Limited Lessons — Elementals in Lorwyn

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Nick Eisel, after bringing us the Lorwyn lowdown on Goblins and Merfolk in Lorwyn draft, turns his eye toward perhaps the most underrated tribe that the new set has to offer: Elementals. At the lower end of the curve, the guys sure look anemic… but their abilities can power up some insane plays. If you’re looking for a draft strategy with both power and guile, maybe the Elementals are for you…

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I’m hoping that by next week I’ll have a Lorwyn draft walkthrough put together. It’s difficult, since the set isn’t online yet and it’s a lot of work to do a live one and do it well. In the meantime I wanted to do another archetype strategy guide this week, this time on one of the quirkier tribes the set has to offer: Elementals.

The first thing you should know about drafting Elementals is that it should not be a pre-draft decision, where you decide to force the archetype because players around you have other preferences. The archetype is difficult to correctly draft, and if some of the pieces don’t come together then your whole deck may come crumbling down. Because of this, you should be keeping an eye out – especially in the first set of packs – and move into Elementals if you see some of the key cards going around, or if your other tribe doesn’t seem to be panning out. Elementals are similar to an audible in football, because you don’t want to be forcing them going in but they are acceptable if your best-laid plans fall through.

To give you a general idea, the Elemental archetype will usually be R/u or R/b with a strong Red base. The other way you can draft the deck is to take a Five-Color Green approach that allows you to splash lots of cards, and this is probably my favorite way to build the archetype.

I’ll mainly be referring to the base Red version of the deck when I review these cards, since that is the most common way you will end up in the deck. I am going to mention some cards that apply more in the Five-Color Green approach as well, and I will make it clear which those are.

If it wasn’t already obvious, this is the key card in any Elemental based build. While I’m sure you are aware just how good this guy is as he offers huge accelerations and options to splash, you probably don’t know just how high you should be picking him if you find yourself heading down this road. There’s no hard and fast rule for when to start picking this guy, but I can tell you that you will likely never reach a point where you don’t want more copies of this in your deck. It should be picked over most removal that isn’t Nameless Inversion, and the only real tough pick in the realm of commons that I’ve encountered is this guy or Mulldrifter. I’m fairly certain Mulldrifter wins out, unless you already have one or more and no Braiders. At any rate, pick this over almost everything if you’re planning to pilot Elementals, and feel good about having multiple copies.

One thing most people haven’t grasped yet is that this guy allows you to cast Changelings as well, and can create some very unfair openings. Phil Cape used this to cast turn 3 Changeling Titan at the PTQ he won a couple of weeks back, just to give you an example.

If Smokebraider isn’t the reason to draft Elementals (and I’m pretty sure that he is), Aethersnipe is definitely the reason. Besides Mulldrifter, this is the card I want most in my Elemental decks, and he really seems to fit well here. In other archetypes he can often be clunky or unnecessary, as he doesn’t fit tribal lines and is slow. Here you can pump him out early, and he provides tempo as well as a big body to pound with. The only way I’d be using the Evoke ability with any regularity in an Elemental deck is if I had Makeshift Mannequin in the grip to go with it. Plan on hard casting this guy, and plan on doing it early thanks to Smokebraider and other acceleration if you end up going Green.

Faultgrinder & Mournwhelk
These guys are generally considered clunky, and while Mournwhelk still sees some play you should be able to get your hands on as many of these as your heart desires in the later picks. This is a good thing too, since they come down early with Smokebraider and their abilities are relevant. Mournwhelk is obviously the better of the two here, but it’s also important not to underestimate the power to color-screw someone out with multiple Faultgrinders. I’m not even giving Mulldrifter his own section because it’s disgustingly obvious how good he is, and that he is probably the best common you can open in this archetype.

Consuming Bonfire
This is a pretty mediocre excuse for Pinpoint Avalanche, even if it does a better job at cutting down Trees. The good news here is that it has the Elemental subtype and, as we all know, being tribal is very good.

Inner-Flame Acolyte
The Evoke ability on this card is much more relevant than most of the others. The problem with Reckless Charge in the past was that it did nothing if you had no creatures in play or were behind on board. The Acolyte fixes this problem, by being a creature itself and offering Reckless Charge without flashback if that’s what you need at the time.

One thing I should mention is that this guy doesn’t fit the general plan of the archetype. The deck tends to play more like a control deck than a beatdown one, and getting in for four points of damage is not a huge deal if you don’t plan on winning for a while anyway. I think that this is still playable in Elemental builds, but it is not something you should be taking highly if you have the option of taking splashable removal or other cards with potential. I see the Elemental archetype as a slow deck that gains advantage through splashing good cards and getting good use out of 187 abilities, not one that hopes to swarm the opponent quickly.

Soulbright Flamekin & Inner-Flame Igniter
These two go hand-in-hand, as the Soulbright powers up the Igniter and allows your whole team to get +3/+0, first strike, and trample for the time being. The Soulbright is by far the better of these two cards, as it is another way to accelerate mana into a Faultgrinder or something else. Most of the big Elementals have a lot of colorless mana in their costs, and the Flamekin can get them into play much earlier than normal, especially if helped by a Smokebraider.

Wanderer’s Twig
In one of my first articles on LLL, I talked about the Twig and said that it just isn’t worth it in two color decks. I think that it just may have found a home in the Elemental archetype though, as I like to be as many colors as I have good options for when drafting this tribe. I’d certainly play multiples of these if I have enough splash options, but if you end up only two colors it probably again won’t be worthwhile.

Fertile Ground & Fistful of Force
These are my two favorite reasons to base the deck in G/R rather than R/U or some other configuration. Fertile Ground is like a mini Smokebraider, and Fistful of Force is a bomb in this deck when you’re planning to attack with large, cumbersome Aethersnipes. Leaf Gilder is another form of acceleration that makes Green attractive, even if there aren’t any strong Elementals in the commons lot.

Wings of Velis Vel
I was talking to a friend about this archetype and he mentioned a problem dealing with fliers. Well, this is a decent solution if you’re in Blue, and there’s also Cloudcrown Oak if you end up taking the Green-based route.

Since I’m big in advocating having a plan when drafting a tribe, I want to reiterate the general plan behind Elementals before moving on. Drop some acceleration, gain card advantage with 187 Elementals, and eventually win better spells. You need a gameplan for the early turns, and I would strongly advise against this archetype if you don’t get any Smokebraiders. While a tribe like Merfolk may be able to operate without Streambed Aquitects or Judge of Currents, Elementals are truly hinged on having the mana acceleration, since many of the cards are clunky. If you manage to get there the deck can be excellent, but if you don’t see any Braiders and try anyway you will probably end up with a train wreck.

Uncommons and Rares
Unfortunately, a lot of the cards in this section can be taken by other players that aren’t drafting Elementals. Mulldrifter suffers from this fate as well, and this is yet another reason to not go forcing Elementals. I want to clarify that I’m not advocating avoiding drafting the deck, just that you have to know when to jump into it… it can be tricky to determine.

Flamekin Harbinger
This is my favorite Harbinger, and one of the better cards you can have in this deck for a couple of reasons. First, it only costs one mana so that you can search up your Smokebraider and have it ready to cast on turn 2. Second, if you already have a Smokebraider, or it’s in the later turns of the game, you can search up one of the many 187 effects that can help you get out of tough situations. Troublesome enchantment? Search up Wispmare. Board stalled? Search up Mulldrifter and reload. This is a very high pick for the Elemental drafter, but you can hope to get these late as well because the archetype probably isn’t very popular. The only thing you really have to worry about is some guy with a few Changelings deciding he wants to search for them and taking this.

Vivid Lands
When you’re looking to splash, you’re also looking for cheap mana-fixing. These fit the bill nicely and allow you to cheat on splash lands big time.

Briarhorn & Shriekmaw
These are both bombs, but they unfortunately are going to be taken by non-Elemental tribes just because of how good they are. Shriekmaw is especially ridiculous, and while you’ll obviously take these cards as well, you can’t be hoping to get late pick gifts like you can with Drowner of Secrets or Harpoon Sniper if there isn’t a Merfolk drafter nearby.

Ceaseless Searblades
This is a great blocker, and gets out of hand quickly with Soulbright Flamekin or Inner-Flame Igniter. I’ve done fifteen in one attack step, with this guy and Fistful of Force where I won the clash. At any rate, this is a good reason to get into this deck if you’re lost in the middle of pack 1.

Makeshift Mannequin
I’ve talked about this before, but I just want to mention again how brutal it is with an Evoked Mulldrifter, Aethersnipe, or Mournwhelk. Not only do you get to reuse the ability, but you also have a chance to ambush someone in combat or screw up an attack step by bouncing someone with Aethersnipe. This card is tricky, and at its best in this archetype.

This is my favorite way to kill someone in combination with Ceaseless Searblades. Pump up the Searblades a ton by going nuts with Soulbright Flamekin, and then cast or Evoke this guy to kill someone completely out of nowhere. This isn’t a great card in its own right, but it can be superb if you draft some Inner-Flame Acolytes and Searblades and plan on doing a lot of damage unexpectedly.

I mentioned this guy in the Merfolk article as well, but he’s at his best in this deck as he can be cast very early. The main thing here is that he is a big guy that makes tokens and has a decent ability. He’s not a spectacular card on paper, but he works well in this deck.

Ashling the Pilgrim
Combos with Soulbright Flamekin, and in general it’s just a really good card. This gets very big very quickly if helped by a Smokebraider, and the second ability is a good way to finish someone if they’ve found a way to stop Ashling from attacking. If this guy sticks and isn’t killed quickly, he should make short work of anything in his way. Remember too that Flamekin gives trample, which will make Ashling even harder to stop.

Favor the Mighty
Tribal Enchantment — Giant? I think they messed up somewhere in the templating of this card, and it should say Elemental on it.

Nobody ever takes this, and it is absolutely awesome in the Elemental deck. I seriously doubt your opponent will have a creature with higher converted mana cost than your big dumb Mournwhelk or Aethersnipe. This is well worth splashing for, and can end up giving multiple guys protection if they share converted mana cost. Remember Pristine Angel? This is pretty close in this deck, except it doesn’t let your guy untap or have evasion.

Dread, Guile, Purity, Hostility, and Vigor. These are all very good reasons to get into this archetype, and they can all be easily cast off of Smokebraider. Hostility is obviously the most desirable here as the deck is based in Red anyway, but you can easily splash any of the others with multiple Braiders in your deck.

Heat Shimmer
I personally think this card is always a good addition to your deck. That being said, this is a complete bomb in the Elemental deck as most of your guys have comes into play abilities that this will trigger for a second usage. In a way, this is another Makeshift Mannequin that will either be better or worse depending on the situation. One plus this has going for it already is that it’s a mana cheaper and in the base color of the deck to begin with.

Hoofprints of the Stag
Yes, it says Elemental on it. That doesn’t make it playable here, and it’s not really playable anywhere else either. I suppose if you had multiple Mulldrifters to trigger this then it might be worth it, but I still doubt it. This is reasonable on turn 2, but not great, and if you’re playing it here it’s almost certainly on the splash and won’t be cast until late game anyway. Avoid this.

Horde of Notions
Here’s a card that I obviously love, as it’s a small child card. Smokebraider makes this much easier to cast, and I definitely want it in my deck if I’m drafting this tribe. I could be biased on the matter because I enjoy doing silly things when I can, but I think this guy is actually good if you can support it.

Incandescent Soulstoke
This guy is ridiculous with the 187 Elementals, because almost anything could happen at any time. He lets you get some sick draws, and is especially good in combination with the next card.

Nova Chaser
A friend of mine drafted mono-Red elementals and managed to mull to five and still win on the back of this card and Incandescent Soulstoke. You can fire this guy out with haste with Inner-Flame Acolyte as well, and completely steal a game out from under someone. Championing an Elemental isn’t even a bad thing, since most of them do something when they come into play and will get to do it again if this dies. If this doesn’t die, then your opponent either has a first striker or is dead very soon.

Primal Command
I wanted to mention this card for the Green version of the deck because it does two things that the deck really wants. First, it lets you search for whatever large bomb creature you need in any situation. Second, you will usually gain seven life off this, which will buy time for your better spells to come online. The Fallow Earth ability is also fine here, but this is basically a slower substitute for Flamekin Harbinger. In a deck with splashing and lots of expensive men, it helps to have ways to search out whatever you need at the given moment, and this Command is very good at that.

Mosswort Bridge
This is another card for the Green builds. It works well with Blades of Velis Vel, and allows you to cast some large splash guy that you haven’t found the land for yet. This also works well with Inner-Flame Igniter and Ceaseless Searblades, so you’ll definitely want to play it in the G/R versions of this archetype.

Here’s a draft deck that Phil Cape used to win the Pittsburgh PTQ a couple weeks back.

Runed Stalactite
Wanderer’s Twig
Faerie Harbinger
Faerie Trickery
Mistbind Clique
Whirlpool Whelm
Warren Pilferers
Blades of Velis Vel
Inner-Flame Acolyte
2 Nameless Inversion
2 Faultgrinder
2 Flamekin Harbinger
4 Smokebraider
Shelldock Isle
Vivid Crag
5 Island
8 Mountain

This is the basic R/U build of the deck with a few splash cards thrown in. Phil also has the Faerie Harbinger/Mistbind Clique combo going on, and can also Champion the Clique with Blades of Velis Vel. Phil somehow managed to get four copies of Smokebraider and plenty of things to do with them, as well as two Harbingers. The base of this deck is an ideal example of what you can expect if you draft a strong Elemental deck.

The next deck I want to share is a Five-Color Green build that I drafted a couple weeks back that went 2-1 in a team draft.

2 Mulldrifter
2 Aethersnipe
Ceaseless Searblades
Flamekin Harbinger
2 Smokebraider
2 Fertile Ground
Cloudcrown Oak
Wanderer’s Twig
Soulbright Flamekin
Eyeblight’s Ending
Consuming Bonfire
Hearthcage Giant
Leaf Gilder
Fistful of Force
Vivid Crag
Vivid Creek
2 Swamp
7 Forest
5 Mountain

This deck was pretty crazy, though admittedly not as consistent as Phil’s.

Some final comments about this archetype are as follows. One of the benefits here is the ease of splashing removal like Oblivion Ring, Nameless Inversion, Neck Snap, or Eyeblight’s Ending. The deck is slow and can support this type of strategy, and fixing/acceleration helps. You can also splash the Gold Legends like Brion or Wydwen using this same idea. You can play any Harbingers in this archetype provided you have enough good Shapeshifters to fetch.

Some builds of the deck can do a ton of damage out of nowhere, as I explained in some of the specific card sections, so you want to be on the lookout for times where you can get that element into your deck. Overall, the deck is a slow controlling deck that can do some very unexpected things. Don’t plan on forcing it, but keep it in the back of your mind as a perfectly acceptable backup plan if the cards are there, and you should do just fine.

Nick Eisel
Soooooo on MTGO
[email protected]

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