What an Elf Wants (What an Elf Needs)

Posted in Card Preview on May 24, 2016

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the podcast Magic the Amateuring and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

Every new Draft format has something different to offer. Build-around cards. Exciting synergies. Cards that leap out at us from their booster packs, demanding we take them and capitalize on their potential power. Sometimes they're so persuasive we have to listen, valued advice and lessons about staying open and reading signals falling by the wayside as we pursue the synergistic decks of our dreams.

In Magic Origins, uncommon Elves formed the core of just such a deck. Again and again, cards like Dwynen's Elite and Shaman of the Pack drew me in, sometimes to disastrous ends and sometimes to incredible ones.

Today, I'm thrilled to tell you that we get another chance to draft the Elf deck of our dreams in Eternal Masters—and I get to show off a few of the key cards that will make this Draft archetype tick.

What does an Eternal Masters Elf Draft deck want?

Players who drafted Magic Origins will remember Shaman of the Pack, whose double-color casting cost was one of the only things keeping it from being the format's most in-demand three-drop.

As a 3/2 for three mana, the Shaman fits nicely into a variety of Limited decks. It can slot into the crucial three-drop spot, developing your board in the early turns of the game and providing a minor upside. In a deck packed with other Elves, however, the Shaman truly shines. The minor upside of draining your opponent for 1 or 2 points of life (or more!) when it enters the battlefield can quickly become a game-ending ability.

A card like Shaman of the Pack is crucial to aggressive decks with low curves that want to unload a lot of damage early and sneak in the last few points however they can. A swarm of tiny creatures can stall out in the late game, unable to attack into an opponent's larger, more imposing board. The Shaman provides a way to end the game by going wide, and it has the coveted distinction of being a good play both early and late in the game.

Shaman of the Pack doesn't care about the time and mana your opponent invested in stabilizing the board. It gallops in on its...ibex?...and finishes off those pesky remaining life points. It's especially potent in decks relying on a swarm of cheap creatures, and other Elves in the set play right into the same strategy.

At three mana, Timberwatch Elf's 1/2 body is underwhelming. One look at its text box, however, confirms that its diminutive frame packs a punch. Timberwatch Elf's ability to tap to boost a creature's stats is a powerful effect—and better yet, it's one you can keep using as long as your opponent is foolish enough to let it live.

Timberwatch Elf can come down as soon as turn three, ready to buff up your early creatures. Like Shaman of the Pack, it's also a potent play late in the game when it can provide a bigger boost, and becomes better the more Elves you have in your deck and on the board.

As if a repeatable stat boost that scales with the number of Elves you control isn't good enough, Timberwatch Elf's ability is free. It costs nothing. How much mana to pump a creature every turn? Nothing! You can add more Elves to your board before combat. You can leave up mana for a combat trick or removal you have in hand. You can develop your board after combat. Timberwatch Elf doesn't just give you stats, it gives you flexibility. The world is your oyster. Or your Forest. With Timberwatch Elf in play, it's really up to you.

Even as an on-board trick, Timberwatch Elf makes combat a nightmare for your opponent. You have options and they have a life total to protect. With a few more Elves in play, your opponent might be dead if they leave even one creature unblocked, making Timberwatch Elf another way to push through those critical last points of damage.

But what if it were possible to repeat these late-game effects again and again—as many times as needed to bury your opponent in damage or life loss? Well, this set was designed by Wizards, Harry, and it is possible.

I've saved the best for last, because Wirewood Symbiote works beautifully with both of the Elves above. We have to demand a lot from a 1/1 creature, but Wirewood Symbiote more than stands up to the scrutiny.

I have to start somewhere with this marvelous card, so I'll begin with the synergies with the two cards previewed above.

Wirewood Symbiote allows you to untap a creature each turn, which could be used to give one creature (or two, if you're able to recast what you bounce) pseudo-vigilance. Or, if you're lucky enough to have a Timberwatch Elf in play, Wirewood Symbiote allows for two activations of its ability. Whether it's pumping one unblocked creature twice for lethal damage or two blocked creatures so they win their respective combats, two activations of Timberwatch Elf go a long way toward putting you ahead during combat.

With Wirewood Symbiote in play, you can also get second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) instances of enters-the-battlefield effects like Shaman of the Pack's. While some creatures, like Timberwatch Elf, benefit from being untapped, others ask only that you cast them as many times as possible. If one life drain from the Shaman doesn't finish your opponent off, you can always bounce it with Wirewood Symbiote and cast it again—and again, and again—until they're good and dead.

If you don't have any enters-the-battlefield effects, you can always settle for giving vigilance, or for bouncing your creatures in response to removal.

An aggressive, go-wide strategy wants creatures like Shaman of the Pack and Timberwatch Elf that provide late-game reach, and cards like Wirewood Symbiote that make these effects repeatable only add to their potency.

So, whether it's a swarm strategy like Elves, or one of the other Eternal Masters Draft archetypes revealed throughout preview week, I hope you have the opportunity to draft whatever makes you happy.

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