Lathril, Blade of the Elves - Illustration by Caroline Gariba

Lathril, Blade of the Elves | Illustration by Caroline Gariba

The precon Commander decks aren’t usually very strong. As products designed for new players they usually feature simple commanders with straightforward strategies. Kaldheim came with two such precons. The first was Ranar the Ever-Watchful, who was sadly so unpopular you can still get sealed Ranar decks for half the original MSRP. But the second flew off the shelves like nobody’s business.

Lathril, Blade of the Elves’s precon made a surprisingly effective starter for an Elf tribal deck, and Lathril’s Golgari () color identity means you have access to nearly every Elf in Magic.

Let’s take a look at what an upgraded Lathril deck looks like!

The Deck

Wirewood Symbiote - Illustration by Yohann Schepacz

Wirewood Symbiote | Illustration by Yohann Schepacz

The preconstructed Lathril deck, Elven Empire, is hard to beat for an all-around budget Elf tribal deck. It’s a great start, but not nearly focused on any one strategy since it’s meant to function with the alternate commanders as well.

For a deck specifically tuned to Lathril, Blade of the Elves you’re focused less on buffing your Elf creatures and more on getting as many Elves as possible. Ideally you’ll have enough Elves on the battlefield to untap Lathril multiple times, skipping the combat required for most “go wide” decks.

The Commander

Lathril, Blade of the Elves

Lathril, Blade of the Elves is one of many Golgari-aligned legendary Elves, but it stands out as one of the best. There’s a poetic rhythm to Lathril’s abilities: menace makes it hard to block and rewards you with Elf Warrior tokens, which you can then use to directly drain your opponents.

I find Lathril’s abilities most relevant to an Elf tribal Commander deck compared to other legendary Golgari Elves. Nath of the Gilt-Leaf pushes the deck into a discard theme while the remaining Golgari Elves lean towards sacrifice themes that aren’t as thematically linked as Lathril, even if they’re not necessarily bad for an Elf tribal deck.

For this deck you’re using Lathril in a two-pronged attack. First you buff its power with spells, lords, and artifacts to maximize the number of tokens it creates when it deals damage. Then you use its second ability to simultaneously drain every opponent, repeating this effect with untap effects.

Elf Lords

Every good tribal deck includes a lord or two to grant an anthem effect to your battlefield full of creatures. The lords pull double duty in this deck, buffing Lathril for more Elf tokens when it connects and then buffing those Elves once you have them.

Elves have more lords than any other tribe (except for Slivers, who are all lords), and this makes them a real threat. Elvish Champion, Elvish Archdruid, Canopy Tactician, Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen, and Imperious Perfect all include anthem effects for your Elves.

Icon of Ancestry and Sylvan Anthem also give +1/+1 and help refill your hand.

Elf Generating Machines

Keeping Lathril, Blade of the Elves beefy isn’t enough for you. You need 20 or more Elves available if you want to activate its ability multiple times per turn.

Some great ways to double up on Elves in a pinch are Elvish Promenade, Elven Ambush, and Second Harvest.

Parallel Lives

Parallel Lives is your splurge card for this deck. It’s a very powerful token doubler that benefits a lot of cards in this deck and is well worth the price.

Ambush Commander

A neat synergy in the list is Ambush Commander. Turning each of your Forests into an Elf basically means you’ll be tapping Forests to ping an opponent ten at a time. With a board already full of Elves this is often the final push you need to go over the edge to victory.

Wolverine Riders

You also have what might be the best Elf tribal card to date, Wolverine Riders. Creating an Elf Warrior token during each upkeep is already great, but gaining life off each one entering the battlefield as well? That’s value right there.

Last but not least you’ve got Elvish Warmaster and Lys Alana Huntmaster to stretch each other Elf you cast into an extra body.

Untappers and Double Drainers

Once you’ve amassed your 20+ Elves you’ll use Lathril, Blade of the Elves to start draining every player at once. You’re running various Vitalize effects to capitalize on this and get as many activations as you can.

The classic Wirewood Symbiote makes an appearance, as well as the Elves Quirion Ranger and Elder Druid.

Tyvar Kell

Tyvar Kell’s +1 loyalty ability should mostly target Lathril, but it’s also useful on a mana dork.

Copperhorn Scout

Copperhorn Scout helps guarantee you can activate Lathril after it hits an opponent.

Stacking Magewright’s Stone and Wirewood Lodge just feels like overkill.

Illusionist's Bracers

Top all that off with Illusionist’s Bracers and shoot for the moon.

Utility Elves

A lot of the usual utility and interaction spells can be replaced with, you guessed it, more Elves.

Reclamation Sage

Reclamation Sage is your stand-in for Naturalize.

Elvish Harbinger and Wirewood Herald can both stand in for Worldly Tutor.

Timberwatch Elf

The Pauper staple Timberwatch Elf is a quick way to sneak a lot of damage through with Lathril.

Elvish Dreadlord

Elvish Dreadlord makes a good board wipe that can still kill indestructible creatures.

A few of your Elves stabilize your game. Wellwisher and Rhys, the Exiled can mitigate some of the counterattacks you’ll no doubt weather.

Harald, King of Skemfar

Harald, King of Skemfar digs through your deck.

Wood Elves, Springbloom Druid, and Yavimaya Elder thin out your library by pulling those basic lands.

The remaining Elf creatures in the list are made up of alternate threats besides Lathril. Skemfar Shadowsage and Shaman of the Pack can both turn your Elven army into direct damage, but I also like to use Voice of the Woods to pump out the rare 7/7 Elemental tokens.

Lathril’s Weapons and Armor

Crown of Skemfar

The quickest way to pump Lathril up is via equipment, and Crown of Skemfar was tailor-made for it. This exponentially increases your Elf generation each turn and is easily an auto-include in any Elf Commander deck.

Sword of the Animist

Sword of the Animist’s buff isn’t as strong, but it’s always a great inclusion for any deck that plans to attack each turn.

Protect Lathril with Swiftfoot Boots and make sure it connects with Whispersilk Cloak or Rogue’s Passage.

Forebear's Blade

Forebear’s Blade helps trample some of that blocked damage over a creature while keeping Lathril untapped to use its ability.

Interaction Package

You can’t sit down for Commander night without an interaction package. First you’ve got Krosan Grip and Putrefy for some extra permanent removal.

Wrap in Vigor

Wrap in Vigor saves you from a board wipe with my favorite defunct mechanic, regenerate.

Speaking of board wipes, why not run Poison-Tip Archer to punish those Wrath of Gods and Damnations? And while Poison-Tip helps deter flying creatures Squall Line kills them outright.

But maybe you’ve already lost those key Elf components for your engine. Harald Unites the Elves, Return Upon the Tide, and Haunting Voyage can all get your Elves back while Elven Cache grabs everything else.

The Mana Base

Since you’re only running two colors you’re mostly concerned with ramping quickly instead of fixing your available colors. To your favor and your opponents’ chagrin, this deck runs a ton of mana dorks. It’s hard not to given that Elves have access to so many of the best ones.

You have the usual suspects to start in Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, and Arbor Elf.

Elves of Deep Shadow and Deathrite Shaman help fix your mana with black and Elvish Archdruid can skyrocket your available green mana.

Llanowar Tribe, Canopy Tactician, and Marwyn, the Nurturer will push you even further ahead.

Besides all that you also have Tyvar Kell for some black mana fixing when you need it, and Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury to pump out a Llanowar Elves token each turn.

The Strategy

Timberwatch Elf - Illustration by Yohann Schepacz

Timberwatch Elf | Illustration by Yohann Schepacz

Lathril, Blade of the Elves is a fun take on the typical “go wide” deck since it bypasses the need to do combat by draining your opponents directly. It’s the Golgari elfball deck. It looks to play as many Elves as possible and then quickly drain your opponents with direct damage.

In the early game you want to ramp, and hard. Try to keep a hand with multiple mana dorks and at least three lands. Ideally you play Lathril on turn 3 to start attacking as soon as possible.

Your army of Elves should start to rally in the midgame. Turns 5 to 7 can see your board with 10 or more Elves already, but be careful when you start draining with Lathril’s ability. Once your opponents see the threat it becomes significantly harder to keep your commander on the field long enough to activate its ability.

Once you’re comfortably set up with a Vitalize in your hand or Quirion Ranger on the field, start draining your opponents. Hopefully they all already took some damage and you only need one or two activations to finish them off. Just two hits from Lathril’s ability can send your life total way above the rest of the pod’s even if you can’t kill them immediately, giving you some breathing room to survive the inevitable counterattacks and removal coming your way.

If Lathril’s been removed one too many times or you just can’t seem to stay above 10 Elves, I recommend going in with good ol’ combat damage and swinging for the fences with Overrun or the similar effects on Elvish Warmaster and Ambush Commander. Or tap out for a huge Squall Line and take the table out with you.

Combos and Interactions

This deck isn’t running any infinite combos but it does have some fun synergies that are worth mentioning.

Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote combined with Ambush Commander make a sweet way to get lots of activations off Lathril since neither require a mana investment to untap. They also both combo well with your mana dorks, helping accelerate your early game ramp.

Pact of the Serpent

I’ve really enjoyed the freedom to Pact of the Serpent with reckless abandon since so many Elves can gain you that life right back (Wellwisher, Marwyn, the Nurturer, and Rhys the Exiled).

Rule 0 Violations Check

I’m confident in saying this deck is a fair and balanced matchup against most other Commander decks. It doesn’t go infinite, doesn’t run any of the ridiculously powerful green ramp, and sticks to the Elf tribal theme. Go ahead and tell everyone it’s a seven out of ten.

Budget Options

Marwyn, the Nurturer - Illustration by Chris Rahn

Marwyn, the Nurturer | Illustration by Chris Rahn

The singles for this decklist run about $235 for the cheapest played printings. That’s not too bad for a typical Commander deck, and you could get most of this list for cheap if you buy the Elven Empire precon.

Cheaper

But there are some easy replacements you can make if you don’t feel like spending that much on a new Commander deck. Trade Elvish Champion for your favorite cheap Elf (I like Elvish Warriors) and toss Deathrite Shaman in favor of Fyndhorn Elves.

It hurts to cut Parallel Lives but it is the most expensive card on the list. Primal Vigor is about half the price but comes with the drawback of being a symmetrical effect.

Finally, pitch Sword of the Animist for Explorer’s Scope. It’s significantly worse but it at least clears away those dead basic land draws.

More Expensive

Maybe you’ve been collecting Elves for a while now and are looking to punch up your deck. I’d recommend Ezuri, Renegade Leader if you don’t already have one. It can easily replace any of the cheaper lords, or even Overrun.

Next go infinite with your mana. Drop a dork for Priest of Titania and slip Umbral Mantle in instead of Icon of Ancestry. The Mantle combos with Elvish Archdruid as well!

Finally, if you’re a real one, slot in Eladamri, Lord of Leaves. It’s not necessarily stellar in this deck, but boy is it a sick flex when you sit down at your local game store and bust this sucker out.

Other Builds

Copperhorn Scout - Illustration by Shelly Wan

Copperhorn Scout | Illustration by Shelly Wan

Focusing on Lathril, Blade of the Elves’ second ability isn’t the only way to go.

Other decks can make use of its first two abilities to double down on token generation for a more classic Elf tokens deck. With access to black these tokens can be exchanged for value in a semi-aristocrats build. Miara, Thorn of the Glade and Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel can help enable this strategy, and Prowess of the Fair is essential for any deck that plans to sacrifice Elves.

Commanding Conclusion

Return Upon the Tide - Illustration by Martina Fackova

Return Upon the Tide | Illustration by Martina Fackova

Lathril, Blade of the Elves is one of the most rewarding Elf tribal commanders to build around. It’s the missing link to Golgari Elves that unites the tribe in a simple and synergistic way with a variety of strategies available.

What do you think? Are there any glaringly obvious Elf cards I’ve omitted? How would you build a unique Lathril deck? Let me know in the comments or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.

Thanks for reading, and have fun turning those little cardboard squares sideways!

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