In a continuing trend of talking about Green decks, I'd like to discuss something that's been floating around my playgroup for the last few weeks and, not surprisingly, has put up some sporadic results in competitive events recently. Namely, I'd like to look at Craterhoof Behemoth and the elves that make it work. When I first saw Craterhoof, during the Avacyn Restored spoiler weeks, I concocted a scheme to recreate my Eldrazi ramp deck in the new Standard format, with lots of one-mana elves, a playset of Elvish Archdruid and the most expensive spells I could find. Sadly, my own designs never came to fruition, and my Craterhoof Behemoths languish, unused in my binder. Fortunately, a certain Steve Butts picked up my slack and came to our weekly Magic session a few weeks back packing his own Craterhoof deck. Suffice to say, after watching him swing for nearly 30 trample damage on turn four, I was pretty impressed. He's been coming back for more turn four kills every week, and I've got to hand it to him, the deck is pretty consistent. You can see a slightly modified version of Steve's budget-friendly 'Trampelf' here.
The competitive scene has caught on as well, with three recent Top 4 showings from decks sporting their very own Behemoths. As a man on a budget, however, I can't often afford these decks as they are, so I'd like to go over Steve's brew this week, what makes it tick, what makes it affordable, and why you're not losing much by foregoing the more costly cards. To be sure, this is not a typical 'Budget' deck article, in that I'll be using plenty of Rares, but, excepting the namesake Craterhoof Behemoth, I'm aiming to keep the value of each individual card at less than $1. If you're into a $50 deck that wins on turn four, read on!
First, let's talk about the game plan. We want to cast a turn-one mana elf, like Llanowar Elves or Arbor Elf, so those are both natural 4-of inclusions. This will enable our turn-two Elvish Archdruid, buffing our first elf, and getting us on track for a turn-four win. Third turn, we'll want to cast whatever other elves we have in hand, ideally dropping at least two more elf-type creatures. Finally, turn four, we tap four lands and an Elvish Archdruid, cast Craterhoof Behemoth and swing for the win. More competitive decks likely eschew this sort of all-in game plan in favor of something a bit more resilient to hate cards like Fog and the more common Dissipate, which both absolutely crush the perfect curve. As such, we'll be doing the same.
In case we don't curve out with a turn four Behemoth, or we get countered or Fogged along the way, we've got Ezuri, Renegade Leader here as a secondary game plan. In the interest of not losing to sweepers, you've got the quasi-combo of Ezuri, Renegade Leader and Elvish Archdruid, which allows you to regenerate your whole team, except Ezuri himself, by keeping your Archdruid untapped. He generates one Green mana per elf you control while Ezuri Regenerates an elf for G. Coincidence? Probably. But it works. In the interest of keeping this quasi-combo active, we've got Copperhorn Scout, which untaps all your other creatures whenever it attacks, allowing you to utilize the Archdruid to pump with Ezuri's Overrun ability, and keep up your regen mana during your opponent's turn. Alternately, assuming you've got five elves in play, you can simply pump twice with Ezuri. +6/+6 and trample on four attacking creatures is often going to win you the game on its own.
Most of the professional decks I've seen look to be running Green/White rather than mono-Green. Unfortunately, this requires dual lands in Razorverge Thicket and Sunpetal Grove, neither of which are in our price range today. Sticking to mono-Green, however, also keeps us from needing to run Birds of Paradise, since we don't need the mana fixing and we already have eight one-cost mana producers, which is how we made room for Copperhorn Scout, enabling the Ezuri shenanigans above. Green Sun's Zenith is a staple in every pro deck I've seen, but it doesn't fit into our budget restrictions here, so we'll be making good without it. We're simply running four Craterhoofs instead of playing Zeniths. It's slightly sub-optimal, but we'll be running Lead the Stampede which, given more than 50% creatures in the deck, generates some card advantage for us in its stead. Soul of the Harvest is another common inclusion in every Craterhoof/Elf deck I've come across, and it's no wonder. A reliable source of card advantage in the mid-to-late game is crucial for a deck that can run out of steam early. As with Lead the Stampede, the abundance of creatures in the deck makes Soul of the Harvest even better, and the fact that it's a $.50 Rare makes the deal that much sweeter.
Having made it through the crux of the deck, there was one card choice that I wasn't convinced about, so I sat down with Steve to figure it out. The card in question is Fog. Steve, for his part, is firmly in favor of including Fog in the final list. The investment is so small, and the potential benefit so huge, basically tapping down the opponent's creatures and absorbing a turn's worth of combat damage. It's a boon against aggressive strategies and ramp plans alike, buying you the extra turn you need to land your Behemoth and trample over for the win. It can save your guys in combat if need be, and it can be a Counterspell for combat tricks in the right spot. From where I stand, however, it is too situational to make the cut, though I will admit that it makes for a really potent sideboard card in certain matchups. It's a dead draw about half the time, and that slot could be something more universally helpful, like another regular inclusion in some of the professional decks I've seen, Genesis Wave. Given that Genesis Wave can be used profitably in practically any situation makes it a better option in my opinion. While it does increase the monetary cost of the deck by 5-10 percent, being a $1 Rare, the amount of mana that the deck can produce just makes this card difficult not to include. It serves as ramp in the early game when you need to get from six to eight mana, since at X=3 there are 44 permanents for you to hit. Later in the game, when you're sitting on at least 11 mana, it acts more like a Green Sun's Zenith for your Craterhoof Behemoth that can sometimes hit more than once. If nothing else, it will overwhelm your opponent with an army of buffed elves. The only potential drawback is hitting both of your Ezuri, Renegade Leader, but with only two in the deck, that's not a major concern.
Ultimately, testing will tell whether Genesis Wave or Fog is the correct choice here, but I've stuck to Wave in my own design. Building out a sideboard for your playgroup or tournament shouldn't be too difficult either, and will likely want to include the missing Fog, either Plummet or Crushing Vines, and probably some Naturalizes. Gutter Grime is another piece of sideboard tech I've seen with huge potential for its anti-sweeper applications. Finally, Corrosive Gale and Silklash Spider can shut down flying swarms pretty handily.