Constructed Criticism – Finding Spectral Procession

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Tuesday, May 19th – After battling in my local Regional Championships this weekend, I can safely say that the metagame is shaping up to be a very interesting one. There are a lot of good archetypes, but the problem is that most of them rely on the same engine: Spectral Procession and Windbrisk Heights. This combination can lead to devastating effects, and completely turn a game in one person’s favor, one who has no business winning the game.

The format has spoken! It wants tokens! It wants Windbrisk Heights! It wants to attack for upwards of 30 damage in 6 turns or less! It wants…Countryside Crusher?

After battling in my local Regional Championships this weekend, I can safely say that the metagame is shaping up to be a very interesting one. There are a lot of good archetypes, but the problem is that most of them rely on the same engine: Spectral Procession and Windbrisk Heights. This combination can lead to devastating effects, and completely turn a game in one person’s favor, one who has no business winning the game. This weekend I competed in Regionals, as well as a PTQ with the same deck:

This list, in my humble opinion, is a well-tuned BW Tokens list. It does everything you want it to do at very efficient costs, and with good redundancy. I played plenty of games where I got flooded and still won, solely due to the fact that nearly every spell in the deck has an incredible impact on each game. Combinations like Ajani Goldmane and Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap can really create huge problems for control decks relying on sweepers to take out your team. It can also hinder an aggro deck like Bant that relies on attacking with only one creature per turn. On top of all this, you still have incredible strength in token generators like Cloudgoat Ranger, Bitterblossom, and Spectral Procession in tandem with Glorious Anthem, Ajani Goldmane, and Windbrisk Heights. Over the entire weekend, I went a combined 13-3-2 with the deck, and would recommend it for anyone battling for envelopes for the next few months.

The sideboard has gone through a bit of an upheaval as of late, changing a few cards from maindeck to sideboard, then removing them altogether, then putting them back in the maindeck. After all this, I have come up with a 75 that I really like, and hope will put me into a few more Top 8s this season. Wrath of God has been invaluable in battling opposing token strategies, and Thoughtseize, Identity Crisis, and Puppeteer Clique have all earned their slots this weekend. Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender is a must have, and the 4th Path to Exile is just gravy. I used all of my sideboard cards both days of events, and would not change a card in the deck.

With that said, this weekend was a lot of fun. On Saturday morning, myself, my fiancée Kali, our friends Chris, Chi Hoi, and Reed all piled into Kali’s car to make the 2-hour drive to Atlanta from Birmingham to compete in the Regional Championships. At the time we left, Kali and I were both planning on playing the same deck at Regionals, and both planning on making Top 4. When we arrived at the site, we only had one copy of the deck, so I had to build another using cunning, drive, and… Well, money. Our friends had about 1/2 the deck for us to borrow, and I used my Fetchlands that had been rotting holes in my binder to fill in the rest. After rotating, I was pretty lucky to get $300+ for them from a dealer, and promptly used 1/2 of that money to buy the remainder of the cards I needed for the deck… or so I thought. None of the dealers had Fetid Heath. I repeat: the dealers sold out of Fetid Heath before I even got to the event site! Did they not know that BW Tokens had been the most popular archetype in PTQ’s over the last two weeks? Did they not prepare by bringing their entire stock of them? Or did no one want to sell them to dealers? I assume the latter.

After scrounging around and asking some out-of-town Magic friends if I could borrow/trade for the rest of the cards I needed, I eventually got everything I needed for the second copy of the deck. After registering both 75 card identical lists, we were off to the player meeting and into round 1. I won’t bore you with a tournament report, but I wanted to talk a little bit about the first round of Regionals. My opponent was a really nice guy and told me he had built his deck a week or so ago, with pretty great results against Tokens. Unfortunately for me, that’s what I was playing. I figured that most people who tested for large tournaments thought that they had a good matchup against the best deck in the format, similar to last year during Lorwyn Block when everyone thought they beat Faeries when they just couldn’t. Was this a similar scenario? Would I come out on top? The answer is, of course, no. I got absolutely destroyed. Both games were similar in that I got wrecked before turn 5, and didn’t put up much of a fight. He was playing a very aggressively curved Jund Aggro deck that played Bituminous Blast, Bloodbraid Elf, Jund Charm, Boggart Ram-Gang, and Putrid Leech. After playing some token generators, I was quickly overwhelmed with Ram-Gangs, Leeches, and Maelstrom Pulse-fueled Bloodbraid Elves. These were not good times.

After getting dispatched in short order by sweepers on top of an aggressive curve, I got to thinking about the deck. It seemed similar to the list Patrick Chapin had discussed last week, but it cut Cryptic Command from the list to have a more stable manabase. I’m not sure if this is correct, since in testing Cryptic Command had been the card that let you beat tokens over and over again, usually by choosing the modes “tap all of your creatures, win the game.” Cryptic Command adds an element to the deck that no other card in the format could even compete with. There is no other card that can counter the best spell your opponent plays, bounce their problem permanent, tap all of their creatures, and draw a card. Oh yeah… Choose two of those. Thanks for playing.

The Jund cascade archetype is relatively unexplored, and could end up being a valuable component to the PTQ metagame to come. The following day, and a similar Jund list made the finals of the PTQ, dispatching GW Tokens and BW Tokens along the way to losing to Bant in the finals. After talking to the man who played the deck, I discovered that he had lost early in the day, but had not lost to tokens a single time the entire tournament, and had played against the GW or BW version almost every round. The top tables were stuffed to the brim with them all day, and you could actually see a Windbrisk Heights in play at almost every match on tables 1-12. There is a really great reason the card has become $10 since last year, and in my opinion should be upwards of $20. The only reason it isn’t at the same price as cards like Thoughtseize is that it is only playable in one format, and probably not good enough in Extended, but I have a feeling that Spectral Procession plus Windbrisk Heights will be floating around in Top 8s later this year after they have rotated out of Standard. With the format being so bent on breaking Windbrisk Heights, you should probably take a second look at the guys who consistently beat all the token decks. There is a lesson to be learned here.

I am a huge advocate for playing the best deck in the format, and would recommend BW Tokens to anyone battling this season. However, I am never of the opinion that you should play the best deck because everyone says so. The reason BW Tokens is so good is that it has great matchups against nearly every other deck in the format. GW Tokens are great, but lose to Zealous Persecution. The same can be said that BW Tokens loses to Overrun, but I will take the two-mana blowout card over the five-mana blowout card any day of the week. On top of that, GW Tokens has very little reach. Their only method of escaping from Wrath of God is Dauntless Escort, which most of delegated access to sideboards alone. I think that Dauntless Escort has a fine place in GW Tokens maindecks simply because everyone trying to beat you is playing upwards of 8 sweeper effects, giving your deck a hard time recovering, let alone winning. After watching a BW Tokens player win through 2 Jund Charms, Maelstrom Pulse, Cloudthresher, and a Volcanic Fallout, I had finally decided that it was probably the best deck out there. No other deck has the staying power as BW Tokens, and few can boast a winning percentage against it.

I would like to take the time to say that Finest Hour is a great card. It alone has given Bant decks something to live for. Rafiq the Many has been the go-to-guy when it comes to “finishers” for the deck, but usually he would get destroyed pre-combat and cost you a huge loss in tempo. However, Finest Hour is no 3/3 creature, but a very hard-to-handle enchantment. Combined with the breakout sensation of Shorecrasher Mimic, you can be swinging for upwards of 16+ damage on turn 4-5 after casting Finest Hour with the little shapeshifter in play, combined with a few exalted triggers of course. If your opponent has only a few blockers, you should be able to overcome them quite easily and quickly. Be wary of Wrath of God effects, in addition to well-time removal spells for your important creatures, because those are the cards that can actually beat you. Token creatures post few problems for the deck, and Finest Hour mixed with Jhessian Infiltrator or Shorecrasher Mimic will just pile the damage on efficiently and effectively. Bant went on to win our PTQ after beating GW Tokens and BW Tokens respectively, and I think that it should be considered a real contender when deciding what deck to battle with for PTQs.

I would say that the weekend as a whole as fantastic. I had a lot of fun, met some cool people, and a few fans of my articles. Of course, I was the brunt of a few Balefire Liege jokes, but I also made a few myself. It was good times with good people, and I appreciate anyone who had things to say about me and my writing. Hopefully after this weekend, people will finally start taking the battle against token-based decks more seriously, and the Top 8 won’t have 24 copies of both Windbrisk Heights and Spectral Procession, but that remains to be seen. Maybe the deck is just too powerful for control strategies to overcome, and people wanting to win should play aggressive decks that punish tokens for being too slow. I am unsure as to where the format is going from here, but I’ll probably be bashing with 1/1s pumped by Ajani Goldmane and Glorious Anthem for a while. At least until someone offers to pay $30 for my Bitterblossom and $20 for my Fetid Heaths.

Losing is not something I like to happen, but every loss this weekend was due to my mistakes and I recognized each one immediately. As early as game 1, round 1 at Regionals I kept a slow, probably poor hand and should have mulliganed. My draws yielded no help, and I was quickly punished for it. Game 2 was a bit better, but I had sideboarded incorrectly, unsure as to the exact list he was playing. Thinking I was battling against Chapin’s list with Cryptic Command, I sided in Thoughtseize, and ended up battling against Boggart Ram-Gangs and was put to shame. Later in the day I lost a game due to taking the wrong card with Tidehollow Sculler, ended up mulliganing to 5 in game 3 on the play, and lost a game that never should have taken place to begin with.

The next day was a bit better, starting off 6-0 against a variety of decks including two GW Tokens, one Five-Color Control, one RW Reveillark, one BW Kithkin, and one Five-Color Bloodbraid, I was able to draw twice against our very own Evan Erwin playing GW Tokens, as well as another decent player in round 8 who was also playing GW Tokens. Do you see a trend forming? After the 6th round I had about 2.5 hours to kill while the rest of the field decided the Top 8, and this long time between matches of Magic lulled me into a crippling mental state. I should have been battling between rounds in order to keep my mind sharp, but I decided to grab some food (also a bad idea, because food makes you sleepy), and joke around with some friends. After this mistake, I lost the die roll in the Top 8 against the mirror match (also a mistake), and kept a slow hand without Token generators (another mistake). I was killed on turn 6 after getting Tidehollow Scullered, Spectral Processioned, double Glorious Anthemed, and Windbrisk Heights bringing a Murderous Redcap into play. I then sideboarded incorrectly (a strategy I had decided upon using for the mirror but never really implemented) and it cost me game 2 as well. Each mistake I had made could have been corrected before the tournament with better preparation, and these mistakes are unacceptable. Further testing should improve my ability to sideboard, and keep my mind focused and sharp for upcoming events.

If you plan on playing in a PTQ or the $5K StarCityGames.com Standard Open events, I would recommend testing rigorously with or against Spectral Procession based decks. They are here in full force and not going away anytime soon. The next time the format changes is with M10 in July just before Nationals, so you should mentally and physically focus on those decks for the coming months. They have already proven themselves in PTQs and Regionals, and should not be taken lightly. These decks are no longer blown out by Volcanic Fallout, nor are they destroyed by a single Wrath of God. These decks have a short game, long game, and combo-esque draws that can put you out of the game as quickly as turn 4. Their disruption packages and sideboard blowouts can turn games around in a very short amount of time. If you would like an example:

After mulliganing to 5 on the play, my friend Will Cruse gets completely shut down by Five-Color Control. In the first 5 turns of the game, the Five-Color guy casts Path to Exile on a Sculler, Volcanic Fallout for Spectral Procession, and even plays Cryptic Command to counter a Cloudgoat Ranger. With one card in hand and six lands, a Bitterblossom, and an Ajani Goldmane in play, the opponent taps out for Liliana Vess, making Will discard his last card: Path to Exile (the opponent was playing Plumeveils and Broodmate Dragon). With his opponent tapped out, Will topdecked Identity Crisis. Suddenly, the opponent’s advantage was turned into nothing, and he had only a 6-loyalty Liliana Vess in play, and six or so lands. Identity Crisis had removed his hand: double Cryptic Command, Wrath of God, Plumeveil, and some other cards from the game. Will continued to topdeck a Cloudgoat Ranger, sealing the game, even against a tutored Cruel Ultimatum. New cards like Zealous Persecution and Identity Crisis put a real beating on the deck’s close or bad matchups, and are able to pull you out of very sticky situations.

These are the reasons why I recommend BW Tokens. Thanks for reading.

Todd Anderson
strong sad on MOL
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