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Swarming in Standard

March 26, 2012

Last weekend I played in my last PTQ for the season at my local shop in Stockholm (Dragon’s Lair). I was sort of on tilt when it came to Modern as I had reach a point where I though every deck were as bad as any other deck (or as good depending on if you are a glass half-empty or half-full kind of guy) and just went for a last minute audible.

I ended up running Owen Turtenwald’s 45% Zoo list mostly because I read a very compelling argument for the deck by Caleb Durward:

I would definitely play Zoo again. All day it felt like my opponents had to keep hands that didn’t auto lose to Tron, Jund, or Splinter Twin, and I snagged a lot of free wins by playing a pile of Kird Apes.

So I though, yeah…lets beatdown!

*Fast forward to Saturday evening*

I sort of crashed and burned, but it was a calculated risk I had taken into consideration when I audibled to something relatively new and untested. The deck felt so-so during the day and when my draws were subpar I simply couldn’t get the job done.

I got pelted quite a bit by Olle Råde afterwards for my “unusually bad” selection of deck to play but digress. Given the information I had prior to the tournament and the state of mind I was in, I think it was a fine audible. I don’t like to audible in general but I thought it was a necessary gamble for me to take in order to have a good shot at taking home the blue envelope.

Anyhow, with that PTQ in the books I’m calling quits on Modern for this season and can instead shift my focus entirely on Standard.

As you might recall, I have had an affinity for playing Wolf Run in Standard and it ended up being my choice of deck for GP Lille.

The Grand Prix did become some sort of a turning point for me when it comes to Wolf Run however. Partly, I was getting a little fed up with the deck for playing it so long. The fact that the deck is quite linear doesn’t help either in that department. Ideally you go from 2 mana to 4 to 6 where you play your giant threat and sort of cross your fingers that it’s going to be good enough.

The other reason why Lille and the aftermath of the GP was a turning point was that the Delver decks were still very much rampant and more importantly growing in numbers when you look at the entire field. The matchup against Delver is very challenging and having a “challenging” matchup against the most popular individual deck of the format isn’t exactly where you want to be. GP Lille also cemented Zombies as a “real” deck in Standard and assuming a controlling role against that deck without having access to numerous exile-effects is also…challenging.

Bottom line, I was ready for doing something else in Standard than casting Primeval Titans.

So instead of casting Primeval Titans I have been toying around with BW Tokens for the last few weeks:

BW Tokens

4 Isolated Chapel
4 Swamp
2 Vault of the Archangel
13 Plains

4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Blade Splicer
3 Hero of Bladehold

4 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
2 Dismember
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

Sideboard:

1 Oblivion Ring
2 Gideon Jura
2 Timely Reinforcements
2 Devine Offering
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Celestial Purge
2 Shrine of Loyal Legion

The deck has been doing alright for me but now with some experience with the deck I’m a bit torned. I think the deck is sort of awkward because it’s really a mashup between Humans and Gavony Township-based decks. The Champion of the Parish-part of BW Tokens is worse than the counterpart of Humans and I believe you can push the token theme in further in another shell.

As Humans as an archetype is quite well developed, I don’t feel a lot of incentives to delve too much about that deck. I do think however that there are much untapped potential in the token department.

When I have been playing with BW Tokens, I had a ever growing feeling that black isn’t really the color you want to be. Let me explain.

If we start with the poster boy from Dark Ascension, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is quite strong yet a bit lackluster. His spitting out emblem-ability is off course very nice in a deck which plans to win due to a swarm of tokens but there are a couple awkward factor to the card. For example, the tokens are black and have a for the deck a worthless creature type. Another annoying and quite frequent factor is that the powerful ‘walker is pretty much completely nuttered by Curse of Death’s Hold. My point isn’t that the card is “bad” because it’s weak to Curse of Death’s Hold, it’s just that when I put planeswalkers in these sorts of decks I put them in there to let me attack decks from another angle that is not weak to creature removal or at least very persistent against removal. And so far Sorin hasn’t been living those hopes up for me…at least in this deck.

The other big selling point of playing with black is that you can utilize Vault of the Archangel. The card has been decent for me…not bad at all. The thing though is that I don’t think the card is better than Gavony Township. While you can certainly script up scenarios where Vault of the Archangel is better and might net you wins where Gavony Township wouldn’t, I think Gavony Township is a stronger card in general.

What it really boils down to for me is that say that you have a couple of creatures in play, Vault of the Archangel/Gavony Township in play but you are out of gas in hand. Say that you hit a string of lands and don’t draw any further action for a couple of turns, which land would you rather have in play? Gavony Township, for sure. Vault of the Archangel has a major impact to the state of the game when it hits play but the it’s sort of a one time raise. Gavony Township on the other just escalates and becomes stronger and stronger as the game progress.

When it comes down to it, the only real reason why you would want to be playing black is to flashback Lingering Souls. Now, Lingering Souls is off course bonkers and is easily enough reason to having access to black mana in your deck. But  I do question the need of having black as one of the main colors of your deck.

So, where do I think one should go from there? Well, I think Gavony Township is the key factor if your plan is to swarm the board and I’m currently tinkering with 2 different approaches:

GWb Tokens

4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Woodland Cemetary
4 Gavony Township
5 Forest
2 Plains
1 Swamp

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Blade Splicer
1 Fiend Hunter
4 Hero of Bladehold
1 Acidic Slime
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

4 Intangible Virtue
2 Mortarpod
4 Lingering Souls
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Garruk Relentless

The list above is for me the natural progression from the reasoning I did earlier about that the black cards in BW Tokens aren’t so good and thus head into green, giving you access to Gavony Township among other things.

I really like Garruk Relentless and I think he is really unappreciated. I’m particularly surprised how few that realizes that the ultimate only costs 3 loyalty counters to use and in reality you can present lethal damage very quickly with that guy.

Worth mentioning also that the list is very similar to what people played with in Block Constructed right before the recent bannings of Intangible Virtue and Lingering Souls. Although Standard and Block Constructed is quite different animals, it’s still a sign that there might be something there powerful enough for Standard.

Naya Pod

4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Copperline Gorge
3 Sunpetal Grove
2 Rootbound Crag
3 Gavony Township
6 Forest
1 Plains
1 Mountain

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Strangleroot Geist
1 Spellskite
4 Blade Splicer
1 Fiend Hunter
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Acidic Slime
1 Geist-Honored Monk
1 Inferno Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

2 Oblivion Ring
4 Birthing Pod

The list above doesn’t look particularly related to either BW Tokens or the GWb list I just showed, but it does have fairly the same gameplan, flood the board with guys and pump them up.

While the deck does have Birthing Pod in it as well as a chain in the curve to support Birthing Pod, the deck is primarily built with Gavony Township in mind. Birthing Pod is used for and foremost as a means to generate tokens to the board which can then be beefed up and not as a way to find answer to card after card and in the process generate incremental advantages as you normally expect an Birthing Pod deck to operate. Sure, there are a couple of nice bullets to answer problematic cards but those are in there mostly because why not when Birthing Pod is already in the deck.

Also worth mentioning that Lukas Blohon took a list very similar to Top8 of Pro Tour Dark Ascension. The major differences is that Blohon had more silver bullets in his list while I have streamlined the deck even further.

Both list are still very much in their early stages and might end up not being powerful enough, but I think the core of both decks are really promising and tinkering around with these lists is what I plan to be doing in the near future. Feel free to do the same.

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