Flow of Ideas – Updating Elves for Oakland

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Monday, February 8th – There are essentially three phases to decks in Extended. They move to the point where they’re unknown and good, to where they’re on the uprise and still good because people aren’t prepared for them yet, and when they’ve hit their peak and bad to play because people are now overly prepared for them.

With the first Grand Prix of the season a mere five days away, some players are hammering down their last few games of playtesting, making their last few tweaks, and deciding which decks are worth sideboarding for and which aren’t.

If you’re one of those players, that’s great! You already have everything figured out.

Unfortunately, not all of us fall into the same boat.

Extended is a tricky format. However, though it is tricky, decks are cyclical. There are essentially three phases to decks in Extended. They move to the point where they’re unknown and good, to where they’re on the uprise and still good because people aren’t prepared for them yet, and when they’ve hit their peak and bad to play because people are now overly prepared for them.

When I started playing Elves it was in the first step, an essentially unconsidered piece of the metagame nobody really had sideboard cards for. Then, after both my success and Jesse’s success online with the deck, and Chris Lachmann and Billy Moreno success with the deck offline, the deck looked liked it was ramping up to its peak and soon the 8-man queues would be filled with Engineered Explosives and Chalice of the Voids, complemented by Ethersworn Canonists and Volcanic Fallouts.

But then a strange thing happened. The attention turned off of Elves. Normally I would just take this as a sign that Elves hadn’t beaten enough hapless opponents online, but in this case it was the result of something else. A much larger blip on the radar. In fact, about 20 points of power and toughness worth of a blip. The re-rise of Dark Depths.

With Gerry’s Dark Depths-Thopter hybrid deck in the spotlight, Elves began to retreat. It’s kind of like that scene in any generic horror movie where the hero is hiding in the bathtub/under the bed/pressed against the corner of a closet and the villain creeps closer, and closer, and just as his hand reaches to pull away the shower curtain/ look under the bed/open the closet door he is called away by some lowly informant, telling him about a greater issue.

The villain exits and our hero lets out a sigh he had been holding for a full twenty minutes. His life has been renewed to fight another day.

Normally, this greater villain would be a huge problem for Elves. You see, Dark Depths is traditionally a very bad matchup for Elves. Between their quick combo potential, Chalice of the Void, and Explosives, it’s a nightmare for Elven kinship. Fortunately, Gerry has done elfkind a generous favor. In his most recently published list, he has a grand total of one Engineered Explosives maindeck and one Chalice of the Void sideboard. That’s it. Granted, he does have two copies of the frustrating card Darkblast, but unless he has it on turn 1 or 2 you can spew enough Elves onto the table to easily beat a player who is spending each turn dredging and casting Darkblast.

I expect Elves hate to be light this weekend as everybody gangs up on Dark Depths. Furthermore, many players have set aside their Spellstutter Sprites in exchange for Vampire Hexmages, positioning Elves even better. If you’re still looking for a deck to play and have some time to learn how to play with it, here is the list I propose for this weekend.

While the core of Heritage Druid and cheap elven friends has of course remained the same, the outlying cards of the deck — the cards that you can actively modify — have changed.

The first change you might notice is with the manabase. Notably, a different choice for splashing. Blood Moon was absurd when the deck first debuted. It shut off entire strategies, not to mention entire decks. But now, Blood Moon is weaker. The format has developed more, and Zoo decks have began to add another basic or two. Additionally, they now know to find those basics early on against Elves where before they fell right into the Blood Moon trap.

While, sure, a turn 2 Blood Moon on the play is nearly unbeatable, we can’t always live in a world where that happens. Often Blood Moon would come down later after they had time to craft their manabase a little more, and Zoo playing another basic coupled with the fact that they know to find them early on makes Blood Moon less desirable.

Instead, you have to fight zoo from another angle. I tried Path to Exile, Essence Warden, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, and Deathmark, but they all fell short. The hands when Zoo beats you are their hands that have creatures and removal spells. If their hand is full of removal you have enough time to overwhelm them while they’re busy depleting resources, and if their hand is all guys you can overwhelm them and either combo kill them or Archdruid-Warcaller them. But it’s when they have both creatures and removal, when they can present a clock coupled with burn spells to buy time, that it becomes a problem.

The new plan is to attrition them with Proclamation of Rebirth. While you can’t bring back Path to Exiled creatures, you can still usually bring back the full three guys and entirely rebuild your board. Proclamation also has applications against Faeries or decks with Explosives. While it’s not nearly as good as Blood Moon was in its prime, it’s the best option to use now.

Fortunately, with the White splash, there’s a larger incentive to play Horizon Canopy. I bumped them up to two copies, and went up to the 19th land I have wanted for so long.

The other big change is Cloudstone Curio over Weird Harvest. Weird Harvest was alright at the time, but now casting it against any deck when you’re not going off is bad for you. They can find Hexmages, Spellstutter Sprites, or just a barrage of Wild Nacatls. Cloudstone Curio helps you to combo out faster in those games where you really need to combo, and still helps you combo out like Weird Harvest did provided you have one other elf in your grip.

With the addition of Curios, Essence Warden found its way in. It’s very easy to set up a infinite life chain with Essence Warden, so having one to pact for is important for going off early and out of nowhere. You don’t even need a Nettle Sentinel to combo out with Essence Warden, and since Nettle Sentinels usually have a huge target on them if you cast one early it’s nice to have another way to combo out.

Another fresh addition to the squad is Joraga Warcaller. I have a feeling a lot of people have not played with this card yet because it’s not available on Magic Online, but it has been a very good Pact target for me so far. When you’re on the beatdown plan and are able to generate five or so mana but aren’t up to Regal Force mana yet, you can play this guy with two counters and outclass their creatures. In a lot of games against Zoo, I have just managed to cast a Warcaller and blank all of their Kird Apes and make attacking with their Wild Nacatls a trading proposition. Unlike Regal Force, Warcaller also only costs one when you’re going off, so if you draw him when you’re early on in a combo chain you can just use him in the same.

Unfortunately, with the addition of two more one-drop elves, the extra copies of elves in the form of Elves of Deep Shadow were left by the wayside. Fortunately, though, Boreal Druid gets an insane upgrade in the form of Arbor Elf. Not is Arbor Elf just a Llanowar Elf because it produces Green, but if you have to tap your Temple Garden to go off and then draw Proclamation, you can cast it. While I considered the issue of drawing Pendelhaven and Horizon Canopy with Arbor Elf, in all of the playtest games I have played I have never once encountered that problem. Without Arbor Elf I would probably play a third Canopy, but you don’t want to risk the possibility of having a staggered draw because you drew a double Canopy Arbor Elf hand.

It is important to note that there is one less Regal Force. While I definitely believe two Regal Forces was the way to go before, with Cloudstone Curio you can effectively cut one and still be okay. You now have a lot of other methods to combo out and don’t always need Regal Force. Additionally, Joraga Warcaller gives you a huge creature you can sink your excess mana into if you have a Pact and have already used your Regal Force.

Finally, there is the addition of Damping Matrix to the sideboard. This card is the real deal against Dark Depths and can buy you plenty of time to set up. Not only does it turn off Vampire Hexmage and Thopter Foundry, but Engineered Explosives as well! They have to find a bounce spell to deal with it, and if they’re not bouncing your Elves and don’t have Chalice in play then you should be able to win in short order.

Though some of the cards in my sideboard have changed because you no longer really need cards for decks like Burn or Hive Mind, and cards like Weird Harvest, which was often sideboarded out, have been cut, resulting in a sideboarding guide overhaul. Here is how I would sideboard with the above decklist against the six decks I would expect to face the most at the Grand Prix:

Tribal Zoo
-2 Elvish Visionary -1 Primal Command
+3 Proclamation of Rebirth

Aggro Scapeshift
-1 Joraga Warcaller, -1 Primal Command, -1 Elvish Visionary
+3 Proclamation of Rebirth

-1 Viridian Zealot, -1 Joraga Warcaller
+1 Primal Command, +1 Loaming Shaman

-3 Cloudstone Curio -2 Summoner’s Pact, -2 Primal Command
+4 Umezawa’s Jitte, +3 Proclamation of Rebirth

Dark Depths
-2 Elvish Visionary, -2 Cloudstone Curio -1 Joraga Warcaller, -1 Essence Warden
+4 Damping Matrix, +2 Viridian Shaman

UWB Teachings
-2 Elvish Visionary, -1 Essence Warden, -1 Joraga Warcaller
+3 Proclamation of Rebirth, +1 Primal Command

There are a lot of playable decks in this format, and if you’ve settled on one, learn it well and you should be able to beat a lot of your opponents this weekend. If you haven’t, then this deck is my suggestion to you. I think Elves is very well positioned in this format. While I’m not sure if I’ll be playing it in Oakland, I will definitely be bringing this build with me to scope out the grinders with and possibly try and pick up some more byes.

Let me know if you have any questions in the forums or via e-mail at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com, and I will happily answer them. Otherwise, I’ll see you in Oakland!

Gavin Verhey
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else