Last week, the majority of Team Face to Face games, myself included, ended up playing the GW Tokens list that Steve Rubin won the Pro Tour with. Here’s a look into the deck, why we chose the cards we did, and how to sideboard.
Here’s the list I played:
The best card in the deck is Archangel Avacyn. Going into the Pro Tour, I wanted to play the best Archangel Avacyn deck I could play, and this is that deck. No other deck flips Avacyn as easily as this deck does, and thanks to the power of Gideon and Nissa, it’s often easy to get your own creatures out of range of the Avacyn flip, turning it from a symmetrical sweeper to a one-sided blowout.
This deck also utilizes the indestructible aspect of Avacyn better than nearly every other deck. Cards that are good against this deck include things like Radiant Flames, Chandra, Flamecaller, and opposing copies of Avacyn. Avacyn is simply the best way to protect yourself from those cards.
Hangarback Walker and Dromoka’s Command are a big reason why this deck is so potent at using and abusing Avacyn. Avacyn on turn 5 and then Hangarback for 0 is an immediate flip in your opponent’s upkeep. This is an extremely powerful combo, and often very easy to execute thanks to the omnipresence of Reflector Mage, which almost always targets a Hangarback Walker that’s in play. I played many games in the Pro Tour where I sat on these 2 cards until turn 5. Then I could play a game of “flip it and rip it,” where I flipped Avacyn and ripped my opponent’s board presence and chance of victory.
Dromoka’s Command, especially when combined with expendable creatures like Plant tokens, allows for you to easily set up Avacyn flips. Dromoka’s Command can put a counter on a creature that would otherwise die to the flip, pushing it out of range, and then fight a 0/1 Plant against your opponent’s bigger creature, ensuring that Avacyn will flip in the next upkeep.
Evolutionary Leap plays a double role by letting you flip Avacyn at will and also providing a way to turn random tokens into copies of Avacyn. This card greatly overperformed in both testing and the Pro Tour itself.
Gideon and Nissa are the heart and soul of the deck. Zendikar’s infamous tag-team basically do everything in this deck. They generate tokens, stall games out against aggressive decks, provide necessary anthem effects, and do what planeswalkers always do—threaten to take over the world if unanswered for too long, Pinky and the Brain style. Nissa is often best played as +1, -2, -2 and Gideon is frequently best used as simply a 4-mana Glorious Anthem and nothing more. Usually, if there is any threat of Gideon biting it in combat, I will make an emblem with him immediately and go from there. It turns every other card you draw the rest of the game into a much more potent threat. Exceptions are against things like aggro decks where you might need to make a steady stream of 2/2s just to survive long enough to get to Avacyn and take over the game.
We had a 71.5% win percentage with the deck at the Pro Tour, which is an extremely high win rate. The deck seems good against nearly every deck in the format right now. It’s resilient, powerful, fast, and grindy. I only played 1 deck in 10 rounds of the tournament that I would consider to be a bad matchup, and that was BW Midrange/Control, and that deck put up very poor results in the tournament—thus, this isn’t something I expect to be a big force moving forward.
You don’t really have time to mess around against Humans. That deck is extremely fast and gets out of control quickly. The goal here is to survive until you can take over the game with a Tragic Arrogance or Avacyn.
Secure the Wastes is fine vs. the mono-white version, as it can trade with things like Dragon Hunter or Kytheon or Expedition Envoy. Siding out Oath feels weird, but sometimes you don’t have time to spend 1 mana on a card that doesn’t immediately affect the board. Many teammates preferred cutting 2 Gideons and 0 Nissa, but I like cutting one of each, as I feel Gideon is just an extremely powerful card, and you want to draw 1 of each planeswalker, but not 2 of each.
I never figured out the right way to sideboard against Bant. It varies a lot on the cards your opponent has in their deck and how they choose to sideboard against you.
I know for sure that I want:
Leap is lights-out against them. Linvala is also quite good. It may seem weird as you “should” have more creatures than they do, but it rarely actually works out that way. Reflector Mage and Plant chump blocks means that they frequently have the upper hand on board presence. As for what should clearly get cut, that’s less clear-cut.
This is a reasonable start, as Thraben Inspector doesn’t accomplish much to building a board presence. A number of teammates wanted to side out Secure the Wastes and side in Tragic Arrogance, but I’m not sold on Secure being bad in this matchup and Tragic being good. I especially dislike Tragic Arrogance in combination with bringing in extra enchantments as you can easily run into a situation where you have to choose whether to keep an Evolutionary Leap or a Stasis Snare when you fire off Tragic Arrogance.
I can see other cards to side in being Tragic Arrogance and Declaration in Stone. I don’t think I want Quarantine Field because of opposing Negates, Dromoka’s Command, and Tragic Arrogance, and Sigarda is super powerful but bites it to Clip Wings.
Against RG Goggles
Steve Rubin sided:
This matchup may seem bad, but surprisingly, it is actually quite good. Gideon smacks them senseless, and you can beat them down with a bunch of Secure the Wastes tokens while sitting back on instant-speed interaction like Avacyn, more copies of Secure the Wastes, or Dromoka’s Command to counter burn spells. If Westvale Abbey ever becomes Ormendahl, Profane Prince, the game ends. Sandbag your Abbeys until you can go upstairs for a 9 spot so as to not expose them to World Breaker.
Against GB Cryptocrats
I’m not sure exactly on these sideboard choices as I have only played the matchup a single time. My experience with the matchup was that it was fast (you don’t have time to get Evolutionary Leap going), and it revolved around a few things: You have to keep Zulaport Cutthroat off the table. You have to always be able to block Nantuko Husk, and eventually you need to find and sweep their board with Avacyn, the Purifier. Anything that gains life is good. When I played this matchup at the Pro Tour, I was able to ultimate a Nissa for +6 life, and that life was enough to push myself out of Cutthroat range.
I’m not sure how good Secure the Wastes is against them, but I like being able to block Husk for days and Secure does that. It’s possible that Linvala/Secure are bad cards in the matchup, and Thraben Inspector is better.
I know that I want against nearly every version of BW:
I want Declaration in Stone if they are playing Eldrazi Displacer and Thought-Knot Seer as I want to ensure I can keep those off the board. I want Clip Wings if they are playing Avacyn + Westvale Abbey as it’s important to answer those creatures at instant speed.
As a result, sideboarding against BW is hard and very much dependent on what they are doing against you.
I sided out Hangarback Walker when I played against this deck at the Pro Tour because of Silkwrap and Stasis Snare, but I believe that I was incorrect in doing this. Hangarback is too good with Evolutionary Leap and I believe that Thraben Inspector is probably a worse card in the matchup.
Against Esper Control
Against GB Seasons Past
I would sideboard nearly identically to how I sided against Esper Control. This is the matchup where if Sigarda isn’t good here, she probably isn’t good at all. She dodges Languish, Ultimate Price, and Grasp of Darkness. You can’t ask for much more.
It might be worth keeping in a Dromoka’s Command or two in this matchup to deal with Virulent Plague, a card I expect to see more of in the weeks to come. It is also potentially worth using Gideon as Glorious Anthem every time to play around that card and Ruinous Path.
Against the Mirror
Your guess is as good as mine. I know that I want Declaration in Stone and Tragic Arrogance, but beyond that… shrug. I feel like Sigarda is probably pretty good here. She’s bigger than Avacyn and generates a lot of advantage.
I did play the mirror once in the tournament, the first round of Constructed against teammate Jon Stern, and it felt like getting out to an early start with planeswalkers was very important and that Avacyn was the single most powerful card, as you would expect. We didn’t prepare for the mirror in our testing and I would have to practice against it to have real insight here.
Hopefully this provides a deeper look into what was the best performing deck at the Pro Tour and a deck I intend on continuing to play with. I love these kinds of strategies, and I’m hoping this deck can remain good enough for me to pilot for a while to come. With more practice I hope to develop a more tuned list and tighter sideboarding plans.