Leading the way with Elves! in Standard.
5th Place – Nottingham National Qualifier 2011
I’ve never tried writing an article on Magic before so I’m sure much of this has been said before and on the whole is fairly straight forwards. I feel that part of my success with the deck was because the meta favours it. Decks are not maindecking a lot of wrath effects, spot removal and very few hard counters right now. I only once had a Lead the Stampede countered over the 6 matches. The other reason is that Lead and Vengevine combine to give a lot of recovery against wrath effects when you do face them.
I find the deck has two distinct modes of play. The first is Elves!, the second is Vengevines! However the deck plays, getting to 3 land is really key – so that you can play Lead the Stampede to recover from wrath or heavy removal. Sylvan Ranger is in the deck to help ensure this, as I consider it a land that can be drawn with Lead.
The Elves! way of playing is fairly straightforward: open with a mana elf, followed by Elvish Archdruid or more 1-drops then cast Lead the Stampede and either Ezuri or another lord turn 3. Turn 4 set up for lethal on turn 5 ideally by playing an Ezuri and some elves. Turn 5 swing for the win, dropping either Eldrazi Monument, a multi-kickered Joraga Warcaller or overrunning with Ezuri.
One of the things I often hear about Elves! Is that it’s an aggro deck, when I would personally describe it as a multipart combo deck. In my games at the National Qualifier I tended to either do no damage or swing for 15-50 in one turn. The only time this deck really plays like aggro is if you’ve hit for something like 15 and then been wrathed. This style of play works when you’re not facing a lot of removal – especially wraths, with one of the hardest things for this deck to win against being a turn two Arc Trail followed by some Lighting Bolts.
The key to this deck working is Lead the Stampede. It gives Elves more or less the best card draw in Standard right now. Lead gives Elves the ability to keep the pressure on and simply have too many threats for the opponent to deal with. It helps you get to Ezuri or Warcallers to finish off the opposition and to get the critical mass of elves when facing a lot of spot removal. Even if you Lead into 5 land I tend to bear in mind that top decking 5 land rather than eliminating them with Lead would have probably lost me the game.
The Vengevine mode is slower and tends to wear the opponent away. This approach is adopted against control decks. The ideal play is to drop a mana elf, followed by a Fauna Shaman and another mana elf, followed by pitching a Vengevine for a Vengevine and either a second Fauna Shaman and Lead the Stampede, or casting the Vengevine. I would normally assume a wrath effect to come down at this point. Hopefully, all 4 Vengevines come out to play and at all times I keep 2 creatures in hand. While this is obvious, it often surprises opponents that you can play Warcallers for 1 to help bring back Vengevines. One game I played two Warcallers, brought back 4 Vengevines, and Oran-riefed everything. Plays like these are extremely difficult for current control decks to deal with.
The Vengevine mode has a lot more choices and tends to only be a game plan for games 2 and 3 once I know the wrath is coming, but sometimes I’ll swap during game 1 in the face of heavy removal. The key to the Vengevine mode is to keep two creatures in hand even if playing them might give you lethal next turn. I’ve never found that gamble to pay off.
On to the matches I played:
Game 1 was textbook Elves, killing the opponent quickly. Game 2 I saw 13 land in 16 cards and game 3 elves happened again.
Sideboarded – nothing.
Match 2 – Blue Black (Andrew Jagger)
I don’t really remember this match very clearly beyond keeping a hand that had Oran-rief, Tec’ Edge and Arbour Elf. Which isn’t tec. I know I won one game Vengevine-style through 3 Black Sun’s Zeniths, finishing with 4 a Vengevine rush.
Sideboarded – nothing.
Match 3 – R/G ramp.
A red/green ramp deck of sorts. Both games were finished with alpha striking elves. Sideboarding is something I need to work on for the list. The Leylines against red are obvious, as it ruins Staggershock and Arc Trail if you turn two drop a lord. As for what to take out… well I reason that if I’m putting in non-creature cards it dilutes the Leads so I tend to drop 1 and a Monument as theres less need for wrath protection. The Sylvan Ranger is partly in for the Memoricide package so it comes out along with a Vengevine as they’re less good in creature match ups. I think in hind sight, it should have been 3 Monuments and 1 Vengevine.
I think elves has an easy time against Cawblade. While they can make a creature with protection from the deck, that makes you discard a card and can produce a lot of blockers, it’s not actually an issue. The Hawk hits for only 3 a turn and makes you put a Vengevine in your graveyard. 1/1 blockers don’t really help against 6/6 tramplers (thanks to Ezuri).
Game 2 was harder as he made Gideon and Jace but it simply meant I went and found more Vengevines and swapped out from elf ramp strategy. In game 2 I was almost faced with the decision of playing a Corrupter and destroying my Monument to bring the Vengevines back but lucky I top decked another elf. Sideboarding again could have been better in light of the Monument-Corrupter problem. Still 3 Corrupters in for artifact hate and while they are infect creatures, the pumps they get from lords and Ezuri can make a poison kill possible.
After this I was IDing but I played the matches anyway.
Game 3 I need to draw a land on my first 3 turns to be able to turn 3 Memoricide again, instead I drew 2 more Memoricides and an Oran-rief. His next turn saw Evolving Wilds and an Admonition Angel, which was game. I should have sided out 3 Monument and 2 Vengevines here I think.
Looking the life totals for the match, game 1 I went Vengevines and game 2 I went elves. I think it was a fairly easy game, even the Baneslayer game 2 made little difference.
Sideboarded – 3 Viridian Corrupter and 1 Acidic Slime for 1 Arbour Elf, 2 Sylvan Ranger and 1 Monument
In conclusion I feel that lead the stampede has really made this deck viable, especially in the current meta. The cheap cost of elves (16 one mana drops) combined with Vengevines and the card draw of lead means your control match up aren’t bad. If Red Deck Wins becomes even more common, it might struggle in the face of Arc-Trail and Slagstorm. Finally I’d like to say thanks to Robin Bagust for the pro-deck building and proof reading.
Thanks for reading,