It's been some time since I was inspired to test out a new Standard deck, but I feel like it's time to dust off one of my favorite decks—a deck that hasn't seen a ton of play recently. It's one of the decks capable of doing the most broken things in Standard, up to and including dealing 23 damage on turn four or casting multiple Treasure Cruises in rapid succession. That deck, of course, is Jeskai Tokens.
I played a ton of Jeskai Tokens pre-Origins, even going so far as to play it at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. I wrote an article about the deck and recorded a video with it. Suffice to say that I am a big fan of this deck, and it should come as no surprise that I'm looking to spice it up with new cards. But first, there is a mystery to solve.
Where Did It Go?
I have to admit, Jeskai Tokens did basically disappear from the face of the earth (well, the Magic-playing earth, at least). Before rebuilding the deck, figuring out why it disappeared is of paramount importance. The most likely suspect is Dromoka's Command, and the fact that both Green-White Megamorph and Abzan Aggro are running multiple main deck copies. Luckily for the numerous fans of Jeskai Tokens, the metagame is shifting in a few ways that work out nicely.
Abzan Control is well-positioned against Abzan Aggro, thanks partially to Languish, and Green-White Megamorph is falling out of favor as Mono-Red and Ensoul Artifact go down in numbers. Both of those trends lead to less Dromoka's Commands running around, and the uptick in Hangarback Walkers is another good sign for a deck that doesn't overly care about facing Hangarbacks. Add to that the fact that Jeskai Tokens did get some new toys that give it game even without sticking an Ascendancy, and the time might be right for Tokens to (Out)burst back onto the scene.
For more on Abzan Control, check out coverage of the World Championship. The Top 4 was made up of two copies of Abzan Control, one Abzan Hangarback, and a Mono-White Devotion! Abzan Control emerged victorious, which I think is a good sign for Tokens.
Here is the list I've been playing on Magic Online, and I've been pretty happy with it. The game plan with Tokens is pretty simple: Cast Treasure Cruise early and often, preferably with Jeskai Ascendancy in play. Once you stick Ascendancy, rip through your deck and kill the opponent with a bunch of 4/4 Goblins or Soldiers, primarily fueled by Stoke the Flames and Treasure Cruises. I tend to like playing Jeskai Tokens as a control deck, especially because opponents are usually worried about dying so much they naturally take the defensive role, which suits me quite nicely. Tokens has four Treasure Cruises, four Jaces, and four Ascendancys, so it draws a ton of cards while still being able to affect the board.
There's a reason that Hangarback Walker is showing up everywhere in Standard, and that isn't because it's a weak card. It's getting to the point where you need a reason not to play Hangarback, and when looking at what Tokens is trying to accomplish, it feels like a perfect fit. It's a two-drop, it interacts well against removal, and when it does turn into a couple Thopters, no deck makes better use of those Thopters than Tokens does. Seeker of the Way and Soulfire Grand Master were the two-drops I used to play in this deck, and Hangarback is a much more powerful option that also does its thing without help from any other card.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is another slam dunk. Jace is fast becoming a staple in Jeskai and Blue-Black decks, and works very well within the Token shell. Jace comes out early, finds Ascendancy, fuels the graveyard for Cruise, and lets you re-cast Cruises or Stokes or whatever it is you need. Jace also forces the opponent to keep less desirable removal spells in their deck or risk losing to him—and any time your opponent has Hero's Downfall or Ultimate Price in their deck, you come up ahead on the exchange.
Hangarback and Jace are the kind of cards that Tokens needs, meaning they're cards that are good even when Ascendancy isn't in play. The biggest weakness of this deck is that it's based on synergy, and more specifically, synergy with Jeskai Ascendancy. As good as the deck was with Ascendancy in play, it was often too anemic without it. Jace and Hangarback go a long way toward solving that, as they both give you a solid game plan that doesn't care too much if Ascendancy hits. Jace even helps find it, and Hangarback often buys you time until you can Jace or Cruise into Ascendancy. Plus, even if Jace and Hangarback aren't exactly the cards you want while Ascendancy is in play, Ascendancy conveniently gives you an outlet to discard them.
The Core of the Deck
These are the cards I wouldn't mess with when tuning the deck. I suppose I could see going down to two or three Hangarbacks, but the card has impressed me so far, and I don't see a reason not to play the max. This deck of all decks can get rid of unwanted cards, and the reward for having Hangarback on turn two is high enough to risk drawing multiples or drawing them later in the game.
The Ascendancy-Outburst-Cruise-Stoke package is really why this deck is good, and if you alter it too much, you may as well just play Mantis Riders and switch to normal Jeskai (which is also a good deck). If you've never cast Hordeling Outburst and followed it up with Ascendancy into Stoke, you've haven't lived.
I definitely like the Raises, Slashes, and Stances, with the one-ofs being much more likely to change. If you do want to change Slash and Stance, be sure to maintain some amount of removal in those slots, since this is a deck that often plays the control role. Roast is not a bad choice, though I currently like Stance more, and I've toyed with cards like Magma Spray and Lightning Strike.
Currently I'm on this configuration because I wanted an Ojutai's Command to pair with Jace and to support the postboard plan of leaving mana up. Soulfire Grand Master gives you a fifth creature to get back with Command (even though Hangarback technically counts, I wouldn't recommend trying that), and Secure the Wastes is a powerful one-of that lets you win games you otherwise couldn't. It could easily be the fourth Raise the Alarm, but the deck actually has a lot of two-drops now, and I like swingy one-ofs in a deck that can draw a lot of cards. I also like decks that can draw a lot of cards.
Tips and Tricks
- Make sure to keep excess lands in hand. I usually don't play out lands after number five unless I've already resolved a Cruise and have a lot of cards in hand. With eight cards that let you draw and discard, having extra cards to discard is crucial.
- In order to get full value from the Ascendancy untap trigger, you will frequently attack and cast a removal spell before blocks.
- Ascendancy can get you extra Hangarback and Jace activations if necessary.
- Valorous Stance or Stoke can kill your Hangarback if it gets big enough that you want it to die.
I'm trying a few new things in this sideboard, though I still favor having a bunch of counterspells. Because most decks try and side a bunch of removal against you, I like being able to go big with Ojutai, and the Tutelage plan is one that looks strange but is surprisingly effective. Don't be alarmed if Raise the Alarm comes out a lot; there are plenty of instances of cards that are fine main deck but are frequently taken out after sideboarding, and Raise happens to be one of those cards.
Against Abzan Control:
-3 Wild Slash
Against Abzan Hangarback:
-3 Wild Slash
Against Esper Dragons or Blue-Black Control:
-3 Wild Slash
If they have Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, you can leave in two Wild Slashes for a Stoke and a Raise.
Against Green Devotion:
Against Jeskai Midrange (normal Jeskai):
This is still my favorite deck to play, and I've been impressed with how well it's done. There may be too many Dromoka's Commands floating around, but the extra gas from Hangarback and Jace do work here, and the core combo of Outburst + Stoke + Ascendancy is still a good one. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I do, and I will continue working on it until I'm convinced I can do no more.