Deep Analysis – Bringing Elvish Beats in Standard

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Thursday, April 30th – With Alara Reborn now in the Standard mix, it seems the whole world is working on their own versions of Red/Green Beats. The power of Cascade, a la Bloodbraid Elf, is alluring. Today, Richard Feldman tweaks and tests his Red/Green Elves list, and throws it against Five-Color Control and Boat Brew.

This week I continued tuning and tweaking the RG Elves list from last week’s article, and ran it through its paces against Five-Color Control and Boat Brew to see how it fared against the matchups I expected to be less awesome than the Faeries and BW Tokens matchups from last week.

Here’s how the games went.

The Five-Color Control Matchup

Game 1: Bloodbraid Elf revealed eight lands in a row before ending on a Magma Spray. The Spray did nothing, but there is no possible way I could have won if that glut of eight lands had been there.

As it happened, I knocked him down to eight and was about to untap and kill him with a lethal Figure when he topdecked Cruel Ultimatum and won.

Game 2: I mulled to four and was obliterated.

Game 3: I open with Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Bramblewood Paragon, and Figure of Destiny. He throws a Plumeveil in front of my Figure, and I use Might and Magma Spray to push in more damage, knocking him to three. He plays Ajani and offs my Vanquisher, but I have a second Might to kill him exactly with my leftover Paragon.

Game 4: I use two Mights to kill two Walls, but am stuck on three mana and playing only one spell per turn. He gets to Cruel Ultimatum before I can do much to stop him.

Game 5: I play a Figure and grow it to 4/4, knock him to 14 and pass on my fourth turn without playing into Cryptic Command. He Repulses my Figure on end step, and I Javelin him down to 10. Next turn he has another Cryptic to counter the Figure, but I play a fifth land and Bloodbraid into Might, clocking him from 10 to 3 in one attack. He plays Wall of Reverence, but between a second Might and a Volcanic Fallout, he dies on my next attack anyway. [This one doesn’t work – the Might can’t target the as-yet unresolved Bloodbraid – Craig, boggling at the new cards.]

Game 6: I open with Figure of Destiny and knock him to 14 with it. He plays a Plumeveil next turn to block, but I Javelin it and keep bashing. I curve right out to six lands, forcing him to Cryptic my Figure, but I replay it and pump it up right away. He doesn’t draw an answer and dies to it.

Game 7: I start with another Figure and knock him to 14 once again, opting not to play Elvish Warrior for the sake of doming him more. He finds a Needle and plays it on Figure, then Cryptics it back to my hand. However, by this point I have Elvish Warrior and two Flame Javelins in hand, so I finish him off before he hits Ultimatum.

Game 8: Yet again I lead with Figure. His first answer to it is a Wall of Reverence, but I have the Fallout to finish it post-combat and a second Figure. The second Figure knocks him to one on the following attack, and I have another Fallout in hand.

Game 9: He has removal into Ajani into Cruel Ultimatum, and I am one mana short of finishing him before he can cast it all.

Game 10: I have a ton of Elves. He kills a few of them off at a time, but I always have more and he doesn’t find enough card draw to compensate for the glut of lands he draws. I just out-threat him and beat down.

So, 6-4. That looks good, but I feel I got pretty lucky. Several of my wins were basically just “Figure goes all the way,” and my impression is that this shouldn’t happen as often as it did.

I tried against an updated version, with Terminate over Agony Warp and Bituminous Blast over Wild Ricochet and Banefire. I’m not sure that Wall of Denial will find a home in Five-Color Control, but I tried a 2-2-2 split of Plumeveil, Wall of Reverence, and the new Wall of Denial to see how it fared.

Game 1: I play out Figure and a couple of Elves. He draws some cards with Esper Charm, plays a Wall of Reverence (I finish it off with Javelin post-combat), I play Bloodbraid and flip Colossal Might; he Bituminous Blasts it, but flips Esper Charm and dies to the rest of my attackers.

Game 2: I lead with Figure of Destiny, but he has a Needle for it right away. I beat down with some Elves instead, and between them and some burn spells and some Colossal Might, I get him down to two, but he clears my board. Then I draw some lands and eventually he finds Cruel Ultimatum.

Game 3: He kills some of my guys, but has no draw spells while I start plunking away with Wren’s Run Vanquisher. Soon enough I get him down to double Javelin range.

Game 4: He cycles a couple of Cryptics to Fog me and plays Cruel Ultimatum right on time.

Game 5: I lead with a Figure, which dies to a Fallout in response to its third activation. I follow that up with a Wren’s Run and Paragon, then a Boggart Ram-Gang plus a Colossal Might, then Bloodbraid for the kill. He has Cryptic to counter the Bloodbraid and tap the team, but not before I get a free Boggart Ram-Gang with the Paragon bonus. Next turn he casts Cruel Ultimatum and goes up to 15, but I knock him to 8 next turn and play a Figure off the top. He has Terminate for the Figure, but Jace does not draw him into answers for my lethal pair of 4/4 Ram-Gangs.

Game 6: My opener has only Wren’s Run Vanquisher for creatures, my six-card hand has only two Reflecting Pools for lands, and my five-card hand has only a Mountain. Four turns later I draw Savage Lands.

Game 7: I play two Wren’s Runs and a Ram-Gang. All he can muster is an Ajani that has to go Lightning Helix mode to stave off imminent death, then a Cryptic Fog, then I win.

Game 8: I am one turn away from killing him when he topdecks Cruel Ultimatum and blows me out, returning Plumeveil and topdecking Wall of Reverence to lock me out.

Game 9: He has answers for every single one of my threats and then, as soon as I am down to zero cards in hand and no nonland permanents, he plays Cruel Ultimatum. That’ll do it.

Game 10: He has Broken Ambitions for my first two threats, but after I stick a Ram-Gang, I have Flame Javelins for the two consecutive Plumeveils he tries to throw in front of it. I play Bloodbraid next turn, and while he Cryptics it, I get a free Elvish Warrior out of the deal. Next turn he plays Jace and draws into Terminate for the extra Ram-Gang I play on the turn after, but the existing Gang and Elvish Warrior take him to 1. He doesn’t topdeck Cruel Ultimatum.

5-5 this time. None of the Alara Reborn cards were really a factor here. Five-Color Control never actually drew the new Wall, and while Bituminous Blast locked up one game by killing a Vanquisher and serving up a Plumeveil for my other incoming attacker, it was too slow in another and just sat there while I beat down. Terminate was only better than Agony Warp once, when I had a 4/4 Figure already in play, but there was another game in the set when Agony Warp would have been better due to my two attackers.

This matchup feels about even game 1, and I strongly suspect the matchup will hinge on the sideboard.

I’m not sure, but I think Stigma Lasher is the wrong choice here. He would be solid if he ever connected, but not amazing, and it seems like too often he will just fail to connect. Really, what I want are more ways to kill walls or stop Cruel Ultimatum. (If Gloomwidow’s Feast only cost three, I might honestly run it.) Wild Ricochet is one potential answer, and has two big things going for it.

One, Five-Color Control often has to cast Cryptic Command to just tap my blockers. A Wild Ricochet on that counters it, meaning I get my damage in for the turn, and also lets me either draw a card or bounce one of their lands, potentially putting them one turn further away from Cruel Ultimatum.

Two, and far more relevantly, it very often happens that I have mana up and the only thing I fear is Cruel Ultimatum; if Five-Color Control has it, they win, if they do not, I probably win. Casting Wild Ricochet on their Ultimatum pretty effectively neutralizes it. We Drain Life each other, which potentially has no effect (but potentially wins me the game on the spot, since mine goes off first), but the draw-and-discard most likely favors me since Five-Color is caught tapped out. I will draw three cards and dig up a dead guy, then discard three from my opponent’s Ultimatum. With eight haste creatures and “eight” burn spells (counting Colossal Might) in my deck, chances are very good that I am going to be not only attacking for the full amount next turn, I am also going to be adding 3-4 extra damage on top of it, if not more. If that’s not enough to kill the opponent, I will be surprised.

I thought about Manabarbs instead, but Barbie has the slight problem of being vulnerable to countermagic. If you’ve got Ultimatum coming next turn and I cast Manabarbs and you counter it, that’s lights out for me. If I pass the turn with Ricochet mana open? Do your worst. Still, I will keep Barbs open for consideration if Ricochet doesn’t work out.

The dynamic between Bloodbraid Elf and Cryptic Command is really interesting. I’m not sure if there’s a hard and fast rule on when it’s best to play Bloodbraid precombat or post-combat, though I have most often found myself casting it precombat because the consequences if they do not have Cryptic are so dire, and the consequences if they do have it are generally minor enough to justify the risk.

The Boat Brew Matchup

Game 1: We have a telling opening: I am on the play and lead with Elvish Warrior and Boggart Ram-Gang, while he has Figure and Mogg Fanatic forced to eat a two-for-one to take out Ram-Gang while he is stuck on Mountain, Mountain, Windbrisk Heights, Mind Stone, unable to cast Kitchen Finks or either of the Siege-Gangs in his hand. He topdecks Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender instead of a White source, which is hardly enough to stem the bleeding after I play Bloodbraid into Paragon. He trades a second Figure for the Paragon, then cycles the Mind Stone to search for a Path, but it is too late and not even Kitchen Finks will save him.

Game 2: I am extremely close to burning him out, but he draws the one Forge-Tender again and holds off my Figure until it counters my Flame Javelin, allowing him to race me easily.

Game 3: I mull to four and am never really in it.

Game 4: I lead with Figure (killed by Mogg Fanatic immediately), Paragon, Elvish Warrior, Bloodbraid into Paragon, another Elvish Warrior. He has Mind Stone into Siege-Gang after the Mogg Fanatic, but it’s not fast enough to save him from my large, trampling Warriors.

Game 5: He leads with turn 1 Burrenton Forge Tender and plays Kitchen Finks on turns 3 and 4.

Game 6: We completely exhaust each others’ resources and are only down to lands – of which I have many, because he has cast Path to Exile on me twice. I topdeck Figure of Destiny. He topdecks land, Ranger of Eos. Game.

Game 7: He mulls to four and is never really in it.

Game 8: We trade blows for awhile until he plays a Figure, I don’t have a burn spell for it, and he immediately goes Ultimate with it for the kill. Of note, I flip two Wren’s Runs this game off Cascade.

Game 9: I am stuck on two lands for awhile, but I have two Paragons to juice up my guys and keep the damage coming. Eventually I alpha strike into his 4/4 Figure and Reveillark to knock him to 3, then Javelin him next turn.

Game 10: Again he draws his one Forge-Tender, and between that guy and Kitchen Finks I don’t have enough damage to get by after my mull to five.

So, 5-5. Not bad considering he had Forge-Tender in three of ten games and I mulled to four or five in three of ten.

I was way, way, way wrong on how to board for this matchup.

I definitely do not want to take out Volcanic Fallout. The card was very strong against them, as my larger animals mean they generally have to deploy multiple small men just to keep up (because, for example, sitting and pumping a Figure to try and compete with my big dudes takes too much time). I assumed that because they have eight Persist guys and Reveillark, I wouldn’t want him, but the rest of the deck is highly vulnerable to Fallout.

I was also wrong to board in only three Ashenmoor Gouger; that guy would be a total house against Boat Brew.

I assumed Colossal Might would be bad here because of Path to Exile, but they are rarely in a position to blow me out with it. Boat Brew has to be on constant defense to survive against this deck, and while they cannot afford to hold off casting Path on, say, my Ram-Gang to hope for a two-for-one later, I can usually afford to hold my Colossal Might for later with minimal impact. That said, I don’t think it’s as good as Pyroclasm and extra Magma Sprays would be, so I’m still bringing those in instead.

It never really occurred to me that this might come up, but Figure of Destiny is pretty bad in this matchup. He dies or is neutered by Mogg Fanatic all too often, and is not worth pumping up because he can so easily die to Path to Exile or be trumped by a midgame Forge-Tender, in a matchup where that kind of lost tempo can kill me on the spot.

My last point of doubt on the Boat Brew boarding plan is whether two Magma Spray is the optimal use of my final slots. Since the Forge Tenders and Persist guys are my trouble spot, my instinct is to reach for Everlasting Torment, but giving everyone Wither eliminates my natural advantage of having bigger dudes. That’s a serious problem, and makes me think I’m better off just gritting my teeth and suffering through the Forged Tenderness.

Honestly, I think I might be best off just sucking it up and playing more Pyroclasm effects, as they seem comparable to Magma Spray in this matchup while being far superior against Faeries and BW. Of course, if that’s the case, since both Magma Spray and Pyroclasm are pretty weak against Five-Color Control, I might as well go the whole nine and just main two Pyroclasms and cut the Magma Sprays altogether. If I’m doing that, however, I need to go up to 4 Elvish Warriors and down to three Bramblewood Paragons.

Revising the Sideboard

Since I will be boarding out three Paragons and in two Pyroclasms against Faeries and BW, I have one slot left over. I thought about filling it with Scattershot Archer, since he helps restore my Elf count for Vanquisher, and because I probably will not need to cast Pyroclasm or Fallout while he is active, but realized that he was too easily foiled by a single Glorious Anthem effect and nixed the idea. Then I considered good ol’ “Pyroclasm number nine,” Firespout, but realized that I too rarely have three green sources. (I don’t want to wipe my own board as well against Faeries and BW.) Finally I decided to just gift the Boat Brew matchup with an extra slot and board in a random Ashenmoor Gouger.

At this point, I have three slots in the board to devote solely to the Boat Brew matchup. Once again I started with Magma Spray, but again quickly came to the conclusion that I was barking up the wrong tree. Really I wanted an Elf to replace the Bramblewood Paragons I would be boarding out as I went up to eight Pyroclasm effects.

I looked through the list of available Elves, and let me tell you, it was Slim Pickens out there. I considered Llanowar Sentinel, as he has the critical third point of toughness and is a reasonable late-game topdeck as two 2/3s for 3GG. Since the games against Boat Brew tend to go fairly long, this seemed like a good investment, until I started thinking about just how godawful it would be to ever draw the guy on his own.

I came to the conclusion that, since the games against Boat Brew do go so long, I would be okay with having some Vanquishers “back each other up” – that is, cast the first one revealing the second and leave the second stranded until the five mana mark. If I am okay with that scenario, as I am in the Faeries and BW matchups, then I have “eleven” Elves that enable turn 2 Vanquisher, which is sufficient in my book.

This leaves me room to play the one card I want against Boat Brew and really no other deck: Demigod of Revenge. Since Boat Brew is usually forced to cash in its Reveillarks early to stop damage without losing board position, a topdecked Demigod in the late game should be able to sail through for a good bit of damage no matter how gummed up the ground is by Forge-Tenders and Siege Gang tokens.

Thus, the revised list:

My revised boarding plan versus Five-Color Control:

+4 Ashenmoor Gouger
+2 Wild Ricochet
-4 Volcanic Fallout
-2 Pyroclasm

Against Boat Brew:

+4 Ashenmoor Gouger
+3 Demigod of Revenge
+2 Pyroclasm
-4 Figure of Destiny
-3 Bramblewood Paragon
-2 Colossal Might

Against Faeries and BW:

-3 Bramblewood Paragon
+2 Pyroclasm
+1 Ashenmoor Gouger

Finally, against Blightning:
+4 Kitchen Finks
+2 Ashenmoor Gouger
-4 Volcanic Fallout
-2 Pyroclasm


Overall, I like the deck. It’s got very explosive draws, plays very powerful cards, and seems to have a very potent sideboard plan for each of the major matchups in the field.

It does tend to mulligan more often than I would like for an aggressive deck, sometimes getting stuck with a draw where Wren’s Run Vanquisher is the only available two-drop, and there are no other Elves in the hand, or having double Reflecting Pool or double Fire-Lit Thicket as my only lands, or having no play before turn 3, and so on.

That said, the numbers seem to be working out fine nonetheless. I’m not sure that I’d be comfortable playing a deck at Regionals that loses due to factors beyond the pilot’s control, even if it does a solid amount of winning overall, but I would have no qualms recommending this deck to anyone who does not share that philosophy.

See you next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]