Jeskai Tokens got some pretty sweet new toys from Dragons of Tarkir and I was excited to try them out. I even went to my first ever FNM-style event with my girlfriend the week before heading to Brussels to play Brad Nelson’s tokens list, complete with Anticipates and the very hard-to-find Dragonlord Ojutais. The deck felt good—solid but not overly impressive. I brought it with me to Europe along with UB Control as the only prebuilt decks and my early favorites.
When I arrived in Brussels on the Saturday morning before the Pro Tour, I was told “we are all playing Esper mirrors now, that’s where we are at. Esper is broken.” I was skeptical, although I guess it turns out I was wrong. My results with the deck were unimpressive. The Mono-Red matchup was truly horrible and the RG Aggro matchup was pretty bad. Many of the popular decks were “good” matchups, but that only meant they were slight favorites. In the end, I think some of the numbers may have been skewed down because both the people I tested the deck against and myself knew the actual lists while players in the PT did not, but I’m not sure. In the end, the Esper deck was the best deck in the tournament, put up some insane finishes, while also putting up some mediocre results as well. I would play the Esper deck if I had to do it over again, but I do think Jeskai was very strong.
LSV arrived in Europe the day after I did and was very high on the tokens deck. By this point I was kind of off it, focusing more on RG control decks and various UB or Esper control decks, but I played a gauntlet of various decks against Luis over the next couple days that I thought would be pretty bad matchups. At the time, I felt like I was more trying to find the best configuration of the decks I was actually playing and not very focused on the Tokens deck so I would get frustrated at how many games I would lose to his maindeck Disdainful Strokes that presumably nobody in the tournament would have. The card was just an all-star against control and the various Dragons decks, as well as Esper. Maybe that was the answer?
I had Luis add a third copy of Disdainful Stroke and continued testing more matchups. With the addition of instants, the value of a card like Secure the Wastes went up dramatically. A first copy quickly became a second and the deck was really shaping up. Wild Slash was the cheap removal spell of choice against a field of red aggressive decks and Elvish Mystics, combining very well with the 10 enters-the-battlefield-tapped red lands.
We tried many options for sideboards, but both knew that the Dragonlord Ojutai package was a good place to start. I wanted a way to press some card advantage into a win in some of the slower matchups and a card like Outpost Siege would have been perfect for that if we didn’t want to leave up all our mana for instants.
When I stumbled upon Narset Transcendent, it seemed to fill the void perfectly. Most opponents would take out their clunky 1-for-1 removal such as Hero’s Downfall against our tokens anyway, and Narset could really punish them. The +1 hit about half the deck, the rebound could provide some huge Treasure Cruises, and the Ultimate would just end things against Abzan and UB strategies alike.
The extra counterspells and Valorous Stances were pretty easy inclusions since they can be the strongest cards in the deck in many different matchups. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was going to be pretty solid against the slower green decks, although quite clunky. With 3 Dragonlords already in the sideboard, the addition of a white land made sense, and Temple of Enlightenment fit the bill (although when we tried other Dragons such as Thunderbreak Regent, the land of choice was a Haven of the Spirit Dragon and that could be the choice down the road).
End Hostilities was a nod to matchups that I think can get tough, such as green decks flooding the board with devotion and as a great answer to Heroic should it show up. I started with 2 Anger of the Gods as just a good card against the aggro decks, and had an extra slot in the end. While writing up a sideboard guide for the deck, I noticed the matchups where I wanted to take out an extra card and had nothing to bring in were red aggro (where Disdainful Stroke and Valorous Stance are really bad) and RG aggro. Anger seemed like the perfect card against these strategies, so the third copy made the deck.
If I could change the deck for the Pro Tour but keep playing Jeskai Tokens, I’m not sure that I would. True, I thought the deck was really solid with no matchup I really dreaded. Abzan Aggro with Dromoka’s Command and boarding in Bile Blights is the toughest, but even that matchup was very winnable in testing. Unfortunately, outside of the mono-red matchup, there is nothing that you just truly demolish. Winning the roll against control is fantastic as your 3-mana threats are extremely tough to deal with before Dissolve is online (and vs. Esper, leaving up Bile Blight and Silumgar’s Scorn can be a real challenge). Decks trading 1-for-1 have some problems with Disdainful Stroke, which gives you a big tempo advantage, and Treasure Cruise and Jeskai Ascendancy can both end things quickly.
Goblin Rabblemaster was easily the weakest card in the deck for me, although I felt it tested quite a bit better than Monastery Mentor. It’s possible the deck wants to start even more controlling, perhaps with an additional land, Secure the Wastes, andplaneswalkers, although they are weak to Hero’s Downfall in game one.
I was very confident in draft, as I usually am. My first pod featured many people in their first Pro Tour, but my draft had an awkward start. I actually led off the draft with Boltwing Marauder before taking 2 more red cards, 4th-pick Pacifism, another (very mediocre) white card 5th, and Ruthless Deathfang 6th with nothing else worth considering. I ended up with a couple mediocre blue cards before taking the Gurmag Drowner I considered 2nd and now tabling at 10th. This card is fantastic, for those who don’t know, and is very close with Ojutai’s Summons for best blue common. I went into pack 2 thinking I’m likely UR splashing 2 black Dragons.
I opened a blank pack and ended up first-picking another red card (Sabertooth Outrider, which is very good), and got passed Necromaster Dragon. Foul Renewals 3rd and 4th pick meant that my deck was going to be very strong if I could get good mana. I ended up taking a few more blue cards and received another Drowner 10th pick. Pack 3 featured no Jeskai Sages or Sultai Emissaries, unfortunately, but I did get a couple Douse in Glooms and a 4th-pick Supplant Form. I had a very good UB control deck not playing any of my first 5 picks from pack 1 or my first pick from pack 2.
In round one I ended up getting severely mana-screwed in game one and the usual thoughts of “not like this, not like this” started creeping through my head. I won game 2 against his mana problems and game 3 was the most epic of the entire tournament for me.
He was on the play and we traded early creatures. On turn 4, when he had 1 creature on the table, I played my Skywise Teachings. His turn 5 play was Palace Siege, which my UB deck could never get off the table and would drain me for 2 every turn. When he cast Butcher’s Glee the following turn, he went to 30 life to my 5 and I had no board. I started to hit him with a 4/4 flier in the air while trying to make as many Djinn Monks as possible to keep myself alive, but at no point did I realistically feel like I could win.
The key point came when he attacked with his Whisperer of the Wilds, 2/2 creature, and Salt Road Quartermasters into my lone 4/4 flier and 5 open mana while I was at 1 life (he also had 5 open mana). Before blockers I cast Douse in Gloom on the 3/3, making a Djinn, and he responded by moving a +1/+1 counter to his Whisperer. This killed the Quartermasters, let me eat the 2/2, and bounce my Djinn off the now 1/3…of course, he was at over 20 and I just went up to 3 life. Luckily, the second copy of Douse bought me another extra turn vs. the Siege, another Djinn, and a flipped Acid-Spewer Dragon pumped my original Dragon on the last turn to deal exactly 14 in the air while I was at 1 life for the third time that game. Rarely do I feel any emotion or my heart beating in a game, but I certainly did in that one.
Day 1 Standard
The rest of the draft played out pretty smoothly and I saw myself at 3-0 entering Standard. I won an incredibly tight 3 game match against Sidisi whip that I never thought I could win in round 5 before defeating Andrea Mengucci’s Abzan Control deck round 6 behind multiple Disdainful Strokes on Elspeths game one.
At 6-0, I was paired against eventual overnight leader Rick Lee and his Abzan Aggro deck. He had a great start game 1, but I managed to stabilize behind an Ascendancy, kill off all his creatures while at 1 life to his 30 and complete the full comeback. My draw game 2 was fantastic, but his was perfect and he had the full curve with Dromoka’s Command to kill my Ascendancy that would have otherwise beat him. Game 3 I kept a somewhat sketchy hand of scry land, Monastery, basic land, Wild Slash, Wild Slash, Jeskai Ascendancy, Treasure Cruise. Not a lot of action, but capable of holding things down early into Ascendancy/Cruise.
I scried a land to the bottom, drew another scry land that scried land to the bottom, while he ripped Duress that he cast off the top of his deck turn 2 to take Ascendancy. I had to use both Wild Slashes on an Anafenza the next turn while drawing another land, but it set me up to use Treasure Cruise. Unfortunately, after drawing a land, I cruised into 3 more lands. I would scry another land to the bottom, but never hit a spell. All told, the top 13 cards of my deck ended up being lands and I folded to his Siege Rhino.
Round 8 was against eventual champion Martin Dang who thankfully was on a much easier matchup in Atarka red. He said in his tournament report that he felt Jeskai Tokens was an easy matchup, same as control, which says to me that it just didn’t get tested since that makes no sense. I win game 1 rather handily, lose game 2 to the nut draw despite having a solid hand myself, and game 3 I’m forced to Anticipate to find Ascendancy but don’t have enough lands to actually cast it turn 5, passing with a bunch of tokens against his bunch of tokens and ready to win next turn, complete with Stoke the Flames in hand. Unfortunately, he hits his 1-of Scouring Sands and it’s all over.
Starting 6-0 and losing the last 2 feels truly awful, despite 6-2 being a fantastic record. Each match is worth so much beyond a certain point that taking those losses early when you’re in that rare space of possibly being a favorite to Top 8 an event as big as a Pro Tour is tough. It sounds like first world problems or being salty but… yeah, it is. So, moving on!
My draft pod Day 2 featured lots of great players. I was being fed by Patrick Chapin so things went how they’re supposed to with someone good sitting next to you. He had a solid RG deck, I had a solid BW deck. Nothing to write home about, no good first-picks, but I was passed a Rakshasa Gravecaller (the best uncommon in the set right next to Ultimate Price) pack 2 and an Archfiend of Depravity pack 3 for some nice bombs.
The deck played out nicely and I found myself 2-0 and in game 3 against Steve Rubin’s excellent GW aggro deck. On the draw I kept 3 Plains, Sandcrafter Mage, Student of Ojutai, Douse in Gloom, Harsh Sustenance. His turns were:
I didn’t draw the 4th land, let alone the Swamp, so I died to this incredible start—although I think if I had found the Swamp in the top 4, we could have had a pretty exciting game despite that. As is, another 5-0 start in Limited. I think my 4th in the last 10 or so Pro Tours, and not a single time have I converted it to a 6-0.
Day 2 Standard
Back to Constructed I kicked things off against Chris Andersen and GR Devotion—not the much more difficult GW Devotion. Luckily, despite a turn-3 Polukranos on the play I had the turn 3 Ascendancy followed by a Raise the Alarm into Dragon Fodder. When his Courser, Xenagos, and double Nykthos gave him the 9 mana to monstrous and fight all 4 tokens, my Stoke killed the Polukranos and left me with a ground force that won the game in two turns.
I lost the roll round 13 against Ryan Bemrose and his Abzan deck but felt pretty good when I was able to Disdainful Stroke his turn-4 Rhino. I had no answers to the Rhinos the next two turns and fell quickly. The rest of the match would be very different with an insane game 3 that again saw me on 1 life for a long time against an opponent far above 20, facing down 3 Coursers. He knew I had Disdainful Stroke from an earlier discard spell and kept holding back a would-be lethal Elspeth, which allowed me to cast a big enough Secure the Wastes with the mana I didn’t use on the Stroke to deal exactly lethal with multiple Ascendancies.
I kept a land-heavy draw against Kyle Boggemes after losing the roll and it turned out pretty perfect against his UB control deck. He stumbled on lands a bit and the Disdainful Strokes punished him for it once I was able to land threats and leave countermagic up. I made a pretty big mistake in this game after playing a turn 3 Rabblemaster that died by casting another Rabblemaster on turn 4 despite having land, Ascendancy, Valorous Stance in hand. I could have played the Ascendancy and cast Rabblemaster with Valorous Stance backup the next turn (a card that would otherwise have been dead in the matchup), but it didn’t come back to bite me. In game 2 his draw was quite good, but trading 1-for-1 only goes so far when your 8-mana spells get countered by 2-mana ones. Dragonlord Ojutai actually cleaned things up for the first time all tournament here.
At 11-3, I needed to win one of the last two rounds to make my second Top 8 in a row, 5th overall, and put a stranglehold on the Player of the Year title. It didn’t happen. I lost the roll in both matches, going to 0-8 on the day, and this time it really hurt me. Both game ones I was forced to mulligan, although I thought I was very far ahead against Adrian Sullivan’s UB deck game 1. I resolved an Ascendancy, but unfortunately all the cards came off in the exact wrong order. This forced me to discard mediocre spells to the loot ability and later in the game I would draw all the lands left in my deck and lose. Game 2 he missed his third land drop and Rabblemaster killed him immediately. Being on the draw for game 3 stung, but my hand was fine. His draw was quite solid and we were at parity when I drew ~7 lands in a row and lost. The matchup is in my favor and even moreso with the way his deck was configured after sideboard against my control deck, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Round 16 was a non-match where he drew Thoughtseize/Duress turn 2 both games after I mulliganed to take Ascendancy, played turn 3 Courser, and either another Courser or Rhino shortly thereafter. It lasted a mere few minutes. It was dejecting. I’m still sad. Life goes on!
Now, for what everyone actually cares about, the sideboarding guide! Don’t treat this as an exact science. Things change based on individual cards, whether you are on the play or draw, etc., so think things through before going in blind, but this is a good place to start.
RG Aggro (Rattleclaw Mystic)
Is there any card you think we missed in testing? Are we wrong about Monastery Mentor and Myth Realized and they are actually great? Let’s hear some of your thoughts on Tokens going forward! And as always, you can reach me in the comment here or on Twitter @EfroPoker