Wizards of the Coast just released a new set in Aether Revolt! They also had an unprecedented banning of not one, not two, but three cards in Standard! To top it off, Wizards even changed a rule in the game! It’s not really a big one, but people like to think it is! Last year was a dark and dismal time to play Magic, but 2017 is looking better than ever! No more Emrakul, no more Smuggler’s Copter, no more bouncing my stuff! Yeah, I might be exclaiming too much, but so what I’m excited! We’ve got #SCGCOL this weekend, #SCGRICH after that, #SCGRegionals after that, and then the cherry on top of this delicious treat is #SCGBALT, where the SCG Tour will be hosting their very first Team Constructed event! Hashtags and exclamation marks are just about as flush right now as the fun we’re about to be having playing Magic again!!!
What I’m most excited about is a new deck for #SCGCOL this weekend. Well, it’s not actually a “new” deck per se, but it’s new enough. Last year, G/W Tokens dominated Standard for a time, but even though most of its intrinsic pieces dodged the rotation, it stopped being a good deck. For some reason, whatever it was, G/W Tokens just couldn’t cut it anymore.
“What are ‘These local yokels?'” – Tim Aten
G/W Tokens sure did luck out! Not only did three of the deck’s strongest adversaries get the banhammer, but Aether Revolt did its best Santa impression by gifting the deck new toys! You might be thinking to yourself that there’s no way G/W Tokens has what it takes to defeat Saheeli Rai, Cat Lady, but I’m going to be the first to go on record and say she’s not the best token generator in town!
So what can I really say about the general strategy of G/W Tokens that you don’t already know? You put permanents on the battlefield and then use your superior intellect to bash your opponent to bits. Of course we will talk about specific card choices, but I’m pretty sure we are all caught up on how this deck is trying to win. Okay, fine, you got me! I actually have no clue how to win games with this deck. I’ve just been casting my spells and turning every other card sideways, and somehow this deck’s had the highest win percentage of anything I’ve tried. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out!
My version of G/W Tokens is playing four new cards from Aether Revolt, and all four of them deserve some explanation on why they are so flippin’ awesome!
“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” – Eric Taylor
If you’ve played with this card, you are well aware how much of a beating this card deals out. For those uninformed individuals, I’d like to let you in on the new two-mana Vehicle that’s going to kick just as much butt as Smuggler’s Copter. Crew 3 may seem like a steep cost which most certainly warps deck construction, but Heart of Kiran makes it up by being the first Vehicle to let unanimated planeswalkers get in and drive. For the inexpensive cost of just one loyalty counter, this once immobile boulder turns into a rock capable of making any house turn to glass. It smashes across the battlefield for more damage than anything before it, but that’s only the half of it. Next turn, the normally defenseless planeswalker now has a Plumeveil ready to protect its quarterback. All of this as early as turn 3!
Heart of Kiran changes the game for G/W Tokens. It gives the deck an unbelievably aggressive curve that many decks won’t be able to keep up with. When on the back foot, this card can come down on the cheap, allowing you to catch up by playing multiple spells in a single turn. Nowadays, playing a couple two-drops on defense in the mid-game isn’t enough to stem the tide, but never before was one of them a 4/4 flyer! This card is a multipurpose real deal and something you should be thinking about playing!
I had some pretty cheap “steals” these past few sets during the first couple of weeks. My Tireless Trackers and Smuggler’s Copters only set me back $1.50 each, while my Elder Deep-Fiends were only 50 cents a pop. I thought this little mobile pellet gun was going to be my frugal find of the set, but boy was I wrong. For good reason too! Hangarback Walker taught us not to undervalue these seemingly innocuous threats that scale, and people remembered it! Walking Ballista may not be the flashiest of cards to come out of Aether Revolt, but its lack of flamboyance is countered by its overwhelming efficiency relative to the format.
Just like with Hangarback Walker, not every deck is going to want this card, but the ones that do need it desperately. G/W Tokens is one of those decks that probably wouldn’t be able to exist without Walking Ballista. First off, this card stops the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo dead in its tracks. Saheeli Rai will find herself vulnerable at one loyalty as she desperately awaits the arrival of her second mechanical meower, and just then Walking Ballista can send an arrow right through her precious heart. If Walking Ballista is on the battlefield, the cats are kept at bay!
So that’s the “main” reason for why Walking Ballista belongs in this deck, but we’re just scratching to surface of this card’s true power. First of all, this card scales in cost, which is a nice thing to have in a deck that has a rigid curve with a high number of legendary permanents with no real mana sinks. It can come down on turn 2 when we have nothing else but also can absorb the mana from six to eight lands when we have a surplus of real estate. To make things even better, the card is a true mana sink! Four mana may seem like a lot at first, but the ability to deal one damage anywhere isn’t a bad rate for a flooding out green and white deck. Even intending to use this ability disguises Archangel Avacyn, which is something we all overly respect.
Speaking of everyone’s favorite Angel, Walking Ballista can do some dirty things with Archangel Avacyn. By now we are well aware of how Archangel Avacyn’s flip trigger can be “cheated” by using Selfless Spirit or Hangarback Walker in unconventional ways, and now Walking Ballista has the ability to do one or the other! It can be “sacrificed” on a whim and be cast at sorcery speed for zero mana in combination with Archangel Avacyn when you need that turn 5 Firespout. Walking Ballista isn’t even out of tricks, though! Thanks to its ability to deal damage, a Walking Ballista with more than one counter can kill a Plant token in response to Archangel Avacyn’s indestructible trigger. With Avacyn, the Purifier’s deal-three trigger on the stack, it can then help Purify creatures with higher than three toughness. Talk about a perfect match!
The last, and maybe most important reason why this card is amazing is that it’s direct damage in any color combination. These arrows can deal with pesky chump blockers, threaten to kill bigger creatures in combat, or even hit the player in the face to kill them or their planeswalkers! Even off the top of the deck, Walking Ballista’s half a Fireball, which is a pretty good rate for a color combination that’s never had direct damage before now! This card is just great!
“Um, excuse me, did you get your facts from Buzzfeed?”
People lost their minds when Jace, Unraveler of Secrets first spoiled due to his uncanny resemblance to Ob Nixilis Reignited. Three sets later, we see Ajani Unyielding again have the same framework as these other two planeswalkers, yet no one seemed up in arms about this glaring lack of originality. I guess people don’t really mind when green and white get card advantage and great removal, which is exactly what Ajani Unyielding is!
This card’s in the sideboard of the deck to give it an additional boost against grindy matchups like B/G Delirium and blue-based control decks. I don’t even know if the deck needs the pair of Tireless Trackers in the sideboard, but I’m not up to saying goodbye to my main squeeze just yet. This card and I have shared many a good time thus far in our relationship, and it’s yet to let me down. I can’t say for certain yet if Ajani Unyielding will overshadow my favorite three-drop, but I wouldn’t count him out. This planeswalker is the real deal, and I consider it a sleeper at this stage in the game. It would be an absolute all-star without the looming fear of the feline infestation, but I don’t even think that will be enough to keep it from dominating Magic’s center stage.
Easily the most unseemly card in the deck, Sram’s Expertise simply plays a unique role in a deck as dependent on the play or draw as G/W Tokens. Cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can flourish under the right conditions, but rarely is that when it’s being accosted by early aggression. That’s where Sram’s Expertise steps in. Many have tried to make this card a centerpiece of a strategy, but my favorite role for it is when you just need time to catch up.
On the draw, Sram’s Expertise can get sideboarded in, allowing you to create a reliable battlefield position with its ability to cast an additional spell. Now, these Servo tokens simply “serve” a specific purpose, and that’s to keep you alive. If that means chump blocking before Fumigate, so be it! They can also give you the battlefield presence you need to make a turn 5 Archangel Avacyn that much more detrimental to the opposing gameplan. Just keep in mind that when Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is bad, Sram’s Expertise is probably good!
I guess we should probably talk about some of the older cards in the deck that didn’t cut it last year when this deck was so dominant.
Thalia, Heretic Cathar wasn’t something I considered for this deck during its infant stages. I wanted to test newer cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Oath of Ajani, but neither of them felt right. You would think they would both be great in a deck that has Walking Ballista and Lambholt Pacifist, but the synergies were just not enough. Thalia, Heretic Cathar might not synergize well with the cards in this deck, but that’s because it’s not her job. She exists to disenfranchise the opposing strategies, and right now that’s really important.
Thalia, Heretic Cathar has been known to weaken a planeswalker’s built-in defensive capabilities, slow greedy manabases, make crewing Vehicles more difficult, and leave bleeding opponents without potential blockers. Now she has an even more important task, and that’s to keep Cats off our streets. In combination with Walking Ballista, Thalia, Heretic Cathar gives this G/W Tokens decks seven permanents it can cast that need to be dealt with before a combo player can “go off.” It might not always work, but that’s the gambit we’ve chosen.
Safer choices like Authority of the Consuls do exist that could take up some sideboard space, but I’m not one to bring in cards like that against controlling strategies that could theoretically sideboard out the combo in anticipation for hateful sideboards. Everyone knows Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian are coming, which means those who play the combo will have plans to win through adversity. I’m not going to be one of those chumps that sideboards in all these dead cards to just lose to other planeswalkers and Torrential Gearhulks!
Moving on to the sideboard brings up all the uncertainties that come with Week One. I’ve chosen to respect G/R Energy by playing a slew of Blessed Alliance and Fumigate. Normally G/W strategies are weak to this powerful combat-combo deck, but a respectful fifteen can help turn the tables on them in the sideboarded games. Not only that, but Walking Ballista can take down threatening Electrostatic Pummelers in the mid-game, which so happens to be the scariest card against us. Seriously, Walking Ballista can do it all! Well, as long as “it all” is killing stuff before its inevitable sacrificial death.
I’m a huge fan of Quarantine Field, but without the knowledge of mirror-match probability, I think I would stick to just one. I would suggest adding another copy of this card if you get to #SCGCOL and hear a lot of buzz about G/W Tokens. It’s absolutely spectacular in the mirror!
Outside of that, we are just going to have to wait and see what everyone else brings to the table this weekend in Columbus. It’s an exciting time right now for Magic, and I can’t wait to watch all the action unfold. I, sadly, won’t be in attendance, even though I now finally have two byes again! I’ve chosen to sacrifice a good time at #SCGCOL so that I can attempt to become a better Limited player in preparation for the Pro Tour. I can’t let my new teammates down! I hope you have fun doing battle this weekend wherever you are, and please let me know how you did if you ended up heeding my advice.