Peebles Primers – Elves in Triple Lorwyn

Click here for more info on Grand Prix Daytona Beach!
Another day, another tribal drafting guide for triple Lorwyn. While this particular race is popular in Standard, it seems that they’re falling from favor in Limited, at least according to the pros in the know. That said, you can’t deny then power of cards such as Imperious Perfect, Lys Alana Huntmaster, and Nath’s Elite. Benjamin Peebles-Mundy brings us the lowdown on the Green/Black Elves archetype, bringing out the pointy-eared freak in us all…

Click here for more info on Grand Prix Daytona Beach!

When I was out in New Mexico, my old car fell apart. It was never in the greatest shape, since I bought it for under two thousand dollars when I was in high school, but it was a very good car and I really liked it. Faced with no way to get across the country, I obtained a Toyota Sienna minivan, and I’ve been driving that monstrosity around ever since.

Right up until it got killed by a moving van.

This past weekend I was visiting in DC, and when I went to my car on Saturday, the entire front half of the van was on the ground. Luckily, the rubble came with a note saying that whoever had hit me was “really sorry” and that they had insurance. As it turns out, it was basically the least painful way possible for me to get my car blown out, though my car obviously still got blown out.

So, instead of being able to come up with an article topic of my own due to spending most of the weekend and Monday dealing with claims adjusters and car shops, I’ve turned to reader feedback for an idea of what to write about. The people that contact me on AIM have been clamoring for my views on drafting the Elf archetype, and so I’m bowing to their will.

At this point in the format, the deck I most prefer to draft is Blue/Black, but Green/Black is a close second. Those two decks just seem to be able to do the most impressive things, and with Elves, you get the opportunity to just run your opponent over with a swarm of “Play Big” and “Go to the Source” tokens. As before, I will present the commons in a rough order of power level and preference, though cards I’ve listed close to each other can easily be taken over each other, and I’ll touch on off-tribe cards that I think are worth paying attention to.

Top Tier:

Nameless Inversion – This is the consensus best common in the format (though I personally lean towards Silvergill Douser), and it’s certainly the best common for Black decks. It doesn’t really get much better than cheap, tutorable removal.

Lys Alana Huntmaster – The Huntmaster is what truly makes an Elf deck sing. You can be casting terrible Elf after terrible Elf, but the Huntmaster will make up for the lack of power in those cards by bringing extra friends to the party. The token ability obviously helps to swarm over your opponent, but it’s at its best when helping out your elf-count cards, such as Elvish Branchbender, Jagged-Scar Archers, and Elvish Promenade.

Eyeblight’s Ending – If you’re taking most of the good Elves, then the drawback of this card becomes mitigated by the fact that you can expect to face fewer non-targets. I think that the pick between this card and the Huntmaster is extremely close, but I feel that the Huntmaster will have a greater effect on your deck’s overall power level, even if it’s slightly worse when compared card-for-card.

Weed Strangle – The nice thing about this card is that it kills everything out there, even if it does cost a lot of mana to get that effect. I was a little bit cold on this card at first, but the fact of the matter is that removal is removal, and unconditional removal with a possible benefit is very good.

Nath’s Elite – Four (sometimes five) power on a Lure man is already pretty decent, because you’re almost sure to pick off at least one of your opponent’s better men with him, but there are a number of other reasons that the Elite is a high pick. You can back him up with pump, like Fistful of Force. You can supercharge the Lure power with Lace with Moonglove. Most importantly, though, you can simply give your token hordes a chance to inflict massive amounts of damage without suffering heavy losses.

Warren Pilferers – A Gravedigger is a Gravedigger, even if it’s not going to give you a ton of tribal benefits.

Moonglove Extract – The Extract is not the best of the best when it comes to removal, but it’s a great early pick because it will always make your deck and it will keep your options open.

Fistful of Force – This is my personal least favorite Clash card, because I think it’s the one with the biggest swing in power level dependent on whether or not you win. Given that you’re favored to lose the Clash, you have to evaluate it as just a +2/+2 effect, but if you get lucky and hit +4/+4 and Trample, your opponent is almost always in a world of hurt.

Leaf Gilder – The Elf deck doesn’t have a whole lot to do on turn 3; you have Elvish Branchbender and Gilt-Leaf Ambush to cast, but your real winners show up once you’ve hit four or five mana. A two-power two-drop that accelerates you and happens to be and Elf is quite the little package, and you should be picking these guys up early.

Gilt-Leaf Ambush — This is the other contender for biggest swing in power level based on whether or not you win the Clash. If you cast it early, you’re usually going to be able to pick off a guy regardless of the Clash outcome, and so it’s still a very good card. If you can afford to wait a few turns with it, then you might even be able to make three tokens (courtesy of the Huntmaster) and, if you’re lucky, pick off two bigger men. Some people like this card more than I do, and would consider it a better overall pick than something like Leaf Gilder, but I’m happy with this ranking.

Woodland Changeling — Other than Leaf Gilder, this guy is pretty much your only option for a good two-drop, and he’s very good. He’ll get the party started in the red zone, and he’ll boost your Elvish Branchbender earlier than normal. He’s also your best option for turning on off-tribe effects that might be in your deck, like Peppersmoke.

Elvish Branchbender — The rest of the Elf tribe is focused on getting enough men into play that you can end the game with two or three swings, even if you happen to take heavy losses during those combat steps. Cards like Nath’s Elite and Fistful of Force can help to protect your army, but the Branchbender can turn it into an entirely different monster. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that you can turn your Forests into 4/4s, and it’s not uncommon to see him make them 7/7s, 10/10s, or bigger. He is a little bit fragile himself, but if he gets left alone, he’ll do the best impression of Genju of the Cedars that we’ve seen in a long time. Keep in mind that X doesn’t change if your elf count does, so you can’t use something like Gilt-Leaf Ambush as a pump spell for your Forest.

Moonglove Winnower — Two power for four mana isn’t that impressive, making the Winnower better suited for holding the fort than picking a fight. He’s a very good man on turn 3 against an aggressive deck, where you know that you’ll still get their guy even if they have Surge of Thoughtweft, and he’s a very good follow-up to a Huntmaster while you get the ball rolling.

Cloudcrown Oak — This guy and Moonglove Winnower are essentially the same card; both shore up your defenses while you set your gameplan up. The Oak’s Reach makes him your best common answer to fliers, but the fact that he’s not an Elf, and his inability to stop something like Axegrinder Giant, moves him below the Winnower, in my opinion. Still, if you’re hurting for ways to stop a Blue deck from running you over, it’s not unreasonable at all to pick him higher than this.

Mid Tier:

Boggart Loggers — Even outside of any tribal interactions, the Loggers are a two-power evasion creature for three mana, and so they’re good in my book. The ability to kill Treefolk is another bonus, so while he’s usually there to Forestwalk over your opponent’s face, sometimes he’ll take a break to stop the Battlewand Oak, Oakgnarl Warrior, or Changeling of your choice from walking on your own.

Peppersmoke — The last time I wrote about this card, I definitely did not give it the respect it deserves. When you’re playing Faeries and can essentially guarantee the Cantrip, the card is extremely powerful. Even when you can’t guarantee the cantrip, it’s still one of the best answers to powerful commons like Silvergill Douser and Goldmeadow Harrier. Beyond that, you can use it as a combat trick or a way to pick off something like a Kithkin Greatheart before it powers up.

Lignify — Many people like this card less than I do, because the 0/4 body it gives your opponent is not insignificant, especially since your best common creature is a 3/3. However, it’s a great answer to a utility or evasion creature that’s denting your plans, and it’s even better against Champions. Besides, your 3/3 will bring a host of extra friends along, so you shouldn’t be too hard-pressed for extra guys to get through the wall you create.

Kithkin Daggerdare — The Daggerdare is not my favorite card in the world, since spending a mana is often pretty bad for your development plans. As always, though, it’s often the threat that counts, and so you’ll be able to get away without having to spend a mana each turn to power your guys through. He is better than usual when you have a token crew, since he’ll discourage your opponent from trying to pick all of your guys off with his own set of 2/2s and 3/3s, so it’s usually worth picking a copy or two up.

Gilt-Leaf Seer — The ability on the Seer is relatively underwhelming; you’re going to have to draw the land you keep moving down eventually. Still, almost any ability is better than no ability at all, and he can help you win key clashes on cards like Gilt-Leaf Ambush and Fistful of Force, and either way he’s still a decently-sized Elf to include in your deck.

Lace with Moonglove — This is no Wildsize, but a cantrip trick that lets you trade up is a welcome addition to any deck packed with tokens. The chance to combo with Nath’s Elite is usually the biggest reason that I include this card in my deck, but it’s still a fine trick without him.

Fertile Ground — This is a pretty big drop in ranking from Leaf Gilder, but the fact that it can’t engage in combat and the fact that it’s not an Elf are both pretty big strikes against this card. Still, it will accelerate you to your Huntmasters and it will facilitate whatever splash you might pick up, and so you’ll find yourself picking and playing this card relatively often.

Skeletal Changeling — Changelings are Changelings, but this one doesn’t add much to your average Elf deck. If you’ve overloaded on off-tribe effects that need help, it’s not unreasonable to include a few copies in your deck, but I wouldn’t be too thrilled about having more than one in most average decks.

Elvish Handservant — There are decks in which the Handservant is a very good card, but your average Elf deck isn’t one of them. You aren’t likely to have too many Changelings to power him up, though you may run into matchups where he’s great out of the board. If you find yourself with a massive stack of Woodland Changelings, though, then he’s a great opening play, and you should pick him higher than this.

Bottom Tier:

Warren-Scourge Elf — This man and Nath’s Buffoon both have their places as hosers for the uncommon Champions. Still, in most matchups they will be vanilla 1/1s for two, and so you’ll have to decide if tribal triggers are enough to run them.

Scarred Vinebreeder — It’s possible that I should have the Vinebreeder higher; his ability is actually quite a threat in certain circumstances. However, the activation costs a considerable amount of mana, and you don’t exactly want to plan on having your best men die, so he’ll usually ride the bench.

Footbottom Feast — Instant-speed Raise Dead for three isn’t exactly exciting, and Elves lack powerful comes-into-play abilities, so a massive regrowth of your dead Elves isn’t usually what you’re looking for. However, the card can turn late-game topdecking wars into a one-sided blowout, and so it deserves a place in your sideboard, if not your maindeck.

Mournwhelk — Both the Evoke and hardcast methods of using this guy are underwhelming to me. He’s still playable, sure, but he doesn’t excite me, and he usually only makes the cut when my deck happens to be very weak.

Elvish Eulogist — Of your options of a 1/1 for one, this isn’t the one you want. The lifegain might be relevant somehow, and you’ll always gain at least one from him, but it’s still not usually worth the card slot you spend on his inclusion.

Notable Uncommons:

Briarhorn — There’s not a whole lot to think about with this guy; his Evoke ability is better than Fistful of Force in most situations, and hardcasting him should put you very far ahead. At his worst, he’s usually a Neck Snap, and that’s a pretty good worst-case scenario.

Elvish Promenade — In a “fair” draw, the Promenade is probably not going to give you more than three or four tokens without getting a little bit lucky. If the second of your four preceding Elf spells was a Huntmaster, though, then you’ll get a Huntmaster token and then seven more friends for just four mana. In other words, this card won’t save a train-wreck, but it can push the top-level decks into overdrive.

Imperious Perfect — When you’re a Green drafter not in Elves, you’ll often windmill slam the Perfect any time you see it. When you happen to be in Elves, well…

Incremental Growth — Some people do not like this card because it might be stuck in your hand if you have just one or two guys in play. In the Elf deck, you’ll usually have at least a token or two lying around to soak up the extra counter or three, so that problem isn’t something you should worry about. When you do have the ability to cast it without restriction, it’s almost always a massive swing in your favor.

Jagged-Scar Archers — At common, really only Cloudcrown Oak can save you from a flying horde. This guy does essentially everything that the Oak does; he can’t “block” on the first turn, but he comes out a turn faster. At the beginning of the season, many people at CMU didn’t realize that there was no “attacking or blocking” clause on the Archers, and were therefore undervaluing it. At this point, it’s widely regarded as a very high pick.

Kithkin Mourncaller — Despite being a Kithkin, this man is much more at home in the Elf deck than in the Kithkin deck. Your tokens become much more dangerous when they turn into actual cards, and so you’ll find yourself easily able to go on the offensive earlier than usual, since your opponent will have to give you a card or two anytime they want to stem the bleeding. Note that it also combos very nicely with Guardian of Cloverdell, though that’s relatively obscure.

Final Revels — Given that you’re assembling a large mass of 1/1s or 2/2s, you won’t usually use this card as an Infest. Instead, you’ll use it to make your tokens into 3/1s so that you can slam them into your opponent and kill them all that much faster. Of course, you can also use it to turn a slow draw into a fifth-turn massacre, or to finish your opponent’s side of 3/3s after you suicide your tokens into them.

Lys Alana Scarblade — This guy is one of the scariest cards a Blue/White deck can see, and even those colors that have access to Tarfire or Peppersmoke are going to need to find them fast. It’s easy to pick off men like Silvergill Douser, but you should even be able to take out even the biggest of problems with the Scarblade. Incidentally, this is one of my favorite cards to hatedraft in three-versus-threes.

Prowess of the Fair — I do not actually like this card very much, but enough people talk about it that I figured I would too. There are times when you’ll mostly care about your Elf count, such as when you’re aiming to win with huge Branchbent Forests, and then this card can help maintain some huge fatties. Usually, though, it suffers from not replacing your dying tokens, and your tokens are certain to be what’s dying most. I feel that it is very situation- and deck-dependent, and that it will be rare when you’re excited to draft one.

Shriekmaw — Pretty much the best non-rare you can see, and there aren’t even that many rares that top this guy. The main thing to note is that his presence in your stack should automatically increase the value of any Footbottom Feasts you may see.

Hopefully this gives you enough of a view into my perspective on drafting Elves to follow my logic. You simply have to decide what direction you want your deck to take (usually the token masses), and then reinforce that position with each pick. I’m stretching my deadline to the breaking point as it is, so I’ll see you next week.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM

Click here for more info on Grand Prix Daytona Beach!