.
When you’re running cards like Door of Destinies and Coat of Arms, your swarm tends to do a good job of finishing games. You supplemented that with a ton
of individual finishers, many of which were incredibly powerful. But if you’re seeing more of your deck each game, you don’t need the same concentration of
powerful endgame cards. As such, that’s where I got a bunch of the slots for the different categories above.
With the sole exception of Heedless One, I took out cards that would be generically powerful in a Mono-Green deck and replaced them with ones more specific
to the Elfball archetype. (Heedless One is just a little weak, since it’s basically a worse Drove of Elves, particularly when Nylea is in play.)
I took out the lower tier of Eldrazi. I kept the big ones so there’s still something in there to enjoy casting, but the smaller ones generally have a poor
impact ratio to the threat they draw. People really don’t like being annihilated, so it’s best to avoid that unless you’re swinging with a card like Ulamog
or Kozilek that will almost immediately end the game. If you needed the lifegain, I might keep Batterskull in, but considering who your general is, I think
mucking about with equipment might be best avoided; you can’t cast or equip Batterskull during your opponent’s end step, after all. I took out the hydras
due to a generalized skepticism of them and because they just don’t seem like the best fit for an elf deck. Lhurgoyf is a little weak; while Yeva may be
the only general that could convince me to play Lhurgoyf over Bonehoard, I still think it’s not a reliable enough card to be worth playing outside of the
mill archetype. Finally, Primeval Bounty suffers from what I consider to be a boring power level. Sure, it adds an effect to everything you do, but it
doesn’t really do anything on its own. And you don’t need armies of beasts! You need elves.
That’s why I brought in Voice of the Woods and Gempalm Strider. Voice makes tokens like Primeval Bounty, but they’re way more relevant bodies, and you can
keep cranking them out even if you run out of draw. Sure, that requires a board of five elves, but that shouldn’t be too hard to imagine. Gempalm Strider
is an overrun for your elf team, but it also doubles as a fairly unexpected pump spell to surprise your opponents. Combat tricks are fairly rare in EDH,
and that one is a doozy. Craterhoof Behemoth is the standard finisher in the Legacy elf deck, as you can search it up with Green Sun’s Zenith and it
rewards you for going wide. Most games end after someone drops a Craterhoof. And then there’s Genesis Wave. The final count of this deck ended up with
something like five other non-permanent spells. Genesis Wave is going to hit a lot of things. The best part is you can Genesis Wave for five or six and
you’re still practically guaranteed to hit several permanents. Then you just bring it back with Eternal Witness and spin the wheel again.
Which brings us around to the end, those changes that are not otherwise productively classified. It doesn’t matter if “tokens” is a great classification if
we’re only talking about one or two cards, and the same holds true for planeswalkers. Here are those miscellaneous changes:
I don’t particularly like this Garruk in the elf deck. I could see Garruk Wildspeaker, since that’s an overrun, but I’m happy to forgo that card as well.
Big Garruk (which was a way better nickname a year and a half ago) is basically used as a draw engine. It’s good with Eldrazi, but I think we have better
ways to draw cards now. Instead, let’s throw in a Nissa’s Chosen to power up Nissa Revane. Nissa has the weird honor of being the only tribal planeswalker,
and I know that it’s frustrating to spend two slots on her, especially for such a boring card. But there are going to be times when you top deck Nissa and
need bodies more than life, and in those situations you’re going to be thankful for a functionally immortal card.
Presence of Gond is cute, but outside of broken contexts (i.e. with Intruder Alarm, Midnight Guard, or whatnot) it’s not the best elf token generator, even
if it untaps every turn cycle. Elvish Promenade is a lot harder to blow out, and it’s a pretty cheap rate for doubling the bodies on your board. Lys Alana
Huntsmaster also helps; you’re going to be casting a lot of elf cards, and with the instant speed offered by Yeva there are definitely ways to use this to
Finally there is Tangle. I’ll be honest, I had to look this card up to make sure I was thinking of the right card… which was weird, since I just played
with it in VMA. I just don’t generally play too many fog effects in my Commander decks. It seems like one of the better fogs, and it can potentially blow
your opponent out, but unless there’s a meta-specific reason to play it I would say it’s a slot that could be better spent elsewhere. And even if there is
a reason to play a fog effect in your local meta, your general makes me think Spore Frog would be the better card.
So here’s my take on your elfdrazi deck:
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Priest of Titania
- 1 Elvish Champion
- 1 Wirewood Symbiote
- 1 Quirion Ranger
- 1 Fyndhorn Elves
- 1 Elvish Aberration
- 1 Skyshroud Poacher
- 1 Voice of the Woods
- 1 Wellwisher
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 1 Viridian Joiner
- 1 Fierce Empath
- 1 Gempalm Strider
- 1 Birchlore Rangers
- 1 Kaysa
- 1 Sylvan Messenger
- 1 Nullmage Shepherd
- 1 Essence Warden
- 1 Elvish Harbinger
- 1 Immaculate Magistrate
- 1 Imperious Perfect
- 1 Jagged-Scar Archers
- 1 Lys Alana Huntmaster
- 1 Masked Admirers
- 1 Heritage Druid
- 1 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Regal Force
- 1 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Elvish Archdruid
- 1 Nissa's Chosen
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Joraga Warcaller
- 1 Artisan of Kozilek
- 1 Joraga Treespeaker
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 1 Copperhorn Scout
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 1 Yeva, Nature's Herald
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 1 Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
- 1 Reclamation Sage
As usual, here’s a list of the cards I added and their price on this fine site. This time around I was a little more generous with the budget (although
there were some cards like Yavimaya Hollow that I ended up reconsidering due to the price). A lot of my favorite green cards have crept up in price over
the past few years. Hopefully, though, the $20 credit you get since we chose your submission (hint, hint) should help defray some of the cost.
|Lys Alana Huntsmaster||$0.25|
|Nettle Sentinel||$ 0.75|
|Voice of the Woods||$0.99|
|Yisan, Wanderer Bard||$ 0.99|
|Oran-Rief, the Vastwood||$1.49|
|Green Sun’s Zenith||$3.99|
It should have been less surprising to me that Craterhoof Behemoth and Regal Force got up there, but here we are. They are pretty important cards though,
and I’d definitely splurge on the Craterhoof if nothing else. That’s exactly the type of finisher these Mono-Green decks need, especially if you don’t want
to be the meanie rocking Triumph of the Hordes (a less tutorable, if still practical, finisher).
Anyway, Adam, I hope this is the type of deck you like to play! If you like elves cranking out ridiculous amounts of mana and then doing degenerate things
with it, this should scratch that itch.
That’s all for this week, folks! And if you missed out on the Duel Decks the first time through, I strongly recommend checking out Duel Decks Anthology
when it comes out this winter. They’re an interesting mix of decks and a truly great product if you want some casual fun with a friend.
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article. Only one deck
submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
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