The Elvish Warrior Dilemma

Onslaught Limited is not a piece of cake format, and there are a lot of things you need to have done if you want to have any hopes of doing well at Pro Tour: Chicago. And there is one card in particular that has sparked many an argument as of late among the pros regarding its worth – and, in fact, the entire approach that you should take to Onslaught drafting. That card is Elvish Warrior, and it’s been the constant subject of many debates and arguments in recent chats and drafts both in real life, and online.

Much has been said about the amount of time that goes into testing for a Constructed Pro Tour in relation to the amount of testing done for a Limited one. The common belief is that you only have to test about one-third as much for a Limited PT as you would if the same PT was Constructed.

This, my friends, is a load of bull.

If your attitude towards a Limited tour is something along the lines of : Oh, I won a PTQ (or any of the many ways to get qualified; rating, GP, PT Points, what have you), now all I hafta do is do a few drafts here and there and I’ll do fine. I’ve got news for you: You’re not making day two. The preparation I’m referring to is in fact to the upcoming Pro Tour Chicago, in January. Now, due to a lack of any major Limited events before then, many people will slack off and just hope to ride the waves to a decent finish in January. This is best described as completely idiotic, and you mise well just stay home if you feel this way.

Onslaught Limited is not a piece of cake format, and there are a lot of things you need to have done if you want to have any hopes of doing well. There’s Rochester politics, archetype considerations, cycling and morph – and more importantly, card valuations.

The specifics of many draft picks are based on your deck and the draft as a whole… But there is one card in particular that has sparked many an argument as of late regarding its worth. That card is Elvish Warrior, and it’s been the constant subject of many debates and arguments in recent chats and drafts both in real life, and online.

What’s so intriguing about this card, you ask? It’s not an easy question to answer – but let’s get the specifics down first.

What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

Elvish Warrior; GG for a 2/3 with no special abilities. How can this guy possibly be causing so much trouble?

A week ago, a bunch of guys from out of state came down to the CMU scene for a weekend of gaming. Although I wasn’t able to stay around for the entire weekend due to other commitments, I was around for the Thursday and Friday night drafts. During this time many things happened besides the actual drafts, with the constant bashing of Nate Hess and his awful Mafia King II deck, some Extended decks, and lots of conversations about pick orders and card quality in Rochester and Limited alike.

With new people, come new ideas in testing – and Ken Krouner and Joe Crosby definitely showed a completely different approach to drafting this set than our testing has created. Cards we consider bombs (Dragon Roost and Arcanis; there are others, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head) are unplayable in their drafting style. Expensive cards are pretty much out of the question, in favor of a more cohesive and aggressive deck. Now, Ken definitely takes this strategy to a far deeper level than Joe, and I’m certainly not demeaning it by any means – but at times it is over the edge in terms of the way that I view some of the picks.

The important thing, however, is that it is unique, and worth taking into account as I try to come to a set of definitive values on the cards before the actual Pro Tour.

The thing rattled the most by this different approach to drafting was my pick order for the green commons though, and for a number of reasons. Recently, Krosan Tusker has been proving less and less impressive, and I’d been thinking about moving it down on the list, to at least below Barkhide Mauler. When Ken and Joe arrived though, the subject was quickly changed to not only taking Mauler over Tusker, but also ranking Elvish Warrior higher. I laughed at first when I heard this – but there are a lot of points on both sides of the argument that you can cling to in an attempt to rate cards that are so close in power level as these three are.

The Good

In a format of 2/2 Face-downs, a 2/3 for two mana is king. The warrior can be searched up with Wirewood Herald, and helps other things like Wellwisher and Wirewood Pride. The basic premise, though, is just that you take this card so highly because of it’s influence on your mana curve – and it really is quite good when you get it on turn two. I’ve heard rumors of Kai taking it over Wirewood Savage, which just seems plain ludicrous to me. However, the good about this card is very plain and easy to see; a 2/3 for two augments any aggressive deck, and helps to bury your opponent in a hole of tempo that they can never dig themselves out of. Unfortunately, the good just about stops there – and maybe I’m biased, but I have far more bad things to say about this card than I do good.

And… The Bad

Well, where should I start? Quite possibly my negative view of this card can be drawn from the many bad experiences I’ve had with it on my side – but somehow I don’t think that’s the case. I think that it’s more a matter of this aggressive extreme drafting being a little over the top. This is, however, a Good Thing – as it’s very important to experiment with these types of strategies in testing to see if you are in fact doing everything correctly for when it comes time for the big game. Better to have tried all angles and be sure you’re shooting from the right one than to have left things unexplored and leave windows of doubt.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Warrior – though I do still give it it’s due and draft it right below Tusker, and almost always play it. First off, it totally screws your manabase, due to the double green. This is increasingly evident when you have multiples. Casting it on turn 2 seems almost like a dream rather than an actual occurrence. Say, for instance, you have two Warriors in your deck; the probability of realistically casting it on turn two is very low – and to anyone who does this regularly I’d like to pat you on the back and give you a nice hearty how lucky! You first have to actually draw one of the little suckers – but then, to complete the actual purpose of the card (casting it on turn 2), you have to draw not one, but two forests to go with it. Now sure, you can draw a forest on your draw step, or one of two draws if going second… But c’mon, now, let’s be realistic. This isn’t going to happen often enough to warrant taking this card over a more flexible and stronger card like Spitting Gourna – or, God forbid, Krosan Tusker or even Barkhide Mauler. By making this kind of pick, you may think that you’re upping the aggressiveness of your deck – but really, I think you’re throwing caution to the wind in the hopes of lucky draws.

Even more annoying is when you are Red/Green and you have Goblin Taskmasters and/or Goblin Sledders. Now you have a real dilemma, with the Warrior totally screwing up your one-drops if you want then to come out when it needs to. The same goes for black with Festering Goblin. Is this gambit really worth sacrificing everything for? It’s not like casting this guy on turn 2 wins the game, or even gives you that much of an advantage.

Now that I’ve discussed the whole problem with the double green mana, we can get deeper into the subject of evaluating the card. Let’s talk about the times you actually do cast him on turn 2. He gets in some hits for a few turns, depending on whether or not you went first… And then he gets hosed by two morph creatures – or worse, a 3/3. At this point, he becomes a wall for your opponent’s smaller guys and morphs, and an attacker if you have enough removal to pave the way for him. The ideal start of Warrior, Morph, burn your guy, burn your guy when playing first is indeed very strong – but also equally unlikely. Also, how much better is this start than just a normal morph guy or other similar start?

I think after playing with the Warrior enough, you will realize that it’s not that much better even when it serves its actual purpose. Case in point: That weekend when the guys came down, I had a RG deck with four Elvish Warriors and a bunch of other good stuff. My mana was eleven Forests, six Mountains – and every match I had the necessary two forests by turn 2. The number of times I cast Warrior on turn 2 in three matches? One. This is certainly a very unlucky and depressing example… But to be fair, the one game I did cast it, I also cast one on turn 3, and they were effective for a few turns before being completely shut down by better creatures. Drafting this guy as the backbone for your deck is very risky, because it’s really a lot more commitment than the reward you can possibly reap from it.

Another problem with this guy is the most common situation that will come up: Not casting him on turn 2. A late- to mid-game Elvish Warrior is decent at best, and most of the time just completely unable to deal with the bigger boys. He usually just sits around and watches the combat take to the air or bigger creatures pound through on the ground. This is the type of situation where a Gourna or Tusker could help turn the race in your favor, if only you’d picked them over the less flexible warrior.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to totally destroy this guy as far as playable cards go, I’m just trying to give a my personal feelings on the card and its actual cost versus reward status. It’s still fine as a 2/3 for two mana, but I wouldn’t recommend making it the focus of your deck by any means, as from my experience all that gets you is an army of guys that don’t do anything after turn 5.

My hope is to dissuade you from valuing this guy as high as some people have started to, and I think I have given some clear enough reasons not to. By all means, try him out for yourself as well – but I think you’ll come to the same conclusions I have.

Before I end also, I’d like to comment on another set of cards that are almost equally close in power level, and those are Wellwisher and Vitality Charm. Generally, the Charm is just a better card, and one that continues to rise in value as the weeks of testing go on. Some decks, however, have enough of an elf count to take the ‘Wisher, but I think generally you should be taking the Charm here. It’s one of the most underrated cards in the set for sure.

And finally, my revised Green Top 10 pick order after some weeks of continuous drafting:

  1. Snarling Undorak

  2. Wirewood Savage

  3. Barkhide Mauler

  4. Krosan Tusker

  5. Spitting Gourna

  6. Elvish Warrior

  7. Vitality Charm (Better than Warrior if Warrior will mess up your mana or you just need more tricks)

  8. Wellwisher

  9. Wirewood Elf

  10. Symbiotic Elf (Rises to above Tusker if you are G/B with Husks or any significant chance to get a Husk – namely, early in the draft)

Hopefully, this gives you a change of heart when speculating exactly how much testing should go into a Limited Pro Tour, as there really is much to learn in the details.

Nick Eisel

Team CMU

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