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Budget Magic: Banefire Elves (Standard, Magic Arena)


Salut, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Standard for a deck that is half a Ravnica Allegiance-influenced update and half a new deck altogether: Banefire Elves. We played Elfball a while ago, which was a Selesnya Elf deck. Well, today's deck has some similar pieces but drops the white for red, for some powerful Ravnica Allegiance cards and a spicy finisher. While the deck is super sweet and surprisingly competitive, there's also a bit of a downside: we're about $60 over our normal budget in paper. Normally with updates, we're a bit more flexible with the budget, since the assumption is that you'll already have many of the expensive pieces of the deck, although there's another reason the deck is more expensive than normal this week: I simply didn't realize how expensive some of the Elf cards had gotten. I built the deck and recorded the videos, and then when I put the list into MTGGoldfish, I was shocked to see how much the deck actually cost. So apologies for going over budget. Regardless, the deck was sweet enough and the games were fun enough that I wanted to show it off anyway, and if you already have the Elfball deck from Guilds of Ravnica Standard, the upgrades shouldn't be too painful price-wise. What does adding red do to Standard Elves? Can the deck actually compete in Standard? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Banefire Elves (Standard)

The Deck

Banefire Elves basically walks the line between a tribal aggro deck and a combo deck. The main plan is to flood the board with cheap mana-producing Elves, draw tons of cards with our two main payoffs in Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner, and eventually close out the game with a massive Banefire to our opponent's face, potentially with the help of Grand Warlord Radha making oodles of mana with a huge attack!

The Mana

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Step one for Banefire Elves is making as much mana as possible as quickly as possible. Llanowar Elves, Druid of the Cowl, and Incubation Druid give us a massive 12 mana dorks, which ramp us quickly into our more expensive plays. However, apart from just giving us extra mana, all of these cards also function as combo pieces in Banefire Elves, triggering all of our Elf payoffs and being especially scary with one of our new Ravnica Allegiance additions: Rhythm of the Wild

The Payoffs

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Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner are the two most important cards in our deck. While Vanquisher's Banner has the additional upside of pumping all of our creatures, the most important aspect of both of these cards is that they allow us to draw a card whenever we cast one of our creatures. In the late game, this often leaves us in a situation where we're drawing two or three cards for each creature we play, which allows us to draw through our entire deck at lightning speed and eventually finish our opponent, either with a mass of Elves or with one of our dedicated finishers.

Support

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Rhythm of the Wild is super scary in our deck. Not only does it help us fight through counterspells against Mono-Blue and various control decks but the ability to give our creatures haste with riot offers some exciting combo potential. Take, for example, Llanowar Elves, which essentially becomes a free creature if we can give it haste with Rhythm of the Wild, since we can immediately make back the one mana we spend to cast it when we tap it. Meanwhile, Incubation Druid and Druid of the Cowl essentially cost just a single mana. By itself, this isn't all that exciting. But when you consider that our payoffs all trigger whenever we cast one of our Elves, as our deck gets going, Rhythm of the Wild ends up turning cards like Llanowar Elves into a free Divination by triggering Beast Whisperers and Vanquisher's Banners. Rhythm of the Wild can also do some sweet tricks with our adapt creatures by putting a counter on them immediately to make a bunch of mana with Incubation Druid or tutor up additional copies of Growth-Chamber Guardian.

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Growth-Chamber Guardian is the other massive Ravnica Allegiance addition to Elves. On one hand, it's just a solid two-drop Elf, quickly turning into a 4/4 and tutoring up additional copies from our deck. However, Growth-Chamber Guardian does so much more in Banefire Elves specifically. First, Rhythm of the Wild allows us to put a counter on Growth-Chamber Guardian immediately to keep tutoring up copies. Meanwhile, these copies give us a repeatable way to trigger our Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher's Banner, generating even more card advantage. Eventually, we end up with a board of 4/4s, which is a pretty effective way to close out the game against a lot of decks.

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Rather than being the focus of our deck, Steel Leaf Champion is just a one-of in our deck. While it doesn't do anything specific with our combo, it offers a solid rate as a 5/4 for three that, more importantly, comes along with an Elf body. Basically, it's just a big creature that also happens to trigger all of our synergies.

The Finishers

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When it comes to closing out the game, we basically have two plans. The first is to simply beat down with our random Elves, backed by Elvish Clancaller as a lord. Since we have so many mana producers in our deck, it's pretty easy to pay six to tutor up extra copies, and once we have all four Elvish Clancallers on the battlefield, our battlefield will be so massive we can usually win the game by simply beating down with our janky Elves. However, if this plan doesn't work because our opponent has too much removal or too many blockers, we do have another plan for closing out the game...

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The second way we have to kill our opponent is the namesake Banefire, which in conjunction with our endless mana dorks can potentially offer 20 uncounterable damage straight at our opponent's face. This is especially helpful against control decks or other removal-heavy decks that can keep our Elves in check with their sweepers and removal since Banefire also manages to blank annoying counterspells. Along with finishing the game, Banefire also gives us a touch of removal, giving us a way to get rid of a blocker or kill a creature wearing Curious Obsession in the early game. But the primary reason Banefire is in our deck is to close out the game with a huge surprise burst of damage. Of course, we need 21 mana to 20 our opponent with Banefire, which is a lot, even for a deck with 12 mana dorks. But thankfully, we have a couple of cards that are perfect for producing massive amounts of mana all by themselves...

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When it comes to casting a lethal Banefire, along with our normal mana dorks, we have Marwyn, the Nurturer and Grand Warlord Radha, both of which have the potential to add massive amounts of mana. Marwyn, the Nurturer can come down as early as Turn 2 thanks to Llanowar Elves and then grows throughout the game when we cast our endless Elves, until it eventually ends up the biggest creature on the battlefield, which allows us to go beatdown or to tap it for a ton of mana for Banefire. Meanwhile, Grand Warlord Radha is great when we already have a board full of Elves, coming down with haste to get in some surprise damage and also giving us a mana for each attacking creature. Since Banefire Elves is really good at going wide thanks to all of our card draw and cheap creatures, Grand Warlord Radha can gives us a sort of combo finisher where we chump attack with all of our Elves, make a bunch of mana, and then Banefire our opponent out of the game during our second main phase!

Wrap-Up

As for our record, we finished our video matches 4-1. Overall, I went 5-2 with the deck, which is a pretty solid record. We played mostly top-tier decks along the way (Esper Control, Mono-Blue, Rakdos Midrange, Simic Nexus) and managed to beat them all, with the exception of a really close loss to Grixis Control featuring our opponent drawing a ton of sweepers. Banefire was especially impressive, giving us a way to close out the game through our opponent's counters (control decks specifically and counterspell decks in general are pretty popular in Standard at the moment) while also giving us a way to close out the game after our opponent manages to stabilize by wiping our board.

As far as changes to make to the budget-ish build of Banefire Elves, Steel Leaf Champion didn't seem especially necessary, and Grand Warlord Radha was pretty impressive in the games where we managed to draw and cast her. Even outside of the Banefire kill, just attacking with Radha and a couple of creatures to get mana to cast even more creatures in our second main phase was strong. It's probably worth cutting Steel Leaf Champion for a second Grand Warlord Radha. Otherwise, outside of the deck being over budget (which we'll talk about more in a minute), the build we played for the videos felt surprisingly solid.

All in all, Banefire Elves was not only a blast to play thanks to the combo finishers and endless card draw but also surprisingly effective against a lot of the best decks in Standard. While we did have some games where our opponent managed to kill all of our mana dorks, leaving us stuck with our expensive finishers in hand, in general, the deck felt competitive and super fun! If you're looking for a way to upgrade Elfball or just want a fun and surprisingly competitive tribal option while we for War of the Spark to shake up the format, keep Banefire Elves in mind!

Non-Budget Elves

Considering the build we played for the videos was already over our normal budget, let's just consider it our non-budget build for the week. Honestly, the deck feels pretty optimal in its current form, and we've already got the best Elves in the format, so there isn't much work to be done as far as improvements.

Ultra-Budget Combo Elves

First off, here's the build of Elves I would have played had I realized how expensive some of the Elf cards have gotten over the past couple of months. Basically, the deck drops from about $160 to under $100 by turning Stomping Ground into Gruul Guildgate, trading Incubation Druid for Elfhame Druid, and swapping one Banefire for a District Guide to make sure we have access to our red mana when we need it. While technically these changes weaken the deck, the different is so small that I'm not sure it would have had a meaningful impact on our win / loss record. Yes, having a tapped dual land can be annoying, but our deck makes enough mana that unless we end up with two or three Guildgates in our opening hand, it shouldn't be too much of a problem to find a relatively painless window to put them into play. And adapting Incubation Druid isn't really the primary plan of our deck, so Elfhame Druid isn't that much of a downgrade. 

On the other hand, if you want to strip Banefire Elves back as far as possible, we can get it down near $60 with some work. Here, we cut the mana to the bare bones, drop Growth-Chamber Guardian for more copies of District Guide and a third Grand Warlord Radha, and trim back on Vanquisher's Banner and Banefire to just two copies each. Elves is a weird deck to get down near $50. None of the cards all that expensive, but it has a lot of cards in the $2–4 range, which together adds up to a meaningful amount. While this build of Elves is fine for casual play, having eight enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands and losing the consistent card advantage of Growth-Chamber Guardian does end up being a meaningful decrease in power, which will probably lead to issues in more competitive play.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. 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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