This primer was written by Theymademedothat and edited by the archon.page team. You can find the original primer and decklist here.
Dear worshippers of the Ghost-Council, welcome to the primer for this token deck for the Archon format. This is a black and white midrange list that uses two individually powerful partner commanders: Tymna, the Weaver and Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools. The deck is midrange in the sense that it tries to play a slower controlling game against aggressive decks, but it still takes the role of the aggressor against hard control or combo decks. Additionally, it differs from traditional midrange strategies in that its threats are not individually powerful, instead following a synergy-based token approach that allows for a lower mana curve. On top of that, it also has a pretty unique playstyle that can be attractive for some players.
This primer starts with an overview of the deck’s general strategy, then lists a few reasons why the deck could be interesting for you, and finally offers an in-depth analysis of its components, matchups, and variations.
In a vacuum, you have two commanders and therefore two successive game plans, which both result in the one and only important goal in Magic the Gathering: drawing cards. In the first two turns, you drop some creatures to hopefully draw a card with Tymna. Once your opponent manages to stop this, you slam down your five mana planeswalker and continue from there. If you are still not satisfied with the amount of card draw, try to tutor for a Skullclamp, the third and hidden Commander of the deck. It allows you to outdraw even the grindiest control decks. All commanders profit from board presence, this is why a token strategy is such a natural fit to supplement them. A planeswalker in the command zone is also a good answer to the token’s natural predator: board wipes.
Outside of the vacuum, we have to acknowledge our opponent and therefore we can not only stick to our commanders and tokens: we need interaction. On the one hand, we need to deal with our opponent’s creatures if they outclass our tokens, which any 2/2 will do. On the other hand, we need to interact with our opponent’s non-creature spells. Being constrained to the ways of the Orzhov, we only have two simple but effective tools at our disposal: discard and removal. Both ensure that we can either eventually overwhelm the opponent through card advantage or survive long enough to get off a Tevesh -10 activation, which should hopefully win the game.
Reasons to Play the Deck
You should try out the deck if:
- You like your Magic games to be focused on the battlefield
- Synergy is more appealing to you than individually powerful cards
- Upticking a planeswalker gives you that warm fuzzy feeling
- You enjoy a long and grindy game from time to time
- You are comfortable with switching between an aggressive and a controlling role depending on the current matchup
- You prefer having close to 50/50 matchups across the board rather than having a lot of variance between matchups
- You want a consistent deck that mulligans well
You should avoid playing the deck if:
- You like to curve out with powerful threats to win the game
- You want to take control over the stack and love to interact at instant speed
- You love to play fast matches and enjoy having quality time between rounds
- You hate managing a lot of tokens with various stats and abilities
- Nothing on the first list appealed to you
The deck discussion is structured according to the deck’s different strategic pillars: Dudes, Payoff, Removal, Discard, and Good Stuff.
Disclaimer: this is an example decklist that should highlight the core strategy, but the archetype has a couple of flex slots and can easily be customized for any particular metagame. So, if you look for individual card justifications or suggestions, take a look at variations section
Both Commanders have an individually high power level and draw extra cards. Card draw allows you to play way more cards with low mana value and a rather small impact. Additionally, these commanders provide guaranteed proactive three and five drops, so we can avoid these spots in the curve and reduce the clunkiness of our deck even further while still being relatively well protected against mana flood.
Honorable Mention: Tevesh’s ultimate activation brings Tevesh himself back if he dies as part of paying the -10 activation cost.
Raw Material: Bloodsoaked Champion, Doomed Traveler, Garrison Cat, Hunted Witness, Legion’s Landing, Nested Shambler, Shambling Ghast, Usher of the Fallen, Bitterblossom, Carrier Thrall, Gather the Townsfolk, Hangarback Walker, Lazotep Reaver, Raise the Alarm, Servo Exhibition, Tithe Taker, Lingering Souls
Planeswalkers: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, The Wandering Emperor
Creatures on the board are this deck’s bread and butter. Many spells in your deck profit from having a cheap, disposable creature on the board. When choosing cards to include in this deck the idea is always to get more bang for your buck. This means at least get as many creatures out of a single card as it costs mana, but ideally more. Dude-producing planeswalkers for four mana are the ideal bridge between Tymna on three and Tevesh on five, as they present more threats while being immune to board wipes. Gideon and Sorin additionally provide the means to permanently pump your team, which includes Tevesh’s Thrulls. The Wandering Emperor’s abilities all fit nicely into the strategy, but you can consider her a flex slot compared to the other two.
Honorable Mention: Nested Shambler is your best subject for Skullclamp as it produces two tokens upon death. Its tokens, however, enter the battlefield tapped, so keep that in mind.
Skullclamp, Contamination, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Divine Visitation
Having a steady flow of creatures at your disposal is good for various reasons (mainly blocking and attacking), but to make it a bit more enticing let’s try to use them for different purposes as well. First and foremost, the biggest payoff for your cheap, resilient creatures is Skullclamp. There is a reason this card is only legal in Vintage and Commander and this deck tries to get the maximum use out of it. Skullclamp is the card that allows you to out grind the hardcore control decks and, in a vacuum, it should be your first tutor target.
Contamination is the second-best payoff in the deck. It requires a bit more setup, but it can straight up win you the game on the spot. Also keep in mind that it is quite friendly in its wording, so you can always decide to let go of it instead of sacrificing a creature. Given the creature count and the death triggers, you can allow yourself to cast it on turn 4 and then secure it the following turn with Tevesh.
Given the amount of subjects to experiment on, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is a great value creature in this deck. With a planeswalker in the command zone, even his second ability becomes quite relevant to launch a surprise ultimate out of nowhere.
The flex slot in the payoff section is Divine Visitation. Although it is quite clunky and unfortunately shares a slot on the curve with Tevesh, it provides an absurd amount of raw power. In matchups where your opponent cannot interact with an enchantment well, it easily becomes the best card in your deck. If your meta, however, does mainly contain fast aggro, counterspell-based control, and combo, then you should probably try to play something less clunky in this slot.
Solitude, Bone Shards, Dismember, Fatal Push, On Thin Ice, Swords to Plowshares, Conclave Tribunal, Damn, Go for the Throat, Rite of Oblivion, The Meathook Massacre, Council’s Judgment, Kaya’s Guile, Parallax Wave
The deck plays a relatively high number of removal spells. Your creatures rarely outclass the opposing ones, so to make them relevant, just get rid of the competition. Furthermore, most decks have a creature in their command zone that probably needs to be killed ASAP, so in most matchups, additional removal spells are not as dead as in traditional MtG formats. Orzhov offers a plethora of removal spells, so customize the removal suite to your liking and metagame while keeping the cost as low as possible. The chosen removal spells here are balanced to offer good removal against Esior, Wardwing Familiar (abilities), Winota, Joiner of Forces (instants), and, well, permanents in general.
Honorable Mention: the flexible board wipes Damn and The Meathook Massacre are made for this archetype. A pure board wipe would not be good enough in this deck, but their flexibility aligns well with the deck’s strategy. In most creature matchups Damn is the Demonic Tutor target number one.
Cabal Therapy, Dread Fugue, Duress, Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, Collective Brutality, Hymn to Tourach, Kitesail Freebooter, Mesmeric Fiend, Tidehollow Sculler
You have no counterspells and play a rather fair game. To avoid losing to the various unfair strategies that are available in the game, you have to disrupt your opponent’s plans. Bring them down to your level and discard their board wipes, counterspells, and combo pieces. Most of the time you can not disrupt them fully, but at least you know what cards to play around. Tidehollow Sculler and friends are especially good at ensuring a turn-three card from Tymna or at least allowing you to avoid a blowout in the case of unexpected removal.
Honorable Mention: Cabal Therapy is a powerhouse in the deck once you know your opponent’s hand. Apart from discard spells there are a lot of tutors that reveal the searched card for you, so use that to your advantage. Nevertheless, do not be afraid to play it in the dark, you have enough dudes to spare.
Culling the Weak, Curse of Silence, Dark Ritual, Mana Tithe, Drannith Magistrate, Lion Sash, Smuggler’s Copter, Umezawa’s Jitte
The best opening hands of the deck contain Dark Ritual or Culling the Weak and allow you to turbo out Tevesh Szat, Doom of Fools. Having a five mana value planeswalker always available to you makes spending a card on fast mana almost risk-free.
Curse of Silence and Drannith Magistrate allow you to interact with the Command Zone, a place that is otherwise protected from discard spells. This is especially necessary against linear matchups like, e.g., Winota, Joiner of Forces or Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.
Umezawa’s Jitte and Lion Sash round out the equipment package. Jitte is probably your prime tutor target against red-based aggro decks like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. Forcing the red player to target your creatures instead of your face is already a win in itself.
The flex slot of this category goes to Smuggler’s Copter, which is great with Tymna, resilient against board wipes, and draws more cards.
Enlightened Tutor, Steelshaper’s Gift, Demonic Tutor, Stoneforge Mystic
It is a singleton format, so a little bit of consistency ensured through cheap tutors is always welcome. Steelshaper’s Gift is mainly a concession to how great Skullclamp is in this deck. With Lion Sash in the deck, Gift also offers an answer to graveyard-based strategies. The best tutor overall is probably Enlightened Tutor, which can grab basically anything at instant speed, whether it is a board wipe, a piece of card advantage, or a game-ending threat.
Arid Mesa, Bloodstained Mire, Caves of Koilos, Command Tower, Concealed Courtyard, Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire, Flooded Strand, Godless Shrine, Hive of the Eye Tyrant, Isolated Chapel, Marsh Flats, Phyrexian Tower, Polluted Delta, Prismatic Vista, Scrubland, Shambling Vent, Shattered Sanctum, Silent Clearing, 8 Snow-Covered Plains, 9 Snow-Covered Swamp, Verdant Catacombs, Wasteland, Windswept Heath
More important than the individual lands is the total count of 38 lands. It is a bit high for the overall mana curve of the deck and a bit low for a five CMC commander. Tymna is a valid card on its own and bridges this gap by ensuring future land drops through an extra card. The partners in the command zone ensure a lot of action so that flood rarely becomes a problem. If in doubt, I would rather add a land than cut one, but 38 has felt right for me so far.
The deck contains a lot of one-drops, meaning that your colored mana requirements are quite high. Therefore the deck plays no colorless utility lands except the “mandatory” Wasteland and the half-colorless Phyrexian Tower. Two colors allow you to run a high basic-land count, which minimizes the risk of losing against an unfortunate Blood Moon or Back to Basics. The two manlands in the deck, Shambling Vent and Hive of the Eye Tyrant, have so far proven themselves as valuable additions with little opportunity cost.
If you feel adventurous you could add a couple more non-basic lands like an additional manland or Urza’s Saga, but more on potential adds later.
One of the main appeals of the deck is the low variance matchup-wise that is typical for midrange decks. In other words, you are not amazing against a particular type of deck, but there is no truly horrible opponent either. Most matchups feel 50/50, whereby the current build has maybe a slight advantage against aggressive decks and a slight disadvantage against decks on the combo or big mana spectrum. Here you can nudge the deck in either one or the other direction according to your needs. You can find suggestions for that in section 6.
Unfortunately, there is no sideboard in Archon, which is traditionally the biggest advantage of midrange decks. This means you have to do your sideboarding at two different points in time. One is before the tournament where you can finetune the deck to your expected meta, which might work if you play in a local community. The other and most important “sideboarding” should be your mulligan decision. Thanks to the “London mulligan”, the partner commanders providing card advantage, and a low curve this deck mulligans extremely well. A good mulligan to five is worth a lot more than an average 6 or 7 most of the time. So do not hesitate to ship back a mediocre 7 card hand even if it has a good spell/land ratio.
But what is a good, average, or bad starting hand for a given matchup? Going through every single one is as impossible as it would be helpful because you cannot take mulligans according to a fixed rule as you would maybe approach sideboarding. Instead, I will go through a few example matchups to hopefully share some insight that you can generalize to your meta.
Example commanders: Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
As probably everyone will tell you, the most important part against Ragavan is stopping Ragavan from hitting you. So only keep a hand that does that and mulligan to five otherwise. Fortunately this deck plays draft chaff like Garrison Cat and Hunted Witness that do an amazing job here. On the play, you can even keep two-mana removal spells or token spells. If Ragavan has to clear the way with the help of multiple burn spells this is most likely a beneficial exchange. Try to keep Ragavan from connecting without paying a substantial cost and you shouldn’t have much of a problem. The real problem in this matchup are the burn-heavy draws of your opponent due to your slow clock. So make your opponent trades burn spells for creatures, which you can mainly enforce through tutoring for Umezawa’s Jitte or replaying Tymna. In my experience, a second Tymna on turn five was often more important than a turn five Tevesh. But overall this matchup feels slightly favored for the token deck.
Linear creature-based decks
Example commanders: Winota, Joiner of Forces, Dargo, the Shipwrecker, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
You could probably discuss Winota separately from Dargo/Hogaak, but I think those matchups roughly boil down to a similar problem: You need to keep a hand with an answer to their Commander. Unfortunately, this reduces it to either removal or Drannith Magistrate/Curse of Silence. For the two big guys, you, fortunately, pack quite a lot of spot-removal, but sometimes you get got by Lightning Greaves or other protection, so try to play as safe as possible. Winota is kind of a different beast because she specifically requires an instant removal spell. Here you have a couple of turns to find it and you can usually blank her early assault with your dudes. If you get a chance to tutor, try to find The Meathook Massacre or Damn to avoid big Winota attacks. The decks are most of the time removal-light, but unfortunately, they pack the two best spells against you: Pyrokinesis and Fury. Even though you have a lot of answers, these decks are inherently powerful, so in my experience, you settle on a 50/50 here.
Fair creature-based decks
Example commanders: Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Heliod, Sun-Crowned, Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh/Keleth, Sunmane Familiar, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Klothys, God of Destiny
It might be a subject of debate if the above decks are fair or not, but they all share the common goal to win via beating you down with creatures. This is great for this deck because it is exactly the part of the game it can interact with best. Amassing a lot of blockers and playing efficient removal spells typically allows you to progress into the late game, where you should overwhelm these decks with card advantage. These are exactly the matchups, where you are in the sweet spot of having a slightly more controllish game plan without giving up too much board presence.
Blue Tempo Decks
Example commanders: Esior, Wardwing Familiar/Keleth, Sunmane Familiar or Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist/Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus
While you can easily gum up the ground with creatures, flyers pose a problem. They force you to take part in a damage race, which is exactly the game a tempo deck excels at. So whenever possible try to remove their creatures rather than adding your own to the board. Discard spells are a reasonable tool to force through an important removal spell or threat, but they are not a priority in the early turns. Also, against Esior try to keep a hand with removal spells that do not require you to pay the extra cost: On Thin Ice, Solitude, Conclave Tribunal, Council’s Judgement, Parallax Wave, and Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire. Overall these matchups feel slightly less favored, but in my experience also not as terrible as I initially imagined. Lingering Souls can do a lot of work here, so it should be a card to look out for.
Big Mana or Control Decks
Example commanders: Leovold, Emissary of Trest, Aminatou, the Fateshifter, Niv-Mizzet Reborn, Shorikai, Genesis Engine, Lord Windgrace
I list a wide range of decks in this section because your strategy against them is rather similar even if your mileage in those matchups might vary. In all of the above matchups, you are in the role of the aggressor, which drastically changes what you mulligan for. Here your first goal is to enable a Tymna trigger on turn 3 and/or try to get a Skullclamp onto the battlefield. Discard spells are typically way more important than creature-removal spells even though there are exceptions to the rule. For example, Leovold needs to be removed from the battlefield as soon as possible because he shuts down both of your commanders and enables a sort of combo kill. This exchange is still rather bad for you, but not as bad as being denied your Skullclamp. Against slower decks that do not threaten a combo finish, you can grind rather well, while keeping them on the back foot. Even though board wipes might look great against you on paper, the deck is rather resilient against them with a lot of sticky creatures and planeswalkers. Wipes like Wildfire or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are a different story though and you can hopefully avoid them. Overall matchups vary between 45 and 55, so you can always expect to have some game. The more time you have, the better your chances are to resolve a Contamination.
Example commanders: Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Teferi, Temporal Archmage, Thrasios, Triton Hero/Tymna the Weaver
As a disclaimer, combo decks have not been prevalent in my local meta, so this is more theory-driven than the other parts. To keep it simple, the good news is that you have disruption and a clock, and the bad news is that your clock is not that fast and your disruption is not that potent. Card advantage, your biggest strength, does not matter in this matchup, so do not expect much. Try to mulligan for discard and some one-drops with two power, but, in general, you should expect a bad time here. This might, however, change with the number of hate-bears you play in your deck, which finally brings us to the last section.
Cards to Consider
The decklist presented above is the one I would bring to my next tournament, but it is also a rather conservative build of the deck with a slight tuning against aggressive decks. It emphasizes consistency rather than individually powerful tweaks. The deck offers a lot of room for experimentation and individual preference. On a strategic level, this breaks down to tinkering with the proportions of the deck’s four main pillars: Dudes, Removal, Discard, and Good Stuff. Adding Good Stuff cards typically, but not necessarily, means making the deck’s token plan less consistent, so try to balance your payoff cards accordingly.
Currently, the deck focuses on getting the most material out of one- and two-mana spells. This approach can be slightly changed into either a more aggressive one, by increasing the deck’s clock,or a more resilient one that increases the deck’s card quality, but also its curve.
Aggressive Variant: Gutterbones, Scrapheap Scrounger, Skyclave Shade, Bloodghast … Any creature that combines low mana cost with high power and ideally some resiliency. If you face a lot of Combo and/or Control decks, it might make sense to reduce the deck’s blocking capabilities in favor of a couple of hard-hitting threats. To make room for these guys, you could remove some of the one-mana 1/1s and/or a couple of removal spells.
Higher Card Quality: Wedding Announcement, Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, Brimaz, King of Oskeros, Sram’s Expertise, Elspeth, Knight Errant … Any higher mana value card that provides a lot of tokens and thus more staying power. To be honest, I would not recommend this approach, because it mostly only improves the already decent Midrange matchups at the cost of the Aggro/Tempo/Combo/Hard-Control matchups. Your commanders already fulfill this role and allow you to run more low-to-the-ground stuff. It might, nevertheless, make sense to add a couple of the listed cards here if your metagame is very grindy. Be aware that, although Brimaz and Adeline would be great in this deck in a vacuum, they are way more clunky with Tymna sharing their spot on the mana curve.
The overall amount of removal probably plays a bigger role in your deck performance, as Orzhov offers plenty of efficient removal for any kind of permanent type. Generally, if you want to add more removal, remove a couple of discard spells, or vice versa if you want to play less. Otherwise, try to suit the removal package to your metagame with a focus on cheap removal spells. If you reduce the percentage of token creatures in the deck, it might also make sense to swap out the more synergistic pieces: Conclave Tribunal, Boneshards, and Rite of Oblivion.
If your metagame consists of a lot of Combo decks, you might want to increase the discard portion of the deck even further. The best option against combo would be Castigate, which is otherwise a rather weak card. The other three suggestions—Gerrards Verdict; Elite Spellbinder; and Tourach, Dread Cantor—are all less precise but are also less horrible in non-combo matchups. If you want to remove discard spells from the deck, I would start with the potentially narrow Dread Fugue and Cabal Therapy, although the latter becomes weaker the less discard you run in your deck.
If your metagame revolves around a lot of graveyard-centric strategies, I would recommend running Dauthi Voidwalker and Remorseful Cleric. Both nicely enable a turn-three card from Tymna while keeping the graveyard in check. This makes them more synergistic than, for example, Cling to Dust.
I noticed that board-wipes are typically not as devastating as I initially thought, but given that you put a lot of bodies on the board, both Selfless Spirit and Flawless Maneuver can easily be justified, especially if you go towards a more aggressive route as suggested above. In the same vein you could also add Force of Virtue, which might counter Pyrokinesis/Fury while simultaneously adding pressure.
If you want to follow the higher card quality approach and do not mind adding slower cards, you could add more tutors like Diabolic Intent or Academy Rector.
Opposition Agent is on this list because of the deck’s lacking combo matchup, but I would not suggest this card in an unknown metagame. Costing the same amount as Tymna and with most cards in the deck being sorcery speed, the play pattern of flashing in the Agent always felt a bit awkward to me in this deck.
Given that Skullclamp is one of the best cards in the deck, it might make sense to include an Urza’s Saga package in the deck. I would suggest Springleaf Drum and Pithing Needle as other potential targets for the Saga, since they are both quite decent when drawn naturally. In my personal experience (three tournaments with Saga), skipping a land drop felt more punishing than I initially assumed, especially because Skullclamp is quite a mana intensive card. The low artifact count of the deck also means that the tokens are rather unimpressive in size, while high in price compared to the other creatures of the deck. Nevertheless, Urza’s Saga is an insanely powerful card and it can easily be justified in this deck.
A popular approach for token strategies is to combine them with sacrifice outlets and death-trigger payoffs. While those engines feel cool to pull off, they further reduce the deck’s consistency, as they introduce more moving parts. A lot of cards need to come together to have a real engine going, which then might even not be powerful enough. This is mainly due to the lack of individually powerful sacrifice outlets in Black and White. Red offers more powerful cards in that regard, e.g., Goblin Bombardment, so if you look to play a more sacrifice-centric deck, I would recommend a Mardu or Jund Shell.
Apart from that, it is completely reasonable to add any card that profits from tokens alone and is not directly reliant on a sacrifice outlet in play. For example, Bastion of Remembrance is a nice tool to add for burn-heavy aggressive or very grindy matchups. It is easily playable without further support, while Grave Pact shines only if you can consistently sac more than one creature per turn.