Duels of the Planeswalkers: Ears of the Elves (Part 2 of 2)
In the past two weeks (with a slight diversion to examine our friends the Kor a little more closely), Ertai’s Lament has taken you into the minds of five of the preeminent planeswalkers of our time. We examined the Eyes of Shadow of Liliana Vess, solid Black with a discard suite. We looked at the mayhem that is Chandra Nalaar’s Hands of Flame. And we counted the disappointments in the uninspiring Jace Beleren Thoughts of the Wind and Garruk Wildspeaker Teeth of the Predator decks.
Now it is time to crown our winner of the “Best in Series,” Nissa Revane’s Ears of the Elves.
I didn’t start out thinking I would like this particular deck. I don’t much care for Green, and an Elf tribal deck after I recently made an Elf tribal deck didn’t promise to excite. But having taken all five of the Dules of the Planeswalkers decks apart, this one is clearly the best-designed.
Ears packs in 21 creatures, and, like Teeth of the Predator, one of it’s non-creature spells is indeed a creature generator (Elvish Promenade). But instead of falling prey to Teeth’s poorly-executed ambition of trying to ramp, Ears follows a swarm approach with a very tight mana curve. Observe:
3x 1 CMC (converted mana cost)
7x 2 CMC
4x 3 CMC
5x 4 CMC
2x 5 CMC
The three one-drops and seven two-drops means that this deck will very seldom falter coming out of the gate, and can be relied upon to exert an early, steady pressure on opponents. The deck still has plenty of midgame options with the seven 4-5 CMC critters, and no expensive cards to act as a dead draw until lategame, a problem that hampered the Garruk deck.
The non-creature cards were splendidly chosen, not a one of them out of place. A trio of Giant Growths give you the option of a combat trick or extra damage to your opponent at the end of the game; some utility in Naturalize and Nature’s Spiral; token generation with the aforementioned Promenade; and best of all, a minor removal suite with three Eyeblight’s Endings and a pair of dual-purpose Essence Drains!
The problem with any weenie/swarm deck is that it tends to exhaust itself by the midgame and if it isn’t close to a breakthrough by then, chances of victory can rapidly diminish. Red Deck Wins and other mono- or mainly-Red decks compensate by having the option of direct burn spells to get there, but Green possesses few such options.
Luckily, Ears has just that midgame state in mind, and provided several tools to help its pilot slog through the red zone and finish off their foe.
Working With What You Have
Tribal decks are often fun because of all of the synergies and interactions between cards that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. A number of cards in the deck either benefit from or strengthen other cards, allowing the Elvish swarm to ‘punch above its weight’ as the game goes on.
Naturally there’s a “lord” creature in the deck, the Elvish Champion, who gives all Elves +1/+1 (in addition to the situational Forestwalk). But the deck does one better by adding in an Imperious Perfect, who not only gives Elves the same bonus, but (for the easy cost of a single Green mana), taps to add another Elf to the battlefield.
Want even more Elves? The Lys Alana Huntmaster puts one into play every time you cast an Elf spell, which of course you’ll be doing for the remainder of the game quite consistently.
Then, of course, are the cards that care about how many Elves you have in play.
Another Mouth to Feed
The pinnacle card here is the premium foil, Immaculate Magistrate. A 2/2 for three mana (which isn’t great but not terrible, either), she taps to add a number of +1/+1 counters onto one of your creatures equal to the number of Elves you have in play. Simply put, this is one of those “deal with or you die” cards that puts your opponent on a timer.
There are a few other solid Elves in the deck, including a pair of Moonglove Winnowers whose Deathtouch will give an opponent pause for thought. It’s apparent that midgame is endgame for this deck, and it is well-equipped to go that final measure. If tall (a few big Elves with lots of +1/+1 counters) or broad (a large swarm of 1/1’s) won’t do it, the deck’s pair of semi-evasive Elven Riders should do the trick. And of course, the deck’s lone Coat of Arms can just get ridiculous if it comes out.
For an introductory deck, the Ears is surprisingly well-rounded, in in contrast to some of the other Duels of the Planeswalker decks. Even Green’s usual Achilles’ Heel- flying creatures- have answers in either the splashed-Black removal or in Jagged-Scar Archers, while avoiding the usual conditional problems that can plague Green’s anti-flying options (dead draws if you foe isn’t playing many flying critters).
If you’re going to buy just one of these Duels decks, I’d recommend this one- although a couple others are decent, it just gets worse from here. Well-designed, Ears gives the impression that the designers put the emphasis on making a deck that can hold its own rather than just a deck for “new players,” although the deck is certainly straightforward enough for any skill level to pilot. There seems to be a bit of a tension in making beginner products: you want them easy enough to grasp quickly so the new player won’t get turned off by frustration, but by the same token you want them fun enough to make that new player want to play a second game, and a third, and…
Each of the five Duels of the Planeswalker decks pull off at least that baseline ambition, although to varying degrees of success. A new player will probably enjoy them all. But whereas I would expect that something like the Jace Thoughts of the Wind deck would be retired or broken down into raw cards quite quickly, Ears of the Elves might be fun enough to keep around for awhile, just the way it is.
FINAL GRADE: 4.75/5
Thanks for journeying with us on this inaugural voyage of discovery through the Duels of the Planeswalkers and the founding of this weblog. With Archenemy freshly released and M11 rounding the bend, there will be no shortage of preconstructed product to review, and we’re going to be quite busy!
Here and there we’ll also be walking the halls of time as we did with the Call of the Kor, and review preconstructed decks and intro packs from previous sets of Magic. It’s a wide-open multiverse out there, with many the plane to walk before we’re done!