The Elephant in the Room: GW Tokens, and the Enigma Status

Every so often, a deck comes around that is so much better than the rest of the field, that you have to either play the deck itself or something that is crafted specifically to beat the deck in question. In years past, decks like Caw-Blade and Academy have been powerful enough to warp formats and warrant bans in some cases

What is an Enigma Deck?

In Michael Flores’s esteemed article from the turn of the century, “Finding the Tinker Deck,” he lays out blueprints for different deck styles and shows how to discern between them. One particular style of deck he explains is the Enigma. This happens when many efficient undercosted cards synergize so well with each other that they create an insanely powerful amalgam.

The Rise and Reign of a Dynasty

Ever since Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad, GW Tokens has had a strong foothold in the Standard metagame. Between Gideon, Nissa, and Dromoka’s Command, players are getting insane values from their cards. The deck has been stealing up to six spots in multiple GP Top Eights, and shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a rare occasion to have a three and four drop Planeswalker that synergize so well with each other, in addition to having the best card draw being in Green as opposed to Blue as is the standard. Here’s a list that Mike Sigrist took to 15-0 in the Swiss portion of GP New York.


2 Westvale Abbey/Ormendahl, Profane Prince

4 Fortified Village

4 Canopy Vista

8 Forest

7 Plains

4 Sylvan Advocate

4 Hangarback Walker

2 Lambholt Pacifist/Lambholt Butcher

4 Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn, the Purifier

4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

2 Declaration in Stone

4 Dromoka’s Command

2 Secure the Wastes

4 Oath of Nissa

1 Stasis Snare


2 Declaration in Stone

1 Secure the Wastes

2 Clip Wings

1 Silkwrap

1 Evolutionary Leap

2 Tragic Arrogance

2 Angelic Purge

1 Linvala, the Preserver

1 Hallowed Moonlight

2 Den Protector

It’s easy to see how he did so well. Almost every card in the deck can win games on its own, and there’s very strong synergies between all of them.


Another reason this deck is so strong is the amount of angles it attacks from. You have sweepers? They have a Planeswalker. You have removal that targets walkers? They have an army of tokens to deal with. Perhaps the two best single card options against the deck are Virulent Plague and Tragic Arrogance. The issue is that even these have huge holes in their game plan. Virulent Plague is weak to Dromoka’s Command, a card that GW Tokens mains four of. Tragic Arrogance is slow, not coming down until then five, and it leaves them with a Planeswalker that can easily remedy the damage you just did to them.

Take to the Skies

A more recent strategy that players have come to in order to take down Tokens is playing either the Saito UR Fliers deck or the more recent UW Skies. While particularly effective against Tokens, these decks get absolutely hosed by Humans. This leads to the conundrum of playing the best deck versus playing the deck that beats the best deck a la Black devotion versus Esper Control from a more recent time.

What’s to be Done?

While GW Tokens has probably reached Floresian enigma status, it is by no means as oppressive as Caw Blade ever was, or the Combo decks of Urza’s block. Some decks in the format have some game against it, but I don’t think you can argue that it isn’t the best deck anymore. Going forward, I think you just continue to play the metagame as is, and hope to see if Eldritch Moon brings any answers. I don’t think any bans are necessary at all yet, but if the new set brings even more power this deck’s way, there’s definitely something there to keep an eye on.

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