Elves have been a core part of Magic ever since its inception, and have appeared in virtually every set for the past 20 years. They are Green’s premiere “small tribe”, capable of generating obscene amounts of mana and accelerating into larger threats, or just swarming the board faster than any other tribe. In Legacy, however, Elves serves a far different purpose. Legacy Elves is one of the most consistent combo decks in the format, despite not having traditional cards like Brainstorm, Ponder, or Dark Ritual. There are dozens of synergies that join together to form a seriously scary combo deck.
SO HOW IS THIS SCARY?
Legacy Elves works by dropping a critical mass of Elves and generating enough mana through either Gaea’s Cradle or Heritage Druid to tutor out a Craterhoof Behemoth for a lethal attack. The deck runs two of the best tutors in Legacy in Green Sun’s Zenith and Natural Order to search out whatever creature they need for any situation. Whether it’s fetching Dryad Arbor for a turn 1 Rampant Growth or grabbing a Nettle Sentinel to start comboing off, the versatility of Green Sun’s Zenith is unparalleled. As well, Elves is the deck best suited to abuse Glimpse of Nature. Thanks to the numerous 1-drop creatures, Heritage Druid, and Nettle Sentinel, the Elves player can cast Glimpse of Nature then turn every Elf they cast into a cantrip. By floating mana with Nettle Sentinels every time you cast an Elf, you can quickly draw through your deck.
There are several oft overlooked intricacies in Wirewood Symbiote and Quirion Ranger. Symbiote is one of your best cards for protecting your Elves from spot removal, and also lets you get extra value while you’re going off with Glimpse of Nature. You get to bounce an Elf to recast it and dig even farther down into your deck. Quirion Ranger is great for ramping your mana early on land-light draws. If you find yourself missing a land drop, you can float a mana off a Forest, return the Forest to your hand with Ranger to untap a mana-producing Elf, then replay the Forest for even more mana. This sequence nets you two additional mana to what you would otherwise have, allowing you to start your combos much earlier.
One thing that really gave the deck a serious power boost was the changes to the Legend Rule from M14. Now that you can play a second copy of a Legendary card then sacrifice the first copy, Gaea’s Cradle becomes a delinquent mana producer. You can float a ton of mana with one Cradle, play another, then float even more mana to cast whatever you want.
Lastly, because of the nature of the deck, Elves is able to run a toolbox for any metagame. While the current trend is a maindeck Ruric Thar, that slot can be anything from Scavenging Ooze to Gaddock Teeg to even something like Woodfall Primus. The sky’s the limit to the kinds of creatures you can fetch up, and it’s great for keeping your opponents on their toes.
WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR IN A SIDEBOARD?
You generally want cards that help shore up your weaker match-ups, which unfortunately make up most of the “unfair” decks in Legacy. Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, and Mindbreak Trap can help you stave off the various Storm builds in the format, while Pithing Needle can fight strategies like Grindstone or Sneak Attack. Abrupt Decay and Viridian Shaman are there to battle problem cards like Trinisphere and Umezawa’s Jitte which really mess with your ability to develop your board. Finally, the fourth copy of Natural Order and the Progenitus give you a big, unstoppable beatstick against decks like UWR that try to interact with your threats as much as possible.
Other options include Scavenging Ooze, Gaddock Teeg, Qasali Pridemage, and Worldspine Wurm. Scavenging Ooze does wonders against Dredge, Life from the Loam decks, and can help keep Tarmogoyf in check. Gaddock Teeg helps keep Supreme Verdict, Tendrils of Agony, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor at bay. However, Gaddock Teeg does blank your Green Sun’s Zeniths and Natural Orders, so only fetch him out when you’re ahead on board. Qasali Pridemage is an excellent compliment for Viridian Shaman for killing artifacts, but also gives the deck some much needed enchantment removal. Sneak Attack and Engineered Plague can be annoying to play against, so having Pridemage as a silver bullet can help you handle those cards. Worldspine Wurm is a hilarious answer to the non-Swords to Plowshares “fair” decks. Because you can’t tutor for Emrakul, you have to settle for the second biggest creature in the format. Elves can Natural Order it into play as early as turn 2-3, and if your opponent is able to kill the Wurm, either through Maelstrom Pulse or Damnation, you get 15 power of Wurm tokens.
SO HOW ARE MY MATCH-UPS? WHAT DO I WANT TO FACE?
Because Elves is as much a combo deck as it is a creature swarm deck, you want to be facing decks that run little spot removal removal. Death and Taxes is a fairly good match-up because they only have Swords to Plowshares for removal. Against Elves, the hate bears in Death and Taxes can be annoying but not backbreaking like they are against other decks. You’re running far more creatures than they are, so you can swarm around their defenses early on and keep pushing through damage. As well, post-board you have Viridian Shaman, which you can bounce over and over with Wirewood Symbiote to kill off their equipment.
Another strong match-up for Elves is RUG Delver. They only have a set of Lightning Bolts to interact with your creatures, and they rely mostly on countering your spells. Elves has far more threats than they have counterspells, so you can swarm around what few creatures they play. It’s important to learn how to play around Stifle, as it can be fairly annoying to play against. That’s why if you’re able to sneak in a Natural Order or Zenith, I advise getting the Ruric Thar over a Craterhoof. They have next to no answers for Ruric Thar without taking a ton of damage to their face, whereas the Craterhoof’s ability can be Stifled, leaving you with “just” a 5/5 beatstick.
From my experience, and this is by no means is 100% true for all Elves players, Jund and Shardless BUG are also alright matches. These decks tend to attack your hand above all else, and given the consistency of the deck you’re not completely screwed if you get hit by a Hymn to Tourach. Aside from Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt they don’t have much removal, and thanks to Wirewood Symbiote you can protect your more important Elves by bouncing them in response. As well, aside from Liliana of the Veil on an empty board, they have no way of fighting a fattie you’ve Natural Order’d into play. Shardless BUG plays out roughly the same but a little better for your board. Rather than worrying about Lightning Bolt, they instead have to rely on Force of Will to deal with your big spells. Shardless is far more manageable than Jund because it’s slightly slower by nature, giving you ample time to start swarming the board. One thing to pay attention to in these matches is that they often run Engineered Plague, so Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize in your sideboard is a big help.
One deck you absolutely do not want to sit down against is UWR Miracles. Holy crap is this match-up awful. Between Supreme Verdict, Terminus, Pyroclasm, Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, and the Counter-Top combo, this deck is everything you never want to deal with as a creature deck. Your game one is pretty much abysmal to play, so the safest bet is dealing with the post-board. Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, and Progenitus are your go-tos here, as they help pick away your opponent’s answers until they have nothing left. Abrupt Decay is one of the few ways to beat a Counterbalance, and should pretty much be snapped off the second Counterbalance hits the table. Switching out Craterhoof for Progenitus is huge here, as resolving a Natural Order can leave them scrambling for a board wipe.
UWR Delver is also a pretty sub-par match-up for Elves, as they run roughly the same spot removal suite, but they also pack Grim Lavamancer and Umezawa’s Jitte for repeatable creature kill. They also have evasive threats in Delver of Secrets and True-Name Nemesis, so getting counters on Jitte is fairly easy to do. In this match-up you need your Viridian Shaman and Abrupt Decays to answer Jitte and Batterskull, and really just try to exhaust their removal. UWR doesn’t have much in the way of 2-for-1s, so you’ll want to get them to use up their spells early then start dropping more creatures than they can handle.
MUD and Stompy are also nightmare match-ups just because of Chalice of the Void. A turn 1 Chalice for 1 locks out the majority of your deck, dramatically slowing down your deck. In addition, these decks also run Trinisphere which can often ruin your ability to play more than one spell in a turn. This slows you down to the point that they can close out the game with anything from Steel Hellkite to Staff of Domination. Here you have to pray they don’t have turn 1 Chalice, then hope you can bounce your Viridian Shaman with Symbiote enough times to keep yourself in the game.
Lastly, faster combo decks like ANT, Charbelcher, and Dredge are all about even match-ups. Your game ones are pretty terrible here, as they can kill you often before your second turn. These are matches where you’ll mostly be focusing on your sideboarded games. For ANT and Belcher you have Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy to rip their hand apart and slow them down enough to start comboing off yourself. You also have Mindbreak Trap which was created specifically so non-Blue decks had a way to fight Storm. These methods are suboptimal against Dredge, but fortunately you have a set of maindeck Deathrite Shamans. If you can get two Deathrites online, you can eat their graveyard fast enough to keep them in check.
BOTTOM LINE: WHY SHOULD I BUILD ELVES?
You should build Elves if you want to play combo and aggro in the same deck. If you want to draw through your deck while amassing a horde of mana dorks before tutoring up a big hasty Overrun, Elves is your deck. You get to run the best tutors and toolbox package in the format, all the while working with Green’s answer to Ancestral Recall in Glimpse of Nature. But above all else, you get one of the most redundant combo decks in Legacy. It’s a challenging deck with dozens of tricks up its sleeve, and it’s an absolute blast to play. You can’t go wrong with Elves!
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