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MDV Featured Article - Potatobrain's Guide to Token Decks. - by Potatobrain - posted 6/4/09 - discuss here

Hello, hello, hello my faithful readers. It is I, Potatobrain, king of tribal decks, scion of rogue decks, and master of crap rare deckbuilding. I would like to begin today's article by finally revealing my secret origin story. Today you all shall learn how I went from mild-mannered Rami the small-time economics student to Potatobrain, king of tribal decks, scion of rogue decks, and master of... well, you get the idea.

I have come a long way since my humble Magic beginnings six years ago. It was a cold, hard day in Montreal when, after spending many hours playing fighting games with my friends, I noticed that a couple of the guys were sitting in the back playing cards. Curious man that I was, I moseyed on over to observe the game, only to discover that they weren't playing with regular cards! That's right, you guessed it dear readers, they were playing Magic. I asked if I could join in, and was told that I needed to go to the corner store and buy some boosters, as well as a preconstructed deck. So I did, and the seed of the flower that would pollinate the mind of a deckbuilding champ was planted. But wait, heroes, and more specifically, Magic heroes, aren't born overnight. It took me a good six months of playing to fully understand all the intricacies of how the game worked, and then another six months to learn to properly build decks. And you know what I discovered? I am a deckbuilder extraordinaire.

You see, back when I was just a little Magic player, I used the Internet, my friends, past championship decks and present friends' decks for inspiration and as guidelines for building my own. These were great sources of material, and from them I gleaned many important concepts, concepts that I use nowadays to create the mad rogue decks that I constantly harass my play group with. The bad news was it took me over a year to figure out the basics, and a few more years to refine my techniques to the diamond pointed edge they are now at. The good news is I'm going to give you all of the information that's in my head, in a short and sweet form that you can understand and enjoy. That's right folks, I'm just giving away all of this information, because that's how much I love you guys.

So, without further ado, allow me to announce the creation of my very own mini-series, intelligently and eponymously titled "Potatobrain's Guide To Magic: How To Stop Being A Scrub And Learn To Build My Own Decks And Hope To Become As Awesome As Potatobrain My Super Hero From The Future; Hurray, Let's Have Beer!". Let's call it "Potatobrain's Guide To Magic: How To _____" for short, and I'll fill in the blank with each article's topic.

Today’s episode’s blank is TOKENS!

Well, not exactly. I mean, it wouldn't make sense if I said "Potatobrain's Guide To Magic: How To Tokens", now would it? But it involves tokens. Anyway, you get the idea.

So why am I writing about tokens? Well, I was playing a game against my faithful sidekick Sam the other day, and after beating him soundly with around ten Snake Tokens, we had the following conversation:

Sam: "Potato, does every single one of your stupid decks have tokens in it?"
Potatobrain: "No, just most of them."
Sam: "Do you even know how to build a deck without tokens?"
Potatobrain: "Yes, but I also know how to subdue a man with crane fist pressure point strikes, that doesn't mean I'm going to do it just because you want me to. Also, I win again."

But the conversation got me thinking: "why did I have so many decks with tokens in them?" Well, that's a pretty loaded question. Let’s make it more general: "why would anyone play a token deck? Answer: People play decks with tokens because they love the idea of having multiple creatures! Some people like to attack with one big Akroma style finisher for the win, and that’s fine; this article is not directed at those people. Some other people, perhaps because they enjoy feeling like a general sending his army out to war, would much rather attack with a swarm of little dinky creatures for the win; THOSE are my kind of people. As for the rest of you that are on the fence about tokens, here’s a grocery list of pros and cons to help you cement your opinion.

  • You'll probably have many creatures (duh). This one goes without saying, there's really no point in playing token decks unless you plan on making tons of tokens (or your token is Legendary and named Kaldra).
  • Your swarm of little guys means that you won’t need any evasion. You’ll hit your opponent because of the sheer number of attackers you’ll be throwing at him.
  • Your win condition will not be vulnerable to localized removal spells like Terror or Putrefy, simply because you'll have so many tokens that they'll be like cannon fodder: numerous and expendable. Your opponent will probably use his removal spell to kill one of your creatures, but will then die to the onslaught that his spell couldn't deal with.
  • Mass boost effects like Glorious Anthem will be much more effective. Let's take two cards of equal value in power and toughness: Serra Avenger and Spectral Procession. The first spell gives you a 3/3, the second gives you three 1/1s: they both give you 3 damage to deal to your opponent. Now, assume you play Glorious Anthem. Your Serra Avenger becomes a 4/4, giving you 1 more attack power, and allowing you to now deal 4 damage to your opponent. In comparison, your three Spirit tokens each become 2/2, thus netting you 3 more attack power for a total of 2+2+2=6 damage!
  • Your tokens will usually be pretty small, and so will most probably die to small mass damage effects like Pyroclasm, and mass minus effects like Infest.
  • Tokens often share the same name and creature types, again making them more vulnerable to certain categories of removal like Echoing Truth/Echoing Decay (specific name targeting) and Engineered Plague/Endemic Plague (specific creature type targeting).
  • Enchantments that affect multiple attackers are extremely difficult to get around. If your opponent drops a Propaganda, Reverence or Dueling Grounds, you're probably screwed.
  • You'll need to carry around some tokens to represent your token creatures.

...OK, so maybe that last one wasn't really an in-game problem, but people just don't consider how annoying it is sometimes to have to carry around an extra Ziplock bag with tokens whenever you want to go play Magic at your best buddy's house.


Moving on. For those of you that are still around, here are some basic principles for token deckbuilding.

Types of token producers

Currently in Magic there is at least one token producer of every color in every card type except for Planeswalker and Artifact (assuming the card only has one type. None of this blue artifact creature business, I mean what the heck is a Homunculus anyway? Sheesh). So what does that mean? Well, it means that if you say Green Enchantment, I say Centaur Glade, and if you say White Instant, I say Raise The Alarm. The amount of token producers is huge, so I’m going to focus on how and when the tokens are produced.

There aren’t that many instants that can produce tokens, but the ones that do exist are damn good. They are extremely useful to ambush the opponent by creating tokens after he or she attacks, and can also be played at the end of his or her turn, thereby allowing you to attack with them immediately afterwards on your turn (almost like having haste). Examples include Raise The Alarm, Gilt-Leaf Ambush and Pact Of The Titan.

There are many more of these than instants. The downside is that they can only be played on your turn. The upside is that they are usually much more powerful than their “faster” counterparts. Examples include Crush Of Wurms, Promise Of Power, Decree of Justice and Empty The Warrens.

Upkeep Triggers:
These tend to be relatively easy to handle, because once the producer is in play, the tokens are usually (but not always) free. The downside is that you’ll have to wait one full turn after playing the spell before your upkeep, and so you’re giving your opponent the chance to destroy your producer before you get a single token. Examples include Creakwood Liege, Goblin Assault and Luminous Angel. For all of you tournament buffs, Bitterblossom is an especially good example, although it does have an additional cost.

Circumstantial Triggers:
These are a little trickier in that they require some effort, because something usually has to happen to give you a token. For instance, Genesis Chamber triggers whenever a nontoken creature comes into play; Teysa, Orzhov Scion and Prowess of the Fair trigger when a specific type of creature dies; Symbiotic Wurm has to die itself to trigger; and Flourishing Defenses triggers whenever a -1/-1 counter is put on a creature. There are a million different variations, which makes it difficult to put two producers of the same type in a deck, but makes it easier to find one to suit your particular need. Thus these types of token producers often require that a deck be built around a specific concept to get the most out of them, but because they don’t require mana, they allow a crafty player to create simple but effective combos to produce massive amounts of tokens. An easy example is Genesis Chamber + Shrieking Drake.

Activated Triggers:
The last and easiest category. If they’re mana-activated, the ones that don’t require a tap are best, but might have drawbacks. Examples include Dragon Roost (no drawback), Goblin Trenches (drawback: sacrifice a land). The ones that require a tap are effective, but can’t be activated more than once unless you also have an untap effect. Examples include Squirrel Nest and Wand of the Elements.

If they’re not mana-activated, then they’re just plain weird, but also easier to use multiple times because they’re free. Examples include Zombie Infestation and… that’s the only one I could find (this sounds like a great idea for a challenge. Post up in the forums if you find any token producers that require an Activated Ability without mana).

Alright, now that we’ve covered the most common ways to produce tokens, how do we get the most bang for our buck?

Answer: BOOST!

Why yes, I would like to try your product and make them bigger.

When trying to make one’s tokens bigger, there are three things on should check:

1. Do my tokens have the same name?
This is important because of Echoing Courage, the most magnificent token boosting spell of all time. I say this because it’s an instant, it’s two mana, and it adds TWO WHOLE POINTS OF DAMAGE to every single one of your tokens. If your tokens are 1/1s, it multiplies your entire token damage by three. If you’re playing tokens and have access to green mana, Echoing Courage is going into your deck.

2. Do my tokens share a creature type?
If they do, you now have access to token boosting tribal lords and enchantments like Goblin King, Seshiro The Anointed and Soulcatchers’ Aerie. Conversely, the shared creature type also allows your tokens to boost a lord like Krovikan Mist, Doubtless One, or whatever you’ve enchanted with Alpha Status.

3. Do my tokens share a color?
Same as the creature type question, this gives you access to color specific boosters like Bad Moon or Crovax, Ascendant Hero. It also allows your tokens to boost specific color lords like Faerie Swarm or Ulasht, the Hate Seed.

If your answer to all of the above was no, don’t despair! You can always resort to basic non discriminatory boosting for all your creatures, regardless of age, sex, gender, creature type, and color. Examples include Glorious Anthem and Gaea’s Anthem, Dark Triumph, and Nobilis of War.

Ok, so for those of you that have been paying attention, we have now covered the pros and cons of tokens, the different kinds of token producers, as well as the various lords and boost effects. I guess there’s only one question left to ask before I showcase some decklists: What can I use tokens for besides attacking?

Tokens, like hummus, go well with everything

There are many uses for tokens besides attacking. The most common one is sacrificing them for an effect: again, because you have so many, popping a few for an advantage is no big deal. If you have a producer that can keep making more tokens, it’s even better.

The sacrifice effects I use the most often are the following:

  • Mana: Ashnod’s Altar is an insanely strong mana accelerant, especially in artifact decks. Use this in conjunction with Nuisance Engine, Dross Scorpion and Disciple of the Vault to get the most bang for your buck.
  • Mill: Neither Grinding Station nor Extractor Demon are very useful if you don’t have many recurring creatures that can be sacrificed.
  • Boost: Although this section is not about attacking with your tokens, it doesn’t say anything about attacking with other creatures. Nantuko Husk and Fallen Angel both love eating little dudes to become bigger, and both of them turn one permanent damage provided by a token into two temporary damage that can be tacked on for a turn. Also, cards like Fallen Angel and Clickslither have evasion in the form of Flying and Trample respectively, so they make for great finishers.
  • Direct damage: Um, Siege-Gang Commander. Need I say more?

If you’re not sacrificing your tokens, then you’re probably doing one of these:

  • Tapping: Aka the lockdown strategy. Glare of Subdual and Opposition are pretty weak if you only have one creature in play. With 5 different guys though, you can hold off an army of Akromas with one enchantment.
  • Direct damage: Kyren Negotiations. I bet you had to look at that card, didn't you?
  • Mill: Ok, maybe I'm getting redundant here, but I'm trying to be thorough. Check out Hair-Strung Koto to see what I mean.
  • Boost: Often you can tap multiple small creatures to boost one big creature. Examples include Topan Ascetic, Keldon Battlewagon and Llanowar Behemoth.

Phew. Well, this concludes most of the article. Remember, these lists are far from comprehensive, they are merely basic guidelines for when you are stuck and need a little inspiration.

And now…


So here’s an old favorite of mine that I showcased in this article, my Batties for Fatties deck. For those of you that don’t remember it, here’s list:


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Batties for Fatties.

7 Plains
11 Swamp
4 Tainted Field

4 Grimclaw Bats
4 Teysa, Orzhov Scion
4 Orzhov Pontiff
4 Blind Hunter
3 Belfry Spirit
3 Skeletal Vampire
//Other Spells
4 Vindicate
4 Night’s Whisper
4 Raise the Alarm
3 Glorious Anthem
1 Mortify
by Potatobrain

So this deck uses a couple of the principles I underlined above. It produces 3 kinds of 1/1 tokens: White 1/1 Soldiers, White 1/1 Spirits with Flying, and Black 1/1 Bats with Flying. This means that I can’t boost them with specific creature type/color lords, and so I fall back on Glorious Anthem and Orzhov Pontiff to fulfill that job. It contains 4 token producers: Raise the Alarm (an instant), Belfry Spirit (one time comes-into-play ability), Skeletal Vampire and Teysa, Orzhov Scion (both recurring producers). The majority of the tokens produced are black bats, and this creates synergy with Teysa because whenever one of them dies, she generates a white token.


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Sheep Are Your Daddies.

17 Plains
4 Springjack Pasture
1 Kor Haven

4 Knight of Meadowgran
4 Auriok Champion
4 Mangara of Corondor
4 Springjack Shepherd
4 Galepowder Mage
1 Reya Dawnbringer
1 Silver Seraph
//Other Spells
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Glorious Anthem
3 Storm Herd
1 Test of Endurance
by Potatobrain

Although it appears to be a strange jumble of cards on the outside, this deck is actually quite a finely tuned killing machine. The main token producer is Springjack Shepherd (comes-into-play trigger), with an assist from Springjack Pasture (constant producer) and Storm Herd (sorcery). The main tokens produced are 0/1 White Sheep, which are then converted into 1/1 White Flying Pegasus tokens. The way it works is simple: I try to get as many White Mana Symbols in play as possible, then play a Springjack Shepherd to make a ridiculous amount of 0/1 Sheep tokens. This gains me lots of life with Auriok Champion. I then sacrifice the Sheep to Springjack Pasture, again gaining lots of life, and convert the mana gained into Storm Herd tokens, doubling whatever my life total was. The tokens are also boosted with Glorious Anthem and Silver Seraph. Now the beauty here is that the sheep tokens can be recurred by using Galepowder Mage’s ability on Springjack Shepherd! Most people don’t expect that.


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Smelly Snakes.

11 Island
11 Forest

4 Tangle Asp
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
3 Orochi Eggwatcher
4 Kashi-Tribe Elite
4 Patagia Viper
3 Seshiro the Anointed

//Other Spells
4 Crystal Shard
3 Bloodscent
4 Sosuke’s Summons
4 Echoing Truth
by Potatobrain

This one is pretty straightforward: the plan is to make lots of snakes and attack! The token producers are Orochi Eggwatcher (constant producer), Patagia Viper (comes-into-play trigger), and Sosuke’s Summons (recurring sorcery). The synergy happens with Crystal Shard and Patagia Viper, as I play him for two tokens, bounce him with the shard, then play him again. The shard also ensures that I’ll always have a Sosuke’s Summons in my hand. The main booster is in the form of Seshiro, and occasionally if I have lots of snakes, Orochi Eggwatcher’s alter ego Shidako, Broodmistress.

Well folks, that’s about all I’ve got for you today. Hopefully you will have learned enough about tokens to build your own monstrosity. As you can see, there are thousands of possibilities for token decks, from mill to sacrifice to just plain old attacking. The key is finding one that fits your particular style of play, works for your metagame, and annoys the glorious grace of Cthulhu out of your friends. And remember, if you don’t already have tokens in the deck you are currently building, consider adding them, because tokens, like hummus, go well with everything.

You can discuss this article in the MDV forums here.
Find other articles by this author here.
Find other articles from this series here.

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Articles Spotlights from 2009:
Magus of the Bazaar – Merchant Magic
Parasitism: The Devolution of Magic Players. - by Kozy
Mechanic Week: Kicking a Bad Habit - by Streetz
MTG Theory: Card Design 101 . - by Cashew
Potatobrain's Guide to Token Decks. - by Potatobrain
The Magic of Friday Night. - by hamsandwich
Memories of an Old Magic Player: Recrossing the River Jordan. - by Chris Newton
Mechanic Week: Offering Up Mechanic Week. - by Dan Wright (Drathro)

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