You probably don’t know me.
If you do, Hi!
If you don’t I’m Gabe.
I’m a Quebec transplant now living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, for the better part of the last decade. I got back into Magic during Scars block and delved myself into the competitive aspect in the past few years.
For the over a year and a half, I’ve been toying with an archetype that wasn’t optimal or finely tuned and had been considered mostly wild at the time. Elves! (Also known as Combo Elves or Elf-Ball) was a fringe list that was championed by a handful of players on the SCG Circuit and was popping in and out of the occasional Top 8’s. Let’s simply say that the deck wasn’t the Public Enemy #1.
Last year, LSV, Matt Nass and Chris Andersen pushed the list to a whole new level after the introduction of Return to Ravnica. Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay suddenly carved their place in the legacy metagame like no other card before.
The list that was originally mono-green, shifted to a green/white list at the hands of Chris Andersen (for the curious ones, here’s the primer for that list) suddenly became a Junk list packing duals like Bayous and Savannah.
Numerous Top 8’s were chained by players on the multiple Legacy circuits in North America as well as Europe, where it came in the finals of Bazaar of Moxen, losing against Mono Blue Omni-Tell. And recently, Matt Nass piloted it with skills at the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas as well as Julian Knab winning the Bazaar of Moxen late last year.
It is time.
Let’s me introduce you to Elves!
Lands // 18
4 x Gaea’s Cradle
2 x Bayou
1 x Taiga
1 x Savannah
2 x Dryad Arbor
2 x Forest
3 x Verdant Catacombs
3 x Windswept Heath
1 x Wooded Foothills
Spells // 11
4 x Green Sun’s Zenith
3 x Natural Order
4 x Glimpse Of Nature
Creatures // 31
3 x Quirion Ranger
4 x Birchlore Ranger
4 x Heritage Druid
4 x Nettle Sentinel
4 x Deathrite Shaman
4 x Wirewood Symbiote
4 x Elvish Visionary
1 x Viridian Shaman
1 x Ruric Thar, The Unbowed
2 x Craterhoof Behemoth
Sideboard // 15
1 x Worldspine Wurm
3 x Abrupt Decay
3 x Cabal Therapy
1 x Progenitus
1 x Natural Order
1 x Harmonic Sliver
2 x Thoughtseize
1 x Qasali Pridemage1 x Meekstone
1 x Scavenging Ooze
Lots of people believe that the deck is an auto-pilot combo list. Unfortunately for them, it’s all deception. Elves is a grindy deck that can turn board presence/advantage into card advantage by using the multiple abilities elves have been known for since the creation of the game. The list is the brainchild of multiple individuals I’ve worked with in order to optimize it against the current Legacy metagame.
The Best Friends Forever Team: The list packs 2 cards that were made for each other. Alone, they are potent. Together they are the main engine of this deck: Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote.
Wirewood Symbiote: This little insect is actually THE best card in the deck and will become your most useful card match after match. Opponents that have a slight idea of what the deck is capable of will do absolutely anything to get rid of this insect. It protects your elves by bouncing them in response to a removal spell, can act as a Maze of Ith by returning blocking elves to your hand and negating damage from any non-evasive creature armed with a Jitte or a charging Tarmogoyf.
It also creates card advantage with or without an active Glimpse of Nature in conjunction with Elvish Visionary.
If it wasn’t enough, it can create resource advantage and mana acceleration by using its ability to untap your mana-generating creatures. This is the Swiss army knife every creature-based combo deck ever dreamt of. One thing you should remember with the card. The wording says: “Return an Elf you control to its owner’s hand: Untap target creature. Activate this ability only once each turn.” That means that you can also use it once on your opponent’s turn. Remember that. Also, since it is a cost, the opponent cannot respond to you returning the elf to your hand.
Elvish Visionary: Card advantage. Card advantage. Card advantage. That’s what the game is all about. More cards, more answers, more presence. As I stated before this deck thrives on the synergy of the multiple creatures it packs. An Elvish Visionary combined with an unmolested Symbiote is your main draw engine.
It is your prime target for the Wirewood Symbiote bounce ability, thus becomes your main blocker early game and forms the second part of the Best Friends Forever club. Once you assemble that team, you just created a board presence that you need to exploit.
Tricksy Dudes: All the creatures in the deck have one or more ability. Elves! is the White Weenie deck all green players ever wished for. Alone, they are all underpowered and kinda lame. Together, they form an unstoppable swarm armed with powerful abilities.
Some of them will help you create mana like a Turbo Eldrazi deck wishes it could. Some of them will allow you to turn fetchlands into a Maze of Ith and negate an opposing Wasteland. Some will even gain life OR deal damage to your opponent’s face. The funny thing? They all cost one green mana.
Quirion Ranger: This card is probably one of the most underrated elves in the whole deck. Have you noticed that Wasteland is a thing? Well, here’s the perfect counter for that damned land! Too often I’ve kept a 1-land hand and was able to ramp into something stupid and kill my opponent turn 3 with this dude. The fact that he untaps a creature after bouncing a forest means that you can:
1. Re-activate your Deathrite Shaman for one more activation;
2. Untap your Dryad Arbor to create one more mana; and
3. Replay the land you just bounced to produce even more mana!
Remember when I was talking about turning a fetchland into a Maze of Ith? Well, Dryad Arbor is a forest and a creature. Let’s say our opponent swings at us with, I don’t know, a Tarmogoyf? Crack any of your green fetchlands, search for Dryad Arbor, make the block and before damage step, return it to your hand.
Deathrite Shaman: This is our planeswalker. This card is the reason why the deck became a 3 color deck. This card is so good; it got the banned in Modern! Its inclusion allowed us to go further, control the board situation by removing stuff from an opponent’s graveyard to control Nimble Mongooses (Mongeese?) and Tarmogoyfs’ growth rate, lobbing damage over a Moat or a Solitary Confinement and turns our Game 1 against Reanimator and Dredge from a 0/100 to a 40/60 win percentage. I’ll take those odds for Game 1 any day.
He also negates Snapcaster Mage targets and fights opposing Deathrite Shaman.He also interacts quite well with Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote. 2 or more activations a turn can be quite devastating in most scenarios. This guy does it all! I would love to play more than 4 in the deck if I could.
Nettle Sentinel: A 2/2 with no actual ability? What the hell is that? Yeah, I know, that’s what most people think when they see the card. This card is an important part of the deck. This guy does everything! We are coming back to the synergy value of the creature at this point.
Alone, he’s a 2/2 that only untaps when something else is cast. When he’s used in conjunction with a Birchlore Ranger or a Heritage Druid, this card becomes our most valuable mana source. He allows us to chain creature after creature as soon as Turn 2 if the correct board state is present. One mistake I see often when inexperienced pilots take the deck for a ride is seeing them forget to untap the Nettle Sentinel every time a green spell is played. The green spell doesn’t need to resolve for it to untap.
Heritage Druid: The other part of the main mana enabler. This card, when present on the board, turns every one of your elves into a Llanowar / Fyndhorn Elves. With an active Glimpse of Nature and some Nettle Sentinels, you can safely navigate your deck to a kill, play around Spell Pierce / Daze, and turn the match into a goldfish game.
Birchlore Ranger: I love this card. The original deck was only running one or two of them, but the current list runs the full play set. This helps streamlining your line of play and allows you to combo off and maybe stomp your opponent as soon as Turn 2 while Nylea, Gaea and the other green gods look upon you and deem you worthy of the kill.
He’s a watered-down version of Heritage Druid, but the option of casting him as a 2/2 with morph when there’s an Engineered Plague to allow us to switch to a beat down plan against certain decks is quite valuable. In the current iteration of the deck, I can’t see this guy as less than a 3 of.
Viridian Shaman: Umezawa’s Jitte can ruin our fun pretty darn fast. One piece of artifact hate was a necessary evil. Yes, he’s a 3 drop, and believe me, for a while I was running Viridian Zealot instead, but the fact that he can be re-used when combined with a Wirewood Symbiote validate the 3 mana investment.
I also value him as a 3-drop against a Counterbalance match-up where you sometime need to get one dude on the field to create a board presence. If it would destroy enchantment too, this card would be way better, but we can’t have all the goodies all the time!
This is one card that will see change with the release of M15, since an elf with the same casting cost and destroying BOTH enchantments and artifacts was leaked recently. Until then, it stays unchanged
Win Conditions: Examining the current state of the format, facts appeared to me. Dominating archetypes in the current worldwide metagame are heavily reliant on can trips and non-creature spells to win. In fact, more than 30% of the winning lists in the past months have been non-creatures combo decks.
Ruric Thar, The Unbowed: This guy. You’re probably reading this thinking I went mad or something. I’ve been playing with this fellow since the release of Gatecrash last winter. The minute it got spoiled, I knew I wanted to include it as a 1 of in my list. First, he blocks Delver. He also swings every turn and has vigilance, which makes our attack more bearable and leaves us with a 6/6 wall. Goyfs are rarely bigger than a 4/5 with our Deathrite Shamans making sure the opponent’s graveyard is lacking lands, creatures, instants or sorceries.
Most of the creatures in the format can’t fight against such a huge body. Legacy is heavily dependent on can trips in order to smooth out its draws and put that player in a superior position against his or her opponent. This guy ensures that once you create a dominant position, you keep it.
You might turn around and say, “But what if they Swords to Plowshares him?” Sure. I’m all behind the fact that you have to get rid of him. Swords to Plowshares will create a 12 point life swing between you and your opponent. Assuming he used fetch lands once or twice already, a couple of beats with some of your elves combined with Deathrite Shaman activations should do the trick.
Craterhoof Behemoth: The main win condition of the deck is also the one asking you to do some math. Craterhoof’s ability give +X/+X AND trample to all of your creatures where X is equal to the number of creatures you control. When playing or cheating him into play via Green Sun’s Zenith or Natural Order, make sure you have the correct amount of creatures to create an alpha strike that can stomp your opponent. The math can be complex sometimes but it can’t always be that easy.
Non-Creature Spells: We all love to play big monstrous creatures fast and dodge the ridiculous mana cost those things have attached to them. We also want to be able to find creatures whenever we want and put them into play in order to finish the game. Two spells are currently allowing us to tutor through our deck in order to find our win conditions.
Green Sun’s Zenith: Since Mirrodin Besieged got printed, this card has become a powerhouse across all 3 formats and ended up getting banned in Modern for the insane acceleration and consistency it was bringing.
Fortunately for us, we are playing a format where it is not banned. This card allows us to find any missing piece of the combo we look for as early as Turn 1. It can acts as an accelerator on Turn 1 to find Dryad Arbor, on Turn 2 or 3 to find the missing piece of the card/resource advantage engines the deck is packing or find one of our win conditions after all of our previous steps are done.
As a bonus, it shuffles itself back into our deck once used. If unstopped, you will be able to use it again and again and again and again…. A Turn 1 Green Sun’s Zenith for 0 is quite a common play and is a great way to accelerate (in fact, it’s what got that card the ban hammer in Modern…) into a Turn 2 Glimpse chain finishing with a Craterhoof Behemoth kill.
Natural Order: This card has been a staple in Legacy for a long time. Natural Order Bant, Natural Order RUG and other decks have been using it as an enabler for Progenitus as a main win condition.
Natural Order only came back to Elves! very recently. The previous lists were running Chords of Calling to tutor for Emrakul (since it can search for any creature) but Legacy is all about resource management and I’d rather pay 4 mana than a bazillion to tutor for a card. One fact to remember when playing it: sacrificing a creature is part of the cost.
Also, don’t be afraid when stuck with one of your Craterhoof Behemoth in your hand and the other one is in the graveyard, to use it to cycle through your Wirewood Symbiotes and create enough mana to hard cast the Craterhoof. Sometimes you have to do it!
Glimpse of Nature: This card, in my opinion, is the hardest to explain…
Originally, it was simply a card advantage engine, allowing you to find the key pieces of the combo and go for the kill. In the recent iterations of the deck, its role has been quite… different. Yes, it can still allow you to chain early in the game and kill, I can’t deny that. But nowadays, I see it as a jack-of-all-trades card.
It can be:
1. A green Ancestral Recall;
2. It can be an “I win” card; or,
3. Most importantly, it can be a distraction card. You can use it to attract you opponent’s counter spells and clear the way for your Natural Order. Most players still have a bad understanding of the deck, believing it’s still mostly dependant on the old builds and the Glimpse engine.
Fortunately for us, it’s not anymore. I’ve been using Glimpse of Nature multiple times to distract an opponent thinking I was about to draw my entire deck; force him to use his counter magic on the glimpse, following with a Natural Order for the kill.
Manabase: Elves decks were always known to generate mana quite easily. The older lists were running about 10 or more forest with one Gaea’s Cradle. My current list runs 7 green fetch lands divided amongst the one available to us as well as 2 basic forests to hedge against Wasteland. Here’s the breakdown of the other 8 lands.
Bayou: Since the list has switched from mono green to 3 colors, the inclusion of dual lands was unavoidable. It also allows us more flexibility in the sideboard in order to counter our worst match up.
Taiga: Since the addition of Ruric Thar, this land almost became an auto-inclusion. It also baits our opponent into thinking about weird things like grapeshot like the old extended version.
Savannah: As a singleton that can be found with any of our fetches, having white as an option in the sideboard is not a negligible thing.
Gaea’s Cradle: Since the changes in the Legendary rule, Gaea’s Cradle has become the most absurd land ever printed in my honest opinion. Before the change, I was running 3 of them with 2 Crop Rotation, but now that we have the option of cycling Cradles for better mana generation, there is no better option than to run 4.
Dryad Arbor: This card is pure utility. Most lists are running 2 for more consistency but I simply hate seeing it in my opening hand. You want to use your Green Sun’s Zenith on Turn 1 to fetch for it as a 1 converted mana cost ramp spell. When present on the board with Quirion Ranger, it can be used as a blocker and then bounced before the damage is dealt and lastly can be untapped to create more mana as well with Quirion or the Symbiote.
Sideboard: Elves, as I stated multiple times before, is a deck filled with synergy and utilities. This is my current sideboard, but don’t think it’s set in stone. I am exploring options using blue so you might see an updated list in the future. The main deck never stops evolving, so this is the current sideboard.
Abrupt Decay: This card is a catch-all. It helps a bit in the miracles match-up (destroying their counterbalance) but is useful against troublesome permanents such as swords, Umezawa’s Jitte, Ensnaring Bridges or other hate cards (Ethersworn Canonist/Spirit of the Labyrinth) that impedes your engines.
Cabal Therapy: These will also come in against any combo deck. The downfall of this card is that you need to name the card correctly in order for it to be efficient but it can easily be re-used.
Progenitus: Against heavy-removal decks where you have issues having dudes sticking on. He is also brought in against Death & Taxes since there are no answers they can bring in against it.
Harmonic Sliver / Qasali Pridemage: Great against artifacts and enchantments such as Moat, Umezawa’s Jitte or Humility. They can be tutored with Green Sun’s Zenith and can be easily cast using Savannah or Birchlore Ranger’s ability.
Thoughtseize: Same as Cabal Therapy, the life lost is irrelevant most of the time since you should be able to push enough damage in the upcoming turns to seal the deal.
Scavenging Ooze: An all-star in the sideboard. Against any graveyard based strategy, the ooze is complementary to the Deathrite Shamans and allows you to target everything that is out of reach of the Shamans. He becomes insanely huge and make sure the Goyfs remain little green monsters. Some lists are also running it Main Deck as a 1 of.
Meekstone: Against aggro decks that capitalize on the use of multiple lords (Merfolks, Slivers) or Delver & True-Name Nemesis decks, Meekstone is an amazing card.
Worldspine Wurm: I usually bring this one against Show & Tell decks. He has to be blocked and when killed, he leaves a nice group of three 5/5 wurms. He can also be tutored via Natural Order and possibly hard cast (Hey! We are running 4 Cradles here!).
I sincerely hope to see some of you rocking the green list and be Force of Will free in the future. Elves! is such a fun and amazing deck to play but far from being the easiest one. I really like to consider myself a decent player with the deck but it take time to understand the complete decision tree associated with the list. Paul Vitor Damo da Rosa stated in one of his recent CFB articles that Elves! is probably one of the hardest but probably one of the most rewarding decks to play in Legacy. Which is why practice makes perfect. Thanks for reading!