I had a simple mission coming out of #PTSOI: “Don’t screw it up.”
This year, I didn’t.
My relationship with Magic over the past several seasons has been strange with a variety of ups and downs. Many of those moments have been chronicled on this very website through my writing.
Today, I went back and re-read a piece I wrote at the beginning of last year.
Life is strange.
It’s difficult to express how much different (and better) both my situation and attitude are now than they were when I wrote that article.
This past weekend I entered #GPNY (which actually took place in Secaucus, New Jersey, which I found out through Patrick Sullivan via proxy of Andrew Brown means “place of snakes;” this amused me to no end) in need of a Pro Point to lock up Platinum at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. I had afforded myself approximately six shots to reach that threshold before the Pro Tour, where I could also receive an additional point.
When I started the tournament 1-2 after my byes, I had little hope for reaching my goal on the weekend, but I kept winning and found myself essentially playing for Platinum in the fourth round of the second day of competition. I won that match too, and while I gave and received my fair share of hugs, I still had a tournament to play out. I won the next two rounds as well to make my third Grand Prix Top 8, where a victory in the quarterfinals was essentially a $5,000 ante match for enabling Platinum benefits before the last Pro Tour of the season.
I ultimately lost in the semifinals, but I far exceeded my expectations for not only the tournament but the season.
I’m happy, and that’s something that I don’t want to understate, but not in the manner that I expected.
I’ve dreamed of this moment ever since I started watching coverage of the Pro Tour as a kid a decade ago. At some point during my early adult life, I thought it would never come close to being a possibility, but I was thrust back into tournament Magic and success came and then left me just as quickly.
Ever since those feelings of disappointment, I’ve strived to focus on the process and maintain an introspective look on my decisions, both the good and bad. I always just wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve my goals.
When I locked Platinum, I was happy, but I didn’t feel any different about myself. I suppose somewhere along the journey I had already subconsciously realized that I was capable; I simply needed to execute.
I don’t feel any overwhelming hunger for Worlds or a specific title. I just want to keep growing and have the satisfaction of being good at my job.
This is probably a reasonable time to get to the deck I played this weekend.
Sometimes great things come from humble beginnings:
This was the message I received from Gerry after getting home from testing at his place earlier that evening. After the results of Grand Prix Toronto, it was clear that G/W Tokens had cemented itself as the “deck to beat” of Standard.
I wasn’t particularly enamored with the stock list’s ability to fight through some of the expected shifts in the metagame like the influx of Cryptolith Rite, Grixis Control, or even the Bant Company matchup. That being said, the core of planeswalkers, Dromoka’s Command, and Archangel Avacyn is undoubtedly powerful and is the style of deck I prefer the most.
This is what I ultimately played in the Snake Pit:
The Many Angles of G/W Tokens
On its base level, G/W Tokens is a consistent deck that plays a plethora of resilient threats. The core of Hangarback Walker; Sylvan Advocate; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and Archangel Avacyn represents the most powerful and largely the stickiest threats for their respective mana costs. These cards are all excellent at clawing through the various effects that may have once been good solutions to the expected decks like Humans and Bant Company.
G/W Tokens also just has one of the best draws in the format. It is remarkably difficult to handle a clean curve of planeswalkers into an Archangel Avacyn or Westvale Abbey. It simply requires too many pieces of interaction lining up properly for an opponent.
As a result, games of Standard have shifted to become far more about positioning battles. We joked in playtesting that the correct play was to “never kill your opponent.” Rather, one should simply strive to maintain planeswalker advantage and diversify your types of permanents on the battlefield to better fight the bigger effects in the format, notably sweepers like Languish and Tragic Arrogance.
While my deck was certainly capable of just getting opponents dead, there is a lot to be said for how you can construct your gameplan once you have access to cards like Tragic Arrogance and Evolutionary Leap. The former is just a massive catch-up card that is extremely difficult to play around, particularly in tandem with Archangel Avacyn.
It was mostly unexpected by the majority of my opponents coming from the maindeck and could lead to specific battlefield states where I was able to assassinate their planeswalker with my last large creature or simply wipe out all of their hard work.
The Rite decks are traditionally poor matchups for G/W (and I ultimately did lose to a four-color version in the Top 8), but having access to Tragic Arrogance gives G/W Tokens a reasonable fighting chance. Their plan of locking up the ground and going over the top of you with a combo kill suddenly gets much harder when they can get reset at a moment’s notice. As I touched on before, in tandem with Avacyn Arachangel, it is possible to set up a turn cycle where you are able to wipe out absolutely everything while simultaneously putting a huge clock on them. This also gives you a reasonable answer to cards like Ormendahl, Profane Prince without resorting to playing Declaration in Stone.
What perhaps surprised me the most was that Tragic Arrogance was basically never dead. Again, as I mentioned previously, the metagame has shifted to the point where everyone is interested in fighting for battlefield position due to the rampancy of planeswalkers. Even the control decks are either deploying their own Gideons or loading up on Dragons or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
My highlight Tragic Arrogance of the weekend was leaving my opponent with just a Plant token that he generated when he stole my Nissa, Voice of Zendikar with a Dragonlord Silumgar alongside Dragonlord Ojutai. Simply drawing live to Tragic Arrogance from just about any desperate situation is a huge boon to the archetype.
I have been singing the praises of Evolutionary Leap for a long time. It is yet another card that can drastically change the dynamic of the game at hand and it is a surprisingly excellent tool in the main deck of G/W Tokens.
A likely understated aspect of this deck on the base level in relation to Leap is that there are very few actual creatures in the deck. With only twelve, three different four-ofs, the range of creatures you will be investing towards on a specific activation of Leap is quite reliable. When the worst thing you can be doing in the late-game is setting up a spree of “Tarmogoyf,” an engine clearly has legs. More excitingly, being able to work towards the inevitability of the Hangarback Walker chain or finding and flipping multiple Archangel Avacyns at will is ridiculously difficult to beat for any archetype.
Due to the fact that even the more control slanted decks are basically interested in leveraging short-term advantages instead of over-the-top effects that we’ve seen in the past like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, it is almost impossible for them to compete with this end-game.
Hangarback Walker in particular does good work for providing insurance so that we can profitably play offense and defense simultaneously against just about any popular threat. Any effort to augment the Thopters with either a Nissa -2 or Gideon emblem quickly kills an opponent once the engine is online.
Another interesting side effect of maindecking Evolutionary Leap was that I frequently had insurance against my opponent’s Tragic Arrogances and Declaration in Stones. When you are able to sacrifice down to a single gigantic threat at will or prevent the spread of token genocide, there is even more upside to incorporating the enchantment into one’s deck.
My sideboard for the tournament was admittedly a little weak. This is somewhat a side effect of being “pre-sideboarded” but also just a few missteps.
The single Nissa, Vastwood Seer is just my personal touch. I love the card and thought it would be a nice complement to my deck against not only control strategies but when I needed to go “bigger” and make sure that I could appropriately bridge my curve from three to five and beyond.
Conclave Naturalists was a consideration to those that might go over the top with effects like Virulent Plague or enchantment-based removal. Ultimately, I would consider it a dud and stopped sideboarding it in by the middle of the first day.
The additional removal was welcome against a variety of aggressive strategies and Rite decks. Angelic Purge in particular was a nod to the movement towards these decks alongside Ramp or any Kalitas / Virulent Plague decks. It is never a particularly efficient card, but as a versatile option it is powerful, and there were several games where its “drawback” was actively awesome as a means to pop my Hangarback Walker and start getting aggressive with an Anthem effect.
Linvala, the Preserver is meant to be a big effect for mirror matches that is still effective when you are ahead. Boarding into a bunch of Tragic Arrogances on the play isn’t too advisable, since we’d rather be curving out and getting aggressive, but Linvala plays nicely as a large threat that can also help you catch up should things go horribly awry.
While I was boarding in Linvala against various Rite decks in the tournament, I don’t think this is necessarily a good idea. The matchup tends to be about leveraging one of your sweepers and some well-timed removal against their key pieces, like Duskwatch Recruiter, Eldrazi Displacer, and Zulaport Cutthroat. It is imperative that we ultimately start getting aggressive and due to the importance of Archangel Avacyn and Tragic Arrogance in the matchup; we don’t want to get clogged on the top-end.
This notion of trying to get aggressive on the play and use the deck’s ability to get powerful curves of planeswalkers should be taken into account for Lambholt Pacifist. The Werewolf is present specifically for being a roadblock against decks like Humans, but it is also a nice complement against decks like Ramp or anyone else that Tokens can’t properly grind through with traditional means.
The card I feel like I’m specifically missing from my sideboard is Den Protector. I played against an opponent in the mirror late in the first day who absolutely destroyed me with Den Protector in combination with Dromoka’s Command. Having the ability to bypass an opponent’s blockers and maintain planeswalker advantage is absolutely huge in the mirror.
Further, any plan against Rite or a control matchup predicated on Evolutionary Leap would welcome Den Protector. This probably means that the megamorph creature should likely just end up in the maindeck, since it complements our plans in the majority of the matchups that are present in Standard, but it is always difficult to predict the way that the metagame might shift.
Overall, I wouldn’t make any drastic changes to the deck and I’m fairly confident that this approach toward a multilayered G/W Tokens deck that can effectively execute a variety of gameplans is going to be an excellent strategy moving forward.
It’s been a long string of tournaments, so I may be taking a week off for #SCGINDY, but I will certainly be attending #GPCharlotte the following week. It feels good for my goal to come to fruition. I only hope to maintain proper perspective and continue to make the best decisions I can for the remainder of the season and beyond.