Casual players love Elves. It is one of the most enduring tribes at kitchen tables over the years. Elves, Slivers, Zombies, and Goblins are probably four of the five most popular tribes being rocked all across the block. Sure, it’s been a while since we’ve had an injection of elvish tribal love, with two recent blocks Elfless (Theros and Innistrad—and I’m glad we were minus Elves in blocks in which they made no creative sense. I don’t want to see Wizards stretch the concept of the block to shoehorn Elves in.) Still, we all know it’ll be a short period before we see the next Lorwyn or Onslaught.
With all of the love that people have for Elves, it seems to be a great tribe to investigate a little better. When playing casual Magic, what are the best Elves ever printed? What are the true icons and powerhouses?
Why There Won’t Be Elf Lords on This List
Imperious Perfect and Elvish Archdruid, we would be in an odd place, with my Top 10 list almost exclusively consisting of lords. Also, what would make our Top 10 Elf list look any different than the Top 10 Goblin list or the Zombie list if they all had lords dominating? Plus, these lords are only good as more and more Elves are played—that makes them situational. As such, pure lords just don’t have enough to push me over the edge.
However, I don’t just want the Elf list to look like a list of ten good-stuff creatures that just happen to have the Elf creature type. These need to be the best Elves. This has to be a distinct Elf-feeling list to really be an Elf list. Therefore, the Elves included are more than just people with pointy ears.
The Top 10
So, what are the Top 10 Elves of All Time (for Casual or Multiplayer)?
To begin with, I pulled out every Elf from Gatherer that met my criteria and that I thought would potentially be a Top 10 candidate. I easily winnowed away a few here and there, and I was left with eighteen entries (not eighteen cards. Some entries include more than one card).
What color combination had the most Elves in my final eighteen? G/U had three entries. We had one B/G and two G/W. Sorry, Gruul, but none of your best Elves made my cut to eighteen. Your only entry in the first list, Bloodbraid Elf, didn’t make it to the final eighteen.
Honorable Mention #1 – Momir Vig, Simic Visionary – Basically clocking it at Number 13 on our countdown is the good Mr. Vig himself. Frankly, I’m not even sure how the second ability is blue. No one would question that ability on a mono-green card. He’s as green as can be, and he suits the Elves quite nicely as such. Every time you play a green creature, you can Worldly Tutor for free. That’s a nice package for most decks to build around. Sure, you have the blue creature trigger that will reveal the top card and draw it if it’s a creature, but you can imagine the power of Momir Vig even in a deck with few to no blue creatures. Shoot, run him in a mono-green deck with a few mana accelerants like Birds of Paradise. Even outside of it, you cannot doubt his legendary goodness. If he sticks, he breaks things.
Honorable Mention #2 – Fierce Empath – The first common on our countdown is this fun trick from the way-back machine. You have to adore the card because of its sheer flexibility in a color that loves to cast big, expensive creatures. Still, you can use it to tutor for mana-fetching (such as Krosan Tusker), removal (Woodfall Primus and Arashi, the Sky Asunder), mass creature-making (Avenger of Zendikar), card-draw (Regal Force), and so forth. Plus, those are just mono-green options. Imagine if you included Steel Hellkite, Duplicant, or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. Then, start thinking of great creatures in other colors, and you have a very flexible and abusable creature with a cheap enters-the-battlefield trigger to assist the team.
Farhaven Elf and Wood Elves – One of these is better if you are running dual lands or mono-green (Wood Elves) since the Forest comes into play untapped. In other decks, Farhaven Elf is the primary choice. Both are great 3-drops that accelerate your mana by putting the land right into play. Feel free to consider similar Elves, such as Civic Wayfinder, in this spot. These are the mana-monkeys you need to play the game. You want to search up lands and play the game, right? So, the backbone of those decks is to make sure you can produce the right mana so that you can drop the big stuff later. They aren’t sexy, but they get the job done.
All right, now let’s begin by taking a look at the Top 10 list, already in progress.
10. Master Biomancer – Only two gold Elves made the Top 10. I wanted to ensure that every gold Elf here felt like an Elf and like a green card. And this does. Like Momir Vig above, this ability is very green, and it hardly needs blue in it at all (save that it was printed in a guild-themed set, so it had to). But take the ability and strap it on a creature in any other set, and its mono-green. The Biomancer is a powerful tool to amp up the threat level of your guys quickly. A humble Elvish Pioneer is now a 3/3 dork. Quirion Sentinel is a 4/3 for 2 mana. Wren's Run Vanquisher is a 5/5 for 2 mana. It scales quickly. The potency of the Biomancer cannot be overstated. Creatures are quickly at a lethal level because each one comes into play with 2 +1/+1 counters. Plus, if you amp up the Biomancer with extra power, the number of counters on your dorks rises considerably. From Rancor to Forgotten Ancient, get ready for a pounding.
Oracle of Mul Daya – I had to make a few concessions to traditional green good stuff, and this is one. The Oracle is, by far, among the most powerful additions to casual line ups in the last five years. It is an all-star and an iconic mana accelerant. It not only provides ramp by enabling the double-droppage of lands, but it also allows them to be played from the top of the library, which gives you card advantage. All of that is very, very elvish. Elves help you put extra lands out, and the Oracle follows that suit. There’s no sense wasting your time regaling you with stories about the Oracle’s power—you probably already know them all too well. The only question you might have is about which Elves rank higher.
8. Quirion Ranger – One of the single best 1-drops ever printed for green is this little common from Visions. It has enabled a lot of tournament decks, but its power is not purely in that realm. It is a tool for Spikes and Johnnies the world over. Spike loves the cheap cost and powerful ability; Johnny loves the combo potential. Not every green creature on this list should be about mana accelerants or beaters. The Ranger is a masterpiece of synergy. You can bounce a Forest back to your hand in order to untap a creature (but just once per turn). Why would you want to do that? Well, for one, it can produce an extra mana in a pinch by bouncing a tapped Forest and replaying it. Plus, if you untap a creature that tapped for mana, you squeeze 2 mana out of her. But that’s not enough, right? So, consider some other effects: untapping Timberwatch Elf or Immaculate Magistrate. What about either Number 5, Number 6, or Number 2 below? You can move into other colors for Arcanis the Omnipotent or Avatar of Woe. It suits any Commander deck with a green legendary creature that rocks a tap ability. You get the idea. There is a lot of versatility here.
Essence Warden – Planar Chaos gave green a Soul Warden effect and Elves a fun enabler for combo control or stall. Soul Warden is among the most iconic utility creatures ever made for multiplayer, and now Elves have one of their very own. It’s not even a “may” trigger, so you can’t forget some life-gain and then fail to trigger it—you have to gain that life. Every turn around the kitchen table, your life total grows bigger and bigger. Plus, it works with those token decks that green is so fond of. And you can use it as one tool in a combo deck to gain infinite life. It’s powerful indeed.
6. Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary – So powerful in Commander that he was banned as a commander, meet the man who could make the mana. Not only does he downright abuse cards such as Quirion Ranger, he also is a nasty mana accelerant all on his own, unlike fellow mana-tappers like Wirewood Channeler or Priest of Titania, which require other creatures to work. This just requires Forests, and you’ll have those easily. It’s among the sickest turn-two plays green has, and it can prepare a table for a sudden hand drop (where someone plays his or her entire hand). He is powerful, but he has limits. He’s not great outside of mono-green, his reliance on Forests keeps people from playing awesome nonbasics in mono-green, he’s easy to kill, and he just makes mana—and he has little other board presence. Still, for what he does, he does it well.
Yet, he just misses the Top 5. So, what Elves did make the cut?
Wellwisher – I know that, thus far, I have eschewed playing Elves that are enabled by running them with other Elves, such as Elvish Champion and Priest of Titania. But Wellwisher is another animal entirely. This is arguably one of the single most dominant casual tribal cards of all time. It has to be in this list. Anything else would just look silly. It is so powerful that it inspired an entire article by Anthony Alongi on how to kill it. It’s arguably the most commonly-played tribal creature in Magic’s history, bar none. More than Goblin King and more than Zombie Master, this is the threat at the table. Wellwisher taps to gain life, and gaining life helps to stall the game incredibly long. It also gives you a life bump, so when or if someone plays that mass-removal spell that usually ruins the game for Elf decks, you have enough of a life bump to keep you hanging around until you have reestablished your board position. It cannot be overstated how played this card has historically been, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it as an uncommon in a future Elf-heavy set. Get your life-gain on!
4. Edric, Spymaster of Trest – Say “hello” to the highest-charting gold Elf. Both green and blue have the ability to draw cards when a creature deals damage to a player—and this pushes that to a multiplayer level. Ever since he has been printed, Edric has been a force at the multiplayer tables. He was the dominant force from the first set of Commander decks, and it appears that he’ll stay on top after the second round of decks just came out with another load of legendary critters. Even in duels, he is very powerful, just as a Coastal Piracy on legs for 1 mana less. In multiplayer, his value is enhanced as he encourages people to attack each other for cards, and that helps you win the game, too.
Top 3 time!
Deranged Hermit – Could you imagine a Top 10 list without this casual fav? Sure, it’s 9 power of creatures for 5 mana (and it could be just 4 power creatures in a moment), but it’s the sheer joy of Deranged Hermit that pushes it into the Number 3 spot. When you play it, you find four Squirrels all ready to go! Squirrels are a long bout of fun, and casual players eat them up. So, the combination of an enters-the-battlefield trigger (which casual players eat up already) with many tokens (again, a causal fav) that happen to be Squirrels (yay!) and a threat (9 power for 5 mana) equals one of the runaway hits of all time for green. It is unquestionably great. Plus, it’s nice to see fun Elves up here on a list that features such powers as Oracle, Rofellos, and Edric. Do you know what’s better than them? A fun card like this!
2. Fauna Shaman – To my mind, this is an Elf that has really improved with time. At first, it was good; then, as I played the Shaman, it moved into great, and now it’s a downright house in Casual Land. The ability to have Survival of the Fittest on a stick is quite appropriate—it’s harder to abuse and easier to deal with. The Shaman’s ability to discard a creature to tutor for a creature is very powerful. In the early game, discard that expensive creature for one that is on-curve or that accelerates your mana. Later on, feel free to discard your less-powerful early drops for a potent late-game beastie. And you can always discard a creature to retrieve the right answer to a problem (such as Acidic Slime). The result is an engine that is always on tap to improve the deck you are playing. And that’s why the Fauna Shaman rocks the block at Number 2 on our list.
But it did not make #1. What did?
Llanowar Elves, Elves of Deep Shadow, Fyndhorn Elves, Quirion Elves, Urborg Elf, Skyshroud Elf, Arbor Elf, and Friends – It seems that most 1- or 2-drops in Magic that make mana are Elves if they can tap for green mana. Including all of the mana Elves here is not a cop out because it’s hard to distinguish between them, and really, do you want three different slots charting for Elvish Mystic, Fyndhorn Elves, and Llanowar Elves? I doubt it! This includes all of those dorks. Tapping for mana cheaply as great mana accelerants is what Elves have done from the very first set! They are the essentials for your deck, the unsexy infrastructure that connects the dots and brings out the very best from your deck over and over again. This is what Elves are all about. Making mana, baby! Plus, they can wield Equipment swords, grab some Aura pants, be pumped by Elvish lords, leap in front of giant beasties, nip in for damage when not needed for mana, and so forth. They don’t just make mana well. Hence, they are the best Elves in the casual world.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the best Elves ever printed for Casualalia. Let me know what you think—and what your own Top 10 list would look like!
See you next week,