Budget Elves

Posted in Reconstructed on August 25, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome to a week of looking at budget decks on ReConstructed!

Players from around the world sent in their budget decks, and I amassed quite the litany of budget concoctions! If you're looking to play Standard on a budget, no matter which kind of general archetype you prefer, you'll definitely want to check out some of the other submissions that were sent in at the end.

The deck I'd like to focus on today, however, zooms in on one of the supported tribes of Magic Origins: Elves! After taking a look at Goblins last week, it's only fair that the Elves get some love this week—and it just so happens they're an excellent budget choice!

Numerous people sent in Elves lists (only further crystalizing it in my mind as a good choice to take a look at this week), and the one we're going to look at today comes from Drew Forsyth. (If that is his real name—it may also just be one of Aaron Forsythe's pseudonyms.)

Let's take a look:

Drew Forsyth's Black-Green Budget Elves

Download Arena Decklist

Budget Rules

Before we head toward the Elvish woods and creep into the forest of the night, it's time to recap my rules for building a budget decklist! If you've never seen this before, what you can expect is:

  • I will not add any new rares or mythic rares to the decklist. I'd rather make the deck extra budget-y and let you season to taste with delicious rares than cook it so rare you won't eat it at all.
  • The one exception to the above is mana fixing. You'll get a lot of mileage out of acquiring a mana base: Lands can go in many decks and are one of their most crucial elements. Your cards probably aren't going to help you if you can't cast them!
  • I try not to make substitutions. Budget doesn't need to mean making a worse version of a current deck—it just means building toward an archetype that has easier-to-obtain cards. Cards like Thopter Spy Network and Jeskai Ascendancy simply can't be replaced in decks that need them.
  • Budget doesn't mean bad. I'm not setting out to make a deck we know will be suboptimal through this process. There have been plenty of highly successful low-rarity decks throughout Magic's history, and there are certainly ways to follow in their footsteps.

If you want more explanation on any of those points, check out the beginning of my first budget article.

All right. Got it all down? Good. Now, let's hop into the details on how this deck operates!

The Battle Plan

Unlike more combo-riffic versions of Elves in the past (See: The Top 8 of Pro Tour Berlin), the Standard version just wants to beat your opponent down! Using tribal benefits and Elvish mana acceleration to its advantage, it can hit fast—and let the onslaught of Elves keep coming!

A huge piece from Magic Origins is Sylvan Messenger. It keeps the deck full of gas, so even if your opponent has a sweeper or one-for-ones you with a ton of removal spells, you can continue to deploy members of your Elvish army.

On the other end of the spectrum, and also a crucial part of the deck, is Shaman of the Pack (which I now always hear "vroom vroom" after—thanks, Felicia Day). It provides a huge life swing that can often close out the game, and drawing multiples is even more ridiculous. Often you'll hit for 4+ points with a single Shaman. Add that onto a marvelous 3/2 body and you have quite the card for this strategy.

If there were anything a little lacking from this build, it would be some removal to help fight off problematic creatures. This deck certainly has some tools to help—Gnarlroot Trapper handing out deathtouch, for example—but a little bit of spot removal would be great to have around.

Considering many of the cards this deck wants to play come from Magic Origins, there's a lot of exciting newness to cover! Let's hop right into it.

Deck Breakdown

Which cards are excellent fits and which ones just aren't perfect? Let's go through the deck card by card to find out!

One-drop mana accelerators are already excellent—and the fact that these are both also Elves just makes them even more ideal cards to play! On top of all that, Gnarlroot Trapper's granting deathtouch is particularly effective: Your army of Elves can charge into cards like Siege Rhino and still favorably trade off. And if your opponent doesn't block, you've got a mana you can use after combat!

I definitely wouldn't play fewer than the full eight copies here.

Thornbow Archer is on the low end of the power level I want to play in this deck—but it's still good enough to stick around for a couple reasons. For one, it really ensures you have a one-drop. Second, it provides extra Elvish critical mass to make cards like Sylvan Messenger and Shaman of the Pack work. And since it only costs one to cast, it's easy to get out there to work favorably with Shaman of the Pack. Plus, in this aggressively focused deck, the card can really lay damage on quickly.

While sometimes your opponent will draw their Elvish Mystic and it'll be a little awkward, the Archers do enough good work to earn their stay.

Paying two mana for 3 power is always an exciting proposition—and the fact that this card "goes wide" by making tokens means it's even more attractive for pumping up your Shaman of the Packs! This card is highly efficient and helps make damage happen; I definitely want all four.

The Visionary has to be one of the cards with the most unassuming-yet-powerful ratios in all of Magic. A two-mana 1/1 that gives you a card doesn't look so scary. But the fact that it replaces itself and adds another Elf to the board, making sure you still have plenty of gas—all while counting toward cards like Shaman of the Pack and getting pumped up by Dwynen—makes it plenty strong and a totally fine draw at any stage of the game. Let's stick with the four-pack here.

I've mentioned it already, but I'll certainly mention this card's strength again: It's a powerhouse! This is one of the scariest cards in the entire deck. It means you're advantaged in any kind of board stall, and the opponent always has to be concerned about you just dropping this on their head and finishing them off. I definitely want to play all four of these.

Sylvan Messenger is a card-advantage machine! The Messenger's sibling, Goblin Ringleader, has seen plenty of time in the spotlight before—and now it's the Messenger's turn to shine! On average, you're going to get about two Elves off of this creature, making it a double Elvish Visionary. I'll certainly take it.

This card is so potent that I would make sure this deck features the full four copies. Let's kick it up from three to four.

The Sabertooth is one of the real innovations of this deck. Now, you may remember from third grade history that Sabertooths are not (generally) Elves. And indeed, the card bears this out.

So what's it doing in a deck all about Elves, playing Elves, counting Elves, and pumping Elves? Well, it has a very powerful interaction with reusing Elves!

For the low cost of two mana, you can return any of your Elves back to your hand—which doesn't sound that awesome in a vacuum, but it's actually quite powerful! Look at those enter-the-battlefield effects. Shaman of the Pack? Bam! Sylvan Messenger? Bang! So much value!

Temur Sabertooth isn't necessarily the best Plan-A card—but it really helps you out when things have gone a little awry. When you need to grind out cards with an Elvish Visionary, Temur Sabertooth is there to help.

I don't want to draw two of these, but I like having access to one in some hands or long games to build around. I'm going to move down to two copies.

In its place, I want to include a singleton of a very situational Elf: Reclamation Sage! It's not the kind of card I want to draw plenty of in every matchup, but many decks will have a target for it and playing one main deck means that you can try and dig to it if really necessary. (Which is easier than you think, thanks to Sylvan Messenger!)

It's the only nonland rare in the deck—and it's a good one!

While Dwynen may have it out for eyeblights, fortunately those eyeblights are all your opponent's! Pumping up all of your Elves is exactly what this deck wants to do, and the life boost is just frosting on the cake. I would consider playing a third if it weren't for the budget restriction—but even just two is still plenty solid.

Foul-Tongue Shriek can cause some big swings, and it's the kind of card that can help a deck that creates this many creatures deal some real damage.

However, think about what it takes to make it good. First, you have to be attacking with a bunch of creatures in the first place—and if you're doing that, then you can't be in too rough of shape. Second, every card you play comes at the cost of another card. And while there will be situations where this is good, more often I'd rather just have a card I can cast consistently and have it always be effective.

This sounds like just the spot for that removal I was talking about before!

This deck doesn't have room for many more non-Elf spells, but we can fit three in. And for that split, I'd like to make it two Hero's Downfalls, one Ultimate Price. There will be situations where one is better than the other, and on average I'd rather have Downfall. If this deck put more cards into its own graveyard I'd look at Murderous Cut, but this deck doesn't really want (or need) the fetch lands that would make that stronger.

So, with all of these tweaks made, here's the final decklist:

Gavin Verhey's Budget-Friendly Elves

Download Arena Decklist

If you want to attack your opponent with green creatures in Standard and have a small collection, this is just the kind of deck I would look toward. The only two nonland rares are Dwynen, and while the mana base inclusions are nice, they aren't even entirely necessary.

What about the other end of the spectrum, if you're not trying to be budget? Well, in that case I would consider trying out both Collected Company and Obelisk of Urd. Company fills a similar role as the Messenger at putting a lot of Elves out there and keeping your engine running. A couple Obelisks can likely end games in short order. And, perhaps, you could add a third Dwynen as well.

But all in all, that's really all I'd look at on the rare spectrum. Elves are easy to get into. So build up this deck and give it a try!

McArtor's Mentions

Each week on McArtor's Mentions we take a gander at some of the other decks sent in for this week.

Check them out!

Matthew Sentilles's White-Black Enchantments

Download Arena Decklist

Qoarl's Mardu Kidnappers

Download Arena Decklist

Itou Kazunari's Scroll of the Chimera

Download Arena Decklist

Rick's Graveyard Dump

Download Arena Decklist

Yvo Warner's Blue Rogues

Download Arena Decklist

Toshiaki Futaba's Hellion Red

Download Arena Decklist

John Reznor's I Need a Hero

Download Arena Decklist

Dawson Lynch's Rally the Elves

Download Arena Decklist

Mo Holmes's Budget Miracle Grow

Download Arena Decklist

Addison Fox's Tainted Congregation

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Begins

We're almost there! In two short weeks, the first Battle for Zendikar preview week on DailyMTG begins! Come join us and catch the beginning of a new era on Zendikar. My first preview card is a powerhouse that you won't want to miss!

That means no deck building challenge for two weeks from now. But somehow, I feel all of the Battle for Zendikar discussion will fill that hole in your heart plenty well. (And if you're looking for more Elves to update this deck with, Battle for Zendikar certainly has a few Elves to be on the lookout for!)

Hopefully you enjoyed this article today! If you have any questions at all, please feel free to send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to take a look.

I'll be back next week, as we dive into our inner deck building Vorthoses. Talk with you again then!




Latest Reconstructed Articles


January 4, 2016

Kozilek's Return by, Gavin Verhey

Kozilek had quite an explosive reappearance. Everything on Zendikar was starting to go all right. And then, in one earth-rumbling swoop, the beast below awoke: Kozilek surged up and reap...

Learn More


December 28, 2015

Jumping for Jori by, Gavin Verhey

Welcome to Oath of the Gatewatch previews! This set has a lot of awesome elements going for it. Support. Surge. And—oh yeah—that colorless mana symbol, just to name a few. I was on the d...

Learn More



Reconstructed Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All