Another Pro Tour and another victory for Mono-Red. From the looks of things it was a great Pro Tour for the color red in general, as there were three copies of Mono-Red in the Top Eight and three more decks there utilizing red as one of its two colors. Cards like Exquisite Firecraft and Abbot of Keral Keep have pushed Mono-Red to a point of high-power efficiency where before the deck's good cards were a bit flooded with redundant effects (like having too many good one-drops).
I personally don't like how good Mono-Red is today and would prefer to play the archetype when it's an underdog deck that people skimp on sideboard cards against. It turns out that it doesn't matter how good or popular Mono-Red is, people will still try to ignore or dodge it and will play the bare minimum of sideboard cards against it. It seems I was under the false belief this season that Mono-Red is too good not to be respected.
Over the past couple of weeks since the release of Magic Origins, Bant Heroic has been my weapon of choice. Nothing special, just a deck that was tried and true and has been good enough on its own against most decks. What's best is that it beats the default best deck in the new Standard: G/R Devotion.
The Top Eight of Pro Tour Magic Origins had one G/R Devotion deck, but all in all the whole Top Eight seemed to be soft to Bant Heroic, with a focus on the importance of Dromoka's Command.
Bant Heroic certainly has the tools to beat Mono-Red:
You could smoosh them even harder with Feed the Clan, Arashin Cleric, or Mortal's Ardor, but going that far isn't even necessary. You natural game-plan is high toughness Heroic creatures, Seeker of the Way, and the defensive addition of Hangarback Walker. The real story is how good Dromoka's Command is in Bant Heroic and how good it is in the current metagame. It's at its best against a deck with enchantments, and a new archetype emerged this past weekend focusing on winning by turning an impenetrable fortress into an indestructible 5/5 pair of scissors.
There are a few things going for Bant Heroic and a few against. The positive is, of course, Dromoka's Command hitting Ensoul Artifact and Thopter Spy Network if it shows up. Command can also stop Shrapnel Blast and your creatures tend to be bigger than theirs, even an Ensouled Artifact or one carrying a Ghostfire Blade.
What's bad is how little Gods Willing does in the matchup and your comparative weakness against flying creatures. An opposing Hangarback Walker can be tough to power through without good evasion like Aqueous Form. If control decks fall completely off the map and aggro and midrange suited to beat aggro emerge to be the top decks after GP San Diego, I can see Aqueous Form or its brethren Stratus Walk making its way back into the deck.
This is what I played in Raleigh Regionals this past weekend:
- 1 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 2 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
- 2 Monastery Mentor
- 4 Seeker of the Way
Hangarback Walker felt like the best card in the deck. It was myself and Todd Anderson's first experience with the card in Bant Heroic, and did it ever impress the both of us! It was the perfect card to run into an expected removal spell when you simply couldn't wait until turn three to hold a protection spell up. It's great against attackers and removal, basically every deck in the format that's not G/R Devotion (AKA our best matchup).
Hangarback Walker also shored up a couple defensive holes in the Heroic strategy. Hangarback Walker is one of the biggest cards that Abzan Rally doesn't want to see as it does double duty to nullify their sacrifice creatures in Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder and can provide a blocker or more against the Intimidate that Mogis's Marauder relies on for the deck's combo kill.
Bant Heroic was good for me, and good against the three Mono-Red decks I faced. I went into the Top Eight with a 6-1-1 record then faced Jeskai Ascendency Combo in quarterfinals, where unfortunately I was easily dispatched.
Here are the big decks from Pro Tour Magic Origins and how I sideboard against them.
VS G/R Devotion
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Dragonlord Atarka
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
Seeker of the Way gets outclassed quickly. Your creatures don't die in the early game which make Treasure Cruise weaker so that's an easy card to take out. Similar logic follows for Hangarback Walker as a 1/1 for two mana isn't exactly optimal here.
Aqueous Form is your #1 card and this is the matchup that begs the question of whether the third or fourth copy is warranted. Disdainful Stroke is the best counterspell possible here, as it hits all of the spells that matter. Valorous Stance #2 is great for hitting Whisperwood Elemental before it generates a manifest on end step. Ordeal of Heliod isn't the most intuitive of sideboard cards for the matchup, but does its job in terms of keeping you ahead in the damage race and being a reliable early buff that they can't interact with.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
- 4 Abbot of Keral Keep
- 3 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Lightning Berserker
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 3 Zurgo Bellstriker
- 21 Mountain
This is one of your better matchups, and honestly the reason to play Bant Heroic at this time.
Monastery Mentor and Treasure Cruise are slow and get updated after sideboard. You fill up to three Hangarback Walker and add two Ordeal of Heliod to your deck. There are less Atarka's Commands around now, which makes your lifegain safer than it was before. The Stratus Dancer either comes down as an early blocker or as late-game insurance against a lethal burn spell. Island comes in for Mana Confluence as this is a matchup that you absolutely don't want to draw two Confluences in.
VS Abzan Control
Depending on their exact configuration, you could want Aqueous Form or another Valorous Stance. What we do know is that they'll be trying to kill off all of your Heroic creatures and leave you stranded with Ordeals and Defiant Strikes while trying to pick you apart with discard in the form of Thoughtseize and Duress. I recommend sideboarding out a land on the draw and Temple of Plenty pops out in the head as the least useful.
VS U/R Thopters
This is how I sideboarded for SCG Regionals on Saturday, good for a fifth-place finish out of a field of about 175 players.
But the weekend wasn't over, as there was an Elite IQ waiting for me on Sunday. After some Pro Tour information and some slight preference adjustments, I registered this list:
- 2 Hangarback Walker
- 1 Den Protector
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 2 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
- 1 Monastery Mentor
- 4 Seeker of the Way
Running a full set of Mana Confluence is something that worries me given the resurgence of Mono-Red. Heck, I've even tossed around the idea of adding a copy of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to the deck to turn our Mana Confluences into colorless mana sources in the late game. Basically the pain of Mana Confluence really adds up, especially when you're no longer the most hyper-aggressives deck in Standard anymore. Mana Confluence is awesome against control and sometimes midrange when your life total isn't relevant, but in this new age of Standard aggro, conserving your life total comes at a premium.
During that tournament I found myself sideboarding out some number of Hero of Iroas and Ordeal of Thassa more often. At the end of it all, I was left wondering if four Hero of Iroas was still correct. After all, the Ordeal of Heliods that were once maindeck have been moved to the sideboard and once upon a time Eidolon of the Countless Battles was great when it was bestowed for three or even two mana.
Now it's just another target in a world of Searing Blood and Wild Slash. Seeker of the Way has some of the same issues, but it's better in the mid- or late-game than another Heroic creature would be. Plus you can save Seeker of the Way from a Wild Slash or Magma Spray with a Defiant Strike by targeting any of your creatures.
Lagonna-Band Trailblazer has taken awhile to gain some respect as it is strikingly similar to the “unplayable in Limited” Yoked Ox. But our need for an early blocker has risen and the window to leave up protection mana has slimmed.
For the same reason that the more expensive heroic creatures like Fabled Hero had to be cut as the format has gotten faster, we're now at a spot where cheaper creatures are highly preferred. This is what I'm currently working on as the next iteration of Bant Heroic in an age that needs to both attack and defend against hyper-aggression.
Grand Prix San Diego is this weekend, and we will see players there sifting through the aftermath of the Pro Tour metagame. I expect answers to both U/R Thopters and Mono-Red to be present in high numbers. As crazy as it may sound... I think it's time for a Siege Rhino comeback. I expect those to be piloting Bant Heroic to do well, but not many will be brave enough to pick up the heroes.
For me, this weekend is the Open Series in Washington, DC. I won't promise anything as to what deck I'm playing, but you can probably give a good and educated guess that I'm on Infect. After that, myself, Brad Nelson, Chris VanMeter, Brian Braun-Duin, and Todd Anderson will be battling Standard at Grand Prix London. We'll all be hosting a seminar beforehand to teach everyone about Standard and our impressions on the expected metagame going into the Grand Prix. That tournament looks to be a blast, so stay turned to it August 14th and 15th! I can't wait to see what our cousins from across the pond come up with in response to the North American metagame!