Feature Article – An Anthem for Tokens

You might wonder why I opine so infrequently about specific decks. Mostly, I find the culture of the competitive tournament Magic scene more interesting to write about. But also, it’s rare that I have a deck that I think largely exists outside the current established metagame that deserves significantly more attention – especially in Standard. This is one of those times.

When I arrived in San Francisco for the last Magic World Championships, I met up with Matt Sperling at the airport and hitched a ride with Bob Maher and Dave Williams back to their hotel for a final day of testing. Although we came from three different places on four different flights, we all shared one thing in common – we had no idea what to play in Standard. Naturally, I looked to Gabriel Nassif, who had been having a modicum of success on Magic Online with WU Humans. Bob liked the look of Benjamin Dempsey’s uber-aggressive Mono Red. Dave had control/midrange WG with heavy hitters such as [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] and [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card]. And Matt was considering a WU Control deck designed by Adrian Sullivan that featured the full 4 [card]White Sun’s Zenith[/card]. All had their merits, but none of us were ecstatic to be submitting a decklist come Thursday morning.

As we passed a string of Occupy San Francisco demonstrators holding up signs with ingenious policy recommendations such as “MAKE THE BANKS PAY” and “TAKE CARE OF MY STUDENT LOANS,” I told the guys about my own WG token creation that I had been having some success with online. Based around a core of 4 [card]Honor of the Pure[/card]s and 4 [card]Intangible Virtue[/card]s, I was crushing Control, midrange, and most normal decks, but I had untenable percentages against Red and all the variations of Delver decks that were springing up like weeds. At this point, Matt suggested one of the oldest (and most underused techniques) in deckbuilding: presideboarding. What if we took the [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] and [card]Day of Judgment[/card]s in the sideboard and moved them to the maindeck! As soon as we got to the hotel, we hurriedly put the deck together and started testing it against the gauntlet.

And this deck was crushing the field. We threw 4 or 5 decks against our concoction and none was winning more than 40% of the games. So what happened? Why did I panic and not play the deck? The answer is complicated, but boils down to one main issue – I did not want to play a brew of my own design in the last World Championships. If I sleeved up a stock list or one of the decks our team was considering and did poorly, I could fly home and sleep easy. But if I took a big risk and went “rogue,” I risked embarrassing myself and possibly regretting it forever. Well, I do regret my decision, but I’m left wondering “What if?”

While I have mostly been drafting on Magic Online recently, I have found some time to play Standard and have revised the list somewhat. Here is what I would recommend for FNM or the SCG Invitational:

[deck]4 Doomed Traveler
4 Shrine of Loyal Legions
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Honor of the Pure
1 Mortarpod
4 Timely Reinforcements
4 Midnight Haunting
4 Day of Judgment
2 Garruk Relentless
4 Elspeth Tirel
1 Batterskull
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Gavony Township
11 Plains
1 Forest
4 Leonin Arbiter
3 Celestial Purge
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Gideon Jura
2 Naturalize
2 Dismember[/deck]

First, some general thoughts on the deck. You’ll notice a lot of 4-ofs and redundancy. Your game should develop similarly each game, beginning on turn 2. Your plan is to either stick a [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card] and stay alive until you can pop it to significant effect, or play one of your Crusade effects and then use a string of token generators to overwhelm your opponent. The deck shares enough cards with what is popularly known as “GW Tokens” that [card]Day of Judgment[/card] will frequently catch your opponent entirely unawares. Moreover, notice that there are no creatures in the deck other than [card]Doomed Traveler[/card]. The [card]Dispatch[/card]es, [card]Dismember[/card]s, [card]Galvanic Blast[/card]s, [card]Slagstorm[/card]s, [card]Gut Shot[/card]s, and various other creature kill lose a lot of its efficacy against you. [card]Vapor Snag[/card] can sometimes be marginally annoying, but you’ll often have enough sheer volume in tokens that you can afford to overkill a creature when you’re blocking.

Against any deck that plays a bunch of creatures and tries to kill you, you are favored. Against most control decks, cards like [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card], [card]Midnight Haunting[/card], and your planeswalkers are complete nightmares. However, decks that just try to go over the top of you with bigger planeswalkers and/or Titans can sometimes be a problem. In my experience playing the deck online since Worlds, Wolf Run Ramp has been the major thorn in my side, so much so that I’ve finally made the move to a full 4 sideboard [card]Leonin Arbiter[/card]s.

A quick card-by-card

[card]Doomed Traveler[/card] – I’d certainly play more if I could. [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] into [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] into [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] is your most aggressive possible opening. Both your Crusades pump the token. It’s a cheap way to tick up the Shrine. He does a great job of protecting planeswalkers. Basically a [card]Morphling[/card] for one mana.

[card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card] – Your best weapon against control. Many decks have no maindeck answers, so your goal becomes to sit behind one until it’s large enough to kill them outright. Frequently you can sandbag an [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] (or even two) and then kill them out of nowhere. Obviously, it is weaker against faster decks, but I wouldn’t play less than 4 maindeck.

[card]Intangible Virtue[/card] / [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] – The core of the deck. These allow the tokens from [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], [card]Midnight Haunting[/card]s, and [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card] to take over the game. There are some awkward draws where you draw all [card]Honor of the Pure[/card]s with Garruks and Shrines, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

[card]Mortarpod[/card] – This is a recent addition and now I can’t imagine playing the deck without it. It helps to ensure that you have a turn two play and allows you to machinegun with your tokens later.

[card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] / [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] – The other half of the “combo.” The beauty of [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] in this deck is that you will be able to develop your game early on with a Crusade effect without turning either half of it off. [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] is one of the secret power cards of the format. Against control, you’ll often want to use it to bait out a counter on their end step so that you can resolve a backbreaking planeswalker.

[card]Day of Judgment[/card] – This is the breakthrough in the deck. It’s so counterintuitive in a deck that relies so heavily on a creature swarm, but it combos so elegantly with Shrine and planeswalkers.

*Quick Aside* Have you ever noticed on Magic Online how your opponent will pause a few seconds when you play a totally unexpected card or draw the best possible card for the situation into an empty hand? It’s possible their internet went out or that they are considering typing some manner of uncouth vituperation. However, I prefer to imagine they are sitting behind their screen, shaking their head softly and wistfully whispering: “You got me there.” Anyway, your opponent will frequently pause thusly when you cast [card]Day of Judgment[/card] in this deck. *End aside*

[card]Garruk Relentless[/card] – One of the weaker cards in the deck due to the lack of creatures to tutor for. It is mostly a placeholder at this point, but there are obviously some games where it stands out. It’s very strong against Mono-Red, where it will often kill a [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] or [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card] and still demand the attention of a burn spell.

[card]Elspeth Tirel[/card] – With 8 Crusades in the deck, this is frequently going to provide the killing blow and represents all the “going big” you will need.

[card]Batterskull[/card] – Another new addition that I’ve been happy with. It’s nice to have something that will survive Elspeth’s ultimate (you bounce it). [card]Batterskull[/card] can also turn a random Token you have lying around into a monster. Don’t forget that [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] pumps germs.

The Lands – I’ve been really happy with this mana base. Obviously, if you had more Forests you could consider something like [card]Overrun[/card] in the maindeck, or [card]Creeping Corrosion[/card] in the sideboard, but I’d rather be able to consistently cast [card]Day of Judgment[/card] on turn four.

One other card to try is [card]Beast Within[/card], which I am considering in place of Garruk. Beast Within can get you out of some sticky situations or kill a land to set your opponent back and since you have [card]Day of Judgment[/card] and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] already, the token created is not much of an issue. There will also be situations where you have an [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] or two out and want to create a large creature at Instant speed ([card]Doomed Traveler[/card] would make a handy target here).

Vs Illusions
+2 [card]Gideon Jura[/card]
+2 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+2 [card]Dismember[/card]
-4 [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]
-1 [card]Garruk Relentless[/card]
-1 [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card]

This is an extremely favorable matchup. They have no ability to “go big,” so they’re going to try to beat you with pure speed. You’re going to win a late game, so try to overwhelm their key creatures when you are blocking so that you don’t get blown out by a [card]Vapor Snag[/card] and/or [card]Gut Shot[/card]. A common scenario is that they are forced to counter [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] on their turn, allowing you to take control with your maindeck [card]Day of Judgment[/card]s.

Vs Wolf Run Ramp
+4 [card]Leonin Arbiter[/card]
+2 [card]Naturalize[/card]
-1 [card]Mortarpod[/card]
-1 [card]Batterskull[/card]
-4 X

Sideboarding here is going to be very version-dependent. Against the version with 4 [card]Viridian Emissary[/card] and 4 [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card], you want to board out the [card]Doomed Traveler[/card]s. Against Iyanaga’s World title winning decklists, you want to take out the [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]. Against the white versions, you want to remove the [card]Day of Judgment[/card]s. If you see planeswalkers (this is going to be the nightmare version), you want the [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s. If you see a ton of artifact removal in game two, consider shaving the number of Shrines for game three.

[card]Midnight Haunting[/card] is your best card in this matchup. Sometimes it’s correct to sandbag your [card]Leonin Arbiter[/card] in game three until you have a Crusade if you saw that they left in [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] game two (they should, but it’s not obviously for them as they saw no relevant targets game one).

The matchup really started to turn for me when I began boarding in [card]Naturalize[/card]s. Between killing [card]Sphere of the Suns[/card], [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] (after they’ve committed a ton of mana with [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]), or a post-board [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card], it’s often a decisive blow. I highly recommend you test this particular matchup extensively before playing my particular brand of Tokens in a tournament, as you’ll often have to figure out how to apply pressure while doing what you can to stunt their development with limited tools.

Vs Tempered Steel
+2 [card]Naturalize[/card]
+2 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+2 [card]Dismember[/card]
+2 [card]Gideon Jura[/card]
-4 [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]
-2 [card]Garruk Relentless[/card]
-1 [card]Batterskull[/card]
-1 [card]Honor of the Pure[/card]

Like your matchup vs. Illusions, you’re favored, but they have a lot more game because of the namesake card. [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card] is actually pretty sweet here, as it lets you handle their [card]Etched Champions[/card]. After board, you’ll usually have enough answers to handle [card]Tempered Steel[/card], [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card], and their Shrines. [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] is a complete beating against their [card]Vault Skirge[/card]s and [card]Signal Pest[/card]s, provided they don’t have Steel. Your entire focus in this matchup is just not dying.

Vs Mono-Red
+3 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]
+2 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
-4 [card]Honor of the Pure[/card]
-1 [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card]

When Matt and I sat down to test the matchup against Mono-Red, the Red deck took two quick games and we were ready to give up on our deck. Eight one-sided beatings handed out by Tokens later and we discovered what you will. Maindeck [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]s, and the sheer brutality of [card]Batterskull[/card]s make this matchup extremely favorable.

Vs. WW/u Humans
+2 [card]Naturalize[/card]
+2 [card]Dismember[/card]
+2 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+2 [card]Gideon Jura[/card]
-4 [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]
-1 [card]Batterskull[/card]
-2 [card]Honor of the Pure[/card]
-1 [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card]

It might be time to face up to the fact that Craig Wescoe is the master of White Weenie, not I. This is definitely harder than Tempered Steel, Illusions, or Mono Red, but is still favorable. Hopefully they draw their worst cards against you, like [card]Gideon’s Lawkeeper[/card], [card]Fiend Hunter[/card], and [card]Dismember[/card], and not the annoying ones such as [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] and [card]Leonin Relic-Warder[/card]. The element of surprise should be much to your benefit here – it’s unlikely they will play around [card]Day of Judgment[/card] after you lead with [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] or [card]Honor of the Pure[/card].

Vs. Grixis
+3 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]
+1 [card]Gideon Jura[/card]
-4 [card]Day of Judgment[/card]

I have little experience against Chapin Grixis with this deck, but it seems like a nightmare. Countermagic, card advantage, big spells, and very little to make our [card]Day of Judgment[/card]s and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] useful. My advice is to avoid playing against Grixis. After sideboarding, it should get even worse. [card]Gideon Jura[/card] is by no means effective against them, but it’s at least a threat.

Vs. Solar Flare
+2 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+2 [card]Gideon Jura[/card]
+2 [card]Naturalize[/card]
+1 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]
-4 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]
-3 [card]Day of Judgment[/card]

This is another poor matchup. It should be obvious by now, but if control represents a large part of your metagame, this is not the deck for you.

I hope you enjoy playing this deck as much as I have over the past few weeks. Good luck to everyone playing for all the money, fame and glory this weekend!

Thanks for reading,

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