Jumpstarting Jurassic Elves with Allosaurus Shepherd
- Christian Tobehn
You love Elves, Dinosaurs, and Legacy, and you dislike being interrupted? You hate it when Force of Will gets in the way? Then Jumpstart's new Allosaurus Shepherd may be exactly the right card for you: an uncounterable, Allosaurus-loving Elf to protect your green spells — all for just 1 mana.
I was always a huge fan of the Allosaurus. In my childhood it was one of my favorite Dinosaurs and I also loved the artworks on Pygmy Allosaurus and Allosaurus Rider. Now I am very happy to see the Allosaurus archetype enter one of my favorite Legacy decks of all time: Elves.
Goblins and Elves were recently blessed with two wondeful, new cards: Conspicuous Snoop makes its way into all formats via M21, while Jumpstart adds Allosaurus Shepherd specifically to Legacy and Vintage. The Shepherd has no flashy combo potential like the Snoop does. It is more of a hyper glue for an already pretty explosive strategy. It will make Elves a solid force to be reckoned with. Before we take a closer look at the updated deck and the card itself, it's useful to take quick inventory of Elves before Allosaurus Shepherd.
Elves Before Allosaurus Shepherd
Elves has been one of the pillars of Legacy for a long time. Just like Goblins, the format is hard to imagine without Elves. The deck is a creature combo build that often wins on turn three with a lethal Craterhoof Behemoth. It either draws into the Behemoth via Glimpse of Nature generating tons of mana with Gaea's Cradle or it cheats Craterhoof into play via Natural Order.
The deck was hit by the tragic banning of Deathrite Shaman in June 2018 and saw no major updates since, besides maybe Archon of Valor's Reach. While Elvish Reclaimer has made its way into Legacy, it is a better fit for Lands and Depths than for Elves. A deck with Cradle, Glimpse, and Order is of course still powerful, but it lacks the overall versatility it enjoyed with Deathrite. After the loss of the Shaman and the printing of Plague Engineer, it became more of a fringe strategy over time. It is mostly played as a black-green deck nowadays to have access to discard and Abrupt Decay or Assassin's Trophy. There's no doubt in my mind that Allosaurus Shepherd will give Legacy Elves a big boost.
Jurassic Elves with Allosaurus Shepherd
Allosaurus Shepherd gives the deck an edge against all archetypes running Force of Will: Snowko, every Delver variant, Sneak and Show, Infect, Stoneblade, Cephalid Breakfast, Esper Vial, …. This makes for a sizeable share of any field; Legacy players still love their counter magic. A Shepherd on the battlefield makes every one of your opponent's counterspells a dead card. While there are many decks without counter magic — Dredge, Reanimator, Maverick, Lands, Depths, Goblins, et cetera — the Shepherd now improves the matchup against blue, the most important color of the format, by a lot. Plus, some number of nonblue opponents traditionally fought Elves with Chalice of the Void; the Shepherd laughs about that too.
Just to make it clear how good this card is: Gaea's Herald sometimes appeared in sideboards of Elves decks in the past and made your creatures uncounterable for the cost of 2 mana. The Shepherd costs one mana less, can't be countered itself, and makes all of your green spells, including Glimpse, Order, and Green Sun's Zenith, uncounterable. It is just insane.
As if this was not enough, the card features an alternative win condition, turning your Elves into sweet 5/5 Dinosaurs in addition to their other types. (Supposedly, the Elves are riding those Dinos.) At this point I wonder why Wizards did not decide to give it hexproof and 4 toughness … Why do those Dinos not have haste? Isn't it unnecessary that the Shepherd can be killed or exiled by Lightning Bolt, Forked Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, et cetera? Jokes aside, decks like Delver and Snowko must rely on such removal to get rid of the Shepherd in a hurry from now on. Otherwise games won't take very long.
Does the deck still need to splash black for discard when immune to conterspells? Monogreen is possible, but splashing for black is probably still optimal to deal with certain threats. I think that cards like Plague Engineer and Toxic Deluge will play an important role in keeping Elves in check. I personally like to play one singleton copy of Elvish Archdruid to effectively resist Plague Engineer, but Toxic Deluge is best discarded.
|Jurassic Elves (Legacy)|
Elves of the Void?
Another astonishing possibility is the integration of Chalice of the Void into the Elves deck itself. The Shepherd would prevent itself and all those little 1-mana Elves from being countered by Chalice on one, which is the common set-up in Legacy. Incorporating Chalice would improve the Storm and Delver matchups for example. Chalice could protect your Elves from all relevant 1-mana removal spells like Bolts and Swords.
There is a danger that you end up with Chalice as a dead card in your hand, when you want to set it to one but can't because you're missing the Shepherd. Worse yet would be to have Shepherd killed after setting it to one and suffering the traditional consequences. Four Shepherds and four Green Sun's Zenith may not be enough to prevent that. In the end, the deck could gain a lot of game with the inclusion of Chalice, but it might not be worth the risk, outside of specific matchups.
I also see a possible list without Natural Order and Craterhoof Behemoth but with Concordant Crossroads that primarily relies on Allosaurus Shepherds' activated ability to kill the opponent. The combo would be one mana cheaper than hardcasting Behemoth. A disadvantage of this shell would be that the Allosaurus ability would be vulnerable to Stifle and therefore negate the biggest advantage of Shepherd: being immune to counter magic.
Dinosaurs in Vintage?
In Vintage, Elves was never a thing, because for the longest time 1-mana spells were haunted by the mental misstep that is Mental Misstep. Even after the restriction of Mental Misstep, the deck was a little too fragile to fight through the massive disruption of the format and it was a little too slow to compensate that weakness. The deck needs to draw a critical mass of Elves when it resolves Glimpse of Nature. It cannot waste too many slots on, for example, discard. But thanks to Shepherd it no longer needs to do that to get around counters. The big upside of the Vintage version is the availability of Deathrite Shaman to complete the deck.
|Jurassic Elves (Vintage)|
Wizards continues to print crazy good green cards. I hope this one does not get hit with the ban hammer like Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer before. If Legacy Elves becomes a major deck again and people start playing the deck in Vintage from time to time, it will be a slap in the face for the ones who consider or considered buying the deck, because Gaea's Cradle might go through the roof even further. It spiked in price even before the announcement of Allosaurus Shepherd and it will possibly continue to do so. Good news for the bank account is the simultaneously announced Jumpstart reprint of Craterhoof Behemoth.
The printing of Allosaurus Shepherd might be further indication that there will be no unbanning of Deathrite Shaman in Legacy. The deck would probably be too strong with Shepherd and Shaman I suppose. The Shepherd could appear in other Legacy decks as a possible sideboard support. I'm thinking of Maverick, maybe Infect, maybe Lands … Whether this happens or not, the Shepherd will certainly be the next big thing for Legacy Elves.
Prepare to bolt the Shepherd …
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