Innovations – Innovating U/G Elves in Extended

Read Patrick Chapin every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!From the world champion, we move to the other finalist from New York: Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin. Today he looks at U/G Opposition Elves in Extended, building them from the ground up with an eye on the current metagame. In a sea of powerful and polarizing strategies, does the four-mana enchantment hold the key to success for the coming PTQ season?

Recently, I set about the task of designing a new Extended deck from the ground up. Extended is currently a wide open format (or so it seems), but every time I make decks for it, they keep turning into Counterbalance decks, ranging from Chase Rare to Next Level Blue, and so on. This time I decided I would try a new approach.

I made a list of five cards that hate out each of the 15 primary archetypes. Then I cut cards that totally didn’t fit, or in some cases went down to 3 or 4 copies. I added Tarmogoyfs and Dark Confidants, as well as mana, and called it a deck. It took one game to realize that this deck was terrible. Rather than insult your intelligence by listing it here, I will move on to more fruitful territory.

After playing this format a fair amount, I have come to the conclusion that it is all about doing the most extreme things possible (or playing some form of B/G which is, in reality, the most extreme collection of good cards to make up a fair deck). What are the best decks? Dredge is the best graveyard deck. It takes it the farthest. Best non-graveyard combo? Ideal. Best linear aggro? Affinity. Best non-linear aggro? Domain Zoo. Best controlling deck? Counterbalance. Best fair deck? Rock or B/G or whatever.

These are the decks that go to the most extreme lengths of their strategies. The problem I keep running into is that when I build decks, they invariably turn out to be worse versions of these decks. Even if I try to go an angle not listed above, there is already a strategy that does it better.

For instance, I built a Soldier deck. Guess what? It’s just a bad Goblin deck. Goblins take a tribe to the extreme. Hate decks? Throw together the best hate cards and you end up with some sort of Rock deck. Storm decks? Might as well be TEPS. But then again, TEPS might as well be Ideal.

How to break free?

Finally I settled on another approach. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Maybe I can’t take any one strategy to a greater extreme than is already being done. However, maybe I can take two strategies that are fairly extreme and hybridize them. Deckbuilding savant DJ Kastner and I set to work from the starting point of Goblins and Opposition. Opposition is a very powerful fundamental strategy that is not seeing the kind of play that it deserves. Goblins are the default “go to” tribe and would provide plenty of creatures to fuel Opposition.

However, before I even proxied the deck, I realized that the Elvish tribe was better equipped for the task of powering Opposition. They are better at generating tokens consistently, they have better lords, they accelerate mana better, and they have some natural combos, like Wirewood Symbiote plus Opposition.

Although I cut the Trinket Mage package I was experimenting with, I ended up keeping the Sensei’s Divining Tops. Originally, they were to combo with fetch lands, Coiling Oracle, and Bloodline Shaman. However, after laying out my deck, I realized that it would make a great Counterbalance deck. I am mostly twos to begin with, as well as plenty of ones and a few threes and fours. Counterbalance gives me another way to lock up the game when I don’t have Opposition online. Besides, I still maintain that Counterbalance Top is fundamentally the best strategy in every format that it is legal, save Vintage (and it isn’t bad there…).

After some testing, this is what I have come to, although more testing is needed.

The basic plan is to take advantage of the Elves’ excellent synergy with one another to give you a solid game when you don’t have any Blue enchantments in play. If you ever have a chance to start working Counterbalance or Opposition, you are able to totally switch into lock mode. Top tricks are standard, of course.

The Wirewood Symbiote is a key component in many of your tactical combos. He can provide a mana boost when combined with Llanowar Elf, but his untap ability really shines when combined with Imperious Perfect for massive token generation, or Opposition for added lockdown capabilities. Remember you can use the creature you untap twice with Opposition as well as the creature you bounce (tap it, then bounce it, replay it, tap again). Also, Bloodline Shaman has a potent tap ability that is certainly worth using multiple times per turn.

The beauty of the Symbiote is that both parts of his ability are fantastic in this deck. The ability to return an Elf to your hand at instant speed for no mana (sometimes a net gain of mana) is unreal good. First of all, there are plenty of Comes-Into-Play abilities to abuse. Coiling Oracle and Sylvan Messenger are obviously nuts with Symbiote. In addition, continually replaying any Elf is great with the Hivemaster.

Aside from abusing tap abilities and comes into play abilities, Symbiote dominates combat, allowing you to untap Vanquishers to play defense or bouncing a Hivemaster in combat. On top of this, you can protect yourself from mass removal like Deed and Damnation. Once you get Hivemasters or Perfect going, there is no need to keep your Elves on the table. Simply bounce an Elf on your turn to untap something (preferably a Perfect, Bloodline, or Llanowar). That is one less guy that will die to a sweeper, plus if they play one, you can respond by using Symbiote again. You may only be able to use it once per turn, but with clever planning you can continually protect two Elves a turn.

Speaking of protecting Elves, remember, as long as you have a Symbiote, you have a free way to protect any of your Elves, such as Imperious Perfect. If your opponent tries to Smother a Perfect, simply pick him up and replay him. This forces your opponent to deal with the Symbiote before he can advance any other plans against you.

Wirewood Symbiote is the best card in this deck. He gives you two relevant abilities per turn, and for no mana. Totally insane. Other cards to consider that combine with the Symbiote include Wood Elf, Viridian Shaman, and Elvish Harbinger.

Llanowar Elf and Boreal Druid are self-explanatory. I really wish I could play more mana elves, but colorless mana is not nearly as valuable as I would like. I would like to remind that a turn 3 Opposition is often just game over. Vindicate and Deed and Engineered Explosives can not even break free, once the mana lock sets in. Regardless of if you are playing against Affinity or Ideal, Domain Zoo or ChaseRare, Opposition is always a bomb.

Coiling Oracle is a role player, serving as a fine chump or source of Opposition, plus comboing with Symbiote or Top. Not an all-star, but does his job well.

Wirewood Hivemaster is an interesting choice. Some would say the original Huntmaster is not strong enough for Extended. Personally, I think he is fantastic with Symbiote and especially Opposition. He allows you to continue to build your position, rewarding you for going to all the trouble of playing an Elf deck.

Bloodline Shaman is one I am unsure of. I didn’t draw him enough to know how good he is, but in theory, he could be great. He has a Sheets chance of hitting to begin with, but it’s the half you actually want. In addition, he combos with Symbiote and especially Sensei’s Divining Top. I could see going up to four, as he is sort of a Dark Confidant.

Wren’s Run Vanquisher is a concession to aggro match-ups. I am not convinced that this is necessary, though. I often struggle on turn 2 choosing between him and the Hivemaster or Shaman. I really think he might be out of place, though he does fight Goyfs and Ravagers and Doran. Still, I could see cutting them for more Shamans, and maybe a second Boreal Druid.

Imperious Perfect shines like never before in this deck. First of all, turn 1 Llanowar, turn 2 Perfect, turn 3 Opposition is devastating. Hell, just Perfect plus Opposition at any point is a winner. In addition, he combos great with Symbiote and the Hivemaster. Plus, you have 25 Elves, +1/+1 to the team is welcome!

Right now, the Elvish Ringleader, Sylvan Messenger, is my four drop of choice. Still, I am not convinced there isn’t room for a Packmaster or two. Imagine that with Opposition! That might be a little ambitious though. Regardless, the Messenger is solid in his own right as a card drawer, but goes bananas if you ever get him going with Symbiote. It should not be overlooked that he resets the top of your library for Top.

Speaking of Top, look for combos with Bloodline Shaman (ah, the classic Sinbad plus Sylvan Library…), Coiling Oracle, and (of course) Counterbalance. In addition, with this many ways to reset the top of the Library, Top can help greatly in your quest for an Opposition (the Primary way you “win”).

Counterbalance is nice, but only a two of, as it is only a minor sub-theme to work with when you aren’t able to Opposition people.

Opposition is the backbone of this deck, and is your ace versus almost everyone. Combining with cards as listed above, as well as with Wirewood Lodge and just token-making in general, Opposition is a platinum hit versus the field right now. You can lock down a combo deck’s manabase or hold off an army of Ravagers and Enforcers forever.

Before I get to the sideboard, I would like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug Mindless Self Indulgence. As hard as it is to believe, this band actually lives up to their name, which is quite possibly the illest band name of them all. I was a fan 8 years ago, but was unable to enjoy their music due to my circumstances. I just recently rediscovered them and my existence has been greatly improved. Their originality and energy are legendary. Some may find their style in poor taste or rough on the ears, but if you like Electo-Punk or perhaps are open to unorthodox music, give them a try. (For the record, I have no idea if these guys have crossed over at any point, but I would assume this is not the type of music that MTV plays).

The sideboard has not been tested yet, but is fairly straightforward, allowing new angles of attack. Four Tormod’s Crypts and two Trinket Mages ensure a strong plan against graveyard decks. The Trinket Mages also give you a lot of value from the Engineered Explosives and Pithing Needle in the board. These are versatile hate cards that allow you to deal with a variety of problems, including Counterbalance and Deed.

Jitte and Threads give you nice weapons against aggro decks and decks with important creatures like Goyf and Bob.

Kataki is standard operating procedure for fighting Affinity (which has gained a valuable addition in Springleaf Drum). It is unclear whether or not he is needed. It maybe sufficient to just run a few Viridian Shamans, maybe a Krosan Grip or two. Opposition is just so sick versus Affinity.

For what it’s worth, I suggested this deck to Flores an hour ago and it just so happens he was doing a search for cards with the word Elf appearing in them at that very moment. Maybe there is something here.

I can’t speak on how all the match-ups you could face in a PTQ will play out, as I just built this deck today, but I can say that U/G Elves has potential. I can’t promise that this deck will revolutionize the format. It is just today’s offering. I am interested to see what you guys have to add. Where can we take this one?

Hope you enjoy! Happy New Year everyone!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”