Tokens Take Over Standard

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
10/12/2017 11:01:00 AM
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The 2017 World Championship has come and gone, and while the games were great, the tournament can't claim to have produced any truly novel and exciting Standard decks. The front-runners going into Ixalan and Standard rotation were Temur Energy and Ramunap Red, and they composed nearly the entirety of the decks seen at the event. A handful of Blue-Black and Grixis Control decks did make things interesting, but they ultimately failed to reach the finals and upset the established order of Temur Energy and Ramunap Red on top.

There were a remarkable zero white cards played in the entirety of the Standard portion of the World Championship, but the nearly 300-player Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier on Saturday showed a very different metagame where three white decks reached the Top 8, one of which made it to the finals. It's this event, which was played with full knowledge of the World Championship competitors' decklists, and that I'll focus on today, because it well could represent the future of the metagame. The 24 World Championship competitors made very sensible and conservative deck choices, but online players competing in a large winner-takes-all event with nothing to lose had the motivation to get more creative and risk everything on new brews, and the results speak for themselves.

The winner of the PTQ was a carbon-copy of Huey's World's-winning Temur deck, while another Temur deck, two Four-Color Energy decks, and a Ramunap Red deck finished in the Top 8. It's convincing evidence that these decks are here to stay, but what really stands out about the results are the three different variations Anointed Procession token decks with Legion's Landing that made the Top 8, and the Oketra's Monument deck with a set of Legion's Landing that finished close behind in the Top 16.

Abzan Tokens

Abzan Tokens has been doing very well online since the release of Ixalan, and I identified it last week as one of the most promising new decks, but I didn't expect it to become so popular and successful so quickly. A sleek and tuned version of the deck reached the finals of the PTQ.

The core of this deck, and of all the tokens decks, is Legion's Landing, which turns into the token-generating engine Adanto, the First Fort, and Hidden Stockpile, which generates value through the game and smooths draws by scrying. The plan is supercharged by Anointed Procession. Anointed Procession turns Hidden Stockpile into a token-generating engine that will churn out an extra creature each turn cycle, and it makes Adanto, the First Fort a legitimate threat. Keep in mind that the effect from Anointed Procession does stack, so having two copies out will quadruple token output, which gives the deck a nearly insurmountable endgame.

Anointer Priest combines with the flow of tokens to generate a Stream of Life that aggressive decks will have difficulty overcoming. These tools combine to give the tokens deck fantastic inevitability into the late game because of its ability to endlessly grind.

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To support its token engine, the deck is filled with disruptive elements that allow it to control the game and draw it out long enough to bury the opponent in card advantage. The deck makes great use of white removal spells that are perfect for defeating the midrange decks that define Standard. Cast Out deals with some of the stickiest permanents in Standard, specifically The Scarab God and Hazoret, the Fervent. Fumigate destroys any and all of the troublesome creatures in Standard, most importantly Bristling Hydra, as well as any Glorybringers floating around. It's also very effective for cleaning up any Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso, along with its tokens, which are otherwise difficult to deal with efficiently.

Capping off the deck is Vraska, Relic Seeker, which goes over the top of midrange decks as a flexible source of both creature tokens and disruption, which makes it a perfect fit into the token's strategy and a huge factor behind the success of this deck.

The sideboard includes Treasure Map as a source of card selection, and because the Treasure tokens it creates will be doubled by Anointed Procession, it's a tremendous source of card advantage. This helps provide the fuel necessary to fuel the control game, and it seems best of all to grind out control decks. Furthering this end is Arguel's Blood Fast, which converts life to cards at an efficient rate. It's a high cost against most decks, but it's extremely effective against nearly creatureless control decks that are incapable of applying early pressure. The card looked great on camera at the World Championship as tech for winning the Blue-Black Control mirror match, and it's going to be even better in the token deck where life gain makes the cost more manageable and card drawing is harder to come by.

The token core is performing so well that it has formed the foundation for a variety of decks that build upon it in different decks, as evidenced by two other versions of the deck in the PTQ Top 8.

Esper Tokens

This approach to tokens embraces blue mana to support The Scarab God, which is arguably the most powerful creature in Standard because of its ability to generate huge amounts of value and battlefield presence. It's made scarier than ever when combined with Anointed Procession, which adds to its eternalize token output and will overwhelm any opponent. The token strategy is light on creatures of its own, but it's filled with removal spells that allow it to take the opponent's, and the creature it does include, like Sacred Cat, are strong targets. Blue also allows for a playset of Champion of Wits, which when eternalized has its own synergy with Anointed Procession, and is useful for digging for key elements while filtering away unneeded cards like any extra copies of the legendary Legion's Landing.

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Note Harsh Scrutiny in the sideboard, which is tech to come out of Blue-Black Control at Worlds. It's one of the very best cards for dealing with the troublesome trio of Hazoret, the Fervent, Bristling Hydra and The Scarab God, or any other creature, even Carnage Tyrant. It's a great tool in the arsenal of this deck after sideboard when it's assuming the control role against decks.

Esper Jace, Cunning Castaway Tokens

Taking the token strategy to the extreme is an Esper version that fully embraces blue mana to support a set of Jace, Cunning Castaway and its incredible synergy with Anointed Procession.

As a token generator, Jace, Cunning Castaway is very effective with Anointed Procession, which not only doubles its Illusion Tokens, but is nearly a game-winning combo with its ultimate ability. Anointed Procession doubles the number of copies of the planeswalker the ultimate creates, each of which will produce double the number of Illusion Tokens, for a total of eight tokens, or a whopping 32 tokens with two copies of the enchantment. Upon the spoiling of the planeswalker, this powerful interaction was identified as one of the most appealing things to be doing with the planeswalker, but it seemed to be discounted as a novelty and not a serious combo to build a deck around. The fact that this is not only the first time I have seen Jace, Cunning Castaway being used successfully, but the first time I have even seen it being used competitively at all, means this deck is a strong argument otherwise. It may be proof that not only is the interaction competitively viable, it may be the single best thing to be doing with the planeswalker.

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Adding another game-winning plan to the deck is Crested Sunmare, which as it turns out is quite easily enabled by the lifelink Vampire Tokens generated by either side of Legion's Landing. Anointer Priest and a full set of Sacred Cat give the deck plenty of other ways to gain life, so Crested Sunmare is real threat, especially when its Horse Tokens are doubled by Anointed Procession.

Rather than playing a control game, this deck takes a proactive approach with its multiple threats and synergies, and in turn gives up Fumigate and removal like Cast Out. The sideboard contains a great option with Solemnity, which allows it to proactively prey on Temur by shutting down its energy production and dealing with cards like Bristling Hydra and Longtusk Cub without relying on reactive cards like Fumigate that force it into a controlling role.

White-Blue Monument

Another deck to succeed with Legion's Landing is this updated White-Blue Oketra's Monument deck.

Oketra's Monument will eventually generate the tokens necessary to flip Legion's Landing, and the deck makes great use of Adanto, the First Fort's ability to grind out the opponent with tokens, which is already the deck's main strategy. Aviary Mechanic, which the deck uses to reset value creatures or combines with another copy of Aviary Mechanic to create a repeatable token-generating engine with Oketra's Monument, is also ideal for bouncing Legion's Landing to be recast for value. Vampire Tokens also help the deck create a battlefield presence quickly, which helps it earn quick wins with Shefet Dunes and helps Oketra the True to start attacking ASAP.

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This build of the deck also includes some cards with unique benefits to tokens that are especially useful with lifelinking Vampires. Aven Wind Guide helps to push them over ground blockers for easy damage, and Temmet, Vizier of Naktakmun makes them more threatening.

Kinjalli's Sunwing is very punishing against the haste creatures of Red and dampens the impact of Glorybringer, and it's a fine threat and robust blocker. Legion's Landing is also more than a token generator, because when it flips into Adanto, the First Fort it's technically ramping mana, and that's a great bonus for this mana-hungry deck, especially when it doesn't have access to Oketra's Monument making things cheaper.

Esper Gift

The PTQ also contained an Esper Gift deck, which appeared at the SCG event in Dallas as the apparent successor to the Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift deck. The deck was expected to survive rotation but needed to reinvent itself with new cards to replace those it was losing, and it seems to have found them in Ixalan's black cards. Hostage Taker provided the deck with a very powerful tool that is just as effective when cast as when eternalized. Seeker's Squire is a great swap for Insolent Neonate because of its ability to fix draws and enable the graveyard with explore, and it's even better to eternalize with God Pharaoh's Gift. What the original decklist didn't have – but the list from the PTQ does – is Search for Azcanta, and it looks perfect for the deck.

Search for Azcanta enables the graveyard while providing excellent card selection, and that's exactly what this deck is interested in doing. When it flips into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, it can dig deep for God-Pharaoh's Gift or Gate to the Afterlife.

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Search for Azcanta looked fantastic on camera all weekend at the World Championship, where it was integral to the success of Blue-Black Control, and it's destined to be used in even more decks as players begin to truly understand its power. A combo-style deck can clearly use its card selection ability, and even more so when the deck relies on filling its graveyard, which makes it seem like a nearly perfect fit here and a step forward for the archetype.

The World Championship made the Standard metagame seem more than stale, but the results of the Pro Tour Qualifier on Magic Online was a refreshing taste of what's possible, and they are hopefully a sign of things to come. Legion's Landing gives white decks a new identity and is the most promising direction for the color if it is to forge its way forward to a top spot in the metagame. How are you using Legion's Landing? What decks, white or otherwise, could upset Temur and Ramunap Red? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.

-Adam




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