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Budget Commander: Selvala, Explorer Returned ($57)

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Political Mastermind

Selvala, Explorer Returned is your poll winner by a large margin. Poor Jalira, always second best!

I've had grudging respect for this commander ever since I first saw her appear in commander games. This innocent-looking elf is a huge, huge engine for Green/White decks, offering up explosive ramp, card draw, and lifegain in a cheap, efficient package. Despite her immensely powerful ability, everyone at the table will be in love with her because she draws everyone cards! Yay, card draw! Plus, look at that fabulous hat! How can you hate her?

Everyone's in the "Selvala is such a cool/hip girl" camp, celebrating their free card draw and leaving her alone, and all of a sudden she drops a turn 4 Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger. Oops!

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But you got a free card so it's ok.

She's powerful. Very powerful. But her power is hidden behind a "group hug" facade causing less experienced players to underestimate her power and veteran players to allow her to go off because they're greedy for free cards. So Selvala, Explorer Returned's power is twofold: a strong ability for you plus the political power of being considered less of a threat. Edric, Spymaster of Trest would be proud!


How It Plays

Selvala is an open-ended commander that can be built a multitude of ways. Her ability is useful for any Green/White deck: every type of deck likes card draw, ramp, and life gain. You can slam together a bunch of generic goodstuff Green/White cards and have a good deck with her at the helm. However, focusing on a specific aspect of Selvala can yield more focused themes to build upon:

  • Group Hug. You're already drawing people cards with your commander, so it's not a big leap to build a deck around giving everyone more resources with cards like Howling Mine and Hunted Wumpus.
  • Lifegain. Selvala gains 0-4 life with her ability in a typical 4-player game. Depending on how you want to build you deck, she's an excellent alternative to Trostani, Selesnya's Voice (though the other will probably be in your 99 anyway).
  • Elf Tribal. Selvala is an elf! Add more elves and elves-matter cards like Priest of Titania to get an elfball rolling!
  • Stax. Welcome to the dark side. Since Selvala is an excellent source of mana and you're in Green for all the mana dorks you could ever want, you're in a prime position to lock down the board with devious stax cards like Winter Orb, Armageddon, and Stony Silence. Caution: Don't go this path outside of competitive playgroups or everyone will hate you.

For this primer, I'll be discussing Elf Tribal Selvala.



At its heart, Elf Tribal is all about the mana dorks: Elvish Mystic, Llanowar Elves, Fyndhorn Elves and others are the heart of any good Elf deck. From there we have elves that skyrocket our mana (Wirewood Channeler), pump our elves (Timberwatch Elf), make tokens (Lys Alana Huntmaster), or swing in for the win (Ezuri, Renegade Leader).

Since dumping tons of mana dorks will empty our hand quickly and Selvala is both an excellent source of card draw and mana acceleration, we're also going to be running a bunch of untap effects for some really explosive turns.

The game plan is like so:

  1. Play mana dorks.
  2. Drop down Selvala, Explorer Returned.
  3. Tap Selvala + mana dorks for big mana, untap Selvala + mana dorks and retap them for big mana.
  4. Cast giant spells to refill our hand, drop big fatties, or win the game off a lethal Hurricane.

Sounds good? Let's get started!


Mana Dorks

We run lots of mana dorks. These elves let us ramp out our game plan and synergize with cards that care about creature count (Shamanic Revelation) and/or elves (Priest of Titania). They also set up our explosive game-winning turns. Since we run so many mana dorks, we can cut down on the land count.

The best mana dorks are without a doubt the 1-cmc dorks that tap for Green/White mana: Llanowar Elves and friends. Fill up on all the ones you can pick up; most are cheap. The other great dorks are ones that can tap for 3+ mana which can enable some combos (discussed later). 

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Untap, Retap!

Here's where things get spicy: we've got all these mana dorks, along with our powerhouse Selvala, Explorer Returned, tapping for mana, ramping us, and drawing cards. Let's kick it up a notch by running cards that untap our dorks so we can retap them for even more mana/draw!

Thousand-Year Elixir is a staple for Selvala decks letting her and other mana dorks immediately tap when they hit the table and can untap her for extra value. But that's just the beginning: Instill Energy is an obscure oldie that is bonkers good with Selvala, letting her tap twice on your turn and once on each opponent's turn as well. Magewright's Stone is less impressive than Elixir but similarly good.

Let's go even deeper. Why just untap one thing at a time? How about we untap all of our mana dorks at once for some super green Dark Ritual action? Cards like Mobilize and Vitalize do just that and they essentially cantrip in our deck when Selvala is on the field because she draws us a new card to replace them.

Careful, though — these cards are high risk, high reward. They're amazing with Selvala on the field, but they're dead draws if you have an empty board. If you want the fastest, most combo-oriented Selvala list possible, you'll want every untap effect available. If you want to play a slower, more resilient game, you'd be better off running fewer untap cards.

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Selvala, Explorer Returned has a couple of tasty combos available to her. They're mostly infinite mana, but if you add Selvala to the mix some can turn into infinite draw / lifegain:

Priest, Archdruid, or Channeler tap for 4 mana with at least 3 other elves on the field. Use Mantle / Sword to untap them for 3 mana, leaving 1 mana remaining. Rinse repeat infinite times. If Selvala is on the field, you can then equip Mantle / Sword on her for infinite draw / life gain.

Tap the 3+ mana elf for mana. Pay 1 mana to use Entity's ability on the Symbiote turning it into an elf. Use Symbiote's ability to untap the 3+ mana generating elf, returning the Symbiote (now an elf) to your hand. Replay the Symbiote, which is now considered a new entity so the "once per turn" rule goes away. Rinse repeat. If you have a decent board of creatures, you can turn them infinitely large with this mana and swing for tons of damage.

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Elfball has tons of avenues to win. Here's a couple this deck is capable of:

  • Lethal burn. Burn in Green? Yup! Generate a ton of mana in one big turn via untap effects or an infinite mana combo, then kill the table with a massive Hurricane or Squall Line. Note you must have more life than your opponents to win, but Selvala, Explorer Return gives you extra life so this should be easy.
  • Turn your dorks into fatties! We have numerous ways to do this: Mirror Entity can make our army infinitely large, Beastmaster Ascension can do similar, Triumph of the Hordes gives us a cheat around life totals along with trample.
  • Big fattie smash! It ain't fancy, but sometimes bashing face with a random big creature like Soul of the Harvest will do the trick.

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Round out the deck with card draw, mana-fixing, tutors, and removal:


Upgrading and Fiddly Bits

How you upgrade the deck depends on what path you want to take Selvala. Elf tribal? Stax? Combo? Lifegain? Your deck's direction will dictate which cards you should look for.

Not only does personal playstyle dictate what you should add, but also your playgroup's meta guides which cards are right for you. For example, if your opponents depend heavily on graveyard interactions, you'll do well to play with Rest in Peace. There's no "perfect" list because some choices depend heavily on who you're going to be playing against.

There are some cards that fit in every Selvala list, however. Concordant Crossroads is an example of one such staple; giving your mana dorks haste is a huge boost in efficiency.

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How Casual/Competitive Do You Like It?

I'm a Spike at heart. The very reason I started making these budget decks was to tone down my competitive tendencies by self-imposing budget restrictions on myself, then making the most powerful deck possible within the budget restriction. However, I'm writing these articles for you, the reader. I want to know where on the casual-competitive spectrum you want these decks to be: would you prefer I stayed away from infinite combos and mass land destruction? Or do you want to see the most powerful ~$50 decks I can come up with, ignoring any other restrictions?

No poll this time. I've got some decks already lined up for you folks. Feel free to make suggestions for future articles!

Follow me on Twitter @BudgetCommander for notifications on when the next article is up, updates on future decks, and input for what to work on next. Thanks for reading!

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