Take Me To Church: Updating Orzhov Tokens
Lately I've been playing a lot of Modern, since for whatever reason, it is now being supported even more than Standard in my area. Thursday has become Modern night, there have been a number of Modern GPTs for GP: Toronto and there is also a biweekly Modern league. I feel confident saying that, recently, Modern has been my most played format and has the majority of my attention. While I have Burn sleeved (and foiled out for the most part) I've been focusing on tuning Orzhov Tokens. For me, the Burn mirror feels way too much like a coin flip and as far as I can tell, Orzhov Tokens has no bad match-ups. In my book, that means it should be considered. Let's take a look at the best deck no one is playing.
I started out with Martin Juza / Stanislav Cifka's deck from the pro-tour. Juza played it to a 7-3 finish, which put it firmly in the “top decks” category. Orzhov Tokens was my first Modern deck, so that definitely caught my attention, for nostalgia's sake if nothing else. Juza's article (which I highly recommend) can be found here: http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/bw-tokens-at-pro-tour-fate-reforged/
Here's what whey played:
I think this deck is obviously good. You don't go 7-3 at the pro-tour without having a good deck and being a good player. I really liked that Bitterblossom finally had a home. I also really appreciated the interaction between Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Intangible Virtue.
"In life, they were a motley crew: farmers, lords, cutpurses, priests.
In death, they are united in singular, benevolent purpose."
I feel that Intangible Virtue is probably the most important card in the deck, as it makes you so much better than all the other Lingering Souls decks. Your spirits are bigger than theirs, so they can't trade effectively. You also get to play offence and defence while they just sit there awkwardly. Abzan players also tend to use Abrupt Decay on Bitterblossom, so you can sequence it T3 Lingering Souls, T4 Flashback + Intangible Virtue and just be way ahead. It's not abnormal for your Spirit / Fairy tokens to be 4/3 Flying, Vigilance, Lifelink creatures. Liliana of the Veil is also laughably bad against this deck, which is nice. I really like what this deck is doing. However, there were a few things I was unhappy with:
The first problem I identified with the deck, is that it had too many lands. I was flooding in every game, and the deck tops out at Sorin (although sometimes you want 5 for Vault activations / Lingering Souls + flashback). The first things to go were a copy of Vault of the Archangel (I prefer this as a 1 of anyway) and a Windbrisk Heights (too many “comes into play tapped” lands is awkward). I also disliked the mainboard Timely Reinforcements. While you would occasionally catch a Burn player off guard, the card is pretty awkward against everything else. Finally, there was the graveyard hate in the sideboard. While I would occasionally bring in Relic of Progenitus, it proved to be fairly underwhelming and I was never sideboarding in Rest in Peace, as there is no Dredge / Living End in my meta.
I decided to make the following changes:
Orzhov Tokens by Keith Ambrose
I played this version for a while and found that I was happy with it for the most part. It beat up on Abzan and Burn, but I felt I was giving up too much against combo decks like Scapeshift and Splinter Twin. As funny as it was watching my Burn opponents Skullcrack themselves to prevent the lifegain from Timely Reinforcements because I had a Leyline in play, I felt I was dedicating too much to that match up and I could find a more balanced approach. The 1 of Blood Baron of Vitzkopa is a pet-card, but I still think it is criminally underplayed in Modern. It's really good against Abzan, but too slow / not relevant enough against other decks. I wanted to test Slaughter Pact, but the inability to kill Siege Rhino and Tasigur made me quickly dislike it. Bitterblossom was very good against Abzan and Control, but kind of so-so vs other decks, so I considered reducing the number. The second Zealous Persecution in the main improved the Abzan and Affinity matches enough that I decided to keep it. The biggest improvement was Leylines in the sideboard, but I still thought it could be tuned a little more. That brings me to my current version of the deck.
"Jharic returned from Grixis changed, a haunted look in her eyes.
She destroyed them with an unholy glee that made me shudder. -Knight-Captain Wyhorn"
Orzhov Tokens by Keith Ambrose
The changes to this version of the deck have been very successful (I'm 7-3-0 across my last two events with the deck, one of those was a round loss for showing up late due to car trouble). Auriok Champion in the main feels very solid and I think it's much better than Timely Reinforcements.
Auriok Champion does not fold to Skullcrack because the life is gained over several turns, and the ability also cancels out your life loss from Bitterblossom. It also means that you can't lose to Deceiver Exarch / Splinter Twin. It also just chumps all day, but be aware of Skullcrack. The numbers on Thoughtseize and Bitterblossom were reduced to help manage life loss. The 1 of Murderous Cut has actually been very good, and I think I like it over running a third Dismember. With the fetches and early discard spells, it typically costs 1. I retained the 1 of Bloodbaron of Vitzkopa, but moved it to the sideboard since it is awkward in certain match ups. Stain the Mind is in the board as insurance against combo like Scapeshift, Twin and Ad Nauseam. As I said above, the deck has been doing very well, and I think I've found the correct balance for the sideboard. Speaking of sideboard...
Against Abzan, you are more or less pre-boarded. However, the games do tend to be rather grindy, so you need some high impact cards for when you end up in attrition based top deck wars. They can't remove BboV effectively and can only block with green creatures. Hero of Bladehold just wins the game if it gets to swing twice. Abzan is a highly favourable matchup and the main reason for playing the deck.
Against Burn, you're looking to preserve your life total and hide behind a Leyline. Eidolon of the Great Revel is one of the worst cards for us, so carefully weigh whether you can lose 2 life to path it or not. Also, remember that the CMC on Spectral Procession is 6, not 3, so Eidolon won't trigger. If you can trade tokens for an Eidolon, I think it's usually correct to do so. Discard spells should be used to protect your Leyline from Destructive Revelry / Wear // Tear and slow them down. Once you land a Sorin (assuming you have board presence) or a Baron, you should be able to stabilize. Auriok Champion also does a lot of work against them, but be mindful of Skullcrack, as it can get around protection from red. Burn is slightly unfavourable game 1, favourable game 2 & 3.
You're basically playing to keep them off their combo and disrupt them with discard until you can poke them to death with tokens. They also can't win with Deceiver Exarch if you have Auriok Champion in play. Match-up is favourable G1, very favourable G2 &3.
There are games where you will just lose because they nut draw you, but this match seems pretty even game 1, almost un-losable G2&3 if you have Stony Silence.
Game 1 is fairly even. You need to play aggressively and try to disrupt / kill them quickly. Games 2 and 3, Leyline can protect you from Valakut, and a discard spell can let you know whether you need to name Scapeshift or Primeval Titan with Stain the Mind. Games 2 & 3 seem favourable.
Basically you just want to pull their hand apart, Stain them for Jace, Architect of Thought, Restoration Angel or Supreme Verdict and grind them out. Feels very favourable. It might be correct to change the mix of Zealous Persecution / Dismember / Murderous Cut depending on what creatures they are running.
Auriok Champion is basically irrelevant, as they aren't after your life total [TEDitor's Note: Noble Hierarch begs to differ!] and most (if not all)) of their creatures are green or artifact. Any way you slice it, the match up is very favourable.
So there you have it, a relatively inexpensive Modern deck, that basically (in my not so humble opinion) has no bad match ups. Unless there is another banning soon or a significant shift in meta, this will be a good deck for the foreseeable future. It's under the radar for the most part, and while you might take some splash damage from Abzan, you should beat up on them. Why not sleeve this up and try it at your next Modern event?
Until next time,
Keep calm and make tokens!