PREMIUM LOG OUT
»Advanced Deck Search
»Advanced Article Search
»The New Type II
»Old Type II
»Older Type II
»Rules & Mechanics
Birds versus Elves
You wanted a high impact decision
and you got one. I have to say, I think that MagicTheGathering.com is
starting to scare me. I think the site is great, but I'm not sure these
kinds of decisions should be left in the hands of regular Magic players who
may lack the knowledge base to make them properly. As I begin writing this, I
don't yet know which side I'm going to take, but I'm going to figure that out as I go, hopefully making my case while I'm at it.
Both cards have a long history dating all the way back to the original set.
Both fall into the same power level along with such cards as Counterspell
and Duress. They are constructed staples, slightly undercosted on purpose in
order to give flavor to the colors and enable certain strategies. The
primary question is whether we want to enable those strategies. Then there
are additional issues that come from the fact that one is common and one is
Llanowar Elves is a beatdown enabler. Beatdown decks need one drops
desperately, and they also often need mana acceleration. Llanowar Elves
offers both. It can cast your spells and then later on attack as a 1/1.
Llanowar Elves allows a creature deck to run a lot of mana sources without
worrying about mana floods. If you have too much mana, the Elves still
'count' as a spell you can use in many matchups. Whenever you play with
them, there will be a few games here and there that you win because the
other cards traded off and the Elves went the distance, or the Elves got to
trade with some aggressive creature.
Birds of Paradise, on the other hand, is an enabler for multicolor decks that run creatures and
expensive spells. Today's best example is Squirrel Prison. These decks
actively benefit from having their mana base contain creatures, which is why
they are able to use Llanowar Elves as well, allowing them to use their mana as
spells. But while these decks would likely do just fine without Elves, they
would be unlikely to splash their third color if they did not have access to
Birds of Paradise. Birds of Paradise provides decks that can afford to have
creatures with four 'free' sources of off-color mana. Another deck that used
both Birds and Elves was Fires of Yavimaya. Having a lot of both mana and
mana acceleration was key to making that deck function properly.
Oddly enough, the only deck that runs Birds of Paradise without Llanowar
Elves in the pre-Judgment Standard environment was Kowal's version of
Red/Green. There were several reasons why it did so, and once I played with
the Birds I understood. First, the deck uses a ton of spells that have no
colorless mana in their casting costs, many of which cost one mana. A second
green mana was not particularly useful, but often the deck needed a second
red mana to do things like Reckless Charge a Yavimaya Barbarian or cast two
Firebolts. Birds of Paradise can provide that. In addition, Birds of
Paradise provides flying to a color combination that otherwise would have no
access to playable flying creatures. In this case, that allowed it to use
Reckless Charge to come over for the win in many more games than you would
The problem with Birds of Paradise is finding a deck where they belong.
Most of the decks that run three or more colors are control decks, and these
decks often cannot afford to expose their mana to burn and removal spells they
could otherwise ignore. Birds are unreliable mana due to their tendency to
die or even be countered. In addition, Birds require that your primary color
be green so that you can cast them reliably on turn one. Again, most
multicolor decks want to base themselves in other colors - most of the time
they want to be blue. Often Birds doesn't go into a pre-existing deck - it
is the reason you're based in green. There are exceptions, of course. Both
Birds and Elves get played in decks like Fires or Opposition where mana
acceleration is vital and their status as creatures is an advantage.
Llanowar Elves is a narrower card. When you play Llanowar Elves, it means
that you're playing a deck that is mostly green, because it
requires you to have enough green mana to cast it on turn one and gives
you back more green mana. Birds of Paradise helps a deck whose primary color
is green branch out into other colors, but Llanowar Elves forces it to focus
in on green. Llanowar Elves is almost always better in those decks where
your mana is good enough not to need the color from Birds of Paradise, but
Birds are better when your mana requirements are more. Interesting.
So it comes down to an issue of flexibility. Do we want to encourage green's
primary strategy of beatdown, or do we want to help its secondary ability to
be the primary color in multicolor decks? Without Birds of Paradise, green
decks will have to stick to the same rules as the other colors. Sure, you
can use Rampant Growth or one of its tweaks to get all sorts of color, but
once the Invasion Block shifts away there will no longer be an incentive to
have a Domain in play. Without that incentive, the spells involved are
exposed as painfully slow. The only exception is Lay of the Land, but that
leaves with Invasion Block.
As a side note, if anyone's listening and it's eligible, I would like to
put Lay of the Land into Eighth Edition, either in place of Rampant Growth
or on its own merits. Modern mana curves have proven too quick for Rampant
Growth, and it also forces a player to reach two mana without it - before it
can be cast - and by being cast on turn two, it gets exposed far too often
to counters. Even in Seventh Edition draft Rampant Growth lacks efficiency
because the format is designed around a mana curve starting at two mana. Lay
of the Land is a much more interesting card right now in both constructed
and limited. Several attempts were made to play decks in the full Invasion
Block that used Lay of the Land, but only Domain ever tried to use Rampant
Do we want to encourage green's
primary strategy of beatdown, or do we want to help its secondary ability to
be the primary color in multicolor decks?
Back to the issue at hand. If we select Birds of Paradise and Vine Trellis,
we get two cards that are interesting in multi-color green decks that either
play with expensive creatures worth accelerating to, are planning to control
the game or both. It gives players constructing new decks pause to consider
whether to try and use green as their primary color. If we select Llanowar
Elves and Utopia Tree, we have a card that is somewhat better at helping
green beatdown decks survive when Odyssey Block is taken away (the majority
of the time Eighth Edition is in Standard it will not include Odyssey) and
then we have a useless card for tournament play, although one which many
casual players like. Between being 0/2 and costing a second mana, Utopia
Tree is too unreliable for Standard.
For this reason, I'm coming out in support of Birds of Paradise. Birds keep
things interesting because they encourage people to come up with new
strategies and multi-color decks. They are also the only way to ensure green
remains the color to play when you want to play a four or five color deck.
Utopia Tree would not be able to replace it. Birds also provides green with
a wild card flyer, and that's always cool. Without Birds or the undercosted
green creatures from Odyssey Block like Mongrel and Rootwala, green will be
in danger of being too weak. Its pie needs to include multi-color decks, and
to have that be more than a theoretical advantage it needs to keep Birds of
Llanowar Elves are important for green as well, but for a less interesting
kind of green deck. These decks will probably be two colors, with the other
color being minor while green is primary. These decks will always exist, and
they are easy to enable by printing more cheap creatures. The Elves also
help many of the decks that also contain Birds, but the decision has already
been made that one of them has got to go. About a year ago, I would have
agreed completely that having eight mana accelerators was dangerous. In
fact, Birds and Elves were the reason I started looking so heavily at Fires
decks in the first place. If we return to the land of 'fair' Magic again,
this will become an issue. But right now, we live in the realm of unfair
Magic, and these cards are worth keeping around. Long term, I think on
balance one of them is indeed enough.
All right, that settles the issue of where I stand for the vote. While I'm at it, I think
I'll deal with the practical matter of the current application of the two
cards in Standard. The problem with these creatures right now is that the
mana curves of decks that would otherwise use them now start at one and peak
at two instead of starting at three and peaking at four. A Red/Green deck
can play Basking Rootwala or Grim Lavamancer on turn one, and wants to play
Yavimaya Barbarian or Wild Mongrel on turn two. If you have a Llanowar
Elves, what does that let you do? Raging Kavu on turn two is nice, but given
the creatures out there right now there isn't much point. Kowal's deck is
the exception to the rule, and it still only uses Birds. Opposition decks
can use both creatures since they are based on three and four casting cost spells
and can utilize extra creatures with Opposition.
Blue/Green is a strange case. There's no question that my nationals deck
would have loved to be able to use mana acceleration, but the colored mana
didn't work out. With only four Yavimaya Coast to help with the color, the
deck needs to support Counterspell and Wild Mongrel. Already that overtaxes
the mana base, which is probably the decks' biggest weakness. If Birds were
added to the deck, it would have to lean green with its lands in order to
cast the Birds. Even with the Birds, that would mean having to use City of
Brass if the deck wants to keep using Counterspell. In addition, Careful
Study and Merfolk Looter allow the deck to use only 22 lands. If it added
Birds, could it cut land? If it can't, the deck is losing a lot of power by
cutting spells for Birds. Cutting lands means cutting color, and already the
green mana requirements have actually gone up.
That's the problem with these creatures. While they're very good, the mana
requirements are steep, and they take up a lot of slots. When the other
cards make Birds and Elves fit right into a deck, they make it much more
powerful. When they work, they allow things that can seem downright unfair.
The problem with them is that they put a strain on a deck's mana
requirements, one that right now most green decks cannot afford to pay.
- Zvi Mowshowitz
All original content herein is Copyright 2002 Brainburst.com
No portion of this web site may be used in any way without expressed written consent.
Magic the Gathering is owned and Copyrighted by Wizards of the Coast Inc.
All rights reserved.
Magic the Gathering, online, PC, game, card, wizards of the coast, WOTC, brainburst, odyssey, price, store, report, deck, winning, article, news, forum