Scouse of Cards #4 – 40-Card Constructed: Winning With Elves

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In this week’s Scouse of Cards, I bring you a fresh approach to drafting. We all know that the best drafters draft decks rather than cards… but is there a way we can formulize the process to ensure that our picks are truly working towards a successful deck? Can we blueprint exactly what we need to win? I believe we can… read on to share my theories.

I’ll let you in on a secret…

I cheat.

Yeah, that’s right. I cheat. At Magic.

Alright, so I don’t really cheat. I don’t do anything illegal, either in the eyes of the DCI or the eyes of the police. But what I do sure feels like cheating sometimes.

With the odd scheduling exception, I get each article 36 hours in advance. That way, should there be a problem, there’s ample time for rewrites and polishing. When I receive the article, I give it a once-over, non-editor reading for my own enjoyment before filing it away and marking the requisite on the schedule. If it’s a Constructed article, I consider how the information affects my metagame and deck choices. If it’s Drafting With X, I follow each pick and mentally note the cards I would’ve chosen… I’m sure you do the same.

If it’s a Limited article — like, say, a primer on Elemental drafting in Lorwyn from Nick Eisel — then I lap it up. Because I know I can turn the information to my advantage.

Before I edit the article, I fire up MTGO. Three packs, two tix, 8-4, click click.

Armed with the information from the as-yet unpublished article, I go to work and reap in the packs.

It’s not cheating. It’s merely a perk of the job, I guess. In a way, it’s nothing more than chatting to a strong Magic-playing friend about his theories on the game, and using the information I receive. Even so, it does feel wrong, somehow. Maybe it’s the Englishman in me, crippling me with fair play and reserve. The information I’m using is due for public consumption, usually the following day. I feel I should wait and fight fair in the draft queues with the rest of the StarCityGames.com Premium readers. Even so, it feels like insider trading. I’ve pulled in a sackful of packs this way.

I remember, back in Ravnica draft, an article from Ken Krouner proved particularly fruitful. It showed me, and then you, how to draft Boros in triple Ravnica. I liked the archetype anyway, and I used Ken’s advice to greatly increase my success at the 8-4 tables. For a time, it felt as if I couldn’t lose. The article provided a blueprint to Boros success.

The pick-by-pick information it contains is useless now, of course. Aside from historical interest of wacky retro drafts, knowing that Viashino Fangtail trumps Indentured Oaf in the four-slot is irrelevant. The article itself, however, opened my eyes to a way of looking at drafting that I’d previously neglected. The art of drafting a deck, rather than drafting cards. It seems obvious, but at the time it hit home. When you make a choice, it should deserve its slot for more than the ephemeral reasoning of “it’s a good card.”

For those who can’t be arsed clicking the above link, Ken reasoned that the most successful Boros builds had a strict curve: four one-drops, four two-drops, four three-drops, and four four-drops. The rest should be spells, or maybe a couple of high-mana powerhouses like Conclave Equinaut or Firemane Angel. He went on to list the good, passable, and unplayable cards in each slot, and gave a nod to the better spells the archetype had to offer.

Whether or not you agree with those numbers is largely irrelevant; it’s the process that matters, and it’s the process that flipped the light on in my head. Constructing your deck along tight guidelines. Taking a Draft deck, and turning it into a Constructed one.

Whenever I’m playing Constructed, I agonise over maindeck choices long into the night. Should my Red/Green Aggro deck run Mogg Fanatic or Llanowar Elves, or both? What silver bullets do I need in my Teachings build? Does the Doran deck need Treefolk Harbinger? When the day of the tournament arrives, and I’ve settled on what I believe to be the optimal build for my chosen archetype, I cross my fingers and roll the dice. Again, the actual answers to such questions posed in testing are irrelevant to today’s article… it’s the process that matters.

In Constructed Magic, when running a deck against the gauntlet, we throw our builds against the supposed best builds any given archetype has to offer. In doing so, we can rate our chances against any given metagame, and hone our own build into a premier seventy-five for our chosen strategy.

In Constructed Magic, we can choose our decks. In Draft, we choose the cards that go into our decks. So surely, if we have a blueprint for the best possible build of the archetype we wind up playing, we can draft towards that blueprint and come out with a strong forty-card “Constructed” draft deck. Of course, draft — at least in the early picks — is fluid, but our archetype of choice is eventually settled, be it after one pick or twelve picks. If you know the perfect blueprint for that archetype, then drafting to maximise the power should be the next step. You know you need, say, four four-drops in Boros, and that they’re the most important cards for the strategy, so you make your picks accordingly.

Let’s now move onto Lorwyn. We have a relatively fresh format that inspires us to draft decks along tribal guidelines — Elves, Merfolk, Giants, whatever. There are non-tribal archetypes, such as the four- or five-color Good Stuff builds, but the tribes are where it’s at. Forming the perfect blueprint for each tribe, the 40-Card Constructed deck, should be our goal. In this article, and in future articles in this series should the idea prove popular, I’ll be examining the perfect 40-Card Constructed blueprints for the tribes of Lorwyn, giving us all a deck to draft towards when we lay our dollars down and crack those packs.

First up? Black/Green Elves.

40-Card Constructed: Elves in Lorwyn

First things first… there are, as you can imagine, some problems with this approach from the beginning. Leaving aside whether or not you agree with the actual choices in the following decklist, a “perfect” 40-Card Constructed Elves blueprint could look something like this:

4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Woodland Changeling
4 Imperious Perfect
3 Wren’s Run Packmaster
3 Lys Alana Huntmaster
2 Shriekmaw
4 Nameless Inversion
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
8 Forest
4 Swamp

In fact, taking it further, it could even look something like this

8 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
8 Imperious Perfect
8 Shriekmaw
16 Gilt-Leaf Palace

Such blueprints are obviously ridiculous. What we need are workable blueprints, card lists that we can work towards when we have actual packs and picks in front of us. In order to tie our decks into reality, I’m imposing and “all commons and uncommons” rule, with no more than one of a given uncommon in the blueprint itself. I’ll say more on this later in the article.

Right, to business.

In order to properly place our blueprints in the overall scheme of Lorwyn draft, we need to make some observations on the format as a whole. By doing so we can see what dangers the deck needs to overcome, or what cards may be problematic. The below list is meant as a guide for the format as a whole, not simply for the Elves player.

1) The format is pretty fast. This means that curve is important for most decks, with some action required on turn 2. Making drops on curve is vital, as a lot of archetypes have broken starts that can leave you dead in the water before you’re in the game.

2) Removal and tricks are key. Whether it’s Nameless Inversion, Lash Out, Oblivion Ring, Surge of Thoughtweft, or even Glimmerdust Nap, man cannot draft on creatures alone.

3) Beware the key tribal powerhouses. The various tribes have common and uncommon cards that can piss on the chips of the most prepared of drafter. Between maindeck and sideboard, we’re likely to need a plan to combat the following non-rare problematic cards:
i) Judge of Currents / Summon the School
ii) Thundercloud Shaman
iii) Oblivion Ring / Lignify
iv) Double Warren Pilferers
v) Imperious Perfect
vi) Drowner of Secrets
vii) Silvergill Douser
viii) Early Smokebraider
Yes, some of these are easily handled. Some, however, can be a hard-to-stop kicking. And of course there are the rare-powered problems, like Wort, Boggart Auntie; Galepowder Mage plus Shriekmaw; or the Planeswalkers. Remember, Rootgrapple can be your sideboarded friend!

4) Most archetypes are capable of broken starts. The Elves can explode out, as can the Kithkin. Turn 2 Smokebraider, turn 3 Mulldrifter, turn 4 Vigor is quite good (I just fell to that in the first round of an 8-4… ouch). Even things as simple as turn 2 Kithkin Greatheart, turn 3 Avian Changeling; or turn 2 Judge of Currents, turn 3 Judge of Currents, attack, can get out of hand pretty quickly. Make sure your deck has a broken start of its own, or that it’s sufficiently controlling to handle such starts from others.

5) Don’t panic, pack 3 will save you. I’ve floundered early in a huge amount of drafts. I’ve taken those third and fourth pick Stinkdrinker Daredevils, or that second pick Imperious Perfect, only to be nominally cut from the tribe through packs 1 and 2. I’ve sat straddling two or three tribes as the draft goes long… and pack 3 always, always comes along and saves the day. I don’t think I’ve ever known a format like it. The thing is, people wax and wane on tribal concerns for a good ten or fifteen picks. Then their tribes slowly solidify, and they’re prepared to pass the good stuff late. If you’ve highlighted a tribe you think that will produce the goods (pick 1 Thundercloud Shaman, for example, followed by a Lash Out and a Stinkdrinker), just keep the faith and cut the tribe as best you can. You WILL be rewarded.

40-Card Constructed Elves Blueprint — The Creatures

So, how do the Elves plan to win?

First, it’s obvious that they like to rumble. Other than the Kithkin, this tribe is Lorwyn’s premier advocate of the “make guys and swing” brigade. Winning should come from an overlap of creatures, maybe tokens produced by one of the elf-sh**ting cards available. As they are coupled with Black, they also excel in removing their opponent’s threats from the board. However, unlike the Kithkin, they do have some mid-game strength, with cards like Nath’s Elite making the Waiting Game seem quite profitable at times. And cards such as Imperious Perfect do double-duty, both pumping the team for early beats and providing an inevitable mid- and long-game should he/she remain unmolested.

As the Elves like to beat down, a consistent and early curve is paramount. They also need a fair few fellows to take up the sword… no “ten guys and removal” builds here please.

For our primary blueprint pass, let’s nail down a possible creature curve:

1 mana: 0
2 mana: 5
3 mana: 5
4 mana: 4
5 mana+ : 2

Five two-drops, five three-drops, four four-drops, and a couple of five-drops or higher. It screams out with early beats, has some top-end for midgame concerns, and leaves room for seventeen lands and seven spells. Seems like a decent starting point.

[NB: No one-drops? Even though Elves like to beat down? I think this is fine… as I’ve said, the Elves are more a mid-range battering ram, especially when compared to the more aggressive Kithkin. When I tackle those bad boys, expect more than zero in the one-slot.]

Now that we have a creature mana curve, let’s see what options we have to fill the various slots. I’m sticking to Black and Green uncommons and commons here. The Elves and Changelings are listed first, followed by non-Elf creatures that can help the strategy in the same colors at the same mana cost (in parentheses).

One Mana
Elvish Eulogist
Elvish Handservant

At one mana, we have two possible guys. The Eulogist is someone I’d never be happy to play, and I see the Handservant as a possibility. He’s a guy I have played, but I feel his strength is outside a strict Elves blueprint… he’s better with Giants in Red, or Changelings. That said, he’s a viable late-pick sideboard option as an early beater against those tricksy Blue mages, so pick him up late if you can (10th pick or more)

Two Mana
Leaf Gilder
Warren-Scourge Elf
Wren’s Run Vanquisher
Woodland Changeling
Scarred Vinebreeder
Skeletal Changeling
(Kithkin Daggerdare)
(Nath’s Buffoon)

Of the six Elves available at the two-slot, there are three that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Wren’s Run Vanquisher is the first of those three, followed by Leaf Gilder and Woodland Changeling. The last two are closer in power level, though the mana Elf takes it. Of the remaining three “Elves,” I rate them in the following order: Skeletal Changeling, Scarred Vinebreeder, Warren-Scourge Elf. That said, I’d be unhappy if I were running any of them, and I certainly wouldn’t like to see them in my 40-Card Constructed Elves blueprint.

Of the non-Elf options in the two-slot, only Kithkin Daggerdare really rates a mention. He’s fine in an aggressive build (a build in which, for instance, you’ve not managed to pick up the marquee four-drops and have overloaded on the Woodland Changeling). In this archetype, he rates higher that the Skeletal Changeling, though lower than the Woodland Changeling… though I can see a case for running the Skeleton over the Knife-Thrower should the deck dictate the need for another Elf / defensive option. As for Nath’s Buffoon… you’re not playing him (maybe from the board against a heavy Changeling deck), but he can give your deck fits. Remember to hate him late picks (10th pick plus).

With only three decent options to fill our five two-drop slots (even if they’re all common), it’s important to rate these guys accordingly. In the three-slot, we have an embarrassment of Elvish riches. I’m not say pick these over anything stupid, like Imperious Perfect of Jagged-Scar Archers… but if faced with a choice between Gilt-Leaf Seer and Woodland Changeling, or even Elvish Branchbender over Leaf Gilder, be prepared to plump for the two-drop guy. After all, you’re drafting to a framework here… five two-drops, five three-drops. Your third Branchbender may indeed be wonderful, but if he’s your seventh three-drop and he’s chosen over your third two-drop, you’ll not hit the curve.

Three Mana
Elvish Branchbender
Elvish Harbinger
Gilt-Leaf Seer
Imperious Perfect
Jagged-Scar Archers
Ghostly Changeling
Lys Alana Scarblade
(Battlewand Oak)
(Boggart Loggers)
(Kithkin Mourncaller)
(Spiderwig Boggart)

To be perfectly frank, the two-drops in our deck are unremarkable. It’s in the three-drops and beyond that will make or break our draft. Towering over every other guy on this list, we have the superb Imperious Perfect. He’s a reason to draft Elves in himself — more on this later. Placing second on the list, there’s the Jagged-Scar Archers. Not only does he combat fliers, which can be a problem for a removal-light Elves deck, but he also grows to ridiculous sizes, especially when backed by cards such as Lys Alana Huntmaster, Gilt-Leaf Ambush, and Elvish Promenade. Third, we have Elvish Harbinger. She can fetch any key Elf required, such as the Perfect, or Eyeblight’s Ending, or the Archers; or she can simply fetch you some shapeshifter action (Changeling Titan, or Nameless Inversion spring to mind). And she also helps in the mana department! Of course, she’s only as good as the rest of your deck. I’d take the key Elves over her early, but happily grab her as pick 1 in pack 3 should I have the support crew in place.

Fourth on the three-drop list, we have the Elvish Branchbender. This innocuous little creature gives one hell of a mid- and late-game push, especially in the face of a stalled board. I love this guy, especially in multiples. However, it does tend to go rather late, especially in packs 2 and 3, so draft it accordingly. Following the Branchbender, we have the Ghostly Changeling. Sure, the Changeling is probably better than the Branchbender in a vacuum, but as the Elf deck is largely mono-Green for the creature base, the pumpage available to the Spook will be erratic at best. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an awesome card… it’s simply better in other archetypes.

Rounding out the two “real” Elves, we have Lys Alana Scarblade and Gilt-Leaf Seer. I prefer the Seer in all but the most dedicated Elvish deck, as the one toughness on the Scarblade can be a problem (there are so many 1/1s in the format, so people hoover up those Peppersmokes like so much cheap wine). However, with the Elvish three-slot so admirably plump, it’d be a shame to run this guy when presented with tastier options. Not one for the 40-Card Constructed blueprint, I feel.

Of the four non-Elf offerings, I’d likely run an Elf over all of them… with the exception of Boggart Loggers. I’d rate him below Ghostly Changeling but above Seer and Scarblade. He has evasion (sideboarders take note), and he’s removal if the wind is right. If they have Mirror Entity, you’ll kiss Bobby Logger’s feet.

Four Mana
Lys Alana Huntmaster
Moonglove Winnower
(Hornet Harasser)
(Cloudcrown Oak)
(Bog-Strider Ash)
(Dreamspoiler Witches)

From an embarrassment of riches, we’re reduced to two frickin’ cards…? And only one of them is a high pick? Man, the four-slot is anaemic.

That said, Lys Alana Huntmaster is, after Imperious Perfect, the most important guy in the archetype. My favorite opening with this deck involves turn 2 Leaf Gilder, turn 3 Lys Alana Huntmaster, turn 4 Imperious Perfect with two mana up for removal. The Huntmaster is the card that makes the archetype shine. The Perfect just makes it big.

The other four-drop Elf, Moonglove Winnower, is a perfectly serviceable man, though there are two other four-drops I’d rather play in his place. The first is Briarhorn, a wonderful card that I’d probably pick over Lys Alana Huntmaster (especially early, when not committed to Elves). The second is Cloudcrown Oak, which helps shore up the skies. The Oak sits below the Huntmaster, but probably above the Winnower… although I’m happy playing both.

The other three guys in this slot – Dreamspoiler Witches, Hornet Harasser, and Bog-Strider Ash – fall behind a little. The Dreamspoiler is better, naturally, especially when paired with Instant-speed removal and tricks like Gilt-Leaf Ambush. His evasion is nice, though hardly necessary in the token-generating Elf deck that we hope to assemble. His real use is removal, both with the Instants plus his ability, and with the fact that he trades with a lot of flyers. He also powers Peppersmoke, which can be relevant if you’re removal-light and have a handful of Changelings. After the Witches, the Hornet Harasser earns a spot. He’s a form of removal, and excellent at stalling the board should your start be slow. Of course, Moonglove Winnower does the same duty here, and helps kick off the tribal shenanigans. The Bog-Strider Ash, while propping up the rear, is still serviceable. His “gain 2 life” clause is surprisingly useful, as is his Swampwalk — folk splash for Shriekmaw, in case you hadn’t heard.

As I mentioned above, the value of cards in thin mana-slots such as these do rise when we’re trying to fill out a 40-Card Constructed blueprint. With only one true four-mana Elf worth his weight, and four four-mana slots to fill, you’ll find your butt saved by Bog-Strider Ash and pals more often than you’d like. When faced with a choice between a Gilt-Leaf Seer or a Bog-Strider Ash late in pack 1, take the treefolk. There’ll be time enough to fill out the three-slots in packs 2 and 3.

Five Mana +
Nath’s Elite
Hunter of Eyeblights
Changeling Titan
(Seedguide Ash)
(Warren Pilferers)

Now we’re scraping the barrel. Of the three Elves in the five-mana-plus slot, the best offering is also a Squirrel… and there are two, if not three, non-Elf guys I’d rather run over them.

By far the best of the five-mana bunch is, of course, Shriekmaw. No explanations are necessary. At most, you’ll pick up one of these beauties for your pile. Or, if you’re Tiago Chan, eight. The world and his walrus want this guy in his team, so get ‘em while they’re hot.

Next up, we have a much closer choice. For me, it’s between Changeling Titan and Warren Pilferers. I think, on balance, I’d give the nod to the Pilferers in this archetype. A number of our early drops have huge targets painted on their foreheads. Cards such as Imperious Perfect and Lys Alana Huntmaster demand immediate attention. A turn 5 Pilferers in this archetype usually has something tasty to bring back to the party. The case for Changeling Titan, however, is compelling. He’s big enough to dodge most removal, and Elvish enough to avoid an Eyeblight’s Ending. I’d still opt for the utility of the Pilferers, but your mileage may vary.

After these three, it’s another close call between Seedguide Ash and Nath’s Elite. I’d pump for Elite, as he smoothes the draw as well has helping the alpha strike. The Seedguide Ash is good, especially if you’re running something like Vigor and you need heavy Green, but the Elves run heavy Green anyway. The Elite takes it. Last up, we have Hunter of Eyeblights. He’s dangerous, but removal is removal. If you’ve nothing better, then he’ll do.

Now we’ve rounded out the creature options, let’s place them into our 40-Card Constructed blueprint. Remember, it’s five two-drops, five three-drops, four four-drops, and a couple of five-drops or higher. All commons or uncommons, with one copy of any given uncommon as a maximum.

Two Mana
2 Leaf Gilder
2 Woodland Changeling
1 Wren’s Run Vanquisher

Three Mana
1 Imperious Perfect
1 Jagged-Scar Archers
2 Elvish Branchbender
1 Elvish Harbinger

Four Mana
2 Lys Alana Huntmaster
1 Moonglove Winnower
1 Briarhorn

Five Mana +
1 Shriekmaw
1 Warren Pilferers

That’s thirteen Elves, plus combat trickery, removal, and recursion… and that’s just in the creature base!

40-Card Constructed Elves Blueprint — The Spells

We’ve established that our “perfect” Elf deck needs to beat down with quality creatures, backed with a little mid-game trickery via token production and creature resilience. Our creature base above brings us exactly that. We’ve seven slots left for spells that complement our strategy… what are the options?

Nameless Inversion
Eyeblight’s Ending
Final Revels
Fodder Launch
Weed Strangle
Moonglove Extract

Our first port of call is Planet Removal. As we can guess, the majority of the removal available is Black. First into the grinder? Nameless Inversion. It kills a guy, it’s fetchable by Harbingers, and it’s an Elf. Lovely. Next up is Eyeblight’s Ending. In this archetype, it would actually be stronger than the Inversion, if only it could smash Changelings. That said, it has the same Harbinger synergy, and it triggers the Huntmaster. It’s useless in the mirror, but it can bring down non-Elves with toughnesses greater than three.

Before we move onto my third-favorite spot removal spell (Weed Strangle), let’s take time to sing the praises of the Merfolk-bumming Final Revels! Yup, this mini-Mutilate is wonderful in this archetype, as long as you play cagily. Sure, it nukes your team… but it also pumps your tokens for an early alpha strike. Just be sure you’ve gas in had before blowing it to clear the board. I particularly like building up my elves via a Huntmaster and Gilt-Leaf Ambush, with some other men. Then, if things get out of hand and I need to reset, I simply Revels, untap, and drop Huntmaster number 2 and Imperious Perfect. That wins in short order.

Back to Weed Strangle. At first, I didn’t fancy this Brainspoil-alike. My bad, I guess. It’s great. I’ll happily run them in multiples, though three may be a little much. Of the other options, Peppersmoke is workaday, Moonglove Extract is playable but clunky at three (given our other three-drop options), Fodder Launch is sadly redundant, and Lignify only helps from the board against Dousers and opposing Perfects etc.

Fistful of Force
Incremental Growth
Runed Stalactite

I don’t think our 40-Card Constructed blueprint needs pump. Incremental Growth is nice, I suppose, and it works well with tokens (as you’re sure to have the requisite three targets), but it smacks of “win more” in this archetype. Fistful of Force messes with combat math at least, but as our goal is attack and swarm, I think extra removal is preferable in our fantasy build. As for Runed Stalactite… I can’t see it making the cut in many of my 40-Card Constructed blueprints in the weeks to come, as it seems to be a card you run if you’re struggling to meet your tribal quota. Though equipping a Boggart Sprite-Chaser is gas.

Mana Aid
Fertile Ground
Springleaf Drum
Wanderer’s Twig

Again, mana aid seems rather superfluous in a fantasy two-color build, but a case can be made for Fertile Ground, especially if the Leaf Gilders haven’t appeared. Four mana is a requisite for top creatures such as Huntmaster, and it aids the Black requirement of Weed Strangle and Shriekmaw. If you’re splashing, it does rise in value. Wanderer’s Twig and Springleaf Drum seem like filler, if our deck is progressing to plan.

Token Generation
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Elvish Promenade
Prowess of the Fair

With double Huntmaster and a shedload of Elves, extra token production isn’t totally necessary. However, Gilt-Leaf Ambush is more than Raise the Alarm, as it can take down their two best attackers as well as triggering the Huntmaster and pumping the Archers at Instant speed. As for Elvish Promenade… I’d run it with multiple Huntmasters, but if I had one or zero four-mana 3/3 token-spewers I think it’s net me no more than three guys at best. Overall, a removal spell is preferable. Last up, there’s Prowess of the Fair, a card I’ve seen do sick things but only when backed with good enough guys to make it immaterial. I’d board it against Black/Red, but likely leave it on the bench.

Hoarder’s Greed
Makeshift Mannequin
Footbottom Feast
Spring Cleaning

Of the five cards here, Makeshift Mannequin has perhaps the greatest use in this deck. Then again, it hardly combo’s with anything too broken — Shriekmaw likes it, but there’s a dearth of 187 effects in the Elves. I do like Footbottom Feast, although I’d not bother with it if I had a Warren Pilferers. It goes pretty late, so pick accordingly. In our 40-Card Constructed blueprint, the Pilferers pips it to pole position, punting this paltry piece of paper to the pavement.

Rootgrapple and Spring Cleaning are obvious board cards for White decks (or Green decks that rely on Lignify), which leaves Hoarder’s Greed. I do quite like this card, especially in an aggressive strategy, but in Elves I’m not so sure. A decent Faerie deck can race you even if you only draw two cards — the damage is important. And, of course, it sucks late-game if you’re behind, and there is always the slim chance of the old 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, death.

After reviewing the options, I feel our 40-Card Constructed Black/Green Elves blueprint should max out on the removal, as in doing so it’s playing to the strengths of the archetype’s main strategic goal — make monsters and turn them sideways. Thus, we have:

Remember, I’m running the “commons and uncommons only” gambit, with the added proviso that there’s only one copy of any specific uncommon. I’ve also plumped for a “no more than two of any common” theme, but that’s not by design. Maybe the true “perfect” build has four of this common and four of that common, but I’m trying to keep the blueprints semi-realistic and versatile.

(Plus, given the choice, I’d run 16.5 lands… the Leaf Gilders and the Harbinger make up any shortfall. But when in doubt, add a land.)

I’d be happy running the above deck into an 8-4 draft queue. With that 40-Card Constructed blueprint fixed in my mind, and armed with knowledge on suitable replacements for any slot should the true desired card never materialize, I think I could go about drafting it with confidence.

And I could make it better, of course. By opening two Shriekmaws, or two Imperious Perfects. Or, more commonly, by adding rares.

40-Card Constructed Elves Blueprint — The Rares

Before I dive into the rare discussion, let’s talk about why we should draft Elves. When we open the first fifteen cards, we’re looking for powerful cards that are either so strong that they suggest a strategy immediately (like Imperious Perfect, or Thundercloud Shaman), or powerful cards that leave our archetype options open (like Shriekmaw, or Oblivion Ring). The we are passed cards, and we hope the fourteen we receive (and the thirteen, and the twelve) either bolster our initial strategic decisions, or signal us in the direction in which the juice is flowing.

Perhaps the only card that’d drive me to draft Elves from pack 1 pick 1 is Imperious Perfect. If, in pack 1 pick 2, I were passed a Perfect or a Wren’s Run Packmaster, I’d presume Elves were open. In pack 1 pick 3, you can add Lys Alana Huntmaster to that list, along with Nath of the Gilt-Leaf and Immaculate Magistrate. After that, it’s all good.

Moving onto the rares themselves, there are some that are considered bombs no matter the archetype, some that are bomb elves, some that I’d pass for an Imperious Perfect, and some that I’d pass for a Lyn Alana Huntmaster. These are theoretical picks based on the fact that I’m already in elves from pack 1… they’re “pack 2 picks,” if you will.

Let’s look at the categories in more detail:

Bomb Non-Elf Rares
Profane Command
Garruk Wildspeaker
Liliana Vess

I hope I don’t have to tell you how good these are.

Bomb Elf Rares
Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
Immaculate Magistrate
Wren’s Run Packmaster

Would I pass them to take a Perfect pack 1 pick 1…? Maybe not the Packmaster. Truth is, if faced with Packmaster versus Perfect pack 1 pick 1, I’d probably grab the Lash Out and let the folk downstream figure it out. I’m obviously a coward.

Rares I’d Pass For An Imperious Perfect
Masked Admirers
Cairn Wanderer

Again, remember — pack 2 pick 1 picks. In pack 1, I may take the Dread and try for Faeries, for example.

Rares I’d Pass For A Lys Alana Huntmaster
Dauntless Dourbark
Epic Proportions
Timber Protector
Gilt-Leaf Palace

The other rares in color seem at odds with the Elf strategy, though Oona’s Prowler and Nettlevine Blight may be fine. The Blight, especially, could be good in this archetype. We should have enough tokens to stall the ground to let the Blight take true hold of the game. Unless they have a sacrifice outlet, of course.

Another consideration is Dolmen Gate. Though it’s not a “pick me, coach!” card, it does combo nicely with Nath’s Elite… worth considering if you’re short on tricks when filling out your blueprint.

We now have our 40-Card Constructed blueprint. What do we do with this information, and how does it measure up to the format checklist above?

First, we look at our blueprint and highlight the key cards (or type of cards) for the archetype. By far, the most important cards are Imperious Perfect and Lys Alana Huntmaster. Without these key players in our pile, we’re in trouble. We can get by without a Perfect… but the Huntmaster is a must-have. Does that mean we take him over the Perfect? Of course not.

Next, we rate the creatures available in each slot, and when we draft, we draft those cards in order of importance. We know we have to fill the four-slot with four guys, and we know that there’s precious little choice in both the two- and four-slots… so we give weight to them when faced with clashing picks. And we make decisions in our picks that reference our pile as it stands next to our completed blueprint…

– We take the Leaf Gilder over the Branchbender early. Oh, now we have four two-drops, but would prefer to bump our third Woodland Changeling for this Leaf Gilder? But we have no Branchbenders… hmm, best take one now.
– We have a choice between Weed Strangle and Lys Alana Huntmaster? well, we have a Weed Strangle, and only one Huntmaster… let’s take the Elf this time.
– Wow, we’re not getting a second Huntmaster… what’s the best replacement in our blueprint? We have a choice between Hornet Harasser and Cloudcrown Oak. We take the Oak for sure.

And so on, an so on.

Sure, it may feel at times that we’re taking the weaker card in order to fill out our blueprint… but we’ve put the work in, and we believe the blueprint is the best deck in the Elf archetype we can possibly achieve. So we bite the bullet, and crack on.

Now let’s move onto the checklist…

1) The format is pretty fast.
This blueprint is capable of beating down early, with multiple two- and three-drops. It can also accelerate into buy monsters, or hard-to-handle token producers.

2) Removal and tricks are key.
This blueprint has plenty of removal — 5 spot removal spells, 1 spot removal guy, and a Pyroclasm-style board sweeper. It also has combat trickery in Briarhorn and Gilt-Leaf Ambush.

3) Beware the key tribal powerhouses.
This blueprint can smash the Merfolk state with Final Revels, has spot removal for the majority of troublesome guys, has token production in order to swarm around Lignify and Oblivion Ring (plus sideboard options for games 2 and 3), and can hold off recursive Pilferers with tokens all night long. Thundercloud Shaman is, admittedly, a problem… then again, I believe it’ll be a problem for most decks without countermagic.

4) Most archetypes are capable of broken starts.
This blueprint has one of the most broken starts in the format. Turn 2 Leaf Gilder, turn 3 Lys Alana Huntmaster, turns 4 through 10 Elf Elf Elf Elf Elf. Final Revels for the pump, swing, win, got any trades?

Overall, I’d say the Black/Green Elf blueprint meets any criteria you care to set. Success!

To round things out, let’s take a look at a rare-fuelled 40-Card Constructed Black/Green Elves blueprint for fun…

Here, the creature curve is:

1 mana: 0
2 mana: 4
3 mana: 5
4 mana: 4
5 mana+ : 3

I removed one of the Woodland Changelings for the powerful Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, ditched the Moonglove Winnower for Wren’s Run Packmaster, abandoned the Gilt-Leaf Ambush for Garruk Wildspeaker, swapped the Weed Strangle for a Profane Command, and polished a Swamp until it shone like a Gilt-Leaf Palace.

I think I could win a draft with that…

I hope you’ve enjoyed my look at the B/G Elves archetype. I also hope you’ve enjoyed the mana in which I explored the possible draft direction. I believe that, by creating a workable bank of these tribal “blueprints” for Lorwyn draft, we can get to grips with the mechanics behind drafting decent decks, rather than simply be told that “Card X is good, Card Y is bad.”

Above all, I hope you’ve read my article and looked at the process behind drafting in a fresh and exciting light. You may not agree with my choices or card ratings — that’s perfectly fine. I do hope, however, that you can see the merit in the creation of these Constructed style blueprints… and maybe I’ve inspired you to come up with some blueprints of your own. While I believe my card valuations are on the money, at least in my own playtesting experience, the true success of this article will come when you’re fishing for yourselves, rather than dining on the fish I provided.

The whole 40-Card Constructed Blueprint idea (and series) is, I feel, an exciting one… but it’s still in development. If you’ve any ideas to share on the process behind the creation of the blueprints, or indeed any thoughts on my B/G Elves blueprint itself, then come share in the forums. I’m stoked about this series, as it’s been floating around the old Scouse noggin since the back-end of Time Spiral draft. By looking at the draft process in this analytical fashion, we can only improve the very core of our Limited game.

Next week, Giants. Because they’re big.

Until then…

Thanks for listening.

Craig Stevenson
Scouseboy on MTGO
Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2