Alright, the gloves are off – the next Standard event I attend, I’m definitely playing with green cards. I mean, really, are you serious?
Allow me to explain. You see, I was already planning on writing this article about the Elves deck in the new Standard, but I thought I’d check the Nashville coverage first to see if anything drastic happened. And, well, I guess nothing really did, but the joke was on me – Elves won the StarCityGames.com Open.
I’ll admit though; I was expecting Kali to be the one holding the trophy!
That all being said, let’s take an honest look at the state of the “stompy” deck in this format. When everyone and his brother are playing Jace, ramp, or burn spells, what hope do little green men have? The answer to that question is rather subjective, really – Elves as an archetype has almost always been “your mileage may vary.” There have been many times where I’ve suggested Elves as the deck of choice, and many times where I’ve told players to steer clear. However, almost always there will be people to prove me wrong (and also those who prove me right).
In all honesty, though, why Elves, and why now? As I said in my last article, the Mono-Green Elves deck is currently somewhere slightly below Tier 1 at least in terms of power level, but it has a few factors that make it a contender, and most of those hover around the idea of consistency. For example, U/R or U/W Control won’t always have the hand to compete with the Elves player who double Overruns on the fifth turn, and even when they do, it’s not as though the Elves player just packs it up if his board gets wiped. In most cases, even, getting your board wiped isn’t actually a huge threat. More on that in a second.
So, what makes the deck so much better now? No doubt you’ve seen some lists by now, but many of them are different in some significant ways. For example, some don’t play Vengevine, whereas many others do. Genesis Wave, too, is a sometimes role player, sometimes benchwarmer. But the card that actually makes this deck more than viable is Ezuri, Renegade Leader. I mean, this card is literally the “Elf lord” that we’ve been waiting for for pretty much ever.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, regenerating your team is good. A few years ago I’d actually think this card was pretty lousy, but now that our go-to board clearer is Day if Judgment instead of Wrath of God, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to figure out that Ezuri is going to alleviate many headaches that most players have with this style of deck. Ultimately, the trick is just never to attack with Ezuri, so as to protect him from Condemn and ensure that his chances of survival are at their highest. Beyond that, most opponents will generally just have sorcery-speed removal for him, giving you time to set up another the following turn. Against red decks, though, you’ll need to employ a different method of survival for your fearless leader: making his toughness high enough to withstand all their removal!
But in all seriousness, Ezuri makes an already resilient aggro deck
much better. And, just like before, the game plan remains the same: get lots of guys into play, drop an Eldrazi Monument, and smash face. This plan is a heck of a lot easier with Ezuri, though, as Ezuri acts as a pseudo-Monument in the early game, buying you time and maintaining your board presence. Later he can be hard-cast and serve as an expensive Overrun, but we all know that it’d be better to wait until he can be
Overruns, which is probably the scariest aspect of the card.
Before I get into specifics, take a look at the list that won last weekend’s StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Nashville:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 3 Nissa's Chosen
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Joraga Warcaller
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 2 Sylvan Ranger
- 3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
As you can see, we’re looking at a Fauna Shaman-powered Elf deck here, something we surprisingly don’t see all that often. However, I think the idea is sound, and I’m somewhat shocked that a little bit more wasn’t done with the idea (more silver bullets or something – Molten-Tail Masticore comes to mind). Still, there’s no denying how this came about: I’d be willing to wager that the original designer likely had Fauna Shaman in his deck because a) it is an Elf and b) it tutored for the better Elves, but eventually (and probably very quickly) realized that there truly is no point in leaving out Vengevine in a deck with the Shaman.
Now while I agree that this deck is very (and obviously) good, I’m not sold on it being the only way to play the deck. If I were to play his version of the deck I’d definitely want a Molten-Tail Masticore in the list somewhere, probably over a Nissa, and certainly some Vines of Vastwood in the sideboard to keep Ezuri alive and able to protect it from board clears.
Here’s another approach, however:
This take on the deck is a lot more streamlined as far as “Elves” go, but ultimately this version has a slightly different game plan than the other Elf decks. Rather than simply play guys and attack, this deck wants to expend all its resources to resolve a large Genesis Wave, ideally where X = 5, so as to ensure that any spell in the deck can be hit by it. This somewhat pigeonholes the deck’s strategy, but in all honesty you’re still going to win the games where smashing in for 30+ damage would win you the game anyway, Genesis Wave or not. It’s the games where your opponent is keeping up with you and you need to pull ahead somehow – it essentially lets you draw as many cards as you can pay mana for and dump them into play for free, and in an aggro mirror, that pretty unbeatable. The ability to put planeswalkers and Monuments into play this way is also deadly, and it’s yet another must-counter against control decks.
With the Elves deck, you’re looking at a surprisingly decent matchup ratio. If you’re packing Vines of Vastwood, you’re going to see increased numbers against control decks (and really anything packing Arc Trail or Lightning Bolt), and it’s important never to underrate Leyline of Vitality. That card is probably the single best card in the sideboard, as it becomes increasingly difficult for decks like Valakut and Mono-Red to do much to you when you’re not only gaining tons of life but also making their burn spells dead cards.
Where Elves was once a combo deck, it’s now a green deck in its purest form. And, if you decide to play the version without Vengevine and Fauna Shaman, it’s nearly as
as it always used to be, which is a definite plus. Those who read my articles know that this deck is definitely not my style, but I think I’ll be playing it a bit in Standard for the time being. I really doubt that Nashville was a fluke. Last year when Elves won, it was a huge deal for about two weeks, and then the excitement died down, but this time around I’m not so sure that it’s that unreal for the deck to be a centerpiece in the meta for a while. Yes, there will always be more Jace decks and Primeval Titan decks, but as The 2010’s showed us, Elves has a following and more than one player got to earn his States title with the help of Ezuri and company.
For the sake of completion, it might be worth noting the key parts of the sideboard:
Many of the Elves lists play this guy in the sideboard, and some of the 2010’s lists had four of them maindecked. Great against, well, any sort of sacrifice effect (namely Eldrazi), they’re Elves, they’re efficient, and they attack. I don’t think you’d need four, especially in the Fauna Shaman list, but a certain number of them are pretty standard.
Although Mold Shambler obviously has more versatility, I’d stick with Acidic Slime based on the reduced mana cost and prowess in combat. Of course, I’d argue that Mold Shambler makes a much better maindeck one-of, so if you’re looking for one beyond the Masticore, Mold Shambler would be a prime candidate.
If you aren’t playing them maindeck, you
have them after game 1. The mirror, and any aggro matchup aside from that, is infinitely better if you have it and infinitely less awful for
have it. Being able to advance your board position so rapidly is actually just unheard of, so take advantage of it now. I’d wager that this card will definitely just be maindecked 100% of the time at some point, but that time might not be now.
So long as Arc Tail, Pyroclasm, Forked Bolt, Searing Blaze, and Lightning Bolt exist, so too should this card in your sideboard. Red is the enemy, and you need to be ready for it. This is the best starting point.
And this is the second. I watched Kyle Boggemes lose to this card in the Top 8 of Michigan States, and I’ll admit that it got me thinking about how underused this card is, and even in green stompy decks. As long as you remember to use it almost exclusively as a “Giant Growth counterspell,” you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this card.
To be honest, I’m not sure what you’d be that scared of. I mean, it’s certainly true that there are some decent enchantments and artifacts out there (say, a Sword of Body and Mind or an opposing Eldrazi Monument), but overall these seem like very weak additions to a sideboard that has Acidic Slime to do the same job better.
Is this tech? Probably. Is it tricky to use since it feeds Vengevines? Sure. However, I’d rarely be too concerned about your opponent’s Vengevines if you’re getting in 8+ points of unblockable damage a turn and having a pro-green blocker in addition to the usual army of dorks.
Here is the kind of sideboard I’d shoot for:
Regardless of which version you pilot, be sure to pack as many Ezuris as possible, Genesis Wave for the mirror, Vines of Vastwood for removal, and of course roll the one-of Molten-Tail Masticore in the Vengevine list. You’d think that would be a given!
Until next time,
Shinjutsei on MTGO