Mono White Tokens – A Whirlwind Weekend

Deckbuilding is a passion of mine.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve found the formula that best suits my style when creating a new deck.  I analyze my brews and the card selections within along three axes:  power level, synergy, consistency.  If those three components of a deck are sound, the deck in question often has what it takes to be competitive in its format.  Many players want to assemble something sweet, placing synergy above all else and building their deck to try to ensure they can pull off their plan.  In the current metagame, a good example would be Blue-Red Sphinx’s Tutelage, built by Andrew Cuneo for Pro Tour Magic Origins.  The deck is full of card-draw spells, removal or other interactive spells that slow its opponent’s ability to mount an offensive board ([card]Anger of the Gods[/card], [card]Whelming Wave[/card], and [card]Send to Sleep[/card]) and a win condition that takes advantage of the card-drawing spells.  Though the power level of many of those cards may not be the highest available in that color combination, his card-draw spells become recurring triggers for [card]Sphinx’s Tutelage[/card] on board while also allowing him to dig for answers for his opponent’s attackers.

This deck is highly synergistic and consistent, and countermagic out of the board helps him protect his hard-to-interact-with win condition in [card]Sphinx’s Tutelage[/card]. In true Cuneo fashion, this deck is a symphony of what were somewhat obscure card choices that allow him to durdle (when not milling out the opponent by turn five) until his opponent is nearly helpless and then win in a relatively untraditional, inevitable fashion.

Conversely, there are decks like Abzan Control in the format.  It has a good curve, card advantage, and power.  It’s like a traditional Jund deck in that way – it’s comprised of the best removal spells, card advantage, value-creatures, and finishers in its colors.  It works cohesively because every card has a high impact in most matches of Magic, but those cards aren’t inherently synergistic.

Last week I was incredibly proud of the list I posted in my first article.  I thought I had found a deck that was balanced and met my standards, and the standards required to be competitive in this Standard format, in terms of power, synergy, and consistency.  Over the last few weeks, I had shared the evolution of this deck with a professional player I hold in the highest regard, Craig Wescoe.  I felt like that Mono White Tokens deck was completely finished and was the best possible 75 it could be.  I tested it on Magic Online extensively, tested competing card options in the deck, and was proud to share it with someone who enjoys playing the archetype.  Craig tested it, choosing to play it for his weekly article and in this case, video series, for TCGPlayer, and chose to play it this weekend at Grand Prix San Diego.  Just the fact that he considered my deck as being worthwhile to test further was a tremendous source of pride.  The night before the tournament, we went over the card choices via Facebook, finalizing the 75 cards before registration the next day.  I was flying high.  To say it was an honor is an understatement.  For someone who, as I mentioned last week, is not a competitive player, but is driven to find hidden, competitive decks in the format, this was the realization of everything I wanted out of Magic: The Gathering.  A Pro Tour-winning, future Hall of Fame member, white deck enthusiast was going to play my deck in a Grand Prix.  I tested a few matches online after our discussion, trying to glean any additional information I could pass on before ultimately succumbing to sleep (face on keyboard) at nearly 5:30 AM.

Though I felt really good about the deck, Craig’s intuition told him to play [card]Knight of the White Orchid[/card].  I had my reservations about that card and was adamant about it in my article last week.  It’s not synergistic.  It’s not as proactively powerful in a token-based strategy, it’s not an anthem on wheels like [card]Consul’s Lieutenant[/card].  It doesn’t pressure control or [card]Sphinx’s Tutelage[/card] decks like the Lieutenant can.  Testing against Abzan Rally decks made me realize how much pressure the Lieutenant could put on and how hard it was for that deck to deal with a 3-power  First Strike creature.  I had played [card]Knight of the White Orchid[/card] in earlier versions of the deck, even tested it in the final version and it felt like it wasn’t proactive enough to warrant inclusion.  What I didn’t realize is that, though I made concessions and chose cards to increase the consistency of the deck, it still wasn’t consistent enough.  Even though [card]Knight of the White Orchid[/card] couldn’t steal games the way [card]Consul’s Lieutenant[/card] had during my testing, what it did do is give the deck a much better chance to win with hands that I’d grade as a C-.  The hands you knew you had to keep.  The two-land hands where you just need to “get there” to get your [card]Archangel of Tithes[/card] on the board and let the deck do what it does best: manage a cluttered board until it becomes just favorable enough to create a window to win the game.  To clench the match.  To be in contention for top 8.  The margins this deck operates on against Abzan Control and Green-Red Devotion are so slim that a consistency issue is almost always a death sentence.  When your deck is playing cards that are, if not for a synergistic reason for inclusion, almost laughable on their own (like [card]Raise the Alarm[/card]), mulligans can hurt you far more than they would your opponent.  In hindsight, it’s clear now that the true power of the deck is that despite looking unassuming, its creatures can dominate most boards.  It’s really hard to attack into a [card]Brimaz, King of Oreskos[/card] and a [card]Hangarback Walker[/card] on the ground.  [card]Wingmate Roc[/card] and its token offer enough pressure in the air that they can often close out the game on their own.  [card]Archangel of Tithes[/card] makes it very hard for an opponent to continue using their mana to add creatures to the board while also being able to pay the tithe required to block off alpha strikes.  An offensive 2-drop would be nice in the deck, but having a serviceable body that also improves your chances of getting to [card]Archangel of Tithes[/card] and [card]Wingmate Roc[/card] before it’s too late is far more important.  Another land also seems like it could be a welcome addition to help with those consistency issues as well.

Without going into too much detail about a tournament I didn’t play in, the deck seemed to beat itself from what I heard.  I don’t think I’ve ever checked my phone so much over the course of a weekend.  Wescoe was kind enough to keep me in the loop after nearly every round.  I truly felt like I was in it with him and was grateful to feel like part of a team with one of the best players in the world.  The deck showed its prowess at beating, well, Prowess in the form of [card]Monastery Swiftspear[/card] and [card]Abbot of Keral Keep[/card].  The deck also had mixed results against Abzan Control and Green-Red Devotion, its consistency being a major factor in the unfavorable outcomes.  I took the negative portion of the results personally.  I had earned the trust of a player I revere and always hope to see win whenever he’s featured on coverage.  When every match, every game, and in this case, every land drop can impact a professional player’s chances at earning Pro Points, the responsibility of having a deck you designed fall short in terms of consistency weighs quite heavily on you.  At one point he shared that he had two white sources and two [card]Foundry of the Consuls[/card] in play and lost to GR Devotion with two [card]Tragic Arrogance[/card], two [card]Archangel of Tithes[/card], and a [card]Wingmate Roc[/card] in hand.  All of the best cards in the match-up were stranded there, uncastable.  I felt sick, felt as though I had let him down, felt as though I had personally taken away his opportunity to play Magic.  A professional player’s intuition was correct and since I designed and tested the deck, he trusted me and went with my two-drop selection, which impacted his record at the tournament.

While the tournament was in progress, Craig and I also talked about trying find that special “something” to push the deck over the top.  Push the power level just a little more.  He thought that perhaps adding a second color for either [card]Dromoka’s Command[/card] or [card]Disdainful Stroke[/card] was the way to go and I’ve chosen to pursue the latter option.  The manabase in the deck can support a second color at very little cost.  The deck already plays five scry lands to dig to either action or lands, help to prevent flood, and give the deck some velocity.  Adding some fetch lands should pull most of the weight in terms of rounding out the splash.  [card]Disdainful Stroke[/card] seems like an ideal selection for a deck with synergistic creatures that combine to trump opposing creatures that are individually more powerful.  In a long, grindy game, it’s hard to rely solely on the synergy when trading in combat and having your creatures fall to removal spells.  [card]Disdainful Stroke[/card] slots in perfectly out of the board to answer most of the trump cards in the format.  [card]Dragonlord Atarka[/card], [card]Languish[/card], and [card]Ugin, the Spirit Dragon[/card] are all cards the deck can beat if they’re resolved, but the right pieces have to be in place at the right time to do so.  [card]Disdainful Stroke[/card] is the back-up plan to protect your creatures and your board advantage as the game progresses.  I’m still testing the new version of the deck, but it feels every bit as powerful (sorry [card]Consul’s Lieutenant[/card]), more consistent, and has a more versatile sideboard.

[deck title= W/u Tokens]

[Creatures]

*3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros // Gideon, Battle-Forged

*4 Knight of the White Orchid

*4 Hangarback Walker

*3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos

*4 Archangel of Tithes

*3 Wingmate Roc

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*4 Raise the Alarm

*2 Valorous Stance

*2 Banishing Light

*2 Devouring Light

*1 Spear of Heliod

*1 Ajani Steadfast

*1 Dictate of Heliod

*2 Secure the Wastes

[/Spells]

[Land]

*4 Temple of Enlightenment

*1 Temple of Silence

*4 Flooded Strand

*2 Tranquil Cove

*2 Foundry of the Consuls

*2 Island

*9 Plains

[/Land]

[Sideboard]

*2 Hallowed Moonlight

*3 Tragic Arrogance

*3 Disdainful Stroke

*1 Negate

*1 Stratus Dancer

*1 Banishing Light

*1 Valorous Stance

*3 Surge of Righteousness

[/Sideboard]

[/deck]

Here, all of the blue spells are relegated to the sideboard.  I believe it’s too risky to main-deck a card like [card]Disdainful Stroke[/card] in a format with Mono-Red and Blue-Red “Running With Scissors” being played as much as they were at Grand Prix San Diego.  The sideboard gives the deck great ways to prevent [card]Languish[/card] and more interactive choices against G/R Devotion.  [card]Hushwing Gryff[/card] has been great for me, though it is a “nonbo” with [card]Wingmate Roc[/card], and the newly added [card]Knight of the White Orchid[card] makes it a liability.  [card]Vryn Wingmare[/card] is simply too narrow and feels worse than countering the spells it is disruptive against.  Our match-up against [card]Rally the Ancestors[/card] is worse than it was in the previous version, but that deck didn’t perform well enough this weekend to warrant more dedicated slots.  I’m still confident that we’re a strong favorite if it does show up.  A big reason to include [card]Negate[/card] over more copies of [card]Stratus Dancer[/card] is [card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card].  Against U/B Control, Ashiok can be one of the toughest cards to deal with and having answers is a big boon, especially since you can leave up [card]Negate[/card] in the early turns and cast [card]Raise the Alarm[/card] on your opponent’s endstep.  It can also be a key card if [card]Sphinx’s Tutelage[/card] rises in popularity after its win this weekend.

I don’t know where the deck goes from here.  I’ve heard good feedback from people who ran versions at their LGSs over the weekend and there is power in it.  The above 75 certainly feels good every time I play it.  Craig Wescoe believes there’s potential, so in all honesty, if you’re interested in what a white-based [card]Archangel of Tithes[/card]/[card]Wingmate Roc[/card] deck can do, what the absolute best version of it is out there in this Standard format, I would look out for anything he posts if I were you.  I know I’ll be looking.

I want to change gears a little bit and end this article with a pet deck I’ve been having a blast playing when taking a break from testing Standard.  Although the premise for the deck will be controversial and most players will disagree with it, the deck was built around the hypothesis that [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] is a better card than [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] in the current Modern meta.  Voice is more disruptive, is better against removal (or exactly AS good against [card]Path to Exile[/card]), and grows in much the same manner if your deck is built to create a large board presence. With the rise of Grixis decks, preventing an opponent from playing on your turn is quite strong.  I’ve also been testing various homes for Kytheon in Modern, liking him in my version of Orzhov Sisters, but I’ve been enjoying Abzan Tokens for a few weeks now.  I definitely don’t feel like I’ve found the finished version of the deck, but I do think there’s potential in this brew:

[deck title= Abzan Tokens]

[Creatures]

*3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros // Gideon, Battle-Forged

*4 Voice of Resurgence

*2 Siege Rhino

*1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*4 Inquisition of Kozilek

*3 Thoughtseize

*2 Path to Exile

*2 Bitterblossom

*2 Intangible Virtue

*2 Abrupt Decay

*4 Lingering Souls

*4 Spectral Procession

*1 Maelstrom Pulse

*1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

*1 Murderous Cut

[/Spells]

[Lands]

*4 Windswept Heath

*4 Marsh Flats

*3 Temple Garden

*3 Godless Shrine

*1 Overgrown Tomb

*2 Stirring Wildwood

*1 Gavony Township

*1 Isolated Chapel

*2 Razorverge Thicket

*1 Forest

*1 Plains

*1 Swamp

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

*1 Leyline of the Void

*2 Rest in Peace

*2 Stony Silence

*1 Disfigure

*1 Duress

*1 Celestial Purge

*1 Surgical Extraction

*2 Abrupt Decay

*1 Sundering Growth

*2 Kitchen Finks

*1 Pithing Needle

[/Sideboard]

[/deck]

There have been many cards added and removed over the last few weeks and it’s hard to nail down exactly how each match-up feels with so many cards going in and out, but I’ve had good results against [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] decks.  The Grixis Control match-up feels closer, though I do think this deck is favored.  Jund feels that way as well.  Other than that, a lot of its match-ups seem pretty similar to what you’d experience with most GBx decks, though this is far more heavily based in white.  If you are casually playing Modern with friends or it’s the upcoming FNM format, I think this deck is a solid choice and I’d love to hear feedback on your results or alternate card choices!

7 comments on Mono White Tokens – A Whirlwind Weekend

  1. Jason Alt says:

    This was a great read. Keep brewing!

  2. Fred says:

    Switch to Knight of the White Orchid is interesting. Card is great on the draw vs Consul which is awful on the draw. It’s a shame sideboard slots are so tight, or you could play both in the 75 and swap in the Consuls when on the play.

    As the Knights function as pseudo 3rd land drop, I’d lean towards playing 23 lands and bring back 1 Ajani (the Ajani synergy with Archangel, Tokens and Hangarback is so good, I’m almost always happy to draw it. Also the lifegain can be invaluable against tempo decks).

    With 2 Ajanis and blue mana, you could bring Dragonlord Ojutai in to the equation, with the Vigilance making it very hard to remove, similar to the Bant deck that Craig played at PT DTK.

    1. Jared Sherman says:

      I have wavered with 23 + Knight and 24 + Lieutenant. Perhaps looking to free up more slots for some number of both is the right answer, though I think the meta is too hostile for 2-3 power first strike creatures. I don’t like Dragonlord Ojutai. Craig Wescoe and I talked about the card and Wingmate Roc feels stronger in this deck. It plays better with anthems, is stronger against Elspeth and both threats still die to Languish. I do like the blue splash though. Thank you for the comment and the insight. A lot of the suggestions and observations you mentioned are ideas I’ve been mulling over a lot and really just need to keep testing. If you run the deck and have continued feedback, I’d absolutely love to hear it!

      1. Fred says:

        One thing I’ve had multiple times now is drawing tragic arrogance against a GR ramp player with whisperwood in play, which is heartbreaking.

        I beat that deck last night just by racing them with flyers, so I’m wondering if the better strategy against them is to sideboard in 2 more Wingmates and just try to race them in the air. This might be the best way to beat GW aggro too.

        One thing I do like about arrogance though is that it wrecks UR thopters and GW enchantress.

  3. Jared Sherman says:

    Yeah I totally agree. The Wingmates are really unsung heroes in the deck and the tempo jam that Archangel of Tithes puts on those decks is incredibly important. The margins are really tight in both of those matches and the fliers are quite important. In my testing against GW megamorph aggro, Arrogance and Archangels + Wingmate are the best cards.

    1. Fred says:

      GP London tournament report

      Deck choice
      I’d been playing the original mono white tokens list for the previous week and was very happy with the deck, but the night before the GP, switched from playing consul’s lieutenant, to knight of the White Orchid, being convinced by the argument that it gives greater consistency (and playing with the card has confirmed my view, the greater consistency outweighs the synergy benefits of the lieutenant).

      This is the 60 I Sleeved up (exact same list recommended by Craig Wescoe in his tcg article on 12th Aug):

      Monowhite Tokens
      Creatures (21)
      4 Hangarback Walker
      3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
      4 Knight of the White Orchid
      3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
      4 Archangel of Tithes
      3 Wingmate Roc

      Spells (16)
      2 Secure the Wastes
      2 Valorous Stance
      4 Raise the Alarm
      1 Spear of Heliod
      2 Banishing Light
      2 Devouring Light
      2 Ajani Steadfast
      1 Dictate of Heliod

      Lands (23)
      1 Temple of Triumph
      2 Foundry of the Consuls
      4 Temple of Silence
      16 Plains

      Sideboard
      I did tweak the sideboard to what I expected in the meta. Based on my MTGO games and LGS meta, I expected UR ensoul, UR tutelage and GW constellation to be popular, so made sure I had plenty of enchantment hate. I also played the full playset of surge of righteousness, as expected mono-red to be very popular. I took out vryn wingmare, as found it not great in testing, especially on the draw and hushwing gryff, as found it too low impact. These metagame calls would turn out to be pretty wrong!

      Sideboard (15)

      1 Erase
      2 Hallowed Moonlight
      2 Revoke Existence
      4 Surge of Righteousness
      2 Banishing Light
      1 Wingmate Roc
      3 Tragic Arrogance

      R1: 2-0 vs Esper control
      First game game he misplayed by languishing 2 hangarbacks, leaving 5 thopters to kill him. Second game was super grindy, but eventually whittled him down with tokens, as he drew spot removal instead of sweepers. Was very happy with 2-0, as match up looked bad on paper. Sideboard: +1 Wingmate +1 banishing light, -2 devouring light

      R2: 1-2 vs GR devotion
      First game got a T3 Kytheon flip and had removal for his Atarka, which is the only bomb he drew. Second game was tight, but he had Atarka into Hornet Queen, which was enough. Third game I misplayed Knight of the White Orchid, mis-sequencing my mana, so I couldn’t get the extra land. This would prove fatal, as he resolved a whisperwood the turn before I got to 5 mana for my tragic arrogance. I was very careful not to repeat this mistake again in the rest of my matches!
      Sideboard: +3 arrogance +1 Wingmate, -3 brimaz, -1 raise the alarm

      R3: 2-0 vs Jeskai
      At last a favorable match up! R1 he made a colossal misplay, minusing jace to cast a stoke from his graveyard to kill archangel, not realising it was 5 toughness, not 4. Second game he had me down to 3 life, but drew 3 lands in a row, allowing me to eventually resolve Ajani and get out of burn range.
      Sideboard: +1 Wingmate +1 banishing light, -2 stance

      R4: 1-2 vs Abzan
      G1 I made a big misplay, blocking with Hangaback while Anafenza was in play, so not getting any tokens. G2 got early threats down and snowballed them to victory with removal. G3 he had 2 big tempo swings with dromokas Command, getting 2-4-1s both times. This combined with back to back rhinos was too much to recover from. This is one of the main flaws with the deck as-is: it’s very weak to Dromoka’s Command, due to reliance on enchantments. My sideboard choices also hurt me here, all I could bring in was Wingmate Roc.
      Sideboard: +1 Wingmate, -1 dictate of heliod

      R5: 1-2 vs Mardu Dragons
      Had to win this to stay in. G1 played out great, with him forced to use spot removal on hangarbacks twice and I won easily. G2 he had some early soulfires GMs, which got him to a very high life total and he eventually killed me with Stormbreath Dragon, which the deck has no answers to. Final game was very close, but again Stormbreath dragon was the difference. He ended the game on 2 life. This match made me realise another flaw in the deck, which is it’s inability to deal with Stormbreath dragon.
      Sideboard: +1 Wingmate, +1 banishing light, -2 stance

      This left me at a 2-3 record so I dropped. Despite my misplays and some tough match-ups, the deck performed well and I still think it has the potential to be great. I made some very bad metagame calls, with most of my sideboard going unused in the key matches.

      Where next?
      My thinking now is the deck needs shoring up against Abzan and Stormbreath dragon. Splashing a second colour seems the best solution, my suggestion is black, as that gives us access to muderous cut, thoughtseize and means we can replace the enchantment anthems with Sorin and banishing light with Utter End:

      Wb Tokens
      Creatures (21)
      4 Hangarback Walker
      3 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
      4 Knight of the White Orchid
      3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
      4 Archangel of Tithes
      3 Wingmate Roc

      Spells (16)
      2 Secure the Wastes
      1 Valorous Stance
      4 Raise the Alarm
      2 Devouring Light
      1 Utter End
      2 Ajani Steadfast
      2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
      2 Murderous Cut

      Lands (23)
      1 Foundry of the Consuls
      2 Evolving Wilds
      2 Swamp
      2 Windswept Heath
      4 Caves of Koilos
      4 Temple of Silence
      8 Plains

      Other cards that could be playable:
      Ultimate price
      Duress
      Merciless Executioner
      Harsh Sustenance
      Self-inflicted Wound
      Brutal Hordechief
      Mardu Strike Leader

      I’m going to try testing with this version to see how it plays.

      Fred

  4. Jared Sherman says:

    Great tournament report! I’m sure many players will find the information helpful and we can continue to see a Mono White deck evolve with the metagame! Hope you had a blast in the GP despite not having the best results this weekend.

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