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Defending Nationals with Tokens


Hello everyone and welcome back! While you are reading this, I’ll be on my way to Richmond for US Nationals. I won the last one back in 2011 and now I’m going to go defend my title. Honestly, if this wasn’t Nationals, I wouldn’t bother going. Mostly because I have an SCG Modern Open in my backyard that same weekend and, unlike past US Nationals, this one has a hefty entry fee. I haven’t been traveling as much, but this tournament is going to get me moving. If you’ve kept up with my past articles, you’ll know I’ve been high on token strategies and Search for Azcanta. I really do believe tokens will be the next break out deck and we have many ways to build it. On top of that, I was a bit worried a pro would take it to the World Championship, but nobody did. The deck has been subtly rising in popularity but it hasn’t won anything yet. Temur has still been putting up better results from what we’ve seen. This means that tokens are still a solid deck to take to a Standard tournament if you want to be a little under the radar while also having a deck that is good against the majority of the metagame.

The Pros to Playing Tokens

  • Not many people are packing enchantment hate yet, and if they are, it’s not much. To be fair, though, they really don’t have a reason to. Again, the token deck hasn’t won anything, so people have no reason to jam four hate cards for that matchup. This is a benefit, especially since people don’t know what the correct list even looks like.

The Scarab God

  • Abzan Tokens has a solid matchup against the field. It has a favorable matchup against Ramunap Red and Temur. Its worst matchup is Approach of the Second Sun, but that deck has been more and more on the decline. This obviously makes decks like this more appealing. Esper Tokens is another way to go and that version has no awful matchup. Duress and Negate is a great plan against the Approach decks, one that Abzan Tokens doesn’t have access to (Negate.) Esper also picks up access to The Scarab God. I’ve heard that card is pretty good right now.
  • Speaking of the The Scarab God, token decks are very good against the best threat in Standard. The Scarab God can’t bring back tokens that die and that is most of your threats. You know what else isn’t amazing against tokens? Hostage Taker. Having a deck that neuters the best threat in Standard is a solid place to be.
  • Tokens also functions similarly to a combo deck. Once you have an active Anointed Procession and Hidden Stockpile it gets harder and harder for the opponent to win. Add on more Hidden Stockpiles or Anointed Processions and you’ll start burying your opponent in card advantage.
  • There is no Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in this format, so it’s very hard for other decks to go over you. In my mind, this is what allows this deck to become Tier one; we don’t have an established ramp deck in the format.

The Cons to Playing Tokens

  • The deck can be glacially slow. This isn’t only bad against decks like Approach of the Second Sun, but it’s also bad against the clock. If you’re playing too slow, you’ll go to time.
  • The deck has a ton of triggers that you won’t want to miss. This means picking up the deck without any reps will backfire. While this is typically true of any given deck, it’s especially true here.
  • Your draws sometimes just won’t line up and you’ll feel like you’re doing nothing. This is especially true for the non-Blue versions because you won’t even be able to discard cards that may be dead in the matchup, like Fatal Push against control decks.
  • Fliers and Planeswalkers. These two things are a nightmare for token decks. Sometimes you can race the flying creatures by gaining a ton of life but an early Planeswalker will often spell death, especially since some lists don’t have many ways to deal with a resolved Planeswalker outside of just attacking it.

Now let’s look at some lists. These were all in the top eight of the PTQ that took place on October 8th. So, this strategy is obviously picking up steam.

This list is extremely similar to the one that I had in my article last week. Which means I was on to something at the very least. The deck is very well positioned against Red and Temur. Even control decks will struggle in beating some of your resolved enchantments. Abzan tokens suffers more in that department of getting awkward draws than Esper Tokens but it’s not all downside. Abzan Tokens is more streamlined and just has a ton of answers and threats instead of versatility and dig. It also has a better mana base overall since it just splashes a tiny bit of Green so it can play Vraska, Relic Seeker. Let me tell you, Vraska is extremely solid against the mirror match. Blowing up things like Anointed Procession, Cast Out, and Hidden Stockpile over and over will quickly win you the game by putting you so far ahead.

This deck got second place for a reason, the streamlined raw power it provides when you draw the right pieces is undeniable. Let’s have a look at Abzan’s cousin that has recently been popping up, Esper Tokens. We had two very different lists top eight this PTQ.

Both of these lists are Esper, and by adding Blue it allows them to play things like Champion of Wits to filter their hand. The Esper version of the deck has better draws overall, especially since it can pitch dead cards. One version played Crested Sunmare and the other played The Scarab God. In fact, both lists do similar things but are so different. This speaks volumes about the token deck in general but especially Esper Tokens. The fact that they can be so drastically different yet still do well.

I like what they are trying to do and both get ideas flowing. I do favor The Scarab God over Crested Sunmare and I’m not a huge fan of Jace, Cunning Castaway, especially as a four off. I also like Fumigate, I think it’s one of the bigger draws to this deck, the fact that you can cast Fumigate and be back into the game so easily. I’m not sold on Treasure Map completely though it is fantastic in the mirror.

Considering both these lists, I built an Esper variant on Magic Online and played for the first time in years. The program isn’t all rainbows and sunshine but it is honestly one of the best tools to get better at the game and to tune a deck. I ended up going 5-0 in this league and only dropped a single game. By the time this article comes up it may make the 5-0 decklists on Magic Online but in case it doesn’t, this is where I’m at now with the deck.

Here you have it, the deck I’m on for Nationals or at least something very close to this. If I change anything it will only be a few cards. I’ve really liked what this list is trying to do, Search for Azcanta doesn’t get activated much unless the game goes super long but just having a Rampant Growth esque card in a non-Green deck is good enough. Filling the graveyard with Champion of Wits or Sacred Cats is fine, so is filtering your draws. The deck only runs twenty-four lands and Search for Azcanta smooths it all out.

Ixalan's Binding can be something else like Vraska's Contempt or Cast Out but as a singleton, I like the power that Ixalan's Binding can give us. Hitting opposing Cast Outs, Glorybringers, Chandras, or even Torrential Gearhulks / The Scarab God is powerful. Them not being able to play other copies is important because this deck is grindy and you’ll both typically go through a lot of cards if the game is going the way you want it to go.

This deck is fun to play, it has many triggers and a ton of different things you can do every turn. You’ll want to play some games with it before taking it to an event. I try to provide my readers with what decks I legitimately think are good or at the very least, decks I’m taking to events. So, know when you’re reading this, I’m not trying to hide my “tech” and trying to get you. I’m just showing you what I think is good and what I’ll be on.

Now that I’ve got Standard solved, I’m going to need to cram in a ton of drafts and from what I’m hearing, this draft format isn’t too hot. If you got any drafting tips, give me some last-minute advice please!

Well, that’s it for today. Thank you very much for reading and I’ll catch you all next time. Good luck in whatever event you’re playing in!

Ali Aintrazi


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