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Tap, untap, tap again….

Thousand-Year Elves

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The letter H!ello everyone, and welcome back to Building on a Budget! Last week, I evolved a deck based around putting large amounts of Elves and Elf tokens into play, and then playing Overrun. That deck did pretty well for testing, but I wanted the deck to have a little more ‘wow' factor while keeping it able to win games.

In the meanwhile, I was attending a Pro Tour Qualifier for Hollywood this past weekend (working, not playing!), and I had some time to chat it up with none other than Bennie Smith, who many of you know and love from his column on this here website. Bennie and I were brainstorming ideas for Building on a Budget (sorry Bennie, no more Momentary Blink decks for a while, even if they do involve Merieke Ri Berit), when Bennie mentioned that he had once read about a weird Japanese Elf deck that ran Thousand-Year Elixir and Immaculate Magistrate... but that he didn't know anything else about the deck.

Well, as those of you reading last week may recall, I tried out Immaculate Magistrate in my deck, but I took it out because as a 2/2 for four, it died the second it hit play without being able to pump any creatures. Thousand-Year Elixir would solve this problem—this artifact out of Lorwyn gives partial haste to creatures (they may use their tap ability the turn they come into play). In addition, Thousand-Year Elixir can untap any creature for the low cost of one mana, allowing you to reuse creatures with a tap ability a second time, or have a creature play offense and defense (much like a vigilance creature).

I took around the internets to see if I could see any mention of this Japanese deck, just to get ideas for this deck. I was completely unsuccessful in finding any information, but all that meant was that I would be building the deck just based on a rumor and heresy. The best place to start would be with my Overrun Elves deck from last week. I already had the deck built—it was just a matter of ripping out the parts, adding in new elements, and finding the smooth, smooth deckbuilding strategies to make the deck whole again.

Here's where I started:

Overrun Elf 2.0

The first thing I wanted to do was to add Thousand-Year Elixir and Immaculate Magistrate to the deck. I wouldn't need Overrun anymore for the deck, so swapping those straight out for the Magistrates was an easy choice—they both serve the same purpose (pumping up my Elves for a lethal attack), but Overrun wants a sheer number of creatures in play, gives a bonus for only one turn and distributes the +3/+3 and trample evenly, whereas Immaculate Magistrate wants Elves and only Elves, gives a permanent bonus, and can pump the same creature multiple times, if need be.

Out: 4 Overrun
In: 4 Immaculate Magistrate

If I were going to run Thousand-Year Elixir and Immaculate Magistrate, I'd want two types of cards in my deck—Elves and creatures with tap abilities. Thankfully, the deck was already chock-full of Elves—Lys Alana Huntmaster, Llanowar Elves, Boreal Druid, Gilt-Leaf Ambush, and Imperious Perfect. Thelonite Hermit is also technically an Elf, though he was in the deck to generate four Saproling tokens. Without Overrun or the need for those four extra creatures, the Hermit was the next card I cut from the deck, in order to make room for the Thousand-Year Elixir.

Out: 4 Thelonite Hermit
In: 4 Thousand-Year Elixir

Now, about those creatures with a tap ability—with Thousand-Year Elixir, I can drop any mana-producing Elves and chain them into play without a loss of tempo. For instance, say I get a first-turn Llanowar Elves, and follow them with a second-turn Thousand-Year Elixir. On my third turn, I can play Boreal Druids, and immediately tap the Druids for mana. Normally, the Druids would not be able to produce that mana the turn they came into play, meaning I would lose tempo on that mana I used to cast Boreal Druid that turn—but with the Elixir, this was a non-starter. This also meant that Yavimaya Dryad wasn't as important, because I'd want to be dropping the Elixir or the Perfect on turn two (which would be a regular occurrence with eight mana Elves in the deck), and because my curve now topped out at four (the Magistrate) and not five (Overrun).

Out: 3 Yavimaya Dryad

Since I wanted creatures with tap abilities, I made up a list of all the green creatures in Standard that could tap to generate an effect. The first one that leaped to my attention was Magus of the Library. One of the problems with the entire Magus cycle is that while most of them have very powerful effects, the ones that need to tap tend to die before they ever have a chance to lose summoning sickness. Thousand-Year Elixir would negate this drawback, and it would allow me to “double-dip” the Magus by tapping it, playing a card, using the Elixir to untap it, and then tap it again to draw a third card for my turn.

Another problem with Magus of the Library is that pesky “draw a card only if you have seven cards in your hand” clause. If I played a land and an Elf on turn one, Thousand-Year Elixir on turn two, and Magus of the Library on turn three, I would have, at most, five cards in hand.

Turn one (on the draw): Seven cards to start the game. Draw a card (8). Play a Forest (7) and Llanowar Elves (6).

Turn two: Draw a card (7), play a Forest (6) and a Thousand-Year Elixir (5).

Turn three: Draw a card (6), play Magus of the Library (5).

In order to counteract this, I decided to up the number of Scryb Rangers into the deck. Scryb Ranger already was serving the purpose of allowing me to untap creatures with a tap ability (allowing me to get extra effect out of Llanowar Elves, Boreal Druid and Immaculate Magistrate). Not only could it allow me to tap my Magus twice, but it would let me return unneeded lands from the board to my hand. That served a secondary benefit of getting the number of cards in my hand up for the Magus.

Even though Magus of the Library is a rare and Harmonize is an uncommon, the former (the Magus) usually runs at three for a ticket right now (.33) whereas Harmonize is usually 1.5 tickets each! I swap out the Harmonizes to make room for three Magus of the Library and a Scryb Ranger, and then put in a Fa'adiyah Seer (to draw extra lands, as a tap ability), Gilt-Leaf Ambush (to up my Elf count), and a Forest to take the place of the Yavimaya Dryads.

Out: 3 Yavimaya Dryad, 4 Harmonize

In: 1 Scryb Ranger, 3 Magus of the Library, 1 Gilt-Leaf Ambush, 1 Forest, 1 Fa'adiyah Seer

Total Cost: Approximately 12 tickets

Game 1: SinnerG (Blue-White-Black Blink)
He gets Liliana Vess, Jace Beleren, Riftwing Cloudskate, Shriekmaw, Nekrataal, and Damnation, and I still manage to win this game by dropping guys, working up cards in hand with Magus of the Library and Scryb Ranger, and get enough guys down that I can push through his blockers in a single turn with Immaculate Magistrate and double Thousand-Year Elixir (for a total of four pumps with the Scryb Ranger). The key winning play on the last turn of the game is my ability to keep him from blinking his Nekrataal by having Moonglove Extract on the board.

Record: 1-0

Game 2: rapid0 (Green-Black Reanimator)
I get a second-turn Scryb Ranger followed by a third-turn Imperious Perfect and make three 2/2 creatures the following turn (make an Elf on my turn, untap, make another one, wait until his turn, untap, make another Elf). He drops Coalition Relic and Deathrender, and I hit him for 9. I then drop Moonglove Extract to make sure he can't equip a cheap creature with Deathrender and then wreck me. This plan proves correct, as he attempts to put Thrull Surgeon on the board, and I stop it cold. Although he delays my killing him for a turn with Darkness, he has no answers to my Elves, and a second Imperious Perfect makes my horde lethal.

Record: 2-0

Game 3: atticusfinch (Blue-White-Black Blink)
He gets Shriekmaw on turn four off of Lotus Bloom, suspends double Riftwing Cloudskate, and drops an Oblivion Ring. I get a slow start and end up trying to race him with double Boreal Druid and double Imperious Perfect. His tempo advantage allows him to win.

Record: 2-1

So far, I've been stuck with Lys Alana Huntmaster in my hand every single game, and the tempo of my deck doesn't really allow me to drop it and then play Elves. While in theory it is a great card for this deck, in practice it just hits play at the wrong time. Rather than have it clogging up my hand, I take it out of the deck.

If you want to talk pace of the deck though, let's talk Llanowar Mentor. With Thousand-Year Elixir in play, I can discard a card to Llanowar Mentor immediately, put a Llanowar Elf token into play, and then immediately tap that Elf for mana! This seems almost too perfect for the deck—while I have to lose cards in hand, I get two Elves in play for one mana (to play the Mentor), one mana (to use it), and one card (to discard). This pushes me even closer to getting turn-four kills off of the Magistrate, because now I have a higher Elf count and more mana (thanks to the Llanowar Elves tokens) to play threats.

In order to make room for four Llanowar Mentor, I take out the Fa'adiyah Seer. Although I had never drawn it yet, it was the card I could most afford to lose to try out the Mentor. Maybe I'd add them back in later—but I'd rather up my chances to draw a Mentor and see if it works well in the deck, rather than draw the Seer, and get a free land a third of the time.

Out: 1 Fa'adiya Seer, 3 Lys Alana Huntmaster
In: 4 Llanowar Mentor

Thousand-Year Elves 2.0

Game 4: Sunflair (Mono-Blue Control)
I get a first-turn Boreal Druid into a second turn Thousand-Year Elixir and third-turn double Boreal Druid / Gilt-Leaf Ambush. He gets down Faerie Conclave and then plays Cancel when I try to drop Imperious Perfect. This lets me slip in Scryb Ranger, and a Pendelhaven that follows the next turn lets me beat him down despite a late-coming Spiketail Hatchling. Even when he gets Sower of Temptation, I have too many creatures on the board and he is too low in life to stop me!

Record: 3-1

Game 5: Impunity513 (Blue-Black Faeries)
I get down Llanowar Elves and follow it with Magus of the Library, Thousand-Year Elixir, Llanowar Mentor (which eats a Nameless Inversion), and a second Thousand-Year Elixir. He drops double Nightshade Stinger and a Squeaking Pie Sneak and knocks me down to 8.

I then drop another Llanowar Mentor, make a Llanowar Elves token, drop Immaculate Magistrate, put six +1/+1 counters on my Magus of the Library, untap my Magistrate, pump the Magus with another six +1/+1 counters, and untap him a second time to give me a 19/19 beater. I'm tapped out on Elves (due to the one mana it costs to use Thousand-Year Elixir), but I knock Impunity513 down to 1. He dies on my next attack, as I am able to make three separate Elves large enough to kill him.

Record: 4-1

Game 6: Obsidian007 (Elementals)
He gets a draw of double Smokebraider and Incadescent Soulstoke, and hard-casts Purity. This looks familiar to last week, right? Well, not so far! I get a draw of Boreal Druid, Scryb Ranger, Thousand-Year Elixir and Imperious Perfect (immediately making an Elf Warrior token), and then drop Immaculate Magistrate. I attack into Purity with everything except the Magistrate and the Ranger. He blocks with Purity, and I pump the Perfect to 6/6 with my first Magistrate activation (Druid, Perfect, Elf Warrior token, Magistrate itself), and then set myself back a land drop to use Scryb Ranger‘s ability to untap Magistrate, making the Perfect a 10/10. Obsidian007 thinks for a moment, says “nice, gg” and conceeds in the face of me pumping my guys to ridiculous levels the following turn.

Record: 5-1

Game 7: jordanfiorini (Elementals)
He gets a draw with turn-two Smokebraider, turn-three Flamekin Harbinger (fetching Incandescent Soulstoke) and hard-casting Nova Chaser. I get turn two Magus of the Library and use it to draw two cards a turn, allowing me to get an early Moonglove Extract to kill his Chaser. He drops the Soulstoke, and I play Scryb Ranger, allowing me to start drawing three cards a turn (my normal one, plus two from the Magus), with my hand jammed up with Llanowar Mentors aplenty. He drops Shriekmaw to kill my Ranger, but I have another one and a Pendelhaven, which allows me to kill his attacking Smokebraider as a 2/2 (versus my 2/3). I keep using the plan of drawing cards to find answers, and he drops Inner-Flame Acolyte, and I trade my Gilt-Leaf Ambush (winning the clash) for that plus the Harbinger, and then draw and play two Moonglove Extracts the next turn, killing his Shriekmaw and Soulstoke. His board is clear, and he concedes when I get Imperious Perfect on the board.

Record: 6-1

Game 8: Edgeworth (Slivers)
He gets Sinew Sliver, Gemhide Sliver, Virulent Sliver and Watcher Sliver.

I get:

Turn one: Land, Llanowar Elves
Turn two: Land, Imperious Perfect
Turn three: Land, Scryb Ranger, make an Elf Token.
Turn four: Thousand-Year Elixir, make and Elf Token, Boreal Druid
Turn five: Drop Immaculate Magistrate, pump three Elves with six +1/+1 counters each (two Elf Tokens, Llanowar Elves, Perfect, Boreal Druid, Immaculate Magistrate) for a total of 20+ damage swinging in.

Record: 7-1

Game 9: sonny x (Black-Blue Control)
He opens with Secluded Glen and River of Tears, and follows them with Island and Swamp. I get Llanowar Elves and Boreal Druid, and play back-to-back Imperious Perfects (one of which dies to an evoked Shriekmaw). Sonnyx then tries to kill my other Perfect with a Tendrils of Corruption, but he only has one Swamp, so it lives. This lets me get down Thousand-Year Elixir and start churning out Elf Warrior tokens with the Perfect. He attempts to stall me with Evacuation, but thanks to the Elixir, I can just drop Llanowar Elves again, tap them, drop the Druid, tap it, and use it to pay for the Perfect, which can still make an Elf token that turn. He attempts to forestall me with Shimian Specter, but his flyer bites a Moonglove Extract. On the final turn, he plays Careful Consideration and Hypnotic Specter, but I have Immaculate Magistrate in hand to seal the game.

Record: 8-1 (and wishing I didn't have Magus of the Library in hand that game)

Game 10: jbrock (Blue-Black Unblockable)
He gets a third-turn Phantom Warrior followed by a fourth-turn Ophidian Eye. I get Llanowar Elves, followed by Llanowar Mentor and Boreal Druid, and then Gilt-Leaf Ambush plus an Elf Warrior token turn three, Immaculate Magistrate turn four, and Scryb Ranger (with another Llanowar Mentor token) to pump my guys a double-dose of eight +1/+1 counters on turn five (with me on the play) for the win.

Record: 9-1

Game 11: IAMQBA (Goblins)
Wort plus Fodder Launch is too much for me to handle, when Incinerate hits my Immaculate Magistrate and I don't have Thousand-Year Elixir on the board.

Record: 9-2

The deck was performing admirably in Standard practice, so I thought to myself: why not take it to Extended? There are a TON of Elves with tap abilities in Extended, whereas the Elf-tapping pool in Standard is a bit more limited. So I pulled up a list of all Elves in Extended, and decided to start by adding Sylvan Messenger (to keep my hand constantly filled with Elves), Timberwatch Elf (Magistrates #5-7) and Seeker of Skybreak (Scryb Ranger, as an Elf) to the deck. I also wanted to try out Bloodline Shaman (since I am running to many Elves, it will hit a good portion of the time) over Magus of the Library (which needs seven cards in hand, and is not an Elf).

I also cut Gilt-Leaf Ambush from the deck, since I now have a lot more Elves in the deck (Magus of the Library, a Scryb Ranger and a Moonglove Extract were out), and less need to generate two (relatively) vanilla Elf Warrior tokens to up my Elf count.

Out:
3 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
3 Magus of the Library
4 Llanowar Mentor
1 Moonglove Extract
1 Scryb Ranger

In:
4 Bloodline Shaman
2 Seeker of Skybreak
3 Timberwatch Elf
3 Sylvan Messenger

Extended Thousand-Year Elves 1.0

Game 1: Laststand76 (Merfolk)
He gets a first-turn Tideshaper Mystic, and then gets Lord of Atlantis on turns two, three and four. I get Scryb Ranger on turn two. I then drop Thousand-Year Elixir on turn three and drop Llanowar Elves and Immaculate Magistrate on turn four. I tap Magistrate to make Ranger a 3/3, untap Magistrate, and make Scryb Ranger a 5/5. He attacks, and I untap Scryb Ranger to kill one of his Lord of Atlantis. On my fifth turn, I drop Seeker of Skybreak, tap Magistrate to make my flyer 8/8, untap Magistrate with my Elixir, make my Ranger 11/11, untap it again with Seeker of Skybreak, tap to make it 14/14, untap it with Scryb Ranger, and tap it again to swing in for a lethal 17 points of damage.

Record: 1-0

Game 2: crisis909 (White-Green Comes-into-Play)
I get a quick start, but get knocked back by Wrath of God. I get down double Bloodline Shaman thanks to Sylvan Messenger after Wrath, and then proceed to use them with Thousand-Year Elixir to swing and miss ten straight times, discarding another Elixir, two Scryb Ranger, four Forests, a Pendelhaven, and two Moonglove Extracts. I get summarily beaten down by Adarkar Valkyrie and Galepowder Mage.

Record: 1-1

Game 3: COMO (White-Green Instant Creatures)
I get down Boreal Druid, followed by Thousand-Year Elixir and Imperious Perfect. I'm pumping out two 2/2 token creatures a turn, but quickly face down double Beast Attack. I get Bloodline Shaman, turn that into another Bloodline Shaman (they seem to be next to each other in my electronic deck!) and turn that into two Timberwatch Elf. On the following turn, I'm able to give any two of my guys +8/+8, making it a lethal attack.

Record: 2-1

Game 4: PhD (White Weenie)
I get a slow start with turn-three Thousand-Year Elixir and turn-four Messenger. He gets stuck at two white mana, and while he is able to Disenchant my Elixir, I turn up three Elves (including Magistrate) with my Messenger, and he concedes the game.

Record: 3-1

Game 5: olstynslittlebrother (Blue-Black Suspend)
He suspends Nihilith and Deep-Sea Kraken and then drops Jhoira's Timebug. I get an early Thousand-Year Elixir, but it gets killed by Fury Charm. This gives him enough time to stabilize, and get his 6/6 and 4/4 onto the board. He then uses Sower of Temptation to grab Timberwatch Elf, dooming my offense.

Record: 3-2

Moonglove Extract isn't as important in Extended so far, as my losses haven't been to smaller creatures, but to large creatures. I decide to try out Wellwisher, as a way to outrace large creatures on life totals.

Out: 3 Moonglove Extract
In: 3 Wellwisher

Extended Thousand-Year Elves 2.0

Game 6: 3rdEye (Black-Green Control)
I get destroyed by a deck with 4x Promise of Power, 4x Demon's Horn, 4x Eternal Witness, 4x Barter in Blood, and 4x Hideous Laughter.

Record: 3-3

Game 7: fowlerk9 (White-Black-Green Control)
After a long game where I have 16 cards removed by Shimian Specter and Extirpate, and eat Decree of Pain four times, I finally fight my way back to a winning position, with double Immaculate Magistrate, Thousand-Year Elixir and Llanowar Elves on the board against his Specter, a Mirari's Wake and Call of the Herd. I kill both of his tokens and get both of my Magistrates up to lethal counters... just in time for him to topdeck Death Grasp and kill me.

Record: 3-4

Well, it isn't large creatures that killed me this time, as much as a lot of mass removal. That was also part of my loss to crisis909's deck earlier. Caller of the Claw is a great solution to mass-removal, especially if I can get four or five Elves on the board early. If my opponent plays Damnation or Hideous Laughter, they are likely going to face down an army of 2/2 creatures to replace my army of 1/1 creatures!

Out: 3 Wellwisher, 1 Bloodline Shaman
In: 4 Caller of the Claw

Extended Thousand-Year Elves 3.0

Game 8: silverspear (White-Blue Control)
I get stuck on one land, but with Scryb Ranger, Llanowar Elves, and Thousand-Year Elixir, I am able to power out six Elves by turn four, and follow them with a Magistrate that I can power three times a turn.

Record: 4-4

Game 9: Constandino (Black-Green Control)
I get a quick start with double Thousand-Year Elixir, Boreal Druid, Seeker of Skybreak and double Scyrb Ranger. When I drop Immaculate Magistrate, I am able to go from a pair of 1/1 Rangers to a 10/10 and a 7/7 Ranger. He concedes the turn after I hit him from 20 to 3.

Record: 5-4

Game 10: ellordoftheflys (Dredge)
We start racing with my Imperious Perfect, Thousand Year Elixir and Scryb Ranger making 3x 2/2 Elves a turn, and him dropping Golgari Rotwurm, double Stinkweed Imp, and Shambling Shell. His Imps keep getting larger as he grows them with the Shell, and dredge makes the Shell come back over and over. He knocks me down to 3 (with two black mana on the board for his Rotwurm) the turn I finally overwhelm him with sheer numbers.

Record: 6-4

Thousand-Year Elves and Overrun Elves both posted a great record in the casual room. Both were mono-green, were centered around attacking, and wanted to pump smaller creatures into much larger monsters. However, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Thousand-Year Elves is a thousand times more fun to play than Overrun Elves. All right, maybe not a thousand times more fun, but that's a great tag line, isn't it? Regardless, it is much more satisfying to tap Imperious Perfect three times in one turn and then follow that with fifteen +1/+1 from Immaculate Magistrate pointed in clumps of five thanks to the Elixir and Scryb Ranger, than it was to drop out five Elves by turn four, and then play Overrun. Don't ask me why this is—I'm not a certified psychologist, I just know that I myself had a lot more fun with this version of the deck than last week's! You should try this out and make your own tweaks—there are lots of other Elves with tap abilities in Extended (anything going on there, Mr. Wirewood Channeler?), so there is a lot of customization that could be had here.

Next week: Finally, the Assassins!

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