MTG on a Budget: Abzan Elves (Frontier)


Collecting and playing Magic the Gathering can be an expensive hobby; there is little doubt about that. For many people, cost is a major barrier to playing beyond the kitchen table. Coming back to the game after joining the staff of Face to Face Games Toronto, I found myself daunted by the prospect of buying back into a brand new collection. Since then, I’ve worked to make fun decks on a budget that can hold their own in a competitive setting. In this series of articles, I’m going to talk about different decks I’ve built, their strategies, and the cards I used to help keep the cost down.

The first deck I built after returning to Magic was an elf tribal deck for the Frontier format. Frontier was just becoming popular at the same time I started working at Face to Face Games, and one of the format’s biggest champions, Tony Cameron of, was a co-worker I spent time talking to whenever I was in the store. Conveniently, Frontier also happened to be a remarkably cheap format at the time. I decided that would be the best place to start.

Since starting my own Magic collection when I was 9 I’ve always loved decks built around a tribal theme. These decks often afford intrinsic synergy and help provide a focus without worrying about the high levels of subtlety that other competitive decks can require. Because of this I found myself building around one of the classic tribes: Elves.

At first the deck worked around black/green, as those are the core colours of the elf tribe, but as I played the deck I found that it was difficult to protect from my primary weakness, board sweepers, using only those colours. This caused me to expand my colour base into white, leading me to work with the Abzan wedge (White/Black/Green).

This deck focuses on a core base of creatures that have a very low converted mana cost but give you decent value, be it more creatures, more cards, or damage to the opponent. With twelve elves that only cost one mana, you should be able to play a creature first turn and move into a two drop on your second turn with most opening hands. In ideal circumstances the first creature you play will be an Elvish Mystic allowing you to get to three creatures on turn two, or even four if one of the creatures you play is a Dwynen’s Elite or another single cost creature.

As you amass a small army of elves, the lines of play become pretty obvious. The main goal of this deck is to get a lot of small damage in early with your large numbers and close the game out with Shaman of the Pack or Siege Rhino. If you find the right cards to open you will able to force your opponent to lose as much as seven life on turn three when you trigger your first Shaman of the Pack. In cases where you are struggling to draw into a Shaman of the Pack you will be able to use Eldritch Evolution to search your deck and put a copy into play.

Unfortunately, building a small army is also a one of the main weaknesses of this deck. With almost no creatures who have more than two toughness you will find yourself very vulnerable to most of the removal spells popular in the Frontier format, especially the board sweepers. Cards like Yahenni’s Expertise, Radiant Flames, and Languish can break your momentum and put you too far behind to recover. Because of this, access to ways to save your creatures is essential. Two maindeck copies of Eerie Interlude give a small amount of insurance against the unlikely chance that you will face a board sweeper in game one of a matchup. In addition, Eerie Interlude can actually win you the game by allowing you to trigger all of your creatures’ enter the battlefield effects for a second time. This means your opponent can go from thinking they were wiping your board to instead finding you drawing cards from Elvish Visionary, gaining a +1/+1 counter on Narnam Renegade, and even causing more life loss with your Shaman of the Pack. Sometimes Eerie Interlude will go so far as allowing you to finish off a close game for just that reason even if you aren’t facing down a board wipe. Finally if your opponent isn’t playing black and you don’t need to worry about Yahenni’s Expertise and Languish you can instead bring Make a Stand in from your sideboard to make your creatures indestructible with the added bonus of some aggressive combat utility.

After thinking about protection against board sweepers that would blow me out of the water I began thinking about the additional utility needed to get me the wins I was looking for. Even with Elvish Visionary affording me cheap card draw attached to a body I found I frequently was emptying my hand too soon and running out of steam, for this reason I’ve included 2 copies of Abzan Charm in each of the maindeck and the sideboard. Abzan Charm has the benefit of bringing multiple modes to the table allowing it to be played every time it’s in your hand. To complement Abzan Charm’s removal ability, I added Ultimate Price. Abzan Charm allows you to remove bigger creatures from the game but there are several small creatures, such as Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Thalia, Heretic of Cathar, that can become very problematic if left unchecked. Fortunately most of these small creatures are mono coloured meaning they are perfect targets for Ultimate Price. Having two copies main deck and two copies side board means I’m able to switch between Abzan Charm and Ultimate Price for game two depending on what kind of deck I’m facing.

Finally, because I’m in three colours, the mana base of this deck is very important. To ensure I have the right colours of mana when I need them I added a strong base of multi-colour lands. Due to good dual lands being in such large demand this did push up the price of the deck but fortunately if you are willing to sacrifice a small amount of speed there are plenty of alternative options in the Frontier format. That said, because I knew that white, black, and green, were colours I would be playing frequently I felt comfortable with making the investment of a couple extra dollars per land to give myself lands I would get plenty of use from in the long run.

If you’re buying this deck from scratch paying for near-mint condition in the cheapest printing of each card the deck will come to about $60 CAD at (at the time I’m writing this article). Of that $10 come comes from the four copies of Eldritch Evolution, $6 comes from Dromoka’s Command, and another $12 come from the three copies of Canopy Vista. That’s about half of the cost of the deck in nine cards. If you’d like to keep this deck around $40 you can swap the three copies of Canopy Vista for some combination of Sandsteppe Citadel, Evolving Wilds, or basic lands, and replace two of your four copies of Eldritch Evolution along with the two copies of Dromoka’s Command for four copies of Might of the Masses or some other similar green utility card.

Once you’ve built the most basic version of this deck you have a great starting point to play some competitive games of Magic the Gathering. If you find yourself loving the deck there are a lot more options to grow its power beyond the budget I’ve put forward here. The addition of cards like Chord of Calling, Collected Company, Windswept Heath, Concealed Courtyard, and Blooming Marsh are all great options to increase your consistency and speed. But even without those cards you have the potential to pull out some aggressive wins against even the most powerful (and expensive) decks in the format.

If you decide you’re interested in building this deck let me know what you think and what changes you made.