Swarming Standard With Elves, Elves and More Elves

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Swarming Standard With Elves, Elves and More Elves

John Cuvelier

John is a respected deck designer who's been credited with the Modern Aggroloam deck that took down GP Lincoln in 2012. He's a fixture at the Top 8 tables of Florida and MTGO PTQs. He's played on six Pro Tours and his personal goal is to ride the PT train to glory and riches, well at least glory.

This past weekend I made top 16 of the TCG Player Diamond event here in Orlando, FL. Although many consider this a good place to finish in an event this big, I was quite disappointed. The reason being is that I am positive I had the best deck at the event. Going in to the event I was positive that with the reprinting of Rancor and the new match made in heaven for Restoration Angel, Thragtusk, I would see an increasing count of Pod and Green aggressive decks that are not interactive. Therefore, I was looking for a deck that had explosive power and could do consistent, abusive, and redundant things. After scouring the M13 spoiler, the Elvish Archdruid really caught my eye and with access to Green Sun’s Zenith I could have a virtual eight copies of it. Knowing this I quickly came up with a base for a deck that I would prepare for the TCG 5k.

During the actual event I had two losses which happened due to an unfortunate pairing and one round of variance. These, however, are some of the things I did during those nine rounds of Swiss. Against a Dungrove deck I had to mulligan down to five cards on the play. I proceeded to attack through a Dungrove paired with a Silverheart and trample over for lethal on my turn five. Another game against an Esper midrange deck on turn four I Miracled a Bonfire of the Damned for 20. Another game against Esper midrange I Genesis Waved for 37 on turn four, drew the rest of my deck via Soul of the Harvest, and with Fervor attacked with over thirty elves. Oh, and then activated my Ezuri over 20 times. These are just some of the reasons why I believe I had the most powerful and best deck at the event. I’m not saying this deck is unbeatable, however based on average draws this deck is the best deck for the current metagame.

The deck generally wins one of two ways; either through brute force via Ezuri, Renegade Leader as early as turn four, or through a very large Genesis Wave via Elvish Archdruid also starting on turn four. Some games will drag out longer than that, but with essentially eight of each Ezuri and Archdruid you generally come out on top in the end.

Card Choices

The auto includes in any Elf list and should not warrant reasoning:

4 Llanowar Elves
4 Arbor Elf
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Elvish Archdruid
4 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
4 Green Sun’s Zenith

These cards are the current core of the Standard Elf deck. These cards cannot be cut.

Copperhorn Scout: A good Zenith target and is used to activate Ezuri when you have already activated an existing Archdruid. It also is allows your Arbor Elf and Llanowar Elves to tap again while attacking. This will generally allow you to activate Ezuri an additional time.

Ezuri’s Archers: This is mainly for Delver. Being able to Zenith him up to trade with an early Delver buys us the time necessary to push through any countermagic and Vapor Snags they may have. It is also nice to have against Restoration Angel.

Viridian Emissary: Clearly this is the most underwhelming card in the deck. But because Standard currently is about one good elf shy, this guy serves a purpose in slowing down an opponent and fixing our mana.

Viridian Corrupter: It’s nice to have a Zenith target capable of destroying those pesky swords and pods. There’s also the off chance you can infect your opponent to death. This situation comes up probably one in every nine or ten games.

Yeva, Nature’s Herald: Another nice elf card to have, but isn’t necessary as it does not fill the role of the deck very well. It is nice however, to naturally draw and allow for some favorable combat steps. Also if you need a defensive creature that’s also an elf, in a pinch he serves as a reasonable body.

Soul of the Harvest: Consider this guy a Genesis Wave you can Zenith for. You untap with him in play and you can turn an unwinnable board state to a winnable situation in one turn. One elf quickly turns in to twenty elves.

Fervor: This card is what makes this deck so darn crazy. A turn two Fervor, followed by a turn three Archdruid allows you to dump your hand in to play. This does allow for possible turn three attack kills, although very rare. Also this card allows Genesis Wave to be an auto kill once you reach high enough numbers. Not to mention, this card is an all-star against control decks. Probably the reason most people haven’t picked up on the Elf deck yet is this card.

Genesis Wave: The alternative finisher in the deck, you don’t really ever want to draw more than one in fear of slowing your draws down substantially. This does generate the card advantage a deck like this needs to win a grindy game as well.

Bonfire of the Damned: A sort of catch all that if drawn in our opening hand can still be hard cast for well over ten. Archdruid makes this card even more unfair than it already is.

The Sideboard

Ezuri’s Archers: The goal against Delver is survive long enough, as you have inevitability here. Use the Archers to trade with anything with flying you can.

Acidic Slime: You need an answer for cards like Curse of Death’s Hold. Having the single Acidic Slime allows us to play a virtual five thanks to Zenith. It also helps slow down decks like Wolf Run Ramp that we really don’t want to see.

Silklash Spider: Again mainly for Delver here, but can also be brought in against token decks. A resolved spider untapping is usually good enough to seal the deal on its own.

Mental Misstep: Bring these in mainly against Delver, as the only two spells you care about in the deck are an early Delver, and a timely Vapor Snag. Let everything else resolve.

Wolfir Silverheart: We only want this guy against Wolf Run. They have a real hard time beating a Silverheart, especially on turn three. Try to pair him with one of your elf lords if you can, to protect from Devil’s Play.

Ground Seal: This is to stop Reanimator style decks, and to block Sun Titan chains. We don’t want Elesh Norn to ever hit play. Things turn out ugly if it does.

Melira, Sylvok Outcast: Should be pretty straightforward here. You are both playing solitaire for the most part, this guy gives you the advantage.

Garruk, Primal Hunter: A grindy card advantage engine you want to be using against decks like Esper, and Zombies. They have a lot of trouble handing a permanent that isn’t a creature.

Sword of Feast and Famine: Control decks really hate this card. But isn’t something the deck needs against Zombies or Dungrove. Only bring this in against Wolf Run and board sweeping decks. The deck is fast enough without it against the creature decks.

Bonfire of the Damned: Very good to have against opposing mana dork decks, and if this deck catches on we may need to include some more.

Thragtusk: A nice card against Zombies, he buys us time.

The Event

Upon Winning a TCG 1k event the month before, I used the points from that event to purchase two byes for this one. Starting my day off right around noon was of course a feature match against Grand Prix Lincoln champion Bronson Magnan. If we can back track for a minute he stayed at my house the night before and knew what I was playing. He decided to audible away from Delver at the last minute to play something he said knew would beat me. “You’re John Cuvelier, if I want to win the tournament I’m going to have to beat you.” This, although flattering, unfortunately meant that the odds were stacked against me.

With a suite of board sweepers in his BWR Frites deck that included Terminus, Day of Judgment, Bonfire of the Damned, and Whipflare I had no real chance of beating him. On top of that, he had the turn four Griselbrand turn five Elesh Norn hand against me the first game. After starting the event at 2-1, I rallied back to a 5-1 record destroying aggro decks along the way.

My other loss came at the hands of my friend and eventual second place finisher Nicolas Werner and his Esper Midrange list round seven. In testing he lost all but one game in an hour or so of gameplay. However in our tournament match he stabilized at three life off the back of my flood in the first game. Having more lands against a deck like that should never happen, so when it does don’t expect the win. Game two was similar although different in how I got flooded. I kept a seven-card opener with one Ezuri, and then proceeded to draw three more in the first three turns. I ended that game doing two separate Genesis Waves, both hitting only lands and excess Fervors.

Frustrated and disappointed, I stayed in the event beating another creature deck, and an Esper deck. The deck can be difficult to sideboard with because there isn’t a whole lot that can be cut without hurting its consistency. Let’s take a look at what I would do for each of the popular archetypes.

Matchups

Pod

This is a favorable matchup I’d put somewhere close to 80/20. We are playing solitaire, and they are trying to race us. The only card they have a chance with is miracle on a Bonfire of the Damned if they main it. But expect it after board and try not to over commit and you will be fine.

+1 Bonfire of the Damned
-1 Ezuri’s Archers

Delver

Being honest this matchup is right around 50/50. It really just depends on if they draw multiple Vapor Snags and how early they get pressure applied. Assuming only one or the other you will win, if both happen you will probably lose. Post board we get some more additions to help us.

+1 Ezuri’s Archers; +3 Mental Misstep
-1 Soul of the Harvest; -2 Genesis Wave; -1 Viridian Emissary

Zombies

Depending on how heavy a removal suite they have this is either really easy or slightly difficult. I put this matchup at about 60/40. They can actually solitaire faster than we can with the right draws, and with a fast draw along with one or two removal spells can be enough to kill us. If we are left undisrupted or close to with just average pressure applied we come out on top.

+1 Garruk, Primal Hunter; +1 Thragtusk
-1 Ezuri’s Archers; -1 Bonfire of the Damned

Dungrove

This is probably our best matchup. They have literally zero interactions with us pre board, and post board doesn’t get a whole lot better. I put this matchup at 90/10, and that is generous.

-1 Ezuri’s Archers
+1 Bonfire of the Damned

Infect

With the reprinting of Rancor this deck will be popular for the last three months of its existence. They have draws that can kill faster than us, but as long as you play cautiously there shouldn’t be any problem beating them. After board we get Melira to allow us to go off without fear. This should be favorable 75/25.

-3 Fervor; -2 Genesis Wave
+1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast; +1 Bonfire of the Damned; +1 Silklash Spider; +1 Acidic Slime; +1 Ezuri’s Archers

Esper

There are a few different versions of this deck. There’s midrange with Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel, control with Sun Titan and Image, and then control with Planeswalkers. The midrange one is our best match, as they don’t play sweepers main. This allows us to play into them fearlessly without repercussions. This particular matchup falls around 70/30.

-1 Ezuri’s Archers; -1 Bonfire of the Damned
+2 Ground Seal

The more control-ish versions that feature sweepers are much harder to play against. These are probably 40/60 in favor of them. You are by no means out of it, but it is a hard match to play. Against the control versions I would do the following:

-1 Ezuri’s Archers; -1 Bonfire of the Damned; -1 Viridian Corrupter
+2 Ground Seal (for the Sun Titan version) OR +2 Sword of Feast and Famine (for walker version); +1 Garruk, Primal Hunter

Adjustments

I plan on playing this deck until its rotation in three months. Although I will do mostly FNM’s with this, there will be some 1k’s and Standard for power events locally I will be able to attend. With that being said, adjustments I would consider making to the deck is as follows:

-1 Cavern of Souls, +1 Forest.

This change is very negligible, but when it comes right down to it you don’t want hands that have Arbor Elf and no Forests. You still want the red mana sources so that cannot change.

-1 Fervor, +1 Bonfire of the Damned

The reason for this is Fervor is a card that is extremely powerful in this deck, but is a complete dud in multiples. We can move one to the board for control decks. Bonfire is a great finisher, and is always nice to have access to.

For now that’s all I would change to the main deck, let’s take a look at the sideboard:

-2 Sword of Feast and Famine
+2 Witchbane Orb

An awkward choice, I know. But we want something against Bonfire decks so we don’t roll over to them. Also if these mono black control decks begin to gain popularity we want something against Curse of Death’s Hold. I’m excited to try this and see how it performs. This is about the only viable option besides maybe Gutter Grime which Travis Woo has been advocating in his own list.

-1 Silklash Spider
+1 Fervor

Having access to the Spider is nice, but I believe it’s really not that necessary. One or two Archers is probably all that is really required to buy the time necessary to beat Delver. Not to mention the reality of trying to resolve a Zenith for five. Having an extra Fervor instead helps our control matchups for when we want more or to make sure we can push one through.

It is very important to note that you really don’t want to over-sideboard in games. If you heavily dilute your deck with non elves it ends up hurting the decks synergy and consistency. I would recommend not boarding in more than five cards per matchup, and really would only recommend that if you are boarding in an elf to compensate.

Here are some other notable sideboard options if you can make if your local metagame warrants it:
Manabarbs, Beast Within, Garruk Relentless, Natural End, Sword of War and Peace, Phyrexian Metamorph, and multiples of some of the existing cards already. For example if decks like Frites are popular at your local metagame, I would suggest adding a third Ground Seal, and maybe even a singleton Tormod’s Crypt.

Run It

Give this deck a shot at your next FNM and let me know what you think. I’ll be having my girlfriend play this at the next and last local PTQ in an attempt to get her to qualify for Return to Ravnica with me. People have been saying this is going to be the “green summer” with the reprinting of Rancor. An Elf deck was probably not what they had in mind when that was said. Good luck and happy gaming.

John Cuvelier
@JCuvelier On Twitter
Gosu. On Mtgo

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