Innistrad is a great set with plenty of cards that will hugely impact Constructed Magic. That said, Innistrad becoming legal will be the third biggest change to Standard next week.
Biggest Changes to Standard
- Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle rotates.
- Splinter Twin rotates.
- Two hundred and forty-nine new cards become legal.
Valakut and Splinter Twin are extremely oppressive decks that limit what strategies are tournament-playable. They herded us all (who weren't playing one of them) into either slow blue decks or suicidal hyper-aggressive decks. When I first realized that both would be gone and how wide open new Standard could be, I felt like a sheep without a shepherd. It was then I saw that Innistrad offered the third best card in MTG and realized it was time to go home.
Best Cards in the History of Magic
- Noble Hierarch
- Birds of Paradise
- Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 4 Hero of Bladehold
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Mentor of the Meek
- 2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 3 Overrun
In the absence of powerful combo decks—like Valakut and Twin—the oft-forgotten archetype of creature swarm is poised to make a comeback. Token decks have inherent advantages over other creature strategies. They can chump block while still progressing their board or racing. They're less vulnerable to spot removal. Most importantly, they're always built with trump cards for when the board is stalled. There's nothing like watching your opponent waste time with Birthing Pod through Skaab Ruinators and Solemn Simulacrums while you're sitting on a forty-point Overrun for next turn.
Many will argue that swarm decks are beaten badly by board sweepers like Day of Judgment. While I'll agree that they're a powerful (necessary) tool for fighting tokens, they're not enough in many cases and certainly don't make the archetype unplayable. The G/W Tokens deck I offer is well set-up to beat Day of Judgment. Planeswalkers live through sweepers, and accelerating one out is a great way to beat a control deck. Mentor of the Meek allows you to keep a stocked hand, ready to refill the board when you need to. Finally, you have “army-in-a-can” cards—Geist-Honored Monk and Blade Splicer—which are the perfect follow-ups to a sweeper.
Mana creatures will be particularly powerful in new Standard because there's remarkable escalation in how powerful cards are as you move up the mana curve. Legacy and Modern are home to Wild Nacatl, Tarmogoyf, and Dark Confidant, but what does Standard have in terms of early plays? Everything is greatly outclassed by planeswalkers and Titans, which determine the majority of Standard games. The early turns are best spent ensuring that you're the one who reaches those game-breaking cards first.
Eleven mana creatures may seem like a lot, and it is. However, you want to see one in every opening hand, and drawing multiples is often fine. Two mana creatures can allow a turn 3 Elspeth Tirel. With Mentor of the Meek, each one replaces itself and provides extra mana to cast all those extra spells. Overrun, Gavony Township, Mikaeus, the Lunarch, and the planeswalkers ensure that 1/1 creatures are more than just 1/1 creatures. After all, the whole point of the deck is to flood the board with bodies any way possible.
Gavony Township may be the single most important card in the deck. A reasonable land count is a necessity for a deck like this. What's the point of accelerating your mana when you're missing land drops anyway? You need your planeswalkers to come down on time, and you don't want to have to tap all of your creatures just to cast your Overrun. Between twenty-four lands and eleven mana creatures, there's a huge risk of mana flood. Gavony Township completely takes away that risk. It plays a similar role to Windbrisk Heights in the old Kithkin deck, with none of the inconvenience of having to hit a powerful spell in the top four or to stick a certain number of creatures.
In one test game, I drew an opening hand of four mana creatures and three lands and immediately kept. The catch? One of the lands was a Township. That represents eight power on turn 3 and a relatively easy win even if I never drew a “real spell” for the whole game.
Gavony Township's cost might make it seem slow and unrealistic, but even in the games that you never use its ability, it represents a real threat. Simply leaving mana open makes blocking difficult for your opponent (and sometimes makes not blocking even harder!). How can a blue player pass with permission up when you can waste his whole turn by using your township instead of casting a spell?
Mikaeus, the Lunarch is similar to Township in the sense that one of his appeals is the passive quality of making math difficult for your opponent. Mikaeus is almost like a planeswalker in the sense that you can throw him out there and let him do his own thing for the whole game. Play him on turn 2 for X=1, play him on turn 8 for X=7, or if you want, play him on turn 8 for X=1. Any way you look at it, he can sit there pumping himself up at the end of each turn and threatening to pump your whole team if your opponent ever lets you build up an army.
Mentor of the Meek got a lot of hype when it was spoiled, and I was the guy saying “calm down, it's not really that good, it dies to any removal spell.” Well, I can officially tell you that I was wrong back then; the card is excellent. In combination with either planeswalker, he provides consistent and devastating (consistently devastating) card advantage. If you're short on business, each mana dork digs you a card deeper. Attacking with Hero of Bladehold and drawing two cards isn't bad either. As fast as Hero of Bladehold becomes lethal in this deck, your opponents will have a hard time deciding whether they should Doom Blade your Hero or your Mentor.
If you need to prepare for a board sweeper, Mentor of the Meek can do that for you. If you need to find an Overrun to end the game, he can do that for you also. If you need to chump block two Wurmcoil Engines and a Grave Titan for several turns before you're ready to win—as happened in one test game—Mentor is your man. Any way you look at it, one turn with an unanswered Mentor of the Meek provides irreversible advantage, while two turns usually puts the game away. Between Mentor of the Meek and Gavony Township, G/W Tokens has the built-in defense against mana flood that can potentially bring a creature deck from solid to great.
Garruk Relentless is an exciting new card that's perfect for G/W Tokens. Because of his great talents for protecting himself, he's more powerful the earlier he comes down. In this deck, he's always ready for battle on turn 3. His ability to create tokens every turn without losing loyalty will remind you a lot of Elspeth, Knight-Errant. At the same time, it will also make you realize how much better an army of 2/2s is than an army of 1/1s. His “fight” ability is also more useful than it seems. You may notice that my decklist has no direct removal spells maindeck. However, Garruk does a nice job of answering troublesome weenies like Grim Lavamancer, which is a traditional weakness of white and green. If Werewolves turn out to be tournament playable, you'll find their low power and toughness in the early game very convenient. Taking out a Mayor of Avabruck before he flips goes a long way towards keeping the game under control.
All five of Garruk's abilities are useful for this deck, and Garruk, the Veil-Cursed is even better than his gentler half. You can sacrifice a 1/1 to search for a Geist-Honored Monk or, alternatively, Mentor of the Meek or Mikaeus, the Lunarch to start some devastating engines. His Wolves are now only 1/1, but while he makes them, he ramps towards an ultimate that's easy to reach and very, very lethal in this deck. All that said, Garruk is a powerhouse in this deck no matter what, and there's no need to stress yourself out with complicated planning. Flipped or unflipped, he can dominate the game. Keep in mind that Garruk, the Veil-Cursed will die, along with all his Wolves, to a Ratchet Bomb for zero.
The sideboard is experimental, as must be the case before a metagame is established.
Most of the time, it's overly difficult to make Fresh Meat work, but if any deck can do it, it's G/W Tokens. Leaving up mana to use Gavony Township gives you a powerful end-of-turn play if your opponent fails to sweep the board, and it's also the perfect disguise for your backbreaking trick.
Phyrexian Revoker's main purpose is to stop Birthing Pod, which is sure to be a popular strategy right off the bat. As I've mentioned, swarm decks have big advantages over normal creature decks, so forcing a Birthing Pod deck to play fair should mean a quick win. Other possible uses are shutting down planeswalkers and Ratchet Bomb, which will be a primary tool of control decks against tokens.
Similarly, Melira, Sylvok Outcast makes your creatures immune to Black Sun's Zenith, and in combination with Phyrexian Revoker will give Tezzeret and other U/B control decks a hard time. Keeping in mind that Scars of Mirrodin Block is the bulk of new Standard, infect decks are bound to show up in one form or another, and this side benefit of Melira will be quite welcome. Most players will not be equipped to handle such an obscure and devastating sideboard card.
The rest of the cards are more or less self-explanatory, with Creeping Corrosion coming in against Tempered Steel and Tezzeret decks and Oblivion Ring and Beast Within whenever the opponent has a single powerful card on which their game plan revolves. In particular, Oblivion Ring is an excellent answer to Gideon Jura, and opposing Oblivion Rings, which white control decks will absolutely need as defense against Garruk and Elspeth.
Tokens is a powerful strategy that's worth considering for the early weeks of the new format. It's not vulnerable to the same things other decks are, and in particular it's nice to have a deck that can empty its hand quickly and doesn't care about Edict effects when Liliana of the Veil is the hot new card. If Tempered Steel is the deck to beat out of the gates, having no maindeck artifacts and the ability to freely play four Creeping Corrosions puts G/W Tokens in a good position. I'll be continuing to work on the deck myself and posting my findings. I'm also looking forward to feedback from anyone who tries it in a local tournament. Good luck and enjoy!