I’ve spent the last week testing the more interesting decks that popped up around the PT. The first is Sam Black’s Bant Tokens deck, which I was drawn to because it reminded me of a BW tokens list I was working on, though Sam solved a lot of problems I ran into into by cutting situational aggressive cards like Drana and focusing on maximizing Retreat to Emeria.

Sam Black’s Bant Tokens

Strengths

  • Going wide
  • Shrugging off spot removal
  • Ignoring Jace
  • Being the best Nissa deck

Most of you have seen Sam’s Deck Tech, and you know how it all works.

It’s straightforward, with the only real unintuitive aspect being exactly how good Nissa is.

At a basic level, hitting land drops for Retreat is important, and Nissa finds a land while filling an important spot on the curve. What’s less clear is how good she is after she’s flipped. Ordinarily, a +1 ability is just drawing a card, but because this deck takes advantage of extra land drops—turning them into damage with Retreat to Emeria’s pump ability—a Nissa +1 is much more powerful, and can combine with additional land drops to kill people out of nowhere.

4 Nissas seem excessive, but the opponent needs to deal with the first or she’ll run away with the game. After your first is removed, simply play the next one and start drawing cards again. It doesn’t matter if you have one stuck in your hand on turns 4 and 5 because you have much better things to do on those turns.

In Josh Silvestri’s PT recap article he did a great job explaining the deck as well-positioned against spot removal, because all of the threats are cheap, gain value, or go wide.

The other strength of this deck is that it can ignore Jace. Since Jace is best used flashing back random removal spells or shrinking key enemy creatures, it’s naturally weak against a deck going wide with value threats.

Weaknesses

Ben Stark called Bant Tokens “the best deck he’s played since Caw-Blade.” After running it through some Dailies, I agree it’s about as consistent as Caw-Blade was, because it’s so good at turning extra land drops into value. However, Caw-Blade dominated Standard because it didn’t have exploitable weaknesses, and people that targeted the deck broke even at best and lost to everything else. While Bant Tokens might’ve been the Caw-Blade of this PT, it is a linear deck, and its ceiling is held in check by cards like Virulent Plague.

The incredible mana of this format means decks are more consistent, and if and when a best deck emerges it will absolutely dominate, but Bant Tokens isn’t that deck, and nothing in it is going to get banned.

Much of its early game is gumming up the board so that it can overwhelm the opponent in the midgame. If you can get enough hits in with an evasive threat, you can win before Bant even gets going. Early pressure has the benefit of making Jace more relevant, because you can threaten to flash back burn spells.

The list has a few ways of answering Mantis Rider, but needs to draw them and point them at the right target (with Jeskai, I’m ecstatic when Jace baits out Silkwrap).

Similarly, Siege Rhino is one of those cards that applies a lot of pressure while being hard to block—a stream of Rhinos is how this deck loses to Abzan.

Overall, the Abzan and Jeskai decks have enough bad cards (removal) that Bant is still favored.

I list Ugin as a weakness, because it can answer the token producers directly, but that weakness could be broadened to sweepers in general. Yes, Hangarback Walker lives through it, and an end-of-turn Secure the Wastes can still win you the game, but that’s a small number of cards while Ugin is great at wrecking the deck’s game plan.

Aobius’s 5-Color Mantis Rider

Asobius placed 10th in the last Modern Online PTQ with this list—it’s well-tuned for an Abzan and Jeskai meta.

The sideboard contains a split of Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness, though most people favor 4 Surges, and I didn’t realize why until I played the deck: Surge is less necessary, and Cleric is a nice stepping stone to buy time for removal.

Strengths

  • Playing every good card in the format
  • Bring to Light toolbox
  • Solid matchups across the meta

It’s hard to argue that Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino are not the best threats in Standard, because both dome the opponent the turn they enter play, closing out games faster than one might expect from a 5-color monstrosity.

You have all the best spells here, too, which means that your Jaces have the best flashback options.

Weaknesses

  • Its own mana base

There are a few quirks in the 5-color mana base that haven’t been worked out yet. For starters, Lumbering Falls is a quality creature land, and it’s a great target for Abzan Charm’s +1/+1 counters, but it’s also one of the few lands that doesn’t produce mana for Crackling Doom.

Secondly, you have 14 fetchlands and only 10 fetchables. For the most part, this works since 10 is still a lot of targets and you want options when figuring out your early land drops. There will be times when certain fetchlands are dead from lack of targets, and I try and keep my fetchland-to-fetchables ratio close to even in decks that want to hit a lot of land drops.

After examining the deck’s requirements, I want red and blue early for Jace and Fiery Impulse, and I want to be able to hit the color wedges on turn 3 as often as possible.

The Three Wedges

  • URW (Jeskai)
  • BGW (Abzan)
  • BRW (Mardu)

If you want to cast Mantis Rider, Abzan Charm, and Crackling Doom, the most efficient dual pairing is Sunken Hollow, Cinder Glade, and Plains. You need a basic on turn 3 to play a wedge card, and white is the only shared color among all three, making Plains the most important basic in the deck.

This matters less if you have a 4th land in hand, or Jace to smooth out your mana, and you should fetch according to your hand’s requirements. Still, this the best general pairing, and it’s possible that a mana base could be based around multiples of these lands instead of running all the fetchlands plus basic lands plus battlelands.

Adding tri-lands could also smooth things out. Here’s my take on the mana base:

12 fetches for 11 fetchables is a bit closer to an even ratio. By running 2 tri-lands, you’ll be able to fetch basic lands more often, giving you a slightly better shot at turn-2 Jace into turn-3 wedge card. Note that I emphasized the white fetchlands for having a Plains on turn 3.

Avoid wedge tri-lands that exist in the deck since they can only ever tap for 1 color for a specific card. If you use a Sandsteppe Citadel for the green in Siege Rhino, you still need battlelands that can produce black and white, making it less likely that you’ll be able to cast other wedge cards.

While Opulent Palace could work, Frontier Bivouac better complements Shambling Vent. Plus it fixes for Jace and Fiery Impulse, which are the only cards you need to cast by turn 2.