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Explorer Elves Deck Guide: Storm Away with Little Green Creatures

Want to flood the board and steamroll the opponent? Skura's Elf deck is perfect for getting that done! Find out why Elves is now not only viable in Explorer, but a great option for the metagame!

Elves are arguably the most popular and most competitive tribe that Magic has ever had. In particular, they’ve enjoyed a lot of popularity in Legacy where they basically play like a creature combo deck. This was the inspiration from which a lot of other Elves decks were affected by. Nowadays, in both Modern and Pioneer, those deck try to play such a storm-esque game by deploying copious numbers of creatures very early in the game. In younger formats like Pioneer and Explorer, there was one particular boost that made it all work – Leaf-Crowned Visionary from Dominaria United. It’s both a lord effect and allows you to churn through the deck.

This deck is very explosive and deadly, especially if not interacted with. You are going to be faster, regardless of what the opponent is doing. Your board on turn three won’t be contained by any creature deck and interactive decks have to have removal from the get-go. Post-board, you should expect your turn one Elf to die as the opponents ought to mulligan for that piece of removal. On the flipside, if they fail to interact, you won’t care about their midrangey cards like Ledger Shredder, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, or Adeline, Resplendent Cathar.

On top of all of that, it’s a mono green deck so the mana is smooth. You won’t stumble at all due to mana constraints. You even get to squeeze in some utility lands to take full advantage of being mono coloured like Lair of the Hydra or Castle Garenbrig.

Elves
by Skura
Buy on TCGplayer $304.93
Explorer
best of 3
1 mythic
32 rare
4 uncommon
23 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Instants (4)
Sorceries (1)
Lands (21)
15
Forest
$3.75
60 Cards
$255.28
15 Cards
$60.53

Deck Tech

While normally it’d divide this section into categories, here we only have creatures. Therefore, I’ll go up the curve starting from the very first turn.

Interaction

I’m bundling them together here as they are essentially the same card. If you play fewer than eight copies, say six, it’s technically correct them to split them 3-3 rather than 4-2 as there are cards in Magic that care about the same names or doing something to a card of a given name. In the other 99.8% of situations, they are fully interchangeable. They are arguably the corner stone of the deck. They put immense pressure on the opponent to interact with you as they allow you to play either a three drop on turn two or multi-spell e.g. Elvish Warmaster into another one drop, all while making a 1/1 Elf token along the way.

I will rarely keep a seven-card hand without either, especially on the draw. You want to abuse the decks strengths and starting the game with a two-drop on the draw only exacerbates the weaknesses. The deck actually preys upon single-tatget removal as there is no way the opponent can keep up. However, if you do play a single creature a turn, starting late they in fact *will* be able to keep up. While there will always be exceptions, try to have an Elf on one if possible.

Our second-best one-drop. It’s fine if you kept only Jaspera Sentinel as following it up with a two-drop, tap it, play another creature is still very strong. If done with Elvish Warmaster or Dwynen's Elite, you flood the board as soon as turn two.

It has reach which is irrelevant in your play-your-own-game draws, but very meaningful if your opponent is putting pressure on you in the air. It’s especially key as you will rarely be pressured on the ground thanks to your amassed army clogging it successfully. Hence, fliers are the only way to really get to you – and this is where Jaspera Sentinel will shine. It’ll either chump one attack or, in the best case, trade or hold the air once it’s grown thanks to lord effects.

Doubles up as a lord and mana sink. Early, it’ll buff the team to either start the aggression or hold the ground, and later in the game, you can use its ability to search out more copies and exponentially grow the board. However, it does not help you stay alive early and is a single body. It’s much better on turn three or four to boost the team that you’ve already amassed.

The newest addition. In the very early game, it’s literally Elvish Clancaller, just a 1/1 lord. However, its real strength manifests on later turns when its trigger gets to be used. Even when you have more of a shy turn, you can use it once and your creature essentially cantrips. However, with cards like Circle of Dreams Druid when you have a ton of mana leftover, it can be put into Visionary. This way you can end up drawing a third of your deck as each creature gets to draw you a card.

The most important decision to make is whether to spend the turn drawing more and expanding on the board or putting in all into, say, Elvish Warmaster‘s ability and attacking immediately. Similarly, you could have turns that you have two mana available and the choice of deploying one creature and drawing a card or deploying two creatures right away. From my experience, it’s better to play more creatures as they make your future turns much stronger and more explosive.

An innocuous two-drop that immediately makes another body. It allows it to trade with a three-drop if need be, but also go wide. Having more creatures is relevant with the lords. If you had a single 3/3 creature, it’d be buffed to 4/4. If you have, like here, a 2/2 and a 1/1 separately, they become 3/3 and 2/2. The outcome is that you’ve got one more buff for free, essentially.

Bear in mind that your opponent can kill your only Elf in response to Dwynen's Elite and then it won’t make a token. It might be worth it to deploy a different two-drop and wait with Elite until you’re sure it triggers.

This card is very strong. The fact that it creatures another token every turn is massive, mainly due to the reasons mentioned in the paragraph above. With multiple Elvish Warmasters, the game becomes all about the token-making. You can keep chumping opposing creatures to stay alive as you’ll get more of them soon anyways. Importantly, Collected Company cast on the opponent’s turn will trigger Warmaster as it says ‘once each turn’ so it can in fact trigger on the opponent’s turn.

On top of that, it has a buff ability which is a nightmare to deal with from the opposing side of the table’s perspective. It makes all your blocks perfect as you trade with everything thanks to deathtouch – your nigh-worthless 1/1s become deadly. It’s used often to turn the tables and start attacking yourself. With a flurry of Elves, giving each +2/+2 is no joke and you might be attacking for 20 damage seemingly out of nowhere. Those creatures are hard to block as well as, still, they have deathtouch. Even if you don’t end up killing the opponent in that combat, you’ll ravage their battlefield.

This is the Explorer version of Elvish Archdruid. It does the impersonation well enough. I think you should play between 3-4 copies, no fewer. It’s always best to play as many creatures as possible before activating it and do it as the last part of the sequence – this way you’ll maximise the amount of mana generated.

The best openers would go like this:

From that point, the world is your oyster.

Leaf-Crowned Visionary is Druid’s best friend. When you have so much mana, you can easily draw a card off creatures you play. It also capitalizes heavily on the token makers as you get to make even more mana.

With Leaf-Crowned Visionary helping us draw, we don’t need that many Realmwalkers, but I think 1-3 copies in the 75 are good. It’s a green equivalent to the popular Mystic Forge or Experimental Frenzy. With over half the deck being creatures, you can chain off some nice hits and make a solid come back. However, any land stops the chain and there are no fetchlands like in Modern to shuffle off the top. This unreliability made it less good than Visionary which always draws a card. However, they work great together. You can cast creatures off the top and when you see there is a land, draw it off Visionary’s trigger. It’s also a 2/3 which is on average higher rate than other creatures you play.

Even if you’re not playing spells off the top, you know the top of your library which may affect the way you play. Postboard, you’re going to know if you’re drawing a hate piece, a relevant creature, or a blank.

This creature acts as an extension of what Circle of Dreams Druid does. Its downside is that creatures have to enter play after you played Marwyn, the Nurturer while Druid does not care about that. On the flipside, Marwyn becomes a real threat that can itself clock the opponent pretty well. On top of that, it’ll grow every turn which means that at some point it’d make more mana than a Druid would.

The fact that it grows also means it’s less likely to be killed with damage-based removal and survivability of creatures is an important factor.

You don’t want to play more Marwyns though as they are legendary, contrary to Circle of Dreams Druid.

This is easily our best payoff. The fact that it can be cast on the opponent’s turn allows us to mess with the timing, much to the opponent’s dismay. They won’t know if they can easily attack as you can ambush them with double lord off Collected Company. It’s also pure card advantage as you’re going to play two creatures off one card. End-stepping double Circle of Dreams Druid will make your opponent squirm and start packing up their cards.

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Realmwalker
Realmwalker Art by Zack Stella

Rakdos Midrange

INOUT
+1 Realmwalker-2 Elvish Clancaller
+3 Shapers' Sanctuary-2 Marwyn, the Nurturer

Shapers' Sanctuary is going to carry the games heavily. Making all their removal draw us a card pulls us ahead easily. Pre-board this should be pretty good if they have a creature-heavy draw and let us go off. Post-board, however, they will not only side in more removal but also keep hands which have removal. This is where Sanctuary will shine.

I don’t side in planeswalkers as they might too easily die in the face of their creatures attacking and I think triple Sanctuary and one more Realmwalker should be enough. If you see they are on a less creature-heavy build, you can side them in.

As they have no countermagic, Collected Company will always resolve and it’s going to be the most powerful spell.

Azorius Control

INOUT
+1 Vivien Reid-1 Collected Company
+2 Heroic Intervention-2 Elvish Clancaller
+2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds-2 Marwyn, the Nurturer

In contrast to Rakdos, here we are much less concerned about single removal and much more about mass removal. A well-timed Heroic Intervention will completely swing the game.

Here I side in planeswalkers as Azorius will have a supremely hard time getting rid of them, as opposed to Rakdos so they will generate card advantage continuously. Additionally, Vivien, Champion of the Wilds‘ passive is going to make countermagic very tricky for the opponent.

I trim Collected Company as I side in five non-creatures which makes CoCos worse.

Humans

INOUT
+2 Scavenging Oooze-1 Turntimber Symbiosis
-1 Realmwalker

Humans have very little interaction, and as we are way faster, I would say that we are immensely favoured. Their best way to interact is Skyclave Apparition which is easy to play around. The fact that our turn one Elf will survive every time is huge.

Scavenging Ooze is mainly there to play a potential midrange plan if there have been trade-offs in combat, but most games will come down to us comboing off essentially.

Our lords plus tokens will play a huge role as they will effectively clog the ground and make us unpenetrable.

Greasefang

INOUT
+3 Scavenging Oooze-1 Realmwalker
+3 Soul-Guide Lantern-2 Marwyn, the Nurturer
-2 Elvish Clancaller
-1 Turntimber Symbiosis

We’ve got very good tools in the matchup and a single piece of hate will buy us a lot of time. A single turn more is already huge. On top of that, there will be games, especially on the play, where we do our thing, they do theirs but, importantly, a single attack of Parhellion II does not kill us. Consequently, we’d have one more turn to actually close the game. All in all, we still want to do our thing to outdo their thing.

As we play six pieces of effective hate, we are very likely to have at least one before turn three.

Mono Blue Spirits

INOUT
+2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds-1 Turntimber Symbiosis
-1 Realmwalker

The only card I side in is Vivien, Champion of the Wilds and it’s purely because it’s plus ability gives reach. Jaspera Sentinel is going to shine in multiple spots.

Being on the play is huge as they won’t be able to race. While they can interact on the stack and counter key spells, they won’t be able to accommodate multiple spells a turn. The best spot, then, is to resolve creatures that make mana and later keep casting spells into their countermagic.

Worth mentioning is that in this matchup our creatures won’t clog the ground so we have to race with our own plan. On the flipside, Spirits don’t block well so we might win by deploying tokens, lords, and going in for the red zone.

Tips and Tricks

Elvish Warmaster Art by Alexander Mokhov
  • If you draw two Boseiju, Who Endures, you can tap one for mana, play the other one, sacrifice the first one, and use the second one for mana. This way you’ve essentially cashed in an otherwise dead Boseiju for one green mana which will be crucial in multiple spots.
  • Your lords buff other creatures so they won’t affect themselves. However, with multiple lords, they will buff each other.
  • If you have Elvish Warmaster and play another one, you will get a single Elf token thanks to the first Warmaster’s trigger.
  • Marwyn, the Nurturers ability cares about its power, not the number of counters it has. In practice, it means that it can have five +1/+1 counters but also be buffed by a lord. In such a case, it’d add seven mana.
  • If you’re executing a more aggressive approach in a given game, you can cast Collected Company in main phase/combat as you may hit lords and attack for more damage.

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Skura
Skura

Also known as Skura or IslandsInFront on Twitter and YouTube, Filip started his career upon the release of Gatecrash and has been passing the turn in all formats ever since. He coaches and creates written and video content, mainly centered around the control archetype. He is passionate about Magic game theory and countering spells. Outside of Magic, he is a fan of snooker/pool, chess and Project Management.

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