Commander Showdown - Lathril vs Abomination of Llanowar

(Lathril, Blade of the Elves by Caroline Gariba | Abomination of Llanowar by Vincent Proce)

Golgari Elves Are Taking Over!

Welcome to Commander Showdown, where we compare and contrast two commanders with similar-ish abilities to discover the overlaps, differences, and nuances of their strategies!

Between Commander Legends and Kaldheim, the number of green-black Elf tribal Commander deck options increased by over 500%. Where once there was one Nath of the Gilt Leaf and the obscure Rhys, the Exiled, we now have Harald, King of Skemfar, Miara, Thorn of the Glade, Numa, Joraga Chieftain, and several other Partner combinations, not to mention incidentally Elf options like Belbe, Corrupted Observer. Among these, the two standouts have easily been Abomination of Llanowar, the canonical elfball, and the precon deck leader, Lathril, Blade of the Elves.

Tribal decks often have a lot of overlap from deck to deck, with very little variance between any two given lists. Even so, these commanders do have a very different relationship with their tribe. One grows more powerful when supplied with an army, while the other brings the army to us. How do these commanders differ? Let's find out in this very pointy-eared Commander Showdown!


The Literal Elf Ball

Let's begin with Abomination of Llanowar, an uncommon from Commander Legends. Though just an uncommon, this card provided a fresh twist to the Elf game that players were very eager to see. Lots of tribal decks focus on the go-wide aspect of their tribe, especially when they have a plethora of 'lord' creatures that buff up the team. The Abomination, however, can go tall, giving the tribe a new plan of attack.

Though this runs the risk of dividing the deck's attention along two different axes, this duality can be harnessed in a lot of great ways. While the mass of tokens attacks one player, the Abomination can commander damage a different enemy in just a few swift attacks.

Importantly, Abomination will grow for any Elf cards in play and our graveyard. Elvish Promenade and Eyeblight's Ending, as Elf cards in the 'yard, will pump our commander as well.

Even more importantly, growing larger for the creatures in our graveyard gives us the ability to recover from setbacks.

Creature-based decks, especially tribal strategies, can be torn apart by a well-timed board wipe, which often requires them to run many ways of preventing the team from succumbing to utter destruction. Heroic Intervention and Golgari Charm are excellent, but there aren't tons of effects like them in these colors. When timed well, though, they can make or break a game.

Another important ingredient for recovery is, of course, card advantage. Effects like Skemfar Avenger will help us refuel after a board wipe demolishes us, so we can claw back into the game. Though it's preferable to land the Pact of the Serpent or Shamanic Revelation before the board wipe hits, we might not always get there, so extra recovery card advantage is crucial for us.

But best of all, the Abomination lets us recover in a way that few other decks can, by simply coming back into play and threatening to smack someone's life total for 10 or more because of how large they made our graveyard. They had one removal effect, but now they'd better pray they have another! Even better, it amplifies some of the best assets in green's toolbox. Let's check out how this might be done:

Elfball

Commander (1)
Creatures (37)
Artifacts (6)
Enchantments (4)
Sorceries (12)
Instants (7)
Lands (33)

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This deck makes me extremely excited to cast Return of the Wildspeaker. It might pump up eight Elves, but it also might draw us twelve cards. And an effect like Overwhelming Stampede, which might usually pump up the traditional Elf board for 3 or 4 power, feels mighty fine here where the commander alone can pump us up for over 9 power without breaking a sweat.

And in the meantime, our opponents still have to contend with the awesome agility, mana production, and anthem-buffed swarm of Elves that can utterly devastate a field if left unchecked in any way. There are 10 different Elves in this list that can pump each other up, and that's before we even consider bonuses like Door of Destinies! From Elvish Archdruid to Ezuri, Renegade Leader and from Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen to Joraga Warcaller, the Elves are a huge force to reckon with even before we add our commander to the mix.

Abomination of Llanowar embodies the 'Elfball' strategy perfectly by continuing to roll and roll and roll. By hitting multiple points of attack, our Elves can divide and conquer. Opponents who think they've found an answer to the big board of creatures will need to have many more answers, and soon, because of how easily this deck can reset its battle position. True to its art, the deck is a terror that will inexorably chase down our enemies until the Katamari of Elves overtakes them.

Indeed, when Commander Legends was fresh in our minds, this may have been the signature Golgari Elf commander for years to come... but then, Kaldheim brought a new challenger to the fore.


Blade of the Elves

The Dark Elves have arrived! Lathril, Blade of the Elves came to us in a preconstructed deck with some fantastic new cards, from Pact of the Serpent to Bounty of Skemfar. Alongside it, the main Kaldheim set also gave us tons of new goodies, Elvish Warmaster and Wolverine Riders being my personal favorite standouts.

Now, I've already gone into Lathril in some detail in the video series Upping the Average over on the EDHRECast YouTube account. Though not a strict 'precon upgrade' video, I do think it's a good way to take this commander from good to great without changing the average deck's starting budget.

What I'd like to do here is expound a bit upon these thoughts by contrasting them against the Abomination of Llanowar deck we saw earlier. Where the Abomination gives us more versatility in the form of a go-tall commander damage option that cannot be answered too easily, Lathril instead doubles down on the go-wide strategy. Even her 'alternate' win condition - tapping Elves to make opponents lose life - still requires a significant number of bodies on the battlefield, which she is happy to supply.

It's tough to lean too far into Lathril's ability. Typically, if we have 10 Elves, we can do a lot of damage in combat already, so the life loss really ought to be our secondary plan in the event of Glacial Chasms and Sphere of Safety effects, rather than being a full-on commitment. Luckily, there are ways to harness it even without distracting the deck's focus, including some very nasty tap rewards like Quest for Renewal and Throne of the God-Pharaoh.

However, this also means that Lathril's ability to recover is a lot different from the Abomination's. I'll try to illustrate this with a decklist below (which deviates just slightly from the video).

Lathril of the Chase

Commander (1)
Creatures (40)
Enchantments (6)
Artifacts (6)
Sorceries (8)
Instants (6)
Lands (33)

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Lathril depends a bit more upon card advantage and prevention spells than the Abomination does, and I think it's important to note here that the Abomination still depends on them quite a bit. Where the Abomination can still hit the ground running right after a board wipe, Lathril feels the takedown a lot harder and has to start from scratch. Missing the window of opportunity on a Pact of the Serpent or Moldervine Reclamation before a removal spell wipes the field really could be the different between victory and defeat. Poor sequencing with a Beast Whisperer might cost the tribal deck the little bit of extra advantage they needed to truly take off. This makes independent draw effects that don't rely upon creatures on the battlefield a huge boon, because they can either help us press an advantage or find the things we need to get back into the game.

Most importantly, though, no other Elf tribal deck will feel the impact of army-buffing spells quite like Lathril. The occasional +1/+1 from a Canopy Tactician doesn't just give her one more Elf token when she strikes an enemy, it gives her three more bodies to buff up, which might become a huge bonus from a Coat of Arms or an extra bunch of pings from Elderfang Venom and Poison-Tip Archer.

I also feel that this make's Lathril a slightly more compelling commander to make use of the Elves' excess mana production. Activating Ezuri, Renegade Leader or Elvish Warmaster multiple times feels amazing, but especially in a deck that can make more creatures to carry those boons.

This, I think, is the most important piece for players who are town between the two commanders. Abomination of Llanowar gives us multiple plans of attack and may never let its foot off the gas pedal, continually applying pressure even through multiple removal spells. Lathril commits more thoroughly to the establish Elf tropes, including one of its classic potential weaknesses that must be accounted for, but can create much more explosive plays as a result.


Check Yours-Elf Before You Wreck Yours-Elf

So, which of these Elf-tastic commanders do you think is best for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on all the new Golgari Elf legends we've received in the past few months! And of course, don't forget to vote for the Commander Showdown you'd like to see in the future!

Til next time!

Joey is the lead editor and content producer for EDHREC. You can find him hosting and creating tons of great videos over at https://www.youtube.com/edhrecast or give him a follow at @JosephMSchultz on Twitter, where he likes to celebrate Commander, coffee, and corgis.