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Elven Empire Precon Upgrade | $20, $200 | Elfball | Tokens | Sacrifice


Kaldheim preconstructed decks have been revealed which means it's time for another round of my precon upgrades! I'll go over how each preconstructed deck plays, why you should buy it, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, then use that information to recommend the most optimal and impactful upgrade options on a budget, including sample $20 and $200 upgrade lists.

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Today we're covering the precon Elven Empire, a Golgari Elfball deck looking to quickly amass a huge amount of Elves on the battlefield and snowball out of control to win the game. This deck showcases the strengths of Green Elves, the primarily color of the tribe which specializes in generating mana with cards like Elvish Archdruid and generating tokens with cards like Lys Alana Huntmaster, and combines it with the strengths of Black Elves, giving the tribe powerful ways to close out games with cards like Shaman of the Pack and turn the deaths of your Elves into additional value with cards like Miara, Thorn of the Glade. The end result is an Elfball deck that quickly amasses a huge army of Elves and uses that army to generate tons of mana, draw tons of cards, and eventually win the game by draining your opponents' life totals or by good ol' fashioned lethal attacks.

The precon's main themes merge together with its commander, Lathril, Blade of the Elves:

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Lathril is a fantastic Elf commander, acting as both an Elf token generator and a finisher for the deck. His token generation scales with how much combat damage she deals, so elf lords in the deck like Imperious Perfect or a big pumper like Timberwatch Elf can dramatically increase the amount of elf tokens she can produce per turn. Elf tokens generators are the key piece of an Elfball deck so having such a powerful one in our command zone is amazing.

Lathril's other ability is a tremendous finisher for the deck. Tapping 10 other Elves sounds like a lot, and it is, but any respectable Elfball deck can do so pretty easily. Draining each opponent for 10 each activation is a quick way to end the game, and having this ability tacked on to the rest of the card means that you don't need to go out of your way to run many finishers in the deck. This ability becomes even deadlier if you have ways to untap all of your creatures to activate it more than once per turn, something the precon can't do, but we'll definitely add some ways to do so in the upgrade section.

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So if you're interested in an Elfball deck that snowballs out of control and uses tokens to fuel a ton of different things, then Elven Empire is the deck for you!

Let's check out the decklist and see how well it accomplishes its goals:

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Elven Empire benefits a lot from having a single theme: Elf Tribal. It dedicates all its card slots towards this goal, and since Elves are one of the most popular and well-represented tribes in the history of Magic, the precon easily manages to fill all its slots with synergistic options. Because the deck is already focused on a single goal, my upgrades won't need to unify its themes but rather just fix up its ratios and upgrade functional cards with better versions. 

Analyzing the Precon

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 
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

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 Phantom Premonition and how it compares. I count:

From just a numbers perspective, this a great start to the precon! The deck has a lot of ramp and the combination of card draw and recursion allows it to fight through removal spells and keep chugging along. There's also plenty of interaction and ways to close out the game.

Now let's take a look at the individual cards and see what are the best ones to keep and what are the weakest ones that we should look to cut:

37 Lands. The lands here are pretty basic -- I mean literally, 29 of the 37 lands are just basic lands. That's absolutely fine in a 2C deck, especially one that has so much mana-fixing ramp. Highlights include Command Tower, the only mana-fixing land here that enters the battlefield untapped. By far the best tapped land is Path of Ancestry as the repeating scry is amazing in a Tribal deck like this. Nothing else stands out here as particularly great; Skemfar Elderhall is on-theme, but it costs way too much for too little of an effect. Honestly not a great addition.

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15 Ramp. Elves are best known for their ramp so it's no surprise that we got some great ones here. Most of the ramp cards generate one additional mana here, but there's a few Elfball payoff cards that generate insane ramp once the deck starts doing its thing, like Marwyn, the Nurturer, Elvish Archdruid, and Wirewood Channeler, which can ramp out some huge turns. There are some duds as well, like Jaspera Sentinel, but overall the ramp is a highlight of the deck.

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8 Card Draw. There card draw options is overall quite solid: there's variety here, with some amazing options like Beast Whisperer drawing a card whenever we cast a creature, or Pact of the Serpent which draws a card for each Elf we control. We also have card draw tied to our elves dying, like Miara, Thorn of the Glade and others, though I think the only way to actively kill our elves in the deck is Rhys the Exiled, so they're mostly just board wipe protection. It's a great start but it could be better.

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9 Targeted Removal. There's some really thematic but also powerful targeted removal in the deck, from the staple Reclamation Sage to the more obscure Lys Alana Scarblade, and a brand new sacrifice effect with Ruthless Winnower which I really like. I think the weakest removal spell of the bunch is Poison the Cup but even that is a solid card. No complaints here.

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2 Board Wipes. The board wipes are definitely the weakest part of the deck: Tergrid's Shadow doesn't hurt the deck much since we'll usually have expendable 1/1 Elf tokens to sacrifice, but it's not effective against opposing Token decks for the same reason. And while Eyeblight Massacre can pick off small utility creatures or opposing tokens, it's not strong enough to take out the scarier creatures in the format. The deck needs an unconditional way to reset the board, and neither of these two cards do that well.

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5 Graveyard Recursion. I like the variety of ways we return stuff from the graveyard. Serpent's Soul-Jar looks like the strongest of the bunch, letting us get back multiple Elves per turn for a measly 2 life. Return Upon the Tide is expensive but it does put the creature directly into play with some extra tokens which is nice, and Elderfang Ritualist is good sacrifice fodder. No real complaints here, solid stuff.

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0 Flexible Tutors. Tutors are super helpful for any Commander deck to help you find the right card for any situation, but I'm fine with them not showing up in precons. These are decks that are meant to pick up and play without being intimately aware of the deck's contents so tutors would only serve to confuse new pilots.

0 Graveyard Hate. What I can't condone, however, is the total lack of graveyard hate that these precons often neglect to provide. Graveyard-based strategies are some of the most popular in the format so you're doing new players a disservice by not introducing them to graveyard hate with products like these. Interaction is key in any deck, and not having graveyard interactions is a big miss.

3 Surprise "I Win" Cards. All the win conditions of this deck require you to have a critical mass of Elves on the battlefield. That's what the deck is meant to do so while it does take some set up, it shouldn't be too difficult. Of the bunch, our commander is probably the best win condition as you don't need to get around opposing defenses to finish them off. I also really like Shaman of the Pack for immediate reach, and if we are forced into combat then we can do much worse than End-Raze Forerunners.

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The Verdict. Overall, this looks one of the best precons they've made yet. Elfball certainly isn't a unique concept, but the benefit in that is a tight, focused deck right out of the box with plenty of upgrade potential. The only major flaw is the lack of good board wipes and total absense of graveyard hate.

Making Elfball Better

I have some specific goals when upgrading the deck:

  • Add better board wipes
  • Upgrade weaker thematic Elfball cards with better options
  • Speed up the deck by lowering its cmc / mana requirements

$20 Upgrade

Disclaimer: Card prices are volatile, especially Kaldheim preorder prices. The prices listed here may be different at the time you read this article.

Here's how I'd swap in $20 worth of upgrades:

In Out Reason
Arbor Elf Jaspera Sentinel We're replacing the weaker / slower ramp with faster, more efficient mana dork staples.
Elves of Deep Shadow Elvish Rejuvenator

We're replacing the weaker / slower ramp with faster, more efficient mana dork staples.

Fyndhorn Elves Farhaven Elf

We're replacing the weaker / slower ramp with faster, more efficient mana dork staples.

Gnarlroot Trapper Springbloom Druid

We're replacing the weaker / slower ramp with faster, more efficient mana dork staples.

Llanowar Elves Wood Elves

We're replacing the weaker / slower ramp with faster, more efficient mana dork staples.

Copperhorn Scout Harald, King of Skemfar Harald's stats and ability aren't that impressive by itself. Our deck is full of powerful tap abilities, which Scout lets us re-use them all for cheap.

Vitalize

Jagged-Scar Archers

Archers can be kind of beefy and act as situational removal but overall it's kinda weak. Vitalize is another cheap mass-untapper which lets us re-use all of our tap abilities.

Elvish Warmaster

Numa, Joraga Chieftain

Numa is way too slow and mana-intensive, even in an Elfball deck. Warmaster is a super efficient token generator that also doubles as a mana sink finisher later on.
Priest of Forgotten Gods Masked Admirers Admirers are way too slow and mana-hungry. Priest is one of the few non-Elf creatures that I highly recommend, acting as a much-needed sac outlet that draw cards, generates mana, and removes opposing creatures.
Skemfar Avenger Twinblade Assassins Assassins are too slow and expensive. Avenger also draws cards but does so way more efficiently.
Wirewood Herald Pride of the Perfect

Pride is an unexciting anthem that isn't really needed. Herald is an amazing tutor, fits our sacrifice theme, grabbing our best Elf card when we sacrifice it.

Ezuri, Renegade Leader End-Raze Forerunners

Forerunners is a fine finisher, but Ezuri is simply way better in Elfball, plus provides our creatures protection.

Immaculate Magistrate Voice of the Woods

Voice is cool but clunky, requiring you to tap five elves which want to be tapped other ways too. Magistrate only requires tapping itself, providing a steady and consistent win condition.

Skyshroud Poacher Roots of Wisdom

Roots is underwhelming recursion. Poacher is amazing repeatable tutoring in an Elf deck.

Elvish Dreadlord Eyeblight Massacre

Massacre is often too conditional to get tons of value out of. Dreadlord is less conditional, especially when you encore it, and has more synergy with the deck being an elf creature itself.

Shamanic Revelation Ambition's Cost

Cost is a decent restictionless card draw option but we can do better here. Revelation is absurdly good card draw in an Elfball deck, especially now that we've added way more low cmc elves to the deck.

Harald Unites the Elves Return Upon the Tide

Harald is simply a way better version of Return, doing the same thing but cheaper with its first chapter but also having additional benefits in later turns.

Skullclamp Crown of Skemfar

Saving the best for last is Skullclamp! It's the single best upgrade in the deck: broken card draw in a deck full of 1/1's and also a sac outlet to get all those drain triggers. Crown is cute but slow and weak.

Here's how the cuts look in lists.

Additions:

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Cuts:

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And here's the deck with the upgrades installed:

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$200 Upgrade

A higher budget lets us dratically increase the deck's consistency, with cards like Finale of Devastation working as a great tutor in the deck that later on becomes a win condition, Heroic Intervention to protect our board, and the best untappers like Seedborn Muse! The deck really starts to take off at this price point, and the cool thing about Elfball is that the card pool is so deep that you can keep upgrading further if you want to.

Additions:

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Cuts:

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And the upgrades installed:

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Coming Up: Kaldheim Set Review!

Next up is my full Commander review of Kaldheim! It's a lot of typing so off I go! See ya!



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