Bitter Brimaz

Posted in NEWS on February 18, 2014

This weekend is Pro Tour Born of the Gods! The world's best Magic players will all congregate in gorgeous Valencia, Spain, for a chance at walking away with $40,000.

The format of choice this time around? Modern!

Born of the Gods just hit shelves not long ago—and concurrently, some of the most major changes in a while hit the format in the form of a two-card mini-set I like to call "The Banned and Restricted List." The banning of Deathrite Shaman is sure to shake up the format, and the unbanning of Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl is making waves as well.


Between Born of the Gods and the unbannings, there's plenty of new material to try in Modern. So, while I did receive a lot of very cool new decks (who thought there would be a combo deck with Mirran Spy, of all cards?), this week is a perfect opportunity to take a look at both a brand-new card and a freshly unbanned one at the same time. Let's do it!

Introducing Richard Watkins's tokens deck:

Richard Watkins's Tokens

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The Battle Plan


One of the major advantages about token creatures over normal creatures is that multiple of them can be produced by a single card. Whether using Lingering Souls to flop out two (and then two more) Spirit tokens or accruing a new one every turn with Bitterblossom, you can quickly build up your ranks of creatures.

What makes this so potent? Pumping effects! Cards like Intangible Virtue, which make all of your tokens larger, can quickly turn your army of piddly 1/1s into a formidable force of 2/2s, 3/3s, or even larger creatures. This deck plays out like a midrange deck—but it definitely has draws that act more like a beatdown draw.

There are a lot of ways you can build a token strategy, and Richard seems to have put a huge emphasis on the cards that pump tokens. In the spirit of his design, I'll be keeping that aspect. However, there's still a question of which token makers this deck wants to play.

Additionally, this deck is going to want a few staple cards it's missing. Right now, the deck is just tokens or bust. It can't really remove a creature or deal with a combo deck. I'll be adding in some cards to help address those issues as well.


Deck Breakdown


Which cards should stick around to let blossom and which ones should go away? Let's run through the deck card by card.


Something you'll often see in many people's token decks are cards like this, that trigger on creatures entering your battlefield. The Champion's protections are pretty well placed in this format, helping out against decks like Jund (although that may not be as much of a factor with Deathrite Shaman gone) and swinging matchups like Mono-Red in your favor.

My issue with Auriok Champion here is that I don't think it does enough. You could talk about it for the sideboard, but there are going to be a ton of matchups where it just does nothing main deck. I'm not really interested in two-mana 1/1s, and it's weak in numerous matchups. Yes, it means Deceiver Exarch-Splinter Twin won't kill you, and that you also gain tons of life when an opponent goes off with Kitchen Finks and Melira. (Although it actually isn't likely to matter since your opponent can still kill you with Redcap or even Spike Feeder/Archangel of Thune.) I'd rather fill this slot with another efficient token maker that I'm sure will be good in this deck. (More on this shortly.)


Good enough for Standard play when it was legal, Doomed Traveler can either try to get in some damage or buy you some time. Either way, you're likely to end up with a 1/1 Spirit that can hit hard thanks to all your enhancements.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite do enough in Modern to be worth a spot. There are so many Modern cards to choose from that a 1/1 for one that promises a small upside eventually isn't quite what this deck is looking for.


The king is here!

For three mana, Brimaz offers a lot. A 3/4 vigilance for three mana isn't anything exciting in Modern, but the fact he can create tokens turn after turn is a huge game changer.

If you have a single way to pump your tokens, Brimaz starts hitting for 5 damage an attack—and letting you keep the token around for later to boot. I wouldn't want to play more than three since he's legendary and this deck has a ton of cheaper things it can do with its mana. But three copies can give you some pretty robust draws when the King is in your opener. It even has that crucial 4th toughness so it survives Lightning Bolt as well!


As I mentioned earlier, a primary plan of a deck like this is that it can pump up its tokens to deal serious damage. While I can appreciate the addition of Phantom General to further that goal, it is just such a weak card for this deck since it costs four mana and is also a (very vulnerable) creature. This is one that can go.


Fresh off the banned list, this card doesn't need a ton of introduction. For just two mana, it starts spitting out a creature every turn, putting you in the driver's seat. Either you can attack and start pushing through for damage or you can use "Forcefield mode" and keep using the token you get to block. While the incidental life loss is not without consequence, this is precisely the kind of resilient card this kind of deck is looking for. Four copies for sure.


I've talked about a few cards that make tokens so far, but cards like this are really the backbone of a token deck. The instant- and sorcery-spell producers often make or break decks like this. Let's run down these three.

Lingering Souls is a definite four-of auto include. The card is so strong that it's seen play in Legacy (although granted you can do things in that format like Intuition for it) and it's really good at helping you no matter what kind of spot you're in. Need to put pressure on your opponent? Lingering Souls. Need to recover from a sweeper? Lingering Souls. Need to chump block? Lingering Souls. It's practically its own meme. I definitely want all four of these.


Midnight Haunting isn't quite as exciting. Although you pick up instant-speed nature, three mana for two 1/1s isn't a great rate for a high-powered format like Modern. A good metric is "How strong is this if I have one pump effect on the board?" and three mana for two Wind Drakes, while good, isn't nearly as good as some other options.

Promise of Bunrei is an interesting choice. (And one that opts for maximum confusion with your flying Innistrad Spirit tokens and your nonflying Kamigawa Spirit tokens.) It certainly can slam a ton of tokens onto the battlefield. However, it isn't a reliable way to guarantee more attackers or blockers—so I'd rather play a card that does that.

Fortunately, I already know cards I'd like to add in the place of Haunting and Promise.

The first is Spectral Procession. One of the most popular and well-known token makers printed in Modern, Procession is a great fit. For three mana, you get to make an army of ghosts—and if they're all, say, 2/2s thanks to a pump effect, you can really put pressure on fast.

The second card I'd like is Raise the Alarm. Another two-drop would be nice, and there are definitely some really strong starts you can have off the back of this card. If you start with a Leyline of the Meek on the battlefield, for example, a single Raise puts 4 points of power out on turn two! Follow that up with something like Lingering Souls and you're in awesome shape.



Here are the three primary pump effects Richard was working with.

Intangible Virtue is a fantastic fit—it really is custom made for decks like this. The vigilance is a lot more relevant than it might sound, also; when you have a bunch of tokens, being able to keep them all untapped is a game changer in creature fights.

Leyline of the Meek is certainly a lot more exciting to slam onto the battlefield during the pregame than to hard-cast. Four mana is not great, considering you could be using something like Glorious Anthem. However, it can lead to many of your strongest starts—so I want to keep it. As mentioned before, going Leyline into Raise into Lingering Souls just creates a massive army that's hitting hard. While drawing Leylines naturally isn't great, they're still serviceable at four mana. It's really plucking one in your first few draw steps that will be the worst, since later on you can just cast it and if it's in your opener you can just start with it.

Honor of the Pure was a good fit—but with Bitterblossom back now, it's no longer as good as it once was. While there are certainly a few cards that Virtue and Leyline don't work with, either, but pumping your Bitterblossom tokens is such a crucial part of the deck now that I'm a bit remiss to keep Honor around.

To help keep a critical mass of cards that are deadly with all of your tokens, the card I want to add is Hero of Bladehold. Like Brimaz, it has a crucial 4th toughness to survive Lightning Bolt. It adds a ton of extra power to a token assault, plus makes some tokens of its own. Curving Brimaz into Hero is brutal on its own, even without any token support


Finally, I'd like to add in a couple of utility cards that are Modern staples this deck could just use.

Path to Exile gives you some creature control, keeping anything too problematic away—and also potentially giving you a bit of time against decks like Splinter Twin and Pod, since you can break up their combos. This deck could definitely use a card like that.

And speaking of utility catch-alls, Thoughtseize is the other one I'd like to add. Yes, I know, it's a bit boring—but Thoughtseize comes standard in most black-based Modern (and Standard!) decks for a reason. It just helps to dismantle whatever crazy powerful thing your opponent might be trying to do.


With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Brimazblossom

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Whether you're playing in the Pro Tour or just your local Modern tournament, there's a good place to start with Black-White Tokens. It's capable of some really strong draws that put on pressure quickly and flood the board with creatures.

There are definitely a few different directions you could try. If you wanted, you could attempt to go larger with cards like Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. If you find creature removal to very be prevalent in your metagame, then something like Elspeth may be better than Hero of Bladehold or Brimaz. However, the cards you're most likely to encounter are Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile—and only Path removes those two.


Have fun with the deck!


Honorable Mentions


What were some other interesting Modern decks to pop up in my inbox this week? Take a look!

Guillermo Rivera's Spyffinity

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Dan Ooyama-Searls's Borborygmos Reanimator Loam

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Lucas Keasbey's Cat Sisters

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Cristerson Chee Zur's "Name a Card"

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George Wolfe's Grim Firedancer

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Mark Ian Alloso's Devotion to Black (splash Red)

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Greg Blackburn's Karametra Combo

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Michael's Death Tron

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Coire Vosika's Commune with Nylea

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Makoto Takahashi's Mono-Red

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Jason Valluzzi's GU Tron

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Dylan Beazer's Draw and Die

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Tony Youssef's Mogis Rack

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Raimondo Vanitelli's White Coats

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Satoshi Itou's Mono-White Aggro

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Shao Middle's Aura of The Selesnya Conclave

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Takahashi Kazuyasu's Esper Token

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