This week I want to dig a little deeper into token decks. Creature tokens are some of the most interesting objects in Magic. Tokens almost always are card advantage, due to their habit of coming in multiple bodies, and it’s easier to duplicate a card with a creature token than it is to duplicate a creature token with a card. I mean, technically you can do it (Clonessss), but why would you want to? Due to their multiplicity, most creature tokens are individually weaker, and even the strong ones tend to be fairly vanilla.


But in reality, token is more of a modifier to other deck themes than a theme unto itself. Some token decks are swarm-themed, others go a combo route, some are just straight up aggro, while some play with shenanigans like sacrifice effects or Warp World. So, when you take one of those viable archetypes and staple a token theme to it, what you are really saying is “I want to be playing with an overly complex board position,” since that’s the universal characteristic of token decks.


And this isn’t even an EDH/Commander board state. Imagine having to do this in real life, without the help of a computer, and with three times as many different tokens.

This is made even more convoluted when you take into account the ways in which many token decks have complementary counter themes, in no small part through the design of Wizards themselves. Part of it is that they put counter doubling on Doubling Season, a card that fits itself into many different token strategies, particularly ones that involve planeswalkers. Part of it is that they keep printing token generals like Ghave, Guru of Spores or Marath, Will of the Wild, that turn counters into tokens. At least Twilight Drover has the good sense to not be legendary. The themes bleed into each other, and the next thing you know you’re playing Contagion Engine next to Parallel Lives, despite those cards having basically nothing to do with one another.

It really has nothing to do with token strategies, unless perhaps you consider that proliferate gets stronger when more bodies have counters on them.


Unfortunately, what these two “complementary” themes do is clog up the board state. And they make it imperative that you have both tokens and dice to represent what’s going on, or else nothing will make any sense. See, in a deck where these strategies are merely ancillary to your Plan A, you can get away with forgetting to bring some dice OR some tokens to represent your game state. I mean, it’s annoying if you manage to forget both (as I have done on many occasion), but usually you can get away with just one. But when you’re trying to put two dice together to represent the number of plant tokens and how many counters they have on them, or trying to remember how powerful your swarm of tokens may be without any dice… it gets messy, and unpleasant for everyone.


Avenger of Zendikar, one of the messiest token makers in the game. Who wants an army of plant tokens, anyway?!

And yet it’s totally worth it, if you can manage to keep everything together and play the strategy to its fullest. Tokens decks dial each strategy up to 11. My particular favorite is playing multipliers with Ghave, Guru of Spores. It’s a pure Doubling Season deck, with far from perfect mana and a relatively straightforward plan of attack. The goal of Ghave is to make as many tokens as I possibly can, and win with an alpha strike. Here’s an example of what that looks like: I was at 34 life, with Doubling Season and Primal Vigor in play. I dropped Ajani, Caller of the Pride, who instantly ultimated, giving me 34 2/2 cats. Of course, Doubling Season turned 34 into 68, and Primal Vigor turned 68 into 136 cats. With 272 power on the table, I passed the turn to my woefully undefended friend. He looked at my board position, noted the Dark Prophecy I had in play, and then cycled Decree of Pain. I have never felt so happy to lose. Because whether I had won or lost there, I turned a three mana spell into 272 power, albeit with the help of a couple of powerful enchantments. That’s the joy. That’s the goal for me, when I play the game… end up with stories of cool shit that I managed to do.


Doubling Season classic

So, here’s my list. In case it’s unclear, the cards in italics are planeswalkers who go ultimate immediately when Doubling Season is in play. It’s all but one of them.


Ghave, Guru of Spores


Force Multipliers: Contagion Engine; Corpsejack Menace; Doubling Season; Kalonian Hydra; Necropolis Regent; Parallel Evolution; Parallel Lives; Primal Vigor; Renegade Krasis; Rhys the Redeemed

Counters: Ajani Goldmane; Ajani, Caller of the Pride; Cathars’ Crusade; Coalition Relic; Curse of Predation; Death’s Presence; Druids’ Repository; Elspeth Tirel; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Everflowing Chalice; Garruk Relentless; Garruk Wildspeaker; Garruk, Primal Hunter; Gyre Sage; Ivy Lane Denizen; Psychotrope Thallid; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Twilight Drover; Vraska the Unseen

Tokens: Aura Mutation; Avenger of Zendikar; Bitterblossom; Captain of the Watch; Creakwood Liege; Decree of Justice; Druidic Satchel; Entreat the Angels; Increasing Devotion; Korozda Guildmage; Luminarch Ascension; Martial Coup; Master of the Wild Hunt; Mycoloth; Necrogenesis; Ogre Slumlord; Ooze Flux; Requiem Angel; Rootborn Defenses; Sundering Growth; Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice

Utility: Ashnod’s Altar; Attrition; Austere Command; Chromatic Lantern; Dark Prophecy; Fecundity; Mirari’s Wake; Perilous Forays; Reaper of the Wilds; Sol Ring

Lands: Command Tower; Sunpetal Grove; Fetid Heath; Golgari Guildgate; Orzhov Guildgate; Selesnya Guildgate; Golgari Rot Farm; Orzhov Basilica; Selesnya Sanctuary; Vivid Grove; Vivid Marsh; Vivid Meadow; Bojuka Bog; Grim Backwoods; Grove of the Guardian; Opal Palace; Oran-Rief, the Vastwood; Phyrexian Tower; Thespian’s Stage; Vault of the Archangel; Forest x7; Plains x5; Swamp x6


New Doubling Season

Now, clearly some of the categories are a bit fuzzy. Most of the planeswalkers who interact so interestingly with Doubling Season also make a fair number of tokens if that’s what you need. And cards like Luminarch Ascension, Mycoloth, and Ooze Flux all turn the multiplicity of counters into creature tokens. But the truly overwhelming thing is the number of tokens this deck requires. It needs some number of the following tokens:


  • 4/4 white Angel with flying
  • 1/1 black Assassin with “whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, that player loses the game”
  • */* white Avatar whose power and toughness are equal to your life total
  • 3/3 green Beast
  • 2/2 white Cat
  • 8/8 green and white Elemental with vigilance
  • 1/1 green and white Elf Warrior
  • 1/1 black Faerie Rogue with flying
  • 1/1 white Human
  • X/X green Ooze
  • 0/1 green Plant
  • 1/1 black Rat
  • 1/1 green Saproling
  • 1/1 white Soldier
  • 1/1 white Spirit with flying
  • 1/1 black Vampire with lifelink
  • 1/1 black Wolf with deathtouch
  • 2/2 green Wolf
  • 1/1 black and green Worm
  • 6/6 green Wurm


And that’s not counting the three planeswalkers that give emblems, which Wizards has started putting into the token slot in the hope that players start using them. That’s 20 unique tokens, and realistically you’re going to need a bunch of Saprolings, five Humans, at least seven Plants, multiple Faerie Rogues, white Spirits, and green Wolves…. it’s a lot. The optimal number of tokens you should bring with you when playing a deck like this is a lot.


A literal lot of creature tokens

It’s worth it, but it’s such a pain in the butt to keep together, even for a collection nerd like me. And it’s made all the worse when the card in question requires a rare token. I used to have the Pegasus generators in here; that token’s only been printed once, in an Un-set, despite having been reprinted in the original Commander products. Because Commander sets don’t come with tokens for some inexplicable reason. It’s unbelievably annoying, if you ask me.


Anyway, that’s it for this week. I’m still not sure what you have to look forward to next week, but I’m contemplating talking about my new favorite (non-Magic) party game, Cards Against Humanity. It’s a ton of fun, and very much in the social spirit of the Commander format. Just don’t spend $200 on it, that should drop back down to $20 or so once Amazon restocks from the holiday surge.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.