Though the current dominance in Standard is much different than other overlords in the past, you'd be forgiven if you are frustrated with Green-White Tokens. Over the course of the Shadows over Innistrad Standard format, it's slowly eaten away at other deck's percentages, and, along with the Bant Company and Humans, is the reason White is omnipresent at the top tables.
Maybe, just maybe, it's all third-ranked Steve Rubin's fault. The hometown Pittsburgh hero, Rubin played the unknown deck at the Pro Tour and took the whole thing down. People saw what he saw, and slowly gobbled up the world with the build. I sat down with Rubin to talk about the deck's origins, evolutions, and potential futures of Green-White Tokens.
The story really starts the Monday after Grand Prix Barcelona. Going into Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, Rubin and Grand Prix Master-–hopeful Brian Braun-Duin were at an impasse. They had tested all the decks in the format they could muster, and didn't like any of them.
Two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar, Grand Prix Master–hopeful Brian Braun-Duin, and Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad winner, third-ranked Steve Rubin.
“Nothing beat both Bant Company and Humans,” Rubin said. “And that was the goal.” But they knew no one else was in a better spot. “I kept looking around and saw so many of ‘my' decks that I thought weren't good enough.”
So, after watching their testing partners split between Bant and Humans for the tournament, Rubin and Braun-Duin were stuck. “We thought ‘we failed this Pro Tour,'” Rubin said. But they had enough, and they took a line of play and rode the rails. And it paid off.
“We found this deck from a Star City event; no one else seemed to notice it.” The deck definitely wasn't tuned—as Braun-Duin said, “before even playing a card swapped eight cards”—but it was something. Then the two tested match-ups together. Brauin-Duin took the new, Green-White Tokens deck, and Rubin took Humans and Bant. That session lasted for six hours.
“It was six straight hours of BBD beating me,” Rubin stated. And the rest is Pro Tour history. The deck seemed to solve all the equations they had been puzzling, and as a result, Rubin hoisted the Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad trophy high.
In one of the strongest, most diverse Top 8s in recent memory, the little deck out of nowhere became the pick that cracked the lock. Steven Rubin won his first Pro Tour, and vaulted himself from the “Best Player Not Enough People Knew” to the “Best Player I Swear I Knew About All Along.” And Green-White Tokens slowly took over the format in the coming months. Until we reached where we are now. 31% of the Top 100 decks are Green-White.
Things could have broken a different way. If Rubin didn't Top 8, would we have “solved” the format the same way? Maybe, so. But now, at the end of the format in reality, the question is why is Green-White Tokens so good? And can that translate into the next season?
First off, Rubin said, “White has the format's best removal and the best creatures.” In Modern, people can skew towards white for the powerful sideboard cards like, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, and etc. The Standard analogues like Declaration in Stone are here for White too, but it's supplemented by the best maindeck cards too. “Gideon is just so good,” Rubin said.
That explains why the Top 100 lists here are 90% White, but why Green-White Tokens specifically?
“Green-White just has the best God draws in the format.” Rubin explained why the Sylvan Advocate, into Nissa, Ally of Zendikar, into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, into Archangel Avacyn is the dream. “That draw is good against every deck—aggro, control, and midrange.” And he noted you can alter that depending on the matchup, subbing in a two-cost removal spell.
“Plus, you get to play four Oath of Nissa on turn one; and you're a two-color deck.” This consistency is also a sticking point. “So many decks are three colors,” and Rubin said you just don't have the same issues from your manabase as they do.
For Rubin, it comes down to fluidity. Though the earlier versions of the deck—even his and Braun-Duin's at the Pro Tour—skewed aggressive. But since then, the deck has morphed into a hybrid. It can change role—aggro, control, or midrange—depending on what deck is on the other side of the table. It's through this that the deck has shown its staying power.
Though the deck has morphed over the course of the format, Rubin qualified, “Mostly, I've just changed how I've played it.” Rubin alluded to the fact that at the Pro Tour, people didn't know how to play around Archangel Avacyn and Tragic Arrogance. So potentially harder match-ups were much easier. Since then, the format has gotten wise to the cards. So rather than play the deck aggressively, play it fluidly; allow it to shift roles.
“Right now, I'm playing the GerryT version,” which Rubin expounded is a much more controlling version that has Planar Outburst and friends in the sideboard—Gerry Thompson's brainchild. “And I side out the three-mana Nissa [Nissa, Ally of Zendikar] for Nissa, Vastwood Seer.”
“[Nissa, Ally of Zendikar] is a really bad top deck, and people can have cards like Virulent Plague, or maybe [Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet].” He continued, “But even if they don't, she's just not very good after turn three ... plus if you're siding into Linvala, the extra land helps a lot.”
“The sideboard plans are just so fluid and so good ... the control is so nice. You just have all the tools you need.” He continued that even if they can get past your God draw, and your two-color consistency, and your strong midgame, you can still go over the top with the late-game recursion and raw power. It does everything you want it to.
“Really, it's just a good Standard deck.”
So that's why over the last few months, Green-White has gorged itself more and more, and has become the defining deck of the format. Ironically, the Pro Tour was all about Bant Company and Humans, and now, when we look back on Shadows over Innistrad Standard, it won't be remembered for either of those decks. Instead, it will be the 0/1 Plant-token deck that's declared in stone.
Just by being fed up with his options, the Pittsburgher Steven Rubin shaped the course of Standard. Maybe the community would have found the deck otherwise, maybe not. But either way, something tells me that the consistency, power, and fluidity of the creation will continue to cause aftershocks well after Emrakul and the rest of Eldtrich Moon lands with a giant boom.