Mechanical Memories — Trinkets & Tokens

Kellan, Daring Traveler | Illustrated by Marta Nael

You’ve followed the Clues in search of the fabled Treasures you seek. It’s been a tough journey, having to hunt for Food. But through all the Blood, sweat, and tears, you’ve done it. The Map has led you to the fabled Gold. Atop a pile of Junk and Rocks, you claim the prize you were destined to find.

… Also, there’s a Powerstone there.

Let’s Talk Trinkets

Hello, and welcome back to Mechanical Memories, the series all about the history of Magic design and its effect on the Commander format. For our second episode, we have a very special topic. You know 'em, you (maybe) love 'em, every few sets there’s another one of 'em. It’s noncreature artifact tokens! Or as I like to call them, Trinket tokens!

First appearing in full force during Shadows Over Innistrad, noncreature artifact tokens have quite the history. Imperial Mask in Future Sight gave your opponents enchantment tokens and King Macar, the Gold-Cursed from Journey into Nyx made Gold tokens. But Shadows was where R&D got a Clue about the potential of these tiny artifacts. Mark Rosewater described the design of investigate in one of his Making Magic articles. “We had some things we needed the keyword to,” wrote Rosewater, “Help with card flow [and] give players something to do with late-game mana.”

Clue tokens filled both of these. It ensured players had a fresh grip of cards in a set rife with discard and Delirium along with giving them ways to spend mana. Anyone who has played a Landfall deck with Tireless Tracker knows this. Lots of lands mean Clues are a great outlet to spend that mana. Not only that, they were incredibly flavorful and powerful! Thraben Inspector is probably my favorite card from the set. It does a standout job of portraying a cosmic horror investigator in a world filled with horrors in addition to give mono-white a solid 1-drop in Pauper. Lovecraft and commons: what more does a person need?

We got a steady uptick in these cards in the coming years. Likely due to the outstanding response they got, Ixalan block gave us Treasure tokens and Throne of Eldraine gave us Food tokens. In the same way that Clues were used to smooth out the Shadows draft environment, Treasures and Foods gave all colors a way to dip into the mechanics of the set. Fun fact, if you were wondering why Treasures and Food tap for their effects but Clues don’t, it’s because they quickly realized that the tap clause helped with balance. Turns out when Kaladesh has a mechanic all about tapping artifacts, things can get out of hand.

blogatog mtg screenshot

To be fair, when have artifacts ever done broken things?

Tokens Take Off

Here’s where Commander comes into play. Clues, Treasures, and Foods (yes, it’s a subtype so it is technically Foods) all synergize with the typical pace of a Commander game. Battlecruiser Magic is the slow stockpiling of resources before an all-out attack. That’s essentially what Trinket tokens are built to do. And that’s perfectly fine! Around 2019, however, we saw a spike in the power level of these cards. Smothering Tithe and Dockside Extortionist provide huge boosts in mana. Where Clues were once designed to help games stretch out in a draft filled with large Eldrazi, design was now pushing for these artifacts as an accelerant.

This doubled down in Throne of Eldraine. All of the above cards were and still are powerhouses in their formats. All of them used Food tokens, but not for their primary use. Instead, these tokens make fuel for various effects that came from other cards. Cat-Oven decks aren’t good because the lifegain is powerful, it’s because they create a self-contained loop that drains out the opponent. This is where we really saw the rise of Trinket decks. Clues, Treasures, and Foods all became archetypes in their own right. In decks that specialize in a particular Trinket, these tokens become fuel for the deck's overall plan. But what if Trinkets were the plan itself?

We even saw this expanded upon in Modern Horizons 2. The blue-green draft archetype for this set was called “Junk.” No, not Junk as in white-green-black or Junk as in the token from Fallout. This was Junk as in simply having lots of tokens. It didn’t matter what those tokens were, just that you had them and had lots of them. I personally got a chance to draft this archetype with some fellow EDHREC and Commander’s Herald writers at MagicCon: Vegas, and it's a blast. 

If Modern Horizons 2 didn't make it clear, this was the year of Trinket tokens become their own thing. Commanders that focus on specific Trinkets like Jolene, the Plunder Queen and Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth encourage specific strategies and Trinkets. The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth even saw one of its precons and draft archetypes themed around Food. It's clear Trinkets aren't patch-up mechanics they used to be. By placing the complexity of mechanics in singular tokens that have a wide application to cards, it gives a set a cohesive feel.

As Trinkets have grown in popularity and quantity, Magic has taken this as an opportunity to experiment with what those tokens can do. Powerstones allow The Brothers’ War harken back to Rise of the Eldrazi battles between massive creatures, while Blood tokens are a flavorful inclusion to Crimson Vow that synergize with prior Vampire cards. While Trinkets outside of the core trio don’t have as many strategies focused directly on them, these Trinkets all have a clear mechanical identity that has room to be expanded upon. I could certainly see a set or precon in the future with a Blood theme. Players clearly have a desire for it.

Strefan, Maurer Progenitor decks include lots of the Blood cards from his precon and Crimson Vow, with some players even building him as an outright artifact deck. By the way, play Arterial Alchemy in more Equipment decks! It’s rummaging and artifacts on one card. Bloody good stuff.

Maps (They Don’t Love You Like I Love You)

And now, we enter the modern day. At the Magic Story Podcast panel at MagicCon, we were introduced to Kellan, Daring Traveler. A few weeks later, we met the newest addition to the Trinket family. Map tokens let you pay one mana, tap them, and sac them to have target creature Explore. Kellan lets you make a large amount of these, then starts swinging in to find tiny creatures with his attack trigger. Trinket tokens and tiny creatures seemed like a pretty fun combination, so I figured I’d build a deck around him that focuses on the evolution of Trinkets.

Rather than trying to make a deck that gets the most of Maps, I want to use those tokens and other Trinkets as fuel for my deck’s engine. As R&D has shown, Trinkets excel when they’re used to smooth out different strategies or draft archetypes. That means that, while this deck might look like a simple Selesnya Artifacts deck, I more so want to prioritize turning small artifacts into larger problems by quantity. Trinket decks aren’t about casting big spells, they’re about making little problems into big ones.

First, we want to ensure we’re creating plenty of Trinkets. This is a problem I see in plenty of decks like this. My main example of this trend is Xorn. It’s a great card, for sure. But should it really be seeing more play than Captain Lannery Storm, The Reaver Cleaverr, or Impulsive Pilferer, all cards that actually create Treasure tokens? It’s the same problem lots of typal decks have: all meat, no vegetables. 

That’s why we’re packing this deck with veggies, and not just the Food tokens. Astrid Peth lets us use Foods or Clues depending on what synergies we have online and the Tireless cards help us turn land drops into Trinkets. While we do run our usual suite of payoffs, I wanted to tailor this more around building up a threatening boardstate. Jaheira, Friend of the Forest lets us crack our clues with mana from themselves. Peregrin Took ensures our token generators can do more or lets us draw into more substantial payoffs. And Academy Manufactor… is Academy Manufactor.

We also have cards that less us get the most from Kellan. The vast, vast majority of this creature heavy deck is creatures with mana value 3 or less, ensuring we’re getting plenty of value from him. We also want to make sure our opponents have artifacts for Kellan's Adventure. I borrowed some tech from Ben Doolittle's Gluntch primer, which focuses on a pseudo-group hug strategy. Wedding Ring, Marching Duodrone, and Thran Spider give away artifacts to our opponents, allowing us to make more Maps with Kellan’s Adventure. We can even bounce him back to our hand with Blood Clock or Roaring Primadox to get it again and again. And hey, if we cast his Adventure spell and his creature spell, that’s a Fae Offering trigger right there!

To close out the game, Syr Ginger, the Meal Ender, Bronze Guardian, and Nettlecyst can grow to a lethal size. In addition, Displaced Dinosaurs from the new Doctor Who decks make our Tiny Trinkets into Terrifying T-Rexes. While most artifact decks shouldn’t be playing the Dinos (in my opinion), we have enough passive Trinket generation that we can afford to play a big creature and reap the rewards of our various Trinket making machines.

I’ve included the deck list for this below. Kellan, Daring Traveler lets a lot of my favorite Trinket cards shine. Looking back through the history of these tokens has been interesting. Something that’s so foundation to modern Magic design essentially arose from needing to patch up a draft format. While they might not be as flashy, splashy, or downright nasty as other powerful mechanics, Trinkets offer a way to add a teeny splash of power to your average card. I can only hope that we get more of them. 


Mechanical Memories - Trinket Tokens

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Commander (1)
Creatures (31)
Lands (37)
Enchantments (12)
Artifacts (11)
Sorceries (3)
Instants (4)
Planeswalkers (1)

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Jubilee Finnegan (they/them) is English literature student and writer based out of Southern California. They got hooked in Magic with Throne of Eldraine and haven't stopped since. When not deckbuilding, they're working on poetry, gardening, or trying some new artistic endeavor. They can be found on Twitter at @finneyflame or on Instagram @jwfinnegan.

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