While morphing is the "signature" mechanic of the Onslaught™ expansion, there's something else going on in this set, and it's an unquestionably good thing for casual players -- creature types are starting to mean something again.
A scan of the FlavOracle and other sources will reveal that Elves may not be as dead as the Odyssey™ block would have you believe. And it's a good thing, too, because the new Elf Lord needs at least four friends to do its thing. (Note that it's an Elf.)
Elves are not known for their superior size, unless gathered under a Coat of Arms. They are, however, really good at calling in reinforcements. Before now, you had to tap them for mana to pay for those additional troops, but tapping takes on a whole new meaning when Voice of the Woods is involved.
WHAT DO ELVES MAKE IN THEIR SPARE TIME? TRAMPLING COOKIES.
First, a word about Elemental tokens. Because we all know that no matter how you build your deck, the only thing that really counts is what you use to represent this 7/7 trampler.
Everybody who watches enough television knows that elves make cookies. Keebler makes killer Frosted Animal Cookies -- they come in bags of about 100 and are "uncommonly good." (Uncommon . . . get it? All right, Voice of the Woods is a rare, not an uncommon, but I needed something to show for my visit to the Keebler website.)
The great thing about animal-element tokens is that they can come out as soon as the fifth Elf is present -- you can use Voice of the Woods' ability as soon as it comes into play. (Abilities without tap symbols can be used immediately. What you're doing to the five Elves, sick or not, is no different from what a Phyrexian Ghoul or Goblin Bombardment tells you to do -- you're just tapping the creatures to get an effect, instead of sacrificing them. Put another way, you're not tapping Llanowar Elves to use its ability or attack, which is all a
Using the ability immediately -- and paying no mana to do it -- leads to some frightening possibilities.
SSSSSHHHHH . . . KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN! THERE'S AN INTRUDER!
I'm going to do a public service here and warn you of a combo that someone in your group (and it just may be you) will not be able to resist. The culprits? Voice of the Woods and Intruder Alarm. The crime? Conspiring with as many 7/7 trampling Elemental tokens as you care to generate.
Voice of the Woods and Intruder Alarm: You'll want this combo dead in order to stay alive.
The combo isn't that complex. When you have five Elves and Intruder Alarm on the board, use Voice of the Woods to tap your Elves to bring an Elemental token into play. Once the Elemental token is in play, Intruder Alarm untaps your Elves. Wanna tap 'em again? Okay.
As soon as the second permanent comes into play (it doesn't matter whether it's Voice of the Woods or Intruder Alarm), there is close to nothing that can be done to stop you from resolving as many Elemental tokens as you want. At this point, the only way an opponent can stop you is to wait for all five of your Elves to tap and then remove either Intruder Alarm or an Elf at instant speed so that you can't bring on another Elemental token in response to his or her action. If you have more than five Elves, getting rid of enough Elves becomes even tougher for your opponent. If you have ten or more Elves, getting rid of anything in time to stop anything becomes a nightmare.
So, what should a casual-play group do about this combo? Revile it, or revel in it? As much as I dislike combos that allow for an "arbitrarily large" number of anything, I recommend allowing it and being prepared. Most groups should know better than to let assemblies of Elves pour onto the board while their controller pretends he's not up to anything. When he gives off an innocent "who, me?" look as you start shelling him and his troops, don't get into an argument. I'll handle this for you. Bring him over to the nearest computer, kick up this site, and come on over to this article. Scroll down to the line below, and point.
Who do you think you're kidding, buster?
There. You didn't say it, I did. Now you two can still be friends.
Of course, many veterans are familiar with what multiple Elves can do when you don't watch them carefully. Which brings us to our decks for this week.
"ELF-BALL"? HOW ABOUT "ELF-ANVIL"?
How many Elves does it take to screw in a 7/7 trampling Elemental?
A common casual theme deck (especially on "creature-type night") is "Elf-ball" -- a bunch of tiny Elves that rapidly produce mana and then smoke people with Fireball (or Rolling Thunder, or Ghitu Fire, and so on). Voice of the Woods is compatible with Elf-ball decks; but I think it can also do much more.
While constructing the decks below, I intentionally avoided well-worn paths like Coat of Arms, red X-damage spells, and forestwalk tricks like Elvish Champion. In fact, for the first deck, I even set aside old mana accelerators like Llanowar Elves, Priest of Titania, and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary.
Instead, I tried to build an army of more resilient Elves that would not fear a simple spell like Tremor. Llanowar Sentinel and Elvish Bard are among the few Elves that will regularly top 2 toughness on their own. (Skyshroud Elite needs a tiny bit of help from your opponents.) None of the Elves beyond the expendable Elvish Lyrist has a toughness lower than 2. It was less of a strategic decision, though, and more of a flavor -- I just like the fact that my Elves aren't wimps.
The primary vehicles for getting five on the board are the Llanowar Sentinels and Sylvan Messengers. (The 1/1 Skyshroud Sentinel would also be an option.) From there, it's a simple matter of protecting and/or recurring them.
Beyond Voice of the Woods, there is no "must-have" rare in the deck. In fact, Yavimaya Hollow is the only other rare at all. Note that the Howl from Beyonds are a nod to the X-factor in Elf-ball decks. The rest of the spells are incredibly cheap, so I was comfortable going down to 22 lands. If you find it too hard to bring out more than two Llanowar Sentinels at a time, drop a Vitalize and a Howl from Beyond and up the land count to 24.
There's a white deck out there, too. It allows some of the "wimpier" Elves back in, and it looks something like this:
Defiant Vanguard is an acceptable substitute for Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero. The Parallax Waves, however, are harder to replace. Your best bet is to use the rare Reverent Mantra. You can work your way down the quality spectrum of protection spells, but you don't have to do worse than Shelter. The mana acceleration is good enough to make Temper an interesting trick for an Elemental token that might die -- coins on your (now truly frosted) animal cookie! -- or an Elf you'd like to see supersized.
Gerrard's Command is funny for those times that you "accidentally" leave only four Elves untapped. Swing with all your creatures except for four Elves and a Rebel. (See? You're so dumb, you forgot that Rebel wasn't an Elf. How on earth do you dress yourself in the morning?) Later in the round, when someone attacks you with a mighty 4/4 -- after all, you'd be forced either to let it through or to chump block with a precious Elf -- have Gerrard give the command to one of the Elves that attacked. Tap your five Elves, and watch the 4/4 squeak as it runs into an emerging 7/7 token.
After that, don't be surprised if everyone listens a bit harder to your Elves when they talk.Anthony may be reached at email@example.com.