Frontier Green-Black Elves Primer

Thomas brings us the first piece of Frontier content on MTG.one with a primer on Green-Black Elves. Enjoy!

elvish mystic artwork

Hello, hello! Today, we’re looking at the Elves archetype and it’s position in the Frontier format.  (A previous version of this primer was posted to r/spikes but this primer is more comprehensive.)  If you haven’t already, I recommend watching Brennan Decandio’s video on Elves first.  While the format has shifted a bit since he recorded those matches, they still provide a lot of insight on how to play the deck. The Frontier version of Elves feels similar to it’s Modern and Legacy counterparts, as it’s still primarily a critical mass combo deck, but it also has an aggressive go-wide element to it.

We’ll start off by looking at one of the most successful runs with Frontier Elves, when Hori Keisuke took his build to the top eight of a God Challenge from Hareruya earlier this year.

Frontier Elves by Hori Keisuke

Creatures (31)
Elvish Mystic
Elvish Visionary
Dwynen’s Elite
Servant of the Conduit
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Reclamation Sage
Shaman of the Pack
Sylvan Messenger
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
Thought-Knot Seer
Woodland Bellower

Instants (4)
Chord of Calling
Artifacts (3)
Panharmonicon

Lands (22)
Forest
Blooming Marsh
Llanowar Wastes
Westvale Abbey
Aether Hub

Sideboard (15)
Gilt-Leaf Winnower
Minister of Pain
Reclamation Sage
Whisperwood Elemental
Murderous Cut
Winds of Qal Sisma
Tormod’s Crypt
Liliana, the Last Hope
Nissa, Worldwaker

This is the list I started from when building my own version. The metagame has shifted since Hori Keisuke made his appearance in the top 4, but the basic shell seemed there and I was comfortable using it as a “stock-ish” list. One thing I noticed very quickly was that Panharmonicon was too slow in this metagame currently being dominated by turn four kills. Also, I was absolutely intent on trying out the incredibly powerful Driven // Despair.

So, given how fast the format had become, I cut the top end of Woodland Bellower and Thought-Knot Seer. These late-game cards were adequate at the beginning of the year, but we needed to slim things down a bit. This let me replace Servant of the Conduit with some faster, more powerful elves. Finally, I cut down on Nissa, Vastwood Seer, another card that really shines in the late game and has marginal utility early, but was just too slow.

Our main plan for this version of Elves is straightforward enough: go wide, blow our opponent out with some combination of early aggro, and slam a Driven // Despair, Westvale Abbey, or Shaman of the Pack.  There aren’t many decks that can come back from a turn four Ancestral Recall + Mind Twist.  Oh, and then we can follow that up with Ormendahl the next turn if needed.

Our most powerful plays are reminiscent of something you’d expect to see in Vintage Cube, not Frontier! (If you like Vintage Cube check out Corey Baumeister and Dennis Klicker fumble their way through a couple drafts here.) Then we get to follow up this powerful early game with a string of finishers in Shaman of the Pack, proving we never needed Panharmonicon, and that it was inside ourselves all along.

As I continued working on the list, there was still one important question. Are we a Collected Company deck or a Smuggler’s Copter deck?  While Copter would give us more game against Saheeli, a synergy based beatdown strategy seemed too powerful to pass up. Before we get to my own list, I want to shout out AwakenedSomnus (via Reddit): they had reached similar conclusions to me and had also done their fair share of testing. Here’s his early online list.

Frontier Elves Testing by AwakenedSomnus

Creatures (28)
Elvish Mystic
Gnarlroot Trapper
Elvish Visionary
Dwynen’s Elite
Sylvan Advocate
Shaman of the Pack
Reclamation Sage
Sylvan Messenger
Cultivator of Blades

Instants (8)
Collected Company
Chord of Calling

Sorceries (3)
Driven // Despair
Lands (21)
Blooming Marsh
Llanowar Wastes
Hissing Quagmire
Forest
Swamp
Westvale Abbey

We had similar ideas, both of us cutting Panharmonicon and other larger threats, but we differed on a few card choices.  Cultivator of Blades is a good payoff for going wide, but I don’t believe it’s better Woodland Bellower, which was already on the chopping block.

More importantly, I think it’s a mistake to only play one copy of Westvale Abbey. You get a more consistent manabase without it, but Ormandahl is one of the best possible payoffs for this deck. Trying to rely on Driven // Despair and Shaman of the Pack alone isn’t powerful enough to finish the job all the time.

In some number of games Driven // Despair is unbeatable, but there is enough early interaction in Frontier that we can’t rely on it to always put the game away. Which is why our Profane Prince is great – he’s clearly excellent in a go-wide strategy, and sometimes lets us beat Languish. Unfortunately, this list, as most Elves decks are, is awful against Languish. So playing a go-wide list with no reasonable backup plan against an early sweeper is just giving up too much equity in my opinion, even before you take Jund Delirium and Grixis Control into consideration which I’d expect to see at the top tables.

As far as the mana goes, Hissing Quagmire was serviceable, but we don’t want to be on all four copies as our strongest starts involve an Elvish Mystic or Gnarlroot Trapper. After more testing and discussions I decided on these changes.

In: +3 Westvale Abbey, +1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Out: -3 Hissing Quagmire, -1 Cultivator of Blades

rishkar peema renegade mtg card

Rishkar, Peema Renegade is straight unleaded gasoline as a one-of.  It both helps us dump our slower hands against other aggro decks, or to hold up mana for an early Westvale Abbey activation, while all adding power to the board and applying pressure at the same time.

After some more testing, these are the seventy-five cards I’d sleeve up if I wanted to play Frontier Elves.

Frontier Elves by Thomas Snodgrass

Creatures (28)
Elvish Mystic
Gnarlroot Trapper
Dwynen’s Elite
Elvish Visionary
Sylvan Advocate
Reclamation Sage
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Shaman of the Pack
Sylvan Messenger
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen

Instant (8)
Chord of Calling
Collected Company

Sorcery (3)
Driven // Despair
Lands (21)
Blooming Marsh
Llanowar Wastes
Hissing Quagmire
Forest
Ifnir Deadlands
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Westvale Abbey

Sideboard (15)
Fatal Push
Duress
Warping Wail
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
Manglehorn
Minister of Pain
Watchers of the Dead
Phyrexian Revoker
Whisperwood Elemental
Stain the Mind

This list is explosive with reasonable game plans against all the major archetypes. Of course, be sure to tune the list and sideboard to your local meta, as per usual. Generally, against heavier midrange meta, for example, you shouldn’t be afraid to go larger and it’s not crazy to play some number of Fatal Push main when you need to interact early.

Notable Cards

Elvish Mystic: This is one of the best one-drops in the entire Frontier format, if not just straight up the best thing you can be doing for a single mana (Delve doesn’t count). I tend to think Mystic is underplayed for how powerful it is, but it’s a no-brainer in any sort of deck with elves.

Chord of Calling: This is the formats best Chord deck. In case it’s not immediately obvious by now, we’re able to flood the board and call out high impact targets we need like Shaman or Reclamation Sage. It gets better in games two and three when we add powerful sideboard cards like Minister of Pain or Watchers of the Dead to our list.

Driven // Despair: This card can force our opponent to discard their hand, while simultaneously giving us a bunch of new cards for ourselves. It very regularly can net you four plus cards, which is absurd.

Notable Cards We Didn’t Play

Smuggler’s Copter: It was a hard decision not to play the best aggro card in the format, but it’s certainly reasonable to play it over Collected Company. Copter gives us some resilience against wiping the board, while also still able to apply pressure if the ground gets locked up. It’s possible to play some number of Companies and Copters in the same deck, but I think Frontier Elves is better suited by just focusing on the go-wide strategy.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer: A powerful card, but by the time we hit our seventh land drop the game is usually already decided. Grabbing a forest out of our deck has much less of an impact compared to something like Abzan.

Panharmonicon: This was for going over the top of midrange decks earlier on in Frontier’s existence, but with combos dominating it’s too slow right now.

[b]Woodland Bellower[/b]: The rate is good, it’s a good target for Chord of Calling, but it’s more suited for a heavier midrange meta. We just preferred Dwynen and Shaman over this dude.

Matchup & Sideboard Discussion

Atarka Red

Atarka Red is a very popular deck both at major tournaments and online. While it’s a good matchup, it’s also one of the more complicated decks for us to navigate through. We really have to play around Atarka’s Command, as a common play pattern is to find ourselves going wide and then “playing defense” against their hyper aggressive starts. One bad block is all it takes to be seriously punished.

Another common scenario is that we’re able to lock up the ground, but are forced to use Chord of Calling to stop an aggressive Copter with Reclamation Sage or Dwynen. The lifegain from Dwynen is especially powerful here, but blocking with him can be risky, as he likely just eats a Lightning Strike. The good news is that a flipped Westvale Abbey is incredibly powerful though. (Again, watch out for the aforementioned Atarka’s Command!) The first game is usually filled with a lot of hard decisions and can be quite skill-testing at times, but we definitely have the tools we need to win.

I like to bring in another Dwynen against Atarka Red which helps break clogged up boardstates, gains some life, and stonewalls the omnipresent Looter Scooter. It very easily could be our best card in this matchup.
We also get some efficient removal in Fatal Push, which can often buy enough time to flood the board. This is probably our easiest matchup to lose to a misplay, but is still one we’re favored in.  The games that Ormandahl or Dwynen come out to play should be decisively in our favor.

In: 4 Fatal Push, 1 Minister of Pain, 1 Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen

Out: -3 Driven // Despair, -1 Chord of Calling, -1 Sylvan Messenger, -1 Elvish Visionary

4 Color Saheeli

This matchup is a pure race, plain and simple when it comes down to it. The one thing we have going is that it’s hard for them to untap with a planeswalker on board since we get to go much wider than they do. The ability to randomly make them discard is even better than usual here, putting them into topdeck mode and away from an arbitrarily large amount cats.  Ormandahl and Shaman of the Pack can close out games pretty quickly from that point.

All that being said, I don’t think this is our best matchup.  It’s probably close to a coinflip with us as slight dogs.  However, I do think you can play Elves in a metagame filled with Saheeli and still expect reasonable results. It just becomes imperative that you understand your role and gameplan in these matchups.

In: +1 Warping Wail, +2 Stain the Mind, +1 Phyrexian Revoker, +1 Manglehorn

Out: -1 Reclamation Sage, -1 Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, -1 Elvish Visionary, -1 Sylvan Advocate

Aetherworks Marvel

Aetherworks Marvel decks are going to play out very similarly to Saheeli, with Marvel generally being favored in my opinion. You can try bringing in Warping Wails for the wrath effects, but you really don’t want to try and get too cute against this deck. It is always just a race at the end of the day.

The consensus among the other players I’ve been talking and testing with was a little surprising to me though, with a lot of Elves pilots saying the Marvel matchup is 50/50, and even slightly favored against Saheeli decks. Take that for what you will, I’m of the opinion that that both matchups are close, but that we’re slightly disadvantage.

In: +2 Duress, +2 Stain the Mind, +1 Phyrexian Revoker, +1 Manglehorn

Out: -1 Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, -1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade, -1 Sylvan Messenger, -2 Sylvan Advocate, -1 Reclamation Sage

Abzan

When we’re up against Abzan our best plan is often to stick to our guns, go wide, and just win with Shaman of the Pack. This strategy works especially well in games where they sit behind Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. In the matches where you’re racing your opponent though, Driven // Despair (racing, driven, nice.) can virtually seal the deal on the spot against Abzan. Just be careful about relying on Westvale Abbey against a potential Abzan Charm. Generally, I think we might struggle a little against any lists running a full playset of Hushwing Gryff, but otherwise it feels favored.

In: +4 Fatal Push, +1 Whisperwood Elemental

Out: -1 Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, -1 Reclamation Sage, -1 Sylvan Advocate, -1 Driven // Despair, -1 Elvish Visionary

Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact

They usually will bring in counterspells post-board to battle against Collected Company and Chord of Calling, so I’m a proponent of shaving at least 1 CoCo in this case. Reclamation Sage is far and away the most important card of the matchup as it’s one of the only ways we can interact with Darkstell Citadel suited up with Ensoul Artifact.  This is another solid matchup for us as we’re just as fast as they are and don’t have trouble interacting with their gameplan.  Ensoul, on the otherhand, is ill-equipped to deal with ours.

In: +4 Fatal Push, +1 Manglehorn

Out: -1 Sylvan Messenger, -1 Elvish Visionary -2 Driven // Despair, -1 Collected Company

The Mirror Match

Minister of Pain is the mirror breaker in this case, otherwise it’s just another race. I wouldn’t worry about trying to go bigger than them or using Fatal Push on their Elvish Mystics. As usual, you just want to go wide and reach your payoffs as quickly as possible.

In: +1 Minister of Pain

Out: -1 Reclamation Sage

Final Thoughts

Well, this about wraps it up for our primer on Frontier Elves. Stay tuned for more content, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and have a wonderful day. If you really, really like MTG.one for some reason, feel free to take a peek at our Patreon page. It’s pretty boring right now but we’ll be launching it soon enough with a couple small bonuses for patrons. Thanks for the support and check back tomorrow for the next weekly edition from Riley’s Modern Life.

Thomas Snodgrass

Magic and Twitch enthusiast. Frontier grinder. Frequent caster of Torrential Gear Hulk into Dig Through Time (with counterspell backup.) @Nascarfath on Twitter.

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10 Responses to “Frontier Green-Black Elves Primer”

  • Woah! Glad to see some frontier content, and rather good stuff at that! I’m a huge elves fan and have been playing it for a while in frontier. Hopefully we can get some more stuff from Thomas in the future!

    • Thomas Snodgrass
      Thomas Snodgrass Reply

      Thanks, soos. I appreciate the support and look for more Frontier content soon! MTG.one tries to provide high quality content for all Magic players, so I’m glad this piece resonated with you.

  • Love the article! ever since i learned frontier elves were a thing i was interested in them, but i thought the deck was lacking. after reading the article I learned that this deck is a little more resilient. responding to a languish by making ormendahl seems unbeatable

    • Thomas Snodgrass
      Thomas Snodgrass Reply

      Thanks, Erik. The deck isn’t great against Languish, but Ormendahl gives you some play for sure. It turns out the decks that can best deal with your go-wide strategy tend to struggle against a 9/7 indestructible flier.

  • I like this list a lot. Is a card like Metallic Mimic too slow/fragile for this?
    What would you recommend I change in this deck for a control heavy meta?

    • Thomas Snodgrass

      Thanks, Masinmanc. Generally, Metallic Mimic isn’t where we want to be, but it’s a nice card in the mirror. If you want to play it, just cut some number of Sylvan Advocates. The reason I prefer Advocate over a card like Mimic is that the 2/3 vigilance body is actually quite solid against aggressive strategies, where Mimic doesn’t make a large impact.

      Control can be a frustrating matchup, but I wouldn’t make radical changes here.
      Strategically, I would try to get to Ormendahl as quickly as possible, or look for a spot where you can cast Driven // Despair. Both of these plans are more effective than Chord and Coco, which usually force you to trade unfavorably on mana.

      Answering an early Driven // Despair is hard for control as it usually takes them two counters and four or five mana to fully deal with. For that reason they’ll sometimes allow Driven to resolve, which you can use to your advantage. Likewise, the only way they can answer Abbey is Disallow. Ideally, you’ll play around that, but in some number of games it’s fine to jam as control lists have moved more and more towards two cmc counters. It’s really not uncommon for them to only have one Disallow main, in which case it’s extremely unlikely they will have drawn it by your critical turn (turn four or turn five).

      In games two and three Duress and Warping Wail are really helpful in this sort of meta. If I expect to see an above average number of control players, I wouldn’t hesitate to play two of each in my seventy-five.

      I hope that wasn’t too longwinded and that it helps!

  • Quality content, happy to see someone put real effort into frontier content, keep it up!

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