Deep Analysis – Stapling Two Staples to Two Staples: Elves and Beyond in Standard

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Thursday, June 5th – With Charles Gindy’s Green/Black Elves deck taking home the prize at Pro Tour: Hollywood, it seems the Elven menace are poised to conquer Regionals this coming weekend. Today, Richard Feldman looks at the archetype and attempts to evolve them for the post-Hollywood metagame…

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the G/B Elf decks from Hollywood, and ways to adapt them to the post-Hollywood world. Fortunately, to aid in my quest, the manabases of those decks happen to follow a straightforward formula that allows them to be adapted to nearly any two-color Green/X combination. Here’s the recipe:

Green/X Elves Manabase

4 Treetop Village
4 Mutavault
4 Green/X Painland from Tenth Edition
4 Green/X dual land from some other set
3 Forest
3 Basic Land for Color X
1-2 Pendelhaven, to taste

So all you have to do is come up with a second Green/X dual land (besides the given one from Tenth) and you can pair Elves with that color. Green/Black? Gilt-Leaf Palace, thank you very much. Green/White? Ding, Horizon Canopy! Green/Red? Grove of the Burnwillows, thanks. Green/Blue?

… Green/Blue? Okay, so one color combination doesn’t fit the bill. However, the other three work out very nicely. Green/Black has already been thoroughly explored at this point, and White doesn’t seem to have much to offer the maindeck besides Oblivion Ring, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Wilt-Leaf Liege, and Oversoul of Dusk, but Red seems to have some real potential. Have a look.

Changes to Nakamura’s list include swapping out Civic Wayfinder for Radha, Profane Command and a land for Chandra Nalaar (as long as I’m removing the X spell, I think cutting a land is appropriate), and Nameless Inversion for Lash Out.

This list excites me for a number of reasons; I’ll go one-by-one.

1. Chandra

Although the loss of Profane Command is sad in the transition from Black to Red, Chandra actually seems like she has a ton of potential in this format. The most exciting application is her Flame Wave ability. Though a full turn slower than Garruk’s Overrun, Chandra’s Flame Wave wins the game pretty much no matter freaking what. There’s no Cryptic Command tapping down your guys and reversing the blowout, nor a lack of attackers to make it worthwhile (a problem shared by Profane Command’s Fear ability), it’s just Wrathing the opponent’s board and doming him for twelve (ten plus the two from upping her loyalty twice), end of story.

This is a deck particularly well-suited to defend Chandra when setting up a Flame Wave, as between Imperious Perfect and a full 4 copies of Garruk, the deck can really stall the ground for quite a bit if doing so will win the game. This means that the Flame Wave mode actually has a reasonable shot at firing off the mirror match, against Doran, and against Merfolk. Even when it doesn’t, it can provoke a desperation alpha strike out of necessity, which can lead to some devastating blocks on your part that will turn the tide of the game anyway.

However, against Faeries – which can easily fly over your defenses – and Red decks, which will just send burn straight at Chandra’s dome, Flame Wave seems an unlikely end result of resolving her. Instead, Chandra in these matchups becomes all about activating her first and second abilities, and effectively serving as a very strong – get this – lifegain spell to help you race.

Say I play Chandra, shoot Scion of Oona with her, and pass the turn. She now has five loyalty counters left, meaning Faeries will need to attack her for at least five to finish her off. Say they do that, and my Planeswalker hits the bin. (Thanks, says Tarmogoyf!) I’ve just paid five mana to kill Scion of Oona and gain five life; in a race, that’s actually more backbreaking than a Primal Command, as it gains a bit less life but kills – not just Temporal Spring-ifies – the creature – not the noncreature permanent – that was dealing me the most damage in that race. In fact, that’s perhaps more analogous to Tendrils of Corruption than anything else.

Now say Faeries can’t actually attack me back for the full five required to kill Chandra. Say they can only come up with four. Now I can untap and kill another of those ubiquitous X/1 Faeries, meaning I’ve paid five mana to kill two entire creatures and gain four life. That practically sounds like a premium Black removal spell, and I’m once again thrilled to use it in a race. If I’m ever activating her for more than one, it’s probably to kill Sower of Temptation or Mistbind Clique, two cards that I am more than happy to answer without expending a full spell. (Note that Chandra is actually more effective at Clique-killing than Profane Command; not only is she a point cheaper, an on-table Chandra can also kill a Clique that came in during my upkeep or mid-combat and tapped all my lands.)

Okay, now this time let’s say I’m up against a Red deck instead of Faeries. I play Chandra and immediately activate her first ability. My opponent loses a life point and now my Planeswalker is up to seven loyalty counters, one away from a lethal Flame Wave. My opponent is obviously not going to let this happen, so he Incinerates her to get her back down to a more manageable four loyalty counters. I shrug and say “okay,” content to have gained three life and a point of card advantage. Next turn I use her to kill the Tattermunge Maniac he just played, bringing her down to three counters. Either my opponent Incinerates her again here (meaning I’ve killed a creature and “gained six life” while doming him for one – quite the beating against a Red deck I’m trying to race) or he lets her stay, in which case I keep building up counters to get her back up towards a Flame Wave (thus requiring further burn spells to keep her in check) or I use her to keep dinging his life total and keeping his board entirely free of creatures while my guys attack past his defenseless self for the win.

Like Profane Command, Chandra also has minor applications as a flexible removal spell for large creatures. Profane Command can kill a Tarmogoyf and bring back an Imperious Perfect; Chandra can kill a Goyf (or a Chameleon Colossus, something G/B Elves simply cannot do) and then kill the other guy’s Imperious Perfect rather than bringing back my own.

2. Magus

Moving on to the Mighty Magus of the Moon, he’s clearly a double-edged sword in this deck. On the one hand, he is terrible against mostly-Red decks of all shapes and sizes; no argument here. On the other hand, the degree to which he is the superior disruption spell to Thoughtseize against Faeries and Reveillark is absolutely unbelievable. On the other, other hand, he can turn off my own manlands and potentially even color-screw me if, for example, I play him and the opponent responds by killing my Llanowar Elves, or he might just sit in my hand because I know that playing him would ultimately screw me. On the other, other, other hand, there will be situations in which I can randomly score a victory by dropping a Magus against an unintended, unprepared recipient such as G/B elves (who only plays six basics and 3-4 Civic Wayfinder) when the opportunity presents itself.

Still, I suspect this guy will be the most-often boarded out card in the deck. He is very much intended for the Faeries and Reveillark matchups, and it is only the fact that he can situationally be a blowout in other matchups (even though he can, admittedly, also be situationally dead) that keeps him maindeck-worthy. I started at the full four copies of this guy, but decided that the two-Magus draw in those relatively frequent (I expect) situations in which I won’t want to play him would be so backbreaking for me that I’d honestly just prefer to stay at three to be safe.

3. Lash Out

In a conventional Red beatdown deck, the wisdom has lately been that you should pretty much always play Lash Out over Incinerate, on the grounds that usually you will be Incinerating a dude anyway, and might as well try for the extra damage. The main argument I can see for playing Incinerate instead in this deck is that it can guaranteed go for the dome if that’s what you really need, and that it can target Planeswalkers (traditional Red decks have plenty of other burn spells that can go to the dome, so it’s not an issue).

Replacing Nameless Inversion with this card, on the other hand, seems a complete no-brainer when moving from Black to Red. Not only can it target Chameleon Colossus, it can actually kill a creature and go to the dome, while Inversion can only go to the dome in the rare case that an unblocked Tarmogoyf gets +3/-3 for the win.

However, losing Black’s removal options is hardly all roses for the deck. G/B’s Nameless Inversion is considerably better against Doran, where the +3/-3 means you can actually one-for-one the Siege Tower by blocking with a Treetop Village and Inverting it. More importantly, G/B has the option of playing Terror and Slaughter Pact, each of which can take out Mistbind Clique in a single blow, unlike Lash Out.

4. Radha

If the Heir to Keld turns out to be worse than Civic Wayfinder, she can easily be replaced by the third and fourth copies of him (or possibly a third Wayfinder and a 24th land, to go with Nakamura’s original configuration; I figured I could try cheating on the land count a bit because Radhas are cheaper than Wayfinders). Why is this a concern?

Three reasons. The first is that Radha can tap for a Green, or she can attack or block, but she can’t do both. If I need absolutely all of my mana, she might as well not even be a creature. Second, if Radha dies, her mana production goes with her. I’m not packing Profane Command, so it’s not as big a deal in the long game as it could be, but if my turn 2 Radha gets hit by a burn spell and I’m stuck on three lands holding Garruk and/or Chandra, I’m really going to wish I had Civic Wayfinder there to ramp me back up. Likewise, if I run out a Magus of the Moon with a Wayfinder-provided Forest, I don’t have to worry that my only Green source (Radha) will be hit by a removal spell and leave me color screwed. The final concern is that Radha doesn’t produce Red mana, and Chandra costs RR. I currently have eleven lands that produce Red mana and two Civic Wayfinders that can search up Mountains if I need them. In times of desperation, I can also use Magus of the Moon as a color fixer. However, the fact remains that if I were to replace Radha with two Wayfinders, or a Wayfinder and a Mountain, I’d have more Red sources, so if I find myself often unable to cast Chandra due to color constraints, I may replace the Legend with the Gray Ogre.

That said, Radha has some serious potential. For one, she’s a bear instead of a Gray Ogre, meaning she is not only a more competitive beater, she also gives you the extra mana a turn earlier, which is especially relevant when you’re stuck at two lands. For another, she actively accelerates you from two to four mana; Wayfinder not only provides zero acceleration, he doesn’t even provide an additional mana source until turn 3. Finally, Radha can attack and subsidize a free Lash Out on the way in. That is a lot of tempo; tapping to attack and adding two mana along the way is quite a bit different from tapping to add one mana with no attack involved. She’d be even better if I had more spells than Lash Out for her to contribute to with her extra ability, but I’m not about to warp the deck to fit them in.

Are these upsides enough to justify her despite the above concerns? We’ll see; at any rate, she is definitely worth trying. In fact, if she works out really well, I might even try replacing the third Wayfinder with an extra Radha.

5. The Sideboard

One of the oldest tricks in the aggro mirror book is to bring in a board sweeper, let your opponent overextend into it, clear the table, and rebuild with the stockpile of threats you’d been holding back. Sulfurous Blast fits the bill on that account, and can also neuter Garruk if you don’t mind saving the opponent three life. The Kavu Predators borrow a page from the playbook of the Your Move Games Hollywood R/G deck, coming in against Kitchen Finks/Primal Command decks and Reveillark to offset the effects of their lifegain.

The Primal Command/Faerie Macabre package comes straight from Marijn’s Top 8 sideboard, which simultaneously gives me an out to Reveillark’s Teferi’s Moats and a way to absolutely devastate their graveyard: shuffle it in, then I’ll tutor up an instant-speed imitation Tormod’s Crypt for when you rebuild it.

The Riftsweeper and Jaya Ballard are primarily for Faeries, though Riftsweeper might be worth it against Reveillark and Jaya might have applications in other matchups.

The Second Staple

The other thing I noticed when perusing the Hollywood lists was how very similar the Top 8 Doran list and the Top 8 Elves lists were. So I got to thinking, and ended up here.

This is a straight-up blending of Charles Gindy winning Elves list and Nico Bohny’s Top 8 Doran deck. Comparing to Gindy’s deck, the above list incorporates a manabase that accommodates White without decreasing the Black or Green counts, replaces 4 Terror with 4 Nameless Inversion, cuts 1 Boreal Druid, 2 Llanowar Elves, and 2 Garruk for 4 Birds of Paradise and 1 Primal Command, and the big one: it replaces 4 Civic Wayfinder with 4 Doran. The advantages? The land-fetching Gray Ogre is replaced by the 5/5 stomping machine, and the sideboard has access to Oblivion Ring (and yeah, other options like Mana Tithe, if you want to get tricksy).

As Charles Gindy was in the midst of his nightmare Reveillark matchup in the Top 8, Randy Beuhler and Brian David-Marshall were discussing how the main problem with the matchup was how slow Gindy’s deck was to apply pressure. Zvi Mowshowitz wisely suggested boarding out Tarmogoyfs, because in that matchup they wouldn’t grow to a useful size quickly enough; most often they would come down turn 2 as an 0/1 and would not get substantially bigger until Reveillark had settled in and was ready to combo out. When you’re playing to race the combo deck, a turn 2 5/5 goes a very, very long way, and it goes even further against Red decks that aspire to deal with it.

Comparing to Nico’s deck, on the other hand, the differences are night and day. Riftsweeper and Kitchen Finks are axed for Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Imperious Perfect, and the only remaining lifegain in the deck is the singleton Profane Command. Mutavault has been thrown into the mix as well, thanks to… well, honestly a simply greedier manabase.

This deck isn’t as radically different a take on Elves as the Gruul version, but it does help illustrate just what kind of flexibility that manabase is capable of. Three colors and eight manlands in the main? Who’d have thought you could get away with that? Compared to the usual Elves manabase, the only real downside is slightly more pain and a serious newfound vulnerability to Magus of the Moon – and considering those are the only significant costs of adding a third color, that’s pretty impressive from a deck packing eight manlands.


I’ll make no secret of the fact that I’m more intrigued by the first deck. Doran might or might not be an improvement, but I’m really interested to see if Chandra and Magus of the Moon can live up to their potential, as there really does seem to be a lot of it there.

Good luck at Regionals, and see you next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]