Standard decks nowadays don't seem to have any synergy. It's all about just jamming the most powerful cards all into the same deck. For instance, look at the deck that won Grand Prix Nagoya this past weekend:
The primary combo in the deck is Nightshade Peddler + Izzet Staticaster. Reminiscent of the Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar days, being able to give your pinger deathtouch makes him a de facto Visara the Dreadful. Given the prevalence of creatures in Standard, getting this combo online makes things difficult for just about any deck.
With the resiliency to removal that Angel of Glory's Rise affords the deck, Cavern of Souls to force its humans and angels through countermagic, and the inherent strength of its core combos against creature strategies, I expect this deck to be a real contender for the foreseeable future.
So now the question is how will the metagame adapt to beat it and, more importantly, given the adjustments that are sure to be made to the metagame, what deck is well positioned in light of these changes?
My answer: Junk Tokens.
Junk Tokens in Standard
A deck that has impressed me recently is the Junk Tokens deck Brian Eason finished second place with at Grand Prix Charleston last month:
Prior to the release of Return to Ravnica, one of my favorite decks was Black/White Tokens, a deck I finished second place with in the SCG Salt Lake City Open. Once Return to Ravnica was released, I wrote an article about Selesnya Tokens. So it didn't take much convincing from my friend Matt Frazier, who has been testing the deck a lot lately, to get me on board with Brian Eason's Junk Tokens build.
Now that Standard has become more defined, it has become apparent that Thragtusk tends to draw games out into the later stages (i.e. turns 8-12). And since nearly half the decks in each tournament are running four copies of Thragtusk, the #1 rule of Standard right now is that you must have a game plan against Thragtusk.
One of the reasons I like this deck right now is because control decks are very popular, and this deck has a very good plan against control strategies. Second and/or third turn Lingering Souls backed by Intangible Virtue or a Planeswalker is serious business against any deck, but especially against control. Forcing the opponent to deal with your spirit tokens, and then your walkers, and then your Thragtusks, and then also your residual creatures is usually enough. And when it isn't, then late game Gavony Township activations usually are. The deck just attacks from too many angles, all of which are very strong against control.
The two decks that are most problematic are Jund Midrange and RB Zombies. Those two decks can pose problems for just about any deck, and neither are by any stretch unwinnable matchups, but they have been the most difficult matchups thus far in testing.
Sideboarding with Junk Tokens
Matt and I discussed sideboard plans and we agreed upon the following configurations that can be used as a starting guideline when boarding for each of the most expected matchups.
Note that while many of our sideboard plans involve taking out similar packages of cards, it's not because those cards are not good for the deck. Rather, in most cases, they are strong cards game 1 that become expendable post-board when we're able to adapt to our opponent's strategy and to their post-board strategy against our strategy.
Avacyn's Pilgrim is pretty much strictly better than Arbor Elf in this deck, so even if you suspect Sever the Bloodline or Detention Sphere, it's still better to have the fourth Pilgrim over the first Elf. In this matchup, however, it's not necessary for us to accelerate since the game is generally going to be won in the mid-to-late game. The mana accelerators are not very good against Izzet Staticaster, so they are too much of a liability without enough of an upside in the matchup.
It's also worth it to leave in all copies of Intangible Virtue so that our tokens can live through Izzet Staticaster. They will likely bring in Ray of Revelation for our Rest in Peace, but instead of trying to level them by having zero enchantments, I think both cards are important enough that they are worth keeping in.
Pillar of Flame is generally pretty bad against us, so they likely board it out. If they do, then we should also bring in Intrepid Hero. If you see any copies of Pillar of Flame in game 2, then do not bring him in for game 3.
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Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is very good in this matchup, especially when accelerated out on the play so that they can't kill it with a single Falkenrath Aristocrat attack. The one card I never want to see is Bonfire of the Damned, but most versions only run two, and it's usually not that bad unless they miracle it. I considered running Rootbound Defenses to combat Bonfire, especially given our ability to utilize the token (much like Midnight Haunting) but I'm not sure it's necessary. It's a good card to test and find out though.
Against Bant and UWR our game plan is pretty much the same:
Accelerating into a Planeswalker can be good, but it's not worth it in the long run. They bring in multiple wrath effects, so our mana creatures just get thrown under the bus with all our tokens when they wrath. We have a good plan anyway, so no sense clogging up our draws with accelerators that will die an incidental death shortly after entering the battlefield.
Even though we board out our acceleration, we are still the aggressor in the control matchup. This means we're the ones playing early threats the forcing the opponent to deal with our threats. There is no sense trying to play around countermagic in most scenarios. It's usually better to just keep running out threats each turn until they're out of answers. Our plan is to get in as much damage as possible with each of threats, gaining card advantage from all our token producers, then killing them with our last remaining threats.
We don't want to give them too much time because they'll often build up inevitability by chaining Sphinx's Revelations. For this reason we don't want mana accelerants clogging up our draws in the mid game. We'd rather start a turn slower and have better draws in the mid-to-late game. Even in the very late game after they start resolving Sphinx's Revelations, we are not dead like the aggro decks often are. We still have a legitimate plan in the form of making tokens each turn with our Planeswalkers. Garruk, Primal Hunter can also reload our hand in the same way Sphinx's Revelation can reload their hand, and he will stick around to make more beasts thereafter.
Against the Jund, and also against the control decks, Gavony Township is a strong late game plan. After we trade all our spells with the opponent's spells, Gavony Township can make even half a Lingering Souls an immediate threat in need of an answer. It's also a way to surprise kill a Jace, Architect of Thought. They think they can +1 their Planeswalker and have it live through combat, only to have it die to Gavony Township. When possible, I typically like to sandbag my Townships in order to allow the opponent to play into them in ways described above with Jace. Sometimes it better to play it, especially against decks with Liliana of the Veil or similar hand disruption, but in general it's better to wait and surprise them with it.
That's pretty much the nut draw against them, so having these lives opportunities to flashback Lingering Souls outweigh the times when RIP is in play and Midnight Haunting's instant speed would make a difference. I never side out Lingering Souls with this deck.
Our accelerants are good in this matchup, even post-board because it's one of the few matchups where the opponent is not bringing in board sweepers. The tempo they afford us is particularly important in this matchup as well because it allows us to keep up with their early tempo.
Centaur Healer is good against BR and mono red aggro decks, but not so much against GW aggro because it doesn't match up well against many of their guys. They don't have burn spells and they attack in large chunks of damage, so the 3 life is usually not highly relevant. Also between Gavony Township, Sublime Archangel, and Loxodon Smiter, the 3/3 body is likewise not entirely relevant. Our other cards are more impactful in the matchup, so Healer stays in the board, despite bringing in Restoration Angels (which are mainly for our Thragtusks anyway).
I would recommend battling with Junk Tokens right now. There are a few changes I would consider making to Brian Eason's list, though none of which I'm 100% sure improve the deck. Having a third copy of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad in the sideboard, or Rootbound Defenses, would help against BR Zombies. I've also seen people running Liliana of the Veil in the sideboard, which helps against larger creatures and against slower control decks. Having another copy of Sever the Bloodline would also provide give us more answers to larger creatures such as Huntmaster of the Fells and friends. All things considered though, I like Eason's list just fine the way it is. Hopefully this matchup and sideboard analysis will help you if you choose to play Junk Tokens this weekend. It's the deck I would play right now.
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