There are currently three Tier 1 decks in standard: Abzan Midrange, Mardu Midrange, and Jeskai Tempo. There are several Tier 2 and Tier 3 decks (Green Devotion, RG Monsters, UW Heroic, Constellation, Rabble Red, UB Control, various Jeskai Ascendancy decks, etc.), but the top three are the ones you should definitely come to a tournament prepared to beat.
This week I got around to tuning the RW Tokens deck I played to a Top 16 finish in the TCGplayer Max Point Championship last month. I fixed its worst matchup (Jeskai Ascendancy Combo) while also improving it against the big three decks of the format. If you're looking for a deck that's currently well-positioned and pretty straightforward to play, this might be exactly the right deck for you!
Today I'll go over the deck's matchups, including how to sideboard with it, and some reasoning for the recent changes. To start, here is the updated list:
I changed the mana a little to have fewer tapped lands and I replaced the third Lightning Strike with the third Magma Jet, mostly to add consistency to the deck with additional scry power. I also replaced Monastery Swiftspear with Raise the Alarm. This makes it harder for our opponent to keep us off raid and makes us better against sweepers (post-board Drown in Sorrow and/or End Hostilities).
In the sideboard I went up to four Erase, primarily for the Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks. This was enough to make the matchup favorable. I also went up to four Glare of Heresy, primarily for the Abzan matchup, but it is also very good against UW Heroic and in a few other matchups.
Let's talk about the Tier 1 matchups now.Matchup 1: Abzan Midrange
Before sideboard, Abzan has a really tough time against us. They have slow and clunky threats and their removal spells are slow and only kill one creature at a time. In contrast, our removal is cheap and our threats go wide in the form of tokens. This means that we start overwhelming them with tokens, forcing them to rely on their creatures as blockers, but then we have Chained to the Rocks and Stoke the Flames to get rid of their blockers.
In addition to our cards matchuping so well against their pre-board, we also have some trumps for the matchup. Since our tokens are largely going unanswered, Eidolon of Countless Battles makes any token into a threat so large they have to either chump block it or use a removal spell on it (and then use another removal spell on it again the next turn when the Eidolon becomes a creature). We also have Chandra, Pyromaster to keep the pressure on by keeping a creature from being able to block. Lastly, since Abzan is unable to deal with our token production, it means we'll nearly always have the ability to trigger raid for Wingmate Roc, which then becomes yet another very problematic card, one that can easily take out their planeswalkers and/or fly over whatever ground defenses they've managed to put up.
RW Tokens+4 Glare of Heresy+2 Chandra, Pyromaster-4 Chained to the Rocks-1 Magma Jet-1 Lightning Strike
Abzan+3 Bile Blight+3 Drown in Sorrow-4 Abzan Charm-2 Thoughtseize
After sideboard things get a lot closer. They bring in six ways to handle our tokens efficiently, three of which can also take out Seeker of the Way incidentally. Drown in Sorrow really adds a dimension to the matchup that puts the game on equal footing because it means we can't just play all our threats without Abzan being able to punish us for overextending.
While Abzan improves a lot post-board, we also get some of our own upgrades. Chained to the Rocks is a fine removal spell against them, but it can't stop their planeswalkers and it leaves us vulnerable to the mega blowout of unlocking their Siege Rhino mid-combat to block an attacker (and trigger the three point Drain Life again). Glare of Heresy doesn't have either of their downsides. Instead its only downside is not being able to take out a Courser of Kruphix. This is acceptable since we still have four Stoke the Flames to deal with the Courser.
We also bring in the third and fourth copies of Chandra, Pyromaster. This is yet another way to keep Courser of Kruphix from getting in the way of our attacking tokens and Seekers of the Way. It's also a way to keep up with the card advantage generated by Abzan's planeswalkers if we're able to untap with it and start using the +0 ability to "draw cards."
Wingmate Roc is our best card post-board, so you want to make sure you can always trigger raid. A play that not infrequently comes up is playing something like Hordeling Outburst or Goblin Rabblemaster on the third turn and then passing with four mana on the next turn instead of overextending into Drown in Sorrow. Then during the opponent's end step (after they Drown in Sorrow) you play Raise the Alarm and Magma Jet. The Jet will scry you into the fifth land and the Raise will provide you with attackers to trigger raid the following turn for your Wingmate Roc. Suddenly the turn after the wiped your board they are facing down an even bigger board!
Abzan still has the ability to take over a game with its planeswalkers, but we have the tools to remain toe-to-toe with them post-board. And we're the favorite pre-board, so overall the matchup is in our favor.Matchup 2: Mardu Midrange
Similar to the Abzan matchup, it's difficult for Mardu to keep up with our token production pre-board. Their deck is filled with cards like Crackling Doom and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker which don't match up well against cards like Hordeling Outburst and Raise the Alarm. Unlike Abzan, however, they do have some cheaper removal spells like Lightning Strike to deal with our Goblin Rabblemaster at instant speed before it starts making tokens. The tradeoff, however, is that its late game is not as good as Abzan's late game since it doesn't run Ajani, Mentor of Heroes or Elspeth, Sun's Champion (main deck). Some versions might run Elspeth, but most don't.
When our tokens have free reign, Eidolon of Countless Battles becomes a must-answer card and one that must be answered twice. The game plan is to put them on defense and keep getting damage in while they cast one spell a turn to try and keep up. Then let Wingmate Roc do its thing to pull away with the game. The matchup might not seem great on paper but it is. If we're ahead in the race, then Butcher of the Horde is staying back on defense, which allows us to easily deal with it via Chained to the Rocks. We also have Stoke the Flames to kill it after producing tokens. So we have eight cheap and efficient answers to their four-drop, leaving them at a total value loss. This is unlike the case of Siege Rhino in Abzan where the five-toughness allows it to dodge Stoke the Flames, and even if we kill it with Chained to the Rocks, the three point Drain Life is left behind.
Much like the Abzan matchup though, we are pretty heavily favorite pre-board.
RW Tokens-3 Lightning Strike-4 Chained to the Rocks+2 Arc Lightning+1 Glare of Heresy+2 Banishing Light+2 Chandra, Pyromaster
Mardu+2 End Hostilities+3 Anger of the Gods+1 Elspeth, Sun's Champion+2 Read the Bones-3 Chained to the Rocks-1 Murderous Cut-3 Seeker of the Way-1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
After sideboarding, the matchup gets a lot closer for similar reasons as the Abzan matchup. They bring in sweepers that efficiently answer our token generation (Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities). They also bring in a copy of Elspeth, Sun's Champion and can bring in Read the Bones.
Seeker of the Way is pretty bad against us since we're almost always on the offense in this matchup and we have plenty of cards that can easily take care of it (Magma Jet, Lightning Strike). Post-board Mardu gets to move away from the Seeker plan and essentially become a deeper control deck that attempts to win the late game with card draw, wraths, and big threats.
We also get some of our own upgrades though. Lightning Strike is a good answer to Goblin Rabblemaster, but it's generally pretty bad otherwise. We get to upgrade those to Arc Lightnings, which can also single-handedly deal with Hordeling Outburst. The third copy of Lightning Strike becomes a Glare of Heresy, which can deal with Butcher of the Horde or Elspeth, Sun's Champion (or Chained to the Rocks if they have that). It doesn't kill Goblin Rabblemaster or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker though, so I wouldn't board in more than one or two.
The other upgrade we get is replacing Chained to the Rocks with Banishing Light and Chandra, Pyromaster. Banishing Light can get rid of any planeswalker or Butcher of the Horde or Goblin Rabblemaster. They might bring in a Glare of Heresy against us, but we have plenty of targets for it anyway. And unlike with Siege Rhino, they don't gain a Drain Life out of unlocking their card.
Against Abzan Chandra mostly just targets a big four or five toughness creature to keep it from blocking or it acts as a personal Howling Mine each turn. Against Mardu it actually kills things (opposing tokens) in addition to its Howling Mine mode. It's our way to keep up with Read the Bones and to recover from opposing board sweepers.
In this matchup be sure to conserve your Stoke the Flames. It's our only good answer to Stormbreath Dragon and is also our only instant speed answer to Butcher of the Horde. Keep it as your last removal spell and don't ever point it at the opponent unless there is a clear path to victory.
Post-board the matchup is very close. Wingmate Roc will generally be the way we win games after a board sweeper takes out our early game. Chandra, Pyromaster can give us an edge in the midgame topdeck war, though they have plenty of their own haymakers.
We're pretty heavily favored pre-board and about even post-board, so overall we're favored.Matchup 3: Jeskai Tempo
This was our best matchup at the MaxPoint Championship. Our burn spells match up very well against their threats while their spells match up very poorly against our tokens. We also pressure them enough to where they can't just point all their burn spells at our face. Otherwise we Overrun them with creatures and win that way. So assuming average draws from both players, it's very difficult for Jeskai to formulate a winning game plan against us no matter which path they take.
RW Tokens+1 Lightning Strike-1 Chained to the Rocks
Jeskai+2 Arc Lightning+2 Negate-1 Banishing Light-1 Stoke the Flames-2 Jeskai Charm
I'm not entirely sure what their best sideboard plan is against us because, like I said, it's very hard for their cards to line up well against ours. They do have Arc Lightning post-board though, which allows them to answer a Hordeling Outburst efficiently. We get our fourth Lightning Strike though, which can efficiently answer just about any of their threats. We even have three copies of Chained to the Rocks remaining, which can get rid of an Ashchloud Phoenix for good.
Negate seems like a card that could potentially keep them in a game if cast at the right moment. It can stop a Hordeling Outburst or a timely removal spell if they're somehow able to get ahead. It might not be right to board it in, though again I'm not exactly sure what their best plan is against us. Things really have to line up well for them to win, I know that much. This is the deck I played at the Pro Tour and at the following Grand Prix and I gave it up in favor of RW Tokens, largely because this matchup was close to unwinnable (and also because I couldn't get the midrange matchups to more than 50%).
Those are the Tier 1 matchups, but I want to go over one more quickly because it used to be my worst matchup before making a few changes.Matchup 4: Jeskai Ascendancy Combo (Caryatid version)
Second turn Sylvan Caryatid is the key to this deck's success. We have plenty of ways to answer all their other creatures, but we have no answer to the hexproof creature. So we should win every game that does not involve a quick Caryatid followed by the combo. We also pressure them a lot, forcing them to find the combo pretty quickly, so we will even win some of the games they have Sylvan Caryatid if they can't assemble the combo quickly enough.
RW Tokens+4 Erase+1 Lightning Strike-4 Chained to the Rocks-1 Wingmate Roc
Ascendancy+2 Negate+3 AEtherspouts-2 Dig Through Time-3 Twinflame
Post-board things get much better for us. We still have all our answers to their non-Caryatid creatures, so they're still forced to find the Caryatid in order to have any hope of winning. But instead of just having to rely on pressuring them to beat their Caryatid draws, we now have four trumps in the form of Erase. In general you want to Erase their Jeskai Ascendancy as soon as possible, usually during their end step the turn they play it or in response to the Retraction Helix if they try to go off on the same turn as casting the Ascendancy.
There are a few different versions of the deck and I think the AEtherspouts version is best against us because it offers a plan that forces us either play around it or give them multiple extra turns to set up. We're still at a pretty significant advantage as long as we don't overextend into it too badly. They have minimal removal spells, so our creatures will generally deal a lot of damage.
I only had two copies of Erase at the Championship, but you really need all four copies to make this a favorable matchup. Mardu has Crackling Doom to beat their Sylvan Caryatid draws but we do not, so one concession that needs to be made in RW that Mardu doesn't have to make is sideboarding four copies of Erase. It certainly comes in handy in the Constellation matchup though too!Conclusion
The three top decks in the format are Abzan, Mardu, and Jeskai and I've tuned RW Tokens to have a favorable matchup against all three. It also has plenty of game against the other decks of the format, being an internally consistent and powerful deck. I would expect to win nearly all of my game ones, regardless of whether on the play or the draw, and about half of my post-board games, at least against the Tier 1 decks. RW Tokens is a classic aggro-midrange deck with threats that match up well against the commonly played removal spells of the format and removal that matches up well against the commonly played threats of the format. And we're white, so we have great sideboard options that allow us to adapt to whatever our opponent is planning to do to stop us post-board. More so with this deck than with most other decks, our sideboard plan has a lot to do with what we expect the opponent to be bringing in against us instead of what they already have in their main deck. This is largely because our main deck is specifically designed to make their cards match up poorly against us.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter