Kaldheim brings with it two new preconstructed decks: Phantom Premonition, a blue-white control-oriented foretell deck, and Elven Empire, a Black-Green Elf tribal deck. I was inspired a while back to build Black-Green Elves when the tribe got new support in Commander Legends, so I’ve taken up the task of reviewing and upgrading Elven Empire.
ELVEN EMPIRE: NEW COMMANDER CARDS
A lot of people love new Commander decks because they have new cards. Kaldheim’s decks won’t disappoint, as they have even more than the Zendikar Rising and Commander Legends decks!
First up, the commander of the deck: Lathril, Blade of the Elves. Whenever she deals combat damage to a player, you create that many 1/1 green elf warrior tokens, which is immediately reminiscent of Tana, the Bloodsower. Lathril asks us to concentrate on going wide, and rewards us with her second ability: tapping Lathril and ten untapped elves will trigger each opponent losing ten life and us gaining ten life. It’s honestly pretty cool to see an elf commander that has a different game plan, and I’m excited to play with her.
It’s not big and flashy, but Bounty of Skemfar gives us something to do instead of cast Cultivate or Kodama’s Reach on three. I’m all about tribal cards, specifically cards that can replace some of the higher played cards in EDH, and so I like this card quite a bit. Whether digging six cards is enough? We’ll have to see.
Reach is one of the better abilities in EDH, given how prevalent flyers are, and how the monarch mechanic becomes more relevant over time. Auras are usually a little fiddly to play with, but given this one can come back of its own accord, it’s probably better than you’d think. Combined with effects like Wirewood Pride, you can potentially have a huge beater.
Given we can already play Bastion of Remembrance for one mana cheaper, and it comes in with a creature, I’m unsure how much value Elderfang Venom really gives us. It provides redundancy, and it’s probably good if you’re leaning toward Aristocrats, but in a lot of cases, I think I’d rather have Bow of Nylea instead. Don’t forget we’re a creature tribal deck, so we need to max out on creatures and take fewer non-creature spells.
Turns out when Anowon added blue, he dropped his tribal sacrifice ability. Ruthless Winnower picks it up, and offers an attrition-y game piece that has the potential to do a lot of work. For this deck, though? As we’re likely to want to play a few non-elf utility creatures like Seedborn Muse, I’m unsure if it makes the final cut.
Along similar lines to Idol of Endurance, Serpent’s Soul-Jar lets you recast your creatures. Rather than scooping out of your graveyard when you play it, though, the Soul-Jar will instead forcibly exile each elf when it dies.
I’m really undecided on whether this card will end up being good. I think it warrants playtesting, as my gut says that using the usual graveyard recursion and buying stuff back with cards like Creeping Renaissance might just be better.
Wolverine Riders is really, really good. It will trigger each upkeep, like Tendershoot Dryad, and give you some serious lifegain as the game goes on. It’s a great curve topper and one I’m happy to play in a variety of builds.
ELVEN EMPIRE: DECK REVIEW
Elven Empire is first and foremost a brilliant way to step into building a tribal elves deck. It has a tight game plan, some exciting and splashy spells like Casualties of War, and a good, consistent power level.
The game plan revolves around getting as many elves as possible into play and capitalizing on them before you inevitably lose them — or win the game. The key cards for this strategy are:
- Lathril, Skemfar Shadowsage and Shaman of the Pack for life-drain effects.
- Elven Ambush and Elvish Promenade for going wide with lots of bodies
- Prowess of the Fair, Moldervine Reclamation and Poison-Tip Archer for when your elves die
- Timberwatch Elf and End-Raze Forerunners for big damage turns
The deck has a variety of powerful elves, and for those that haven’t collected or built with the tribe before, there are some solid pickups which will slot into whatever way you end up building the deck — like Elvish Archdruid.
Though the new cards are currently what’s carrying the price of the deck, the reprints here are also very good; and while we didn’t get Priest of Titania, we got a lot of powerful cards — most notably Rhys the Exiled, which had spiked right up in price in anticipation of the deck.
- Elvish Archdruid
- Marywn, the Nurturer
- Wood Elves
- Rhys the Exiled
- Beast Whisperer
- Wirewood Channeler
- Elvish Promenade
- Casualties of War
- Sol Ring
- Arcane Signet
These reprints alone come close to the price of admission, and when you add on the value of some of the new cards — anywhere from $8-18 a piece — you end up with a deck that’s seriously good value for your money.
Compared to the rest of this product line, I’d say Elven Empire is a big hit, and continues to build on the quality of these sub-$30 decks. It’s a fantastic way to add an elf deck to your collection, and I can’t wait to pick a copy up myself.
UPGRADING ELVEN EMPIRE
Lathril has a lot of potential, and honestly, I think you can achieve that potential on a budget. Our goal today is to make purchasing the deck, plus the singles to upgrade it, come out at no more than $100.
Let’s get it out of the way before we begin: there are some great cards for this deck that we simply can’t afford to run. While we won’t have access to Craterhoof Behemoth, or Patriarch’s Bidding, there are cards that can do similar things for us.
One of the best things about Elven Empire is the sheer variety of options you can take when upgrading it. Depending on what you like to do, you can focus on one particular avenue more than the others and end up with a straightforward upgrade plan.
The way I see it, you have the following main options, and that’s outside of just upgrading the removal and finishers:
- +1/+1 Counters
- Big Spells
So, let’s go over a few of the options available to us and the cards I like, before going over my personal picks for upgrading.
Regardless of which avenue we pick for how to win a game, we’re going to want to take full advantage of cards that let us untap our elves. Copperhorn Scout lets us untap the team whenever it attacks, giving us pseudo-vigilance. Quest for Renewal isn’t hard to achieve in an elves deck, while Mobilize is a card that can fly under the radar. In our deck, it acts as a ritual of sorts to give us a big mana turn.
While the likes of Seedborn Muse and Thousand-Year Elixir may be a little out of our price range, we can pick some of the better tap-ability creatures. Skyshroud Poacher is really good for the price, and Arbor Elf can untap our forest that has Elvish Guidance enchanted to it.
We already have some solid ways to make tokens in the deck, but there are definitely more to consider. Elvish Warmaster from Kaldheim is a token producer and finisher in one card, and probably highest on the list. Sylvan Offering is a flexible token producer, good at any point, while Wren’s Run Packmaster is a repeatable token engine that gets better the more times we’re able to untap our board. Given our elves are likely to have deathtouch, anyway, giving it to our wolves is also great.
Of course, taking advantage of tokens dying is also something we should be keen on. Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel ensures a board wipe should leave us with another small army of tokens. Skullclamp, of course, is one of the premier draw options available to a deck like this. One pick that’s a little interesting here is Izoni, Thousand-Eyed. Though insect tokens aren’t going to benefit from our tribal synergies, they will be buffed by go-wide effects, are good blockers, and come with a card draw engine in Izoni.
Taking tokens and cheap creatures and turning them into value is what Aristocrats decks are all about. Viridian Zealot is a great recurrable piece of removal; Nadier’s Nightblade gives us a “death by one-thousand cuts” win condition, when combined with Elderfang Venom and Bastion of Remembrance. Tragic Slip, meanwhile, is cheap removal that’s easily turned on.
Depending on what you want the deck to do, there are plenty of sacrifice outlets that provide value beyond mana generation. Repeatable card draw and removal is always nice, and if you’re feeling particularly mean? Well, Mind Slash offers a repeatable Thoughtseize. Gross!
Though +1/+1 counter decks are largely focused on beats, you can do some cool stuff with counters in an elf deck on a budget. Whether you’re proliferating, drawing cards, or granting trample, many of the better cards are on the budget end of the scale.
What’s more, you can turn those counters into mana and a way to keep your board alive without breaking the bank.
There are also some devilish ways to take advantage of having bigger creatures in play. Elves tend to also be warriors a lot of the time, so Blood-Chin Fanatic is an easy win condition in a deck that can generate mana. Rite of Consumption, when combined with Wirewood Pride and/or Blackblade Reforged? Lethal!
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I think of having a board full of mana dorks, I get excited about big spells. While we can’t stretch to Finale of Devastation or Torment of Hailfire in a budget build, we still get the excellent Gaze of Granite and In Garruk’s Wake. Finale of Eternity is also underplayed, and doubles as a mass reanimate for us, too.
Given access to more mana than usual, I also love the idea of running cards like Entrancing Lyre and Sisters of Stone Death. Sure, both require a lot of mana in play, but hey — let’s have some fun. This is Commander, and we don’t always have to be optimal.
There are countless good cards in Golgari, but there are a few more budget elf options worth mentioning. Storrev is surprisingly an elf, and Riftsweeper is still reasonably cheap as a way to get our Shaman of the Pack back when it takes a Swords to Plowshares to the face.
UPGRADED ELVEN EMPIRE
I concentrated on a couple of goals for our upgrades. The first is extra and better mana earlier on.
Next, I wanted ways to take advantage of our mana, so I opted for some strong X spells and mana sinks.
I also put in some more ways to keep the cards flowing. Driven // Despair is a card I like in particular, as it offers both card draw and a potential win condition in one cheap package.
The deck is still focused on big beats primarily, with Lathril acting as an alternate win condition in the command zone.
I’d like to shout out Spore Cloud as a card that can be used to the fullest potential in this kind of build. Sometimes you won’t have Lathril in play, or a way to overrun with your creatures, but you will have enough power on the board to kill a player, thanks to the various buffs from your lords and the sheer number of elves in play. Spore Cloud can tangle up one or more players for a turn cycle, giving you room to push through.
The final build looks a little something like this. Obviously, you can take the deck further: adding stronger more powerful elf tribal cards that far outstrip our budget today, or simply following one of the more linear paths, like +1/+1 counters or Aristocrats.
The total cost of this upgrade is around $70, and you’ll be able to pick up both the upgrades and the deck from Card Kingdom for less than $100, which is a great mid-point between affordability and power.
Whether you’re after the precon, the upgrades, or you just spotted some singles worth ordering, Card Kingdom is a great place to pick up what you need for Kaldheim.
Let me know on Twitter what you think of the Elven Empire precon. Personally, I can’t wait to start brewing with it!
Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. As a member of the Commander Advisory Group, Kristen lives and breathes Commander. When she’s not playing Magic, she works as a freelance writer and editor in the UK.