This week with Worlds* on the horizon I wanted to cover the Standard deck I’ve been battling with on and offline for the past 2 weeks – GW Tokens. Ever since Martin Juza debuted the newer three-drop iteration of GW I’ve been astonished at how well the deck battles. Even after the metagame has had time to adjust to the deck’s presence it continues to fare well against nearly every single archetype in the format. Today I want to go a little more in-depth about my own tweaks on GW and the possible future of the deck.
*Regarding OP changes, my main disappointment is the removal of Worlds from the tournament structure. Having what amounts to a rebuilt Invitational or Masters tournament is nice, but taking away the institution of Worlds just rubs me the wrong way. I’ll just leave these links to a petition (Yes, I realize how much chance that has of working.) and a FB Group discussing the changes.
Now back to the regularly scheduled article.
This was the list I played at the SCG Open in Vegas a few weeks ago:[deck]4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blade Splicer
2 Geist-Honored Monk
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Mirran Crusader
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth Tirel
4 Garruk Relentless
4 Gavony Township
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Fiend Hunter
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/deck]
Juza’s version of the deck was the first clear view the populace had of a coherent [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] and [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] deck that did (mostly) everything right. It locked onto the idea that ones were a means to an end, two’s were worthless and that aggro in these colors started and ended with creating armies. I feel what initially stopped this move toward hard-hitting threats and the PW gridlock was just focusing too much on Anthem effects. Originally people (including myself) pushed too hard toward trying to have a balanced curve when instead the imbalanced list could play far more cards that actually matter.
I favor GW over other flavors of White Aggro because the good draws are just so hard to beat. Often games will be over on turn four if they can’t immediately answer a Planeswalker or [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] you plopped on the table after your three-drop. Even a Garruk pumping out Wolves without a [card]Gavony Township[/card] is very difficult to beat once you’ve put them in a large hole tempo and life-wise. Quite simply GW Tokens has one of the best sets of openers in the format.
With that advantage comes the issue of having to mulligan more aggressively than many of your aggro counterparts. By attempting to skip slots on the curve and back-ending all of your best resources and removal, this means you really have to be vigilant in keeping hands with mana producers and certain number of lands. I’d much rather flood with this deck versus being color-screwed, let alone be a land short of four. The number of people that keep BOP / Pilgrim – One land hands in the dark is quite boggling in a format where [card]Gut Shot[/card] is not only playable, but a good maindeck card in Delver decks.[card]Llanowar Elves[/card] has now seem play in some lists to support the overload of three drops and Planeswalkers. I’m not necessarily against Llanowar in the deck as a 9th or 10th accelerant, but I do feel it has certain restrictions working against it and should not be adopted without considerable thought. The fact that even a hand of three lands and a [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] can actually whiff on casting [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] a fair amount of the time is really painful. If you aren’t running the full set of [card]Blade Splicer[/card]s then you gain practically no value from having the extra Elves in the first place! I guess if you really want to jump to four mana; life is acceptable even if you can’t cast [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] or draw Elf later in the game.
Honestly the mana scares me so much that I added a 25th land (Plains) just to have another white source and help out my post-board plans. If you notice in many matches you’ll be raising the overall curve of the deck and often you need to lean more heavily on your fours and fives to take over a game. [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] is still a beast in many post-board matches but by contrast many decks are either full-blown midrange grind sessions or playing WG Control. If you aren’t already running a 25th land, I would suggest adding one to the sideboard to help out. Though the more decks that run cards such as [card]Mortarpod[/card] and [card]Gut Shot[/card] the more I feel correct in running the 25th source maindeck to help alleviate mana dorks dying.
I mentioned this in a past article, but it bears repeating now that GW has become a big deal. The majority of two’s in Standard really suck and even many one-drops have limited usage outside of their initial window. I know that isn’t much of a surprise, but the window for them to be relevant feels even smaller than past formats due to the power of three-drops. [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], [card]Blade Splicer[/card], [card]Phyrexian Crusader[/card], [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] and others just make a lot of early attackers look embarrassed. Illusions / Delver decks can get away with this because they’re specifically designed to get ahead and stay ahead, Phyrexian Mana allows them to maintain a solid pace otherwise they’d be clunky and ineffectual.
The only matches I really feel behind in are against UWb with both [card]Day of Judgment[/card] and [card]Doom Blade[/card] / [card]Go for the Throat[/card] and W/G Wolf Ramp if they have [card]Gideon Jura[/card] in addition to DOJ. Basically you can afford to get swept once and still win most games, but after that it really is all on Planeswalkers and [card]Gavony Township[/card] to pick up the slack. Having relevant planeswalkers in addition to a sweeper effect is the best trump currently legal in Standard for the GW Tokens decks. The second best being a steady stream of removal and powerful cheaper threats, which is only something many decks can’t manage.
For a while I felt UB was very tough, but the more I played against it the more it really feels like a 50/50 revolving around a few key cards. Basically UB Control needs to open with a removal spell and [card]Mana Leak[/card] / [card]Dissipate[/card] on [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] and any follow-up Garruk or Elspeth or they are dead on arrival. Now add [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card] to the mix and they are effectively doomed unless they wrath with [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] as well. A 6th turn [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] definitely goes a long way into balancing the forces. With that said, Sphinx still needs to live (or the board needs to be very even) or often UB will be dead on the crackback. [card]Overrun[/card] is another card that makes blocking with Sphinx a miserable proposition, yet one that you often have to make in order to live.
Every other match in the format feels quite favorable with the unique variety of threats GW can push out. Illusions is the closest match of the remaining contenders and that deck lives and dies upon its ability to stop [card]Mortarpod[/card] and [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] either via counters or by getting [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] – [card]Lord of the Unreal[/card] into play. [card]Gut Shot[/card] can be quite annoying when it kills a mana dork, but outside of that the game is a straight brawl and your expensive cards will win the day if you don’t get overwhelmed early. [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] is also a card to watch out for as [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] flying through the air can shut off a lot of options. Thankfully [card]Gideon Jura[/card] demolishes the deck if you have any board presence, forcing terrible trades and cleaning up the rest quite nicely.
I suspect by Worlds [card]Gideon Jura[/card] will be a bigger player in both GW and opposing decks then it was at Vegas. Right now he happens to be very well-positioned against all the opposing decks short of straight UB or UWb Control and even there he isn’t useless as a 6/6 beater later in the game. Right now he’s the best planeswalker in the GW mirror and is devastating against any other creature based deck in the format. His utility against control is limited, but at least he can cast Lure to get potential blockers out of the way and protects other planeswalkers in play. Against Wolf Ramp Gideon can often absorb a [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] or Titan attack and clear the way for a lethal counterattack. At the absolute worst it can at least [card]Fog[/card] a lethal [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and give you another turn to draw [card]Mortarpod[/card].
What I feel is an interesting line of discussion is the sideboarding of the deck. If you feel that the mana producers are more at risk before sideboarding, it could be the second most important aspect of the deck behind mulligans. If you feel people are focused on picking them off then their usefulness post-board on the draw is quite miserable. In which case, why keep them in the deck?
Now this doesn’t apply if you barely sideboard for the mirror match or against decks running [card]Gut Shot[/card] and other such removal. If they have to spend a [card]Doom Blade[/card] or [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] to get ahead of you, I’ll gladly take that trade. But being on the draw and watching a [card]Mortarpod[/card] pick off my mana creature while my opponent slammed a [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] was one of the worst feelings in Standard. So if you’re willing to dedicate the space, I came upon a plan to avoid these types of blowouts. Boarding out all of your mana accelerants.
Now I would never recommend this with a standard board plan, as that would take away your greatest advantage for very little gain. However the more removal you board in, either [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Fiend Hunter[/card], [card]Day of Judgment[/card] or anything in-between; the better suited you are to maximize your draws while the opponent has 8 dead late-game cards in their deck. If you focus purely on keeping the opponent from clocking you for a huge amount of damage then when you play your own drops, they can trade to get you ahead or force them to all-in with their remaining threats to deal with planeswalkers.
As it turns out one of the best decks you can have against the GW deck Juza popularized is a bigger GW deck focused more on board control and planeswalker advantage. As anyone could tell you, planeswalkers are the name of the game if you can’t kill the opponent quickly. [card]Overrun[/card] one way to break a stalemate, but that’s reliant on having enough of a board presence to kill or wipe the board in one shot. Planeswalkers like Garruk and [card]Gideon Jura[/card] can break stalemates and take over a game even if your slightly behind in the game.
Here is my current sideboard:
[deck]3 Day of Judgment
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Fiend Hunter
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth Tirel[/deck] [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card] is also a potential slot addition (usually over the [card]Dismember[/card]) and same goes for the 25th land if you don’t maindeck it.
My board plan for minus accelerants:
-8 One-drop accelerators
-1 [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] / [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card]
+1 [card]Gideon Jura[/card] +2 [card]Naturalize[/card] +3 [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] / [card]Dismember[/card] +3 [card]Day of Judgment[/card]
If I was keeping accelerants in:
-4 [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] ([card]Blade Splicer[/card] is just better except when fighting Garruk directly)-1 [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] +2 [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] +2 [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] +1 [card]Gideon Jura[/card] [card]Naturalize[/card] may seem like an odd choice, but having a way to deal with [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] is becoming increasingly relevant. Past that you can also use it to hit the occasional Golem token or [card]Mortarpod[/card] which can be relevant when protecting planeswalkers. [card]Naturalize[/card] isn’t strictly needed but having non [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] utility has been very useful for me.
Additionally this sideboard configuration allows you to board into a control deck against any other aggressive deck. You can’t really out-tempo Delver decks or Mono Red so instead you change your plan to attrition and grind them out after blunting the first few turns of their attacks. So while [card]Gut Shot[/card] is the bees knees against your Birds, it isn’t quite as impressive when facing down a fistful of planeswalkers.
I could break down matches, but the vast majority of your play is going to be hand dependent and there’s very little play to the non-planeswalker cards in the deck. Instead I just want to quickly touch on the most important cards in each match and a few notes on mulligans.
If you know you’ll be playing the mirror the biggest thing to look for are either hands that can kill a Birds or Pilgrim or allow you to play a 3-drop on turn two. In game one often times the winner will be determined by the die-roll or whoever opened with [card]Mortarpod[/card] early. [card]Mirran Crusader[/card], the best card in just about every other match, is nearly irrelevant. Unless you are trying to battle past one-drops and Wolf tokens the protection is meaningless and it trades with every relevant creature.
*[card]Fiend Hunter[/card], [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] and [card]Sun Titan[/card] are the biggies with [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] usually being the best for game one.
As I mentioned in my sideboarding section, pick which plan you want to be on and stick to it. Waffling to cover all your bases is only going to make it that much harder finding suitable openers to keep.
The only thing that matters is that you keep early hands with [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] and [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] in them. A turn two [card]Blade Splicer[/card] into turn three Garruk is also pretty reasonable, but if you keep a slow hand in these matches you’ll never have a chance to use them. The opening hand is nearly the entire match as the rest is just going to be simply surveying the board and figuring out if it would be profitable to attack on a given turn. Unlike many decks, the six-drops and planeswalkers Wolf Ramp has can trump your end-game and even something as simple as [card]Beast Within[/card] or active [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] can quickly kill off your planeswalkers. Unless they stumble, you absolutely have to keep a hand capable of winning by turn five or six.
One card to watch out for that any build of Wolf Ramp can play is [card]Tumble Magnet[/card]. Over the past week the popularity of the card has slowly grown and the ability to keep a Crusader or Hero shut down for a few turns can easily give Wolf Ramp enough time to set-up. Unless you run your own [card]Tumble Magnet[/card]s there’s little that can be done without using an [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] or giving up a [card]Time Walk[/card] or three. Despite Magnet, I actually do like having [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] in the sideboard since it provides a way past [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] and [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]. Getting shut out early by a mini-[card]Moat[/card] is not acceptable and since it can’t be solved by [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] this is one of the only reasonable sideboard options available.
Take the opposite approach to the Wolf Ramp match and you’ll have a good plan against anything playing [card]Delver of Secrets[/card]. You simply can’t match the speed or tempo the Delver decks have with free burn, one mana bounce and [card]Mana Leak[/card]. What you can do is simply throw down speed bumps until your larger drops start raining down and then it becomes a question of how much of a clock they really have. The mana accelerators are terrible in this match if the opponent has [card]Gut Shot[/card] and on the draw even just running a three-drop into [card]Mana Leak[/card] or [card]Vapor Snag[/card] isn’t winning you any contests.
For the early game, [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Mortarpod[/card] have the utmost importance as they block and actually have a shot of killing something off before being obsoleted. All of your planeswalkers give them a lot of trouble so resolving one should be the main goal in each game. In the dark most of your hands against a good Illusions keep are going to be pretty embarrassing, but there isn’t much to be done about that. Once you have full knowledge of what the opponent has, you can adapt rather easily and modify your deck to a better half and half deck. You want just enough defense that Illusions doesn’t have an unkillable army before you start deploying planeswalkers and Geists.
Try really hard to draw [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] and [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]. That is all.
So remember when I mentioned not liking Pod since it wasn’t really designed to prey on any decks and got trumped by Wolf Ramp? As it turns out, Wolf Ramp took a hit in popularity and two of the most popular (and well-positioned) decks in the format now are creature based aggro / midrange. Now guess what decks Pod actually has a decent game against even if it doesn’t see a [card]Birthing Pod[/card]? Bant Pod can actually leverage its anti-creature package against good decks and the ability to mass produce clones is actually relevant again. Additionally all of the cute tweaks people can add to the deck such as [card]Mimic Vat[/card] and [card]Stonehorn Dignitary[/card] plus Venser lock are all brutal against you.
This match is actually miserable game one and often times you’ll win through their own inconsistency or an early [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]. Thankfully for all the answers they run, many builds still only have one or two [card]Fiend Hunter[/card]s and a pair of [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s to deal with Crusader or [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card]. Unfortunately until they’re actually at zero life points, they can come back and actually lock you out of the game which means any blocker they do throw in your path does a lot of damage. Thankfully [card]Mortarpod[/card] and [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] are about as effective against Pod in the early and midgame as they are against you.
As with every strategy against Pod ever devised you want to board in as many cards that actively destroy, exile or shut down [card]Birthing Pod[/card] as you have in your sideboard and pack a bit of extra removal. [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] isn’t quite so worrisome if you have a couple of [card]Dismember[/card]s available and the same goes for any non-Titan drops they have. In fact if they don’t have an additional drop even them chaining out [card]Sun Titan[/card] isn’t the end of the world as you can attack straight by or simply exile it and kill them before they regain board control. Only [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] and [card]Sunblast Angel[/card] are threats that actually can ruin your day and are worth taking into account once they reach their own late-game.
Well that’s all for now on GW Tokens. Despite the metagame becoming more hostile toward it, I feel that GW is one of the strongest decks in the format and in fact has the best standalone threats. If the mana was a little less shaky or it could borrow a good two drop from another color it would the best instead of just one of a number of very good decks. This Standard format has proven to be quite the handful with constant tweaks and innovations coming down the pipeline since the first SCG Open to now. I look forward to seeing what Worlds brings to the table.