I had been testing Modern in preparation for Grand Prix Oklahoma City this past weekend, where I decided to play an updated version of BW Tokens that was largely influenced by the list Michael McCarthy won a Jacksonville PPTQ with a month ago. If you're looking for an overview of the current Modern metagame, two weeks ago I wrote about the 15 Best Decks in Modern. Today I am going to write a detailed analysis of my current weapon of choice, BW Tokens, including which cards from Battle for Zendikar I would consider adding to the deck.

Here's the deck I played in the tournament:

DECKID=1249274

I would consider moving the two copies of Timely Reinforcements to the sideboard and replacing them with two more copies of Dismember. To make space in the sideboard, I would cut the third Rest in Peace and the third Stony Silence. These changes me us a little worse against Affinity, Tron, Burn, Living End, Storm, Goryo's Vengeance and BW Tokens but better against Merfolk, Infect, Twin, Jund, Abzan, UW Control and Amulet. It's also reasonable to cut all four copies of Timely Reinforcements and just add two more Dismembers main and the fourth Duress and the fourth Dismember to the sideboard. The only matchup adversely affected would be Burn. We could even replace a Zealous Persecution or Bitterblossom with a fourth copy of Sorin, Solemn Visitor if we did this, in order to still give us six ways to gain life (four Sorin, two Vault).

Now let's go over each of the major matchups.


Aggro Matchups

Affinity
+3 Stony Silence
+2 Disenchant
-1 Timely Reinforcements
-3 Thoughtseize

This is a good matchup. I usually beat it 75% of the time. All our cards match up well against theirs. A single copy of Lingering Souls, Spectral Procession, or Zealous Persecution can stop their whole team of Vault Skirges, Signal Pests, and Inkmoth Nexus. Steel Overseer is the one creature we have to kill, but we have six answers to it, in addition to seven discard spells that can take it preemptively. Etched Champion is the other card that can potentially beat us (when equipped with Cranial Plating). The seven discard spells, or racing it with life gain, are our ways to beat Etched Champion. Post-board we get a pair of Disenchants to give us more answers to Steel Overseer and a way to Remove the plating from The Champion. We also get three copies of Stony Silence, which not only shut off Cranial Plating and Steel Overseer but also half the other cards in the deck. I would overall be happy to play Affinity every round of the tournament.

Naya Burn
+2 Timely Reinforcements
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-3 Thoughtseize
-1 Bitterblossom

The key here is to take as little damage as possible in the early game and then gain as much life as possible in the midgame. You want to fetch basics early if possible just to avoid losing life, and you often want to chump block with tokens and double block to force them to use their Lightning Bolts on our tokens instead of on our face. Timely Reinforcements, Vault of the Archangel, and Sorin, Solemn Visitor are our ways to pull ahead in the race. Cast Timely Reinforcements any time you can get tokens and six life, but sandbag Vault and Sorin until the turn you plan to use them to generate a huge life swing. They typically board out their Path to Exiles, which then makes Hero of Bladehold great post-board. Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize are both pretty bad in the matchup but we don't have enough cards to board in to bring them all out.

Merfolk
+2 Timely Reinforcements
-2 Bitterblossom

This is a matchup where we really want a few more removal spells in our deck. It's all about killing their lords and their Master of Waves. Sometimes Sorin + Intangible Virtue can allow us to win a race, but it usually comes down to how many lords stick around. Spreading Seas can also be very annoying sometimes. Timely Reinforcements isn't great but it's better than Bitterblossom in this matchup. This matchup ranges from 40% to 60% depending on how many removal spells we have.

Infect
+3 Duress
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-3 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
-2 Timely Reinforcements

Life gain is rarely important in this matchup. Instead we want disruption in the form of Duress. If we have access to more removal spells, then Hero of Bladehold does not need to come in. Essentially we tear apart their hand with discard spells and then save our cheap instant speed removal spells for when they try to use a pump spell on an attacker. Our tokens can generally block most of their creatures effectively, so the matchup is hard to win from the Infect side.

Grixis Delver
+2 Hero of Bladehold
+3 Duress
-3 Thoughtseize
-2 Bitterblossom

In my initial sideboard plans before the tournament I was bringing in Timely Reinforcements instead of Duress. I played against a Grixis Delver opponent and immediately realized this was incorrect. Duress was great because we want discard spells for all their key cards, especially their Counterspells that can stop our token makers and our Sorin, yet we want to board out Thoughtseize because the life loss is very relevant. We also don't generally have fewer creatures than them, so it's often hard to find a window for Timely Reinforcements to be good. I feel good about this sideboard plan. Hero requires them to double Lightning Bolt to kill it since they board out Terminate. Intangible Virtue + Spirit Tokens make Delver of Secrets look embarrassing. Zealous Persecution likewise makes Young Pyromancer look embarrassing. And our point removal spells, including Dismember, can each kill any creature in the deck including Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler.


Combo Matchups

Twin
+3 Duress
+2 Disenchant (if the leave in combo)
+2 Hero of Bladehold (if they take out combo)
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-3 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

This is another matchup where the extra Dismembers would help out. It's a bit of a guessing game as to how much of their combo they leave in post-board. They rarely side it out completely, but they often side into more controlling elements such as Keranos, God of Storms. Either way, we want all ten discard spells post-board and they allow us to sculpt a game plan around the cards remaining in the opponent's hand. Discard + cheap instant speed removal is the recipe for beating Twin, and we can reliably have multiple copies of each. Take risks where risks need to be taken, but be smart about not taking unnecessary risks. For instance, no need to give them extra draw steps to draw their way back into the game, but you also don't want to put yourself dead to a Splinter Twin off the top when you have a Thoughtseize and two Path to Exiles in hand. In those scenarios it's usually better to hold off on casting the token maker until you draw one more land and can have Path to Exile backup.

Living End
+3 Rest in Peace
+3 Duress
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Dismember
-1 Murderous Cut
-2 Zealous Persecution
-2 Lingering Souls

Rest in Peace is the most important card in the matchup. We can still win games without it though by causing them to discard their cascade cards and just racing them with tokens. Fulminator Mage can be annoying and it's hard to avoid playing into a board state where a cascade spell off the top is not devastating, but they don't always have it and sometimes our discard spells will steal us a game. I play three Rest in Peace so we can mulligan into it, but they also have Beast Within, so it's not game over when we have it. Overall this is not a great matchup but it's also not heavily played. Removal spells are not good against them, and Lingering Souls gets a lot worse when we bring in three copies of Rest in Peace.

RG Tron
+3 Stony Silence
+2 Hero of Bladehold
+2 Duress
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Dismember
-1 Murderous Cut
-2 Zealous Persecution
-1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

This is our nightmare matchup. We're 30% at best. The games we most frequently win are games involving first turn discard spell, second turn Stony Silence, and then ride some tokens or a Hero of Bladehold to victory. Stony Silence shuts off their artifact cyclers and Oblivion Stone. They have Nature's Claim though, so the game can quickly unravel off a single draw step. Hence pressure is very important. They have the bigger threats that require answers and they also have inevitability. This means we have to get lucky and both have the early answers (the easier part) and enough pressure to close out the game before they draw into their answers to our answers (which is inevitable if given enough time). The matchup will completely change once Crumble to Dust becomes legal.

Bogles
+2 Disenchant
+3 Duress
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-4 Path to Exile
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-1 Murderous Cut

Some people run Liliana of the Veil, which greatly improves this matchup (pre-board), but post-board they get Leyline of Sanctity to throw a wrench into that plan. Zealous Persecution can sometimes catch them with their hand in the cookie jar but, for the most part, game one comes down to a race. We have discard to slow down their aura production, and if we're on the play there will be games where a turn one discard spell takes their lone hexproof creature and forces them to go all-in on a non-hexproof creature, playing into our Path to Exile or Dismember. They have life gain in the form of Daybreak Coronet, but so do we in the form of Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Post-board they get Leyline to shut off our discard spells but we get Disenchant to answer it. If they don't start the game with Leyline, then our Disenchants are still great (able to kill Daybreak Coronet or, even better, force it to fall off by killing the other aura). And we also have ten discard spells that become excellent.

Amulet Bloom
+2 Disenchant
+3 Duress
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-3 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
-2 Zealous Persecution

After my three byes, I went 3-3 in the Grand Prix. Two of my three losses were to this deck. Each time I was a turn away from lethal and the opponent played Hive Mind + Summoner's Pact. Our discard spells make the matchup close, and our non-Dismember removal spells can mitigate the damage from Primeval Titan. I bring in Disenchant for Amulet of Vigor. Like Living End, this is not a great matchup, but it is maybe 40%.

Scapeshift
+3 Duress
+2 Hero of Bladehold
+1 Knight of the Hokey Pokey
+1 Craig Biggio rookie card
+1 Free side event voucher
-4 Path to Exile
-1 Murderous Cut
-1 Dismember
-2 Timely Reinforcements

We have a lot of pretty bad cards game one and not enough cards to bring in from the sideboard for games two and three. So our plan is basically to just hope to not draw any of the three cards that we are forced to leave in that are terrible. If you see any reason at all to leave in a removal spell or Timely Reinforcements, then that should be the card to leave in. Path to Exile seems like the absolute worst card, but it's a tossup between which of the other four cards is worse. They're each about on par with drawing a blank Magic card or an Alexander Hayne pro player card.


Midrange/Control Matchups

Jund / Abzan Midrange
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-2 Timely Reinforcements

These two matchups feel close and are always very grindy, but I win 75% of the time. Our token generators match up well against their point removal spells. Then post-board after they board out Terminate (their worst card pre-board), Hero of Bladehold becomes very good. Sometimes an unanswered Tarmogoyf or Olivia Voldaren can make things difficult, but usually they get overwhelmed by spirits, fairies, and vampires.

BW Tokens
+2 Disenchant
+3 Duress
+2 Hero of Bladehold
-1 Murderous Cut
-1 Dismember
-4 Path to Exile (leave one in on the play)
-2 Timely Reinforcements (leave one in on the draw)

It's a mirror match, so it's obviously 50% but Disenchant is a big card in the matchup, killing Bitterblossom or Intangible Virtue. Zealous Persecution at the right moment can also be backbreaking and not all versions run that card.

Grixis Control
+2 Hero of Bladehold
+2 Duress (maybe +3)
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-2 Path to Exile (maybe -3)

I haven't played this matchup much, but we definitely don't want Timely Reinforcements, we definitely want Duress, and I think Hero of Bladehold is better than a pair of removal spells. It's possible that Path to Exile is better than Zealous Persecution, but I think that's basically the extent of the discussion over how to sideboard for this matchup.

UW Control
+2 Hero of Bladehold
+3 Duress
-1 Path to Exile
-2 Timely Reinforcements
-2 Zealous Persecution

They have Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere to wipe out our tokens, and they also have and bring in more ways to counter token makers. So we want to bring in Duress and leave in our other seven discard spells. They also have some creatures we care about such as Restoration Angel and to a lesser extent Kitchen Finks. Our tokens match up well against Vendilion Clique, so we're not worried about removing that threat from the board. Zealous Persecution generally doesn't do enough, nor does Timely Reinforcements, so those come out. I'm not sure whether the fourth Path to Exile or a Dismember is better, but I think probably Dismember. The only thing Path is better against is Kitchen Finks, and we don't want to give them enough mana to start activating Celestial Colonnade.


Battle for Zendikar Additions

There are a handful of cards revealed thus far from Battle for Zendikar that are worth considering for BW Tokens in Modern.

Shambling Vent

This is the one I think is most likely to find its way into the deck. We cannot afford to play too many tapped lands since early discard is so crucial to our game plan, but Windbrisk Heights only producing white mana is a pretty big downside in a lot of game. If we play Shambling Vent instead then we no longer need to play Fetid Heath, which will make our mana quite a bit better. It also gives us more sources of life gain, allowing us to cut Timely Reinforcements from the main. The cost is that we become worse against less interactive combo decks because Windbrisk Heights is a way to dig deeper into our library to find key disruption cards such as Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Thoughtseize, or Path to Exile. We become better against Lightning Bolt decks and midrange/control decks though.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

This one would not be terrible but I don't think it is worth it in this deck. Sorin does so much more for this deck by providing lifelink, an anthem, and flying threats. Gideon produces threats at a faster rate, but when all our other threats fly, the ground threats are less relevant. In a world of Dismember and Path to Exile, Gideon's 5/5 ability is not as good as it might otherwise be. All things considered, I think Hero of Bladehold is likely better, as would be the fourth Sorin.

Crumble to Dust

This is a card that heavily incentivizes me to splash red. Tron, Scapeshift, and Amulet are three of the toughest matchups for BW Tokens. I've tried dozens of strategies to combat these decks. Liliana is strong against Scapeshift and (sometimes) Amulet but doesn't help much against Tron. Fulminator Mages and Tectonic Edges or Ghost Quarters were the way Deadguy Ale could compete against these decks, but that's too many resources for BW Tokens. I even tried splashing Sowing Salt, but it was too strenuous on the mana. Crumble to Dust, on the other hand, is very splashable. If we cut a Vault of the Archangel for a Sacred Foundry and replace a pair of Fetid Heaths with two more fetchlands, then suddenly a single red mana is easy to come by. Once we add red, we can even sideboard Crackling Doom for Bogles, Merfolk, and all the other decks where I want another removal spell. I'm not sure if Lightning Bolt is what we want, but it is also an option, as is Grim Lavamancer or Terminate.

BW Tokens is a strong choice right now as long as you can dodge a handful of matchups (Tron, Amulet, Scapeshift, Living End) or just draw the right combinations of cards to beat them. It is has good matchups against many of the top decks of the format (Jund, Abzan, Twin, Affinity) and can be customized to improve in certain areas at the expense of others (e.g. replacing Timely Reinforcements with more removal to improve Merfolk at the expense of Burn). It also has some new tools from Battle for Zendikar that can make it an even stronger contender than it already is.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter