Extended is wide open! There are an endless number of possible decks! The sky's the limit so long as you abide by the Golden Rule! Here's the Golden Rule:
This is the way the format is shaping up — and up until recently, I had accepted that I would be playing by the Golden Rule all season. Now I have hope. My quest for the past few weeks has been to find a deck that's more than just a worse version of Faeries or an alternative build of Jund. It's beyond me to conquer the Golden Rule completely, but I now feel that I can at least add a third card to the list:
B/W Tokens is an old Standard deck, so it's easy to brush it off by assuming that two years' worth of new sets have increased the power of the format and left this deck in the dust. This assumption would be dead wrong. For starters, the lovely addition of Elspeth Tirel has given B/W Tokens a whole new bag of tricks to use in the end game. Beyond that, to get a real idea of where B/W Tokens can be in the extended metagame, we should look at where it was in standard, and what's changed since then.
B/W Tokens was fantastic in Lorwyn/Shards of Alara Standard. During its heyday, it ranged from being totally dominant to being the best deck by only a modest margin. The latter was when it was preyed on by Turbofog and Time Sieve — decks that do not exist in today's Extended. B/W Tokens traditionally fares well against Faeries, and against aggro decks built to have game against Faeries. It's at its best in a metagame like this, with no popular combo decks and only a few pure control decks (which play only a few board sweepers). More importantly, it has natural advantages — three, in my mind — which give it game in any situation.
The first two strengths of the deck go hand-in-hand, and I've gone out of my way to emphasize them in the above decklist. First, B/W Tokens is a creature deck, but spot removal is quite bad against it. Second, every nonland card in the deck is a powerful midgame topdeck. There are no creatures that can be answered one-for-one. There are nine cards that create an army out of thin air.
The third strength of B/W Tokens is that its board position grows exponentially with each spell it resolves. If you give your B/W Tokens opponent room to breathe, you'll quickly find things spiraling out of control. This was true in the past — but not like it is today, with the recent printing of Elspeth Tirel. The more creatures I have in play, the more counters added by Ajani Goldmane. If I untap with three creatures, Windbrisk Heights threatens any of the deck's most powerful spells for the cost of two mana and zero cards from my hand. Once I clog the board, it's impossible to get to my planeswalkers. Once I'm the aggressor, I can be free to gain life and grow their loyalty so that I have a colossal advantage if things somehow get reset.
B/W Tokens is a difficult deck to classify; it has aspects of control, aggro, and combo. It's not particularly fast, like the W/B Weenie deck I posted last time. If it's an aggro deck, it's similar to Mythic — it wins with creatures, but there's no need to be discouraged if the opponent is still at twenty by turn 5. In fact, the longer the game goes, the more confident I feel about winning. For this reason, I tend to treat B/W Tokens as a control deck that puts its efforts into creature advantage rather than mana, cards in hand, or defensive planeswalkers (as more traditional control decks do).
There's a lot about the deck that can't be learned from a brief summary, so I encourage everyone to try it for themselves. It's a great deck to play because you feel like you can come back from any situation. It also plays much differently from everything else in the format and matches up well against the top decks.
The biggest flaw with my decklist is the mana curve. Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize are my only plays before turn 3. I've already touched on the reasons for this: weenie creatures might take the opponent from twenty to fourteen, but that doesn't contribute to the game plan of building a late-game army. Also, a non-token, non-persist creature is a bad topdeck in the mid-game and is a lightning rod for removal.
Tidehollow Sculler, while one of the best cards in the W/B Weenie deck, doesn't pull its weight in here — at least not in every matchup. Its best use would be to strip a Mana Leak so that a bigger spell can resolve in the narrow window before the Tidehollow Sculler is killed. However, I'd rather just cast two must-counter spells back to back, and then let them spend their Disfigure on my Bitterblossom token.
Thoughtseize, on the other hand, does everything Sculler does for one mana, and they don't get their card back once they find their Volcanic Fallout a few turns down the road. Inquisition of Kozilek doesn't belong because it can't take Cryptic Command, Mistbind Clique, or Bloodbraid Elf — the most feared cards for B/W Tokens. Duress will often miss against creature decks, and therefore stays on the sideboard.
The next early drop I would add would be an additional removal spell. Unfortunately, removal doesn't count as an early drop against Faeries, which is the matchup where I most feel the pain of a high mana curve. Fortunately, Tokens is one of the few decks that's able to hang with Faeries on an empty board in the mid-game. Also, War Priest of Thune is the perfect sideboard card because it kills Bitterblossom at a huge profit but can also be run out as a bear on turn 2 if the situation calls for it.
Three Path to Exiles serves as all-purpose maindeck removal — which also happens to be the removal suite that I want postboard against Faeries. Zealous Persecution makes one-toughness creatures a nonissue. Beyond that, the most important creatures to kill are Gaddock Teeg, Fauna Shaman, and (to a lesser extent) Knight of the Reliquary. Murderous Redcap is great for the first two, and Deathmark on the sideboard takes care of all three.
Redcap, along with Kitchen Finks, does wonders at holding the ground. Chump blocking is a crucial part of playing this deck between winning close races, offsetting life loss from Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize, and protecting Planeswalkers. Magic has an obscure rule that says if a creature has a -1/-1 counter and a +1/+1 counter, both are removed. So with Ajani Goldmane in play, creatures will keep blocking and persisting every single turn. It comes up surprisingly often, since the planeswalker is impossible to kill with an endless stream of vigilant blockers. This interaction is particularly a nightmare for Jund and Naya.
Elspeth Tirel was tailor-made to be awesome in this deck. Every single ability of hers is fantastic. When things are going well, she can come down and put both herself and me out of kill range. When things are going badly, she can make three potential blockers (which are also potential attackers). Now the opponent is in the position of needing to devote four attackers to killing her — in which case I might not block and earn myself some breathing room with a token generation plus free fog. Drawing two is even great because the first one can go -2, -2, and the second one can come down on the same turn and +2, putting me out of harm's way and threatening a one-sided Planar Cleansing the next turn.
There are some games where one Elspeth Tirel stays in play for half-a-dozen turns and dominates the game on her own. In these games, it can be nice to mix in a Cloudgoat Ranger as reinforcements, so I go with a 3-2 split. Cloudgoat Ranger is slightly better than Conqueror's Pledge because I'm guaranteed to get something out of the deal if they play Volcanic Fallout or Maelstrom Pulse.
Resolving an early Bitterblossom or Spectral Procession makes life very difficult for them. Unfortunately, between discard spells and Mana Leak, there will be plenty of games where they don't resolve. These are still very winnable, but it's where I feel the pain of my opponent having Cryptic Command while I don't. Zealous Persecution means my Bitterblossoms are better than theirs, and Scion of Oona and Vendilion Clique often don't live long enough to matter. Mistbind Clique is very good against Tokens, but it's difficult for them to safely resolve it between Zealous Persecution and Path to Exile.
-2 Murderous Redcap
-1 Reflecting Pool
+3 War Priest of Thune
The matchup is dead even before sideboarding and slightly favorable after. There isn't much the Faeries player can change that will make a difference.
Also dead even. Jund can't keep up once I establish a board presence and start playing planeswalkers, so they have to answer everything in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, they have answers to everything in the form of Maelstrom Pulse, Volcanic Fallout (usually after sideboard), and direct damage for planeswalkers.
-3 Path to Exile
-4 Zealous Persecution
-1 Elspeth Tirel
+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+2 Wilt-Leaf Liege
Most of the games Jund wins involve Blightning. The direct damage to me or damage to planeswalkers is relevant and there's no way to make up the card disadvantage. That's why Wilt-Leaf Liege is my sideboard card of choice for the matchup.
This is a good matchup, and a great reason to play the deck. Every card in B/W Tokens is either game-breaking in a creature mirror, or buys a ton of time so that I can cast my game-breaking spells. Unlike Jund, Naya doesn't have answers. They can steal a few games with Gaddock Teeg, but the list I suggest has eight ways to kill him between maindeck and sideboard.
+1 Day of Judgment
+1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
I often bring in all four Burrenton Forge-Tenders, but it depends on their exact decklist. It's very frustrating for them to have their exalted Woolly Thoctar blocked indefinitely while they take hits in the air.
This can be unfavorable, depending on their decklist, but Elspeth Tirel and Duress are great additions since these two decks met in Standard two years ago.
-4 Zealous Persecution
-1 Path to Exile
-1 Murderous Redcap
+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
Various Red Burn Decks
I have an outdated edition of the Magic textbook and didn't shell out for this year's version, so I don't know if I'm supposed to call this Red Deck Wins or not. Regardless, this is a great matchup for B/W Tokens. I can't envision losing two out of three games here. Where Faeries struggles, Tokens has an easy time. Kitchen Finks and the seven planeswalkers all gain life, and Burrenton Forge-Tender is icing on the cake.
-2 Zealous Persecution
+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
I've played extensively with B/W Tokens and I've been happy with the results for the most part. I've been thrilled with the way it matches up against the top decks in the format. However, for a while I was carried away with perfecting the three matchups that I played most frequently — Faeries, Jund, and Naya — and forgot about everything else. I entered a PTQ without Day of Judgment in my 75 because I didn't like the card against Faeries or Jund and I wanted my sideboard cards against Naya to get through Gaddock Teeg. In six rounds, I played against one Faeries (and won), zero Jund, and zero Naya. Instead it was Elf Combo, Elf Aggro, Ooze Combo, Tempered Steel, and Reveillark. I went 4-2 before dropping to get some sleep before the Magic Online monthly Championship, but I felt like I was lucky to have that record.
The PTQ highlighted some flaws both with B/W tokens and with the way I was approaching the metagame. In my mind, the format was only Faeries, Naya, and Jund, which all bat close to .500 against one another. I thought I had an edge with Tokens because I was a significant favorite against Naya and maybe a slight favorite against the other two. It should have been obvious that in a 200-player tournament, not everyone is going to think the way I do — and there will always be significant representation of more than three decks.
B/W Tokens is a slow, non-interactive deck. That's not generally a good recipe for success in a wide open format. I felt pretty helpless against Ooze Combo and Elf Combo, though things ended up going my way and I won both of those matchups. In retrospect, I'm glad I played B/W Tokens, but it was foolish to not include Day of Judgment because it's such a powerful tool against rogue strategies that will inevitably come up in every tournament. There should probably be two in the list, but I didn't want to suggest a large change to my readers without testing it myself.
As for me, I'd personally play Faeries if there was a PTQ tomorrow, because it's simply such a good deck against a wide open field. However, I'm not finished with B/W Tokens yet and I believe it has potential. Between B/W Tokens and W/B Weenie, I give a very slight nod to W/B Weenie because it's so fast that it has a great chance to steal wins in matchups that would otherwise be unfavorable. However, both decks have a lot going for them, and I recommend either one depending on your personal preferences.
P.S. - The Fateful Thoughtseize
I think I could have been 5-1 instead of 4-2 in the PTQ I played with B/W Tokens. I was on the play in game three against a Tempered Steel opponent who mulliganed to six.
I played a Swamp and Thoughtseized him with Marsh Flats, Fetid Heath, Path to Exile, Kitchen Finks, and Murderous Redcap still in my hand. I saw: Darkslick Shores, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Court Homunculus, Thoughtseize, and Master of Etherium.
I went on to lose this game based on the card I finally decided to take and what came off the top of our decks afterwards. I separately asked four friends what the best move was, and got a few different answers. But after long consideration I think there is a best move — and it's not what I did.
Please post in the forums if you have any thoughts on this situation. I'll post what I took, what happened, and what I should have taken the day after this article is published.
Keep in mind that I had only three Path to Exiles in my deck as removal, no Day of Judgment. I felt confident that my deck would win a long game as long as his board didn't get out of control in the first few turns.