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Magic Memories: Elephant Guide


The Tentacled One
I look at the cards I've chosen lately for "Magic Memories" and see stuff like Tolarian Academy and Necropotence. Some might accuse me of mostly having fond memories of "broken" cards and being a "jerk." Surely this issue keeps me tossing and turning at nights, wracked with guilt. And yet I can assure you that a card doesn't need to have been banned for me to like it. Why, I've enjoyed some ordinary good cards that only cause my opponents to curse me the regular amount. I think.

And so for a change of pace, I present Elephant Guide...

It doesn't draw extra cards or make extra mana or take extra turns. It doesn't bring my stuff back out of the graveyard or let me play extra lands. Sometimes, I'll admit, I attack people with creatures. And I've had a fondness for auras, or "local enchantments" as they were called, ever since I first discovered them. I like the idea of using one card to modify another card. Of course, there was no Elephant Guide at that time, but it's a good one. And I'd eventually go on to appreciate it.


The Tentacled One
Elephant Guide was first printed in Judgment in 2002. As detailed in various previous posts around here, I wasn't actually playing with "new" cards at that time. In 2002, I was still only playing with cards from Prophecy and older sets. I know I mentioned this before so I won't go into excessive detail about it, but I'll note that it had more to do with already owning older cards and not having money than to do with a firm principle related to the game itself. Anyway, I was not playing with Elephant Guide. However, I did get to play against Elephant Guide back then.

The card didn't make much of an impression at the time. But I did see it and I did mentally file it away as one of the interesting "sticky" auras for aggressive decks. The classic problem with creature-enhancing auras is that they present the risk of card disadvantage. For example, I cast Aspect of Wolf on my creature to make it bigger, but then you cast Terror on my creature. I spent two cards to get something and you only spent one card to get rid of it. Sometimes creature-enhancing auras are pretty efficient, but the general wisdom is that this risk of getting "two-for-oned" makes them poor choices in most cases. That's the simplest version of the theory. In practice, many creature-enhancing auras have ways to mitigate the risk, even if they don't eliminate it entirely. Here's a small gallery of some auras that do this...

If you can ensure that your aura will give you some value even if your opponent uses a kill spell or burn spell on your creature, then the card disadvantage problem is diminished. The nature of that "value" can vary. In the case of Sleeper's Robe, it's commonly the case that you'll draw one or more cards before your opponent can find an answer. In the case of Fire Whip, you can at least pitch it for damage. These abilities do have weaknesses. If your opponent kills the creature with the aura on the stack, all of them fizzle and all (except Dragon Fangs) would be lost investments at that point. But it's possible to play around that and sometimes even desirable to play into it: most opponents don't have hands full of instant-speed kill spells, and baiting such a valuable tool with an aura on a small creature could clear the way for a more valuable creature. Some of these auras are still (relatively) impotent if opponents can exile or bounce the enchanted creature, but some things can't be helped. That drawback does apply to Elephant Guide, unfortunately. In the case of bounce spells, there is some consolation: if the enchanted creature is one that has a useful EtB triggered ability, your opponent can get rid of Elephant Guide with an Unsummon, but does give you the power to replay your creature for value, a trade that might be a lose-lose proposition. Targeted exile turns Elephant Guide into an overcosted Giant Growth, but exile-based removal spells are good against almost everything anyway.


The Tentacled One
Like I said, Elephant Guide didn't make too much of an impression on me in Judgment. It was reprinted in Conspiracy, but I somehow missed doing anything with it there. I also didn't do much experimentation with the Duel Decks that included the card. So it wasn't until Eternal Masters that I started making use of Elephant Guide myself.

Even though it wasn't really a revelation that the card was powerful, actually experiencing it firsthand from the right side of the table was an interesting experience. If it isn't checked by instant-speed removal on its target or by an exile effect on the following turn, Elephant Guide proves to be strong. While it would be perfectly acceptable in the right Constructed card pool, it's especially potent in Limited formats. My initial reaction, and my reaction even after seeing it in Sealed, was, "Yeah, this is fine."

And then, last month, I did a "Chaos League" at my LGS. I wound up building a "Jund" deck that performed nicely. I'll have to post the decklist at some point. There were games in which Elephant Guide became the star of the show. Opponents prepared to face down my 1/1 attacker were suddenly contending with a 4/4, and even if they killed it, I got an elephant token. It was a common play for me to stack Elephant Guide and Rancor on the same creature, then replay Rancor on the elephant token after my opponent managed to kill the original creature. It was great fun and I wish that I'd gotten to play more games with that deck (I ended with a winning record, but didn't make it to the store at the right times to get enough games in to win the league, although I do believe I had the strongest deck out of the participants). So yeah, this "Memory" comes courtesy of events that happened very recently. I mean, I've known of Elephant Guide since 2002, but I didn't really appreciate the card until 2018. So despite never using Elephant Guide in a Constructed deck, it has become one of my favorite auras of all time. And if I do build the sorts of casual decks where it might make sense, I will most certainly remember it as a potential inclusion.


The Tentacled One
So like I said, this "Chaos League" deck was a blast to play, although I did feel at times like I had a slight "pay to win" advantage against people who bought "normal" booster packs like Amonkhet. This was the final version of my deck, after I opened five booster packs...

1 Bone Splinters
1 Duress
1 Grisly Spectacle
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Tragic Slip
1 Wake of Vultures
1 Wakedancer
1 Borderland Marauder
1 Chandra's Outrage
1 Flame Jab
1 Keldon Marauders
1 Kird Ape
1 Mogg Fanatic
1 Elephant Guide
1 Emperor Crocodile
1 Green Sun's Zenith
1 Penumbra Spider
1 Primal Command
1 Rancor
2 Slime Molding
1 Sylvan Library
1 Werebear
1 Burning-Tree Emissary
1 Bloodfell Caves
1 Jungle Hollow
1 Rugged Highlands
4 Forest
4 Mountain
4 Swamp

The rest of the pool, my "sideboard", consisted of...

1 Coalition Honor Guard
1 Elite Vanguard
1 Field of Souls
1 Intangible Virtue
1 Shelter
1 Deep Analysis
1 Jetting Glasskite
1 Man-o'-War
1 Memory Lapse
1 Merfolk Looter
1 Oona's Grace
1 Prodigal Sorcerer
1 Screeching Skaab
1 Tidal Wave
1 Warden of Evos Isle
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Deadbridge Shaman
1 Havoc Demon
1 Night's Whisper
1 Undying Rage
2 Civic Wayfinder
1 Lys Alana Huntmaster
1 Wirewood Symbiote
1 Goblin Charbelcher
1 Ticking Gnomes
1 Thornwood Falls
1 Flickerwisp
1 Gideon's Lawkeeper
1 Rootborn Defenders
1 Wake the Reflections
1 Sensor Splicer
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Ghostly Flicker
1 Wingcrafter
1 Delirium Skeins
1 Gnawing Zombie
1 Seal of Doom
1 Madcap Skills
1 Scorched Rusalka
1 Druid's Deliverance
1 Might of Old Krosa
1 Mythic Genesis
1 Pilfered Plans
1 Talon Trooper
1 Woolly Thoctar
1 Azorius Signet


The Tentacled One
So yeah, my appreciation for Elephant Guide came about almost entirely because of this one deck, but it really did pull its weight and then some. Despite a small card pool (starting out with three booster packs and then expanding to four and finally five), I was able to get a kind of theme going: many of the cards in my deck either came back to haunt my opponent or generated some kind of value on their way out. So even though it wasn't especially fast and didn't have late-game power, it presented severe problems for midrange and controlling opponents, which was just about everything I went up against. Elephant Guide probably wasn't the MVP of the entire deck, with that honor likely going to Rancor, Sylvan Library, Flame Jab, or maybe just Tragic Slip. All of those cards, along with Elephant Guide, were in my starting three-pack pool and all of them were so cheap and so impactful that they could potentially put my opponent in a bind at any stage of the game. My friend, whose deck ultimately had the best record in the whole League, lost too many creatures to Flame Jab and couldn't keep up with it, conceding against the card at one point after it gave me a dominant board position. Sylvan Library was as potent as ever, saving me in a couple of games by giving me card selection over several turns and providing the kill spells I needed to punch through the defenses of slower decks. While Rancor is ultimately better than Elephant Guide and was impossible for most opponents to deal with, I did win a couple of games on the back of a Kird Ape enchanted with Elephant Guide. Toward the end, Penumbra Spider enchanted with Elephant Guide was even more formidable, and in one game I even recurred both of them with Primal Command. I didn't get to make much use of Liliana of the Veil, just because she was in the last pack I ever added, but she did manage to dominate one game and she also came in as a "win-more" card against one hapless opponent who was already beaten.

While Elephant Guide doesn't really fit into anything I'm currently brewing for any Constructed formats, I do want to eventually find a deck that can exploit it. Using it on Penumbra Spider or any similar creature is fun for everyone involved and should be encouraged. Well, that's all I've got for this card. For now. Until I make more memories with it, there's not anything else I can really add about Elephant Guide.