I mentioned last week that my intention was to follow-up writing about the decks that Top 8'd Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar by writing about the best decks that didn't Top 8. Well, as I probably could have guessed, in the week that passed that topic has been extensively covered. If you missed it, the short version is that R/G Landfall, Esper Control, and Bant Tokens all performed very well despite not making the Top 8. If any of those decks sound appealing to you, go check them out!
Retreat to Emeria Tokens
Instead, today I am going to talk extensively about my thoughts on the G/W Retreat to Emeria tokens archetype. When I saw this list come out of the Pro Tour, I was shocked. I had heard talk of a Bant Tokens deck doing well, but the fact that it was Retreat to Emeria powered was news to me. In fact I had no idea that was even a Constructed playable card. If you haven't happened across the deck yet, it's essentially a landfall token deck. Retreat to Emeria is absurd as one card that fills both of the important roles in a token deck: token generator and token payoff. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar makes an appearance in the deck and is stronger than ever, with his emblem at max strength in this deck. Elvish Visionary and Nissa, Vastwood Seer help to ensure that we keep making our all-important land drops to keep triggering Retreat to Emeria and fuel Secure the Wastes for huge values of x. The deck is less aggressive than traditional token strategies and I've come to think of it as kind of a counter-attack tokens deck -- you Stave Off their aggression long enough to kill them in one or two fell swoops.
This past weekend I played a fifteen round Grand Prix in Quebec City with the deck and, despite a poor showing on Day 2 of competition, I learned a lot about the deck. First, here's the list I registered (based heavily, of course, on the Bant Tokens list Sam Black played at the Pro Tour):
I decided on this archetype very early on in my testing -- after only a handful of games with the deck. It certainly impressed me in those few games, but it wasn't like I thought it was far-and-away the best deck or anything. Instead, the thing that sold me was how similar it was to G/W Megamorph. G/W Megamorph was the deck I had played the most in this Standard format and being able to draw on that experience was a large factor in my decision.
That's not to say that G/W Megamorph and Bant Tokens play particularly similarly. They have huge differences in their overarching strategies and thus huge differences in their play patterns. But they achieve their different strategies with a lot of the same cards, and that's not nothing. The details of each card in Magic creates unique in-game tactics that are super easy to mess up the first few times they come up, so having experiences with the same cards, even if in a different shell, can be huge. Which is all a long-winded way of saying that if you have been playing G/W Megamorph lately, this deck will come a little easier to you.
I made two big changes to the deck. The first, as you may have noticed, was to make it a pure G/W deck, dropping the blue splash. Despite the moniker, the PT Bant Tokens deck was basically a G/W deck with a very light blue splash for Dispel, Negate and Lumbering Falls. It may sound a little weird to say the deck splashed for a land, but in this case I believe it makes sense as Lumbering Falls does little work towards enabling the splash and is one of the big payoffs for the damage to your mana base.
I chose to eliminate the blue primarily because I did not want to maindeck Dispel. The decks I feared playing against -- aggressive Dromoka's Command strategies -- were not weak to Dispel. Even though Dromoka's Command is one of the absolute best cards against us, Dromoka's Command decks just don't play enough instants to make Dispel consistently good. I even found myself boarding out Dispel in those matchups, which led me to the conclusion that I did not want Dispels in the main. Against other decks, Dispel is fine but never excellent. I felt like it was never instants that were beating me, so I decided to cut Dispel altogether.
Without Dispel in the deck it was easy to make the Leap to eliminating blue altogether. The damage the splash does to the mana base may be small, but it certainly isn't zero. I was mostly looking to minimize the number of lands in the deck that come into play tapped, and cutting blue eliminates two lands that will always come into play tapped and one of the battle lands that sometimes does. Without blue, the mana in the deck is basically perfect. I had very few color problems throughout the tournament and only a few games where I did not have enough lands (and none where I had too many, as the deck is excellent at squeezing value out of every land drop).
Overall, I feel like the Emeria tokens strategy is a strong and resilient one. Increasing consistency at the cost of the power provided by Lumbering Falls seemed like an easy choice to me. In the games that the deck gets the time to execute its game plan it is generally favored, and the blue splash did not really do much to get us that time. Going forward, if the meta develops in such a way that other decks are consistently going over the top of this deck, the blue splash is a reasonable option to effectively fight them. The thing dropping the blue splash hurts the most is just our post-board options, and in retrospect I may have wanted to keep the blue around. But more on that later.
Not the Blocker We Deserve, but the One We Need Right Now
The other change I made to the deck that I consider to be important was the inclusion of Heir of the Wilds. Heir was my attempt to solve the main problem the deck has: Warden of the First Tree. Not just Warden, but early aggression in general is a huge issue for this deck, as your large supply of small creatures is not free to just be on chump block duty, you need them to win the game later. I found Heir of the Wilds originally as a blocker vs. R/G Aggro strategies that would pull off the trade in every case that isn't Temur Battle Rage. Turns out Heir is only ok in that matchup, but I was impressed enough by him against Siege Rhino, Anafenza the Foremost and Warden of the First Tree to decide to maindeck three copies. Against these cards, he is essentially a cheap removal spell that can be cast before they play the threat when needed. And in other matchups he attacks just fine and adds an acceptable amount of pressure for our two-drop.
The other thing Heir of the Wilds does for us is a little non-intuitive. The best spell against us in these aggressive G/W strategies is Dromoka's Command, and Heir of the Wilds does a surprising amount of work towards making Dromoka's Command less powerful. Part of Dromoka's Command's power is its flexibility. They can use it to eat our enchantments or, if we try to sandbag our enchantments for later to avoid this, they can use the Command as removal to generate an insurmountable amount of tempo. Heir's deathtouch means he cannot be efficiently removed by Dromoka's Command, which really shuts down a lot of the scenarios where they would like to use Command for tempo.
This interaction protecting Heir of the Wilds from being painlessly removed by Dromoka's Command is really important in how battles over your Gideon, Ally of Zendikar play out. A normal play pattern against the Dromoka's Command decks involves them utilizing Command to both Remove your blocker and make their guy big enough to deliver a knock-out blow to your Gideon. Heir stops this line and ensures that we get additional utility out of our Gideons. This effectively greatly increases the power of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in these matchups and turns him from a card that is too awkward to be good in the matchup to an absolute all-star.
So Heir of the Wilds is excellent at shoring up our game against the dreaded Dromoka's Command decks and decent at worst against the different varieties of R/G aggro. He is fairly bad against Jeskai Black as he's not a body that matters and enables their Wild Slashes and Fiery Impulses to actually trade one-for-one. I have found that Emeria tokens has a pretty good game one against Jeskai, so I was willing to start Heir regardless. In general, Heir is good against anyone looking to aggressively attack you with sizeable ground bodies that you can block, and fine to actively bad everywhere else. I liked him main, but certainly don't be afraid to board him out where he doesn't shine.
The Sideboard and Return of Blue
There are two main plans going on in the sideboard of this deck. The first is the Den Protector / Evolutionary Leap plan setting us up to go late against controlling decks. The second is a bunch of options to supplement our removal against aggressive decks coupled with Lantern Scout to enable us to alpha them for less than lethal with impunity. Den Protector is also good in this configuration as a way to rebuy our new range of removal spells while providing a decent board presence to further the Lantern Scout game plan. Note that the deck can naturally create both Knight Ally Tokens with Gideon and Kor Ally Tokens with Retreat to Emeria, which makes retriggering Lantern Scout fairly easy.
I did not really like the sideboard of this deck, especially in this configuration. Most of my problems with it stem from the fact that Surge of Righteousness just isn't as good as I want it to be. The card has multiple decks where it hits about half of their relevant creature base, but no deck where it is just excellent and hits 90% of their creatures. I don't want to play it, but I'm not sure what other options there. Two mana removal spells are important as cheap things to rebuy with Den Protector post-board, and all of the mainboard removal spells are enchantment-based and thus cannot be rebought. Lantern Scout was also just fairly disappointing throughout the tournament and I have no plans to continue playing that card going forward.
The fact that I no longer want to be casting Surge of Righteousness presents a formidable problem. Our Den Protector strategy is greatly weakened without an ample amount of instant-based removal, but we don't have any better options for that slot in our green/white colors. As such, I am heavily considering adding a blue splash back in. I still don't want to play any blue cards in the maindeck, but having additional options for the sideboard is very appealing. The conclusion I've arrived at is that the current card pool does not have enough depth for me to be happy with my 75 card configuration of this deck without a splash.
The blue cards I am most excited about for the sideboard are Disdainful Stroke and Dispel. I know I hated on Dispel earlier, but the card is certainly a useful tool in some matchups. In particular it is an excellent pseudo-removal spell against the R/G aggro decks by stopping them from coming at you with combat tricks. Disdainful Stroke is appealing as a way to win Gideon fights on the draw while still retaining enough additional utility in the cases where things don't go according to plan. I'm also potentially interested in testing Treasure Cruise as an alternative way of getting ahead in long games. The first delve spell or two is essentially free, and this deck gets utility from every land it draws, even super late in the game.
I think this archetype has Staying Power in the metagame and will absolutely continue to work on it and consider it as a contender for future tournaments. It is great against Jeskai Black, which looks to be a strong selling point as this format evolves. I don't have a tuned final list for you, but here's the next draft I intend to test based on my experiences and the rest of this discussion:
Thanks for reading,