Sunday, September 9, 2012

Webber Tokens – Token Decks in a Shifting Standard Metagame

Have you ever cast Storm Herd?

Concede?  Neigh-ver!
If you ever have, either in casual or Commander, you know how awesome it feels.  Flood the board with 18, 67, or 900 1/1 Pegasus tokens!  Set yourself up for an awesome attack, an impregnable defense or a Wrath-ed blowout!  This risk, this overextension of immense swarming numbers, is part of the main drive to play a token deck.  In my opinion, token decks are their most fun when you’ve run out of table space, or you’re reduced to representing them with dice or ripped up slips of score paper.  Token decks are all about quantity over quality, and the risk of playing into blowouts like Day of Judgment, Bonfire of the Damned or Devastation Tide seem to be justified with the speed, consistency and meta-attacking power of the token archetype. 

For today’s deck, I was pondering over a recently-traded-for set of Lingering Souls in my binder.  Most people that have been keeping up with Standard over the last few months know that, earlier this year, B/W Tokens was a legitimate deck, seeing the top tables frequently and providing powerful and inevitable consistency while squashing the Delver monster with just half of this card.  Lingering Souls is still a great card, but it’s put on different hats, either as two (or four, if you can) chump blockers or evasive attackers as opposed to the efficient engine of the B/W Token machine.  Graveyard decks use it, control uses it, and most any other deck that can play both halves will sleeve it up, too.  It’s the most expensive uncommon from its set, and its flexibility and presence even in Eternal formats signifies its place among the most flexible of Standard’s sorceries. 

I considered resurrecting an aggro deck that orbited Lingering Souls, but I wanted to take it a different direction than just B/W.  I considered other token producers in Standard as well as synergetic cards and their colors.  Tokens were mostly supported by white, but black and red each provided complementary cards.  R/W Humans was a thing for a while, and combined with more token producers and buffing effects, this deck could take on a bit more of a midrange model of attack.  In an attempt to orchestrate the three-color wedge, I finally came to a first draft of this deck.

Webber Tokens

Creatures (14)

3 Champion of the Parish
2 Kruin Striker
1 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Thraben Doomsayer
2 Hellrider
2 Angel of Jubilation
2 Geist-Honored Monk

Spells (23)

4 Gather the Townsfolk
3 Krenko’s Command
3 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Fervor
2 Brimstone Volley
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Lands (23)

4 Clifftop Retreat
3 Isolated Chapel
1 Dragonskull Summit
6 Plains
3 Mountain
2 Swamp
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Slayer’s Stronghold
1 Vault of the Archangel

Sideboard (15)

2 Smelt
3 Celestial Purge
3 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Safe Passage
4 Gut Shot

Deck Tech – Creatures

Champion of the Parish

I'd rather play Soul Warden, honestly.
The Champion is an unusual choice for the token deck where the tokens aren’t all Humans.  That being said, most of the creatures in this deck are Humans, one makes Humans, and a full set of Gather the Townsfolk makes him a little more interesting than, say, Doomed Traveler, the go-to one-drop for Standard white token decks.  He can quickly move out of range of burn and has a shot at surviving a Bonfire, plus I just think he’s a lot more of a threat than the Traveler, who is just a 1/1 that turns into another 1/1.  I wanted to be all in on the plan, and he really was the best one drop I could think of. 

Kruin Striker

Akoum Battlesinger, is that you?
I loved Akoum Battlesinger when he was legal.  The Striker feels very similar to her, and the added benefit of trample means that something’s going to hit.  A cast and flashbacked Souls will make this a Ball Lightning.  Like the Champion, you don’t have to work to make this guy powerful.  Just cast your spells.  A very aggressive card, this guy rarely saw play outside of the atrocity that was R/W Humans in AVR Limited, and here’s a chance for him to be a more fair and balanced contributor. 

Skirsdag High Priest

Oh, your Searing Spear doesn't exile?
The High Priest, while synergetically a Human and cheap enough to not disrupt the curve, makes combat very difficult for the opponent.  Either the opponent takes all the damage or they block and kill one of my shrimpy tokens and suffer bringing a 5/5 beater into play.  All of my token producing spells produce the two creatures the High Priest needs, so if this is out, your opponent will have to make a tough choice if he decides to block.  Not to mention, with Intangible Virtue, the High Priest can use your attacking fellows to make a dude without sacrificing combat pressure.

Thraben Doomsayer

“Citizens of Thraben!  If we continue on our path of aggression, a Day of Judgment will soon be on upon us!”
The Doomsayer is a nice catchall, providing a nice, flexible role.  Obviously a good and repeatable token producer, he also provides a Human body and, in a racing situation, he can morph your tiny squad of pingers into a mighty battalion of warriors.  More than two seemed excessive, and they seem on curve and synergetic enough to merit inclusion.


“Behind an empty board swings a Hellrider for four.” – Grovthus, demon poet
The Hellrider puts teeth on your tokens.  Spending turns two and three making tokens then casting this on turn four might just kill your opponent or leave them mangled beyond repair.  It can also shred a planeswalker without using your combat damage step, which isn’t irrelevant in a deck without much burn.  This is a very intimidating weapon with a lot of tokens, and by himself, he’s outstanding too.  His $2.00 price tag belies the power of this little devil in the right deck.

Angel of Jubilation
Best art in the set.
This beautiful Angel is the flagship of the deck.  Although the mana cost can be pretty steep, she helps so much.  She pumps my squad, she is herself evasive, and she shuts down a large chunk of many opposing decks.  She can’t be Dismembered, your guys can’t be Gut Shotted, Falkenrath Aristocrat cannot protect herself, Birthing Pod becomes a four mana brick, and Mono-Green Infect just crumples.  She is at her strongest right now, as Pod and Phyrexian mana spells sit at their peak of power.  Resolving her feels awesome in this deck, and every turn she sticks around, she presses victory.

Geist-Honored Monk

Cloudgoat Monk.
At the top of the curve, the Monk provides a simple service, adding to the token field and maintaining a kickin’ bod.  Resistant to removal (as you basically just Midnight Haunting’ed if she dies,) she provides a powerful single beater for the deck or a powerful defender against massive ground pounders.  With any haste provider, she can finish the game all by her onesie.  You get a lot for what you pay. 


Token Producers and Supporters – Gather the Townsfolk, Krenko’s Command, Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue

Each of the three producers provides the front line of this deck.  Krenko’s Commands are essentially Gathers 5-7, and Lingering Souls are just amazingly efficient, counter resistant producers.  The Virtues’ role is obvious.  Nothing you’re not expecting here, so let’s move along…

Removal Suite – Oblivion Ring and Brimstone Volley

A light five spells make up the entire removal of this deck.  That’s not very much, I’d only ever encounter one or two a game on average.  Frankly, though, part of removal’s job for an aggro deck is to press aggression as opposed to dealing with a threat.  That’s why Vapor Snag is so good in Delver matchups.  When I’m playing tokens, though, I bypass their removal through sheer numbers, not force.  I don’t really need to bounce or kill their team, as most of the time, I can have more than enough attackers and more than enough blockers.  Oblivion Ring is there for those gotta-answer problems, like an oppressive enchantment, planeswalker or artifact.  Most of the time the creatures won’t be the problem.   I don’t mind their creatures, as it provides a disincentive for global Wrath effects.  The ring is elegant, flexible, and on-time removal when I need it.  Brimstone Volley serves a dual purpose, either as a finisher or as an answer to a powerful creature.  Tokens tend to get themselves smitten here and there, and this simple instant can take a quarter of their life for three mana.  If the pressure is on, it can just flat finish the job.  Brimstone Volley has a good home here.


The Rural Juror's Urban Fervor. 
This card signals I’m going elbow deep.  Truthfully, though, as with many aggressive decks, haste is always a welcome static ability.  With the sorcery nature of this deck, giving my creatures a bit of “instant” quality goes a long way.  Casting a Kruin Striker and a token producer and bashing with all of it is a huge game.  Resolving a Geist Honored Monk on an empty board hits just as hard as a Thundermaw Hellkite and is harder to completely block.  I wanted to draw it, but never more than one per game (even if it got destroyed), so I settled on two.  Having this out means your opponent is going to want to be ready for a veritable charge of hasty tokens.  With a Virtue out, combat will nearly always be in your favor.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

The Man in Black…and white.
The redeemed vampire provides the same support here that he did in the old B/W archetype.  I’m splashing black for a couple other cards, so he seems like a fine inclusion.  All of his abilities are relevant in this deck, adding to the token swarm, pumping all tokens forever, or selectively eliminating my opponents’ problem threats.  The menagerie of tokens I create means he’ll rarely tick down unless I tell him to, meaning his ultimate is in legitimate range.    

Mana Base

This was the hardest part of creating this deck.  Having three colors each play major roles was a challenge, so I had to make sure I provided the right balance.  White was clearly the main color, with red right behind and black in the rear.  Thus, most lands, in one way or another, produce white, many produce red and some produce black.  Hitting it all at the right point would be a challenge, too.  I only had room for two non-colored lands, and each was powerful enough to be OK.  The Stronghold could turn any freshly played token or creature into a solid attacker and blocker, and the Vault makes a deadly defense or a potent, life-swinging attack force. 


The sideboard was surprisingly easy to craft once I knew what I wanted to do with this deck.  Smelts are nice, cheap and narrow answers for the many artifacts that plague Standard tables.  Celestial Purge is a ruthlessly efficient choice for dealing with the R/B Zombie squad as well as tricky black planeswalkers or enchantments, like Liliana of the Dark Realms or Curse of Death’s Hold.  Bonfires belong in the board for a mirror match or some other quantity-based creature deck; the deck’s mana is tricky enough that I don’t think it’s the best thing I can do on my turn, and being three colors with fairly limited fixing makes it even harder to cast on the Miracle.  Safe Passage is a great anti-Bonfire card, and it helps make racing easier, preventing a big attack from a two-color aggro deck, and it can blank a Mono Green Infect attack that goes for the throat.  It provides a nice blowout opportunity, so I gladly support this classic inclusion.  Gut Shots make up the only sideboard playset, mainly for all the usual targets: mana dorks, Infect creatures, unflipped Delvers and Snapcaster Mages.

It took me a while to tweak this deck like I wanted it, but after settling on the spell counts, the mana base, and the sideboard, I played it this past Tuesday at Something2Do’s Standard tournament.  After I pulled out all of the token cards I had for the corresponding creature types, I was ready to roll!

Round 1 – Dalton (B/R Midrange)

Dalton and I shuffled up and had some pleasant chit-chat; he’s a fairly new player, freshly inducted earlier this year after Dark Ascension.  With a friendly handshake, we started up.

I got a fairly piddly start, having to mulligan to six and making the occasional duo of tokens.  On time, he resolved a Stuffy Doll.  Immediately I started counting creatures to see how much Blasphemous Act would cost, eyeing my life total of 15.  If he had the Act, he’d just smash me.  I dropped an Intangible Virtue for my Lingering tokens and kept my ground guys back.  I waited for the inevitable Blasphemous Act, but it never surfaced and I took game 1.  In game 2, he had land trouble and my mana base sung sweet nothings in my ear.  I curved very nicely and smashed with 8 power of Souls for three unanswered turns.


Round 2 – Josh (U/B Tezzeret Post)

Josh, an experienced and confident player, kept me guessing about his deck type.  Keeping a snap six, I was ready to go.  Game 1 involved a bit of Ichor Wellspring on his side and some tokens for me.  He eventually cast Wurmcoil Engine and, unable to find an Oblivion Ring, he killed me while sitting at a healthy 30+ life.  In game 2, I decided to really go on the offensive, getting sideways about every turn in the hopes he wouldn’t draw what he needed.  Although Ratchet Bombs and Curse of Death’s Hold dispatched my tokens, a pair of Hellriders were impossible to stop, launching us into game three.  In the final game, I boarded in all my Purges (which I hadn’t included, seeing no black or red permanents in game 1).  I played Bonfires too, thinking burn might be the only way to get him for those last few points.  With Fervor down, I was getting aggressive quickly, but he animated an Ichor Wellspring with Tezzeret’s -1 and plugged me down at 5-point intervals.  Although we were racing, I was losing.  As I landed at 5 life, I thought carefully about casting my Thraben Doomsayer, who could not only tap right away with Fervor, but was online with Fateful Hour.  He had too much on defense, so I couldn’t swing for lethal, so I just sat back.  He untapped and cast Black Sun Zenith for two, smiting my Doomsayer and each token without killing his offense.  I frowned and extended the hand.


A good match, and one I would have had a fair amount of difficulty beating.  Ratchet Bomb being recurred with Trading Post was a tough glass to chew. 

Round 3 – Greg (B/W Zombie Angels)

Greg, a focused and experienced player as well, shuffled up his stack quickly as we each hoped to avoid an X-2 finish.  He got an exceptionally aggressive start, going Gravecrawler into Diregraf Ghoul/Gravecrawler on turn 2, followed by a pair of Geralf’s Messengers.  I was floored by turn 4.  Game two brought in Bonfires and Purges.  I had a team of Townsfolk ready to block his Gravecrawler on turn 2.  Celestial Purge in my hand made me feel secure.  He had four mana and only a freshly cast Messenger out and I topdecked a Bonfire.  As I didn’t have Pillars or anything of the sort, I figured I’d cast it now with the Purge sitting in my hand.  His Messenger un-died, and he untapped, resolving and equipping a sideboarded Sword of War and Peace.  I literally could not have made a worse play if I tried.  Two turns later, I was dead from a 6/5 unblockable, untargetable monster.


That was a terrible decision on my part, and it’s proof of the danger of playing with miracles; you feel like you have to cast them on the miracle to get value, but that is not the case; in fact, it’s not the case most of the time. 

Round 4 – Dakota (Frites)

Although now out of prize contention, I still had time for one more match.  Dakota was in the same position as me; a 1-2 playing the last match for fun.  Still kicking myself for my misplay (Greg and my casual match afterward saw me beat the B/W Zombie deck time and time again), Dakota and I shuffled up for our first game.  I got a nice, aggressive start and was able to put him away no-nonsense within a few turns as he dug for an Elesh Norn.  In game two, he seemed to side in more creatures, and the plethora of mana dorks garnered inclusion of all four Gut Shots.  He had a tougher time finding what he needed, and, after I smacked away a Solemn Simulacrum, I double Gut-Shotted away his only remaining one and crashed in for the match. 


MVP:  Hellrider

This card pulled a massive amount of pressure with it.  Haste and a couple tokens mean you’re probably taking a third of their life at a whack, and they weren’t even expecting it!

Sideboard MVP: Celestial Purge

Every deck I played had black cards in it, and this card is an excellent answer to each of them.  If only I knew when to cast it…

LVP:  The Mana Base and Krenko’s Command

The mana base turned out to be my biggest opponent.  The deck was far too greedy to reliably support three colors at a moment’s notice.  I found myself using Evolving Wilds for white, my most included color, just because of its overbearing weight.  In a couple games, a binned Lingering Souls or Sorin in-hand sat idle, waiting for me to hit that black source.  Krenko’s Command was more of the same, and in nearly every match I sideboarded it out first thing; I had eleven (that’s including Souls twice) token-producing sorceries, so I just didn’t need #12-14. 

Sideboard LVP: Bonfire of the Damned

This card can buy you a brand new computer game, a fancy dinner for two plus tip or, roughly, a full tank of gas, but it can’t buy wins.  Bonfire has been the underperformer in each of my decks in which it’s played over the last little while, mainly because of its intense mana commitment and its proclivity to overextension.  Only in certain matchups does ripping a Bonfire even matter, and most of the time I’d have the game anyway.  I may have just played bad matchups for it that night, but I would remove it while a third color still remains in any capacity. 

I wasn’t too pleased with the deck’s performance, as it was weak to a lot of things, and I rarely had the sick blowout plays I was hoping for.  The grass is always greener, I guess.  Still, I don’t think this deck is DOA, I just think it’s too unfocused.  Red and White were by far the strongest colors, and I could just splash a black source or two for the Souls flashbacks (as that was by far the most awesome use for a black mana in this deck). 

I rebuilt the maindeck that night with a much narrower, Boros-colored shell.


-1 Skirsdag High Priest
-2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
-1 Dragonskull Summit
-1 Vault of the Archangel
-1 Swamp
-1 Plains


+1 Kruin Striker
+1 Oblivion Ring
+1 Brimstone Volley
+2 Chandra the Firebrand
+1 Mountain
+1 Evolving Wilds

I like Chandra better here because she’s easier to cast, she can double up your token production, remove silly blockers, and she can ramp up a Brimstone Volley for half your opponent’s life total so you can just win out of nowhere.  More of the good stuff, less of the black.  A third Evolving Wilds is fine, as I only have the Champion to cast on turn one, so I can survey my hand and plan ahead.  In playtesting, the deck plays much more smoothly, but I’m not sure if it’s better yet.

In the end, I know the deck’s concept could be supported by Ravnica’s land fixing, but I’d be waiting for Gatecrash for two-thirds of it, and, more importantly, I’m not sure the deck (or the pilot) is that good right now.  This deck survives completely intact, minus sideboard, so that’s something.  For the rest of the format pre-rotation, though, I’ll be running a deck that will nearly completely rotate, at least functionally.  I might highlight in a couple weeks if I get a chance to play it in a tournament before rotation.

Next week, I’ll hope to provide you something special in regards to our return to Ravnica, and beyond that, it’ll be time to preview the best cards for Limited and Constructed from RTR. 

Until then, don’t forget to untap! 
- Matt H

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