Dime a Dozen #19: The Arena – Elves vs. Delver

Hi everyone! Welcome to the very first episode of The Arena, a Pauper feature that examines head-to-head matchups between noteworthy decks. Each installment will contain a brief summary of each deck, in addition to some of my initial thoughts and a prediction of how the matchup will go. The matches themselves will receive my typical “video with commentary” treatment, and we’ll alternate which deck goes first from match to match. After the matches are completed, a written conclusion will tie things into a neat little bow at the end.

Today we will be showcasing the Elves vs. Delver matchup! I’ll be piloting the green guys today, with Daily Event regular Newplan sleeving up the aggro-control staple of the format.

Elves is a combo-ish swarm deck with the occasional beatdown draw. It wants to use mana accelerators and utility creatures to supplement very fast starts and flood the board. Distant Melody, Kavu Primarch and Timberwatch Elf are its primary “finishers.” I want to note that Elves bolsters the absolute lowest land count I’ve ever played in a deck in any format. I may have finally gone insane. The deck has had some particularly impressive showings in recent months, and has earned its spot in our very first installment of The Arena.

Delver is an established tempo deck that combines evasive threats with bounce, card advantage, and countermagic. Some of its key players include Delver of Secrets, Spellstutter Sprite and Spire Golem. This is one of the most popular decks in the format, if not the most popular deck.

I’m looking forward to playing this matchup, and hopefully reaching some useful conclusions.

Elves: First Impressions

To prepare for these matches, I knew I’d have to familiarize myself with the Elves strategy. This is because the deck contains a number of unique synergies and interactions, and because Newplan is a very talented blue mage. To get accurate results, I needed to be at least competent with the deck.

Writing about the Elves deck is one thing, but playing it is a whole different story. Even though I devoted an entire article to the strategy, I was not prepared for how complex and explosive it would actually prove to be.

There are many things to think about, including how to best use our mana. The good news is that we can have some rather explosive Turn 2s and Turn 3s occur. The bad news is that we usually need to overextend a bit to assert an acceptable game plan. Many of our creatures are notably combat-ineffective, which makes Rancor an interesting component in the deck.

The utility creatures Quirion Ranger and Birchlore Rangers make planning out a turn particularly intricate. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Quirion Ranger is an absolute rock star here. She does it all, ramping mana in a big way and allowing us to double up on Wellwisher life gain and Timbewatch buffs. She also provides a combat trick in the form of granting a creature pseudo-vigilance. I hope I’ll get to nuke some Phantasmal Bears with her along the way!

Elves vs. Delver: Predictions

Below is a copy of our list, as well as the list Newplan will be piloting:

The cards in Delver that concern me the most are:

— Delver of Secrets

— Frostburn Weird

— Ninja of the Deep Hours

— Spellstutter Sprite

— Spire Golem

Delver itself is a concern because it gives our opponent the opportunity to fly over uncontested and race early. We either have to race it or draw into a Spidersilk Armor to win. Frostburn Weird has a sizable body that gets in the way of anything not holding a Rancor, and can put a clock on us once it starts turning sideways. Ninja is going to generate value against us, and force more double blocks than I’d like to make. Spellstutter Sprite is going to give him some tempo and a clock, and with so many 1-drops in our deck, it should always be live. Spire Golem holding back most of our offensive will not equate to a very fun experience.

The cards we have that are a potential headache include Llanowar Sentinel, Rancor, Spidersilk Armor and Timberwatch Elf. I’m not expecting Kavu Primarch to affect very much in this matchup, since getting it bounced or countered will cost us dearly. That is one of the primary cards I’m looking to board out.

I will expect Delver to bring in Serrated Arrows in addition to Coral Net. The arrows in particular are going to be very powerful, so we will need to utilize Armor and Gleeful Sabotage as our means of counteraction.

I’m expecting the outcome of Game 1s to be pretty reliant on who has the nuttier draw. If we drop four Elves Turn 2 on the play, there isn’t a lot Delver can do to set us back from there (at least I think). If he flips Delver Turn 2 on the play and backs that up with Cloud of Faeries, then we have a serious clock to contend with and will be climbing uphill. After board I’m really not sure who will be favored, but I think Arrows in addition to the bulky x/4s are going to be quite a roadblock for us.

Having four Armors should be pretty good for us, and we also have the option of bringing in Wellwisher and Viridian Longbow. Both could prove very difficult to deal with, especially if we can stabilize the board in the face of his removal. That leaves a lot of cards to be potentially taken out, and I’m not sure what the best cuts are. I’ve already mentioned that I think Primarchs need to go, but I’m hesitant to remove Birchlore Rangers and Sylvan Rangers due to the fact that I don’t want to reduce the consistency of hitting lands or fixing colors.

Which brings us to Distant Melody. Is it worth keeping in? A 4-mana sorcery against a blue deck? It doesn’t impact the board, but will put us far ahead in the attrition and resource battle. I’m anticipating him to take out Daze (since we are capable of generating so much mana within the span of a few turns), so leaving Melodies in could mean that we only need to play around Counterspell.

Initial Sideboarding Plan:

-3 Kavu Primarch
-4 Priest of Titania
+3 Gleeful Sabotage
+2 Spidersilk Armor
+2 Viridian Longbow

We want to leave in as much muscle as we can to get around the size of his creatures, and Serrated Arrows. The card advantage built into our added removal will hopefully help us to attrition, and the overall quality of our sideboard cards should be a nice boon. Kavu is coming out since it’s slow, expensive, and particularly vulnerable to his tempo plays, while Priest of Titania is the most expensive of our mana producers. We may end up missing her, so I’ll experiment with alternate sideboarding methods if this one doesn’t quite pan out.

Expected Delver plan:

-2 Daze
-1 Gush
-3 Phantasmal Bear
+3 Coral Net
+3 Serrated Arrows

Since he wants to reach 4 mana for Serrated Arrows, I imagine he will take out spells that cause him to bounce lands to his hand. The addition of removal spells will make him better at playing an attrition game with us. The second Gush may set him too far back on lands, so I can see that being boarded out.

Well, I think I’ve done enough talking. If you’ve gotten this far (or didn’t already skip over to the videos), you’re probably struggling to stay awake! Why don’t we get right to the action?

Elves vs. Delver: Results

Well, this went much better than I expected. The good guys ended up going 3-1 in matches, and 7-3 in individual games. I don’t think we lost a single game on the play, and I was pleasantly surprised that our sideboarding plan felt sufficient throughout our testing. This is all in spite of my comical struggle to figure out what to do at any given point in a game. I was literally getting a headache toward the end of the testing, which is partly indicative of the deck itself and partly indicative of my mental deficiencies.

Newplan made a really good point during our testing that Delver relies on having some sort of mana advantage to beat us. By getting ourselves out of Daze range and playing more cheap threats than he has counters for, we leave him with the difficult task of managing our board. A number of our opening hands over-performed, though Delver quelled that to an extent with his own aggression. We tended to lose games in which he assertively adopted a beatdown plan and we couldn’t cope. While I didn’t take mulligans into account, I don’t think they skewed the actual results too drastically. With this very limited sample size (and my terrible math “skills”), I’d assume that a reasonable Elves pilot will be favored to win around 60% of their games against Delver.

End Step

Comments are greatly appreciated! Please let me know what you thought of this new feature. I’m hoping that it will shed light on some of the dynamics of the post-ban format. What do you think of this kind of content? Should there be future episodes of The Arena, and if so, what matchups do you want to see? As always, thanks for reading, thanks for watching the videos, and please comment!

You can find Jason
co-hosting the Pauper’s Cage podcast
on MTGO as BambooRush
on Twitter @dimecollectorsc
and on Youtube at youtube.com/dimecollectorsc

  1. I haven’t watched the vids yet, but look forward to doing so. I just wanted to point out that I thought it was funny that you use a list with arbor elves after pointing out, correctly, that they’re strictly worse than fyndhorn elves :). I guess people didn’t get the message…

  2. PB – Oh, that’s a typo. I cited his original list (which had Arbor Elf), but you’ll see in the games that I played with Fyndhorn.


    “Thoughts on the matchup:

    1) It’s tough for delver – delver thrives on dropping a cheap threat and protecting it by disrupting an opponent’s plays while the opponent is limited on mana. Delver’s answers are well suited to answering one spell per turn – counters and single target removal (either bounce or piracy charm). Delver’s creatures aren’t well suited for creature combat. Except for spire golems they simply lose to the creatures in every other deck.

    Elves breaks this in at least 3 ways: a) they break the mana curve with mana elves – which enables them to drop more threats than delver can answer in one turn and (b) they have a deck full of cheap redundant threats that delver can’t deal with except by trading and (c) they have too many “must counter” spells – distant melody is a must counter, birchlore ranger is a must counter, rancor is a must counter, llanowar sentinel is a must counter, timberwatch elf is a must counter and wellwisher is a must counter.

    2) Sideboard decisions – 3x coral net went in every time. Some number of serrated arrows depending on if I was on the draw or play. Out was daze, deprive, some number of ninjas and I would shave some cantrips (ponder, preordain). I went back and forth on siding out phantasmal bears – they’re good to trade with a 2/2 but they’re awful vs quirion ranger which can kill them for the price of bouncing a land.”

  3. Yeah Ive played elves in several dailies and mono u is basically a bye, its the best reason to play the deck. Elves is actually pretty well positioned in the meta game right now, cloud post iterations are basically the only bad mu for the deck.

  4. Another thing Ive realized playing elves is that distant melody is one of the worst cards in the deck and is the first thing I side out most of the time. It’s really only there for the mid-range decks which are few and far between. Kavu primarch is also underwhelming. I moved 2 wellwishers to the main since they are so good against 60+ percent of the meta, and its proved to be a good change.

  5. I definitely like the focus on a single matchup; there are a fair number of “run this deck through a daily” articles out there, but not a lot like this. I don’t know that you necessarily need to do 4 3-game matches, though; might be nice to do 2 matchups in the next one (two 3-game matches each against two decks with a single deck).

  6. Jason, I think the arena was very well thought out. I learned things about both decks and listening to the video commentary gave insight on the thought put into each play. I would like to see more top decks broke down and battled out in your arena articles. But, I am an article junkie sometimes. I think I read more than I play. I follow you on twitter and pretty much read anything you put out. Magic is a game I love learning about and the way you cover the game makes for informative and entertaining reads. Keep up the good work.

  7. Tom the Scud – I will consider your suggestions, though that may be a little tough to pull off for me. Would definitely like to hear what others think about that idea.

    psybear – That means a lot! Please continue to support my work.

  8. very informative Dime always a pleasure to read your work. While im always looking for a way to make a deck more aggro, and thinking what would annoy me the most playing againt it, i wonder about the versitility of incorporating glistening elf to this deck. To either cheaply draw out a removal spell or just threaten a reduced clock with infect.

  9. PlanetWalls – I’m really glad that you like it!

    KP4life – Thanks for the support. Personally I think Glistener would skew the deck’s focus a little too much. Infect will be featured in my next Blackborder article, however. KP shall never die!

  10. This is very refreshing.

    I’ve lost count the number of times a casual player online will say, “…OMG, I have this 4 color rebel deck that is beating everyone!” only to see a pile of junk that is only beating even sillier decks…worse even is an article about it.

    One article like this however, vs. a master pilot – is worth a hundred speculative ones. More please!

  11. Deluxeicoff said what I would’ve said. Really looking forward to more from this series. And refreshing to see elves get some respect as an incredibly intricate and skill intensive (or at least math intensive) deck.

    Great job Jason!

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>