After Top 8ing the Standard portion of the Starcity 5k, I was excited to take a second crack at Top 8ing with Elves. This time, I had a sweet brew from Wrapter. Wrapter absolutely dominated the Team portion of the World Championships with an interesting Survival Vengevine Elf deck. He decided to port the deck to Legacy by playing Intuition instead of Survival. Intuition for three Vengevines is a great plan B against tough matchups for normal Elf Combo like Counterbalance, and the Elf Combo deck naturally has game against the rest of the field. Here is the list Wrapter suggested:
I ended up missing, playing for Top 8 in the last round. The deck was still very powerful, but it had a problem. It is the hardest deck I have ever played in a tournament. Not only is it incredibly hard to combo with because it’s not as streamlined and has a lot of mid-combo blanks, it is also extremely hard to play with Intuition. You have to decide whether to go on the Vengevine or combo plan, and there are multiple cards you can get for the combo plan. Glimpse, Gaeas Cradle, and Symbiote are all reasonable combo plan options.
To add insult to injury, the list played Brainstorm, which is another difficult card to play with. The deck took so much brain power that even I, who have played Elves more than just about anyone, was forgetting Nettle Sentinel triggers and making other mistakes that I don’t normally make while playing Elves. If you want to play this deck, test A LOT.
I ended up Top 16ing the tournament, going x-2. I don’t remember most of the games from it, but there is one game that has stuck in my head. I was x-1 going into the last round and playing for Top 8, up a game in a GGs Live feature match. I was at 7 life, and my opponent had two Lord of Atlantis in play. If my opponent had a Lord, I was dead on board, unable to block due to my Trops (I had two in play at the start of my turn). I tanked, and ended up deciding to Glimpse and start going off, planning on casting all four Vengevines (I had one in grave, and three left in deck) to put him in a position where he would have to chump block (he was at 20, but I had other Elves in play).
Unfortunately, I was so focused on figuring out how to combo that I forgot to return the Vengevine that was in my graveyard when I played my second creature. I now wasn’t going to have enough power to force him to block.
I kept combo-ing, but basically knew I was drawing dead if he had a Lord. However, if I had thought a little harder, I could’ve realized I could use Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote to return all of my Trops, putting myself in a position where I could block and survive, and then kill on the following turn. I made a mistake, which ruined my plan A, but then gave up instead of trying to find a plan B. I ended up losing the game since he did have a Lord, and lost the next one to miss Top 8.
That game exemplifies a couple of elements of this deck. First of all, it’s hard. I was so focused on combo-ing that I forgot about Vengevine, then had to find a ridiculous interaction involving returning all of my Trops to win. Second, the deck may need a way to kill when it goes off. If you play tight, losing a game in which you go off is relatively rare.
However, if you do want to have a kill, there are a couple of options. The best is Concordant Crossroads. It kills as long as the opponent is below 30 life, and it has some relevance if you draw it. It allows Fauna Shaman to get an activation even if the opponent has removal and cards like Llanowar Elves to be essentially free.
I think a win-condition-less build is completely reasonable as long as you play tight and are willing to lose a game occasionally to not having a win condition in order to avoid drawing a card like Concordant Crossroads when you aren’t combo-ing (it does something, but is still somewhat close to a mulligan). The other reason a win condition may be unnecessary is that this deck actually doesn’t combo all that often. A lot of the time, Glimpse of Nature is more like an Ancestral Recall that allows you to grind out your opponent than a combo piece.
Because of the dilution of the deck, the most important thing when combo-ing is to maximize the number of cards you draw. If you take a line that sacrifices a mana or two in order to draw an additional card mid-combo, it is almost certainly worth it. Return Visionaries with Symbiote, not Quirion Ranger. Fauna Shaman for Symbiotes mid-combo in order to draw more cards, even though it costs mana.
Here is an updated list based on my experiences in the tournament:
A couple of notes on the numbers in the list:
4 Wirewood Symbiote: at first glance, this may not be an obvious four-of. However, this card was one of the best cards in the deck for the tournament, as it is one of the most effective ways to ensure combo-ing in a diluted deck and can single-handedly trigger Vengevine over and over.
4 Vengevine: It may be tempting to go down to three, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Against Counterbalance, you often draw one and Intuition for the last three, which puts them in a situation where they can’t really win since beating four Vengevines with just Goyfs and Swords is very difficult, whereas beating three is realistic.
4 Quirion Ranger: This card is a much more realistic cut than Symbiote, but for now I still like it as a four-of. The interaction with Fauna Shaman is huge and being able to get re-buys on the ability is important. Returning Trops against Merfolk to blank Lord is very relevant.
4 Visionary: I only had one in the first list, mainly due to lack of space, but now that I cut Brainstorm there is room to play four. The interaction with Symbiote is absurd, and it also makes combo-ing with Glimpse much more consistent.
0 Brainstorm: Brainstorm is the type of card you want to play the turn after getting a Trop so you can crack a fetch after playing it. Unfortunately, that leaves you completely open to Wasteland. In addition, the card is very awkward mid-combo. The card was definitely sweet for getting rid of Vengevines or Intuitions when you were on the combo plan and for making sure you drew exactly the right number of lands, but in the end it wasn’t quite good enough.
4 Gaeas Cradle: Even though it’s legendary, I would play about six. The card is that good.
3 Intuition: Playing with four Intuitions felt a bit awkward as drawing two was very slow. I think I like three main.
15 non-Cradle lands: Fourteen led to a few too many no-landers. Playing a fifteenth means you won’t get flooded very often, but also won’t be forced to mulligan a lot.
0 Arbor Elf: I actually played Arbor Elf instead of some Llanowar Elves at the 5k as it can make Blue mana. However, the anti-synergy with Quirion Ranger and vulnerability to Wasteland is too awkward.
0 Green Suns Zenith: The fact that it doesn’t count as “casting a creature” is a huge problem in a Vengevine/Glimpse of Nature deck. I like it in a more combo-based Elf deck, but not this one.
I feel like this maindeck is pretty tight, but the sideboard is still a bit up in the air. Here are some things to consider:
3 Mindbreak Trap/Thorn of Amethyst: You need a card against Ad Nauseam, and having something you can Intuition for makes perfect sense. I think I like Trap better, since it’s free and can be played the turn you Intuition for it, but either is completely reasonable.
4 Natural Order, 1 Progenitus: I’m not completely in love with this plan as it is hard to find five cards to board out a lot of the time, but it is kind of sweet against some decks. In addition, you can board in just Natural Order against decks where your main plan is to combo out, since you can get Regal Force.
1 Venser, Shaper Savant: This is a Fauna Shaman-able way to answer awkward cards like Peacekeeper that our deck would otherwise have no answer to. If you are really nervous about this you could also play three of some bounce spell, like Chain of Vapor or Echoing Truth.
3 Tormods Crypt: You need a card against Dredge, and this one is the best to Intuition for, as it won’t cost you any additional mana.
I think this deck has a lot of potential. It has inherently good matchups against aggro decks, and the Intuition plan makes it strong against control. It has trouble racing opposing combo decks, but Mindbreak Trap, Thorn, and Tormods Crypt help, and combo isn’t really that popular right now anyway. Good luck Intuition-ing for Vengevines.
Good luck Glimpsing and Intuition Vengevine-ing.