Dear Azami – So I Hear You Like Elves…

Ezuri, Renegade Leader put Elves back on the map in Standard, but how does it do as a General in Commander? Sean McKeown helps out a reader with his mono-green concoction.

Here is my Elves build for Commander. Its starts out fast, but I can’t keep up in the late game. If you could give me some advice on what I can put in / take out to make this a little more late game, I would appreciate it. I’ve tried to keep it as Elf themed as possible.

This deck is super fun to play, but in a game of 5-plus, it’s pretty much dead in the water after you kill 2-3 people or you face a lot of wrath effects. Hope you can think of something.


Jon McDaniel

How convenient for you that I am the weirdo who spent all of Caw-Blade season playing mono-green Elves… and thus am full of opinions of how to make a deck such as yours more competitive. And I warn you in advance I shall be murdered if I spare the expenses on at least one card here, as an Elf deck without a Gaea’s Cradle will just get me yelled at in the forums, but you can go ahead and edit that out mentally if there is no hope of ever acquiring such a card now that its price has risen to fairly extraordinary levels.

That aside, everything else is just honing in on the general strategy of the deck to try and correct for the fact that you’re playing into sweepers that are very common in this format. It’s not enough to kill someone early and then go kaput, so pure speed’s not going to do it here, especially since the more your local playgroup faces your deck the more resilient they are going to make themselves to early rushes. What you need is staying power, and what that usually means is having cards in hand after you’ve developed your board if they’re going to wipe it — at the start of this column a year ago, I tried to bring up an idea I called ‘relevance’ that simply stated that as long as you had cards in hand and thus plays you could make, you could affect the board presence and have a relevant impact on the game. Designing your deck towards that line is very important, and will build in resilience to the exact sweepers you are running face-forward into, Ezuri’s regeneration ability or otherwise.

Much more important in that article is the section I called “Playing To Win Versus Playing To Win Eventually.” It’s worth sharing again, so here’s the start of it:

If “relevance” is Commander’s card advantage, does Commander also have a form of tempo? The answer to this is yes, just not in the direct and linear way cutthroat tournament players tend to think of it. Tempo makes a lot of sense in a two-player world when you’re trying to kill each other, but it’s a lot harder to figure out when the big spells are flying and four players are in the thick of it. The question of tempo in multiplayer is thus included in the question of not whether you can do something but whether you should.

In two-player, non-cooperative Magic, you have one enemy in the way of you and your game win and no need to play politics with him most of the time. Most of what you’d call ‘politics’ in two-player Magic are thought of as ‘Jedi mind tricks’, or attempts to veil your strategy so as to lay a trap across a particular line of play in which your opponent will find themselves caught. In multiplayer Magic, winning is not merely the end goal but also a trap in and of itself, one in which the impatient or unwary often find themselves caught.

Remember: a game of Commander is a marathon, not a sprint. Sprinters will find themselves sorely outclassed after about the one-mile mark, and looking to make a game a sprint is the kind of thing that’s met with recriminations. Maybe they get teamed up on and eliminated so the other three players can go back to the intricate game of politics and haymakers that they wanted to play in the first place; after that first Winter Orb or Armageddon that lets them win by crippling the rest of the table, the cat’s out of the bag. Combo-kills are great and easy to build towards if that’s what you want to do, but being the front-runner in a game of Commander is just the best way to paint a target on your back.

For a single game of Commander, maybe that’s just fine. Who cares, after all, what the social ramifications will be if you have no intention of sitting around to reap those sour rewards? Magic Online Commander is thus probably a different animal, just as Magic Online PTQs are different from the offline thing; sure, you’re playing to the same goal in the end presumably, but you can do it from home in your underwear and never have to talk to another human being if you don’t want to. Maybe this means online you should jam your deck with as much power as possible and just push for the early lead and infinite-combo endgame, but even in that case, it’s quite possible that just appearing to be ahead will unite the others to depose you and eliminate your broken combo deck from the equation. Three people is a large number of people to try and kill with an unbounded combo. It’s hard enough killing someone in a two-player duel without their throwing a monkey wrench in the works, and here you have more than one opponent with a vested interest in not dying no matter how cool your combo is.

The question, then, is all about pacing.

Pacing, like relevance, is the fine art of figuring out what matters and building towards it. Relevance is something you can be mindful of during the deck construction portion of the Commander game, making sure you have enough cards that keep your hand full and options open so that you’ll always be able to have something to say in your continued existence. “Pacing”, however, is pure gameplay. And it’s not the hard grind of competitive Magic where you have to spend turn after turn playing tight and finding a way to win from behind; it’s all about playing the game to play the game and figuring out where you’re going with things when you get there.

Back to Ezuri, now. He covers the power-boosting Overrun side very nicely, so things like Tribal Forcemage that are ‘just’ Overrun effects aren’t going to be interesting to us or really worth pursuing. The more Elves you have, the more effective he is, but it’s worth remembering this linear thinking can be worth interrupting and does not require that every single creature be an Elf. Other creatures that still work very effectively towards the goal you are seeking to accomplish are fine, and worth pursuing. You’re building to an end-game state where you’re alive and they’re all dead at your feet, and if a friend or two doesn’t have pointy ears, we’ll not worry too much about that.

Usually I start with the manabase, but in this case there are no subtractions to make, just additions, and super obvious ones that work with your overall plan of making explosive amounts of mana and using them over the course of one or two big turns. They are paired pretty neatly together, at that, so I’ll just list them:

+1 Gaea’s Cradle, +1 Deserted Temple

The Temple is there just to untap Gaea’s Cradle, and you’re going to be going through your deck quickly enough (and have a few ways to find individual nonbasic lands) that it’s well worth including the second shot at tapping Gaea’s Cradle even if it doesn’t really do much else in your deck.

Usually I like starting with the spells in a deck before going with the creatures, but given the tribe focus Ezuri requires, that would be backwards of us, so I’ll break my usual stride and start by picking at the pointy-eared folks you call your friends and seeing where that gets us.

Friends Not Invited To The Party:

Elvish Lyrist — Not to say bad things about a creature who’s served me well, having targeted more than one Illusions of Grandeur in the good old bad old days, Elvish Lyrist has summoning sickness and less-broad targeting restrictions than a replacement Elf that has since been added to the tribe, and that replacement is a strict upgrade in terms of utility and speediness of the required effect.

Essence Warden — Lifegain is not my cup of tea, and you aren’t getting anywhere interesting or special by including Essence Warden, just insuring that you are starting to lose at 60 life instead of 40 life when your board gets wiped.

Frontier Guide — I lack the optimism that suggests we really, well and truly, have this kind of time to mess around with incremental mana-base development at a very high cost.

Leaf Gilder, Heart Warden — Cheaper Elves will suffice for the mana ability, since there is at least one mana-producing one-drop you haven’t included yet, and there is a more powerful option at the same place on the mana curve if that is what you want. Two power, or the ability to cycle from play, do not add very much overall to the plan of action.

Tajuru Preserver — What are you protecting against? All is Dust is the only sweeper this defends against, though I suppose Barter in Blood sort-of counts, and this is a narrow answer to a rare question that doesn’t require specifically answering when the broad question of “so what do we do now?” is already on the list of things you need to address.

Fyndhorn Elder, Greenweaver Druid — Not so great on the curve, and thus begging for replacement.

Argothian Elder — Slow. Damnably slow.

Elvish Piper — What are we cheating into play? Would we even save mana by doing that, for most of the creatures you’re able to bring into play? If so, is it even worth it, to save that mana by spending four mana for a 1/1, then a fifth mana to get the opportunity cost for that savings by having invested a second card into it? Doubtful.

Llanowar Empath — Card selection is good, but this is too expensive a price for too small of an effect.

Wirewood Channeler — Cheap mana elves that get explosive are good. Four mana, however, starts to really draw the line of where we’re interested still, and since there are several pinpoint tutor effects to find the cheaper versions of this card I’m content to scrap this copy.

Elvish Soultiller — The part of the effect you want, gaining the ability to recur your spent cards, can be accomplished more readily by a card that requires less work to do it (if you’ve got Survival of the Fittest, anyway…) and can fit the card-advantage desires the deck already has. Sure, it’s off-tribe, but better at the job is still better at the job.

New Friends:

Two slots we leave open for those two lands already added, so with thirteen cuts we’re only looking to make eleven additions to replace those we’ve taken out. First we’ll name the three non-Elf creatures being added, then we’ll move on to our pointy-eared friends, and then we’ll work on the spell-base that is supposed to be supporting the deck and helping provide resilience and late-game relevance by not blowing all of its resources into the wind that inevitably comes with the first sweeper spell.

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth — With the level of mana you’re capable of generating, the four cards drawn plus threatening body is good to have, but more importantly you gain easier access to recurring your deck after it’s spent by the Eldrazi reshuffle effect. Survival of the Fittest in play lets you shuffle your graveyard back into your deck for one extra mana somewhere in the cycle, which is an option Elvish Soultiller did not come with, and if you’ve got to wait for the card to die in the first place before it does the job you’ve assigned this slot you might as well at least draw four cards first.

Regal Force — Ridiculous component of ‘Elf Combo’ decks since it was printed. While not an Elf, drawing ten or twenty cards helps you put more Elves into play, and given how readily you’re able to find an individual creature it’s a powerful addition even if it is off-tribe. That which is on-concept can be forgiven for being off-tribe.

Wirewood Symbiote — We’ve focused on tapping elves for large amounts of mana, but not really doing anything interesting after that. Wirewood Symbiote may not be an Elf, but it gives the option of untapping your Elvish Archdruid after developing your board considerably, which should help power out the rest of your turn and crank out Ezuri bonuses pretty amazingly from there. Since it can be used per-turn, it also has an interesting capability to protect your creatures from sweepers, since you can use it twice as many times in a given turn-cycle than it was ‘intended’ for.

Now, to our pointy-eared compatriots!

Quirion Ranger — Much like Wirewood Symbiote, Quirion Ranger may allow you to get an explosive burst of mana in the middle of a big turn, which can pump your team with Ezuri or develop your board the turn before you go for the big steamroll push.

Viridian ZealotElvish Lyrist + Elvish Scrapper, wrapped into the same card, as far as strict utility is concerned. Pure upgrade, however, when you absolutely positively need to kill that Teferi’s Moat (and the pesky mage who controls it!) right now, and don’t want to wait a turn to try and keep a 1/1 from dying.

Boreal Druid — A one-mana Elf that taps for mana, but was not included in your first pass.

Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid — Two Elves that work very well together indeed, and the Heritage Druid is worth including even without the ‘trick’ that Nettle Sentinel allows because it can effectively keep a card-drawing chain going by letting the elves you play tap for mana to replace themselves the same turn they are cast. Again, considering how many pinpoint tutor effects are in the deck, even if Nettle Sentinel doesn’t do much with anything else in the deck, it’s powerful to include it just to pull this combo off.

Devoted Druid — With Ezuri running, suiciding this guy for a lot of mana reduces Ezuri’s activated ability from 2GGG to… 2. Quite a deal, even if he does start by having zero power. Between this and Leaf Gilder, it’s just not close when you see what Devoted Druid can offer you.

Caller of the Claw — Help playing around Wrath effects, since you’re so vulnerable to them in basic concept. While it’d be amazing if the tokens were Elves, I know, they’re still replacing every dead Elf with a 2/2 creature that can go murder the guy who cast that spell you didn’t like.

Skyshroud Ranger — An interesting, oft-overlooked Elf that I have wanted to find a home for some time now. Tapping to put a Forest into play mid-game isn’t special, but tapping to put Gaea’s Cradle into play after you’ve drawn a solid chunk of your deck off of Regal Force or something is another matter entirely. That it can even do an impression of Llanowar Elf at all by helping to play Elvish Archdruid or Ezuri on turn two makes it worth including, as well.

Moving on now to the spells, it’s time to streamline the deck and make sure it actually gets to play out the way you’re describing it and I’m envisioning it from here. I’ll be cutting things that are too narrow or too slow, and replacing it hopefully with more ways to find the creature you want most right now or other ways to put a bunch of cards in your hand and weather the storm of a mass-kill spell.

Mind’s Eye — Sacrilege #1. You want up-front power, not incremental advantage, and for what you’re trying to accomplish you can get much better deals than this.

Howling Mine — Helping others while slightly helping yourself makes you friends. Playing your deck makes you enemies. No one will be tricked, and you’ll be providing three cards to your opponents for each card you draw, and investing a card yourself to do so.

Doubling Cube — If this is making a lot of mana, it means you have Priest of Titania, Gaea’s Cradle, Elvish Guidance or Elvish Archdruid online. The creatures are addressed by adding Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote, the other two via Deserted Temple, and focusing on what is enabling this mana level to be reached in the first place is better than doubling it once you get there.

Krosan Grip — Utility you don’t need.

Gilt-Leaf Ambush — Sure, it puts two elves into play for three mana. I’m still not impressed.

Gaea’s Anthem — If Elvish Champion wasn’t good enough to include, why should Gaea’s Anthem be?

Overwhelming Stampede — Anything this card can do, Ezuri can also do, so I’m not impressed. Sure, instead of +3/+3 like Ezuri does, this can give +8/+8 because you’ve already pumped the team twice. If you’re needing to give more than +9/+9 to a large body of creatures in order to take someone down, do we really think this card’s going to be enough? It’s probably because they’re at infinite life, so this needs replacing with something that actually addresses the problem this might need to face as an unique addition.

Awakening Zone — Slow-moving and horribly inefficient for the kind of speed you’re trying to have in the first place. It’s not working at cross-purposes, but it is certainly under-performing.

We have eight cuts, and thus room for eight replacements. We want to focus on putting cards into your hand, streamlining your draw, and cheating a little with Gaea’s Cradle or the amount of damage you actually need to deal in order to kill someone. There’s going to be a few sleazy additions and this is going to play more like a combo deck than most I usually present, but that’s already what your deck sounds like and it’s a highly-interactive combo deck with credible weaknesses… the kind of combo I can live with playing in good faith in this format, since it’s not hyper-consistent or irresistible, just well-designed.

Memory Jar — Your replacement for Mind’s Eye. The same mana investment up front lets you get access to seven cards right now instead of over two turns of waiting and with seven more mana invested. Ezuri likes a burst of speed, and this is much speedier card draw.

Glimpse of Nature — There is a reason this card is banned in Modern, and that reason is well worth taking advantage on your part. A ridiculous card-draw spell based solely on the low price of investment it takes to start off with, Glimpse of Nature will help you rocket through your deck deploying a large fleet of Elves into play and help ensure that you have stuff left to do after you’ve played out that impressive board.

Grim Flowering — Another potent card-draw spell, this time brought to us from the new set of Dark Ascension. Considering your stated weakness was to having all your creatures die and not having any more cards in hand to rebuild with, this seems to be the ideal follow-up play to what ails ye.

Triumph of the Hordes — Unlike Overwhelming Stampede, this can help kill an opponent from infinite life in one swing, without having to connect Ezuri across the table for 21 damage. It’s sleazy to kill someone with Poison, I know, but dead is dead and unlike Overwhelming Stampede, this actually does an interesting trick.

Concordant Crossroads — Speaking of interesting tricks, ‘killing people from nowhere’ is also an interesting trick. Considering how quickly you can rush through your deck now if you try, this will help you deploy a steady wave of threats and actually get to attack with them the same turn, for the disgustingly low cost of one mana.

Crop Rotation — Speaking of disgustingly low costs, G: Turn a Forest into Gaea’s Cradle is a hell of a way to get ahead with this deck. I normally jump for Expedition Map, but that requires you being able to play another land in a turn while this just drops that land into play, and at a lower investment price to boot. If you have Cradle, this can get Deserted Temple and let you get to tap that Cradle again, which is what I was thinking of when I said “we can do better than Doubling Cube” if we just want to use a card as a Ritual effect mid-combo.

Summoner’s Pact — Another spot tutor for the right creature you need for the job, even if it is a little bit of a dangerous one since it has the words ‘lose the game’ written on it. You can’t argue with a good deal, though, and you don’t get better than free.

Chord of Calling — Our last addition is likewise a spot tutor for the right creature you need right now, and like Summoner’s Pact this can theoretically be free. Free is really expensive with Convoke, though, unless Wirewood Hivemaster has been busy at work and has nothing else worth doing with all those spare insect tokens. Considering you’ll often be targeting one-drops or two-drops instead of always going for Regal Force at the hefty price of ten mana with this spell, the price is still well within the affordable range, even if it is considerably more expensive than Green Sun’s Zenith for the same target.

Putting it all together, that gives us the following deck:

Pricing each of these additions out, we see a huge bump for Gaea’s Cradle and everything else is ‘sane’ by comparison, since we’re adding mostly commons and the occasional Commander staple:


As always, for your participation you will be receiving a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com store, which hopefully should take some of the sting out of that Gaea’s Cradle we all know you so desperately want to make your deck fire off on all cylinders. While the deck will of course still work without it, the amazing level it can reach if it’s included is pretty big of a difference, and if there is any way to try and squeeze it in either as a short-term or a long-term goal it’s worth trying to accomplish. Valentine’s Day is coming up, maybe that special someone can find out what present you really want this year? If not, there’s always Saint Patrick’s Day, where after an evening’s libations dropping $55 to buy one land for your deck suddenly sounds like a good idea… after all, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, Gaea’s Cradle taps for green… yeah!

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submission to consider for use in a future article, like Noah’s Lady Evangela deck or Jiggs’ Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker deck. 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 the StarCityGames.com Store!

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