One Step Ahead – Wu Tang Tokens

W/u Tokens is a contender. It’s not as powerful or flashy as Wolf Run Ramp or Solar Flare, but it’s good, and as long as those decks exist, it’s better than Township Tokens. Read about the deck Cedric Phillips used to win States.

My choices for States were narrowed down to Mono-Black Infect and W/u Tokens. I played tokens only because I didn’t want to go through the trouble of finding Whispering Specters. Thankfully, I wasn’t in it alone. Tommy Ashton and Cedric Phillips, both aficionados for slightly off the cusp, yet somewhat competitive strategies, decided to take the plunge with me.

Cedric won his States in Washington, all the while texting me about how bad the deck was. Tommy and I didn’t fare as well.

No removal? Pssh, I don’t need it. Creating an impenetrable board state was my plan, which was how I used to win with W/B Tokens back in 2009. I used to play Terror in that deck, but that was only because Mistbind Clique existed. There isn’t much worth killing these days. Pointing removal at a Titan doesn’t exactly solve your problem. I honestly never thought I’d play in a Standard tournament without Dismember, but -5/-5 isn’t very good right now.

With no one-drops and no two-drops that affect the board immediately, you start under the gun. That’s the main reason I played so many Timely Reinforcements. Ideally, you’re going to play an Anthem on turn two, start producing some dudes to block and some more dudes to attack. You’ll be able to tell what kind of shape you’re in on turn four and be able to formulate a coherent game plan around then.

If you’re behind or on parity and don’t have a counterspell, you probably can’t afford to hold back for fear of a sweeper. If their mana is tied up, and you’ve got them on a clock, you don’t have to commit anything else to the board.

Everyone has a sweeper it seems like, so I went with the blue version for Mana Leak. Wolf Run Ramp is a tough deck to hate out, but I have a clock and disruption, so it actually ended up being very favorable. For the most part, the blue is going to help your bad matchups, whereas the green is more synergistic with the rest of your deck. Take your pick.

As I said, Cedric won States, but we both agreed the deck has issues.

Standard is all about trading one-for-one, but the token decks play a different game entirely. Intangible Virtue doesn’t trade with anything, and Midnight Haunting isn’t very powerful either. It’s all about synergy and more or less assembling Voltron.

Sometimes ignoring convention can pay off huge dividends. If Standard is all about one-for-ones, the natural response is start playing two-for-ones. The other option is playing trumps. Right now, Titans trump everything, and trading one-for-one is just a means to an end. I didn’t want to play their games, and both Infect and Tokens gave me that option.

The main issue with Tokens is that cards like Honor of the Pure are worth about half a card. They don’t provide you card advantage, and they don’t impact the board very much. However, once you play a couple Anthem effects and start cranking out tokens, you start to break even with them on card parity. A few token makers later, and you’re ahead, almost like you resolved your own Titan.

Midnight Haunting isn’t a good card. Spectral Procession was 33% better but often had Anthems and Windbrisk Heights to make it better. We have a surplus of Anthems, but the rest of our deck is significantly weaker. The Anthems only work with specific pieces too, unlike Glorious Anthem and Ajani Goldmane. Double Honor of the Pure draw with Shrine of Loyal Legions? Sick, you’ve got three legs and no arms!

If Honor of the Pure is worth half a card, Shrine of Loyal Legions is worth at least 2.5 cards. Seriously, that card is nuts. I knew from playing against it with Caw-Blade that it was powerful and scary, but I was typically prepared for it. Slagstorm is already overworked against Tokens, so they are usually out of answers by the time you’re ready to pop Shrine.

Most of my easy wins involved playing a Shrine at some point, and it didn’t really matter what turn. All of the other games I was scrapping with three-mana Doomed Traveler, and two mana gives one of my creatures +1/+1.

All that said, W/u Tokens is still a contender. I could poke holes in Standard decks all day long if I wanted to. Tokens has such a unique set of problems that it felt worth discussing.

Wolf Run Ramp is a good matchup. U/B Control is a good matchup. Red Deck Wins is a good matchup. Solar Flare is a good matchup. The only issue is that “good” might not be more than 55/45. “Good” also applies only when you have a reasonable draw, and sometimes you don’t draw the right mix of cards.

Doomed Traveler: I think this guy is better than he looks. When you’re goldfishing, he looks pretty terrible, but I think he’s better than Midnight Haunting. Tokens has more three-drops than it needs, and being able to make that swap would be nice.

Initially, I wanted him to stall against RDW, but he can’t even block Stromkirk Noble. If they have Spikeshot Elder, Goblin Arsonist, or Grim Lavamancer, you are probably winning anyway.

Intangible Virtue: I know I gave this one some crap on The Magic Show, but apparently there are a reasonable amount of playable token generators. My main issue was the fact that Wizards put vigilance on an otherwise aggressive card. I hate cards like Vampire Interloper and Nezumi Cutthroat, as they leave the player with no decisions. Intangible Virtue, although to a lesser extent, is another offender.

Imagine a board state where you have four 2/2 fliers thanks to your Anthem. You’re in a close racing situation against a Mono Red opponent with a Stromkirk Noble (2/2) and Hero of Oxid Ridge. He’s got one card and four mana untapped.

How many tokens do you attack with? At least one because his card in hand would have to be a removal spell, and his top card would have to be Hero of Oxid Ridge or Koth of the Hammer in order to punish you the most.

You assume that his card in hand is garbage, so maybe you attack with two. What if he peels nothing? You attacking with three tokens twice means he dies. Maybe you take that gamble.

With Intangible Virtue, none of this matters. You don’t have to think. “Am I chump attacking with this creature? If no, then attack.”

Magic is a game of inches, and those inches are gained by making good decisions. When the decision part of the equation is removed, it becomes less about skill.

The other issue was that, with most matchups, the vigilance won’t matter. I suppose that’s another way to “beef up” Intangible Virtue without making it do something broken, but it’s just funny to me that the vigilance is mostly irrelevant.

All that aside, Virtue did what it needed to do. Overall, it’s much better than Honor of the Pure.

Shrine of Loyal Legions: Wow. This one should be making waves once people realize it should be in their U/W Blade decks. If Tokens had another two-drop as powerful as this one, it would be tier one. Since it doesn’t, Tokens is mostly a mediocre deck when it doesn’t see a Shrine.

Blade Splicer: This is still one of the best cards in the format. It doesn’t get pumped by both Anthems, so it’s not as synergetic as Midnight Haunting. On average, you will see how highly Blade Splicer performs even without that bonus, while Midnight Haunting continues to be less than average.

Midnight Haunting: Sometimes this did things that no other card could, like block Inkmoth Nexus or keep your shields up while also advancing your board. It just wasn’t very good. The bodies weren’t impressive, and even with one Anthem, it accomplished very little. As I said, Doomed Traveler is a similar card and probably better, for 66% less mana.

Hero of Bladehold: Initially, I wanted zero profitable Dismember targets in my deck. It’s pretty nice being able to blank their removal, but Hero is too good not to play. Tokens also had a hole in the four-drop slot that Hero filled nicely.

Maybe I should have played the fourth maindeck.

Mana Leak: This or Gavony Township? In my mind, it’s not close. Township has more synergy, but how many pump effects do you need? I’d rather have some way to stop my opponent from interacting. U/W gives you Moorland Haunt, and between that and Ghost Quarter, you should have enough utility lands to not feel flooded.

The additional counterspells in the sideboard give you a huge advantage in the control and ramp matchups. I don’t understand how W/g Tokens ever beats those decks unless it has Overrun. Personally, I’d rather have disruption.

Elspeth Tirel: While not underrated by any means, she’s great against red. The ultimate can be useful, as demonstrated by some test games, but it hasn’t come in a live match. She does the job, which is mostly providing a steady stream of threats. Killing planeswalkers is tough against tokens, so you’re either going to get several activations from her or be dead already.

The miser’s cards (Mortarpod, Sword of Feast and Famine, Gideon Jura, Honor of the Pure): What can I say? I like one-ofs. I went into the tournament thinking that drawing any one of those cards would be fine in any matchup, and I was right. Honor of the Pure was the only one that I didn’t like, so I was glad I cut some at the last second.

Sword was effectively my third Anthem effect but will likely take over for Honor. Mortarpod was insane against Tempered Steel, RDW, and occasionally Wolf Run Ramp. It was another two-drop for aggro, which was pretty nice.

Gideon is always a solid man. He didn’t win me any games straight up, but he was a card that played defensive and offense. I was fine with running five five-drops with only 24 land, although Cedric went up to 61 cards to play a 25th land.

Timely Reinforcements: Since tokens doesn’t play any creatures until turn three, Reinforcements is good against most decks. It’s one of your best to come back from a slow start.

Oblivion Ring: I should have played four. The only reason I didn’t is because of the glut in the three-drop slot. This strategy ignores your opponents for the most part, but occasionally they play something you need to kill in order to win. Since this kills everything, and drawing two per game is acceptable, I’d play four.

Snapcaster Mage: I don’t have many spells game one, and I also don’t have many blue sources. Post-board, this guy has tons of targets and allows me to reuse my sideboard cards.

I could see adding a 25th land. There were times where I couldn’t hit five in time, which would have allowed me to play two spells or a planeswalker. Either of which could take over the game. I wouldn’t go the Cedric route and add a 61st card though. Most of the time, you want to draw specific cards like Intangible Virtue or Shrine of Loyal Legions, and playing 61 decreases your chances to draw those slightly.

If you’re drawing well, playing well, and tune the deck a little bit, I feel like W/u Tokens is a contender. It’s not as powerful or flashy as Wolf Run Ramp or Solar Flare, but it’s good, and as long as those decks exist, it’s better than Township Tokens.

I’ll be at the SCG Open in Baltimore this weekend, although I’m most likely playing Swamps instead of Glacial Fortresses…