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A Token Commander


“Tap Gaea's Cradle for 65 mana, use Kamahl, Fist of Krosa to Overrun thirteen times, attack you with all sixty Elf tokens for . . . 2,400 damage.”

Tokens is a popular and diverse archetype in Commander. From Teysa, Orzhov Scion to Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, there are dozens of commanders and strategies that can help you squeeze value out of every 0/1 white Goat token.

What makes tokens a useful theme to build around? In short, tokens can represent multiple creatures at the cost of a single card. There are a number of ways to build decks in order to maximize this advantage.

Tokens as Army

Conqueror's Pledge
The most linear and obvious way to use tokens is to pump them up and turn them sideways! This isn’t a bad strategy, as Conqueror's Pledge into Overrun is enough to win plenty of games. But it’s not a substantial enough game plan to support a whole deck.

Actually, on its own, I like this strategy best as a Plan B for decks with other primary themes. Toss a couple of mass-token producers in your Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer Equipment deck or a couple of Overrun effects into your Nath of the Gilt-Leaf discard deck, and you have a good way to pick up some wins when your other plans aren’t working out.

When using tokens as an army, you want big effects that put a bunch of tokens into play at once. Cards such as Siege-Gang Commander and Mobilization can do in a pinch, but you really want cards that make huge armies in one shot. Avenger of Zendikar is basically the perfect army in a can, but Storm Herd, Army of the Damned, and more versatile spells such as Martial Coup can all be very useful. Green and white provide the vast majority of options, but there are even colorless fallbacks such as Snake Basket if you need them.

Overwhelming Stampede
The key to choosing your mass-pump effects is maximizing lethality. This comes down to both power and resilience. In terms of power, you want large buffs that make your army immediately lethal rather than mana-efficient, small pumps. Cards such as Overwhelming Stampede and Leonin Sun Standard are perfect, turning a handful of 2/2s into a deadly force. In terms of resilience, artifacts and enchantments that provide a static bonus are often worse than sorceries, even at the same cost. Beastmaster Ascension can be ruined mid-combat by enchantment destruction in a way that Triumph of the Hordes cannot.

Green and white offer the majority of mass-pump effects, but any deck can run Eldrazi Monument, and multicolored decks all have access to the Shadowmoor/Eventide Lieges (Thistledown Liege, Creakwood Liege, etc.).

Tokens as Resource

Of course, maybe you don’t care about attacking with tokens. Maybe you just want to use them for card-draw, mana acceleration, and removal while you build up for something else.

Teysa, Orzhov Scion
Most decks of this type combine black with green and/or white. Teysa, Orzhov Scion, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, and Ghave, Guru of Spores are all very popular commanders for decks that want to abuse tokens without necessarily winning in the red zone. Teysa and Savra can all turn tokens into creature removal. Teysa and Ghave can provide infinite combo wins as an endgame plan.

There are a number of ways to use tokens as removal or other forms of defense. Black offers a suite of creature removal with Grave Pact, Butcher of Malakir, and Attrition. White offers the similar and political Martyr's Bond as well as more purely defensive cards such as Martyr's Bond and Glare of Subdual. Blue offers the powerful Opposition and Coastal Piracy, while red contributes the unique Shivan Harvest.

Artifacts provide plenty of colorless ways to turn tokens into cards and mana—Skullclamp, Carnage Altar, Ashnod's Altar, and Phyrexian Altar are among the most popular. Even a mono-red deck can use a token-sacrifice subtheme to supplement its relative lack of card advantage.

When using tokens as a resource, you tend to want resilient, repeatable sources of tokens. Enchantments that generate creatures every turn are good (Bitterblossom, Awakening Zone, Goblin Assault) as are lands that can produce tokens when you have extra mana and time (Springjack Pasture, Kher Keep). Artifacts are fine but a bit more vulnerable, and creatures tend to die way too often to be reliable. Sprout Swarm is particularly difficult for your opponents to interact with. In black, easily recurred creatures such as Bloodghast and Reassembling Skeleton can fill a similar role. If you’ve never seen a Bloodghast paired with Skullclamp or Perilous Forays, I can assure you it’s a thing of beauty.

Tokens as Theme

Finally, there are the decks totally built around the tokens. These combine the previous two strategies, using the overlap to build resources in the early and midgame, and they eventually kill the table with massive token armies. While not traditional combo decks, these decks can often virtually go off, generating massive amounts of mana and cards before killing the entire table in one big turn.

Slate of Ancestry
This strategy is best supported by mixing the components of both previous strategies: some one-shot army token generators, some resilient and repeatable token generators, some ways to exploit tokens as resources, and some ways to pump your army into a deadly force. Additionally, dedicated token decks get the most mileage out of powerful effects that scale based on your number of creatures, such as Gaea's Cradle, Earthcraft, Slate of Ancestry, and Regal Force.

When devoting the entire deck to a token theme, you almost always want both green and white. While blue, black, and red all have valuable effects to offer, most decks end up being defined by one of the popular token-producing commanders: Rhys the Redeemed, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Rith, the Awakener, and my personal favorite, Hazezon Tamar.

"Hazezon Commander"

  • Commander (0)

Shields of Velis Vel
This is my trademark token deck, built around Hazezon Tamar. Some of the card choices are very specific to Hazezon (see if you can figure out Shields of Velis Vel), but much of the theory can be broadly applied.

Since Hazezon is a consistent token army producer, most of my other token generators are of the repeatable, resilient variety. A large number of sac outlets allow us to get the most out of our spare tokens and ensure that Hazezon is gone before his friends show up.

The deck really embraces the token strategy of building resources and defending yourself with early token producers, and it then eventually takes one big turn that wins the game. There are a lot of slots devoted to building up your mana, defending yourself, and spitting out a few tokens on turns three to five that you can use as a resource. Later, you can use your huge armies, massive card-draw, and 8- to 10-mana spells to win or massively change the game.

It’s important to me that the deck’s themes allow it to make different card choices that separate it from the others I play. Genesis Wave and Warp World give me an excuse to heavily favor permanent-based removal such as Aura of Silence and Faith's Fetters. I attach every effect that I can to a body, from Sylvan Ranger and Acidic Slime to Arashi, the Sky Asunder. They all come in from Warps and Waves, and they can all be sacrificed for value to our many outlets.

Genesis Wave
One of the subtle aspects of this deck is the relative lack of tutors and recursion. Cards such as Warp World, Genesis Wave, and Tooth and Nail can be really fun and splashy, but people become sick of them very quickly if you’re casting them every single game or recurring them multiple times. Even creatures such as Primeval Titan, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and Avenger of Zendikar can become oppressive you search them out too often. For friendly games, tutors and heavy recursion are better suited to toolboxy decks for which you search out diverse answers than explosive decks for which you’re grabbing the same few spells every time.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone with a token deck, and I hope it has convinced a few people to try to start one from scratch! They’re a ton of fun to play, and every metagame should have at least one.

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