In praise of: Llanowar Elves, by Tim G

Editor’s note. As the tide of COVID-19 seems to be mercifully in abeyance, we welcome the return of normal life. And what better illustration of that could there be than a fantastic guest post from Tim G. Thanks so much for this article Tim. If YOU have a card that you’d like to praise, reach out to us!

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Playing a turn one Forest into Llanowar Elves makes me happy. It’s as simple as that. 

Prologue:  Last Saturday 

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Last Saturday Ivo, Arjen and I got together in our local gaming store/bar (The Boardroom in The Hague) for the first gathering of the Old Men of the Sea (our local crew) in over a year. There were only three of us, but hey, it’s holiday season as well as Corona-time, so we can’t really complain.

We unrolled our playmats, shuffled our decks and I won the die-roll. T1: “ Forest – Llanowar Elves, Go.”

Old Man Arjen, my opponent, looked at me and exclaimed: “IVO! LOOK AT THE GRIN ON THIS GUY’S FACE!!” He was right. Whenever I play a T1 elf, a wide grin instantly appears on my face. 

Chapter one: The first encounter

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My love affair with the unassuming yet snarling mohawked elf with an abstract art tattoo and weird Inuit sunglasses started when I played my first game of Magic, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Let’s go back to 1999: A bunch of primary school kids, sitting around a table, playing this awesome and complicated game for the first time. One kid, however, was way ahead of all the other ones.

His name was Sebastiaan. He was a bit younger than the rest of us, but he clearly understood the game better. While I was playing a White-Blue Urza’s Legacy starter deck called Radiant’s Revenge, with overcosted flyers and control cards I didn’t understand, he was casting huge Wurms and Trolls, which completely trampled over my scrawny drakes and puny clerics. I just didn’t get how his guys were so much stronger than mine at every stage of the game.

I just couldn’t beat him, and I was jealous as hell. Being a true Timmy, I blamed my inability to win on the fact that my only big dudes were a Mobile Fortress and a couple of Opal Champions. I traded my rares for a Killer Whale and a King Crab. I soon learned, however, that dying with a Killer Whale and a King Crab in your hand is not much better than dying with a bunch of incomprehensible artifacts in your hand.

Chapter two: Engaging in dark rituals

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My older cousin Stijn – whom I’ve always looked up to – took pity on me. He explained the concept of the mana curve and helped me turn my blue-white monstrosity into a passable White Weenie deck. That worked quite well against most guys in my classroom who still had to discover these tricks. But Sebas’ Wurms and Trolls would still trample over me regularly.

Incidentally, Stijn also took me to his local MTG store, which was actually a rather porn store in Enschede, which stocked a couple of binders of old cards in semi-hidden a dark corner in the back. One might have expected the opposite: a gaming store with a secret stash of porn hidden in the back, but remember we’re talking about the Netherlands in the late 90’s!

Anyways, later still, I found out that you could cheat the mana curve by playing Dark Ritual into Hippie on turn one. That was good fun – but only if the Hippie lived. Around this time my playgroup started to discover efficient removal cards, such as Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares. Clearly Ritual wasn’t a lasting solution.

Chapter three: Finding true love

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Around this time, my dad recognised my obsession with Magic and started misusing the internet connection at his office to find random mtg articles and tournament-winning deck lists from the Dojo and other old mtg sites. He would print them out and bring them home to his (overly excited) son. This is how I got my hands on a mono-green stompy list, with Albino Trolls, Wild Dogs and… Llanowar Elves.

I managed to trade away my Hippies and Mother of Runes for a bunch of small and medium sized green creatures, including the unassuming little mowhawked dudes. I had never recognised them as anything special before I played them. After all, they were just puny 1/1’s whose only ability was equivalent to that of a basic Fforest.

When I started playing them, however, my opinion changed. I realised that these dudes were the secret to Sebas’ success. They help you play either more or bigger dudes than your opponent and you can tap them turn after turn.  Even in the unlikely case that you end up trading one-for-one, you can still beat ‘em down with your little 1/1’s. Heck, you can even cast an Overrun or a Might of Oaks and kill your opponent with your elves. This was what I had longed to do. I realised I had finally found a home within the Magic universe.

(Quick sidenote: I honestly don’t know what you guys are all doing, faffing around with Timetwisters and Ancestrals and Jaeaeamaeredaye Tomes, what’s the point in playing Magic if you’re not stomping face with green creatures?!?)

Chapter four: Rekindling the spark

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Many years and many more distractions later, I discovered Magnus’s blog and the world of Old School. I immediately knew I wanted to rediscover the world of Magic with my trusty old mana-dork-friends. An order for four Beta Llanowar Elves was put in that same day. I then added some beat-sticks (Pixies, Erhnams, Su-Chi’s) and a couple of spells (Giant Growth, Crumble) and entered the world of Old School Magic.

Chapter Five: There are different kinds of power

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Almost four years later, I have to say that the Elves have not disappointed me in the slightest. My mono-green deck is far from optimal, but it still holds its own against most FNM decks and at tournaments I seem to win slightly more often than I lose. Heck, I even managed to take down an ODOL (Online Dutch Oldschool League – don’t google the abbreviation), albeit with a lot of luck.

Some might argue that the splashable Erhnam, the multicolourmana Birds or the Factory-eating Pixies are the best green creatures in Old School, but my vote goes to the Elves. Llanowar Elves (along with a Sol Ring and perhaps a single Mox Emerald) allow you to overwhelm unpowered decks and (with a bit of luck) let you go toe-to-toe with decks full of Moxen and Lotuses and other crazy shenanigans (as long as their draw isn’t completely insane).

Starting off with T1 Elf into T2 Ice Storm (on their first land) into T3 Erhnam is probably as close to an unfair start as you can get with a fair deck, especially if one of your lands is a Mishra’s and another one is a Pendelhaven. The elves also help you avoid mana flood or screw. If you draw too much land, the elves are attacking or blocking, if you draw no land, they are on mana duty. This greatly helps in smoothing out your early-turn plays. In the mid-to-late game, the elves are even better than I remember from the olden days. At this stage in the game, you will likely have a Pendelhaven on the board, which allows your little dude to hit for two a turn, which isn’t a bad clock in topdeck-world.

Chapter Six: The flavor of love

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Love, however, should not (just) be about raw power. To me, Llanowar Elves just feels right. Elves. Living in their forests and Pendelhavens. Making mana most of the time, but occasionally beating up an opponent who asks for it. Or nobly dying as martyrs to stop an attacking Juzam Djinn from wreaking more havoc.

Even the way they make mana somehow makes sense, based on a lively interpretation of the flavor text. The elves gather the fruits of their forest to make some mana. The mana turns out to be green, because that’s the type of mana forests produce as well. Alternatively, the flavor text tells us that the elves leave some fruit in the forest, considering that “nature’s portion.” Perhaps we draw mana from nature’s portion instead. Who knows?

At the same time, Llanowar Elves are not corny or stereotypical. We’re not talking Orlando Bloom’s Legolas here, with his smooth face, stupid grin and dreamy voice. As stated above, these elves are hardcore. They sport a sick red mohawk and, for some reason, wear Inuit sunglasses. Perhaps they need it to protect their sensitive red eyes from the sun or from the black thorns surrounding them or something… 

Epilogue: growing old together

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While I occasionally dabble in other colours during FNM-sessions with the OId Men of the Sea, I always come back to mono-green for tournaments. There is a very simple reason for this (besides the fact that rounds tend to go quick, which leaves more time for drinking and banter).

Luck and randomness are a big part of Old School. You need to draw the right cards at the right time in order to play an enjoyable and competitive game. With my mono-green deck I don’t need that much luck to enjoy the game. More than that, it honestly doesn’t matter if I had a lousy week at work or if I have troubles in my personal life… I only need to have a forest and an elf in my opening hand.

If I have that, I am happy. 

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