Elf Help

Posted in Serious Fun on August 19, 2008

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.

I was flipping through a big pile of Elf cards earlier this week, looking for deck ideas for Elf Week, when a strange thought struck me:

I know these people.

I don't mean that literally, of course. My own planeswalker spark has consistently failed to ignite, no matter how much kindling I swallow (kidding!), so I can't say I've been kicking it in Gilt-Leaf or Wirewood lately.

What I mean is that the many and varied elves of Magic remind me a lot of some of the people I've played Magic with—and probably people you've played Magic with, too. Let me show you what I mean.

Elvish Champion

Elvish Champion
In Play: Elvish Champion is gracious and giving. She grants +1/+1 and forestwalk to all Elves equally, even if they're over there on the other side of the table. This means that she's good at making friends, but it can also make her a top target for those who don't benefit from her actions. She occasionally finds herself in the sad position of watching helplessly as the beneficiaries of her generosity—say, Mirror Entity and friends—sail right by her, walking through the same Forests that paid for her in the first place.

Around the Table: If you're lucky, you play Magic with someone like Elvish Champion. She plays for fun, but she's not just there to have a good time—she wants to make sure that everybody else has a good time, too. If other people don't seem to be having fun, she'll go out of her way to cheer them up, complimenting their decks, telling jokes, or making sure they get an extra slice of pizza.

She's the most likely to bring food or drinks, and she might even host your weekly Magic group. She'll frequently show up with new players she's gotten hooked on the game, or experienced players she's met and invited.

Once everyone sits down to play, the Champion is no less generous. Rather than attacking the weakest player, she'll often either attack the strongest, to keep the playing field level, or refrain from attacking at all until someone takes the lead. She may even use her spells to protect weaker players. She doesn't want to see players eliminated from a free-for-all game quickly, because then they'll have to sit out. If she's knocked out early, she'll use the time to chat, make a soda run, or get a frozen pizza in the oven.

The Champion doesn't win very often, but she doesn't really care either way; she considers an evening of Magic a success if everybody has fun.

Pitfalls: If you're a Champion type, rock on. You make any Magic group a better place to be. There are, however, a few things you might want to watch out for. Your attempts to protect the weak will earn their gratitude, but you might also get angry responses after you Condemn someone's would-be lethal attacker for the third time in an evening. If that happens, you might consider easing off for a while and saving your removal spells for attacks that are aimed at you, even if that means that someone gets crushed.

You should also make sure that you're comfortable with the amount of work you do to keep everyone happy. If you start feeling put-upon or taken for granted, speak up. It's not being selfish to ask that somebody else bring the drinks once in a while, and your efforts have probably made enough of an impression on your friends that they'll be willing to help share the load.

How to Handle: If you've got an Elvish Champion in your group, like I said, you're very lucky. But don't get too used to it. If you take your Champion for granted—or, worse, take advantage of her by leaving trash all over her house or "forgetting" to chip in for food—odds are you're not going to keep her around for long. Let her know that you appreciate her efforts, and offer to help out with things at least once a session. Even if she says she's got it covered, she'll appreciate the gesture.

Elvish Handservant

Elvish Handservant
In Play: Elvish Handservant wants someone to look up to. He comes into play early but probably doesn't do much right away. At a Lorwyn-heavy table, he'll happily stand on the shoulders of Giants across the table, changeling or otherwise, but he can't rely on aid from opponents. He's at his best when his mentors are fighting on his team. If he doesn't get the back-up he needs, he may find himself struggling.

Around the Table: The Handservant tends to be a younger or less experienced player, but he may also be someone who simply plays less (or less actively) than the people he plays with. Regardless, he feels that other people at the table have a better idea of what's going on than he does, and he'll follow their lead.

The Handservant is on the lookout for guidance. He is generally happy to receive deck-building advice, but may prefer private pointers to public instruction if he's worried about looking foolish. He is the most likely to borrow decks, the most likely to ask for advice about decks, and the most likely to seek out concrete rules to guide strategy and deck-building. Rules of thumb like "20 lands, 20 creatures, 20 other spells" aren't always correct, but they give him a place to start.

At the table, he's the most likely to be swayed by table talk (unless your group doesn't allow it, of course). This makes him receptive to genuine strategy advice from well-meaning opponents, but it can also make him easy to mislead for those who are so inclined.

He generally steers clear of offending stronger players, and in fact may actively help them. It's not uncommon to see him serving as king-maker, and he's often perfectly happy helping someone in a better position solidify their lead... even if it means that all he's earned is being last to the chopping block. After all, second comes right after first.

Unsurprisingly, the Handservant thrives in team formats, where another player benefits directly from offering him good advice. With somebody else at his side, he'll have more fun and be more confident, and he may actually play better as well, even without being told to.

Pitfalls: There's nothing wrong with being the Handservant. More experienced players have a lot to teach you, and many of them are perfectly willing to help. You'll want to watch out, though, for players who only offer you advice that benefits them. Letting yourself be manipulated doesn't just do yourself a disservice; the other players at the table might get tired of always being attacked by two opponents working together.

If you want advice about deck-building or strategy, don't be afraid to ask. Most people will gladly help you out. If you wait until after the game to ask strategy questions, you're more likely to get straight answers. If your group doesn't play team formats much, you might suggest that they give it a try.

How to Handle: If you're one of the Giants inspiring your local Elvish Handservant, don't abuse your stature in his eyes. Giving him straight advice will serve both of you better in the long run. When the straight advice would be to attack you, go ahead and say so—or, if you're not comfortable doing that, don't say anything.

He's apt to take strategy and deck-building advice as hard rules, so be careful how you phrase them. "Don't play creatures before combat" is fine advice, but not very helpful if he's playing lords like Imperious Perfect or creatures with haste.

Hunting Triad

Hunting Triad
In Play: The Elves of the Hunting Triad are a package deal. They can block together, taking out a much larger creature, or attack in a swarm, knowing that even if one dies, the other two will still get through. Anything that benefits Elves or Warriors benefits all of them, and they'll turn those benefits on their opponents as one.

Around the Table: Perhaps you know a few people who seem to have a Hunting Triad of their own. Often they're people who have known each other longer than everybody else in the group, but it may just be that they've hit it off. When everyone's hanging out, they often talk with each other, and may share in-jokes and stories that don't mean anything to anyone else.

During play, they don't seem to attack each other quite as often as they attack everybody else, and whether they're overt or subtle about it—whether they're even conscious of it—they tend to form a sort of team. More than a few games come down to two of them after they've eliminated everyone else. They often back each other up in arguments, and they may even go so far as to bring decks that play off each other somehow, Slivers being frequent offenders.

Pitfalls: If you're a member of a Hunting Triad (or Duo, or Quad, or whatever) within a larger Magic group, be aware that others may feel teamed up on or left out. If you make an effort to include people in your conversations, they won't be nearly as put off by your close-knit circle.

In play, I can't really tell you to attack your buddies. That's your business. But even the occasional alliance with someone else will help convince people that you're not entirely biased. Some groups consider team-ups normal, while others hate it when two players in strong positions ignore each other and clear out the rest of the table. Your mileage may vary.

How to Handle: If you've seen the wrong end of a Hunting Triad's spears too often, you probably don't appreciate their camaraderie. Accusing them of being unfair may not do much good, especially if your group is tolerant of team-ups and alliances. You can't really tell them that they're not allowed to ally, so there isn't much you can do there. You can always form coalitions against them in response, but if you're going that far, why not just play teams?

Putting members of the Triad on one team for team play may satisfy their desire to help each other out. Deliberately splitting them up forces them to branch out and give some others a hand, which may make more of a difference in the long run.

Taunting Elf

Taunting Elf
In Play: Taunting Elf loves to get everybody's attention. He'll gleefully skip across the table, making a show of it, and the opposing creatures will dutifully get their dander up. This usually turns out badly for him, but a Gaze of the Gorgon or a Might of Oaks waiting in the wings can make sure that his taunts weren't just empty boasting after all.

Around the Table: I think we've all known a Taunting Elf or two in our time.

"Hey," he'll say, grinning, "want to lose a game of Magic?"

Maybe it's because he wants to be funny, maybe he's trying to manipulate people into making bad decisions, or maybe he just can't help it. Regardless, the trash talk doesn't let up when the game begins.

Whether he means well or not, the Taunting Elf can certainly goad you into making bad decisions. Even if he doesn't, you may find yourself getting distracted by the constant stream of mock insults, quick wisecracks, and sly intimations concerning your mother.

Pitfalls: I can certainly respect using humor and wit to influence people, and a little bit of trash talk can really get the blood pumping. If you crack jokes because you want to be funny, don't overdo it. Some people aren't used to your verbal barrages, and even people who usually weather them may not be able to if they're having a bad day. Pay attention to how people are taking your jokes, and if they ask you to stop, or seem to be getting angry, stop.

If you trash talk to throw people off their game, well, that's your business.

How to Handle: If you’re stuck listening to all this trash talk, you’ve got a few options. If you’re up for it, you can wisecrack right back. Some Taunting Elves will loosen up a lot after that, feeling that they’ve found a kindred spirit; others will, at this point, step up the trash talk and get nasty. Either way, you’ll know. If returning his serve just isn’t your style, the best approach is usually to ignore him. Above all, try not to get angry—it never helps. If you’re really sick of his barrage, mention that it’s a problem. Most people will let up at that point, at least for a while.

Hunter of Eyeblights

Hunter of Eyeblights
In Play: Hunter of Eyeblights is happy to help. Really! That +1/+1 counter she hands out when she comes into play can be a way to make friends, but it's more likely to be seen for what it is: a death mark. Her temporary generosity can backfire if she dies before she can bag her quarry, but that's a risk she's willing to take.

Around the Table: The good thing about playing with a Hunter of Eyeblights is that she'll be nice to you. The bad thing is that you may end up paying for it later on. For some Hunters, this predatory attitude extends to the entire social experience; most, however, save it for the game.

While playing, she'll often offer temporary alliances, and may intervene in combat if she thinks it's worth her time. She will help other players freely and frequently, but is very willing to turn on those same players later. She will generally be careful not to make permanent alliances, because she doesn't want to develop a reputation for breaking her word. If she says she won't attack you for two turns, look for an army headed your way on the third turn.

She plays to win, and she won't offer any aid that she thinks will land her in second place. If she helps you, it's because she thinks she can beat you in the long run.

Pitfalls: The Hunter approach is legitimate strategy, and if you keep your word when you give it, you shouldn't draw too much flak for it. Don't make alliances you don't intend to keep, since that will make people angry in the short term and suspicious in the long term. Be very precise when and if you make assurances about your intentions. And try not to actually cackle when you turn on people. ("Mwahahahaha! Mine is an evil laugh. Now die!")

How to Handle: Playing with a Hunter really depends on how you like to play multiplayer. If the political game is your cup of joe, then you might enjoy trying to figure out her true intentions and foil them. She'll make a worthy nemesis. If you're less enthused at the prospect of politics, just ignore whatever help she gives you. She won't be offended.

Bonus Screen Grab

I did eventually get down to building some Elf decks on Magic Online and taking them for a spin. One of them used Heritage Druid and Elf token producers to make a ton of Elves and a ton of mana, although my list, naturally, is nowhere near as streamlined as the tournament decks built on the same chassis:

Mana War Elves

Download Arena Decklist

The deck proved more potent than I thought, and I won one memorable one-on-one game on turn six with this board:


Yes, that's two 16/16 creatures. And... yes, I misclicked and had Immaculate Magistrate beef up the wrong Elf mid-combat. My single 16/16 Drove of Elves still did more than enough to win the game. Bam!

Tribal Types

As the above screenshot demonstrates, a focused tribal deck—even one thrown together in five minutes—can be shockingly powerful. Some groups love tribal decks for exactly that reason, while others dislike the momentum they can bring to the table. Where does your group fall? Are tribal decks everywhere, nowhere, or somewhere in between? Are there any tribes that cause particular trouble? Let us know in the forums!

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