Last updated on May 20, 2022
Shaman of the Pack | Illustration by Dan Scott
When you think of creature tribes in Magic, one of the first ones that comes up (especially for green players) are the elves. These woodland creatures have been a part of Magic since its inception and have branched into all five colors. They make up powerful decks in Modern and Legacy along with plenty of EDH decks all while getting new additions to their tribe nearly every year.
While not the most powerful creature archetype pound for pound, elves have had some incredibly powerful creatures that warped formats. So what are the top elves in Magic and how do we define just what counts as an elf? Let’s find out!
What are Elves in MTG?
Ezuri, Renegade Leader | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
Elves are a creature type that debuted all the way back in Alpha. While taking inspiration from traditional fantasy sources like Dungeons & Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, and more, elves were in Magic from the game’s origin.
So since there are over 1,000 unique printings of elves in Magic, how am I going to define what counts and what doesn’t? Simply put, only creatures with the specific creature type “elf” count for this list. If the character is an elf in lore but doesn’t have a printed card with elf creature type then I won’t count it here.
Now that I’ve set the criteria straight, let’s look at the best elves in Magic’s history!
Best White Elf
White is a commonly paired color with green in the world of elves. There’s only one mono white elf I want to highlight here, but rest assured that there will be plenty of white elves in the multicolor section.
Printed in Forgotten Realms, Moon-Blessed Cleric revitalized the Enigmatic Incarnation decks of Pioneer by giving enchantment decks an Enlightened Tutor on a 3/2 body. Bringing an archetype back from the fringes is a powerful enough effect to warrant consideration.
But even outside of Pioneer this Cleric is a great tool for any EDH deck running silver-bullet enchantments to fetch with this blinkable creature.
Best Black Elves
Black pairs with green as a primary color for elves in Magic. While a different style of elves compared to the mono-green ones, black has lots of elves under the watch of Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. While most of of the best black elves are multicolored, there are a few powerful mono-black elves that qualify.
Ruthless Winnower is a Commander-original card that forces each player to sacrifice a non-elf creature. While Winnower quickly eats removal, it can quickly contain most board states and allow you to dominate the board with your army of elves on boards where you can protect it with cards like Eladamri, Lord of Leaves.
Ayara, First of Locthwain
Ayara, First of Locthwain fits into a lot of different strategies: black devotion, sacrifice archetypes, and token strategies. While not the strongest elf in an elf deck, Ayara is a strong enough card to warrant mention even if it’s mostly an elf in name and not function.
Another black elf that pairs well with token sacrifice strategies is Nadier’s Nightblade. Like Ayara, this style of elf doesn’t fit with the more common elves found in Magic but contributes to a different style of deck with a familiar creature type.
Miara, Thorn of the Glade
A partner commander, Miara, Thorn of the Glade pairs well with both the black and green style of elves. She can draw you cards quickly when paired with sacrifice elements and can make sure that wraths and other effects leave you with plenty of options when paired with the more board-presence-oriented green elves.
Best Red Elf
Leave it to Forgotten Realms to fill out the missing colors of elves by giving blue, white, and red mono-colored elves. While there’s only one mono red elf in Magic’s history it’s at least worth mentioning as a rare that led to some odd corner cases in Limited.
Delina, Wild Mage
Delina, Wild Mage triggers a dice ability whenever it attacks and can choose a creature you control. It then either makes a tapped and attacking token copy of that creature that isn’t legendary, or it does that and then lets you roll again.
If you have effects that make sure you always rolled a 15 or higher then you could infinitely create token copies of creatures in your attack step and the game would draw. This led to a change in the card’s rules text that you may choose to not roll again.
While not an overly strong card on its own, a card that forces a rules change as the only mono-red elf seems worth a mention on this list.
Best Green Elves
The primary color for elves in Magic. While there are incredibly powerful multicolored elves, historically even those mostly have green as one of their colors. If you were to ask a newer player what color they associate with elves it would definitely be green, and that won’t change any time soon.
1-Drop 1/1 Mana Dorks
Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, and Fyndhorn Elves are your classic 1/1 mana dorks that can tap for , the foundation of why green decks can cheat the mana curve and play big creatures and planeswalkers ahead of curve. These elves are the backbone of any aggressive green creature strategy and are generally very powerful in formats where you have access to these cards.
Beast Whisperer is the 4-mana creature version of one of the most powerful effects ever printed that helps power the Legacy elves decks, Glimpse of Nature. While much more fragile and costly than Glimpse, the Whisperer can easily take over a game if your opponent goes shields down and you can turn your excess creatures into extra resources.
Wood Elves is a 3-mana 1/1 that puts a land into play from your library. In this case it’s any Forest card, which can include Triomes, shocks, and more. Being able to search for nonbasic lands and put them directly into play is an incredibly powerful effect, especially in green ramp decks.
A staple of Standard and Modern, Arbor Elf pairs well with effects that go onto Forests, like Utopia Sprawl, and can generate a lot of mana early in the game. Like the other 1-mana elves, Arbor can suddenly accelerate you into the midgame and ramp you past your opponents when it goes unanswered.
Elves of Deep Shadow
Another green 1/1 elf that produces a mana, Elves of Deep Shadow gets a separate mention because the mana it produces is black and costs you a life every time you use it. While this can add up quickly, being able to ramp in the early game while fixing for a second color is powerful and can enable starts like turn 2 Liliana of the Veil.
Harrow is an effect that a lot of green decks want. It ramps, fixes, and triggers landfall. Springbloom Druid is Harrow but on a creature. Like most elves on this list, turning powerful spells into those same spells with a body attached is a powerful effect worth mentioning.
Speaking of landfall abilities, Evolution Sage has pseudo-landfall and proliferates whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control. While elves aren’t the best at putting counters on various permanents, green does a generally good job of having access to +1/+1 counters. If you get a reasonable board state then Sage can quickly ramp your power or your planeswalkers in a single turn via some landfall synergies.
2-mana dorks generally need to do something beyond just making a single green mana. Bloom Tender fits perfectly into multicolored decks by creating a mana for each color among permanents you control. If you manage to have five colors of permanents then Bloom Tender will give you .
Ramp that fixes and generates that much bonus mana can win a game by itself.
Priest of Titania
Priest of Titania is one of the most powerful 2-mana dorks ever printed. Generating a green mana for each elf you control on the battlefield, Priest can suddenly ramp you way ahead of your opponent. When paired with Gaea’s Cradle you can suddenly create so much mana that winning the game becomes trivial. While worse on its own it can still make one green mana early to help you accelerate.
Oracle of Mul Daya
The original Courser of Kruphix, Oracle of Mul Daya still holds up as a powerful ramp effect that allows you to generate virtual card advantage (discussed more here) by playing lands from the top of your deck instead of having to draw them. This type of effect can help you make sure you hit land drops and make decisions based on what cards you’re drawing next.
While the information is open to both players and can lead to your opponent crafting a gameplan around your cards, it’s generally more beneficial to you than your opponents.
Incubation Druid continues the pattern of 2-mana dorks creating obscene mana advantages. Off the bat Druid taps for one mana that any of your lands could produce. If it has a +1/+1 counter on it you make three mana of that type instead. Given that +1/+1 counters are plentiful in Magic you can quickly jump ahead.
You can also use the adapt 3 ability to make Druid a 3/5 in the mid game that can tap for three mana. This is one of the more powerful 2-drop elves when everything comes together in green decks.
Tireless Provisioner is what you get if Tireless Tracker was an uncommon from a Horizons set. With landfall giving you access to a Food or Treasure token, Provisioner can help keep you alive or ramp you into powerful spells.
When paired with the various land ramp spells and creatures of green this card can quickly become an overwhelming force for card advantage.
One of the issues in green ramp decks is accelerating to a point where you have virtually infinite mana, but nothing to do with that advantage. Fierce Empath tutors for large mana value creatures, giving you a way to finish the game once you’ve executed your main gameplan.
One of the hallmarks of Modern Elves, Elvish Archdruid is an elven lord that pumps all your other elves and taps to make a green mana for each elf you control. This is a more fixed version of Priest of Titania since it costs three mana and will likely die before creating an overwhelming mana advantage as a 2/2 for three mana.
But you can generally make a huge amount of mana and win the game if you untap with Archdruid.
A more fragile, slower, and fairer Survival of the Fittest, Fauna Shaman is still a powerhouse card in reanimator strategies or decks that want to turn excess creatures that aren’t valuable into silver-bullet answers or top-end threats.
What if your value 2-drop drew a card? Well, that’s Elvish Visionary. When paired with Glimpse of Nature or Wirewood Symbiote you can quickly leverage this cheap form of card advantage and out grind other creature decks.
Circle of Dreams Druid
A Gaea’s Cradle on a 3-drop, Circle of Dreams Druid is one of the more powerful acceleration cards printed in recent memory. It’s incredibly fragile as a 2/1 and needs to survive a turn to power up your mana development, but you can generate tons of mana and generally close out any game if it ever lives.
Yeva, Nature’s Herald
One of the premier green commanders for a long time, Yeva, Nature’s Herald is a powerful flash threat that enables all your green creatures to be cast as if they had flash. Especially in decks where the most powerful creatures may need a turn to untap like Circle of Dreams Druid, being able to safely wait until your opponents’ end step to flash in powerful threats will overwhelm any opponent without plenty of instant-speed removal.
A staple in Modern and Legacy, Elvish Reclaimer only gets better with each set that prints powerful lands. From Urza’s Saga to Field of the Dead to Bojuka Bog, Reclaimer is a powerful tutor engine and threat that will win nearly any game through the value of powerful lands if it goes unanswered.
The larger the card pool, the more powerful Reclaimer becomes.
A staple of Modern and a burgeoning card in Legacy with the printing of Swift Reconfiguration, any card that can enable kills out of nowhere is a powerful enough card to warrant consideration. Especially since it acts as a lightning rod for removal against most decks.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
One of the original Modern Elves finishers, Ezuri, Renegade Leader acts as both a way to protect your key elves via regeneration and as a win condition by casting Overrun on all your elves. Given elf decks ramp aggressively and have excess mana, activating Ezuri two or three times for lethal isn’t always a fantasy.
Allosaurus Shepherd instantly put Legacy Elves back into contention. A 1-drop that can’t be countered and makes all your green spells uncounterable helps against the many Force of Will decks in the format. Adding an Ezuri-style over-the-top kill makes this card a game-ending threat and an enabler to push through your important creatures and spells in a format dominated by cards like Daze and other tempo counterspells.
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
While not as powerful as other lords like Archdruid, Dwynen still gives elf decks another anthem.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer / Nissa, Sage Animist
The elven planeswalker Nissa’s origin card, Nissa, Vastwood Seer helps ensure you hit your lands and is a powerful engine on the reverse side. Once flipped into Nissa, Sage Animist, the card advantage it provides can burry most decks and help make sure you find relevant action to end the game.
Eladamri, Lord of Leaves
A powerful elf lord, Eladamri, Lord of Leaves doesn’t pump your elves but gives them evasion in the form of forestwalk and shroud. While you need a way to protect Eladamri it keeps all your other elves safe and that’s an incredibly powerful effect if you can. Especially in EDH where Forests can certainly be abundant.
Heritage Druid | Nettle Sentinel
A combo that produces huge mana generation in Legacy and Modern Elves, Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid are one of the most individually powerful ramp effects in elves. Once you start getting ahead with Druid you can often find other cards that will untap your elves and keep going, fueling massive Cradle or Glimpse turns.
Glistener Elf has been a primary infect threat since the mechanic debuted and became a deck. Though rarely if ever played with other elf strategies, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention one of the most prolific infect threats in Modern and Legacy Infect.
Best Multicolor Elves
As expected given the abundance of elves in various colors, there are plenty of powerful multicolored elves that have even warped Constructed formats. By combining elements of the color pie we can see powerful effects that green normally wouldn’t have access to, or at least not at the rates we see here.
What more is there to say about Deathrite Shaman? It’s banned in Modern and Legacy for dominating the formats and is likely one of the most powerful creatures ever printed. Nicknamed the 1-mana planeswalker, Deathrite is one of the best elves ever printed, even if it rarely found a home in elf-specific decks.
A fantastic card advantage elf, Coiling Oracle either ramps you or draws you a card. While it’s only a one-time effect when Oracle enters the battlefield you can churn through the top of your deck and easily find a way to kill your opponent in decks that can regularly blink Oracle.
Mina and Denn, Wildborn
Mina and Denn, Wildborn is solid on rate as a 4/4 for four mana, but effects that allow you to play more lands are always powerful. Especially in decks with plenty of green creatures to leverage.
The extra ability to return lands to your hand to give a creature trample can kill opponents unsuspectedly, trigger landfall every turn, and give bonuses if you have enter-the-battlefield effects on your lands.
Poison-Tip Archer is a solid creature as a 2/3 reach deathtoucher for four mana. But it can also quickly kill a whole EDH table in decks that leverage the go-wide strategy of elves along with sacrifice elements as it drains one life from each opponent whenever another creature dies.
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Edric, Spymaster of Trest is a classic EDH card where you can quickly overwhelm your opponents with a solid board and then slam it to draw a handful of new cards. While generally best when ahead, early Edrics that go unanswered can quickly snowball games.
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
Yet another style of elf, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord focuses on the more Golgari () strategy of dealing in the graveyard as opposed to the battlefield. With plenty of means for recursion and a way to drain out multiple opponents at once, Jarad is an incredibly dangerous commander and elf to go unchecked even for a few turns.
Master Biomancer powers up your new creatures at lightning speed. You’re able to power out huge creatures if you untap with Biomancer, especially in decks that produce creature tokens. Paired with effects like Gaea’s Cradle you can make an overwhelming army in a single turn that outsizes your opponents’ boards.
Following in the Golgari ways, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed creates a legion of 1/1 Insects for each creature in your graveyard. In sacrifice or self-mill strategies this can enter and make 20+ Insects. You can also leverage those disposable creatures to gain life and draw cards with Izoni.
Izoni can dominate a board when paired with various elf cards like Master Biomancer or cards that care about the number of creatures you control.
Lathril, Blade of the Elves
Lathril, Blade of the Elves is a Golgari elf more in line with Shaman of the Pack that turns having an excess number of elves into a way to kill your opponent outside of combat.
In this case you create 1/1 elves equal to the combat damage Lathril deals to a player, and you drain each opponent for 10 if you tap Lathril and ten untapped elves. It’s a massive life swing that can instantly end the game if you get to activate Lathril’s tap ability.
A counterspell on a creature can be incredibly powerful, especially when unexpected. Frilled Mystic helped make Simic () Flash a contender in Standard and periodically sees fringe play in Pioneer. But in EDH it can allow primarily green players to have access to a threat that can stop opposing combos or wraths.
Flash creatures are always powerful, but Frilled Mystic can quickly lock out a table when paired with blink effects.
Shaman of the Pack
Shaman of the Pack was the finisher of choice for a while in Modern Elves. You could kill without combat which was important in the age of Lantern control. While Shaman is mostly a value card in EDH now, it can still easily kill a player when you search it up or find it off Collected Company.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
A Legacy staple, Leovold, Emissary of Trest demands an immediate answer and limits opposing decks from being able to out grind decks through card advantage. A powerful tool that can take over any format where it’s playable.
Best Colorless Elf
As you might expect, the only colorless elf in Magic’s history comes from Mirrodin and could functionally be any creature type. But since it exists, let’s cover it here.
A working copy of the elves of old, Elf Replica is a 2/2 for three that you can pay to sacrifice and destroy target enchantment. Definitely a much narrower effect than you’d ever hope to play, especially from a tribe of creatures that have access to tools like Reclamation Sage. This is a throwback to some of the eras of Magic’s past that have since been surpassed.
Best Elf Payoffs
Most of the primary elf payoffs are the various lords that give out buffs to stats, give bonus abilities, or creature monstrously overwhelming power by paying an excess of mana. I’ve covered the most powerful ones above, but I’ll put down some of the payoffs that define the elf strategies’ most powerful draws:
- Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- Elvish Warmaster
- Miara, Thorn of the Glade
- Elvish Archdruid
- Priest of Titania
- Marwyn, the Nurturer
- Imperious Perfect
- Allosaurus Shepherd
- Elvish Champion
- Shaman of the Pack
Are Elves Good in MTG? What About in Modern?
In the context of tribes in Magic, elves are one of the best. Having historically tiered decks in various eternal formats is a huge barrier for almost any other tribe. While the printing of Fury mostly shut down Elves in Modern, the deck is always lurking in case there’s a sudden dip in Fury and Solitude. Sadly that may never happen, so the days of the elves may be over in Modern, but the deck remains a contender in Legacy.
Once you open the scope to include Commander I think elves are great in Magic. They’re always just one or two additions from breaking something again given the ridiculous amount of mana they generate and their payoffs being so diverse and impressive.
What is an “Elf Spell” in Magic?
Back in the days of heavy tribal sets there were enchantments, instants, and sorceries that were tribal. These tribal spells have a creature type despite not being creatures. This is most commonly seen with Bitterblossom for faeries.
There are a handful of tribal sorceries, instants, and even a tribal enchantment for elves. These elf spells are noncreature spells that are considered elves for the purposes of effects that count elves, trigger when you cast an elf, or care about when elves are cast.
Some examples of these elf spells are:
Is Vivien an Elf?
No, Vivian Reid is a human. Though if you’re looking for an elf planeswalker there’s always Nissa Revane.
Is Eladamri Lord of Leaves an Elf?
Yes, Eladamri, Lord of Leaves has been errata’d to have the creature types of “elf” and “warrior.” Eladamri wasn’t technically an elf originally, even though it provided elves with shroud and forestwalk.
Devoted Druid | Illustration by Kimonas Theodossiou
Elves are one of the most expansive and diverse tribes in all of Magic. I have a fondness for elves because I love ramp strategies and have played four copies of Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves many times in my life. I hope that elves continue to be a well-loved and supported tribe in Magic.
What are your favorite elves in Magic history? Do you have any fun memories of playing elf decks? Let me know in the comments down below or over in the Draftsim Discord.
That’s all from me for now. Stay safe, and thanks for reading!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: