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BW Tokens in Standard

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

The most anticipated new archetype coming out of Dark Ascension was definitely Black/White Tokens. Pundits raved about the power of Lingering Souls and how new Sorin was set to make a major splash in the meta. Sure, he’s niche, but he’s powerful in strategies that cater to him! Unfortunately, BW Tokens has been a disappointment. What was touted as the new powerhouse going into the beginning of the season has done little more than rake in some Top 16 finishes at Star City events.

Rob Daugherty’s PT Honolulu list is the most well know, as he had a deck tech, and I believe that many players have based their approach to the archetype on his list.

So why exactly has the deck failed?

I’m sure several of you out there have tested against various builds of the deck and know that it is capable of some impressive starts. Champion of the Parish can do a very good impression of Wild Nacatl with Gather the Townsfolk. Having a sequence of turn two anthem into turn three Lingering Souls and turn four anthem with a flashbacked Souls isn’t all that uncommon, and that’s twelve power in the air!

However, the problems begin when you fall behind. Oftentimes, your aggro opponents curve out quicker than you do, and if you’re on your back foot, you can’t really mount any sort of effective comeback. This is even more true if that fast start happens to include an early Thalia. Sometimes your Ramp opponents do that sweeper-into-titan thing (and by sometimes I mean every game) and then you end up facing down a titan with no board and few removal options. Elesh Norn is also a real card, and if she decides to join the party on turn three or four, I doubt that you’ll have enough anthems present to avoid her pseudo-wrath. And then there’s that pesky Ratchet Bomb that every deck can run in its sideboard.

Many of the decks in this meta close out games quickly, so if they deal with your initial assault, they can turn things around and end the game within a few turns. Furthermore, if you have to use your tokens to chump, you’re unlikely to win. Your deck runs very few trump cards that can turn around a game that you’re losing. In short, aggro often out-races you, and can even run a one-sided wrath to speed up the process. On the other side of the spectrum, Ramp and Reanimator go over the top of your strategy and are mostly happy to ignore a bunch of tokens and humans.

The question then becomes, is it possible to fix this problem? On top of that, is it really worth the effort?

This list does a few things differently than the Human sub-themed version created by Chapin and popularized by Daugherty. Perhaps the most obvious are the maindeck inclusions of Day of Judgment and Batterskull, as well as a trend towards more removal in general. As I said earlier, the problem with this deck comes when you fall behind. Adding more removal, as well as a couple of reset buttons, let’s you have top-deck outs when your opponent begins to overwhelm you. While many consider tokens to be an aggro deck, it is in reality more mid-range, and there are a lot of decks in the format that are faster. Being able to wipe away your opponent’s creatures is a huge advantage, especially since Shrine of Loyal Legions and any Lingering Souls in the bin will let you recover. Even if you are forced to wrath without any action to follow it up, you are always just a topdeck away from a single card army.

Batterskull is another one of those trump cards that can keep you in the game. Equipped to a spirit it is very daunting, but remember that the germ token is also pumped by Intangible Virtue. White Sun’s Zenith also serves as a potential game ending threat, as well as a top-deck that can give you enough guys to hold off any opposing force that looks like it might be ready to overrun you (though if they
literally Overrun you, the cats might not be enough).

While stronger against sweepers and much stronger against aggro, I think that this version of the deck is weaker to Thalia. Fortunately, Humans has dropped off in popularity. Dismember gives an out to Thalia, and in the post-board games, playing a turn four Timely before dropping a turn six Day isn’t the worst.

A quick note on the sideboard: I listed both Hero of Bladehold and Angelic Destiny as possible cards against ramp. I ended up playing Hero at my local store because I didn’t have any Destiny, but the enchantment is probably the better choice. As for the three different graveyard hate cards, there were a couple of reasons behind my thinking. For one, I wanted to try all of them and see if any one performed better than another. Secondly, each of them are slightly different in how they impact the game, and in certain situations one might be stronger. Most of the time they will serve to eliminate a target for Snapcaster Mage, Sun Titan, or Unburial Rites, but sometimes removing all copies of a card from a library is the most relevant thing you can do, while other times getting rid of the graveyard is more effective. The hope is that you draw the best card for the situation at the right time, but most of the time it won’t matter which one you have.

I took this deck through the hellfire gauntlet known as Thursday Night Magic at Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York City, at which a player can expect to face anything from top tier strategies to crazy homebrews piloted by players who range in skill from Pro Tour attendees to total scrubs. As such, this isn’t exactly grinding games against the best decks in the field to give you results, but the four rounds here will give you some idea of what the deck can do.

The first round I played against a four color Control/Reanimator deck, which is to say that it wasn’t Frites, since Frites runs mostly Green and no counter spells or wrath effects. I won the first game handily, then lost the second when Ratchet Bombs cleared out my early threats, and everything I had in the late game was countered. I could have easily won the third game, but I didn’t hit a black source and ended up running out of pressure and dying with three Lingering Souls in the graveyard. This made me think that the mana-base might need to be slightly revised.

In round two I dispatched UB Zombies. Batterskull, Day of Judgment, and Timely Reinforcements proved too much to handle. Where, with Daugherty’s deck, aggro mirrors were a difficult-to-win grind, being able to play as the control deck made this matchup a breeze.

Round three was an incredibly long and drawn out match against UB Control. Shrine of Loyal Legions is the best card here, since they don’t have any way to deal with it (outside of maybe Karn), and you can sit on it until you’re able to one-shot them. Batterskull also proved useful in the second game. My opponent had a Curse of Death’s Hold in play, and I was stuck with a bunch of token makers in my hand, but no anthems. Being able to return the Batterskull to my hand and replay it as a way to generate a continuous threat (that he kept killing) bought me time to draw the O-Ring that eventually let me run out all of my spirits and townsfolk. However, I should say that this match-up isn’t favorable. UB most often folds to fast decks, and this version of tokens is slower, so it can be hard to put pressure on the opponent, giving the UB player more time to draw outs.

Round four I played against Esper Spirits. I won an uneventful game one, but the second game was more of a grind. My opponent played a ton of Drogskol Captains and Phantasmal Images, giving him
four 5/5 fliers. Batterskull kept me in the game, as I was able to equip it to a Spirit Token and smash in repeatedly to keep my life total high and have a blocker large enough to trade with a lord. For several turns, my opponent could have ripped Vapor Snag to kill me, but it didn’t happen, and I eventually won the race when he had to start trading his lords to stay alive.

So I ended the night 3-1, which is respectable. I mean, if I did that on Magic Online, I’d have my list posted on the main site, right? But really what’s important when playing any deck is what you learn and how you adjust.

BW Tokens by Josh Harris (Reprise)

As I said before, the mana-base was an issue, and I lost a match that I could have pulled out due to having no black mana sources. In one of the games against UB Control, I suffered a similar problem, and didn’t have black for a large part of the game. As such I’ve increased the number of Swamps and added an Evolving Wilds to hopefully help with this problem. It’s possible that running four Wilds is correct, since the deck doesn’t have a turn one play anyway (outside of Dismember on an opposing one-drop). However, after turn one I want my lands to come into play untapped as much as possible, so I would rather not risk slowing my deck down by running the legal limit. I am considering going back down to two Wilds and adding a Shimmering Grotto, but I need to see if the Wilds has a real negative impact first.

Given the rise in popularity of UB Control, I have decided to cut the Day of Judgment to a singleton in the main. It gives you an out when you’re being overwhelmed by aggro decks, but you should still be able to get there with your spot removal and tokens. Spot removal is also generally more efficient against Ramp and Reanimator strategies, and the added Oblivion Ring in the main helps you against Curses and other troublesome, non-creature things.

The second Day of Judgment is in the sideboard for use against other aggro decks. I’ve also added a Sorin Markov to the board for the UB match-up, since that deck generally has a hard time dealing with a resolved walker. This may be greedy, and perhaps triple black is a lot to ask for from the mana-base, but I think it’s worth testing. Playing a third Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or an Elspeth Tirel is another option. However, I feel that both are not great against control, and they don’t do anything if your opponent has a Curse and you don’t have anthems. I would try Karn if I was going to play another walker. Karn and Markov both provide alternate lines of attack that control won’t be ready for in the postboard games. This is similar to how Costa ran a Jace in his board with Delver.

Of note, I cut the Nihil Spellbomb for a second Purify the Grave. I never drew the Spellbomb, but Purify was great for me, so I’m going with two. I think all of the graveyard hate cards are good at
what they do, so the choice is ultimately up to you. Grafdigger’s Cage is an option that I may have overlooked, so if you like that card you should try it out. I also slotted a Doom Blade into the sideboard, which is mainly against the Ramp and Reanimator decks, where spot removal is the most efficient way to handle their threats. It can also come in for Go for the Throat against Tempered Steel if you happen to run into that.

Now, the big question about this deck: Is it worth playing? It isn’t great against every match-up, but I think it occupies a niche area of being strong against aggro decks (which will likely see a resurgence as a way to beat UB Control) as well as resilient against Control. Ramp decks have a similarly favorable match-up against aggro, but are weak to the control decks. This may push them a bit more out of the meta and give this deck a better chance at success. I also happen to think it’s fun to play, if that happens to be a determinate factor in the way that you choose decks.

I will continue to play with and evolve this deck until Avacyn Restored comes out, at which point I’ll have to reevaluate things. There are not too many serious upcoming Standard tournaments that I know of or plan to compete in, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to bring this to something larger than an FNM. If you want to hear more about this deck as I continue to tweak it, let me know in the comments, and I can try to write future articles about it.

Until next time, keep it rockin’ in the free world!

Josh Harris

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