Hello there, boys and girls! Welcome to the reanimation of Sowing Salt, the top 5 series where I take a wide aim at the format and hunt for the cream of the crop! This time around, I figure I’d kick start things back up by looking into a popular archetype: The Token Deck!
Token decks are a mainstay of the format; in a format where big ol’ boardstates are encouraged, and Cathars’ Crusade isn’t too slow, why wouldn’t you? I’ve seen many decks in my time, and have written a short list (the original iteration couldn’t be called that, but I’ve got it down) of token commanders for your viewing pleasure. A couple caveats before I move ahead, however; the landscape of EDH is HUGE. As such, I’ve limited my search to Commanders that lead the charge while also making tokens themselves. Unfortunately this means that we lose quintessential token commanders such as Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice or Purphoros, God of the Forge (Their Brothers-in-arms shine through, however). Also, due to the sheer amount of viable commanders, I’ve also narrowed it down to one per colour combination, with honorable mentions being made along the way. For now though, let’s dive on in with our honourable mentions!
Darien, King of Kjeldor – This time around, Darien finds himself on the honourable mentions list for his unique spin on white token making. This guy is pretty nuts with his own signature combos, such as the use of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and something like Karma or Royal Decree to punish you for your land, causing your king to go into deployment overdrive. With this sort of raw token creation, why didn’t he rank higher? Frankly two reasons:
- His colour combination. While he’s pretty fly (for a white guy), being monowhite means that he’s got next to no card advantage outside of Mentor of the Meek after he’s dropped his engine, and no ramp outside of Endless Horizons or Weathered Wayfarer to guarantee he can hit his heady 6 cmc anywhere near consistently enough.
- He misses staples. Being Monowhite allows him to use certain token staples like Cathars’ Crusade, but not Growing Ranks, Second Harvest or Assemble the Legion. These all hurt his deckbuilder (more than he does) when they sit down with the king to talk turkey.
Titania, Protector of Argoth – A veritable titan (hurr hurr) of recent monogreen decks, Titania is a great choice for a monogreen deck with a twist; stock up on your Hickory Woodlot, your Crystal Vein, your Strip Mine, then break your lands to make legs when Titania comes out to party. What holds Titania back however, is once again twofold. Once again, her colours are awkward. In a deck that wants to use as many fetchlands as conceivably possible, you’re restricted to 4 of them from the get go, unless you want to run the nongreen ones (such as Scalding Tarn) and risk a dead land early for the sake of more enablers for her tokens. Secondly, I feel her price as a monogreen deck is worthy of mention. While price is rarely an issue for one of my segments, thinking of that monogreen deck wanting (practically needing) Crucible of Worlds, Wasteland and other expensive enablers for Titania’s strategy in a monocolour (favoured typically for giving up flexibility and cardpool for price) makes my skin crawl slightly. Bundle all of this up with a perennial ‘Monogreen removal lol’ and we’ve got ourselves an awkward combination.
5) Ghoulcaller Gisa – I do love me an underdog. As a result, at number 5 this week is the only commander that isn’t any combination of green, red, or White! (Spoilers, I apologise). From the same cycle as Titania, Gisa pushes the boat out by asking the question ‘Should black be able to do this alone?’ The answer is yes. All day. Gisa offers a unique spin of token commander mixed with Zombie tribal – she requires you to (rather literally) make sacrifices to keep her happy, But when her wheel starts turning, her horde can be quite intimidating. It’s worthy to note she goes incredibly efficient with Thornbite Staff, allowing her to use her ability as often as you’ve got mana. All of the quintessential zombie lords are great here as well – each buff from a Cemetery Reaper or Lord of the Undead is another zombie per sacrifice! What lets her down unfortunately (you guessed it), are her colours. Her having access to zombie lords only helps her so far as a token commander, and being monoblack creates many awkward missed opportunities for the Ghoulcaller. I AM a sucker for some zombie tribal, But I’m unsure I’d go all in on the token theme.
4) Hazezon Tamar – I wanted ok Hazezon to rank higher. Really, I did. This living (literal) legend has the well-earned reputation as a token commander of note since Commander stopped being about just Elder Dragons. This comes almost exclusively due to his explosiveness, a Hazezon player can drop Hazezon, and Wrath of God him away to leave an open board for an explosive burst of sand warriors next turn thanks to his unusual delayed trigger. In addition to this, the tokens themselves are incredibly abusable; despite their lack of urgency to overwhelm your opponents, Hazezon himself is in the colours of Concordant Crossroads, Mass Hysteria and Fervor, allowing a massive gearshift when that trigger happens. As they are, these tokens LOVE Skullclamp, and are a 10 ounce dose of card advantage when combined. As a final gush of approval for the Sand Warriors, they synergise REALLY well with Coat of Arms, and even a modest amount of lands will make these warriors titanic when they hit the field. Though unfortunately, Hazezon has his problems. I’ll begin with the elephant in the room: he has a rather unfortunate LTB trigger. It isn’t a death trigger only, so if he catches a rogue Path to Exile, Vapor Snag, or if you were trying to capitalise on his ETB more with Cloudshift, poof. All Sand Warriors, gone. Of course if you can deal with your own commander before the tokens enter, his LTB becomes less of an issue. However, when you cast him again, both iterations of tokens walk the line between life and death. In my book, that’s too much of a blowout to removal to feel good playing this guy. Also as a minor gripe, considering removing him before he gets his tokens is a great way to keep them around, it’s a real shame that he’s so expensive. He can quickly get unwieldy to cast, and the lack of longevity is also a mood-killer for me.
3) Omnath, Locus of Rage – This may well be a contentious pick for #3. Omnath? That guy from Battle for Zendikar? You joking, Unmistakable? Well, no. In my group, we have a player (Crazy) who has tweaked and tuned the Omnath deck, resulting in this monstrosity. While it has its weaknesses, it has one major thing on my local meta; inevitability. People only have so many removal spells, and have so much life (which is quickly drained in metas of fetches/shocks, Mana Crypts, and Ad Nauseam/Necropotence), so even board wipes can get dangerous with Red/Green Omnomnomnath is in the heezy. He’s undoubtedly the shortest clock on this list, ramping hard and killing quickly through a mix of commander damage and the sheer weight of his equally chunky tokens. Sure, it lacks white as with my gripe of Titania, but it makes up for it with the blend of green and red, allowing for Doubling Season shenanigans while also having access to enchantments like Where Ancients Tread to make even the safest pillowfort player sweat. Also, being the filthy combo player I am, Omnath also comes with the damage combo with Perilous Forays (going as-infinite-as-you-have-basics-in-deck with Amulet of Vigor; you’re welcome, Crazy) to machine gun down foes from the safety of his Elemental Death Squad, which intrigues me as a synergistic win condition in a token build. He does have the same drawback of cost which he shares with Hazezon, but with Omnath’s token generation being based off of landfall, the pilot will often find he immediately has the mana with which to recast Omnath after a few triggers (believe me, he will). Omnath is also thoroughly hurt by Armageddon effects more than the other commanders (Ahem, Titania, Protector of Argoth). Without a Splendid Reclamation or Crucible of Worlds, Omnath quickly loses his resiliency to the commander tax, and often leaves you completely SOL if you went for the all-in Omnath strategy. Though, I digress.
2) Krenko, Mob Boss – A perennial mainstay at EDH events in my area, I cannot dispute the pure explosiveness of a Krenko deck. Honorable mentions go to Purphoros, God of the Forge, as he is not only a great Commander for a mono-red token build, but he is also a staple in Krenko, along with Boggart Shenanigans and Impact Tremors. He’s made it this far above other commanders (bar one) because of his latent explosiveness and his ability to get out of control fast. While he’s mono coloured, it could be argued that red is the best colour to be if you were to be mono-anything while building tokens. It has easily reachable wincons through combat and noncombat damage, it doesn’t lose out on card draw as hard as white, while maintaining certain token staples such as Goblin Bombardment, or Outnumber effects. Speaking of goblins however, this is another deck akin to Gisa or Omnath where the deck lends itself to tribal; being of such an aggressive tribe, it tends to go for the lower-to-the-ground tribal staples such as Shared Animosity or Quest for the Goblin Lord, making goblin hordes VERY quick to overrun the unprepared. He comes with some unfortunate sidebacks however; being monocoloured being the biggest nonsurprise. Krenko doesn’t particularly need ramp, but he appreciates it if he gets removed (he’s a HUGE removal target), but he lacks it outside of cards like Brightstone Ritual. Connected to this, is he’s got a reputation on him. Playing a tournament in my hometown recently, one guy got the chance to kill a Krenko player, and ended up getting knocked out by said Krenko player comboing out a huge burst of damage on low life. For the rest of the day, even in casual games, he’d show his newfound fear/loathing of the goblin, to EVERY deck running him; regardless of their power level. While not Narset levels of dumb, there are some people that won’t let a Krenko player get their foot in the door. Being in mono-red, this is not a good spot to be in, either. Though, it could be argued he has a similar reputation to number one.
1) Rhys the Redeemed – At number one this week, it shouldn’t come as any surprise. Rhys is a nasty little blighter almost always (barring insane Sol Ring openers) coming down on turn 1 and getting his deck accelerating towards its goal. This guy is as much of a synergy engine with his deck as a token producer – he himself is a repeatable Second Harvest for creatures, allowing him (for a higher cost) to produce as many tokens as Krenko. Except they can be bigger. Like the tokens from Voice of Resurgence, or Armada Wurm, or Luminarch Ascension, or Phyrexian Processor (Shout out to Trostani, Selesnya’s voice here, that card is a bomb with her). Rhys can go tall faster than almost any token commander, being in the colours of ramp, as well as the colours of Cathars’ Crusade, Collective Blessing, or Doubling Season. His colour combination also combines speed with resilience, allowing him access to Privileged Position and Asceticism to protect his quickly expanding horde. AND THEN, when at critical mass, the deck also has access to token staples such as Craterhoof Behemoth, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, and Triumph of the Hordes to ensure nobody remains standing following the alpha strike. He’s let down by his lack of ways to get around pillowfort, however; a simple Propaganda shuts him out completely – a simple Reclamation Sage (or hell, token staple Aura Shards) rapidly circumvents this, however. Now that I’m done gushing, let me attempt to remain impartial. Rhys is a fantastic commander. His explosive combo potential is only paralleled by that of Krenko, but he keeps up and surpasses with an increased resilience. He’s not infallible, and it’s possible to keep him down for a long while – but his impressive 1 cmc ensures that he’ll be easily recastable even when most commanders have died 4+ times.
…Boy, that turned into a long edition of Sowing Salt, fitting for the first of (hopefully) many! What do you guys reckon of my choices? Agree with them? Hate them? Feel free to let us know on our Facebook feed and like it if you’d like to be kept up to date! For now though, Unmistakable out.