It's been absolutely terrific to explore Modern in such depth in recent weeks. After having covered Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan as well as Grand Prix Toronto and Lyon, I still haven't got my fill of the format – but as the focus of the Magic world returns to Standard with upcoming events such as GP Memphis and the Magic Online Championship Series, it's time to revisit the world previously dominated by Attune with Aether and Ramunap Ruins.
What has changed since last time we were playing Standard at the premier level? Quite a lot, it seems. I took advantage of Adam Yurchick's excellent breakdown of what post-ban Standard looks like, an excellent way to get across what the Standard landscape looks like right now. I sat up and took notice when it emerged that White-Black Tokens was performing strongly again – I loved this deck before Rampaging Ferocidon saw widespread play and therefore consigned it to the scrapheap. Seeing as the only place the Ferocidon can rampage through now is the bars of its padded cell, it looks like Tokens are back on the menu!
Tokens is currently the fourth-most popular deck on Magic Online, which augurs well for its fortunes as the format begins to be pressure-tested by the best players in the world all returning from their Modern break. It's important to realize that since the bans took place, Standard has had a lot of time to breathe – the format has developed much more slowly than usual, given that most of the high-level attention has been on Modern. Make no mistake, however – in the coming weeks, this is set to change as tens of thousands of collective hours are spent attempting to break the format in half for upcoming events.
As one of the premier archetypes, Tokens will be one of these decks that is put under the microscope. It will be mercilessly tuned, tweaked and tested to find the optimal 75 – and as the current spread of decklists indicates, we're still a ways off from it. Today, we're going to examine all the options available to those looking to get ahead with Anointed Procession, and attempt to pull together the best deck with which to attack this developing Standard format. Let's get underway!
For those who aren't familiar with Token strategies in Standard, a quick recap: this deck uses Anointed Procession to power up token-producing cards, eventually overpowering opponents with a huge board and an unassailable life total. Regal Caracal, Legion's Landing and Start // Finish are all ways to generate tokens, but the best engine for this purpose is Hidden Stockpile (which is secretly the most important card in the deck). Revolt is enabled with relative ease thanks to Evolving Wilds and Renegade Map, and this makes Fatal Push even better. Further interactive options include Fumigate, which is excellent even when you've flooded the board with tokens, and Ixalan's Binding, a crucial answer to The Scarab God.
As you may be able to tell just by casting your eyes over this list – White-Black Tokens is a very slow, lumbering deck that takes a fair bit of setup time. Once it gets its boilers steaming, however, it's very difficult to defeat – the defensive momentum it gains can quickly shift gears and pressure an opponent.
While not all lists are built the same, there is generally a core shared by every approach to this archetype. Here's a quick breakdown of the most consistently played cards.
These cards are instant four-ofs in any list, and without either card the deck would functionally cease to exist. Hidden Stockpile is crucial to getting the token train rolling, and once paired with Anointed Procession its ability ends up netting you more tokens each turn. An ideal opener is a turn one Renegade Map followed by a turn two Stockpile, as this results in that crucial first token that can begin the cycle of sacrificing one token to generate multiples with Procession.
Procession itself is a very scary card for any opponent, and it only gets worse in multiples. The multiplication effect is cumulative, meaning that if you have two Processions out and would generate one token, you instead generate four (or eight with three Processions, and 16 with four). Things get out of hand very quickly once an Anointed Procession goes unanswered, and for that reason both Procession and Stockpile are indispensable in this deck.
The primary function of these cards is as revolt enablers. While some lists splash green for Vraska, Relic Seeker – as we'll get to – color-fixing isn't the main reason for their inclusion. You only need a single Stockpile trigger to get the ball rolling, and these cards are principally there to provide it. Fetching out a Forest is all gravy – but as we'll discuss, we're seeing fewer copies of Vraska included in the archetype these days.
The slow nature of this deck means it is very interested in buffering its life total wherever possible. No card is better than this than Anointer Priest – embalming one with an active Procession immediately provides you with four life, and things snowball from there. Legion's Landing is similar to Hidden Stockpile in the late game, as a recurring token producer that doesn't require further cards to enable it. Often it requires a chump-attack to flip it, but given this deck's ability to gum up the ground, that's not generally an issue.
Regal Caracal is a more recent addition to the deck. Obviously it improves the matchup against Mono-Red quite enormously, and synergizes very well with the overall theme of the deck. Five is a lot of mana to invest into a card like this, but once it sticks – even without a Procession – you generally get your mana's worth with how much time it can buy you.
This deck plays some of the best interactive options available across both colors. Fatal Push is better in this deck than most, given how straightforward it is to enable revolt, and spot removal bridges the gap nicely to Fumigate. Fumigate may look strange in a deck that seeks to flood the board, but it's a perfect follow-up to an Anointed Procession on four, and will gain you an enormous amount of life almost every time. Additionally, this deck has no problem refilling an empty board, so Fumigate is scarcely a truly symmetrical effect.
Ixalan's Binding is a must-include removal spell in this deck, for two reasons – one being The Scarab God, and the second being Hazoret the Fervent. While Hazoret can have difficulty connecting through an army of 1/1s, she's still a potent threat that demands an answer – and unsurprisingly, The Scarab God does too as it's just stupidly good. Previously, this deck ran Cast Out for additional flexibility, but Binding is just so much better when specifically targeting these huge threats.
Outside of these key cards, there doesn't seem to be any consensus on the best cards to include. Green's list is relatively conservative in its choices – an approach I like – but there are plenty of other options to consider.
This new piece of technology has seen play as another piece of interaction against some of the key early plays of the format (Winding Constrictor, Earthshaker Khenra). I'm not sure about it, to be honest; it seems a little clunky, especially as the only turn-two play this deck is really interested in is deploying a Hidden Stockpile. I don't know that the extra removal spell is entirely necessary, although if the pace of the format quickens I can see it as a good way to lower the curve and avoid being overrun early.
Amazing with a Procession and very ordinary without, Start // Finish is emblematic of what this deck is trying to accomplish – create tokens, sacrifice them for value and remove opposing threats. In reality, this card is stuck in an awkward middle ground where it's not good enough to really shine and not bad enough to hit the bin. I never like including it all that much, but it's a good hedge against an open field (and makes it very easy to sideboard, as it's the first card I usually take out).
This card is a great inclusion in the 75, there's no arguing about that. Whether it warrants a main deck slot comes down to how much aggression you expect to face. In a field full of Mono-Red, starting this card is excellent as it will stop them in their tracks unless they have a Falter effect – they never want to trade, otherwise you'll eternalize it and gain a squillion life. Conversely, midrange decks can generally ignore the Champion as it's not a great value play and detracts from the turn-four Procession plan. With Grixis and Sultai on the rise, I'd keep the Champ on the bench for now.
I am out on this card. It pops up every now and again as a one-of, but I just don't think it's all that good in this deck. Firstly, it's going to be the most obvious thing in the world when you hold up four mana, as this deck taps out More or Less every turn and doesn't play an instant-speed game. Secondly, Fumigate is just heaps better – as discussed, you don't mind wrathing away your own creatures, as rebuilding with Hidden Stockpile is very easy. Hard pass.
My perspective on this card comes with a huge amount of bias, as I've loved Treasure Map ever since it was first unveiled and have done everything I can to make it work. It's slow and clunky, and can be a liability against aggressive decks (where you'd rather have a Baffling End, for example). Creating six Treasures with a Procession, however, and slowly turning them into cards is an excellent value play against midrange (not to mention control) decks. I like starting one and maybe two, depending on the field.
This card, on the other hand, shouldn't be anywhere near your main deck. Between Mono-Red, Mardu Vehicles, and Red-Green Monsters, there are decks that come for your life total fast and hard, and maybe two life for a card isn't feasible against too broad a proportion of the field. I love it in the board, especially against control – just remember its transform ability is a "may" ability – I encourage you to always select "no, thank you."
This deck is slow and clunky enough without paying eight mana to exile a single creature. This is a defensible sideboard option against decks like Blue-Black Midrange, where you can stall out the board and pick off their best creatures one by one. I love it as an unconditional answer to difficult threats like Rekindling Phoenix (not to mention The Scarab God), but I'm still not convinced. Besides, I prefer my Processions to be Anointed, not Profane.
This strategy has traditionally been referred to as "Abzan Tokens" as it used to invariably splash for Vraska, Relic Seeker. It's difficult to say if this is the right call these days, and will ultimately depend on how the format shapes up in the coming weeks. Against an aggressive format – one dominated by Mono-Red, Monsters, and Vehicles – Vraska is a very slow and awkward draw, and can sometimes even be ignored once deployed as they merely continue to go after your life total.
Against midrange decks, Vraska can do some work, but suffers pretty horrifically at the hands of some of the most-played cards in the format. Red has both Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix, which pressure her strongly, but the real issue is black decks having access to Vraska's Contempt. Having your six-drop Planeswalker answered by a card that is very ineffective against you otherwise feels absolutely awful - plus, it's an egregious flavor violation.
Ultimately, I think the format is too hostile to Vraska for her to be included. She synergizes supremely well with Anointed Procession, but is just too easy to answer and will not give you the value you need for a six-drop in Standard. Sorry, Vraska!
We'll have to keep a close eye on things as Standard continues to develop in the coming weeks, but here is a starting point for WB Tokens moving forward:
I'm looking forward to tinkering with this list even more in the coming days and weeks, once Standard comes into focus more sharply. Hopefully, White-Black Tokens remains a real contender!
- Riley Knight