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Let's Talk About Premodern Elves


Let's Talk About Premodern Elves

What is the most fun deck I've ever played?

If you think it's Modern Burn... That's probably a good guess. But Modern Burn is the deck of my head. It's the deck that I think about. It's the deck I tinker with. It's the deck with which I believe I have achieved the greatest mastery. But it's not the most fun.

But what about my favorite deck? I think that title probably belongs to Mono-Cascade. But Mono-Cascade - a deck with nothing cheaper than the four copies of Esper Charm and four copies of Blightning - is, at best, a deck from another age. It was a deck where every Bituminous Blast rolled through a Bloodbraid Elf (or at least a Captured Sunlight) on the way to one of the aforementioned three-mana two-for-ones. I loved the predictability of the deck. I loved hitting land drops. I loved - as my friend Paul Jordan used to always say - that every Enlisted Wurm was so lousy with card advantage it would make a Cruel Ultimatum blush.

The most fun deck?

That has to be Premodern Elves.

Cutting to the chase, this is the version of Premodern Elves that I most recently played to win a local meetup. In a brewery.

Elves has twisted, turned, and transformed a bit over the last year. At some point I would have said that a certain core of cards are set... But a Mythic Champion may have us re-thinking even that sentiment.

"My" Elves deck is at least a little influenced by Demian Vernieri's first-place deck from this year's Southamerican Championship:

Vernieri's main innovation was to add 2 + 2 copies of Natural Order, adding additional capabilities to an already powerful shell.

Before you start crawling the card databases, a Verdant Force really is the best big Green creature you can play in a deck like this. Jamie got it right way back when.

Elves is arguably the most powerful strategy in Premodern. It can play multiple game plans - not the least of which is a fast combo kill deck - but it has potential problems with both sorts of Red Decks.

Every experience I've had with the deck leads me to believe that Goblins is completely untenable. I think maybe incumbent Goblins decks are / were beatable only because they were still mired under pre-Land Tax ban sideboards. What about just adding more copies of Goblin Sharpshooter? Exactly.

But the other bad matchup is just a regular Red Deck. The Burn deck. Sligh.

Elves is powerful and has mad acceleration... But ultimately plays a low land count and is reliant on a few dozen 1 toughness creatures to support its explosive mana. That means that a single uncontested Grim Lavamancer is often enough to shut down the entire Elves deck. Just dropping a Jackal Pup and clearing the way with Seal of Fire and Lava Dart can keep damage dripping and dribbling in. Two a turn, two a turn, until it's a Fireblast party.

How can Elves stop the Red Deck assault? It's tough at best. Like I said, a single Grim Lavamancer will often prove the ESPN check mark. Enter Natural Order.

Elves can go full-on two-card combo with Wall of Roots and Natural Order. Wall of Roots provides 5 toughness to ensure there is "a" creature in play to sacrifice, and even the fourth mana necessary to do it. Can you win the game with a 7/7 one-man elemental-army? What if it's out on turn three?

Anyway, that's the justification behind hybridizing Elves with Secret Force.

Even more recently, Pablo Suarez took down the 185-player European Championships with... You guessed it... Elves.

Pablo's build has a lot of elements of the "traditional" Elves deck (four Tangle Wires), as well as a couple of copies of Biorhythm main deck for an additional angle of attack. Suarez famously beat Premodern founder Martin Berlin to take his Top 8 spot at Euros, against the difficult Mono-Red matchup.

Pablo put together his Mountain and Anger to "turn on" Wellwisher; which allowed him some extra time to stabilize.

It's plays like this - with a card like Wellwisher, that I don't even play main deck or sideboard - that is the key to my "fun" love for Elves. Elves is a deck of maximum elegance, nuance, and customization. As long as you have Survival of the Fittest, your Elves deck can probably find a way for you to win. Sometimes it's about buying more time; others destroying a particular kind of permanent; still others you pitch the Squee, Goblin Nabob to push all your chips in with Masticore.

Speaking of which, that is one hard-working Mountain. Not only is part of its job to give your Elves haste; pivotal in Pablos's ascension to the European Championship, he had to combine Anger and Mountain and actually tapping the Mountain to gun down the enemy team with a Goblin Sharpshooter of his own.

But enough (for now) about other people's Elves decks. How about the version that I used to win my recent meetup?

I'm not the kind of person to cut a Llanowar Elves like Demian; so I just snipped all the Tangle Wires from my build to make room for Wall of Roots, Natural Order, and Verdant Force.

Notable features:


Round One: Mono-Green Oath Paloosh

I recently wrote about a Top 4 $1000 tournament finish with gw Oath Paloosh. Mono-Green is the more focused cousin. Lots of cards in common - Oath of Druids, Terravore, Sphere of Resistance - but also an eight-pack of Stone Rains where gw has Swords to Plowshares, Exalted Angel, and Cataclysm.

This match was a comedy of errors, but also a testament to the biggest knock on Elves. Namely, you can play like a donkey but still win the next turn because the deck is so powerful.

In the first game I went down to a 19/19 Terravore on turn two; which was quickly paired with a second 19/19 Terravore. Did I mention those have trample?

In the second game, I set up a fast (I think third turn) Anger / haste kill with 2x Deranged Hermits. Only... When I went to Survival up my second Deranged Hermit, I remembered that I had sided it out. I no longer had lethal. Next turn!

I ripped Naturalize to deal with his second turn Oath of Druids and kind of rolled from there.

1-0 / 2-1

Round Two: br Oath

This deck revolves around the card Oath of Ghouls with value or echo creatures. The best example is an Avalanche Riders that can come back basically every turn. Withered Wretch is there to make sure graveyards are operating in Oath's favor.

In the first, the opponent presented a Grim Lavamancer; to which I immediately drew my one main-deck Masticore. Second game was about as interesting.

2-0 / 4-1

Round Three: gw Enchantress

One key play for my opponent was using a Parallax Wave to take all the oomph out of my first Deranged Hermit. But Elves was just faster in both games.

3-0 / 6-1

Round Four: Classic Rock

A classic matchup! He drew one Pernicous Deed between the two games, and no Plagues. It's like that night in the brewery was... Destiny.

4-0 / 8-1

Natural Order

I like it.

In my meetup I cast it twice over four rounds. Neither time was to get Verdant Force. In one game I got Kamahl (to combo, at essentially a two-mana discount) and essentially a Kamahl-magnifier without having to play more copies of Kamahl.

The second time I got Deranged Hermit, which I used to turbo charge a Gaea's Cradle (and then combo off).

My Spike Colony podcast partner Lanny Huang is highly critical of Natural Order in the Elves deck. His whole thesis is that Natural Order doesn't even beat Goblins. I think Goblins is lifetime 100% in games where the Elves player had a third turn Phantom Nishoba, so his sentiment makes sense.

Rather than playing all those Natural Orders, plus creatures you literally can't cast, you can play some regular sideboard cards for the Red Deck and keep some integrity for other matchups.

Next Time?

Andrea Menguci - my third favorite streamer and a Mythic Champion - has recently entered the Premodern space with a Top 16 finish with... You guessed it... Elves!

Mengu's version has neither Kamahl nor Anger. He practiced heavily against Goblins, and even put together a 2-1 record against the archetype in the Swiss at last weekend's Italian National Championship. Impressive! Mengu's deck has no haste and no explosiveness; but what it does have is an incredible sideboard against aggro.

You wouldn't want to be the beatdown guy running headlong into Wall of Blossoms AND Spike Feeder AND Call of the Herd after sideboarding. The second Masticore was clutch! In two different matchups, Mengu lost a Masticore, but immediately ripped the other to replace it, and ultimately to clear the opponent's side.

I'm tempted to try this build at my next meetup. Not because I think it's "better" per se but because I want to understand how a deck without Anger and Kamahl gets along in a metagame where it, by definition, has to play longer. Plus, I kinda sorta get to be The Rock after sideboarding.

Last thing: Mengu's deck gains nothing from fetchlands; so if you try it, add six basic Forests and grow your opponent's Oath Paloosh Terravore a little less.



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