Today I'm here to talk about one of my favorite tribal decks in the current KTK - BFZ standard. Dubbed Atarka Elves. While it may not be a top tier performing standard deck, nor is it much of a budget build it sure can be a fun deck to play.
Currently as I am writing this, Standard is mainly comprised of Dark Jeskai, Abzan, Atarka Red, and Esper. All four have variations within each of them but the meta right now feels stale. No longer am I seeing at my LGS different builds or variety as I was during THS - KTK standard. Most people now are running whatever is popular, aka Good cards.dec. This is only a small sample of my area so other LGS meta's may vary so take my words with a very small grain of salt.
I currently play Elves in Modern and starting to build Elves in legacy so why not try and do the same in Standard? When Magic Origins came out my elf senses were tingling and thought, finally! Elf tribal is a thing! While I tried and failed with elf tribal before BFZ came out, it wasn't until the fetchable duals did the addition of red allow the deck to play Atarka's Command consistently.
So how does one pilot the deck? The deck almost plays like an aggro deck but you don't want to get rid of your hand all at once. Languish and Radiant Flames are very real threats to the deck as well as Crux of Fate. While board wipes are expected, that's why I would normally hold back a few elf cards in my hand once I had 3-4 elves in play, as it is easy to get a board presence again. Especially against midrange and control decks you'll have to be mindful of what mana they have open and if they have a counter coming your way or a kill spell.
VS. Dark Jeskai
With my experiences against Dark Jeskai, I noticed you want to be fast and aggressive and make sure to have an Atarka's Command in your opening hand if you can get it. I've seen most decks play Fiery Impulse or Wild Slash and once they get a flipped Jace, it may be very hard for you to come back. If they are playing with a Mantis Rider variant that becomes a real threat to your deck as well. Radiant Flames is another killer to the deck. So what can we do against such threats?
If you're lucky enough to win game one, you may want to sideboard in Rending Volley, Self-Inflicted Wound, and Ultimate Price or Duress. Your style will have to change to be a bit more reactive as to not dropping all your creatures at once. You can sideboard out the Thornbow Archers and 1 or 2 of the Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, I'll also take out some of the Sylvan Messanger as well.
Abzan can be a real hit or miss with Elves. Once they start getting Rhino's out it can be pretty tough to combat it. Most Abzan decks I see have a really good tempo now. I typically see, Turn 1 Warden of the First Tree, Turn 2 Heir of the Wild, Turn 3 Anafenza, and Turn 4 Rhino. None of those creatures are easy to deal with for elves. The best thing to do is to trade as much as you can and hold back attacking sometimes so you can kill their creatures. Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen can be very good against this deck as it let's you gain life that you most likely lost against Siege Rhino anyway. Atarka's Command can at least stop the opponent from gaining that life and doing 3 damage in the process.
Now what do we sideboard in? It will most likely be something similar to Dark Jeskai. Rending Volley, Self-Inflicted Wound, and Ultimate Price. I would suggest taking out once again, Thornbow Archers and Sylvan Messanger. In my experience Abzan was never a good matchup against Elves.
VS. Atarka Red
This matchup seemed rather even in my experience. It really came down to who gets to go first. If I go first I have a higher chance of winning than if they go first, which seems to be true for most aggro match ups. However, when it comes to sideboard. I highly recommend putting in all the Eyeblight Massacre you can muster. Take out Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen as by Turn 4, you may not have a lot of life left anyway. I've seen Eyeblight Massacre do some heavy duty work that can stall their board. Duress and Ultimate Price put in their due diligence as well. Overall the matchup seemed 50/50.
VS. Esper Control
I have not had much experience with this match up as I have had with the others. It can be a difficult matchup if you cannot kill them quickly. Once they start building up more mana they continue to just counter everything you put out. Languish and Crux of Fate are real downers with this matchup. So what can you do overall? Sideboard in Duress to begin with to try and disrupt any counters or board wipes. Self-Inflicted Wound and Rending Volley for any creatures that come out in play. Honestly it's really up to your ability to get out creatures and get them down quickly.
So overall, the deck can be quite fun. I managed to take 2nd place during BFZ gameday and have placed a few FNM's with it. Would I take this to a bigger event other than FNM? Most likely not. If Languish and Crux of Fate and Radiant Flames suddenly disappeared from the meta, this deck would be positioned better then.
I've been asked before if there is a budget version of the deck and while you can build a budget version, without the main piece of Atarka's Command it just becomes a regular Golgari Elves build. The Atarka's Command is the piece that really allows you to swing in fast and kill them quickly. Collected Company is a must have as well but you may get away with not having it. It helps to flood the board with more bodies but with Elvish Visionary and Sylvan Messanger they can at least help pick up some slack.
So if I had to make a budget build I may have it look something like this:
The biggest loss is Atarka's Command obviously as well as Collected Company. You can do without Nissa, though she can be helpful just getting you more land which is where Llanowar Empath and Seek the Wilds helps to do here and without fetches you really only have Evolving Wilds to help you for land. I still kept in Llanowar Wastes as those are relatively cheap to buy, I did not include Jungle Hollow as you really don't want lands coming in tapped, 4 is enough.For the sideboard we obviously had to cut Rending Volley and so I put in Murderous Cut instead. This budget list isn't final and may change.
So to end with, where do we take the deck from here? With Languish, Crux and Radiant Flames being really good board wipes I feel there isn't much else to do as of yet. Maybe Oath of the Gatewatch will have some new tools for this deck to utilize and if it does I'll do another write up to see how it fares.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to drop one and thanks for reading!