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Selesnya Tokens in Return to Ravnica Standard
Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
9/20/2012 10:44:00 AM
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Zendikar Block brought Steppe Lynx and Stoneforge Mystic. Scars of Mirrodin Block brought Tempered Steel and Puresteel Paladin. Innistrad Block brought Haunted Humans and BW Tokens. What will Return to Ravnica Block bring for the White Aggro Mage?


The first set in the Return to Ravnica block exclusively features Azorius and Selesnya cards, so those are the default guilds we have to work with until the next two sets come out. This does not mean that Boros, Orzhov, or Mono White are not viable but rather that such archetypes would be handicapped in the amount of cards at their disposal, relative to Selesnya and Azorius, until the next set arrives. It is also possible that a 3-color aggro deck is viable, but that would start to deviate too far from the White Weenie core (such as Naya Humans or WBG Tokens).

It's too early to tell what the defining White Aggro decks will be from this block, since we only have the first set to work with thus far, but it is not too early to figure out what the best White Aggro deck will be in two weeks. So today I will go over what I take to be the most important cards from Return to Ravnica at the disposal of the White Aggro Mage, primarily focusing on the Selesnya guild.

Losing Honor of the Pure significantly affects Black/White Tokens and Haunted Humans. The former still has Intangible Virtue while the latter may have to take on a completely new character. The primary draw for Black with Black/White Tokens was Lingering Souls, and secondarily Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Vault of the Archangel. Given the token theme of Selesnya in RtR, it is likely best either to play WGB or simply WG Tokens. Given the amount of fine alternatives to the three black cards, I would rather start with the more consistent mana base in straight Selesnya.

Another big hit to White Aggro decks is the loss of Hero of Bladehold. While Hero was the best 4-drop for both Haunted Humans and Black/White Tokens, it was only slightly better than some of the alternatives. So unlike Honor of the Pure, there are adequate replacements for Hero. Given these losses, the most attractive place to start is Selesnya, utilizing the token theme from Black/White Tokens, but with the additional token-synergistic cards from RtR instead of the black cards from Dark Ascension.

Selesnya Tokens by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 Angel of Jubilation
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
4 Precinct Captain
2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
2 Wayfaring Temple
Creatures [14]
4 Garruk Relentless
Planeswalkers [4]
4 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Intangible Virtue
2 Midnight Haunting
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Selesnya Charm
Spells [18]
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Forest (270)
4 Gavony Township
4 Plains (250)
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


3 Fiend Hunter
2 Geist-Honored Monk
2 Grafdigger's Cage
4 Knight of Glory
2 Pithing Needle
2 Sundering Growth
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Individual Card Analysis

Let's start with the mana and work our way up the curve, explaining my reasoning for each card choice.

4 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Forest
4 Plains
4 Evolving Wilds

The colors are pretty much split down the middle in this build, so I went with the even 16-16 split. I went with the full 4 copies of Evolving Wilds for a couple of reasons. First of all, I need access to as much color fixing as possible in order to cast Angel of Jubilation and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice on time. Secondly, the only other first turn play in the deck is 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim, so there will be plenty of times where we are able to play the Evolving Wilds on the first turn without hindering our tempo.

4 Avacyn's Pilgrim

Speaking of which, since Birds of Paradise is rotating out, this little guy is the only accelerant left. Fortunately for us, he is on-color, so he fits right into this deck. Aside from fixing our mana, he accelerates us into our 3- and 4- mana threats (Midnight Haunting, Wayfaring Temple, Garruk Relentless, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, and Angel of Jubilation. He also works very well with Gavony Township, providing acceleration into it and a body to get pumped by it.

4 Gavony Township

With Birthing Pod (the card) rotating out, Birthing Pod (the deck) no longer has an engine. Sure, there will still be Naya Bonfire decks, but without the threat of the namesake card, the deck will be significantly watered down. Its mana also gets worse with the rotation of Copperline Gorge. Selesnya Tokens looks to capitalize on the power of Gavony Township without being affected by the rotation woes that Afflict Naya Pod.

2 Precinct Captain
4 Selesnya Charm
4 Gather the Townsfolk

Our early game is to start generating pressure on turn 2. If we start with a first turn Avacyn's Pilgrim, we can accelerate right past the two-spot. Otherwise we're usually looking to start making creature tokens to attack with. Selesnya Charm has the added upside of being able to force through damage and/or protect any of our threats. It can also take care of an opposing monster. Its primary function, however, will likely be adding a knight token to the board. Precinct Captain is a pretty strong second turn play, but given our mana base, 1W is much easier to come by than WW early, so I'm playing more copies of Gather the Townsfolk than of Precinct Captain.

4 Intangible Virtue

This is the lynchpin of the deck. It's our Honor of the Pure. The four-mana spells define the deck, but this card really holds everything together. It's the card that makes every other card in the deck so much more powerful. I would recommend never siding out any copies of Intangible Virtue in this deck.

4 Midnight Haunting
1 Wayfaring Temple

Midnight Haunting was one of the best cards in Black/White Tokens because it provided evasive attackers and flying blockers (for Signal Pests and Insectile Aberrations). Nowadays the latter is no longer as big a concern, but it still provides a dimension worth including. Wayfaring Temple is a pretty sweet card that I'm excited to try out. It's possible that it's not worth it, but the populate ability really makes this guy a powerful threat. My concern is that he might not do enough when we're behind, unlike Midnight Haunting. So I'm sticking with just one copy for now, as a Garruk tutor target.

4 Oblivion Ring
4 Garruk Relentless

In addition to Selesnya Charm handling large threats, Garruk Relentless helps take care of smaller threats while also acting as an important token generator. After killing something, he can then turn tokens into a Wayfaring Temple, Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, Angel of Jubilation, or Geist-Honored Monk. Oblivion Ring is our trusty catch-(almost)-all. Each of our three removal spells serve multiple functions, and two of them (Selesnya Charm and Garruk Relentless) can generate threats or remove threats, depending on the need of the moment.

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2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
2 Angel of Jubilation
1 Geist-Honored Monk


These are our heavy hitters, in addition to Garruk Relentless. Trostani provides life gain and a large toughness, each of which helps us to win races. The legendary dryad also populates, so it serves as a token generator like Garruk Relentless, while also gaining life from the token it generates. Angel of Jubilation is another Honor of the Pure effect for the deck, which works really well with the token theme. Between Angel of Jubilation, Intangible Virtue, and Gavony Township, we have TEN anthem effects. This is even more than Black/White Tokens had. Finally, Geist-Honored Monk was included as a tutor target for Garruk, and also because it is generally very powerful in conjunction with the rest of our cards (especially our anthem effects). I only play one copy in the main because we don't want too many clunky cards in hand, which was the major downside of the version popularized by Martin Juza and Richard Bland last season. Gavony Township is our primary 5-mana plan.

Sideboard
2 Sundering Growth
2 Pithing Needle
2 Geist-Honored Monk
2 Grafdigger's Cage
3 Fiend Hunter
4 Knight of Glory

It's hard to predict what sort of decks will exist in a wide-open post-rotation metagame. Many of the big dogs of today will lose key spells and be forced to transform into something new or else die out altogether. There are, however, clues that suggest strategies people may gravitate toward. We can also consider what our general weaknesses are and to try and mitigate those weaknesses with our sideboard.

Sundering Growth is an exceptionally powerful answer to any artifact or enchantment in that it is not only Naturalize/Disenchant but also a 2-for-1 token generator since we will almost always have something to copy. If we play it mid-combat on the opponent's turn, there is even the possibility to 3-for-1 the opponent with it (by killing their artifact or enchantment, populating a token, blocking their attacker with our token, and the token surviving).

Pithing Needle is primarily for Planeswalkers, though also for whatever problematic card the opponent might have. Two copies, in addition to the 4 maindeck Oblivion Rings, should be sufficient. Geist-Honored Monk is particularly good in the midrange and control matchups, but can be too slow against the faster decks. Grafdigger's Cage is mainly for anything looking to utilize the graveyard, though Rest in Peace may be better not that Birthing Pod no longer exists. Fiend Hunter is extra creature removal, and Knight of Glory is our answer to Zombies, a deck I fully expect to see play (likely of the Black-Green variety, given all the new Golgari toys).

Cards Omitted from the Deck

- Collective Blessing

This is basically a giant Honor of the Pure. It's even bigger than Tempered Steel or Wilt-Leaf Liege. It also costs 6 mana, which in most cases I think is too much.

- Growing Ranks

It's a fine token generator, but it doesn't work until the upkeep. Four mana is too much of an investment for no immediate impact.

- Grove of the Guardian

This card fits really well into the populate theme of the deck, but Gavony Township is more important, and playing too many colorless lands would make our more mana intensive spells that much harder to cast. Eventually I just decided to cut it altogether.

- Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage

Both of his abilities are powerful and synergistic with the theme of the deck, but his overall power level is low and he is mana intensive. I'd rather get a bigger initial effect and be free to spend my many doing other things like casting 3 and 4 mana spells and activating Gavony Township.

- Call of the Conclave

This is basically an upgrade to Watchwolf in this deck, which is certainly not unimpressive. It also works well with populate and with Intangible Virtue. It's still not quite as good or versatile as the other options at the 2-slot though, so I left it out.

- Attended Knight

People have hoped for this one being the new Blade Splicer, using it with Restoration Angel. I'm skeptical, but even if that works out, it's not quite what I'm looking for with this deck. I'd rather make flyers with Midnight Haunting, and I don't want too many 3-drops (and I need Oblivion Ring). The only way I can see running the Knight is if we add Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to the deck, and I don't Foresee that happening because of how important Garruk Relentless is to our deck and that Garruk and Thalia do not work well together at all.

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- Loxodon Smiter

If you expect people to bring discard decks to the tournament, Loxodon Smiter is a great way to combat that strategy. I don't Foresee that really being the case yet though, so I've omitted them from the sideboard.

- Doomed Traveler

Out of all the cards on the omitted list, this one has the best chance of making it into the deck. If any of the cards end up underperforming, Doomed Traveler is likely the first in line to get called up to the majors (again). He provides early pressure or defense, and the deck can make good use out of the token he generates when he dies. Still though, he seemed like the weakest card in the deck, so I cut it.

Appendix A: Azorius Aggro

As I said in the introduction, Haunted Humans losing Honor of the Pure is a really big deal. It's not necessarily dead, given the weakening of all the other decks in the format, but it will have to take on a new form if it is to thrive again as it once did. Below is the short list of cards I would consider in Haunted Humans, or any Azorius Aggro deck. Each has the stats to be tournament playable, but the open question is whether there is a deck worth pursuing. My intuition is that there is, but we'll have to save this one for another day. Selesnya appears to be at the forefront for White Aggro right now.

Detention Sphere
Supreme Verdict
Syncopate
Dryad Militant
Judge's Familiar
Precinct Captain
Azorius Charm
Hallowed Fountain
Pithing Needle

But before I go, I'd like to share with you a story of the plight of a creature type and how Return to Ravnica has overturned decades of progress. This is a story of a tribe that has tried so hard to make a name for itself, yet time and again gets thwarted. It is a sad story, and one that is not over-dramatized one bit (and by this I mean it is about as over-dramatized as it could possibly be). Are you able to sympathize with the unicorns?

Appendix B: Magic Conspiracy to Disgrace Unicorns

In the beginning there was Pearled Unicorn. It was easily outclassed by Savannah Lions and White Knight in its day, but among commons the unicorn was a solid creature. The Pearled Unicorn made it all the way to Fifth Edition before getting upgraded to Regal Unicorn in Sixth Edition. It had then become a mighty 2/3 instead of a 2/2 for the same 2W cost. Things were looking good for the unicorn tribe.

Flash forward to Kamigawa Block where we saw Kami of Ancient Law printed. Decent card, relevant tribe, and it saw some tournament play. Then Ronom Unicorn entered the scene in Coldsnap. Same card, but without being part of a tribe that could get soulshifted or enhanced by other spirit-bonuses. Still, it was enough to see some tournament play. The Unicorn was slightly inferior, but still honorable. Given the context of Coldsnap, being a spirit would not have been relevant. Thus Ronom Unicorn was every bit as good as Kami of Ancient Law would have been. It was functionally equal, and for once the unicorn tribe broke into the Constructed tournament playable category, albeit fringe and mostly in sideboards. Still, things were looking better than ever for the unicorns!

Then emerged Prized Unicorn in Magic 2010. Unicorns were once again considered unplayable in Constructed, but at least the Prized Unicorn was able to hold its own in limited. Sure, it didn't always make the cut, but there were decks and board states where the unicorn was, dare I say… good.

Looking back at Unicorn history, we see a story of a horse with a horn that never got much respect. It has always been an upward struggle, ever since the beginning with Pearled Unicorn. We saw Adarkar Unicorn, Benevolent Unicorn, Zebra Unicorn (yes, there were in fact 2 unicorns in the same set in Mirage, quite the turning point!), Revered Unicorn, Capashen Unicorn, Regal Unicorn, Prized Unicorn, and even Wishmonger, which was deemed an honorary unicorn when the tribes of Magic were consolidated, despite not originally being a unicorn. All things considered, apart from sparse limited play and practically non-existent Constructed play, the unicorn tribe had two representatives that saved face for the entire impoverished history of the mythical tribe. The Prized Unicorn was the most respected true unicorn in limited play (not counting Wishmonger, which you can clearly tell from the artwork is not a real unicorn), while the Ronom Unicorn was the only unicorn to ever make it into a serious Constructed deck. They were admittedly weak, but the unicorns were not ashamed. They had dignity. They had a pair of leaders to look up to, and a future to hope for.

Then Return to Ravnica happened.

Golgari Decoy shared the same stats held by Prized Unicorn, but with the scavenge ability tacked on at no additional cost whatsoever! He was strictly better than Prized Unicorn, and in a highly relevant way. What makes matters worse, the decoy bears two relevant tribes throughout history – Elf and Rogue, and yet is still not good enough for Constructed play. The card was designed exclusively for Limited, the exact format of Prized Unicorn's legacy! Surely a swift slap in the snout to unicorns everywhere! They were understandably up in hooves over this fiasco.

But wait, there is more!

Keening Apparition was also printed in Return to Ravnica as a functional reprint of Ronom Unicorn! And if that weren't enough, the Apparition is a Spirit, the exact tribe Kami of Ancient Law was from. You know what this means, right? The single unicorn to ever break into the ranks of Constructed playable was now treated as if it had never even existed, sandwiched between two identical copies of a creature with a superior creature type! People will now forever refer to Keening Apparition as a reprint of Kami of Ancient Law, thus pushing Ronom Unicorn's legacy further and further out of memory.

All their lives, unicorns have had to deal with the stigma of being a mythical fantasy creature that doesn't really exist – a make believe horse with a horn. Yet they have carried on and made small feats of progress throughout Magic's twenty year history. They finally achieved a sliver of respectability in both Constructed and Limited. People were starting to believe that maybe unicorns do exist, just as rainbows exist.

But no, not anymore. Now they are more unrealistic and laughable than ever – strictly outclassed in every way and unplayable in every format. Return to Ravnica? For the unicorns, it's more like return to obscurity.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter



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