Monday, October 10, 2016

Honing the Blade - Mardu Tokens

I spent a lot of time looking over spicy brews that I’ve found, ones that have been sent to me, and one’s that I’ve spent time refining on my own for the second edition of Weapon of Choice. However, for my time this week, I’d like to share my thoughts on the evolution of my Mardu Tokens deck.

Mardu Tokens is a deck that I’ve grown really attached to in the two months that I’ve been playing it. The strategy is aggressive, defensive, grindy, yet explosive if you can play on curve. There’s a Jund-like quality about the deck, insofar as I know that no matter what my opponent is playing, I have a decent matchup against it as long as I’m at least marginally tuned to the meta and I know how to beat my opponent. Also, there’s something about swinging in with 4/3 flying vigilant lifelink Spirit Tokens that’s just really great. This is list I’ve come up with in order to live that dream as often as possible.

The first major difference you will probably see is the lack of Liliana of the Veil and Young Pyromancer, and the addition of Brimaz and Intangible Virtue.

What I ultimately did was make the deck BW Tokens with a red splash and a Jund make up. Here’s how the deck has categorically changed:

The landbase was built with the help of resident Jund expert Alex West (he has formulas for this sort of thing), due to the fact that we now have access to all 10 fastlands. Concealed Courtyard helps to smooth out the mana, in terms of curving out and doing so as painlessly as possible. Shambling Vents is no Raging Ravine (the Cadillac of manlands), but it is vastly superior to Needle Spires and Lavaclaw Reaches.

Young Pyromancer was cut from the deck a similar reason to Liliana of the Veil (I’ll get to her shortly). I was often on the backfoot in the version of the deck that I posted a few weeks ago, a lot more often than I was comfortable with. Making guys reactively was something that I decided was just pushing me further into a Mardu Control shell, not a Tokens shell, and though that deck is okay (been there, done that, flipped Emrakul my first game, went 0-4, cried), Shaun McLaren can keep it. I wanna play Tokens.

So, who’s a best friend to all the peeps out there wanting to play 1/1s?
That’s right, Mack Daddy B right here. This is guy as a threat has changed the direction of Tokens from a control deck very solidly into midrange territory. Getting this guy out on an empty board with removal up is one of the most powerful things the deck is able to do. With the help of Intangible Virtue and Sorin, the Cat Soldiers Brimaz creatures also end up swinging for 3 or even 4. Worth noting, too, that Brimaz also bounces off of early Tarmogoyfs.

Here, not much has changed as well. I’ve taken out Zealous Persecution, Liliana of the Veil, and Kolaghan’s Command entirely, and moved Gideon to the sideboard, and replaced them with an additional Sorin, another Bitterblossom, a full 4 copies of Intangible Virtue, and a singleton Secure the Wastes.
I felt that Zealous Persecution was no longer a strong fit for the list since the combat trick isn’t relevant offensively without Young Pyro since your flyers aren’t usually blockable, and therefore is really a defensive card, and by that logic shouldn’t been in the list if I’m trying to gear towards aggression.  

Kolaghan’s Command is one of my favorite cards of all time. It just gives such an insane amount of utility and recursive value. However, the list now has 1 creature that would be worth buying back, and without that clause of the card being relevant, it is significantly worse. Lists with more creatures (Jund, Grixis, etc) get a lot more value out of the card, and was ultimately just a worse but instant speed Blightning in most cases.
Liliana of the Veil gives you a lot of game against blue decks, as well as the ability to just lock some decks out of the game, but I found that due to the number of discard spells and and removal spells in the deck, as well as the ability to grind out advantage on board, Liliana of the Veil was often slowing down games that didn’t slowing down. I wanted to be advancing board position and gaining tempo by blanking removal and using my own efficiently.
As for Gideon, he’s still insane. But, against white decks he’s pretty bad, and Sorin just does more of what you want to be doing in 75% of G1’s. So to the sideboard he went.

As for what came in, oh boy. Intangible Virtue has won me so many games. It is really want the deck wants to be doing, as it enhances the aggro/control strategy. Going T1 Thoughtseize, T2 Bitterblossom, T3 Lingering Souls (still the best card in the deck), T4 Intangible Virtue, swing for 6 in the air, flashback Souls is a pretty great curve.
Bitterblossom in particular is an all-star in this list. It provides so much inevitability against an deck that can’t touch enchantments (quite a few), and if your opponent uses any spells to kill a Faerie Rogue before they remove Bitterblossom, you’ve gotten a card out of the venture. The lifeloss is definitely something to consider, though. I’ve lost games where I didn’t value my life total highly enough, but the risks that you take will pay off a lot more the more familiar you become with the card.

Finally, Secure the Wastes. This card is really, really good, especially against any deck that uses all of its mana. Topdecking this in any grindy match and playing it for 9 in response to them tapping out usually just wins, especially with a Virtue or Sorin in play. I don’t like more than 1 in this particular list, though. Multiples feel like the would clog up your hand, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t have that many white Warrior tokens.

Here, I maintain the position that I held in Weapon of Choice. Sideboards are very meta dependant, and I would encourage you to build your own to hate out your LGS. However, I’ve made a few innovations.

I looked at every deck playing black at SCG Modern events in the month of October (at the time of writing this) and 6 out of 8 decks were playing exactly 1 copy of Collective Brutality in their 75 (Jund, Grixis and Abzan lists). I bought a playset of the card at a little over $1, and watched it rise to $5 pretty quickly. Though the card is Standard legal (I have no idea whether or not it sees any play), I think the card is quite good in Modern, and in this list too.
Though you want to hold on to both halves of Lingering Souls most of the time, being able to discard it and a land to get the full effect of the card against Burn, for example, is a spectacular feeling. Each card in Burn wants to do at least 3 damage. If you use CB to kill a Goblin Guide, drain them for 2, and take an Atarka’s Command from their hand, you’ve traded 1 card (Lingering Souls still being useful, and a land usually being worth less than the average card, an argument could be made that the real cards traded on your part here is roughly 1.75 or 2) and potentially saved 8 or more life.
Originally, I was using Anger of the Gods as my main board clear in the board, but that has changed to 1 Pyroclasm and 1 Damnation. The reason for this is that now that I am being far more aggressive, 1 Pyroclasm lets me clean up most little creatures I care about, and allowing me to bring the big boy Damnation to the show when needed against decks like Jund that are making a lot bigger threats.
With that, I’ll be moving on to brewing with Protean Hulks and Platinum Emperions. The Mardu shell is one I’ve been focused on breaking for quite a while, and I think that this is the most well positioned list I’ve built. I’m not sure where the list will go in the future, but I’m sure that it will evolve. Please, leave comments and questions in comments below or on Facebook, Reddit, or wherever you  read this, the discussion threads on these articles are truly great reads.

Until next time,



  1. Very similar to my list except I run 4x bitterblossom

    1. That's definitely a consideration. It is a great card, probably the best card in the deck behind Souls, token wise. I only run 3 due to the fact that I don't want to draw too many because of the life loss. 3 has worked out as a great number for me, but my numbers are obviously not the end all be all.

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  3. what does/would your list look like with Fatal Push? I'm stuck on whether or not to include it. I love it regular BW Tokens and think it would be just as great here.