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Budget Magic: $98 (22 tix) Elfball (Standard)


Эзен, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading again into the sweet world of Guilds of Ravnica Standard for a deck that walks the line between tribal and combo: Elfball! The main idea is pretty simple: we make a ton of mana super-quickly, play either a Beast Whisperer or Vanquisher's Banner to start drawing cards, and hopefully play through pretty much our entire deck in one big combo turn. Then, we close out the game by attacking with a huge board full of Elves! In many ways, Elfball is the Guilds of Ravnica Standard version of some of the scary combo Elf decks we see in older formats like Modern, Legacy, and even Commander, looking rather tame and underpowered until it eventually just wins out of nowhere. Can a combo build of Elves work in Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

Oh yeah, one other thing. Last week, we tried Budget Magic on Magic Arena, and while the feedback was mixed, one thing everyone agreed on was that we needed to be playing best-of-three matches. So today, we're giving Arena another shot but in a best-of-three competitive constructed event. So, like last week, make sure to leave feedback on what you prefer moving forward for Standard Budget Magic: Magic Arena or Magic Online!

First, a quick reminder: if you enjoy the Budget Magic series and the other video content on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish YouTube channel to keep up on all the latest and greatest.

Budget Magic: Elfball (Standard)

The Deck

Elfball is basically a hybrid tribal-combo deck. While it can play like Elf tribal, by playing some lords and winning by beating down, it's more often looking to set up a huge combo turn with a huge combo turn where we make a ton of mana, draw a ton of cards, and eventually pump our Elves into huge game-ending threats. 

The Engines

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The two most important cards in our deck are Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner. Our entire game plan revolves around getting at least one—and preferably two or more—of these cards on the battlefield as quickly as possible. Then, whenever we cast a creature spell, we get to draw a card (or more), which draws us more creatures, which finds up more creatures (and eventually more copies of Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner), which draws us even more cards. Thanks to the Elf tribe's ability to make tons of mana, it's pretty easy to cast five or more creatures in a single turn once we get going and do this turn after turn, until our opponent eventually succumbs to our massive board. 

Both of our engine pieces come with additional upsides. Beast Whisperer is both a creature and an Elf, so additional copies draw us cards, and we can find it with Growing Rites of Itlimoc (although this is offset by the downside of dying to creature removal). Meanwhile, Vanquisher's Banner also pumps our Elves, so apart from being an engine, it's also one of our finishers. In the late game, we often draw all four copies, which means even our lowly 1/1 Llanowar Elves are massive threats.

Fast Mana

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Our mana dorks are what makes Elfball possible. In the early turns, Llanowar Elves, Druid of the Cowl, and Elfhame Druid help ramp us into our Beast Whisperers and Vanquisher's Banners as quickly as possible. Then, in the late game, our mana dorks facilitate the snowballing effect of the deck, where one draws us a card or two when we cast it, and then on the next turn, we can use the mana they produce to cast even more creatures, growing our board more and more each turn. Then, after we stack up our Vanquisher's Banners or find one of our other finishers, our Llanowar Elves, Druid of the Cowl, and Elfhame Druid turn into huge threats, often attacking for four or five damage each, allowing us to kill our opponent with one massive attack.

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In Legacy, one of the key cards to Combo Elves is Gaea's Cradle, which makes oodles of mana and allows the deck to cast a whole bunch of creatures in the same turn. Thankfully, our deck has two different Gaea's Cradles! The more obvious of the two is Growing Rites of Itlimoc, which literally flips over into a Gaea's Cradle once we have at least four creatures on the battlefield (which happens very quickly, thanks to all of our cheap Elves and fast mana). Then, we end up with a land that taps for a bunch of mana, which allows us to cast several Elves, which in turn means we make even more mana the next time we tap our Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun. Meanwhile, Marwyn, the Nurturer grows into a massive threat as we cast our Elves and often ends up tapping for five or 10 mana itself, which gives us another way to cast a bunch of Elves in the same turn, draw a ton of cards with Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner, and eventually overwhelm our opponent with our Elves.

Finishers

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While we sometimes win games just by playing a million small Elves, we also have a couple of finishers to speed up the process. Elvish Clancaller gives us a two-mana Elf lord, which allows us to win some games like normal Elf tribal by playing a bunch of of random small Elves, pumping them with lords, and attacking. It also combines with Vanquisher's Banner to give us lots of ways to pump our team in the late game, all while being an Elf itself to trigger Beast Whisperer, Vanquisher's Banner, and Marwyn, the Nurturer

Meanwhile, Flower // Flourish is absurd in our deck, since it counts as a land, allowing us to only play 18 "real" lands but still essentially have 22 lands in our deck, since we can tutor one up for just a single mana, making it similar to Attune with Aether. Apart from allowing us to splash just a touch of white for removal, the biggest upside of Flower // Flourish is that it's basically a land in the early game that's also an Overrun in the late game, giving us a "free" (in terms of card slots in our deck) way to pump our team and close out the game. 

Together, Elvish Clancaller, Flower // Flourish, and Vanquisher's Banner give us a massive 12 ways to pump our Elves, which means after we combo off and make a massive board full of dorks, pumping them into real threats isn't much of an issue. While having 10 or 20 Elves on the battlefield is scary by itself, it's absolutely devastating when all of those Elves are getting +4/+4 or even +8/+8. 

Other Stuff

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While we aren't especially focused on beating down, Thorn Lieutenant is a solid enough creature on its own that it's worth playing in our deck. It gives us an additional on-curve Elf to trigger all of our engine cards, and then the ability to pay six and pump it is surprisingly relevant thanks to our deck's obscene ability to make mana. Thanks to all of our mana dorks, Growing Rites of Itlimoc, and Marwyn, the Nurturer, it's not uncommon that we can pump it multiple times in a turn, making it into a must-block threat that quickly turns into The Abyss, slowing eating through our opponent's defenses. 

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Apart from Flower // Flourish, the biggest reason to splash white in our deck is Conclave Tribunal, which gives us a catch-all removal spell that's often just one mana, since we can tap a bunch of summoning-sick Elves to cast it. Since we don't have much room for removal in our deck, hitting anything is super important, allowing us to play just a single removal spell that can answer creatures, planeswalkers, and even the random artifact or enchantment that pops up in Standard from time to time.

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Finally, we have a single copy of Camaraderie, which is basically a backup card-draw spell (and also a backup pump spell). Occasionally, Elfball has games where we empty our hand of mana dorks before we find a Vanquisher's Banner or Beast Whisperer. In these games, Camaraderie is great, giving us a way to refill our hand and gain some incidental life along the way. It can also be good after we combo off and have a massive board, although there's a very real risk that we can't cast it because we'll draw too many cards and potentially deck ourselves, as crazy as that sounds.

Wrap-Up

So, we played a competitive constructed event with Elfball and ended up going 3-2, which is a pretty fine record for a budget deck. I played some more games with it as well, and the 3-2 record seems about right. The deck is absurdly powerful when it gets going and offers the most explosive starts in the Standard format but sometimes struggles with decks that have a lot of early-game removal. One of the easiest ways to lose with Elfball it to keep a hand dependent on mana dorks for mana (with just one or two lands) and have the opponent kill our mana creatures, leaving us unable to ever cast our engine pieces. This being said, the deck is extremely powerful and surprisingly competitive, being able to out-draw control, block well against aggro (and gain some life after sideboarding with Centaur Peacemaker), and fight through the removal of random midrange decks like Golgari. While consistency can be an issue, the power level of the deck is extremely high.

One word of warning: the deck actually has a tendency to draw too many cards. In the late game, be careful about how many copies of Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner you play because the card draw is not a "may" ability, so if we end up with four or five of these effects on the battlefield, it limits the number of creatures we can play, since we'll draw though our entire deck and mill ourselves out. Normally, two is enough to draw through our entire deck in a turn or two, so the best plan is to hold onto additional copies of Vanquisher's Banner and play them like an Overrun on the turn we're going to attack for lethal. 

All in all, Elfball was great. While the consistency issues might keep it from being a top-tier deck in Standard, it's competitive enough to beat a lot of the best decks in the format, and the combo turns are absurdly fun—it really feels like playing Modern or Legacy Elves but in Standard! I could certainly see the deck doing well at FNM, especially when opponents aren't expecting it (and don't know how important it is to kill all the mana creatures as quickly as possible), and with some tuning, Elves might actually have a chance to be a legitimate tribe in Guilds of Ravnica Standard!

The ultra-budget version of Elfball loses two main pieces: Thorn Lieutenant and Growing Rites of Itlimoc. Dropping Thorn Lieutenant isn't a huge deal. While it does make our deck a bit worse against aggro and removal, we can replace it with District Guide to thin our deck and fix our mana, and the deck can function more or less as it did before. On the other hand, losing Growing Rites of Itlimoc means the deck also loses a lot of its explosiveness. While we can still overwhelm the opponent with a big board full of Elves, there's a cap on how many creatures we can play in one turn, since we're losing a land that taps for oodles of mana. This being said, you can still combo off with the ultra-budget build—it's just a bit less explosive. This should be a fine starting point for the kitchen table, but I'd look to add Growing Rites of Itlimoc (and upgrade the mana) before taking the deck to an FNM.

One of the nice things about Elfball is that it doesn't really need many major upgrades to be optimal. In fact, as far as the main deck is concerned, the only card we were missing was Temple Garden, which isn't 100% necessary but does help make the mana more consistent. With more white sources of mana, we can also take advantage of some powerful sideboard options like Lyra Dawnbringer, which is one of best solutions to aggro. Thanks to all of our mana dorks, it can come down as early as Turn 3 and shut the door closed on decks like Boros and Mono-Red. Along the same lines, we get Settle the Wreckage as a one-sided sweeper. Thanks to all of our card draw, our deck is already pretty good against control, since we can usually just run them out of removal, so we can afford to spend a lot of our sideboard slots shoring up the matchup against some of the fastest decks in the format. Along with helping against Boros and Mono-Red, Settle the Wreckage is also a great option against Mono-Green Stompy, which we lost to during our league. While the matchup doesn't feel horrible, if they get a fast draw, they can sometimes just overwhelm us with huge creatures before we can get our engines online. Settle the Wreckage gives us a way to slow down things like Steel Leaf Champion, Nullhide Ferox, and Carnage Tyrant as we wait to assemble our combo.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to leave feedback on which digital client you like best for Budget Magic! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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