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Budget Magic: Mono-Green Elfball but in Standard!


Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to our new Standard format to try to figure out if Nissa, Ascended Animist is just Craterhoof Behemoth in disguise by playing some Mono-Green Elfball! The idea is simple: flood the board with cheap mana-producing Elves, get to seven mana, drop Nissa, Ascended Animist, ultimate it to give our team something like +7/+7, and trample and win with one glorious attack! Can the plan work on a $77/16-rare budget? Is Nissa actually just Craterhoof Behemoth? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck! 

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Budget Magic: Elfball

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The Deck

Mono-Green Elfball is a tribal aggro deck basically looking to recreate the style of Elf deck you'll find in Modern or Legacy but with the cards legal in Standard. The goal is to play as many mana-producing Elves as possible, ramp into Nissa, Ascended Animist—our Craterhoof Behemoth—as quickly as possible, and win the game with Nissa's ultimate turning all of our janky mana dorks into huge, trampling threats!

The Finisher

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Nissa is the entire reason why today's deck exists. In all honesty, the Elves we have in Standard mostly aren't great (more on this in a minute), but thankfully, they don't need to be great because Nissa, Ascended Animist can turn a group of underpowered creatures into super-strong finishers with its ultimate. While we do occasionally play Nissa for Phyrexian mana sometimes as early as Turn 3 just to start making tokens or to blow up a Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Reckoner Bankbuster, our primary plan is to get up to seven mana so we can play Nissa for full price and ultimate it on the turn it comes into play to win the game on the spot with one massive attack. That said, one of the upsides of Nissa is that it's almost never bad. While its ceiling is winning the game Craterhoof Behemoth style, even if it can't immediately win the game, the tokens it makes are huge, and blowing up artifacts and enchantments is super relevant in current Standard. So, even when Nissa isn't immediately game-winning, it's still one of the best cards in our deck!

The Elves

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So, why is our deck full of Elves rather than just generic green cards? The answer is that the tribe has an amazing lord in Leaf-Crowned Visionary. In reality, our deck only has two cards that actually matter. One is Nissa, and the other is Leaf-Crowned Visionary. Giving our team +1/+1 is nice, but Leaf-Crowned Visionary's true power is the ability to draw a card every time we play an Elf, which gives us the fuel to flood the board with cheap creatures (to make sure that Nissa's ultimate is lethal, which usually requires four or five creatures on the battlefield) and helps us find Nissa.

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For our plan to work, we need to be able to make as much mana as possible as quickly as possible, which helps us cast Nissa, Ascended Animist and gives us the mana to draw a ton of cards with Leaf-Crowned Visionary. Sadly, there aren't any great mana dorks in Standard—there's no Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic—so we have to make do with some pretty janky mana-producing Elves. Citanul Stalwart and Rustvine Cultivator are technically one-mana mana dorks, although both need some extra help to get going, with Citanul Stalwart needing another creature or artifact on the battlefield to tap and Rustvine Cultivator only making mana every other turn since we need to tap it to add oil counters before using it to untap lands. In the two-drop slot, we have some solid options. Llanowar Loamspeaker is a two-mana mana dork with upside, while Gala Greeters ramps with Treasures, which is slightly awkward with Nissa since Treasures don't power up the ultimate, but Gala Greeters does enough other good things to be one of the better Elves in our deck.

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Our last two Elves are full-on jank. There just aren't that many good mono-green Elves in Standard, so we round out our deck with two kicker Elves in Vineshaper Prodigy and Elvish Hydromancer. They are pretty powerful if we can kick either, although this is a big "if" since both are pretty expensive with their kicker cost included. For four mana, Vineshaper Prodigy gives us a Grizzly Bears with an Anticipate enters-the-battlefield trigger, helping us dig for Nissa and Leaf-Crowned Visionary. Meanwhile, for seven mana, Elvish Hydromancer can make a token copy of one of our creatures. In our dream world, we'll be making another copy of Leaf-Crowned Visionary, but actually casting Elvish Hydromancer is pretty rare. More often, we just run it out as a 3/2 to give us another body to benefit from Nissa's ultimate and to draw us cards with Leaf-Crowned Visionary. Really, though, both cards are in the deck more or less by default because there simply aren't better options in Standard. Hopefully, we get some more Elves in the future so we can upgrade these slots.

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Last but not least, we have Tyvar's Stand to protect our important creatures while also giving us a backup plan for forcing through some extra damage. Our deck is really reliant on keeping Leaf-Crowned Visionary on the battlefield to draw us cards. For just a single mana, Tyvar's Stand gives us a way to fizzle a removal spell that threatens to take out our lord, which is solid. In some cases, we can even use it like a removal spell by blocking a big threat from the opponent and then using Tyvar's Stand to pump our creature large enough to kill it in combat. It's a great protection spell.

Playing the Deck

I sort of mentioned this before, but I wanted to bring it up again because it is so important: our deck really only has two cards that matter, in Leaf-Crowned Visionary and Nissa, Ascended Animist. The rest of our deck is mostly replaceable mana dorks and filler Elves. As such, playing in a way that maximizes the value of our two payoffs is super important because we're very unlikely to win without the help of one of these cards. In practice, this means trying to leave up mana to protect Leaf-Crowned Visionary with Tyvar's Stand or (after sideboarding) Tamiyo's Safekeeping, or—in the case of Nissa, Ascended Animist—trying to play around counterspells or waiting until we have enough mana to cast it for full price and ultimate it immediately, rather than running it out for Phyrexian mana and risking it dying to removal or our opponent's attacks. Basically, value Visionary and Nissa highly—they make the deck work!

Wrap-Up

Record-wise, Mono-Green Elfball was middling as we ended up going 3-4 with the deck. Across our matches, we really got to see the good and bad of the deck. Nissa, Ascended Animist was absurd, and it really was Craterhoof Behemoth much of the time, coming down to win the game on the spot. On the other hand, the deck struggles against removal-heavy decks and sweepers that can keep our random Elves off the battlefield, which is tough because we're in a very removal- and sweeper-heavy format. 

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm not really sure there are many to be made. There simply aren't that many Elves in Standard at the moment, especially if we stick to being mono-green. The sideboard could probably be improved a bit, although even that is tricky without adding more rares or mythics to the deck.

So, should you play Elfball in Standard? From a competitive perspective, probably not. While Elfball was great at stealing surprise Nissa wins, a lot of the top decks in the format are overflowing with sweepers and removal, which makes those matchups tough. On the other hand, Elfball is a really unique and fun semi-competitive deck, and Nissa, Ascended Animist is absurdly powerful. (Seriously, if green weren't the worst color in Standard by a mile, I think we'd be seeing a lot more of Nissa, and I have high hopes that it will become one of the better cards in Standard sooner or later, although we might have to wait until after rotation in the fall.) Elves is a good option if you're looking for fun, fast games on the ladder—just don't expect to consistently beat the removal-heavy control and midrange decks at the top of the meta.

Ultra-Budget Elfball

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Sadly, I'm not sure it's possible to make Elfball much cheaper. In paper, Nissa, Ascended Animist and Leaf-Crowned Visionary are $50 of our $77 budget, but they are the two most important cards in our deck, so we can't really cut them. I guess cutting Tamiyo's Safekeeping from the sideboard or Secluded Courtyard from the mana base can save a few dollars, but I'm not sure it's enough to really matter.

Magic Arena has the same problem. We have a playset of four different rares or mythics. Two are Nissa and Visionary, which we already decided are uncuttable, and the other two are Gala Greeters and Llanowar Loamspeaker, two of our best support Elves. If you really had to cut one, I think Gala Greeters is the way to go. The problem is there just aren't any good replacements. The next best Elf that isn't already in our deck is probably something like Yavimaya Iconoclast, which could help fill out the curve but isn't especially synergistic in the deck.

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On the other hand, the lack of other Elvish options in Standard also means that the non-budget build doesn't change much. We get a few small sideboard upgrades and a Boseiju, Who Endures in the mana base, but the only real main-deck additions are two copies of Fauna Shaman to help find Leaf-Crowned Visionary and two copies of Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea, which, sadly, can't help ramp into Nissa but are still probably better than Elvish Hydromancer. I briefly considered going three colors to add Fleetfoot Dancer, Rumor Gatherer, and Brazen Upstart to the deck to increase our Elves' power, but going three colors has a huge drawback: we need to play a bunch of non-Forest dual lands to make the mana work, which powers down Nissa, Ascended Animist's ultimate. Nissa is so important to the deck winning that I think sticking with the worse Elves to maximize its power is probably the right way forward, even for the non-budget build, even though it is tempting to cut some of our least-powerful Elves for stronger tribe members.

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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