Recently, I picked up this new game called Force of Will. Lots of people in the office have been playing it, so I figured I'd give it a shot. It plays a lot like a cross between Hearthstone and Commander – you make your land drops by tapping your Commander while it's in your Command Zone (your lands are in a different deck, so they're virtually guaranteed). Eventually you summon your Commander. By that point - around turn five or so – the game's close to done. It's a fast-paced game, for sure.

Force of Will feels a lot like how Magic must've felt in 1993. Some of the cards are downright busted – so much so that they beg the question, "did they even playtest this?" As a Magic player, it offers up a nice feeling of intellectual superiority to point to certain FoW cards and be able to identify that they only saw print because the game's developers didn't have the skills/budget/whatever to adequately playtest. The last time that really happened in Magic was Stoneforge Mystic / Batterskull, a combo that's more than four years old at this point (and is still a cornerstone of Legacy while banned in Modern).

I mean, check out this Top 8. That's a lot of Bahamut. Also, it warms my heart that in Force of Will, a game that coincidentally (wink wink, nudge nudge) shares a name with a Magic card, there is a card called Ruhk Egg, which is just an alternate spelling of Rukh Egg.

While it's a new game in and of itself, Magic Duels is still Magic, and thus retains the benefit of decades of design mistakes, overlooked format-breakers, and, perhaps most importantly, inertia. It's a useful tool for teaching play and deckbuilding fundamentals, and it's a fun excuse to examine how deckbuilding in a small card pool differs from building something like a Standard deck, that'll always have at least a medium-sized pool of cards to work from.

When building a deck, you can focus on synergy, or you can jam all the best cards in the same pile. In the case of the latter, the hope is that the power of the cards will pull you through. Obviously every deck needs synergy – Upheaval and Lightning Bolt are both very powerful, but you wouldn't put them in the same deck – but they need power, too.

One of the issues with decks that lean too hard on synergy, especially in a small card pool, is that you often have to play with cards that are downright horrible by themselves. Dwynen's Elite is a fine card when you've stuck an Elvish Visionary on turn two, but without another elf in play, Dwynen's Elite is Grizzly Bears. You would not play Grizzly Bears ever, because Grizzly Bears sucks.

After working at my LGS for a year while I was in college, I'm convinced that every ex-Magic player that has ever lived and will ever live all owned an Elves deck at some point in their lives. The amount, per capita, of ex-Planeswalkers who wander in, look wistfully at the display case, and regale you with unsolicited tales of beating people down with Llanowar Sentinel into Coat of Arms boggles the mind. When you bring up Elves to a room full of competitive wizards, however, the definition becomes even more subjective. Mostly, people think of the current iteration of Elves in Legacy. But sometimes, it's this. Or this. Or maybe even this. Elves has been an archetype for such a long time that it really has no reference point other than Llanowar Elves. The point is that "Elves" looks differently in everyone's Mind's Eye.

If you're talking to someone gaming on Magic Duels, it might look something like this:


I loved a Bone Splinters in Shards Block Limited, but haven't really been fond of it since. In a game where Perilous Myr, a 1/1 for two mana, sees regular play because of its two-for-one upside, a card that gives your opponent a two-for-one has limited appeal. It's great in this deck, though: between Dwynen's Elite, Lys Alana Huntmaster, and Elvish Visionary, you'll never be short on expendable creatures. The popularity of auras on Magic Duels also gives Bone Splinters some added utility, and gives Reclamation Sage huge upside.

Reclamation Sage is also easy to max out on when you're jamming Lys Alana Scarblade; sometimes you just need Elves to pitch, and oftentimes Reclamation Sage represents guilt-free Collateral Damage.

Reave Soul is a concession to how high our curve is; Dwynen's Elite isn't even a two drop in this deck. If you play Dwynen's Elite on turn two here, it's Grizzly Bears, and we've already covered the value of Grizzly Bears here. Eyeblight Assassin is awesome, and I spend many of my games praying to draw it.

As always, I ran the deck through four ranked games:

A 4-0 is nice, but I can't say I ever felt super comfortable with the deck or my play. Seeing zero copies of Languish out of my opponents was an unexpected treat.

If I were to play something like this in Standard, it'd probably look like this:


Dan Musser piloted this to a Top 32 finish at the SCG Open in New Jersey. Obviously nothing as explosive as this deck is possible in Magic Duels, but this list is pretty close to the ceiling of what Elves is capable of in Standard right now, with Satyr Wayfinders fueling some crazy Rally the Ancestors turns. Like this one, courtesy of Manhattan (not the city) enthusiast Jarvis Yu:

Some fridays off are gas. #elfrally @InsayneHayne

— Jarvis Yu (@jkyu06) September 4, 2015

If you want a more midrange, honest version of this deck, planeswalkerross' Magic: Online GB Elves list is a good place to start:


Collected Company is no Rally the Ancestors, but on the bright side, you don't need to jump through quite as many hoops to get Collected Company going. Chord of Calling has a high ceiling here as well, potentially fetching Shaman of the Pack for an instant-speed kill, but also grabbing a Reclamation Sage at will, or even a Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen to save your squad from an errant Scouring Sands.

My only issue with the latter deck is that it has zero removal – it's really dependent on being more powerful than what its opponent's doing. The problem with this is that Standard is chock-full of decks that go both tall and wide, and both types of decks have no need to waste their time with cards like Gnarlroot Trapper and Dwynen's Elite, two cards that, while powerful contextually, are very underwhelming if their supporting cast doesn't show up. This is in sharp contrast to Siege Rhino, who is a 4/5 trampler for four mana that Lightning Helixes its opponent every time.

Decks that lean really hard on synergy come with their own risks. It's up to you to figure out if the rewards are worth it. See you next week.

Jon Corpora
pronounced Ca-pora