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G/W Tokens

G/W Tokens

Have you seen this great new gw Token list?

Don’t beat yourself up too much if you haven’t, before now. It’s managed to fly under the radar a bit despite being an extraordinarily strong metagame choice. Other “gw Tokens” decks you might be more familiar with have Adanto Vanguard and Adorned Pouncer, and — despite similar or identical nominal descriptions — completely different game plans!

This strategy can go offensive, but its core incentives have nothing to do with going sideways buffed by a Resilient Khenra.

Is it the strongest pure strategy in Standard?

Probably not, but it still presents a heck of a Game 1, especially given the composition of the rest of the room.

You might not have seen the deck before now . . .  But new teammate John Markisch sure did! Grab a seat: I think you’ll like where we end up . . . 

John made some small changes that made a lot of sense to me. He won a recent New York area PPTQ (over onetime World Championships competitor Caupolican Lopez) with this modified 75:

Yes, YES, YES . . .  gw has got some awesome redundancies and synergies. It plays many spells we would all nod together and agree are “good cards” (plus some that we wish we had figured out to fit because they are spicy and / or cool). All of them fit together to produce a unique game plan or three.

But for our purposes today? This gw has a quality my old teammate Paul Jordan used to cite as a key bonus for a narrow but heroic band of Green creature decks . . . 

“Surprisingly card advantageous.”

Somewhat Ancient History: Beasts v. Mono-Black Control

Beast Attack
When Paul coined this phrase we were testing a Naya Beasts deck years before the term “Naya” had entered the Magic vocabulary against a Mono-Black board control deck. The Black deck had point removal like Innocent Blood, card advantage from Chainer's Edict to Mirari, and a massive redundancy in Mutilates; plus an overwhelming mana engine driven by Cabal Coffers. Its combination of Defensive Deck Speed via one and 2-mana removal (including Smother; word to your Smother) and late game card advantage made the deck seem like an absolute nightmare for a creature deck like Naya.

With its turn one Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise, Naya could be sideways with a flipped Exalted Angel on turn three with a high level of regularity. Late game it could destroy any small creature deck with Contested Cliffs and a large variety of even larger Beasts.

But against Black?

Cake walk through the Swamp, right?

Not so fast!

Paul more than held his own from the Beasts side. He would get a few points in (predictable) and generally seemed to have enough in the tank to get the last few points on me if he was executing right (less so). Were his tactics just so much better than mine? Did Mutilate not do the thing we thought it did to decks with a bunch of Green guys in play?

That wasn’t the problem.

Paul’s deck was simply surprisingly card advantageous.

Call of the Herd
Call of the Herd was a two-for-one. Perhaps more importantly, Beast Attack — which could be played at instant speed — was also a two-for-one. I was playing largely under the idea that I could one-for-one into the middle and late turns, then floor my mana engine with Mirari. That worked a lot of the time . . . 

But what about when Innocent Blood or Chainer's Edict were just snagging a Birds of Paradise? How about when I tapped out main phase, only to eat a flashy Beast the next end step? I was running out of answers because Paul’s threats were compacting so much value while building a presence on the battlefield. This quality undermined the fundamental advantage of the Mono-Black Control deck, at least in terms of our assumptions against a creature deck. I mean, why else play it?

Card advantageous? Obviously, once you read the cards. And surprising, at least how the games played out.

John’s gw echoes, even trumpets, this quality in 2018.


Sram's Expertise
Don't know what I mean by that? Try casting a Sram's Expertise on turn four, making three 1/1 creatures, then dropping a Jadelight Ranger (which in turn explores for two lands, one of which is Arch of Orazca).

Worse yet (better yet?) many of the deck’s synergies are difficult to quantify using traditional means. For example, how would you rate the mere presence of a Wildgrowth Walker in the above situation? Regardless of how the Jadelight Ranger pans out? You will gain 6 life and put two +1/+1 counters on the Walker. Remember: A single +1/+1 counter already pushes out of range of almost every single removal spell that a Red Deck typically plays.

This play can easily add ~10 power to the battlefield for 4 mana while gaining oodles of life.

Card advantageous? Very. I don't even know how-many-for-one that is!

Being “surprisingly” card advantageous is just a bonus, though. The gw has core incentives that make it a dangerous choice just on the merits.

We’ve already more than implied that the deck is difficult to beat for Red Aggro type decks. It deploys so many blockers — everything from a Servo token (which can trade with a 1/1 or 2/1 just fine) to an Angel of Invention (which is like its own one-card border wall). The deck has so many ways to build advantages — tons of explorers who are worth more-than-a-card each — to Walking Ballista or Ajani Unyielding (which can contain multiple opposing threats each) that just going one-for-one with it card-for-card will generally be a losing proposition.

John made a near-perfect metagame read for his tournament. He beat Vehicles twice, straight Red twice, and two different looks at Grixis on the way to his RPTQ invitation.

The same principles that make gw effective for defending against aggro make it difficult to interact with for at least certain stripes of Control deck. Every time you Fatal Push a Merfolk Branchwalker you fall behind by half a card. It gets worse when you try to Abrade a Jadelight Ranger and even worse when you tap out for The Scarab God.

While this is “just” a gw deck it has many, many, good answers to The Scarab God in Game 1. Cast Out is the most obvious; but Ajani Unyielding makes Paul’s Beast Attack look generous. A single Ajani Unyielding can take out more than one The Scarab God by itself (or, say a The Scarab God + a precious Vraska's Contempt). If left alone, it can rev up an engine going the other way, building your own card base rather than eroding the other guy’s.

Making a Good Choice

Walking Ballista
I said earlier that John’s metagame read was near-perfect. He had previously made Top 8 with Vampires, and realized the format was in a place where people just weren’t playing Fumigate decks. So he intentionally played a deck soft to Fumigate!

See those matchups? Red twice, Grixis twice, Vehicles? Good read.

Why not stay with Vampires then?

In addition to seeing some impressive stuff online via Growing Rites of Itlimoc, over the course of dozens of test matches, John was more and more impressed by Walking Ballista. He personally went 1-7 against Ballista decks.

In addition to identifying that he wanted to be bad against Fumigate, John realized he wanted to be the Walking Ballista guy.

Not only is gw the best Ballista deck, all the other synergies reinforce just how good it is. Sram's Expertise de facto flips Growing Rites of Itlimoc itself. Once that happens — with your Servo tokens, whatever else you played, and the creature from the enchantment all available — you’re in position to play absolutely enormous Walking Ballistas. They, in turn, are great against not only other go-wide / token decks, but can curb the advantage of an explore creature with a potential trigger on the stack.

I of course identified Path of Discovery as the coolest card in the list. I once asked Patrick Chapin if it was the postmodern Glare of Subdual. When I saw it in John’s list . . . 

“I actually boarded it out often. It’s a 4 mana do-nothing. Win more.”

—John Markisch

In addition to the free Jadelight Rangers off of Sram's Expertise (that we’ve already mentioned), the engine of the deck is Wildgrowth Walker. Wildgrowth Walker is a “kill on sight” creature (especially for Red Decks). If it starts leveling up, Wildgrowth Walker essentially becomes Tarmogoyf.

Avoiding “Over the Top”

Gideon of the Trials
There were only three Fumigate players in the entire PPTQ that John won (“and only one of them* was any good”) which reinforced the gw deck choice. But Roman, on Approach of the Second Sun per normal, did represent a threat.

If you think there will be a lot of wu in the room rather than a lot of Red Decks, gw Tokens will probably not be a good choice. Not only is wu a Fumigate deck — gw’s stated nemesis — it is an “over the top” strategy. You can’t even contend with Approach decks the way you do with The Scarab God control decks.

That’s where John’s slight deck list modification made the most sense. Gideon of the Trials is not a surefire way to beat Approach, but it sure is difficult for Approach to win if there is a Gideon of the Trials on the battlefield.

You have to make your own read and modify your own choices based on the room you will be playing in, but if it were me? I’d probably play more copies of Gideon. It’s actually a good offensive threat in some matchups; I like it a lot against Approach for several reasons. You present a lot of powerful one-for-one threats, so it’s not difficult to draw out their Cast Outs. You’ll generally get a window to successfully resolve a Gideon while they’re tapped for their first Approach of the Second Sun; the onus, therefore, is to have more copies so you have one in hand on turn seven or eight.

If you think more people are going to be on Approach, at least.

The Dominaria spoiler isn’t all out yet, but I can tell you, of the established archetypes, this one is one of my favorites for some new set improvement. Llanowar Elves much? Llanowar Elves + Sram's Expertise is four creatures already. Free Growing Rites of Itlimoc much?

No. I can’t count that high, either.



* Apprentice Roman Fusco, whom John ID’d with two rounds out of Top 8

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