There are a lot of viable decks in the current Standard format, but there is one that has established itself as "the best deck."

Sometimes the deck that wins the Pro Tour to kick off a season of Standard is just a good metagame call and nothing more, but in this case W/G Tokens is more. It just keeps winning and winning, and is a tough nut to crack. What is the best way to attack a token-based strategy that also has Planeswalkers? Initially the answer was Cryptolith Rite, and it is true that those strategies have a positive matchup versus Green/White Tokens.

The Four-Color Rites deck centered around Zulaport Cutthroat is the most popular combo kill with this style deck, but there are also three-color version that have put up strong results. The three-color version often cuts black in exchange for more value creatures like Eldrazi Skyspawner, or a big haymaker like Dragonlord Atarka. In my opinion these are all valid directions to take the deck. For a couple weeks the Cryptolith Rite-based decks seemed to be the best decks in Standard. Creature decks like W/G Tokens and Bant Company aren't equipped to deal with any type of creature combo strategy, especially game one. So why has Four-Color Rites lost popularity recently?

The black control decks, including the W/B Control list I ran in New York, are well-set up to deal with Four-Color Rites. Most lists play all creatures that die to Languish, and it is necessary to commit multiple creatures to the board in order to operate smoothly. Rather than simply call it quits and stop playing Four-Color Rites because of a poor control matchup, there is another option. Reality Smasher is one of the most difficult-to-deal-with threats in the format, and the control decks don't have too many options once the card hits play. This leads to moving Reality Smasher to the maindeck. This is the list Luke Southworth played at GP Manchester:

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This list is still playing four colors in order to take advantage of Catacomb Sifter, but it does not have Brood Monitor or Zulaport Cutthroat in the maindeck. This takes away some of the combo element of the deck, but on the flipside adds a good card in its own right in order to help the control matchup. The Brood Monitors and a Zulaport Cutthroat are actually in the sideboard here. What this does is make the control matchup better for game one, and you have the ability to board into the same shell that is great against creature-based decks if necessary. This makes the Four-Color Rites deck more evenly matched against the field, rather than having lopsided matchups, though Four-Color Rites is still favored against W/G Tokens.

There are more lists emphasizing Reality Smasher because of its ability to attack Planeswalkers. The Cryptolith Rite decks are not as popular as they were a couple weeks ago, but they are still one of the best ways to attack W/G Tokens. Cryptolith Rite decks are the one strategy in the format that have proven themselves against W/G Tokens. Many other decks can claim they have a solid matchup against W/G Tokens, but usually it is not better than 50/50. If there is only one deck in the format that has a good matchup versus W/G Tokens, and that deck isn't being played as much right now, shouldn't everyone play W/G Tokens?

This is sound logic, and leads to why in any given Standard tournament right now, W/G Tokens should be the most-represented deck. There are however more decks that have a positive W/G Tokens matchup. These decks tend to be controlling since the aggressive decks have trouble fighting through a ton of tokens. Dragonlord Silumgar and Silumgar's Command are cards we are seeing played more now in the blue/black based control decks because of how effective they are against W/G Tokens. Adding more ways to interact with opposing Planeswalkers is one of the most effective of stopping Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar from getting going. The Sultai and Grixis Control decks certainly have access to these tools, but here is an Esper list that I have been working on specifically with these points in mind:

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This list is a cross between the Esper Planeswalkers deck from Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, White/Black Control, and straight Esper Dragons. Let's go ahead and talk about the dragons first. This is not a true Esper Dragons deck because it doesn't feature any of the payoff cards like Silumgar's Scorn. What it does have are a couple copies of Dragonlord Ojutai and one Dragonlord Silumgar. At first I tried the deck with as few creatures as possible but you really do want some flyers that can kill or even steal a Planeswalker quite easily. This deck is still able to cast a Dragonlord Ojutai and then have a way to protect it with countermagic on the following turn.

The creatures are chosen carefully here because it's important not to have too many haymakers. Sphinx of the Final Word has become a bit of a pet card, and it is necessary here in order to have a reliable way to close out the game. When looking at the list there actually aren't that many true win conditions, so Sphinx of the Final Word ends up being one of best and easiest ways to win. The other reason why there is both a Sphinx of the Final Word main and one in the sideboard is how powerful it is in control mirrors. Once this card hits the table the game quickly turns in your favor, and with control mirrors growing in importance all the time, this is one of the best options possible.

The last creature is of course Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Our opponent's removal is going to be live, but on the flipside we are playing more high-impact threats that can take over the game quite easily against W/G Tokens and other creature-based strategies. These decks don't actually have that much removal to begin with so eventually Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet should get the job done given enough time. The reason why I don't like playing more of them in the list is Reflector Mage. Having Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet hit by Reflector Mage is going to happen, but it sucks when there is more than one copy that gets stranded in your hand.

Since this deck is playing some four-toughness creatures that does make them vulnerable to Languish. With that being said Languish is too powerful of a card not to play. Generally speaking though, casting a Languish with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in play can work out pretty well, and it should be fairly easy in most games to avoid needing to Languish after a Dragonlord Ojutai has resolved. Besides Languish the deck has a lot of the typical removal spells that are to be expected. There is an extra emphasis though on being able to remove Planeswalkers because of decks like W/B Control and W/G Tokens.

Ruinous Path should be a given in pretty much any black based control deck, but Silumgar's Command still isn't getting played as much as it should. This card can do so many different things, as only a Command can. First of all it can trade with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar by destroying the planeswalker, and also bouncing the token your opponent presumably creates. Silumgar's Command is capable of being great in some really tight spots, so there are two here. Having ways to counter your opponents noncreature spells is really important. The deck also is playing cheaper counters like Clash of Wills and Negate to have a variety. Having different Counterspells in a deck is nice because it makes it more difficult to play around them all as the opposition.

The deck does need some form of card advantage in order to gain an advantage in the lategame. There are a couple copies of Sorin, Grim Nemesis which can be used as card advantage and an important source of lifegain, but the deck is not based around planeswalkers. Painful Truths is the main way to draw cards in the deck, and helps to ensure hitting land drops throughout the game. It may seem risky playing the full four copies but the card is actually that powerful. I won't be talking about every single card choice in the deck but there is one last card that should be highlighted in the sideboard.

Who would have thought Virulent Plague is good against token decks! In fact W/G Tokens isn't the only token deck in Standard, in many ways W/B Control is token-based too. The trick to boarding in Virulent Plague is that the W/G Tokens players are boarding out at least some number of Dromoka's Commands. This means less ways of removing Virulent Plague from play. By cutting off the token plan, it is pretty easy to deal with any leftover threats with other removal. The reason why this Esper Control deck isn't playing token generation is actually in order to side in Virulent Plague!

This deck is my own personal list and while I like it against the token decks it is not "battle tested" enough, which doesn't mean that it isn't a good deck. One surprising deck did come out of GP Minneapolis and is starting to prove itself based on actual tournament results.

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Here we have blue/red at its simplest form: Counterspells, burn, and fliers. This is a tempo deck that is quite well-positioned against W/G Tokens. There aren't that many cards that fly right now. This deck goes over the top of Planeswalkers while also having countermagic and removal to deal with annoying threats the opponent does manage to resolve. The fact that many of the creatures here have flash also works out nicely. That means that you are able to hold up a counter, and if the opponent doesn't play anything meaningful, flash in a flyer.

In classic Saito form, the deck has a lot of four-ofs, which doesn't leave a ton of room for random blowout cards, but this deck is still relatively new to the metagame. Players may not know what to expect, and walk right into the tricks coming out of this deck. I do wonder about the sideboard a little bit, but there is something to be said for loading up on cards that you know will have a high impact after board, which is what Saito has done. If the opponent is playing a slower deck which Fevered Visions is good against, the games should be fairly easy. Against super aggressive humans decks though, there will be more of a challenge.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield