Pauper Primer #1: Elves

One of the things I always wanted to do alongside the MtG:U series is create a series of deck primers for Pauper. This isn’t going to be the ne plus ultra of Elves primers; it will, instead, be a work in progress. I will continue to add onto it and update it so that it grows and, as much as possible, remains accurate for a changing meta.

I’m interested in suggestions and additions, namely: which cards should be added / removed from the primer; which match-ups should have more or different information, and; which are your favorite pre-existing articles about Pauper Elves? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add your information into the article.

Why Elves?

Elves is a fun list to play and it is a strong Tier 2 contender against a lot of lists. It has a very strong game against Delver, but a very tough match-up against MBC. It can beat most aggro decks handily and, if unimpeded, has a stronger mid-game than most other lists in the format. Below we’ll look at some list choices, starting with the mana base.

Building Elves: Mana

Most Elves lists run a very low amount of land and a very high amount of mana dorks.

12-13x [c]Forest[/c]
0-1x [c]Island[/c]
8x Mana Elves – [c]Elvish Mystic[/c], [c]Llanowar Elves[/c], [c]Fyndhorn Elves[/c]
4x [c]Quirion Ranger[/c]
4x [c]Birchlore Rangers[/c]
0-4x [c]Sylvan Ranger[/c]
0-4x [c]Priest of Titania[/c]
0-4x [c]Springleaf Drum[/c]
0-4x [c]Abundant Growth[/c]
0-4x [c]Land Grant[/c]

Use any combination of mana elves that you like, just don’t use the ugly Fyndhorn Elves. The 1x Island is there for those running Gu Elves for [c]Distant Melody[/c]. I’ve seen [c]Springleaf Drum[/c] used for this purpose as well, which has the upside of turning all of your elves into mana dorks, but the downside that you can’t go searching for it. Sylvan Ranger is pretty much here to fetch your 1x Island, since you either need that or Birchlore to hit your Melody. [c]Arbor Elf[/c] is not mentioned because he is almost always worse than running a real mana dork; land can be destroyed (or bounced, or turned into an Island) and then he won’t do anything for you.

While [c]Abundant Growth[/c] can be nice in that it draws you a card and gives you U mana, it has the major downside of messing with your Quirion Ranger activations. Elves works with a single forest in play a lot of times, and if you bounce it (as you often will) you lose your Growth.

People use [c]Land Grant[/c] to thin their decks, but I think it is generally better to leave it out and just run the land you need. The amount of thinning it does is not worth a lot.

Building Elves: Utility

Most of our list is about getting elves who can help us get more elves. Some of our elves serve another purpose, however.

Life gain

0-4x [c]Wellwisher[/c]
0-4x [c]Essence Warden[/c]

One is a 1-drop that gets you life automatically, assuming everyone keeps playing creatures. The other is a 2-drop that can gain you insane amounts of life, assuming you get to keep creatures on the board. Both have their ups and downs; I tend to prefer Wellwisher because it can run away with games against aggro decks, especially with a Quirion Ranger in play, and I find it to be generally more consistent.


0-4 [c]Viridian Longbow[/c]
0-4 [c]Scattershot Archer[/c]

While Archer usually gets a full 4x in the sideboard, it can creep into the main as well, usually if the pilot expects to run into a lot of Delver.

The Longbow can be a good option to keep in the main since it does a lot of what the Archer does without being as limited; equipping a Longbow onto a Nettle Sentinel can do some real damage and can even be a win condition if the board gets clogged and you can’t get through with a regular attack.


These are less regular contributors in most Elves lists, but worth a mention here.

0-4x [c]Defiant Elf[/c]
0-4x [c]Llanowar Elite[/c]
0-4x [c]Elvish Herder[/c]
0-4x [c]Llanowar Augur[/c]
0-4x [c]Taunting Elf[/c]
0-4x [c]Wildheart Invoker[/c]

Herder is probably the most interesting in the “gains trample” category, though Augur has the benefit of including ‘Giant Growth’ in its ability and includes an 0/3 body for one mana, which can be nice against some removal.

Card Advantage

Running out of steam in an Elves list is a sad thing.

0-4x [c]Coiling Oracle[/c]
0-4x [c]Elvish Visionary[/c]
0-4x [c]Wirewood Herald[/c]
0-4x [c]Fierce Empath[/c]
0-4x [c]Distant Melody[/c]
0-4x [c]Llanowar Sentinel[/c]
0-4x [c]Lys Alana Huntmaster[/c]

Of these, Huntmaster and Visionary are seen most often. Llanowar Sentinel used to see more play but isn’t included as often, now. Coiling Oracle is an interesting addition in a list running more U, while Wirewood Herald can get you any Elf you need, assuming you can get him to die somehow. Fierce Empath is an interesting inclusion, especially if add [c]Aurochs Herd[/c] to your list.

Building Elves: Resilience

2-4x [c]Spidersilk Armor[/c]
0-4x [c]Wrap in Vigor[/c]

You’ll almost always see armor in the main AND sideboard, since it not only makes your guys NOT die to [c]Electrickery[/c] but also works extremely well against Delver. It doesn’t help much vs [c]Crypt Rats[/c], though, which is why you’ll occasionally see Wrap in Vigor.

Building Elves: Win Conditions

Having a bunch of little elves doesn’t usually win you the game (though it can). These are some of the heavy hitters that make a difference.

4x [c]Timberwatch Elf[/c]
0-4x [c]Mob Justice[/c]
0-4x [c]Elvish Branchbender[/c]

Timberwatch Elf is pretty much an auto-include, while Branchbender is his lame cousin who sometimes shows up as Timberwatch 5-8x. Mob Justice is a great way to win without needing to attack and pairs particularly well with Lys Alana Huntmaster. Justice also gets around Fog effects and CoP: Green; both of which can be relevant.

Combo Wins

The most common way for Elves to win is with Timberwatch Elf. He is a 4x in almost every Elf list. There are some other combos that are fun, though, and can be played within the Elf shell.

[c]Devoted Druid[/c] + [c]Ivy Lane Denizen[/c] + [c]Presence of Gond[/c]

Both creatures are Elves, so they fit right in. Add [c]Wirewood Herald[/c] to dig for the combo Elf you need and then you just need to pull Gond. With an [c]Essence Warden[/c] in play as well, you can gain infinite life, nulling the fact that your opponent might kill all your tokens before you can attack.

[c]Retraction Helix[/c] + [c]Village Bell-Ringer[/c]

Add in enough mana dorks and you have infinite mana. Viridian Longbow is a win-con, or Wellwisher can get you infinite life. I played this a bit on video if you want to see how it works. Helix also goes on [c]Nettle Sentinel[/c] really well. [c]Banishing Knack[/c] can be helix x5-8 if you need more for some reason.

[c]Birchlore Rangers[/c] + [c]Nettle Sentinel[/c](s) + [c]Lys Alana Huntmaster[/c]

This is a natural combo built in to most elves lists, but it’s worth mentioning on its own. Add in a Melody for card draw and this is the premier way to get all your elves on the table.

Building Elves: Sideboard Options

[c]Scattershot Archer[/c]
[c]Elvish Hexhunter[/c] / [c]Elvish Lyrist[/c]
[c]Safehold Elite[/c]
[c]Gleeful Sabotage[/c]
[c]Fog[/c] / [c]Moment’s Peace[/c]

Building Elves: Sample Decklists

Garruk17 has been winning Dailies with this list most recently:

[d title=”Elves (Pauper)”]
12 Forest
1 Island

4 Birchlore Rangers
3 Elvish Mystic
2 Fyndhorn Elves
3 Llanowar Elves
4 Lys Alana Huntmaster
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Priest of Titania
4 Quirion Ranger
3 Sylvan Ranger
4 Timberwatch Elf
3 Wellwisher

4 Distant Melody
3 Viridian Longbow
2 Spidersilk Armor

1 Wellwisher
1 Spidersilk Armor
3 Fog
4 Gleeful Sabotage
4 Scattershot Archer
2 Thermokarst [/d]

We’re out of time this morning, but I know there are other lists and resources we should add. Let me know in the comments and I’ll continue working on and adding to this article. Thanks!