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Budget Magic: $43/15 Rare Mono-Black Tokens (Standard)


Zdravstvuyte, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to Strixhaven Standard to teach learn our opponent some lessons with a Mono-Black Token deck that costs about $40 in paper and has 15 rares (and zero mythics) on Magic Arena! Thanks to the learn / lesson mechanic and Pest tokens, there are actually a bunch of powerful black cards that make tokens at the moment. And we also get an insane new payoff in Dramatic Finale, which not only pumps our Pest tokens but also can create Inkling tokens as our normal non-token creatures die, which not only protects us from removal but also, thanks to some sneaky sacrifice synergies, can quickly build an unbeatable board of evasive threats! How good is Dramatic Finale? Is it time for tokens to shine in Strixhaven Standard on a budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Mono-Black Tokens

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The Deck

Mono-Black Token is unique. It's a token deck, but it also has some aristocrats / sacrifice synergies and is built around the learn / lesson mechanic. It's also worth mentioning that the deck is built mostly around Strixhaven cards and, apart from Bastion of Remembrance, is very close to rotation proof! The plan is to flood the board with tokens, use some sneaky sacrifice synergies for card draw and drain, and eventually close out the game with a massive board of tokens pumped by Dramatic Finale!

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Dramatic Finale is an interesting card. At first glance, it looks a bit too expensive to be a playable token anthem, considering that Intangible Virtue pumps tokens even more effectively (thanks to vigilance) for just two mana. However, Dramatic Finale is more than just a token anthem; it's also a token producer, but one that requires non-token creatures to work. Add this all together, and Dramatic Finale has some weird requirements—it cares about tokens and non-tokens to be fully powered, but if we can meet this requirement, it can be super powerful. Getting a 2/1 flier (which is actually a 3/2 flier thanks to Dramatic Finale's anthem ability) whenever one or more non-token creatures dies is incredibly powerful. And things get especially crazy if we can get multiple Dramatic Finales since the abilities stack, so when a non-token dies, we'll get two 2/1 fliers that will really be 4/3 fliers—a super-fast, evasive clock! So, how does our deck attempt to fulfill the requirements of Dramatic Finale?

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We've got a few ways of making tokens, mostly involving Strixhaven's new Pest tokens. First up, we have Eyetwitch and Hunt for Specimens to grab Pest Summoning from our sideboard. Thanks to some sacrifice outlets we'll talk about in a bit, it's pretty easy for us to kill our own Eyetwitch, which not only allows us to snag a lesson from our sideboard but also gives us a non-token creature that dies, to make Inklings with Dramatic Finale. Meanwhile, Hunt for Specimens curves nicely into Pest Summoning (or, in a pinch, Necrotic Fumes for removal). 

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Sedgemoor Witch is the card that ties our two plans (making tokens and sacrifice creatures for value) together, making Pests as we cast instants or sorceries and also having some combo potential with cards like Plumb the Forbidden and Village Rites. If we sacrifice a token to either, Sedgemoor Witch will immediately replace it with a Pest, which removes the "sacrifice a creature" downside of our card-draw spells. The downside is that Sedgemoor Witch does die to Bonecrusher Giant, although if we can wait an extra turn or two before playing Sedgemoor Witch, we often can leave up an instant or sorcery to get some value form the three-drop, even if our opponent has a removal spell. The upside is that if Sedgemoor Witch sits on the battlefield for a few turns, it can take over and even win the game by itself. 

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Tying everything together are our sacrifice card-draw spells Village Rites and Plumb the Forbidden, with Skyclave Shade as repeatable sacrifice fodder. Our deck is really good at making dispensable 1/1 creatures thanks to our Pest tokens, Eyetwitch, and Sedgemoor Witch. Village Rites and Plumb the Forbidden allow us to turn those creatures into extra cards while also making more Pests with Sedgemoor Witch and possibly triggering Dramatic Finale as well. The main value of Skyclave Shade is that it offers a non-token creature that we potentially can play every turn and then sacrifice to Village Rites or Plumb the Forbidden to trigger Dramatic Finale and build a board of flying Inklings. Meanwhile, Plumb the Forbidden is especially potent, allowing us to sacrifice our entire board for just two mana, which not only offers a ton of card advantage but also a potential artistocrats-style combo kill with Bastion of Remembrance

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Bastion of Remembrance is as close as we can get to a Blood Artist that is legal in Standard, draining our opponent for one whenever one of our creatures dies (while also making a 1/1 token as a bonus). While we often win games by attacking with Inklings or random Pest tokens, having a way to close out the game without combat damage is really important. In the mid- to late game, we often can set up a board state where we have a bunch of tokens, sacrifice them all to Plumb the Forbidden, and win the game with a bunch of Bastion of Remembrance triggers. 

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Rounding out our non-land cards is some removal. Bloodchief's Thirst and Heartless Act give us ways to deal with opposing creatures while also being cheap spells to trigger Sedgemoor Witch. Meanwhile, Necrotic Fumes is a card that has really grown on me. It isn't especially efficient as a three-mana removal spell that also requires us to exile a creature, but our deck is really good at making semi-useful 1/1s, so it usually isn't that painful to exile a Pest to cast it. More importantly, since it exiles the creature (or planeswalker) it targets as well, it is often a lifesaver against hard-to-kill threats like Koma, Cosmos Serpent. While I wouldn't play Necrotic Fumes in most decks, it works extremely well in a token-style deck by giving us a way to essentially have a bit more removal in our main deck without having to cut combo pieces or other payoffs to make room.

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The mana base of Mono-Black Tokens is pretty simple: Swamps and three Castle Locthwains. If you're trying to build the deck as cheaply as possible, you can cut the Castle Locthwains to save three rares, but the land is extremely powerful and pretty close to a free-roll in a deck playing 21 Swamps, so it should always come into play untapped. While we already have a decent amount of card advantage thanks to Village Rites, Plumb the Forbidden, and our learn / lesson package, you can never have too much card draw.

Playing the Deck

One of the most interesting aspects of Mono-Black Tokens is that you can play the deck in a couple of ways. You can try to be an aggro-token deck, flooding the board with tokens, pumping them with Dramatic Finale, and trying to win with a quick go-wide beatdown, or you can play it more like a combo deck, where you focus on staying alive, sacrificing things for value, chipping in for damage, and eventually winning with Bastion of Remembrance and Plumb the Forbidden. While there are times when the aggro plan is the right one, in general, I've had more success with the slower grindy combo plan that focuses on deploying threats a bit slower so that we can leave up Village Rites and Plumb the Forbidden as removal protection. 

Wrap-Up

All in all, we went 4-1 with Mono-Black Tokens, with our one loss coming to Sultai Ultimatum. (Though we ended up playing the deck a second time and winning, so it's not impossible for us to beat Standard's menace, although I don't think it's an especially good matchup since Binding the Old Gods answers Bastion of Remembrance and Dramatic Finale, while exile-based sweepers like Shadows' Verdict and Extinction Event are really strong against Skyclave Shade and Eyetwitch.) In general, the deck felt surprisingly solid, offering a bunch of different lines of attack and some really sweet synergies. Plus, it draws a lot of cards, so even when we lose, we're at least having fun!

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, Suffocating Fumes felt pretty bad in the sideboard. I got blown out by it on the ladder the other day and figured I'd give it a try, but even in matchups where it seemed good, it didn't really feel like it did enough, especially for a deck where nearly half of the sideboard slots are dedicated to lessons. I'd probably replace it with more targeted removal like Bloodchief's Thirst or—if you have more rare wildcards—maybe Extinction Event, which seems like it could be effective in our deck since most of our creatures are even converted-mana-cost tokens. (Plus, we potentially can sacrifice all of our stuff to Plumb the Forbidden before casting it.)

So far, I'd say that Mono-Black Tokens is my favorite budget deck for Strixhaven Standard. It's really fun to play and has a lot of interesting lines, thanks to the weird mashup of token synergies, aggro-beatdown potential, and sacrifice / aristocrats payoffs. It also mostly survives rotation and might be even better in a few months once Throne of Eldraine and Ikoria leave the format, and it has some upgrade possibilities as well, either staying Mono-Black or reaching into green for a more combo-y Pest build with cards like Dina, Soul Steeper and Witherbloom Apprentice. If you're looking for something different and cheap to play in Standard and like drawing cards and sneaky sacrifice synergies, I'd definitely recommend giving Mono-Black Tokens a try!

Ultra-Budget Mono-Black Tokens

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Mono-Black Tokens is already dirt cheap in paper, so let's focus on Arena. Is it possible to make the deck even cheaper in terms of rare wildcards required? The answer is yes, at least to some extent. Dramatic Finale and Sedgemoor Witch are the two foundational rares of the deck, but Castle Locthwain can be cut to save three rare wildcards (replaced with more Swamps). And while I really like Skyclave Shade in the deck, you could probably get by with something like Discordant Piper in its place, which would get the total wildcard cost of the deck down to just eight rares.

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Finally, for our non-budget build, we don't get a ton of changes, but there are a few nice upgrades. Agadeem's Awakening is an easy way to add a bit more value to the deck, giving us a way to reanimate things like Eyetwitch and Sedgemoor Witch, and the opportunity cost is low since it comes attached to an untapped land. We also get the fourth Castle Locthwain in the mana base, a copy of Woe Strider as another mass-sacrifice outlet to support our aristocrats sacrifice plan, and Extinction Event in the sideboard over the disappointing Suffocating Fumes. It's also worth mentioning that many of the cards from our deck could also be put to work in GB Sacrifice, although after trying the deck on stream last week, I'm not actually sure that it's better than our budget Mono-Black Token list, so it might not be worth spending the wildcards on the upgrade.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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