As we promised here is part two of our Legacy interview. So I'm proud to present Julian Knab with Elves.
1 Who are you and what did you already achieve?
I’m a 30-year old guy from Munich making a living by sending people to Africa; kind of like a reverse human trafficker, except my clients actually go on holidays and safaris in Kenya.
I’ve been playing since the days of Urza’s Saga, but only got into competitive MtG/Legacy in 2005. Apart from several Legacy GP Day2s, I’ve had most of my biggest achievements after picking up Elves. Here’s some I’m quoting from my website (itsJulian.com):
1st place at Bazaar of Moxen Paris Legacy Main Event 2013
1st place at MKM Milan Legacy Main Event 2016
2nd place at MKM Legacy Super Finals 2016
2nd place at Prague Eternal Legacy Main Event 2016
2nd place at Prague Eternal Vintage Main Event 2014
Top8 at MKM Frankfurt Modern Main Event 2016
Top8 at MKM Milan Modern Main Event 2016
Top8 at German Magic Hanau 2013
Top16 SCG Richmond 2014
3x FNM Champion
2nd place Legacy Mediocre League Season 1
But honestly, outside of all those prizes I really feel all the friends I made all over the world by playing this game has been the biggest thing I have won in Magic. Sitting down with your friends from Denmark and Austria at a Sushi place in France, staying on a yacht during GP Barcelona, randomly running into your friend from Finland at the Louvre, going on a 2-week road trip through the US or teaming up with 15 friends from all over the world in an old castle in Lille — This is what has felt like the true 1st place prize of Magic. Without all those people, I wouldn’t be playing the game anymore and I’m happy I got to meet each one of them! J
2 How did you get into playing Elves?
I started playing Elves after being crushed by it twice at BoM Annecy in May 2013. Back then I was playing Shardless BUG and remember spending an entire night wondering how to beat the deck but eventually arrived at the conclusion that it must be one of, if not the best deck in the format — and heavily underplayed as such. So I picked it up in both paper and on Magic Online and started practicing a lot. The deck performed incredibly well, better than anything I had ever played before; partially because of the Legend-rule change which gave it a huge boost, but also because people were (and would be until early 2014) severely underprepared for Elves. Hardly anyone played any relevant mass removal and Miracles was still only slowly gaining traction. There were a couple of -1/-1 effects flying around in people’s sideboards in late 2013 because of True-Name Nemesis, but overall it really was the golden age of Elves. This feeling was also confirmed when I analyzed all my competitive Legacy matches in early 2016: You can clearly see what I’m referring to by just looking at the time from mid-2013 up until the release of Khans of Tarkir in October 2014:
3 How does your current list look like?
This might come as somewhat of a surprise to people who’ve been following me, but I’m back on the Natural Order plan right now. At least until I change my mind once again. You might have heard of the Chaos Elves I’ve been rocking for the better part of the year, which is a version that trades all copies of Natural Order for a more stable and grindier game plan. I still believe that Chaos Elves is a great choice if you expect a metagame heavily dominated by Miracles and Delver, but especially with Eldrazi in the mix I feel more comfortable going with the raw power of Natural Order for now. This is what I’m currently running on Magic Online and would bring to a tournament this weekend:
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Wirewood Symbiote
4 Quirion Ranger
4 Nettle Sentinel
4 Elvish Visionary
3 Heritage Druid
2 Birchlore Rangers
2 Craterhoof Behemoth
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Glimpse of Nature
3 Natural Order
4 Gaea’s Cradle
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Dryad Arbor
2 Windswept Heath
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Abrupt Decay
2 Cabal Therapy
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Elderscale Wurm
1 Natural Order
4 What makes your version special?
The Natural Order version of Elves is less special than the Chaos variant but I’m currently testing a new approach to the Miracles matchup. I’ve been saying for more than a year now that I don’t think any Artifact or Enchantment can be *the answer* to the matchup since you routinely see them bringing in 2-3 Wear/Tear in the blind. At this point the marginal value of Pithing Needle, Null Rod, Choke and others is just too small to make the kind of impact I want them to make. So instead I’m now focusing more on blanking Counterbalance than trying to fight their d̶e̶a̶t̶h̶ ̶r̶a̶y̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶k̶y̶ ̶ Terminus. This approach also adds the bonus of blanking their Disenchant-effects. It’s still a rather new concept for me but I’ve tested it with a couple of Miracles pilots and had pretty good success with it.
Generally speaking, the list is tuned towards a Miracles- and Eldrazi-heavy meta. You can swap out the Cavern as well as the Elderscale Wurm+Natural Order package in the sideboard if you want to strengthen your game against other strategies. For Delver, I like adding Umezawa’s Jitte, for example. Wren’s Run Packmaster is another card that’s quite good when you side out your Natural Orders to still have some kind of midrange manasink; it also absolutely shines against all BUG decks which have a really hard time dealing with the 5/5 wolf factory. If you’re looking for a more well-rounded, classic approach to an Elf sideboard, I would very much suggest 2 copies of Pithing Needle, which are great vs Infect, Lands, Sneak Show and a couple other decks. They’re also good vs Miracles but don’t fit in with my previously-described approach. Technically, you could also play Krosan Grip as another great(!) card vs Miracles, but Cavern of Souls adds more overall value to that slot since unlike Grip, you can also bring it in vs Eldrazi. Spending your entire turn 3 so you can start playing Elves on turn 4 is just not feasible. Even with Abrupt Decay, skipping your second turn to deal with Chalice of the Void is already an issue against a deck that will drop Reality Smasher on their turn 3.
For now, I really like Elderscale Wurm against Eldrazi (while also splash-damaging Lands, where it will buy you a lot of time by shutting down Marit Lage.) I do however really miss Umezawa’s Jitte which has been absolutely awesome vs Grixis Delver. But there’s only so many cards you can play.
5 What do you think of Elves as a beginner’s deck?
The concept of a “beginner’s deck” is rather ambivalent. Some people are looking for a cheap but playable way to get into the format. Others want a competitive yet not too complex deck to develop a better feeling for the format. Then there are also people who are mainly looking for a deck that transitions well into a couple of archetypes.
For Elves, it is neither cheap, nor easy or instantly-rewarding. In fact it will probably cause a lot of frustration with a lot of new Legacy players. But that is fine. Because if you’re the competitive type, frustration is something you’ve long learned to deal with and put behind you; especially when you know that despite your bad feelings, you are making progress every time you shuffle up your cards. If you got the competitive attitude down, a deck as deep in tactics and strategy as Elves will bring you a ton of fun from the very first day you start playing it. In general though, I think people are too concerned with learning all the tactical tools available to Elves and putting too much relative emphasis on how it is the most important aspect of learning/playing Elves. I think the true mastery of the deck comes from strategic awareness and your shifting role in any given matchup during the progress of a game. It’s rather complex and extends beyond what’s on the battlefield and in both player’s hands, so it’s particularly hard to grasp for newer players with little experience with Legacy and Elves in particular. This will cause the aforementioned frustration with beginners as they will probably lose several matches without really understanding why. But that’s an attitude that’s not necessarily tied to beginners. Some people will go with a certain deck for years and make little progress because they’re fine as long as they have variance or just a couple of small factors to blame their losses on, instead of focusing on their general strategic approach to the match.
What I’m trying to say is that if you’re prone to blaming your losses on your opponent drawing the card he needed on a particular turn, you should probably better stay away from Elves. The deck is really more for the puzzle-solving, continuous learner type and will create a ton of joy for people who love committing heavily to a deck and learning the ins and outs of it. Since it doesn’t translate well into other Legacy decks, I wouldn’t recommend it as a random, generic first deck for someone who doesn’t really know what he wants to play in Legacy though.