You Lika the Juice? – Tricksy Elves!

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Thursday, September 4th – When we left off last week, I was trying to make some last minute adjustments to my Black Doran deck. Intellectually, I liked the deckbuild… it was certainly chock full of strong cards with a couple of surprises. Yet there was something missing there; I didn’t have that giddy, crush-like feeling I’ve had playing my Saffi or Dredge decks.

When we left off last week, I was trying to make some last minute adjustments to my Black Doran deck. Intellectually, I liked the deckbuild… it was certainly chock full of strong cards with a couple of surprises. Yet there was something missing there; I didn’t have that giddy, crush-like feeling I’ve had playing my Saffi or Dredge decks.

In search of technology that would make my Doran list pop, I went perusing the Top 8 lists from the previous weeks… and fell in love! Check out this thing of beauty:

Mike Flores called the deck out last week but barely made a comment about it, which I thought was a shame – it truly looked like an impressive rogue strategy, worthy of notice by making Top 4 at a sizeable PTQ of well over 100 people. Josh Silvestri played the deck, posted the list in his column, and gave a brief overview, so I went back and looked it over again.

My M.O. is to take a decklist and tinker with it, but I had a difficult time finding any major flaw in the decklist, especially given that I didn’t have time to give it a thorough run-through before the PTQ on Saturday. Should I splash Black for Nameless Inversion and Profane Command? That makes you more vulnerable to opposing Chameleon Colossus, and cutting back on the Green makes Nettle Sentinel less impressive. Should I splash Red to use both sides of Firespout? Considering how nearly every creature in the deck dies to Firespout, I’m not sure that’s the answer either. I hem and haw and goldfish over and over and over again, and finally decide to just trust Ben’s initial maindeck, but drop the Firespouts from the sideboard, adding +1 Guttural Response, +1 Tower Above, and +1 Cloudthresher.

I show up Saturday alongside 152 other Magic players looking for one more shot at the blue envelope. Here’s a brief recap of how I fared:

Round 1 versus Christian with Red/Black Demigod
The first game I get a pretty good start with Nettle Sentinel, and then start dropping more problematic creatures Christian needs to burn away while Sentinel keeps chipping away at his life. He gets into a mana flood and my beatdown finishes him. Game 2 I come out swinging hard and have him on the back foot the entire game, squeezing out two-for-ones with Garruk and Colossus, and I finish the game at 20 life! Briarhorn and Snakeform both bring in some surprise favorable trades during the match.

Win 2-0

Round 2 versus David with Justice Toast
This matchup is incredibly tough and I found it hard to work around the inevitable Firespout I knew was coming the minute he played a turn 1 Vivid land. Even conserving my creatures and attacking with Mutavault, it was difficult to punch through multiple Kitchen Finks without overextending. When I did overextend, he had the Firespout, and when I played conservatively he started dropping Archons of Justice and Puppeteer Cliques (smashing me with my own Colossus and pumping it). Garruk would have helped me if I’d drawn it in either game, but as it was I got crushed, never getting him below 11 life.

Lose 0-2

Okay, so the Toast matchup is a tough one, I just need to avoid them for the rest of the tournament, right?

Round 3 versus Todd with Custom Toast
When I saw the pairings I knew I was in trouble; Todd is a buddy of mine who plays locally, he’s a good player who I knew was playing a Toast deck with Firespouts. Crap! The first game I get a very aggressive draw while he doesn’t get an early Firespout… at one critical point I have two Imperious Perfects and several other creatures, while Todd has tapped out to play another creature. My instinct is to keep pumping out Elf tokens with the Perfects, but if I attack with everything I’ll put him at 1 life even though he’ll kill my Perfects. I’ve got two Mutavaults so even if he rips a Firespout and clears the board (and plays a creature), I can still get over to finish him. Plus I may draw a Cloudthresher and end it that way. Be aggressive, Smith! I attack with everything and put him at 1. Turns out he draws a sixth land but cannot play the Cloudthresher he needed last turn to block with because it kills him. The second game is a tough match, he gets the early Firespouts and Finks, but I get a Garruk that helps keep me in the game for a while, but a string of drawn lands puts me behind and he overwhelms me with Overbeing of Myth and Finks. For the final game it occurs to me that Todd’s version of Toast actually runs a good number of creatures, including Plumeveil, so I board in Tower Above. Game 3 I have to mulligan, but I get an explosive hand that would allow me to deal massive damage on turn 4 if Todd doesn’t draw a Firespout (involving Sentinel, Heritage Druid, Mutavault, and Imperious Perfect). Given that I feel I’m the underdog in this matchup, each card my opponent draws is a further chance of being wrecked, so I go for it. He of course has his turn 3 Firespout. I still manage to rip some offense off the top of my deck and battle him down to 11 life, killing off Finks and Plumeveils with Snakeforms while keeping my beats going. Then I start drawing lands, while he drops Overbeing of Myth, Overbeing of Myth, and finally Oona, Queen of the Fae and goes offensive. I’m in real trouble here, even though I have a horde of tokens thanks to Imperious Perfect and Wolf-Skull Shaman; I draw a Mosswort Bridge and play it, and the only card of interest is a Tower Above. Hm… He untaps with Oona out there and tons of mana so I know I’m in big, big trouble as he swoops through the air. My turn, I draw… a Briarhorn. I glance at his life totals, do some math, figure in the trample of Tower Above with a Briarhorn boost… and try to keep a frown on my face as I see a way out. I go all out, attacking with everything, and sure enough he activates Oona to make a bunch of tokens. The idea is that he’ll block just about everything, but whatever good-sized creature he blocks with a single token creature, I’m going to Briarhorn it, then activate the Bridge and play Tower Above, giving it a total of +7/+7 and trample, which should be just enough to deal lethal. Unfortunately, I see Todd holds back three mana from his Oona activation, and once he makes his tokens and assigns blockers, he plays Crib Swap from his hand on my Imperious Perfect, reducing the number of my attackers by 1 and making the elves smaller. My Tower Above/Briarhorn shenanigans would only bring him to 4 now, and he wins next turn. Ah crap — so close!

Lose 1-2

Round 4 versus Brad with Red/Black Demigod
At this point I’m out of running for Top 8, but with the large attendance there are prizes running down to 16th place; plus, I’m really enjoying the deck and I know it’s good and want to get some more time with it. The first game with Brad goes nearly identical to the second game in the first round. I come out fast and he’s too busy burning down and chumping my creatures and I win at 16 life. The second game is a brawl… I get a fair draw and so does he, but then I start drawing blanks and get too far behind. The last game I mulligan, start out with a Nettle Sentinel that hits twice before he burns it away, but I stall on two mana for far too long and he gets a Demigod out that ends things in a hurry.

Lose 1-2

Agh! So frustrating… I go ahead and drop, and sign up for an eight-man Win-A-Box side event. I make some adjustments to the sideboard… here’s what I run:

I stumble across a pair of Vigors in my box of random rares while looking for sideboard stuff, and figure it might be an answer – albeit an imperfect answer – to Firespout. Granted, having a six mana answer to a three mana question is problematic, but the deck can conceivably get six mana on turn 3, and there’s a chance to Hideaway Vigor under a Bridge and respond to a Firespout with a devastating Vigor and give your army three +1/+1 counters instead of putting them all in the graveyard. Gloomwidow’s Feast was something my buddy Jay recommended for the main tournament, and as I stared down Demigods and Oona and Archons of Justice I certainly wished I had them available, so I wanted to give them a try here.

Win-A-Box Round 1 versus Josh with Five Color Elementals
Josh leads off with Flamekin Harbinger for Mulldrifter showing himself to be rocking Elementals. I lead off with a turn 1 Sentinel and go on offense, though he drops Smokebraider, draws some cards and soon I’m staring down a Horde of Notions (smack! take 5…). I’ve got a Snakeform and a Sentinel, so I’ve got the perfect setup to ambush his Horde once I untap, and I keep three mana up. I attack, Josh surveys the battlefield and thinks for a moment. “So the question is… do you have the Snakeform?” I try and hide my surprise, and raise my eyebrows. “Hm, Snakeform would be good!” He blocks, I Snakeform the Horde and untap my Sentinel, draw a card, and he puts the Horde in the graveyard. He’s got a Makeshift Mannequin to bring the Horde back (smack! take 5…), but I’ve got enough aggression going to win the race. After the game we chat some, and turns out that Josh is good friends with Ben Strickland, the guy who made this deck – what a small world! I get Ben’s contact information in the hopes of getting some more information on playing this deck direct from the man, considering how well he did with it at the PTQ. Game 2 Josh has to mulligan, and ends up drawing a ton of land while I get another turn 1 Sentinel and a decent mix of aggression and tricks, and it’s quickly over.

Win 2-0

Round 2 versus Ollie with Toast
Ollie’s Vivid/Reflecting Pool has me worried sick, but I start out with Sentinel and a Wolf-Skull Shaman, and a Garruk helps minimize the inevitable Firespout. A few surprise Briarhorns keep a creature alive long enough to rebuild and push through enough damage to win. The second game was messy, with Ollie drawing what felt like 10 Kitchen Finks, I manage to blunt a few with Snakeforms, get some nice Mossbridge surprises and pull out a big win while still at 11. I wish I could remember more of this match, but I was pretty sure I was going to lose so winning in a sweep was a surprise.

Win 2-0

Round 3 versus Nick with Faeries
Nick had been waiting for his finals opponent for a while and had watched me play, so he told me he was playing Faeries to be fair. That made me feel pretty confident in my chances. Game 1 goes as planned, he drops an early Bitterblossom but I get Sentinel and Wolf-Skull and we brawl back and forth… I get him to 3, I’m at 5 and finally kill him. Game 2 is a mess for me, I have to mulligan and stall on mana and he just goes beatdown on me, countering my early action and stealing my Colossus. He beats me down and wins at 20 life. Ouch! Game 3 he stops some of my early plays and I make a crucial mistake on one turn – he’s got a Scion on the board and has just cleared away my offense. I’ve got four mana, with a Gloomwidow’s Feast in my hand or something aggressive to play. Trying to reestablish offense I leave the Scion be, and when he drops another Scion I’m screwed. Do I draw any of my Cloudthreshers? Nope, instead I draw all three Gloomwidow’s Feasts and a couple Guttural Responses for good measure while Nick goes beatdown and deals the final 11 points in faerie style. The card sitting on top of my library is the first Cloudthresher. Crap!

Lose 1-2

Still, I’m fairly sure that, properly played I could have won that match, so I feel pretty good overall with the decision to run Ben’s deck. One thing I was hoping to do was live the dream – attack with a Sentinel, my opponent targets it with Nameless Inversion, I respond with a Briarhorn – bam, take 8 baby!! Sadly, it didn’t happen.

Of course, Block Constructed is over with so where do we go from here? I think there’s a lot of potential for the deck in a larger Standard card pool. First off, I’d like to try running the deck with Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers in the Imperious Perfect slots since those 3/4s dodge Firespout, and the Vigilance plays nicely with Snakeform. The Perfects are great against Faeries but man they suck against Firespout. I’d also go up to 4 Wolf-Skulls and likely trim down the Heritage Druids to 1-2 copies at the most, since they lose value pretty quickly after the first copy, especially if I’m not running the Perfects. Maybe Safehold Elite as further Firespout resistance? I don’t see too many cards I’d want in 10th edition outside of maybe Civic Wayfinder and Llanowar Elves. For the upcoming Shards of Alara, the world of Naya promises a “bountiful green world” where “titanic predators (Beasts) are shown respect, while Aztecan humans, elves, and catfolk called leonin seek to revere and respect nature.” More elves! The important thing is to keep all or nearly all spells green to maximize the effectiveness of the incredibly good Nettle Sentinel; starting with him on turn 1 was a huge advantage if I could keep him untapping.

I also really like the Mosswort Bridges in this deck; with Briarhorn and Cloudthresher — even evoked with the sacrifice trigger on the stack — it’s ridiculously easy to reach 10 power to play the Hideaway card. Between the Snakeforms and the Bridges, the deck rarely seemed to run out of gas. I’m fairly certain there’s some solid strategic edge to be gained from playtesting the deck quite a bit, since the decision of which card to put under the Bridge early on based on your hand and what you saw across the board was pretty tough, and I’m fairly sure I chose wrongly a couple times. Snakeform or Perfect? Hmmm…

Anyway, if you’ve got a local Block tournament you want to run, or update this deck for a few Standard FNMs while we all wait for Alara’s release, I’d highly recommend giving it a run! Kudos to Ben Strickland for bringing us this fun and potent deck.

Until next week!


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