Modern Spotlight: G/W Tokens
Seeing this deck on stream was a bit strange, as it gave me the impression somebody was taking a port of a Standard deck to a great finish at a modern GP!
Tokens has been a thing in Standard for a bit, but it was always Tokens that saw some play in Modern. Now Matthew Nass has brought this deck to a 15th place finish at GP Los Angeles, no small feat there. Below is the deck list, and you can find a bit of it on stream as well: versus Jeskai Nahiri (round 7) or Jeskai Nahiri (round 11).
This deck is really neat as it is very powerful against “fair” decks in modern, though it seems very weak against the unfair decks. The reason it’s able to do this is that cards like Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt are really bad when the only targets are mana dorks or tokens. On the flip side, there is almost zero interaction against unfair decks, at least when playing you have the option of using spells like Thoughtseize to slow them down. Here your only option is to kill them faster, and it often will take a few turns to reach that critical mass of tokens and pumps to finish off your opponent.
The Mana Dorks
Playing a full 10 one mana accelerators is very powerful when you are able to get right into your three mana plays (Nissa, Souls, or Procession) as soon as possible. This is how you win fast, as the deck can be very durdly without them. Even having one of these hit by a Bolt isn’t the end of the world, as your deck is designed to make removal like that really bad. It also helps out a ton when you draw into your 4 copies of Gavony Township.
Pump It Up
Traditional token decks play a number of Honor of the Pure/Intangible Virtue/Zealous Persecution to make the team bigger and finish off your opponent. This deck skips all of those in favor of cards that can potentially pump multiple times: Nissa, Voice of Zenikar and Gavony Township (I cannot fathom getting 2 emblems from a single Gideon, Ally of Zendikar). At times this is super powerful, as it’s potentially easy to play Nissa turn 2 and then have a total of 5 creatures on turn 3 that you can enlarge with the -2. Turn 4 can then be another -2 AND a Township activation, meaning each of your normally weak creatures is now huge. Not only does Nissa count as multiple pumps over the course of a game, she also allows you to create a steady stream of chump blockers if needed, or to just enlarge your army until you hit the appropriate number to start pumping.
A Note on Meta Decks
This is very much what I would consider a “meta deck”: a choice that can potentially work out really well but at the same time could be absurdly bad, all depending on what you play against. Going into GP Los Angeles the top played decks were as follows (courtesy of Modern Nexus): Jund (favored), Burn (even), Infect (favored), Tron (horrid), Affinity (favored), Jeskai (favored), Scapeshift (bad), Abzan Company (even). So I would consider the deck to be favored against tier 1 decks roughly 25% of the time, even about 10% of the time, and bad about 10% of the time (with 55% being decks outside of tier 1). Jeskai Nahiri was also the big news from the weekend before, so that likely had an even higher metagame share than expected, making this deck an even more solid choice. Things obviously worked out quite well at this event, but in other periods this deck would have been an abyssmal choice mauled over and over by pure combo decks.
Is It Worth Playing?
I think the value of building this deck fluctuates a ton with what you expect to play against regularly. If your local meta is a ton of random combo decks that will be hard to interact with, you are probably best playing something else (or tokens if you really want to sling spirits around). If it lines up more like the large competitive tournaments, I think it’s very likely this deck is a solid choice for at least a few more weeks.