Elf and Nail: The Best Deck You Aren’t Playing

I’m watching the match, and I’m thinking, what the hell? Wirewood Symbiote? Vernal Bloom? What in the name of Erik Lauer is going on here? Aside from the fact that Affinity was getting worked, that is. The deck – christened Elf and Nail – would win the Northwest Regionals, piloted to a 9-0-2 finish by Sameer Nelson, and the deck did incredibly well elsewhere. Immediately intrigued, I went home, built a copy and starting throwing it against the gauntlet I’d built for Regionals.

When I was attending Regionals a few weeks ago, Jay Schneider, tournament organizer and well-known mad genius, pulled me aside to show me a feature match with one of the members of the Food Court Samurai, his Seattle-area playtesting group. It was an aggro-Affinity deck against a Tooth and Nail deck.

Tooth and Nail? Yeah, I’ve seen that before.

No, Jay said, watch and see.

And I’m watching the match, and I’m thinking, what the hell? Wirewood Symbiote? Vernal Bloom? What in the name of Erik Lauer is going on here? Aside from the fact that Affinity was getting worked, that is.

The deck – christened Elf and Nail, combining elements of Elf-Clamp with Tooth and Nail – would win the Northwest Regionals, piloted to a 9-0-2 finish by Sameer Nelson, and the deck did incredibly well elsewhere. Immediately intrigued, I went home, built a copy and starting throwing it against the gauntlet I’d built for Regionals.

These results were nothing short of astounding. The deck is incredible, and in a world overrun by Goblin Warchiefs and Arcbound Ravager, there’s finally a new deck that can compete with these two. The deck may be under the radar for a little longer, but you really can’t call it rogue anymore. Elf and Nail is Tier 1.

Elf and Nail

4 Birds of Paradise

1 Darksteel Colossus

1 Duplicant

1 Fierce Empath

1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

1 Sundering Titan

1 Triskelion

3 Vine Trellis

3 Viridian Shaman

3 Wirewood Herald

4 Wirewood Symbiote

4 Wood Elves

2 Chrome Mox

4 Skullclamp

3 Tooth and Nail

4 Vernal Bloom

20 Forest


3 Creeping Mold

1 Duplicant

4 Oxidize

3 Reap and Sow

1 Tooth and Nail

1 Triskelion

1 Vine Trellis

1 Viridian Shaman

The deck really needs a catchier sobriquet, though. Bloomin’ Onion, perhaps? Or how about The Hulk, since its mean, green, and if a turn 4 11/11 isn’t obscene, I don’t know what is.

For the time being, though, I guess we’ll stick with Elf and Nail.

What is it that makes this deck so special, as compared to other Tooth and Nail-based builds? Part of it is the stability of the mana base. Using Cloudposts and Temple of the False God as mana acceleration is erratic as best, as the come-into-play tapped ability of the ‘Posts, and the Temples well-known suckiness in the early game make the deck too slow and unreliable with those lands.

The Urzatron proved much more versatile, as you could at least use those lands for mana immediately, but you still needed to run Sylvan Scrying, Reap and Sow, and Solemn Simulacrum in order to dig out that Red source, Urzatron piece, or second Forest unless you happened to get lucky and get all the pieces in your opening draw. And, as I discovered through my testing, running two colors in a deck already running twelve colorless mana sources is asking for trouble.

Schneider’s version is mono-Green, like the original block version (TwelvePost); hence, you don’t have to worry about colorless lands that are occasionally useless. Vernal Bloom, not lands, is the mana accelerator. With a turn 1 Birds or turn 2 Vine Trellis, you can cast Vernal Bloom on turn 3, and have enough mana to entwine Tooth and Nail on turn 4.

That’s just nuts, ain’t it? Cloudpost/Temple and Urzatron versions of the deck could only go off on turn 5 with a perfect draw, usually turn six or seven was more typical. Elf and Nail goes off earlier with far more consistency.

Elf and Nail also has the advantage of being able to abuse Skullclamp to the same degree as Affinity, Goblin Bidding, and Dead Red. Tooth and Nail decks generally only had Solemn Simulacrum as a source of card advantage, and land-fetch spells are deck-thinners, not true card drawers. In fact, Elf and Nail actually gets more mileage out of Skullclamp than either Goblins or Affinity, as I’ll discuss momentarily.

Let’s start by breaking down the Elf-Clamp half of the deck.

Wirewood Symbiote

Not actually an Elf, but he sure likes hanging around with them. And who wouldn’t? Everyone knows Elves are party animals. The untap part of his ability is gravy, what you really like is being able to bounce particular Elves back into your hand for another go-round. And you’ve got a few of those, let me tell you.

Wirewood Herald

Clamp this guy, and you can go tutor for an Elf and draw two cards. That’s three-for-one card advantage (well, maybe more like 2.8-to-1, but I’ll round up). And there are a lot of good Elves to run get. Such as…

Viridian Shaman

The”Shaved Monkey” forms an obvious anti-Affinity combo with Wirewood Symbiote. It’s pretty easy to use the Shaman twice a turn with the Symbiote, and up to three times in the right situation (cast, bounce on your turn, re-cast, and then bounce on your opponent’s turn after blocking). I don’t care how many Welding Jars your opponent runs, when the Shaman/Symbiote combo is clicking; the scoop phase is very close at hand. You have to love it when Affinity is forced to expend a Shrapnel Blast on a Wirewood Symbiote to break up the loop.

Wood Elves

Solemn Simulacrum might seem a better choice, and strictly speaking, it is, but Wood Elves have many things going for them. Firstly, of course, they’re an Elf, so the Herald can fetch him, and the Symbiote can make him reusable (which, believe me, is almost as abusive as the combo with the Shaman-it’s like Fastbond, but better!). Secondly, the Forest he fetches does not come into play tapped. I commonly am able to play a turn 3 Wood Elf and use the Forest he gets to clamp the same Elf for mucho card advantage.

Fierce Empath

Perhaps the weakest of the Elf-Clamp components, but he proves quite useful on occasion, being able to fetch out a big hitter when you don’t have Tooth and Nail handy. The Empath saw some use in OnBC decks and serves the same purpose here.


As previously mentioned, this provides extra gas with the Herald’s tutor ability, and almost every Elf in the deck is geared to be fed to the Clamp. Does Goblins want to Clamp a Goblin Sharpshooter? No. Does Affinity want to Clamp Disciple of the Vault? Probably not. Does Elf and Nail mind clamping a Fierce Empath or Wood Elf? Is the Pope Polish?

Birds of Paradise, Chrome Mox, Vine Trellis

Who doesn’t like mana acceleration? The deck certainly needs a little bit in this crazy bang-bang-you’re-dead environment. The Birds, realistically, would be a Llanowar Elf if those were available. Still, one-drop mana acceleration is always welcome. Plus, they can block a countered-up Blinkmoth Nexus, and with a Skullclamp are never truly dead draws. Chrome Mox gives you just that extra bit of”oomph” to kickstart the deck against explosive Goblin and Affinity draws. Two seems to be an odd number, but my testing has shown that it’s the correct number. Vine Trellis is an automatic addition to any Tooth and Nail deck, proving not only mana but a beefy blocker against swarming Frogmites and Warchiefs.

And now we get into the tutor targets. Unlike other Tooth and Nail decks, it doesn’t want to dabble with off-color targets like Leonin Abunas, or worry about staying alive via Platinum Angel. No, this deck wants to drop some fatties and swing for the fences. Also worth noting – every big target in the deck can be hard cast without Tooth and Nail, and with Vernal Bloom, it’s easy to do so early in the game.

Darksteel Colossus

He’s big, he’s nigh-unstoppable, and he’s your number one tutor target (although, given the circumstance, it’s perfectly acceptable to cast Tooth and Nail for two Shamans or even two Wood Elves – it’s been known to happen). Want to end the game fast?”Big C” is your man.

Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

“Special K” is who I usually summon along with the Big C (soon to have his own show on Cartoon Network if rumors can be believed). You just want to make sure you have plenty of extra Green mana free when you do so. Kamahl’s primary reason for existing in your deck is as anti-Wrath and anti-Vengeance defense. You take a lot of the sting out of a Wrath of God when you animate all your opponent’s lands in response. He can also make your less-than-impressive Elves a force to be reckoned with in combat and pump up the Big C’s power into one-hit-lethal-damage territory.

Sundering Titan

Primarily defense against Goblin Bidding (which doesn’t like land destruction very much, as this guy kills key Swamps and Mountain), it’s also a 7/10 monster that is not likely to be targeted by anti-artifact spells unless an opponent has a plethora of lands. Also very effective against R/W Slide and any other deck packing multiples of basic lands.


He’s kind of your all-purpose problem solver. He eliminates problems a mono-Green deck couldn’t otherwise deal with, such as Disciple of the Vault and Goblin Sharpshooter, and, in a pinch, also serves as land destruction in combination with Kamahl.


Also a utility creature, primarily as creature removal, especially against the mirror and when facing large fat creatures that are out of Triskelion’s range. He’s kind of like having AAA’s roadside service included in your car insurance – you don’t ever want to need it, but when you do, you’re glad it’s there.

If the Fifth Dawn spoilers can be believed, there’s definitely a few goodies from that set that could easily slip into Elf and Nail, like the Bringers – the Black, Blue and Green ones would appear to be the best options, although I am very fond of Eternal Witness, despite its non-elfiness. The deck’s pretty tight, however, and I’m not sure what you’d take out for another creature. I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks.

The sideboard is pretty straightforward – Oxidize and an extra Shaman to make an already favorable Affinity matchup even more lopsided, Creeping Mold fills the Naturalize slot but provides more versatility, such as land destruction against slower control decks (Reap and Sow helps here as well), and extra singletons of your creature base to be tailored to the matchup (Triskelion and Vine Trellis for Goblins, Duplicant for the mirror).

No deck is perfect, however, and this one does have a small Achilles heel: while it has a lot of game against Gob-Bidding, the pure speed of mono-Red Goblins, Dead Red, Paskins Red, Med Red, whatever you want to call it – can overwhelm the deck before it gets all the pieces into play. Ravenous Baloth, currently absent from the deck, might be worthy of a sideboard slot or two to combat this problem, or perhaps Fifth Dawn will have some other goodies to alleviate this weakness.

But other than that, the deck has an impressive winning percentage against Affinity, Gob-Bidding and both R/W Slide and MWC.

If powerful combo decks come to the fore with the release of Fifth Dawn, this deck might be a one-shot wonder with the lifespan of a mayfly, as mono-Green decks are not noted for their disruptive anti-combo capabilities. And if Skullclamp does indeed hit the Banned list, Elf and Nail will definitely head for the rubbish bin. However, if you are looking for something new to play and a possible Standard contender for Worlds, this could be it.