Silvestri Says: G/W Tokens in Standard

Standard has been sort of boring lately, with basically everyone playing their same gray and predictable decks and hoping that Lorwyn will rotate before everyone decides to switch tournament games to Street Fighter 4 and Super Smash Brothers. Then suddenly came along G/W Tokens in a Technicolor dream coat bringing joy and some sort of uniqueness to the format. I’m not saying this is some sort of revolution for the format, but seeing G/W Tokens place in the Top 8 of both the Superstars and Star City Games 5k tournaments gives the indication that there’s some potential to be had from this overlooked archetype.

First let’s take a look at the two builds that did well:

Basil Nabi
GW Tokens

Joshua Scott Honigmann

GW Tokens

So as you can see, both decks shared a notable amount of the same cards and the overall strategy was the same. Make some tokens, get them big and then beat the opponent to death; very straightforward and linear design-wise. First, let’s see what card choices both decks agreed upon:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Spectral Procession
4 Path to Exile
4 Cloudgoat Ranger

This set of 20 cards seems to be the “core’ of the deck, 8 mana accelerants, 8 efficient token generators and 4 Path to Exile since they run white*. Past that, they still agreed on a few other cards, just coming up with different numbers involved. Both were utilizing Overrun and Ajani Goldmane as central pump spells / finishers with the deck, with Basil’s version running more copies of these than Josh’s. Overrun is the standout here, since against many decks, an Overrun cast after Spectral Procession has hit along with any other creature is usually game over for opponents without countermagic or Volcanic Fallout at the ready. Treetop Village was also in both lists for some added reach down the road, swinging in usually as a 4/4 or larger trampler.

*Because why wouldn’t you?

So we find that a general consensus of the core cards between the two decks, taking small sample size into account, are the aforementioned 20 along with some numbers of Ajani Goldmane, Overrun and 22-23 land. Now I believe the exact numbers of Overrun and Goldmane revolve around how devoted you are too overwhelming opponents’ with tokens and whether or not you decide to run Windbrisk Heights.

Regardless of the other differences in the builds, I find the Windbrisk Heights (non)inclusion to be far more important to how the deck ultimately looks than the other superficial choices. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Heights is one of the best cards in Standard and that the deck plays enough token producers to get it activated consistently. So why leave it out? After playing the deck, the best counter argument seems to be that you really don’t want to play it turn 1 over a mana accelerant if you have Procession. If you have an optimal draw, you won’t be able to actually use Heights until turn 4 at the earliest. On the other hand, with an unoptimized draw the deck can have problems with the CIPT lands competing with one another for early play. Having 7-8 lands that can’t make mana immediately can really screw up how much early pressure you can get out consistently.

The final issue is that Windbrisk is effectively useless if the opponent has means to deal with a multitude of tokens. Ultimately G/W Tokens doesn’t have an early reusable source of token generation like Bitterblossom in B/W Tokens or an early creature rush like Kithkin. Sometimes just powering out some mana accelerators and throwing Overrun down can be enough to buy some leeway, but the rest of the time if your tokens get dealt with you are left holding the bag. At this point I’m inclined to go with Windbrisk Heights, simply because any good way to getting more spells down later in the game is an A+ in my book. The deck simply runs out of gas too quickly just using the small number of token producers and pump effects. One interesting concession to that is the use of Elvish Visionary in the SCG model, giving the deck a cheap creature to be pumped down the line while cantripping toward better spells.

In summary, it’s simply consistency for hitting your drops on the early turns versus the sheer power of Windbrisk. Personally I feel for a deck like this you want to squeeze as much power as I can out of it. The deck is already at the mercy of topdecks and hitting the right cards to negate the opponent’s defenses in time for it to matter. So I’m willing to take the hit early and go with it unless testing showed that it was vastly underachieving (Spoiler: It didn’t).

So to go along with that, I definitely want the 3rd Ajani and Overrun as both are great to hit off Windbrisk and really power up how much damage my tokens do in the first place. This gives us a foundation of the following: 20 core cards, 3 Overrun, 3 Ajani Goldmane and 23 land including Treetop and Windbrisk. This base leaves us with 11 more slots to work with and it’s at this point we need to address Volcanic Fallout and the limited number of token generators / threats in the deck.

The tricky part now is figuring out what sort of additional threats we really want to run in the deck. Answers are pretty simple; the deck can support Burrenton Forge-Tender in the main if you see enough red decks and Fallout to be a notable problem while board options include Cloudthresher and Guttural Response against Faeries. So what threats are there? Stillmoon Cavalier takes a long time to really get going, isn’t great against Faeries and even heavy white decks have prepped for him with Mogg Fanatic’s invading even Kithkin decks. Chameleon Colossus is too expensive and narrow to really make an impact and the same goes for maindeck Cloudthresher. Interestingly enough there is another token generator we can run which can net three total creatures for four mana. Remember Hunting Triad?

Sure, the tokens don’t fly, but the important factor is that it’s another token generator that can be played on turn three. Now you can start to get into the number of token generators you really want to see in this type of deck, especially if we’re going with the Overrun and Ajani Goldmane plan. Martial Coup is similar in nature, but the fact that you are paying effectively one more mana than any other token generator for the same number of guys is a significant downside. Sure, it becomes really strong in long drawn out games and destroys the B/W version of the deck. Give it a medal or something and stick it into the sideboard. Kick in Elspeth for some additional token generators and pumping effects and I’d dare say we have a deck.

Elspeth GW Tokens

Now the sideboard obviously isn’t very good, because I’m not 100% on what matches will need to be fixed exactly. So until we get some concrete testing done we’ll go with generally good things like, ‘anti-Fae, anti-Tokens, anti-Planeswalker, etc’.

Since the MODO Championship Qualifier season has just begun, I decided to run this version of the deck through five 8-man queues to get an idea of how it ran and some real data on here. I won’t bore you with the details, rather just the raw data I gathered.

Matches won – 8 (1-1, 0-1, 3-0, 3-0, 1-1)

Mulligans taken in seven games, two of which went down to five

Deck VS record:

Fae – 3-2

RDW – 2-0

5cc – 0-2

Doran – 1-0

EsperLark– 1-0

Opening hand-wise, the deck was a little weaker than I had anticipated, often getting hands of lands and mana accelerators with nothing worth accelerating into. Others had the distinct problem of having a distinct lack of white sources which kept early Spectral Procession from becoming a threat. Otherwise the results were pretty clear. Faeries would sometimes just get steamrolled by an onslaught of tokens and pump effects, while if they could stay close to me until about turn six the game swung drastically in their favor. Often I would only win the close games due to my opponent’s not anticipating how much damage I could deal in a single turn.

Red Deck Loses just had no shot against maindeck Forge-Tenders and the ability to consistently make my guys large with Ajani Goldmane. Multiple Fallout into Siege-Gang Commander was the only way red could come close to beating me and post-board the Finks took care of part of that issue.

Five-color largely stomped on me because I would mulligan, they would sweep the board and then I’d have one notable threat left to throw down with. Needless to say, it wasn’t difficult for them to usually muster up another sweeper or Broken Ambitions to stop me. In one close game, my opponent simply chained Cryptic Command to keep my damage level in check and got multiple Broodmate Dragons down to simply outclass my forces. This is the match that will likely require the most attention in the future, even though the games were helped in their favor by mulligan issues.

The 8-mans I won were largely me just being able to control the combat step and the stack and simply run my opponents over. Decks relying on spot removal or large creatures playing as defenders simply can’t stop a horde of tokens when back by Overrun or multiple turns of Ajani Goldmane usage. It doesn’t really surprise me decks like RDW or Doran simply can’t stop me from playing my game and essentially goldfishing them while dealing with one problem card on occasion.

So despite winning two 8-mans, I really want the deck to lean toward more consistency and have a bit more game against 5c control. Elspeth served me well, giving me reusable tokens in the face of sweepers and doing a much better job against controlling decks than Hunting Triad was. Against other aggro Triad was slightly more effective, but I think the 4th Elspeth might just be better, legend rule be damned. Elvish Visionary was another standout, often times the cantrip effect plus body would put me much closer to getting a full board than any non-Cloudgoat Ranger card in the deck. Treetop Village was overall a large disappointment as I only used it against 5c, but made life awkward for me in every other match. It might be better as another Forest or two along with a singleton Exotic Orchard or Reflecting Pool. I also highly question the red splash concept since this deck has a really fragile color-fixing strategy if the one-drops are killed off; as they often are when the sweepers start hitting the board.

Well that’s all for this week, I’ll continue working on the deck over the next week or so as it’s probably the most fun I’ve had with Standard in quite a while. Plus winning two 8-mans isn’t horrific, as the Qualifier Point system only rewards winning the whole shebang instead of consistently coming in 2nd.

Josh Silvestri

Team Reflection

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom


2 thoughts on “Silvestri Says: G/W Tokens in Standard”

  1. I have been running BW tokens for a long time in standard and I have found the matchup against this deck very difficult. While most other tokens v tokens matchups (whether its BW or RW) come down to who can make and keep there guys bigger (with ajani or glorius anthem), this matchup is completely different. I can go bitterblossom, spectral, glorious anthem, cloudgoat. Then just all of a sudden lose to overrun. Because of this i find myself having to race, or get rid of the overrun, which sculler can’t do if it’s underneath a windbrisk heights :(.

    How many games did you win with a overrun off a heights? Were you able to do that with any consistency?

  2. Why not, instead of Hunting Triad, play Wilt-Leaf Liege? It seems like just a better version of Glorious Anthem that punishes a Cruel Ultimatum or Blightning, is bigger than just about everything that it can tangle with on the ground, and is sick off of Windbrisk Heights. It is always going to take more than one Anthem effect to keep your guys alive against Volcanic Fallout, anyway, and this guy requires them to Fallout twice or Wrath of God to deal with him alone.

    As another addition, Kitchen Finks allows for some Wrath/Fallout insurance and keeps the life totals in your favor. Alongside Ajani Goldmane, they get out of hand, and with Liege, they almost double in size.

    It is unfortunate that this deck cannot play Gaddock Teeg; he just turns every spell in the deck off. Strange how one disruptive little hobbit can be so good in one deck (Dark Bant) but so bad in another. Perhaps the disruption that he offers may outweigh his strengths, but it is not likely. An unfortunate exclusion, in my opinion, but a necessary one if the deck is not to be changed. He is so good with Liege in play, too. Darn.

    I don’t like Overrun now that people know about it. It seems to me that a long-range plan would be more logical since your opponent will (provided they research) be looking for it. Perhaps Garuuk, Wildspeaker? He is, after all, a GG Overrun with Suspend 1 if that is what you need, or he is a token-churning, face-chomping, card-advantage machine otherwise. Not to mention, he does negate some of the drawback to running 4x Path to Exile in the main deck. Also, he accelerates into absurd Martial Coups.

    Let us not forget that Spectral Procession, while nutty for three mana can be played for four (on turn 3, the same spot everyone else plays it). The stuffing of the deck with white sources might be the knee-jerk reaction, but isn’t feasible with eight Birds of Paradise. Besides, Wooded Bastion and Brushland (not to mention the eight one-drops) provide abundant white mana if need be.

    Speaking of mana, I hate Treetop Village here. This deck wants to have an untapped green source on turn one whenever possible, and I worry that the four Windbrisk Heights may be too much without playtesting. Yes, in the late game, Treetop is a godsend, but then again, does this deck really intend on winning should the game go that far? I argue that the deck wants to have as much fresh mana every turn as it can get its grubby little hands on (pun unintended), and Treetop just slows that plan down. I know how many hands Dark Bant (or straight UGW Bant, for that matter) has to pitch because of the unwanted Village in the opening, and I forsee the same issue arising here. Then again, I might just be dead wrong. He might be insane. How about we split the difference? One luck-sack copy.

    Here is the list that I would use if I had to PTQ or Regionals it up tomorrow and was left with this deck as my only option:

    4 Wooded Bastion
    4 Brushland
    2 Reflecting Pool
    4 Windbrisk Heights
    1 Plains
    7 Forest
    1 Treetop Village

    4 Noble Hierarch
    4 Birds of Paradise
    4 Cloudgoat Ranger
    4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
    4 Kitchen Finks

    4 Spectral Procession
    2 Ajani Goldmane
    1 Elspeth, Knight Errant
    3 Garruk, Wildspeaker
    3 Martial Coup
    4 Path to Exile

    4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
    1 Ajani Goldmane
    1 Elspeth, Knight Errant
    3 Cloudthresher
    3 Naturalize (or Celestial Purge, whichever… Both kill Bitterblossom)
    2 Ranger of Eos
    1 Rhys, the Redeemed

    Without testing, I can’t say for sure whether or not the Elspeth in the main and the Ajani in the board need to swap places, but it feels right to have the singleton Elspeth. Since the only card that this deck is obviously afraid of is Volcanic Fallout, there are four Forge-Tenders and two Ranger of Eos in the sideboard to help with the card disadvantage created when your opponent plays the spell.

    Martial Coup just seems like the silliest card of all time in this deck. Against a non-red player (meaning there are no Fallouts), turn one Bird into Garuuk followed up by a turn four Coup for five has “game over” written all over it. (It’s exactly twenty.)

    I will throw this together and bash it up against some stuff, for sure. I doubt its resiliency against some of the matchups in Standard, but it should be interesting.

    All that said, I feel like some of the card decisions made by both the original deckbuilders and those who have edited the lists afterward seem forced. It is almost as if the people who play the deck are more concerned with playing pet cards instead of the best available option (Overrun instead of Garuuk, for example). Maybe even I am a little guilty myself; the Ajani Goldmanes might ought to be Glorious Anthem instead, since it fits the ramping curve more efficiently (there are sooo many things this deck wants to do on turn four). I think this archetype has some real teeth in Standard, provided the chaff gets whittled down (note: I have yet to whittle some chaff) and replaced by efficient, elegant cards.

    The real questions I have about this deck are as follows: Does it beat Faeries? Does it beat Five Color? What does it do that no other deck does?

    The records show that it does not beat Five Color, goes 50/50 against Faeries, and many other decks do what this deck does better. it is clearly not the best Spectral Procession/Windbrisk Heights deck out there; that honor belongs to B/W tokens (or Kithkin, arguably). It certainly isn’t the best Noble Hierarch/Birds of Paradise deck; Dark Bant has a far better clock and better disruption with Tidehollow Sculler, Gaddock Teeg, and Thoughtsieze. I even wonder whether it is the best base-green deck, either, since the return of B/G/W Doran decks with Profane Command and Chameleon Colossus. The real strength of this deck was that no one saw it coming, and now that it is known, it’s capacity for greatness has diminished somewhat.

    Who knows? Maybe it does just enough of everything, plays enough of the best cards (once chaff-whittling has commenced) and attacks at enough angles that it might be hard to stop. Time will tell, as will Alara Reborn.

    -Memphis Dave.

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