Elvish Succession, Part III: Deck-by-Deck Strategies

It won the thirty-player Kings Games Tournament. It won the NEC tournament at the Dragon’s Lair in West Hartford, Connecticut. Alex and Zvi both made the top 8 at the MagicSingles.com Invitational with Elvish Succession; Alex defeated Zvi in the quarterfinals and went on to take 2nd place. Rob’s played it in eleven Magic Online eight-man tournaments, splitting in the finals of seven of them for a total match record of 16-4. Is this the dark horse for Regionals?

I was very excited about my last Rogue Deck for Regionals – Elvish Succession. The deck was testing fantastically well and really catching my opponents off-guard. The deck is complicated, and I wanted to make sure my readers knew how to run it, so I decided to do a step-by-step explanation of the deck’s infinite combo. That took up a whole article on its own. I then explained the deck’s card selections, synergy, and finite combos. That was another article. Lest I end up with a”My Fires” on my hands, I’m going to wrap this up come hell or high water in this, part 3 – Deck by Deck Strategies and Sideboarding.

For reference, the deck:

Elvish Succession

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Birchlore Rangers

4 Wirewood Herald

1 Gempalm Strider

4 Wirewood Hivemaster

4 Nantuko Husk

4 Caller of the Claw

4 Ravenous Baloth

2 Fallen Angel

4 Verdant Succession

2 Elvish Soultiller

12 Forest

7 Swamp

4 City of Brass

The Sideboard:

3 Naturalize

4 Smother

4 Wellwisher

3 Compost

1 Skirk Marauder

Going Off The Combo:

In some matchups, I call for taking out the expensive combo pieces in favor of low casting-cost creatures and spells. This, of course, changes the way your deck works and how it wins the game.

This is what is known as transformational sideboarding. The idea is that you make your deck work differently in game 2 than it did in game one. Your opponent sideboards to deal with what they faced in game one and finds himself holding dead cards (like Naturalize) against a different threat.

This plan is obviously less powerful if your opponent knows it’s going to happen. To keep them guessing, you don’t have to do the full swap every time; in some games, you can leave in one or two Verdant Successions and one Soultiller. In others, you can leave the whole combo in.

The key is to optimize your deck and keep your opponent off-balance.


This matchup is relatively easy. Your one-drops slow them down and your card advantage creatures can stop them cold. Drawing a Herald is amazing against them, even if they get a Sparksmith. Keep Heralding for Herald until you’re ready to cast Caller of the Claw. They just run out of life. To make matters worse for them, if you ever get a Succession out, they just can’t deal with it at all.

Sideboarding Vs. Goblins

Take out: 2 City of Brass, 2 Fallen Angel

Bring in: 4 Smother

You need to be fast against Goblins – and at five mana, Angels are just too slow. Taking out land is risky against a deck that can kill your Elves, but the pain from Cities of Brass can be equally dangerous against Goblins.

Despite going down two black sources, Smother is still fantastic against Goblins. Killing a Goblin or two can buy you lots of time, and the long game is very favorable.


While not as easy as Goblin, Red/Green is still a fine matchup. Their lack of evasion is very good news for your Herald/Hivemaster/Caller of the Claw ground defenses. Given that they rarely have any main deck way to break it up, the combo is very good against them. Most games are won with the combo, or by casting two Callers after a big and deadly ground combat.

The thing that makes this version do better against Red/Green than the other Succession decks I’ve seen are the Baloths. Baloths are obviously great in any ground fight – and if you get Baloth/Succession, the sixteen life gives you lots of time to draw the other pieces.

Sideboarding Vs. Red/Green:

Take out: 2 City of Brass, 2 Fallen Angel

Bring in: 4 Smother

The sideboarding plan is the same as against Goblins.


Slide can be challenging, but it’s very winnable. You want to beat them with the combo, or with good old-fashioned fast pressure backed up by Caller of the Claw. Astral Slide can make it tough for you to”go off,” but they often run out of cycling cards if you’re attacking on your turn and trying to make bear swarms at the end of their turn.

Sideboarding Vs. Slide:

Take out: 3 Hivemaster

Bring in: 3 Naturalize

Slide’s Slice and Dices make your Hivemasters subpar, and Naturalize is fantastic against them. Boy, does this matchup make me wish for Naturalize #4.

Blue/Green Madness:

Game one is tough. If they get the”Wild Mongrel, Wonder” draw, you pretty much have to combo them out. I used to have one Wellwisher main deck, which made a huge difference in this matchup… And if you expect a lot of Madness, you may want to add one to your main deck.

Sideboarding Vs. Blue/Green Madness:

Take out: 4 Verdant Successions, 2 Soultiller, 2 City of Brass

Bring in: 4 Wellwisher, 4 Smother

They will probably bring in some enchantment removal against you, which will be dead draws with the Successions out. Without the Successions, the Soultillers are dead weight, so they can go. Taking out a couple of Cities is relatively safe against them, as they have no way to kill off your Elves.

The post-boarding game plan is to kill of their early Madness enablers with the Smothers, gain tons of life with the Wellwishers, and make a swarm with the Hivemasters or Callers of the Claw.

Green White Glory:

This match-up is similar to Blue/Green Madness, but they tend to be a bit slower and they don’t have Circular Logic. That combination makes a game one combo win much easier to pull off.

Sideboarding Vs. Green/White Glory:

Take out: 4 Verdant Successions, 2 Soultiller, 2 City of Brass

Bring in: 4 Wellwisher, 4 Smother

This sideboarding plan is identical to the Blue/Green plan. Take out the Combo, stay alive with Wellwishers, and swarm them with insects and bears.

Green/Red/White Beasts:

If they are running Living Wish for Glory, this matchup can be tough. The combination of Glory evasion, Contested Cliffs and Burn for creature control, access to enchantment removal, and fast pressure make your life difficult. You can still win with your swarm or combo plan, but it’s more challenging than the more straightforward decks that have either evasion or removal, but not both.

Sideboarding Vs. Green Red White Beasts:

Take Out: 2 Verdant Succession, 1 Fallen Angel, 1 Soultiller, 1 City of Brass

Bring in: 4 Smother, 1 Naturalize

With a couple Successions and a Soultiller left in the deck, you still”go off.” You can’t gain infinite life, but you will be able to make infinite creatures, draw you deck, and gain sixteen with the Baloths (thirty-two if you’re willing to give up your Soultiller to put them back in again). If they don’t have their enchantment removal or they tap out, this gives you the opportunity for the quick win.

Taking out four five-casting-cost spells lowers your curve significantly, so one land can come out.

The Smothers are good against their Mongrels, Anurid Brushhoppers, and elephants. They may or may not keep enchantments in against you, but it’s nice to have the one Naturalize for those times you draw it, and because you can go get it if you manage to go off.


Hivemasters and Rangers are incredible against Opposition. They have fits trying to keep your creatures and mana tapped down with these guys out.

Sideboarding Vs. Opposition:

Take out: 4 Verdant Successions, 2 Soultiller, 2 Fallen Angel, 3 City of Brass

Bring in: 4 Wellwisher, 4 Smother, 3 Naturalize

All the expensive toys come out and your deck becomes lean and fast. Cities are very dangerous against Opposition. Your opponent can’t kill your Elves, so going down to one City is all right.

With Smothers, Wellwishers, and Naturalizes you keep them under control while your life spirals upwards. Eventually your Hivemasters unleash the insect swarm to finish them off.

Mono Black Control:

Your Hivemasters can shut down Chainer’s Edicts and Innocent Bloods if they live long enough to make an insect – so protect them. If you have multiple one casting-cost Elves, play one on turn 1. If he lives, you can play the Hivemaster and a one-drop on turn 2, giving you an insect. That much pressure that quickly means they will have to Mutilate, so have Caller mana open when they get to four mana.

Heralds are also great for sucking up removal. If they kill one, just keep getting replacements until you’re ready to cast Caller of the Claw.

Succession is fantastic against Mono Black. Once it’s on the table, their only real answer is Haunting Echoes.

Sideboarding Vs Mono Black control if you know they don’t have Engineered Plague:

Take out: 2 Fallen Angels, 1 Baloth

Bring in: 3 Compost

Compost is clearly amazing in this matchup. If you get any of your enchantments on the table, things are very hard for the Mono Black player.

Engineered Plague is a big problem card, and Mono Black Control is more likely to have it than not. While you can still win with a Plague out, it’s a lot harder. The combo can still generate you infinite creatures, but you won’t have access to infinite mana.

A nice trick against the Plague is to cast a Herald (who dies immediately) and get a Caller of the Claw. If you have extra mana, you can send some Llanowars and Hivemasters to their death, then cast the Caller and stock up on bears. This works particularly well if you have Verdant Succession in play.

Sideboarding Vs. Mono Black with Engineered Plague:

Take out: 2 Fallen Angels, 1 Baloth, 2 Llanowar Elves, 1 Birchlore Rangers

Bring in: 3 Compost, 3 Naturalize

It’s sad to go down on the mana-ramping Elves, but sacrifices have to be made to keep those Plagues under control.


The combination of counter magic and Cunning Wish for Hibernation makes it tough to”go off” against Tog – but you usually don’t need to.

They have a really hard time dealing with your creature pressure. They are often on their heels and forced to do defensive Upheavals, which you recover from very quickly – not to mention that if you have a Caller of the Claw in you hand or on the board, you can float mana and cast her as an instant after the Upheaval resolves. If you have a Husk, you can sacrifice some creatures in response to the Upheaval, then the Caller will bring bears with her.

Sideboarding Vs. Tog:

Take out: 4 Succession, 2 Fallen Angel, 2 Elvish Soultiller, 2 Swamp, 1 Forest

Bring in: 3 Compost, 4 Smother, 2 Naturalize, 2 Wellwisher

After sideboarding, your plan is to go aggro. You have tons of cheap creatures, Composts to punish them for their removal, and Smothers to clear Togs out to the way. All your five casting-cost spells are gone, replaced by two casting-cost spells. This makes your curve much lower – hence the loss of three land.

It’s worth noting that while we’ve often taken out land when lowering our curve, this is the only time basic lands have come out. In the other matchups, you were concerned about getting involved in a life race, where the pain could be deadly. Against Tog, you’re concerned with putting them on the ropes before they get”Upheaval, Psychatog” mana going, so we can’t afford color problems.

The Naturalizes come in to deal with the threat of Engineered Plague, and can sometimes be useful destroying a Compulsion. If you actually see a Plague in game 2, bring in the third Naturalize for game 3. If you don’t see any targets, you may want to go with two more Wellwishers for Game 3.

The Wellwishers are a bit non-intuitive; Tog doesn’t really race, so you wouldn’t think the Wellwishers would be any good. An interesting thing about Tog decks is that they are very good at doing about thirty points of damage, but not at doing much more.

They Upheaval, then play an Island and a Tog, keep seven cards (including a Circular Logic) and say go with a nice fat thirty-card graveyard. They Logic whatever you cast, draw to seven, play a land and Deep Analysis out of the graveyard. When they attack, they can discard their eight cards for +8/+8, and remove their thirty-eight card graveyard for another +19/+19, doing a hefty 28 points of damage. If this wouldn’t kill you, they just play a land and come in for one (“bink”).

The point is that if you can run the Wellwisher for three or four turns, you can get to the point where”Upheaval, Tog” doesn’t kill you. You can rebuild afterwards, and put the pressure back on them. If you run a Wellwisher much longer than that, they may not be able to kill you at all.


I love the Elves, but they don’t stand much of a chance in this matchup. In game one, your Hivemasters give them trouble. Their Gempalms, Forcemages, and Coat of Arms work for your blockers as well as their attackers. To make matters worse for them, they often have no good answer for the combo.

Sideboarding Vs. Elves

Take out: 2 Fallen Angel, 4 Llanowar, 1 Soultiller, 1Verdant Succession

Bring in: 4 Wellwisher, 4 Smother

After sideboarding, you have four Hivemasters and four Wellwishers with the Husk-Herald combo to go get them, and Smothers to keep your opponent’s Hivemasters in check.

The combo is still very good against them, so most of the pieces stay in. You only need the one Soultiller, as infinite life is not that necessary against them once you’ve drawn as many cards as you want and have infinite creatures.

The Mirror:

Given that only those that read my articles will be playing this deck, I see little point in telling you guys how to play against each other. I will say that opposing combo decks are why the Skirk Marauder is in the sideboard.

Tournament Results:

Elvish Succession has seen a lot of action in its short life, and met with quite a bit of success.

I’ve played it in eleven Magic Online eight-man tournaments, splitting in the finals of seven of them for a total match record of 16-4.

It was played in two Friday Night Magics that I know of: Your Move Games, Providence and Kings Games. It won the thirty-player Kings Games Tournament.

It won the NEC tournament at the Dragon’s Lair in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Three Members of Team Your Move Games (Zvi, Alex, and myself) played it at last weekend’s MagicSingles.com Invitational Tournament, which had many of New England’s best players. I sadly went 2-4, but Alex and Zvi both made top 8. Alex defeated Zvi in the quarterfinals and went on to take 2nd place. Coverage will be coming soon on www.sideboard.com.

Your Comments:

Many of you have posted your reactions in StarCityGames’ forums, and I’d like to respond to some of you.

The Time Thing:
Many of you expressed concerns along these lines:

Rob, the problem is that your article failed to address what I and many on the forums thought was the biggest obstacle facing this deck: it’s simply not viable in real life because of all the shuffling. (MODO is an entirely different matter, natch.) Nearly all of the combos, infinite or not, require shuffling multiple times, and the Marauder one requires three (!) shuffles for each two (!) damage dealt to the opponent…

Pugg Fuggly

I found these comments to be particularly ironic, because the exact opposite is true. This deck takes a significant power drop on Magic Online because you can’t go infinite; it just takes too long. When I go off online, I just make about forty bears and say go, which eats up about ten minutes on my clock. I’ve never gained infinite life or drawn my deck online; there’s just not enough time on my clock.

In real life, it’s a different story. First of all, if you have a loop that resets itself like the infinite mana loop, all you have to do is to show the judge how it works, do it a couple of times so they can see it, then you can just say how many times you want to do it.

Secondly, your opponent will usually just scoop when you start to go off – and if they don’t, it’s good for you. Why is it good for you? Because you are clearly going to win next turn given that you are going off, and any wasted time comes off your mutual clock. If time runs out, you go into extra turns, and you have five turns to kill them. Given that you are in the middle of going off, I’d say that’s likely.

So What Are The Possible Scenarios?

  • Game 1, you’re going off, and your opponent decides to”screw you” by making you play it out. You kill him in extra turns. You win 1-0. Go you!
  • Game 2, you won game one. You kill him in extra turns. You win 2-0. Yippie!
  • Game 2, you lost game one. You kill him in extra turns. 1-1 Draw. Not great, but fine.
  • Game 3, it was 1-1. You kill him in extra turns. You win 2-1. Woo-hoo!

The only way them making you play it out hurts you is by cutting into your bathroom break time.

Smart Man!

“I don’t think this deck really needs much to sideboard against Bridge. When they board in Ensnaring Bridge, they are planning to kill you with burn. If you can gain infinite life, but more likely sixteen life off of one Baloth, it could get pretty difficult for them to win. Theoretically, this deck could just win off of decking, but constantly re-using Soultillers, and gaining infinite life. Then again, there will definitely be a lot of draws.


Very perceptive. Give that man a cookie.

The Tracer Idea:

“I like the deck, although I think that it may be better not to run the elf engine but run Nantuko Tracer instead.. it works… and you can still gain infinite life and make Husk huge… also, you can still make infinite bears.

infinite life=Husk+Tracer+Tracer+Baloth+Sucession

sack Baloth

put another Baloth in play

sack Tracer

put a new Tracer into play targeting your Baloth

sack Tracer

put new Tracer into play targeting the first sacked Tracer that is now in the yard

you now have the some board position that you had before


Bears=Husk+Tracer+Succession+Caller+3open mana sources


Tracers are cool and I considered them, but ended up going with the Elves for all the synergy, mana farming, and infinite combos. The Tracer’s ability to go after opponent’s Wonders and Glorys would be a very nice additional feature to the deck.

Darklord’s deck is solid; his infinite damage and infinite bear combos both work. His infinite life combo is actually a finite life combo, however: Notice that you don’t return to the same state you started at. You start with two Tracers in play, two in your deck, and none in your graveyard. One loop through the combo leaves you at two Tracers in play, one in your deck, and one in your graveyard. Next time you would have two Tracers in play, none in your deck, and two in your graveyard, and you’re done. Tracer only puts one card back in your deck. Every time you sacrifice one, you put one in the graveyard, but only half the time are you putting one back in your deck. You can’t keep that up for long.

Rob, Your Deck Sucks:
“Well… This deck won’t work very well. It’s an X-card combo… And you’ve nothing to pull the combo pieces together.

-Charlie Yu”

“This deck seems like it cannot win without resolving a Verdant Succession, and it was no way to tutor for it. The closest thing to card drawing it has is a four- mana cycler. The 1/1 elves provide anemic beatdown and I doubt it can beat any control deck whose pilot knows enough to hold a counter and mana for the Succession.


“the Idea is cwl, but the workout sux…. mbe you should try blue?

-Tvcho van Kleef”

Interesting conclusions. My results disagree, but hey, if it’s not working for you, by all means, play something else.

Thanks to everyone for their feedback. I hope you all enjoyed the”Rogue Decks for Regionals” series – good luck this weekend, and I hope to see you at Nationals!