Since Urza’s Saga, and the creation of Priest of Titania and Quiron Ranger, people have loved and played with elves. And why not? They are multifunctional. You can make endless mana with them and throw a Fireball at your opponent’s life total, you can combo with them, and you can be deliciously aggressive with them.
And they are everywhere! Since last year, they are very popular in Extended, G/B Elves is also a big hit ever since Lorwyn hit Standard, they are always present in Casual, and even Legacy players have discovered the power of Elves. So it was no surprise to see Kenji and other Japanese pros rocking their Nationals with an Elf deck.
The deck I’ll be talking about today is not the traditional combo deck. It’s a straight-forward Elf deck with 11 Lords (and 4 Paragon, which will most of the time count as Lords too). The deck is faster than most aggro decks in the format right now, and should be able to kill on turn 4 or 5 consistently. Let’s take a look at the decklist:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Imperious Perfect
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
- 4 Bramblewood Paragon
- 2 Chameleon Colossus
- 3 Wilt-Leaf Liege
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
When I first saw this deck, all I could think about was “how can a deck like this ever survive a format full of mass removal?” But after playing the deck a little, I was actually surprised about how fast it is, and how fun it is to play. Let’s take a look at the mass removal played in Standard at the moment.
Volcanic Fallout: Definitely the favorite in the current metagame. It is good against this deck, unless you have either 2 lords on the battlefield or a Wilt-Leaf Liege or you have a Paragon in play which pumped all your guys or even a Tower Above coming from under you Hideaway land when you have ten power or more in play! See where I’m going? I’m not saying that Volcanic Fallout doesn’t hurt at all – a well-timed Fallout can certainly slow this deck down for at least a couple of turns. What I’m trying to say it that it is not as big a threat as you would think. The same goes for Jund Charm, of course.
Firespout: This one is something else. It does one damage more, and that immediately makes it the worst enemy for this deck! Luckily, thanks to cascade, Firespout is played in fewer decks than ever before. You sometimes see it in some sideboards and in rogue decks, but we have to admit that this card is underplayed. And this deck takes advantage of this, as your only creatures to survive a Firespout are the 2 Chameleon Colossus and 3 Wilt-Leaf Liege.
Hallowed Burial: The replacement card for the all-time favorite Wrath of God is sadly too slow for this deck. If you draw an average hand you should be able to do enough damage to a deck playing Hallowed Burial that Mutavaults and Beast tokens should be able to do the rest.
Now how is it possible that a deck like this, with hardly any removal, can work in a Standard metagame full of aggressive deck? Thanks to the mana acceleration (Llanowar Elves and Elvish Archdruid) and the 15 lords (Imperious Perfect, Elvish Archdruid, Bramblewood Paragon, and Wilt-Leaf Liege), it is faster than any other aggro deck currently played. If you also throw in the overwhelming Overrun, you can easily do thirty to forty trample damage before turn 5! Let’s take a look at some of the current matchups:
A more than decent deck with lots of removal, Jund Cascade could be a very difficult match-up. The elves are able to swarm it because this deck doesn’t do much before turn 3, but with all the removal it is possible to stabilize the board position. That’s why the Elves play Chameleon Colossus. By the way, he’s also an elf, a warrior, and a Green creature, three things that this deck appreciates a lot. Jund decks don’t play any card which can match this 4/4 fatty, and they know it!
The ruler of Standard since the beginning of Lorwyn has to bow for Elves? Yes, they have to bow! The Elves are just too fast for the Fae. Before sideboard, a simple Llanowar Elves on turn 1 can put them in a lot of problems, as it makes sure your future plays dodge Broken Ambitions, and probably also Spellstutter Sprite. After sideboarding, things get even better with Great Sable Stag, Guttural Response, and Cloudthresher coming in. Sideboarding 11 cards might seem like overkill, but Cloudthresher is also extremely good at killing Baneslayer Angel, especially if you have Guttural Response as backup.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from playing Faeries (and reading Sam Black articles) is that it is important to sideboard out expensive cards against Faeries. Sure, Wilt-Leaf Liege is a beater, but you just need to be aggressive, and with Colossus and Cloudthresher you have enough four-drops already. If they are boarding in Infest, it might be better to cut 3 Nettle Sentinel for 3 Wilt-Leaf Liege.
At the moment it seems impossible to have a Standard tournament without at least a couple of these decks, and that’s normal because this deck has answers to everything and everyone. So what does it do against our Elves? Well, you could say that it has the Volcanic Fallout and the Hallowed Burial, so it has at least 60 % winning chance. But some testing (pre- and post-sideboard) showed that he matchup is about 50/50. A Cruel Ultimatum is almost always answered by the Wilt-Leaf Liege; Fallouts came more on turn 4 than on turn 3, which was too late; and without much true spot removal they get swarmed a lot. And after sideboarding, the Guttural Response make things very ugly, as people aren’t expecting it most of the time.
The ruling aggro deck at present appears to be too slow. They have fewer lords, unless you also count the Honor of the Pure and Ajani Goldmane, but those cards can’t attack. This is an advantage against mass removal but a disadvantage in this match-up. Also, again the mana acceleration does the trick here, and let’s not forget the killer Overrun, which makes this match-up one of the best you have.
This crazy creature-frees combo deck seems to have the same problem the other decks have: being too slow. The Elves keep beating until the Pollen Lullabies are exhausted, and then they swing for the rest of your life total. After sideboarding, adding Pithing Needles and Guttural Response means the Time Sieve deck becomes even more slow, and Howling Mine makes sure you always draw at least a Needle and a Guttural Response to make it stick.
This is the matchup you should fear the most. Your best hope is to draw at least one Tower Above so you can kill their Archdruid or Heritage Druid and just kill them before they start comboing out. Your sideboard doesn’t bring any goodies either, except for the extra Tower Above, but that’s just because the match-up is pretty bad anyway.
So, where is this deck going after Zendikar? Losing your best two-drop (Wren’s Run Vanquisher), 7 lords (4 Imperious Perfect and 3 Wilt-Leaf Liege) and some more stuff (including Mutavault and Mosswort Bridge) certainly doesn’t look very promising.
How about Nissa Revane? Can she make up for all the losses?
I’m afraid not.
To me, she just looks like a bad Garruk Wildspeaker. All three abilities look worse than those from Garruk. A 2/3 Elf instead of a 3/3 Beast and gaining 2 life for every Elf is not really what a beatdown deck wants, and -7 for his ultimate? Yeah, right… that’s five Nissa’s Chosen, which means you’re cheating (unless you’ve got really lucky in draft).
Thankfully, it’s not over. Orb of Insight revealed the word Elf nine times in Zendikar, so we’ve still got six more to come. Maybe we’ll get another lord and some great two-drops after all. I guess we’ll just have to wait a little bit longer, and enjoy the deck as it is now until Zendikar finally arrives.
Cheers, and have fun with those little Elves!
PS: Thanks a lot to Jelle Gyselinck who helped me out with this article. He’s certainly excited about those little Elves, but who wouldn’t be? Jelle played 3 PTQs with the same deck, making Top 8 in all three, and eventually winning in one of the larger PTQs in Europe at Grand Prix: Brighton!
PPPS: Casting Overrun and activating Garruk’s ultimate ability is… bonkers?