Duels of the Planeswalkers: Ears of the Elves (Part 1 of 2)
The little one is taunting me, hitting me where she knows it hurts.
“You know what’s been winning you games lately?” she asked, looking over a grip of cards.
“The Wurm’s Tooth.”
“You know it’s true, don’t deny it.”
Of course, I couldn’t deny it, throughout the course of testing these Duels of the Planeswalker decks, the pair of ubiquitous two-drop life-gainer artifact present in each has come in handy a few times. Although Sam was winding me up because she knows I hate them, she also was engaging in a little of what’s known as “BCSM,” or “best-case scenario mentality.”
(Note: I’ve heard this in reference to MtG on the top-notch podcast Limited Resources. If it’s a general term and not a coining of Ryan and Marshall, I’ve not come across it elsewhere.)
We’ve all been guilty of it before, looking at some card and conjuring up optimal scenarios for it each of which reinforces the misguided notion that it’s a “good card.”
A good example of this might be ROE’s Harmless Assault. It’s a White Fog-effect. For four mana. Oh, but it’s a solid card!
> It only prevents damage by attacking creatures, so your own creatures can kill some of theirs!
> If played against an aggressive opponent, it could leave them vulnerable to a game-ending counterattack!
If, if, if… Indeed, a good rule of thumb might be that the more ifs (and the more elabourate those ifs)you have to use to rationalise the value of a card, the more you are engaging in BSCM.
Here’s another way to look at it.
Harmless Assault: If you are attacked and if you have untapped defenders and if those defenders have enough power to kill attackers (in other words, they aren’t 0-power walls) and if you have left four mana open… then Harmless Assault is a good card! Or if you have an aggressive opponent and if that opponent goes all-in with all or most of their creatures and if that opponent is low enough on life that one swing-in will kill them and if you have left four mana open… then Harmless Assault is a good card!
By way of contrast:
Path to Exile: If the opponent has a creature you’d like to get rid of and if you aren’t giving them net advantage by the free land-drop… then Path is a good card. (Net advantage means that the positive effect of exiling their creature is greater than the negative effect of them getting to tutor a basic land out of their library and put it into play.)
But to beat on poor ol’ Harmless Assault just a little more, you can often counter BCSM by looking at the costs and drawbacks of a particular card. What is the cost of Harmless Assault?
> Four mana (two White and 2)
> A card (this is an oft-overlooked cost)
> The number of turns the card sat dead in your hand, when perhaps a different card might have turned the game in your favour
> Any turns you didn’t make a play you could have because you were holding open four mana for the Harmless Assault waiting for an attack that didn’t come (or wasn’t ‘good enough’ to use the spell on)
Stepping away from the blackboard and getting back to the Duels of the Planeswalkers, in this particular case she did have a point. It’s a mite harder to take issue with the life-gainers when both decks are Green!
Enter Nissa Revane
Show of hands: who knew that the harsh Elven Planeswalker, Nissa Revane, thought that secretly dabbling in Black magic was the ticket to ensuring Elven supremacy after visiting the elves of Lorwyn? I’m a moderate Vorthos, and I had no idea that the Ears of the Elves deck was anything other than mono-Green. I’ll admit it had struck me as curious that there would be no White deck released in this preconstructed set, and two of Green. Making one of them a two-coloured deck makes a bit more sense.
Now as has become apparent on this site, assessing a deck has two stages: going through the deck and breaking it down, and actually taking it out into the field in playing it. I have not, however, found a preferable order for doing so, and for Ears of the Elves I decided I’d pilot it first then see where it did and did not work.
And for the most part… it worked rather well! Sam, my opponent in this test-drive, was behind the wheels of Teeth of the Predator, the Garruk Wildspeaker deck.
Having won the roll, Sam jumps out with a first-turn Wall of Wood, and answers my resulting silence with a turn 2 Runeclaw Bear. I counter with an Elvish Warrior, and we head into turn 3.
Not willing to let go of the value of the bear that easily, Sam drops Blanchwood Armor on it, and swings in for 5. My response is… the mighty Wurm’s Tooth. I have an Eyeblight’s Ending in my had just begging for a Swamp to use it.
Turn 4, and Sam drops a second Runeclaw Bear (when one’s just not enough), and Rampant Growths for some of that famous Green acceleration. Although I still don’t pull a Swamp, I do drop down an Immaculate Magistrate, a card well worth the cost in the rounds to come.
Still no Swamp on turn 5, and led by the enchanted Bear my life is now at 9. I’ve yet to push a critter into the red zone, so Sam’s still at 20. I did manage to finish off the Bear with a blocker, some free counters from the Magistrate, and a Giant Growth, and the board has started to stall.
On turn six, though, my luck begins to change. Not only to I pull a Swamp, but I also plunk down Elven Riders onto the table. Sam threatens with Vigor the next turn, but at last I’m able to unleash my Eyeblight and back into the library it goes. Sam never threatens again as I bring in a second set of Elven Riders and keep pumping them with the Magistrate. On turn 9 I swing in for 20 and it’s done.
More early love for Grizzly Bears as Sam drops a Runeclaw on turns 2 and 3. Me? Forests and (of course) the Wurm’s Tooth. By the end of turn 3 I’m ‘stabilising’ my board position with a mighty 1/1 Elvish Eulogist, but luck into the Immaculate Magistrate on turn 4. Meanwhile, Sam’s brought a Trained Armodon online, and by turn six has worked me down to 12 life. Again, she’s as yet untouched.
Once more, though, I’ve managed to squeeze out the Elven Riders, and after Essence Draining a Wall of Wood she’s trotted out, I’m able to get there with the Riders pumped up by the Magistrate. She scoops on turn 8.
Another slow start, four lands are in play before the first creature hits the table, and fortunately it’s mine- an Elvish Visionary. Things are looking typically rampy as she pulls out a Civic Wayfinder and I respond with a Greenweaver Druid on turn 3.
Turn 4 brings another play of Runeclaw Bears from Sam, and I reply by laying down Jagged-Scar Archers. The middle thickening, she has no play the next turn and all I can muster is another Elvish Visionary. Turn 6, however, is when my back begins to break.
Sam drops down Vigor, and I have no response. Next turn, Molimo, Maro-Sorceror appears. Protected by Vigor, her Bears and Wayfinder are whittling me down and when even chump-blocking will make them stronger, I have no answer.
Things are looking desperate until turn 8, when I lay down… yes, another Wurm’s Tooth. Sam’s Troll Ascetic is merely decorative as I face down my doom and scoop with as much dignity as I can muster.
What Went Wrong?
On the balance, I can’t say there was much. Vigor is a hard card to answer in Ears, as we’ll see in the next post breaking down the deck. But on balance, I think it’s fairer to ask of Ears of the Elves, what went right?
See you then!
I really enjoyed the discussion of BCSM at the beginning. It’s a concept I have to remind myself of whenever building a sealed deck and it has influenced me to keep the Wurm’s Teeth in my DotP decks far longer than I should have. For exactly the reasons you discuss. Also, the Wurm’s Teeth probably helped more than usual because you were playing against a monogreen deck, where every nonland and nonWurm’s Tooth play gained you a life.
I’m honestly surprised you lost a game with this deck. In the online game, Ears is simply THE most powerful deck. It fields removal, pump and so many guys that it’s impossible for most decks to play successfully. I’m guessing the only reason you lost in game 3 is because Sam managed to field half his bombs and you apparently didn’t pull an Ending.
Good article and I look forward to part 2.
from my experience the ears of the elves deck has performed wonders. The trick is (especially against something bomby like Garruk’s deck) to hold your kill for stuff like vigor that can be near impossible to answer.
I had pretty much the exact train of thought when I saw Harmless Assault. Really would have liked it to be W2 or WW for the effect it has.