Editor’s Note: Yes, we stole Brad Nelson’s article title. Why? Because it’s awesome! What better way to say, “I got first place in a Legacy tournament by trampling people with an eight-mana beast and his army of elves?” There’s no better way to say it, so hats off to Brad for ruining every other possible name!
If you know me, you probably know I love playing the elf deck. But going into this tournament, I was considering not playing my deck of choice. I had been discouraged by the advent of the miracles deck. They could just play trump after trump. They could punish for overextending and for slow-rolling your combo. They can lock you out of the game with Energy Field. Worst of all, they could do it without much thought or effort.
Luckily my friends were able to supply me with a deck to play in the last SCG Open I attended. Esper Blade treated me well and led me to a Top 16 finish. The deck was high on my list of choices for this tournament.
And then Deathrite Shaman happened.
All of a sudden, Abrupt Decay pushed Counterbalance out of the format and with it my worst matchup among top decks. Miracles was supplanted by a contingent of do-nothing BUG decks trying to out-value their opponent. Value is a lot easier to deal with than one-mana, instant-speed wraths. Baleful Strix, have you met my friends Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote?
With a newfound confidence in my tribal deck of choice, I met my friends John Chudzik, Max Jacob and Legacy superstar Mark Sun to ride to the tournament site. But first we had to go to Starbucks, only to find out that Mark prefers his coffee to be prepared in the most feminine way possible. Along the way, Max mentions that LSV and Matt Nass crushed Day 1 of GP Denver with an updated elves list featuring Natural Order and Craterhoof Behemoth.
Upon arriving at the convention center, I convene with my compatriot and fellow elf player Chris Anderson. Chris had access to the “Nassty” elves list and happily shared it and his sideboard changes. After a few minutes of scrambling around the room to find cards and scribbling my deck list at the players’ meeting, I ended up playing this pile of cards:
I made the following changes to Nass’s List:
If you want a primer on how to play the combo elves archetype, I recommend checking out Chris Andersen’s article from earlier this year. He does an excellent job outlining how to play the deck and some of his card choices. Keep in mind that the list is a little outdated.
Making some tweaks
The list I played eschews Mirror Entity as the win condition in favor of Craterhoof Behemoth. Another new addition to the deck is Natural Order, which provides a few important element. It gives you free wins against decks that cannot interact with Progenitus and acts as a mana accelerant to power out a quick win via Hoof or Regal Force. Most importantly, it is just another business spell. Occasionally a well-placed Thoughtseize or an unfortunate Hymn to Tourach can leave you with a bunch of 1/1s and no way to win the game. Having another game-ending effect is a huge benefit.
Previous lists were also not running the full four Deathrite Shamans, which was probably a mistake in hindsight. He survives an Engineered Plague and the second and third abilities give you enough options and small edges that he is worthy of inclusion. The argument against was that it was a huge liability if it didn’t make mana on Turn 1. But once you optimize the manabase by cutting utility lands such as Pendlehaven and/or Horizon Canopy and replacing them with a heap of fetch lands, he becomes more reliable.
Adding black to the deck adds some very powerful sideboard options, namely Abrupt Decay and Cabal Therapy. The sideboard is slanted to stopping combo with Cabal Therapy, Gaddock Teeg, Mindbreak Trap, Scavenging Ooze and Mortarpod (suck it, Bridge From Below). Additionally you have a few solutions for problematic permanent-based disruption such as Ethersworn Canonist, Umezawa’s Jitte, Cursed Totem, Grim Lavamancer, Goblin Sharpshooter, Chalice of the Void, Moat, Peacekeeper and Counterbalance among others. Progenitus is a gimme once you have chosen to include Natural Order.
Let’s take a moment to justify the inclusion of Mortarpod. The card doesn’t do anything or solve any problem particularly well, but what it lacks in power it makes up for in versatility. It kills Grim Lavamancer, Peacekeeper, Vendilion Clique, Goblin Sharpshooter and Goblin Lackey. It blows up Bridge from Below. It allows you to combo off and win though Moat. It can serve as protection from Darkblast. That being said, it would be among my first cards to cut (alongside Mindbreak Trap) if needed.
Sideboarding can be difficult because your whole deck is just green creatures that make mana. Postboard games can be quite a grind because people bring in various forms of removal and permanent-based hate. Be aware of this and be patient.
Generally I like to board out Priest of Titania and at least one Quirion Ranger because I find them to be the weakest cards. After that I shave additional Quirion Rangers and Llanowar Elves. In the grindy matchups, I like to board out Crop Rotation and a Heritage Druid. Against combo, I shave one or two Visionaries and a Priest unless the deck is Show and Tell-based.)
The sideboard is very customizable based on your local metagame. Cards I would consider adding include additional copies of Gaddock Teeg or Scavenging Ooze, Meekstone, Thoughtseize, Umezawa’s Jitte, Absolute Law, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Pithing Needle.
It’s important when using sideboarding guides that you view them as an aid and don’t follow them too strictly. Be willing to adjust based on how your opponent is sideboarding or if something is worth changing based on being on the play or draw.
Leaving a Crater
As for the tournament, it was relatively uneventful. It all sort of blends together and I am not able to recount any specific games. My deck just did what it was designed to do. I grinded out a bunch of games with Wirewood Symbiote and Elvish Visionary and eventually resolved Craterhoof Behemoth’s trigger multiple times while my opponent was helpless. I also won a few games via 1/1 beats and Deathrite Shaman activations, which are my favorite types of games to play and win. It is worth nothing the only games I lost were to Esper Blade playing a piece of equipment I couldn’t answer in Game 1.
Esper Blade, 2-0
Miracle Blade, 2-1
Esper Blade, 1-1-1
Esper Blade, 2-1
Death and Taxes, 2-0
RUG Delver, ID
Esper Blade, 2-1
My quarterfinal matchup against Esper Blade involved more of the same. I lost to Umezawa’s Jitte in Game 1, but brought in Viridian Shaman, Harmonic Sliver and four Cabal Therapy to solve the Jitte problem.
I still can’t believe I won my semifinal matchup against Reanimator, which I normally would decribe as unwinnable. I played no graveyard hate outside of Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze, and they have discard and counter magic to disrupt my combo and protect theirs.
My opponent was unable to find a reanimation effect in Game 1, and I Hoofed him on Turn 4 or 5. He put an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite into his graveyard in Game 2. On my turn, I could either play Deathrite Shaman and hope he doesn’t have an answer for it (or a reanimation effect), or target him with Cabal Therapy and name a reanimation effect. I decide to Therapy him, hitting two Reanimates and leaving with a fatty, some cantrips, an Exhume and no second land. He cantrips a second time and missed his second land drop. I play Dryad Arbor that I sacrifice to Therapy him again, ripping the Exhume out of his hand. I follow up with a Deathrite Shaman that closes out the game alongside a few 2/2s and 1/1s.
My final match was against Kevin Gerhart, an acquaintance and fellow Ohio player. The last time we played, he crushed me with Zealous Persecution and Perish alongside Stoneforge Mystic and Thoughseize. This night I exacted my revenge. He was playing the deck that I was itching to play against all day. Kevin played well but just wasn’t well-equipped to beat my deck. During Game 2, in mid-combo, he graciously offered the trophy and his hand. I was the Legacy Open champion.
Moving forward, people are probably more likely to have hate such as Perish, Engineered Plague and Ethersworn Canonist. All of the hate is very beatable, however, if you play tight. In the future I want the second Dryad Arbor in the 75 as well as a maindeck Viridian Shaman. I might shave a Heritage Druid or Priest of Titania to fit him in. I played zero storm decks and didn’t see many at the top tables, so it is possible the Mindbreak Traps are unnecessary.
- Chris Andersen and Max Jacob for letting me know about the decklist
- Star City Games for a sweet tournament
- Peter Johnson for bringing snacks.
- Matt Kranstuber for bringing his awesome combo cube
- Matt Nass for making this awesome decklist
- Jonathon Medina who is actually not a scumbag. #moremedina
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