Archetune-Up - An Enchanted Evening with Elsha
(Elsha, of the Infinite l Art by G-host Lee)
A (Game) Night to Remember
Hello, and welcome back to Archetune-Up, an article series devoted to using the Theme pages on EDHREC to help tweak a reader-submitted deck! This month, I'm back with the second three-color deck of the series - and the best three-color combo, at that!
It's no secret that Jeskai is my favorite color combination in the game, so when reader Michael submitted his Narset, Enlightened Master Enchantress deck, I couldn't say no. While we were in the middle of our correspondence regarding the deck, spoiler season for Commander 2019 started. Midway through discussing how he'd like the deck tuned up, he mentioned he wanted to convert the deck to an Elsha, of the Infinite list, since Narset would (rightfully) be hated out of the game quickly. Once again, I couldn't say no, especially to building around a brand new Jeskai commander!
This is the first time in the series where I've outright swapped out a commander when tuning up a deck, and I have to say, it was an interesting challenge. I've talked about Elsha being a "budget Narset" at length on my Twitter and during the Mystic Intellect Set Review, but I think this is the kind of deck where Elsha is able to step out from the shadow of Narset.
Let's look at the original list:
Narset Enchantress by MichaelView on Archidekt
Narset facilitates a strategy where we want to go all-in on big, splashy, powerful spells, since, on attack, we can cast up to four of them for free. This makes Narset the hinge on which the entire deck turns; she's necessary for it to function. Elsha, on the other hand, plays a much slower game with more reasonably costed cards, allowing us to cast spells off the top of our deck as though they had flash at any point in time, rather than only after she's attacked, in exchange for having us pay their mana costs, instead of the spells being free. The deck can also function well with or without Elsha on the field. This gives us a less explosive deck, but it also allows us to accrue a lot of incremental advantage over time.
Surprisingly, Michael's deck had a pretty good CMC, 3.22, which is pretty tight, especially for a deck that wants to cheat out permanents. This means that there won't be a lot of cards rotting in your hand, since, in a pinch, you should be able to hard-cast most of them. Lower mana curves help a deck function so much better in the long run.
When looking at Michael's deck from a thematic lens, you can tell he was very interested in his enchantment theme. Apart from his commander, there are only three card types in his deck: lands, artifacts, and enchantments. I value Michael's will to be as on-theme as possible, but I had to add in some instants, sorceries, and planeswalkers for my version of the deck. I made sure to keep Elsha as the only creature in the deck, though! Let's take a look at these changes, shall we?
The Prowess to Slug it Out
The first thing I noticed in the deck was the prevalence of cards like Gratuitous Violence and Dictate of the Twin Gods, along with other red enchantments like Smoke and Citadel of Pain. These cards gave me flashbacks to where, in my very first article, Neheb, the Eternal, one of the themes I relied on the heaviest was the Group Slug theme, which we could use here, as well.
I'm going to be honest: in the final version of the deck, I decided to take out a large portion of the Group Slug enchantments. While we had pillowfort cards like Ghostly Prison and Frozen Aether to keep opponents at bay, I didn't feel like these cards created enough advantage in an Elsha deck to warrant inclusion. Other cards like Price of Glory and Citadel of Pain are actively worse in Elsha compared to Narset, as you're looking to play your spells on other player's turns.
Where does that leave us, though?
My first three picks here were Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Chandra, Fire Artisan, and Chandra, Awakened Inferno. The first two Chandras give us something very important: a way of manipulating the top of our deck. In theory, this deck shouldn't need a ton of card draw, as Elsha will hopefully provide us with a constant stream of cards from the top of our deck, but as anyone who has played Experimental Frenzy knows, getting lands stuck at the top of our deck is a huge problem. These two Chandras help mitigate that problem elegantly, providing card advantage when you want it, or clearing a pesky land from the top when you need it gone.
Chandra, Awakened Inferno, on the other hand, is a bit of a cheat on my end. It isn't yet found its way onto the Group Slug theme page, but I'm chalking that up to the fact that it's from such a recent set, so the data is still percolating. This card is perfect for the theme, and is exactly what this deck (along with other Group Slug decks like Mogis, God of Slaughter and Zo-zu, the Punisher) wants: constant damage that can also function as a mini board wipe when necessary. It performs well on every axis we need.
Shenanigans and Tectonic Reformation fall into a similar vein as two of the Chandras above; I'm adding them in for extra top deck manipulation. Shenanigans in particular is a great utility card, since you can Dredge away any land (or unneeded card) from the top of your deck, clearing the way for Elsha to flash out a bunch of cards on your opponents' turns. The fact that it's a fantastic piece of artifact removal, which the deck already wants, is just upside. For similar reasons, Tectonic Reformation is another great inclusion. At a certain point in the game, you'll be able to sandbag excess lands in your hand in order to use them to clear out other lands that show up on top of your deck. It's an effective way of allowing the top of your deck to stay clear and enabling Elsha to do her job!
An Enamoring Enchantress
The next theme to look into is the most obvious: Enchantment theme itself!
Unsurprisingly, Michael already had this theme on lock-down. Most options that I thought to add were already in the deck, especially the handful of them that fall under the "pillow fort" category, but that doesn't mean that I didn't find any gems to throw in!
Out of the four cards I added from this theme, three of them function as disruption of some kind. Gideon's Intervention is a criminally underplayed card that can blank certain commanders and even certain decks. It can shift roles from being preventative to reactive, and that kind of utility should be valued highly. Journey to Nowhere is your typical enchantment-based removal that only gets better when Elsha is able to flash it out. While I'm only running this one, more of these Oblivion Ring effects can be added to the deck if necessary, though it is definitely a meta-based call. Lastly, we have Blind Obedience, which does a superb job at disruption threats that have haste, as well as serving as a mana sink, giving us a nice, cushy life total.
The last card from this theme I included was Luminarch Ascension. This deck is in need of some win conditions aside from Starfield of Nyx and Assemble the Legion. Thanks to all of our enchantment-based disruption, Luminarch Ascension can easily meet its requirement of four quest counters, allowing it to start making an army of 4/4 flying Angels to overwhelm the board!
Aura-n't You Glad to See Me?
At this point in my tuning of Michael's deck, I was struck with the realization that it had very similar pieces as one of my own decks: Tuvasa, the Sunlit. That deck straddles the line between pillow fort and Voltron, so I decided to check out the Aura theme page to help find more ideas, and it did not disappoint!
The Auras I added to the deck provide a second route of attack, and can be expanded upon should one choose to go that route. This theme has a surprising amount of utility, and it's the theme I took the most cards from.
The first subset of cards from this section that I'll mention will be the most overt: the aggressive Auras.
Steel of the Godhead is a great offensive tool for Elsha and pairs well with the next two cards I added. Steel of the Godhead gives Elsha a +2 to both power and toughness, while also making her unblockable and providing Lifelink. This combination will allow us to be a bit more aggressive, especially once you add in Prowess. Elsha can get out of hand quickly, easily putting her into the “Three-Hit-Club”. It’s important to make sure we protect Elsha, but who said we couldn’t knock some skulls along the way?
Hyena Umbra is Steel of the Godhead on a smaller scale. Giving Elsha Totem Armor allows her one-time indestructibility, and a power/toughness boost alongside first strike is decent as well. What makes this so efficient is the mana cost, as a single white mana for this much utility is a small price to pay to protect our commander.
Ethereal Armor and Helm of the Gods allow us to create a monstrous threat, whether it be Elsha, a simple Soldier token, or even a flying Angel. There are 36 enchantments in the deck, so we have more than enough to sustain both of these cards. They synergize quite well with Enchanted Evening, a card that was originally in the deck. I ended up taking it out, though, as these were the only two cards I saw that worked well with it.
To get a simple card out of the way, Enlightened Tutor is a good inclusion for any artifact- or enchantment-based deck, and doubly so since Elsha will allow us to use it right away since the card is tutored to the top of our deck. In a similar vein, Mystical Tutor and Idyllic Tutor would also be good potential inclusions as well, since the former tutors instants and sorceries to the top of your deck, and the latter grabs whatever enchantment you may need. I, myself, didn't include these two cards since, while Tutors do add consistency, I try not to go too overboard with them in early iterations of decks. I personally like knowing that my decks can function without them, and I can then add them to tune the deck a bit tighter if need be.
Darksteel Mutation and Imprisoned in the Moon are two single-target removal spells that can put a damper on certain decks. Both can blank troublesome creatures or commanders, rendering them nearly useless. Imprisoned in the Moon goes a bit farther, allowing you to hit lands and planeswalkers, as well, providing unrivaled utility that's also on-theme! While not in the deck, Deep Freeze, Frogify, Kasmina's Transmutation, and Reprobation are also great Auras that remove abilities from creature and render them inert; they can also be added if the need arises.
The final three cards that I plucked from this theme are all part of a category of spells that this deck was sorely lacking: board wipes. Normally, if your deck revolves around a key creature, the last thing you want to do is have it be a victim of your own removal spell. Luckily, the ones that I found sidestep this problem quite well: Single Combat and Divine Reckoning allow you to choose one creature you control, and blow all but one of each of your opponents' away. We don't even deal with any of Single Combat's downsides either, since we don't have any other creatures to cast in our deck! Time Wipe is similar, but while you will need to bounce Elsha back to your hand as part of the spell, your opponents end up with nothing!
Board wipes are critical in games of Commander. They reset the board and keep certain decks from getting out of hand. Winds of Rath is another great option should you lean heavier into Auras, and Supreme Verdict is another great choice if there are a lot of Counterspells in your meta.
Compare and Contrast, Gotta Make it Fast!
Every article, my last section is called Bonus Round, a potpourri of any topic that may be interesting to discuss, especially if it does not fall within the bounds of the themes on EDHREC. This article's Bonus Round will be looking at cards that separate Narset, Enlightened Master and Elsha, of the Infinite in this kind of build.
- Just to get it out of the way, extra turn and extra combat steps like Time Warp and Waves of Aggression work much better in Narset over Elsha. That being said, while they aren't necessarily on-theme, they are powerful and will allow you to amass a plethora of enchantments onto the board quickly.
- Narset values 'Punisher' and 'Group Slug' effects much higher than Elsha does. Citadel of Pain, Manabarbs, Ruination, and Price of Glory are all fantastic in Narset since you want to be playing cards on your turn for as little mana as possible.
- Counterspells, like Dovin's Veto, Swan Song, or Disdainful Stroke are laughably bad in Narset. They basically act as a blank if you hit them with her ability. With Elsha, though, they're just as great as they would be in any blue deck, and they're far from useless.
- Mana-intensive spells like Decree of Silence, Enduring Ideal, Form of the Dragon, or Omniscience are fantastic in Narset. As a general rule, the more expensive the spell that you can cheat out with Narset, the more value you're getting.
- Elsha can combo quite easily. For example, I added Ugin, the Ineffable on a whim to manipulate the top of our deck and clear out uncastable cards. After some time with the deck, though, I found that if Elsha and Sensei's Divining Top were out alongside Ugin, I could draw the entire deck by putting the Top back on top and then recasting it for free. Neat! There are a staggering number of other ways that Elsha can combo out if you want to travel down that route, but I didn't include any of them, choosing instead to stick the theme. (I did add Rule of Law to Possibility Storm to give the deck a lockdown piece, though).
Coming Out on Top
From the moment I started writing this series back in March I hoped that I would be able to write about a Jeskai deck, and wow, Michael's deck delivered! It was an absolute blast going through and tuning up the deck, especially one with a theme that usually isn't one found in these colors. Both Elsha and Narset are very versatile commanders that can encompass a lot of different strategies, so I hope I was able to hit enough of the different venues that we could have gone down.
As I mentioned in my last article, submissions for Archetune-Up are closed for the foreseeable future. But please, do not let that stop you from getting in touch if you want to chat about Commander! My Twitter is always available for that (@thejesguy), and my email (email@example.com) is available for other inquiries. I have a spooky October-themed deck for all of you next month, so I hope you enjoy!
As always, thank you for your time, and thanks for arche-tuning in!
Elsha Enchanted (2004)View on Archidekt
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