Feature Article – Black/Red Tokens in Standard

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Monday, June 23rd – At any given pro-level Constructed event, there are few certainties. However, one sure-fire fact is that the UK’s premier deck designer Stuart Wright will have something exciting up his sleeve for the main event. Today he shares his Pro Tour: Hollywood deck based on token creatures and Furystoke Giant. He also brings us excellent sideboarding advice for when facing the expected archetypes. [Editor’s Note: Patrick Chapin will be appearing later in the week. Stay tuned!]

At Pro Tour: Hollywood, I played a Red/Black token deck of my own design. I placed 33rd.

Before the PT, there were a number of such Black/Red token style decks floating around, mostly abusing Grave Pact. I managed a little playtesting with the deck before the Shadowmoor release, to get a basic feel for the strategy. It was fine but it needed something, and luckily they printed pretty much the perfect card in Furystoke Giant. It fills almost the same role as Grave Pact, but is still useful against low creature decks. More importantly, it makes your manabase so much better.

Here’s what I played in the PT:

I’m pretty happy with this list, and would only make a few slight changes. First, I’d cut the Slaughter Pact from the main and replace it with the fourth Furystoke Giant. Then I’d add an Extirpate and a Threaten to the sideboard, in place of the Furystoke and Loxodon Warhammer. The earlier builds of this deck had more goblins, such as Knucklebone Witch and Mad Auntie, but the problem with all of these cards was that if you cut any then they all grew weaker. In the end I decided that the overall goblin theme wasn’t really worth it, and went back to simply playing the most powerful cards (including the goblins that didn’t require help to be useful). This does mean that the goblin count for Auntie’s Hovel is a bit low, and I was forced to play Nameless Inversion over Terror to help with this problem.

Once the goblin cards were cut we had a lot more space for metagame cards like Magus of the Moon and Shadow Guildmage, both of which are very powerful in the current format. People are playing a lot of non-basic lands even in their two color decks, due to Mutavault and Treetop Village. This means Magus has the potential to lock people out of playing any spells, and it still disrupts them in a worst-case scenario. Shadow Guildmage might not seem powerful, but in current Standard there are a lot of one-toughness creatures. In fact, almost all of the current top decks are creature based, which is certainly something to remember when building your own decks. In this case, killing off creatures like Llanowar Elves or Cursecatchers can be really powerful, helping you to gain board control. As this deck has four, it isn’t that rare for you to draw two or more, allowing you to utterly dominate any deck without removal, such as Merfolk. The other cards in the deck either produce tokens or provide some useful effect with tokens.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me about the list and why cards are or aren’t in it so I’m going to go over the more common questions.

1) Why Furystoke Giant over Grave Pact? The simple answer is Giant is just better, as I mentioned earlier… he makes your manabase better and works if they don’t have creatures out. He allows for a much faster kill; shooting people for ten twice is very possible, and you can get a similar effect more than once. If the mana would support it properly I would include some number of Grave Pacts in my sideboard, but Magus of the Moon makes this really hard.
2) Why aren’t you playing different lands? (Mostly Mutavault or Graven Cairns) I feel that a lot of people don’t put enough thought into their manabase, when it is one of the most important parts of building a deck. First you need to see if you can support the spells you want at all with the lands you have available. Then, assuming you can, you need to work out which non-basic lands will help you the most. You can’t afford to run nothing but pain lands, for example, and often adding a good number of basic lands will help you the most as well as helping with things like Magus of the Moon. In this deck’s case, you can see that we have twelve on- drops and no cards that required RR or BB early on. Therefore Graven Cairns is useless for casting a large number of our early drops, and doesn’t help that much for casting other spells. It would also become a Mountain under Magus, making it even worse here. Mutavault, on the other hand, just doesn’t fit with the game plan. You are mostly the control deck and not the player attacking with your creatures. If I felt that this deck could support more colorless lands then I would add a 2nd Kher Keep and Pendelhaven before adding lands that don’t help with your basic game plan. The mana in this deck can be difficult, as you do want Black and Red available as soon as possible… taking damage off your lands as well as from Bitterblossom and Shadow Guildmage can soon add up.
3) Do I think this deck is still good? Yes, it is certainly still playable. You lose some of the surprise factor, but it is still powerful enough. The main problem is Reveillark, which is your worse matchup. If you think that deck is going to be very popular in your area, then you probably should find a different deck to play in place of this one. Normally there are lots of different decks, with no one deck too popular, and thus the matchup isn’t impossible to win.

Final question… How do you sideboard with this deck?


In: 2 Slaughter Pact, 1 Magus of the Moon, 4 Thoughtseize
Out: 4 Mogg War Marshal, 1 Greater Gargadon, 1 Marsh Flitter, 1 Furystoke Giant

Here you take out a few of the more expensive cards, along with defensive cards that don’t really help against flyers. You have Slaughter Pact to replace them, which is mostly to help fight Mistbind Clique and then play a spell while they are tapped out from it. Thoughtseize also helps you force spells through, and removing their Bitterblossom can be very powerful. They will probably bring in Slaughter Pacts to deal with your Magus and sometimes Thoughtseize. Overall this matchup is quite a bit in your favor, but it is certainly possible for them to overpower you with their best draws.

Mono Red

In 4 Dragon’s Claw, 2 Slaughter Pact, 1 Threaten
Out: 3 Magus of the Moon, 4 Bitterblossom

In this matchup, the early game is all about minimizing the damage they can deal to you with creatures, as in the long run your tokens are impossible for them to deal with in game 1. After sideboard they will probably have something like Sulfurous Blast, but you have Dragon’s Claw so they game will probably last quite a bit longer. This is still fine, as you have much better tools to win a long drawn-out game; just try not to overextend too much. Again, this matchup is in your favor, but you need to prevent as much early damage as possible then finish them quickly.

GB Elves

In: 2 Slaughter Pact, 1 Threaten
Out: 3 Greater Gargadon

Greater Gargadon is pretty weak in this matchup, as they have lots of blockers and cards like Wren’s Run Vanquishers that simply kill it. The Threaten is mostly because there is an empty sideboard slot, and it is useful to kill Chameleon Colossus by feeding it to Marsh Flitters as well as the normal sacrifice outlets. You are very much the defensive deck, trying to reduce damage and build up to a big Furystoke Giant, or to kill them with flying tokens. This means you don’t want to start racing, you just want to absorb damage and conserve creature. Try to keep yourself out of Profane Command range, but otherwise you need a critical mass of creatures. They will probably bring in Slaughter Pact against you. Overall, the matchup is slightly in your favor but you need to play correctly to win.


In: 2 Slaughter Pact, 1 Threaten
Out: 3 Magus of the Moon

Again, you have to play defensively and try and save your removal for their Lord of Atlantis and Merrow Reejerey. As they don’t have any removal, Shadow Guildmage often utterly crushes them, and if you draw two you will often have total control. They will probably bring in Sunlance to help a touch, but overall this matchup is very easy and they need a very good draw to beat you.


In: 3 Extirpate, 4 Thoughtseize, 1 Magus of the Moon, 1 Threaten
Out: 2 Shadow Guildmage, 4 Mogg War Marshal, 2 Nameless Inversion

This matchup is pretty bad for you, so you need to take more risks than normal. You have a reasonable amount of resistance to Wrath of God, but your clock isn’t fast enough to kill them before they can get set up. Your main plan is to do some damage early then finish them off with a Furystoke Giant… this deck doesn’t run many counters, so try and combo off before they can. After sideboard you have a lot more disruption and a better chance in the long game. However, they often have Crovax, Ascendant Hero, so it is often best to save your Thoughtseize until just before they get to six mana.


In: 1 Magus of the Moon, 1 Slaughter Pact
Out: 2 Nameless Inversion

Making a few large creatures isn’t really a very good game plan against a deck full of tokens, so this matchup is pretty easy for you. It plays much like elves, except they have fewer larger creatures which are much easier for you to deal with. Also, Magus of the Moon is rather good against them as you can easily kill mana creatures, leaving them with a board full of mountains.

Now on to new matchups that only really popped up during the Pro Tour. I don’t really have that much play experience against these decks, so it will just have to be an educated guess on what to do.

RG Ramp

In: 4 Thoughtseize, 1 Slaughter Pact
Out: 2 Nameless Inversion, 3 Magus of the Moon

This is like Reveillark. It’s not quite as bad, but the matchups have similar types of games. They have a big sweeper and large powerful spell to which they ramp up. Try not to over extend too much.

Quick n’ Toast

In: 4 Thoughtseize, 3 Extirpate, 1 Magus of the Moon
Out: 2 Nameless Inversion, 2 Mogg War Marshal, 4 Shadow Guildmage

I’m not sure if all the Extirpates is too many but you can at least use them with Thoughtseize to remove cards they draw two of if you have too many.

Although the Slaughter Pacts do come in a lot, I still don’t think they are quite worth playing main deck. You have a number of cards that come out in the wrong matchups, and having more powerful narrow cards in the main deck seems like a better plan. Hopefully, I’ve addressed any issues people have with this deck, but feel free to ask about anything else in the forums.

Overall, I’m very happy with this deck. I had a reasonable finish, and someone else who picked up the deck the night before the tournament also did well… better than me, of course!

Good luck!