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Browse > Home / Strategy / Articles / "Elven Council" Precon LOTR-Only Upgrades! (And Bonus Regular Upgrades)

"Elven Council" Precon LOTR-Only Upgrades! (And Bonus Regular Upgrades)

The Lord of the Rings Commander preconstructed decklists have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We're going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to make an optimized $30 upgrade paths!

Because a huge draw of these LOTR commander decks is the setting themselves, I'm doing something special with this round of upgrades: on top of my regular upgrade guide I will also be providing a LOTR-only upgrade path using only cards from the LOTR set (the main set, box toppers, and cards from other precons) so people looking to keep their decks 100% LOTR-themed can still do so! So whether you're looking to power up your precon while keeping it fully LOTR-themed or just want to start optimizing the decks with the most powerful cards available, this article should be helpful to everyone!

Other LOTR precon upgrades:

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Today we're upgrading Elven Council, a very Blue/Green Political Elf deck. This precon is very unique in that it seeks to win via subtle power: unlike most decks that seek to crush the opposition, this precon seeks to conquer via manipulation of rest of the table using an array of soft power like voting cards like Erestor of the Council to reward people for working with you and pillowfort like Mirkwood Trapper to deter attacks against you. The deck is incredibly tricksy too with lots of instant-speed answers such as Mystic Confluence and Galadhrim Ambush to make opponents think twice about provoking you. Eventually you build up a large board with cards like Sylvan Offering and snatch victory with a lethal swing aided by cards like Overwhelming Stampede!

In short: the goal is to not be the archenemy at the table and instead work with the other players to take out other threats -- all while you're setting up to snag victory once your opponents have wasted their resources!

So if you want to play the role of the mysterious and subtlety powerful Elves of LOTR, and you like the idea of a very unique Simic deck that focuses on Elves and Politics to secure victory, then Elven Council is the deck for you!

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The Precon List

Before we talk upgrades, let's take a look at the stock list to see what we're working with:

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Folks often describe Elven Council is a "Voting" deck but I don't think that's truly accurate: there's only cards in the deck that vote and 2 cards that reward you for voting, which is incredibly minor for a "main" theme. "Politics" -- which I define as cards that seek to manipulate your opponents decisions towards a desirable outcome -- is a more accurate descriptor, but the numbers aren't high there either: I count 4 additional cards that manipulate your opponents like Mirkwood Trapper, which combined with 6 voting cards and 1 voting payoff card that can reward opponents equals ... 11 Political cards, which is disappointingly low actually.

Okay, but what about the second theme, Elves?  Well the numbers here are much better: I count 23 cards that are Elves or create them, and 8 cards that care about Elves (Galadhrim Ambush). So Elves are the real backbone of the deck, which isn't surprising since Elves are one of the most supported archetypes in Commander while Politics is more fringe, but the way the deck plays is very different from your typical Elf deck which is often an all-or-nothing Elfball that either snowballs out of control or gets shut down and does nothing. This is all about playing slower and more consistently, manipulating opponents, while using Elves to build a board of your own and eventually win.

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Choosing Our Commander: 6 Options?!

Unlike most precons that usually have 2-3 commanders that can lead the stock list, Elven Council has a whopping 6 potential commanders: the face commander Galadriel, Elven-Queen along with the "lieutenants" Erestor of the Council, Radagast, Wizard of Wilds, Cirdan the Shipwright, Elrond of the White Council, and Gandalf, Westward Voyager! Wow! All of them come with their own strengths which I'll quickly break down:

  • Two options we can instantly write off are the wizards Radagast, Wizard of Wilds and Gandalf, Westward Voyager. Both these commanders care about casting 5mv+ spells, which is cool but not for this precon: they don't fit the deck's main themes of Politics and Elves and there's only 15 5mv+ cards that can trigger them and you really need spells that can be cast for cheaper to utilize them properly like Treasure Cruise
  • The other four options all care about Politics via voting: of the bunch, I think the face card Galadriel, Elven-Queen is surprisingly the weakest, something I rarely say for a precon. The triggered ability is very weak, essentially all you do is get tempted by the ring and get a +1/+1 counter, very rarely will you even draw a card. The only good thing I can say is that Galadriel is the most consistent source of repeat voting in the deck since you just need to play an Elf each turn which is easy in an Elf deck, but there's only 2 cards that reward you for voting anyway.
  • Cirdan the Shipwright is another repeat source of voting. You do need to attack with him which is dicey but the payoff is stronger: essentially everyone should make the person with the most cards draw and the person who is empty-handed put a permanent into play, but you can at least vote for yourself when you want to draw (or everyone votes for themselves to draw). Is that good though? Ehhh...
  • Elrond of the White Council is the strongest vote card as you reap tons of rewards. However it's only an ETB trigger so you really need Blink effects like Ghostly Flicker to make this card truly powerful.
  • Finally there's Erestor of the Council which is one of only two voting payoff cards in the entire deck, and the payoff here is very good: every time you vote you are guaranteed to draw a card, and then on top of that you can bribe opponents to vote your way with treasures or scry when they don't vote your way. It's not a busted payoff but it's solid, and one of the only commanders that actually rewards you for voting.

Of all the options, I believe Elrond of the White Council and Erestor of the Council are the strongest choices to lead the deck. For this article I'm going with Erestor since he's a cheaper commander to cast and is the only one of the bunch that rewards us for voting, whereas Elrond is a Blink commander who happens to vote.

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Analyzing the Precon & Identifying Weaknesses

Now that we've glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let's take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Let's see what the rough ratios are for Elven Council and how it compares. I count:

The manabase is the best part of the deck with a lot of staples and some really strong ramp like Elvish Archdruid. The worst part is probably the card draw: most of it sucks, like Galadriel, Elven-Queen, though there's some respectable options like Mirror of Galadriel. The upgrade section will need to improve the card draw and maybe toss in an extra board wipe too.

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Upgrade Goals

Based on our analysis of the deck I will focus on the following upgrade goals:

  • Enhance our Politics theme
  • Enhance our Elf theme
  • Swap our card draw for better options
  • Add another board wipe if able
  • Remove any card that doesn't fit our Politics / Elves themes or are thematic but too weak

The way I upgrade the precon changes heavily between the LOTR-only upgrade section and the regular upgrade section: the LOTR-only section will enhance our Elf theme without much enhancing Politics because there's no real political cards to add from the main set. The regular upgrade section will instead focus on both Politics and Elf themes.

LOTR-Only Upgrade

The main LOTR set has an Elves in Blue/Green colors, but they are tied very heavily to Scrying, which Elven Council barely dabbles in. However it's pretty easy to add this Scrying subtheme to our deck and the payoffs are worth it: elves like Galadriel of Lothlorien and Elrond, Master of Healing give us major incentives to add more scrying cards and a lot of the scrying cards happen to be amazing in the precon all by themselves, like Path of Ancestry which weirdly wasn't in this precon but is in others or Elvish Mariner which repeatedly scries while tapping down potential blockers.


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$100 Regular Upgrade

The regular adds are usually $30 too but I really wanted to develop the Voting aspect of the deck and unfortunately the cards we can add are very expensive. There's not a lot of good voting cards left, but the ones we can add are very strong: Expropriate, Selvala's Stampede, Split Decision, and Coercive Portal provide a ton of extra value to our deck, but the strongest addition is actually Illusion of Choice which can be game-winning when paired with some of our voting cards!

Since there's only a handful of good Voting cards left to add, I filled out the rest of the list with classic Elfball cards like Priest of Titania and Ezuri, Renegade Leader which are just fantastic in an Elf deck, but I also added a wee bit of Simic spice to it with some complimentary Blue cards like Kindred Discovery and my personal favorite, Edric, Spymaster of Trest.

The end result is an Elfball deck that slows down to play a more Political game. 


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Three Down, One To Go!

Our final deck is in my opinion the strongest one: Riders of Rohan packs a punch and I'm super excited to jump into this sweet Human Monarch deck!

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