Monday, September 26, 2016

Weapon of Choice: Mardu Tokens

The Modern format is in a place where decks of all shapes and sizes are coming out of the woodwork. Being able to fight Tarmogoyfs and Liliana of the Veils is just is just as important as being able to hang with Glistener Elf, or Goblin Guide, or Death’s Shadow. A meta game this diverse requires a deck that can control, race, and also be less-than-impossible to pilot. I would like to propose Mardu Tokens as a great answer to the question “What should I play?”

Creatures (8)  

4  Dark Confidant    
4  Young Pyromancer

Spells (28)  

4  Inquisition of Kozilek

4  Lightning Bolt
3  Path to Exile
2  Thoughtseize   
2  Bitterblossom   

2  Terminate 
1  Zealous Persecution 
2  Kolaghan's Command 
2  Liliana of the Veil 
4  Lingering Souls  
1  Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 
1  Sorin, Solemn Visitor 

Lands (24)  

2  Blackcleave Cliffs 
1  Blood Crypt  
4  Bloodstained Mire 
1  Fetid Heath  
1  Ghost Quarter  
2  Godless Shrine   
4  Marsh Flats  
1  Mountain   
1  Plains 
1  Sacred Foundry  
3  Shambling Vent   
2  Swamp   
1  Vault of the Archangel  

Sideboard (15)  

1  Wear // Tear  
2  Duress  
1  Grim Lavamancer  
1  Thoughtseize  
2  Intangible Virtue  
1  Kor Firewalker 
1  Rest in Peace  
1  Stony Silence 
1  Anger of the Gods 
2  Fulminator Mage  
1  Damnation  

1  Olivia Voldaren

Mardu Tokens is a bit of a different deck, at least compared to what Magic usually does. Mardu as a color combo has always been a little out of the loop because it couldn’t do two things: 1) Play blue cantrips, or 2) Play Tarmogoyf. Mardu could do certain things, but at the end of the day it just really needed Tarmogoyf or the ability to draw cards to be competitive.
What does it do?
What this deck aims to do is simple: disrupt your opponent’s early plays with hand disruption and spot removal, establish a board of tokens, and eventually reduce your opponent’s resources to zero with Lingering Souls, Young Pyromancer, and Kolaghan’s Command as you beat down with 1/1’s. Although this is the most likely (and most consistent) line of play, tokens can do just about anything. You wanna beat down against Jund? Lingering Souls. You wanna survive against Infect or Affinity? Young Pyromancer into Lingering Souls is an absolute beating. You wanna race Burn? Lightning Bolt on Turn 1, Young Pyromancer on 2, Lingering Souls on 3 and Sorin, Solemn Visitor on 4? Yes please.
Why this deck?
The power of this deck, and the reason I think that a lot of people would really enjoy playing it, is twofold. The deck can be as explosive as it can be grindy. Tokens is quite often a beat down deck against control, but don’t forget that the Mardu color scheme has access to every good removal spell besides Abrupt Decay. After sideboard, transitioning into a control deck is often what happens, even if you killed on turn 5 last game.

The deck is a great deck for those inexperienced in midrange play, or the Modern format as a whole. I would highly recommend this deck as one that newer players can build into (Dark Confidant, Liliana, and Marsh Flats may take some time), and one that teaches players unfamiliar with the format what cards are more important than others. Playing Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek force you to focus on basic principles of the game like lineup theory and curving out.

Finally, and most importantly, the deck is fun. Like matchups are certainly familiar, but each one is just really cool and interesting. Learning the lines, taking the risks in life loss, basically playing Storm on huge Pyromancer turns, it’s all really satisfying when everything comes into place.
Card Choices
The core of the deck are your token makers: Some combination of Young Pyromancer and Bitterblossom, but always, and I mean ALWAYS, 4 copies of Lingering Souls. I’ve seen lists that ran 2 or 3 copies, or copies of Spectral Procession split, but that seems bad. Souls is a card that is just really really good in a lot of matchups, but is also part of the plan to out-value your opponent. If your opponent trades a creature or a removal spell with one of your Spirits, you’ve already traded 1-for-1 with a quarter of a card. Everything that follows is how you win.

The token makers are your designated win conditions, but there’s a lot more nuance to my list. Dark Confidant is just a beating against every deck that doesn’t play Goblin Guide, but Bob’s praises aren’t being sung for the first time by me.

I’ve gone through the deck and changed it a lot, trying to figure out what cards were the most powerful. Bitterblossom is one of the most powerful cards in the deck, behind Lingering Souls itself. In control matchups, the amount of card advantage you gain from it is just plain silly. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is another that I really enjoy, decks that don’t play Path to Exile can just fold to it. Being able to make 2/2’s for free every turn, and then swing in for 5 to close out the game. The newest addition to the deck is Liliana of the Veil, which I’m not the surest about. Liliana is an extremely powerful card, sometimes called the best planeswalker in Modern, and is at the center of most midrange, black-based disruptive strategies. However, the card didn’t really seem like a card I wanted, since I already had two other walkers, it’s double black, I already have a ton of discard, oh yeah and they’re also 90 dollars. However, my matchup versus blue decks (though few and far between) seemed really bad, and I can’t imagine a worse card for them to have to deal with.

Other cards in the deck are a big pile of all the best disruption. Lightning Bolt is obviously great. Terminate gains a lot of tempo against decks like Jund and Abzan that are wanting to curve out nicely, and is otherwise a great way to just say “no” to just about anything. What Terminate and Lightning Bolt won’t kill, Path to Exile definitely will. Inquisition of Kozilek helps you keep your opponent off curve and take answers away. Need to kill a non-creature? Anguished Unmaking out of the board just literally deals with anything that’s not a Slippery Bogle.

Speaking of the sideboard, yours is very versatile and I would urge you to construct your own for your meta and what you expect to play. As far as what you can play, there are a great number of options. White sideboard cards are the best sideboard cards (Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Timely Reinforcements, the list goes on). You get more hand disruption like Thoughtseize and Duress. Olivia Voldaren, Obzedat, Ghost Council and Blood Baron of Vizkopa are all #bombsquad options against various midrange decks (Blood Baron against Abzan is just silly). Cards that interact with enchantments (read Wear // Tear) are all probably pretty important due to Night of Soul’s Betrayal being a thing found in sideboards to combat Affinity and Infect, and land destruction such as Crumble to Dust is important due to your Valakut/Tron matchup.

·         Jund – Slightly Favorable. You have their biggest weakness in the main deck as a 4-of. You have Bolts to deal with Dark Confidants, Liliana of the Veils, Oliva Voldarens and Raging Ravines, plus Path/Terminate for Tarmogoyf, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and Grim Flayer. However, it’s not an “easy” matchup. Unlike BW Tokens, you don’t cut off their removal by having no noncreature spells. Getting the most out you Monastery Mentors and Young Pyromancers is important. Postboard things get a bit worse for you since they get sweepers and probably something like Grim Lavamancer. Going into top deck mode with a Lingering Souls in the yard seems a little unfair though.
·         Affinity – Favorable. Take Etched Champion or Arcbound Ravager with Inquisition. The rest doesn’t matter to you. 4 Lingering Souls and 2 K Command, as well as a host of other removal is just really, really good. The matchup gets even better after board. You have access to Stony Silence, Vandalblast, Shatterstorm, Kataki if you want. You name it, you’ve got it.
·         Infect – Very favorable. I’ve yet to lose to this. You have every good tool against them. Unless you have no interaction turn 1 and they get a turn two kill with you on the draw, you will both feel very much like the matchup is in your favor. It doesn’t change much after board either. Be sure to kill stuff on their turn so as not to get blown out.
·         Burn – Slightly favorable. Though you can gain a ton of life in this deck, Burn is very fast, and sometimes a little too fast. The x/2 deck can be great against the 1/1 deck. Being able to Lightning Bolt all their serious threats and gain life to counteract their burn is often times good enough, though. After board it gets better. You get access to things like Timely Reinforcements (which is read 2W: Gain 6 life most of the time) or more Lightning Helix, as well as things like Duress. BUT ALWAYS TAKE OUT BOB.
·         Jeskai Control – 50/50. You can sometimes just get too behind against blue cantrip decks. Lightning Bolt on Dark Confidant and Remand on Lingering Souls is a beating. If you land anything decent, though, you’re pretty much in the driver’s seat. Nahiri, the Harbinger isn’t a huge issue for you. It’s really just a matter of getting the right number of discard spells.
·         Dredge – Unfavorable. Conflagrate is a decent card, but it is a stupid card against you. Sometimes you can race them, but usually they are just faster than you and can make it hard for you to build a board. After board, you have a ton of options, and you need them to win. Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, Nether Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus are all solid picks depending on how badly you fear graveyards.
·         RG Tron – Unfavorable. They go bigger than you do. Your removal spells and discard are largely dead, and main deck sweepers make it hard to really get anything going. Crumble to Dust isn’t the worst and definitely slows them down a bit, but doesn’t do much in a lot of situations. Duress, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Dreadbore, and Anguished Unmaking are all probably worth looking into based on your style of play and how prevalent the matchup is at your LGS.
With that, I leave you with the first installment of our Weapon of Choice series, and a deck that has some serious game against the current field. No matter how you prefer you play the game, whether that be beating down with creatures, slowly grinding your opponent out of resources, or getting huge amounts of synergy from high value creatures, Mardu Tokens is a deck that has something for anyone looking for something new and powerful.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Any particular reason why you decided to take out Monastery Mentor? Is Liliana just more favorable as a 3-drop, or were there too many 3-drops with Lingering Souls?

    1. In a non-blue deck, I found that Monastery Mentor was just too slow. It was a very powerful card, for sure, and can win games all on it's own, but without a lot of free/cheap spells and cantrips, Mentor was found to be lacking.

  3. What would be a suitable replacement for Dark Confidant/Lotv as one builds up? I currently run an Orzhov tokens, and those are the two pieces I still need to acquire. Maybe go up to 4 Bitterblossoms and a pair of Painful Truths?

    Lotv is very high on my acquire list, but alas it is still on the acquire list :(

    1. In BW Tokens, I wouldn't recommend playing Dark Confidant, since Spectral Procession flips for 6 instead of three. But, Jaichen Tao's BW Tokens list at World's ran 4 Asylum Visitor in the sideboard, so that could be a card worth looking into. As for Liliana, there aren't suitable replacements. However, a healthy amount of discard is your best bet. Check out Alex West's latest article on Budget Jund for his thoughts on Liliana and discard in a budget deck.