Feature Article – Elves in Extended

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Friday, January 2nd – While Pro Tour: Berlin taught us to fear the tricksy Elves, Worlds served to blind us from their powerful siren song. Berlin saw Elves everywhere… Memphis saw them replaced by Faeries. Today, Manuel Bucher brings us the lowdown on his own brand of the Elvish menace, with strategic debates and sideboarding plans. Enjoy!

Elves is the best deck in Extended right now… and there are no bannings for this coming PTQ season.

Still, only 10% of the field at the World Championships ran the deck. Several players that played the deck in Berlin, including me, where scared to run the deck again. After an elf-dominated Pro Tour: Berlin, I expected the field to pack a lot of elven hate for Worlds. I ended up being wrong about that, and I think I could have posted a better result if I’d played Elves (and yes, I still think the deck is underrated).

The dust has settled, and Faeries seem to be the deck to beat. Zoo’s results disappointed again, and we can expect a raise in the numbers of decks that can beat Faeries, decks such as Affinity and All-in Red, which both have really bad matchups against Elves.

At Worlds, all the Elves decks ran Chord of Calling over Weird Harvest, and most of them didn’t run a full set of Summoner’s Pacts. On these two points, I disagree with this perceived wisdom.

First, and a point in my opinion that’s the easier one to explain, is the reduction of Summoner’s Pact. This is a card you always want to draw. It helps setting up the combo, searching for the missing piece, and if you are mid-combo it makes sure you won’t fizzle. I don’t see a point running a card less than four times when I am happy to see it even twice or three times in my opening hand. My guess is that the players expected the majority of the field to be running Zoo, the only match up where you don’t want to draw more than one Summoner’s Pact. Still, as I expect to play against more than 50% of non-Zoo decks in a given Extended tournament, I would never play less than four.

Next up, and probably a more complicated issue, is Chord of Calling versus Weird Harvest.

When I first started testing Elves for Berlin, we cut Weird Harvest pretty fast, as it seemed useless. We decided to run some Chord of Callings over them. As we didn’t have enough Chord of Callings, one Weird Harvest was used as a proxy. After we got better at playing the deck, we started seeing the point of Weird Harvest, and when we drew it we often wished often that it would actually be the Harvest instead of the proxied Chord.

We decided to try Weird Harvest over Chord of Calling, which allowed us to cut the useless Wirewood Hivemaster (which makes Spell Snares pretty good against the deck, and it doesn’t help the combo at all).Weird Harvest makes sure that if you are in the combo with Glimpse of Nature you would never fizzle, as the price for searching for a one-mana guy is the same (you don’t draw a card with Chord though), but you can also empty your mana pool to search for several. The deck became much faster, and it enabled far more early kills when you didn’t draw a Glimpse of Nature. In half of my turn 2 kills in Berlin (three out of seven) I didn’t cast a Glimpse of Nature the entire game — instead, I could Weird Harvest for enough so I could produce enough mana to Eternal Witness the Weird Harvest to get enough creatures to draw close to my entire Deck with Regal Force.

The downside of making the deck about half a turn faster (or even more) is that you lose some answers to different hate (like Chalice of the Void or Ethersworn Canonist). The results from Worlds show us that those cards appear mostly in sideboards, so I think you are better off gaining the tempo.

Chord of Calling seems better in any non-mirror post-board game, as you are able to run different one-of creatures from all colors for all the different matchups. But the Weird Harvest advantage in game 1 seems so stunning that I don’t want to give it up (during goldfishing, I killed on the second turn twice as often when running the Weird Harvest version).

This is the list I would play if there was a Grand Prix tomorrow:

I run Elves of Deep Shadow over other one-mana elves as it helps creating a big Weird Harvest. It also makes sure that you can cast an early Thoughtseize or a turn 2 Fecundity. The lists from Worlds are running Essence Warden over it, but I don’t see any matchups in which the card shines (if you are not running Cloudstone Curio).

Eternal Witness is here to protect your kill from Stifle (or else you lose to a hand that includes Stifle/Trickbind and a Wrath effect). Also it ensures you’ll to be able to combo off with Weird Harvest.

I added a Vexing Shusher in order to fight the rising Faerie Decks.

If you have Glimpse of Nature running, make sure to stack Nettle Sentinels triggers before the triggers from Glimpse of Nature. If you do it this way, you draw the cards before you need to decide if you want to untap Nettle Sentinel. This is important if your Nettle Sentinels are untapped and you don’t know yet if you can use the mana or not.

During the combo you should be able to take as much mana as you want, as you probably don’t mana burn because you are able to cast a large Weird Harvest in order to avoid it.

It is very hard to give a sideboard plan for every matchup in the format, as there are so many powerful decks. Of course, I will explain the sideboard choices and give a sideboard plan for the three most important matchups in the format.

1 Imperious Perfect
This card is in the sideboard to be able to fight Night of Souls’ Betrayal. I’d rather have the Perfect’s ability to create tokens than the Elvish Champion’s Forestwalk, as Night of Souls’ Betrayal decks shouldn’t have creatures in play to block anyway.

3 Fecundity and 2 Mycoloth
The alternative here would be running Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender and Umezawa’s Jitte in order to fight Red removal decks (Zoo, Burn). I think that Fecundity and Mycoloth do a better job in the Zoo matchup, as the cards are more powerful on their own. If you expect a lot of Burn, the other sideboard plan is better, as Jitte forces them to shoot your guys. Umezawa’s Jitte plus Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender is a game winner in that situation, while Mycoloth looks pretty bad.

4 Thoughtseize
This is your sideboard weapon of choice to fight other Combo decks. It is also pretty good in fighting control decks that are running Chalice of the Void (I wouldn’t board it if they are not). The matchups you are boarding in Thoughtseize are the only ones you are missing Chord of Calling, which really shines there (besides the mirror), as you are not able to stop their game plan with Weird Harvest.

2 Vexing Shusher
This creature is here to fight the very popular Faerie Decks. With a Vexing Shusher in your opening hand, it is really hard for them to win. Also, it might be good against Chalice of the Void decks that don’t run a lot of removal, as you are able to break through it.

2 Viridian Shaman plus 1 Gleeful Sabotage
As most of the hate you will face are Artifacts (Tidehollow Sculler, Ethersworn Canonist, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Chalice of the Void) — this is a really good solution for them. I made the split of two and one as I usually want to bring in two more Viridian Shamans against Zoo, as the body is really good in that matchup. Also, the synergy between Viridian Shaman and Wirewood Symbiote is stunning in the Affinity matchup, and it’s far better if you draw them than if you have to tutor for them.

Elves Mirror
This matchup should be slightly in your favor, as most other players are running Chord, which makes your deck a bit faster. Take care that an Orzhov Pontiff doesn’t get you if they can Chord it out during your combo… it’s not to hard to play around it (if they have to get enough insect tokens first), as Nettle Sentinels survive.

If they are running the Predator Dragon kill, they might be cold to Brain Freeze if you can leave the mana open during their turns (make sure you play it in response to a Glimpse of Nature trigger).

On the play: +3 Thoughtseize, -1 Viridian Shaman, -1 Vexing Shusher, -1 Elvish Visionary
On the draw: +4 Thoughtseize, -1 Viridian Shaman, -1Vexing Shusher, -1 Elvish Visionary, -1 Forest

I would mulligan most of the hands that are not killing on turn 3 or earlier. I only sideboard in three Thoughtseize on the play, so I would see slightly more hands that match this criteria. This is the only matchup in which I cut an Elvish Visionary, as you don’t have the time to take advantage of the synergy with Wirewood Symbiote.

This matchup really depends on their list. Game 1 is a real fight if they draw several removal spells. Game 2 gets much easier, as Fecundity makes sure that you don’t run out of creatures and they eventually die to Mycoloth or the combo. Viridian Shaman is a good answer to most of their hate cards (Ethersworn Canonist, Tidehollow Sculler, and Umezawa’s Jitte).

+3 Fecundity, +2 Mycoloth, +2 Viridian Shaman
-2 Weird Harvest, -1 Vexing Shusher, -3 Summoner’s Pact, -1 Birchlore Rangers

If they are running several Tidehollow Sculler, Ethersworn Canonist, and Umezawa’s Jitte, you might consider boarding a Gleeful Sabotage. This is a matchup where Summoner’s Pact is pretty bad, as most of the cards in their deck are killing your creatures, which disables an early combo.

I cut a Birchlore Rangers over Elves of Deep Shadow as you shouldn’t be able to combo off in the first few turns, and I’d rather be able to cast a second turn Fecundity.

Vexing Shusher really helps here, as most Faerie decks are running only Threads of Disloyalty and Engineered Explosives to deal with him. This costs them enough mana so you should be able to combo off during your turn if they deal with it or not. On the play, you can have overwhelming draws they can’t deal with. The matchup needs lots of playtesting, but it should be in your favor.

Thanks to Vexing Shusher, you can Weird Harvest in the turn before you combo off. Just make sure that they are not able to Mistbind Clique you in the next few turns.

+2 Vexing Shusher, -2 Elves of Deep Shadow

Thoughtseize is not good in this matchup, as the only card you might consider taking are counterspells, of which they can have several different copies at any given time.

I am cutting Elves of Deep Shadow here as they don’t have any synergy with Vexing Shusher, which I am running as a three-of times post-board.

If there are any matchups in which it is unclear what to sideboard, feel free to ask me in the forums.

Good luck at your next PTQ, and Happy New Year!

Manuel B