A Nod to the Past, an Eye to the Future

Posted in Top Decks on July 9, 2009

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

But Champ, we're from different blocks!" devolves into "no blocks." A willowy-robed Priestess relents to a burly, bow-touting, Champion beneath the intoxicating vines of Eladamri's Vineyard. Mana and the grape flow all around the pair of them in a heady fog of creation and possibilities, at a time when the nature of mana and world itself are fundamentally changing. Together they create something that is a little bit of one, a little bit of the other ... but still too new for any semblance of certainty. The fruits of the fruit of these affections are not yet clear.

But for now, we have a look at Elvish Archdruid:

Elvish Archdruid

Superficially, Elvish Archdruid seems like a thematic blend of mommy Priest of Titania, a pint-costed powerhouse with a heck of a special ability, and daddy Elvish Champion, a sometimes tribal lord. A nod to the past, this new Elf Druid not only triggers some popular memories from Urza block and attempts to unlock the potential of Invasion block, but begs that we look forward to the future of the Elves and their nation.

The Past: Priest of Titania

Priest of Titania

Priest of Titania was a powerful mana accelerator both in its block (primarily played in Mono-Green Plow Under / Masticore decks) and in the wider formats of Standard and Extended; she contributed to standout decks across several formats, generally teaming up with familiar companions from her native block: Masticore, Plow Under, so on, and so forth. Priest of Titania combined relative speed—she, being about as quick as a sometimes-playable two mana accelerator like Devoted Druid—and frightening mana potential. You see, with other Elves, such as Llanowar Elves or Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Priest of Titania could generate a considerable bucket of mana (often complimenting her sometimes-home and fellow block-buddy, Gaea's Cradle) cleverly casting-slash-playing Deranged Hermits ... or alternately spitting 'em out the side of a borrowed Skyshroud Poacher. Mom's side of the family didn't mess around with little games.

The Past: Elvish Champion

Elvish Champion

Elvish Archdruid was born gifted with Dad's size, stature, and mana cost. But the Archdruid's lot—like a veritable American Dream—is to surpass Dad in the minds of the Elvish nation. You see, Dad was kind of old school. A real community builder ... "all Elves this" and "all Elves that." Everyone gets big. Everyone gets forestwalk. You know? That was just Dad's way. Everybody loved Dad ... even the other team sometimes.

Elvish Archdruid realizes that in order to compete today, you can't run it all generous-like, like Dad did. Taking a cue from Aunties Wilt-Leaf Liege and Imperious Perfect, Elvish Archdruid combines Mom's ferocious mana acceleration with a more pragmatic, shall we say more modern, set of abilities. Looking up from his newspaper on the stoop, old Elvish Champion chuckles. "Well I guess no one will be trampling the front lawn, at least."

The Future of Elvish Archdruid

Mom has been enjoying time off the books for some years, and has shown no interest in coming out of retirement. Dad? What can we say about Dad but that he is the Champ? Like a high school quarterback who took home the prom queen—but retired to local sports obscurity—Elvish Champion never quite lived up to his full potential ... and Elvish Archdruid always got that sense as Dad sat the sideline through core set after core set, only sometimes getting a brief nod to the big show. Elvish Archdruid is built for greater success than Elvish Champion, and the Magic 2010 card's biased look at its Champion's inheritance—and generally more relevant ability than mere forestwalk—make an early set of statements. That said, it is not at all clear that Archie will get the big call to that big game any time soon, not with aunties Perfect and Liege still so active in the Standard Elvish community ... but the whole family has high hopes for maybe next season. "You just wait until next October," Archie's parents keep saying.

Wilt-Leaf Liege
Imperious Perfect

Elvish Archdruid, though, has some designs on working a little sooner. Sure, Wilt-Leaf Liege makes Blightning look bad, and Imperious Perfect is the Elf with the big brass Hollywood ring right now, but you can almost hear Archie's preseason plea: "I've been working on some tricks. Check these out!"

So really, check 'em out:

Turn one play a land, Llanowar Elves.
Turn two play a land, Elvish Archdruid.
Turn three play another, tap all three lands and Llanowar Elves for Hunting Triad. Okay, now the Elves squad has five 2/2 Elves in play ... Tap Elvish Archdruid for five mana to deploy ye olde Elvish Promenade and you've got ten 2/2 creatures ... on turn three. The opponent had better have something exciting to do ... and even if the response is somewhat exciting (but not, say, Firespout exciting), Elvish Archdruid might just have sufficient teammates and mana access for a back-breaking Overrun. You know, beyond just having 20 power in play on turn three. Turn-four kill in Standard? Elvish Archdruid wants you to know this is possible.

How about something less fancy?

Turn one Llanowar Elves.
Turn two Elvish Archdruid.
Turn three ... nothing?

Yep, that's right ... Nothing. The opponent might try to do something flashy on his third like maybe try to sweep the board; but you know you can add six to the pool and summon up ye olde Cloudthresher in response. Point being? Give Archie a try, not next October—but next PTQ—and you just might be surprised at what the youth of Dominaria is capable of.

So Elvish Archdruid is an M10 card with a wild mana ability. Anything particularly special about that?

I'm glad you asked.

You may have noticed they changed the rules.

It has got to be difficult to manage all the mana that Elvish Archdruid can and will be producing. You play an Elf, you play another Elf... Sooner or later you aren't going to have sufficient stuff to dump your mana into, at least not cleanly, at least not all the time. Luckily, the rules have just changed, and those changes greatly favor Elvish Archdruid! No more mana burn means fewer difficulties in long-term resource management for this new Elf Druid. So there is no reason to be overly worried about stray mana: it just isn't going to punish you like it might have in the past. Yes, you still have to try to play tight. Also yes—you will be punished less (although still punished) for failure to do so.

What about Elvish Archdruid as a Champion, as a Perfect?

We don't yet know what the entire Standard Elf tribe is going to look like when Magic 2010 rotates in and Tenth Edition rotates out—and certainly the team as a whole is going to suffer with the rotation of linear Lorwyn block in September—but it seems like Elvish Archdruid will be poised to take over the reins when Wilt-Leaf Liege and Imperious Perfect depart. Elvish Archdruid has the mana cost and body to slide right in and take over Imperious Perfect's spot on the team, though our best guess is that it would be quite a different team than we see today (or that won last year's Standard Pro Tour).

As described in some of the earlier examples, Elvish Archdruid really thrives on the participation and presence of other Elves, in a way that is almost opposite of Imperious Perfect (who more notably made other Elves, and made other Elves better). While Elvish Archdruid has the same "pump" potential, the Druid's unique ability draws upon the rest of the team while at the same time broadening its horizons and opens up our ideas of what a deck can do (think about how on its lonesome Elvish Archdruid isn't much more impressive than a Llanowar Elves, but when playing next to a Hunting Triad, a-Elvish Promenade-ing-it-will-go). Really, what are you going to do with all of that mana?

Hunting Triad
Elvish Promenade

Even without knowing exactly what tomorrow's format is going to look like, we can do a little realistic (or fanciful) speculation. We know that combo Elves (i.e. Green-White ElfBall) is a viable possibility in today's Standard, with Ranger of Eos teaming up with Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that Elvish Archdruid—a mana producer of tremendous future capacity—can't be conscripted to run out a gigantic uncounterable Banefire? Regal Force is probably giddy to sign onto Elvish Archdruid's team! The Archdruid needs something to do with all of its mana, and Regal Force can turn a board full of mere Elves investment into real cards and real options.

What about Thornling? Thornling is a card that has been flagged everywhere as one of M10's big accidental winners. The original Morphling is off in the corner crying about the departure of damage on the stack, but Thornling can bypass all that damage on the stack nonsense and tremendous investments in operating mana to go big, big a different way, so on, and so forth, and survive for a fraction of the mana; Thornling can just go big, then go indestructable. But for that, old Thorny might not need, but could probably use a sidekick. I nominate Elvish Archdruid.

And of course, there is the middle road, still. Is Elvish Archdruid as good a Perfect as Imperious Perfect? Probably not, not purely for Elves-pumping. But Elvish Archdruid, I would argue, is a better Champion than Elvish Champion, and in the absence of another tribal lord, Elvish Archdruid is it ... forget about the fancy mana tricks if you have to; the Archdruid can just get the job done if that is what you want.

But my guess is that that is not all you'll want. Elvish Archdruid is a new card rich with possibilities, a soon-to-be-popular option that can (and will) be played in a variety of strategies. I think we'll see Archie do Dad proud ... and Mom too.

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