As I sat down for my Round 1 Feature Match of the Season One #SCGINVI in Columbus last weekend, we were informed that we would have about ten minutes before the cameras went live. I shuffled my newly updated version of Bant Company for a few minutes, this time with Eldrazi Displacer for mirror tech, before ultimately deciding on a short walk to the bathroom. This gave me an opportunity to get a peek at what everyone was playing, as Round 1 had already started.
Bant Company was everywhere!
While it ended up falling in the finals of the Invitational and the Open, Bant Company was all over the top tables in both event and is pretty clearly the top dog in the format.
I'm very proud of the work that Kevin Jones, Pete Ingram, Dan Jessup, Andrew Jessup, and I put into the deck, but we certainly had a feeling of “What have we done!?” at the Invitational. We all chose to play Bant Company at the event (even Andrew this time), and while we had modified our deck to be better and have more game in the mirror, we quickly discovered how difficult and grueling the mirror really is. This is important, so I will say it again:
The Bant Company mirror is perhaps one of the most complicated and difficult mirrors I have ever played in a Standard format.
In the Bant Company mirror, almost every axis of Magic strategy is taxed. There are huge tempo swings and games decided in the first seven turns. There are massive battlefield stalls and card advantage wars that make the round clock an ever-present threat. Some games, it feels like it doesn't matter what you do and you get run over. Some games, every little choice matters and the game hinges on the edge of a knife for many turns.
It is complicated and complex, and even after a good number of mirror matches against various quality players, I still don't fully understand it.
But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves.
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 1 Den Protector
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Not willing to rest on our laurels from #SCGBALT, as soon as we returned, we began working on the deck again. Despite doing well, there were definitely some issues with the deck:
Twenty-five creature hits for Collected Company was just too low. I hit only one creature with Collected Company about fifteen times in Baltimore and completely whiffed about five times. This is clearly unacceptable, and the fact I won the event is a further testament to the deck's power level.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is no longer the powerhouse it was with fetchlands legal. Jace was still a good Collected Company hit and a nice factor in longer games, but it was very easy to become flooded on Jaces. Merfolk Looter is not a card this deck would want to play, and too often on the early turns, that's all Jace would be. Shaving some copies of Jace was a necessity.
Dromoka's Command is a very poor removal spell for the deck. While Dromoka's Command is a pretty good Magic card, it's at its best when it can be used proactively in creature decks with very low mana curves. Bant Company does not fit that description. You really need your removal spell to be reliable on the early turns of the game before you cast your Collected Company, and Dromoka's Command is notoriously unreliable on the early turns. Killing enchantments is great, but the best enchantment deck in the format is Humans, the one deck where you really can't afford to fall behind and need your removal the most.
Despite all the fuss, Archangel Avacyn is a very real liability in the deck. Archangel Avacyn was amazing for us Week 1 in Baltimore because it was Week 1. Nobody had ever played against or prepared for Avacyn before and people would often blindly walk into her. As the format adapts and players learn how to play around her and build their decks in a manner to handle her properly, Avacyn gets a lot worse.
Avacyn is also a pretty big liability in a deck populated with a ton of three-toughness creatures, and while she is powerful, often that power can be used against you. Also, in order to get our Collected Company creature count higher, something had to give and the deck's spells were just too important.
With these things in mind, we set out to improve the deck for the Invitational. Here is where we ended up:
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 1 Den Protector
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 3 Eldrazi Displacer
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
The biggest breakthrough was finding an effective way to work Eldrazi Displacer into the deck.
Eldrazi Displacer is fantastic and pretty much everything the deck wants. It's a good-sized creature that can battle well. It's a great Collected Company hit both early and late in the game. It synergizes well with many creatures in the deck, especially Reflector Mage. It provides the deck with even more ways to interact with the battlefield without lowering the creature count.
The issue, of course, is adding essentially a fourth “color” to the deck. This proved to be easier than it seemed, as we were already playing four Evolving Wilds and looking for more lands that enter the battlefield untapped. Yavimaya Coast was already being considered in small numbers, so swapping a set of those in for some Battle lands was pretty easy. We were also cutting Avacyn from the deck, which made fewer white sources necessary.
Eldrazi Displacer is fantastic in the mirror, as the game tends to go longer. You can focus on simply not dying while making land drops with your Tireless Tracker and taking over the late game with Eldrazi Displacer and Reflector Mage.
While none of us had a great finish at the Invitational, we all did reasonably well with the deck. I finished 44th, going 6-2 in Standard, but one of my losses I threw away very badly. Pete Ingram and Kevin Jones both finished in the Top 32, and Andrew Jessup felt the tiebreaker pain, coming in 17th in the Open.
Enough Is Enough. How Do I Beat This Deck!?!
Oh, you wanted to hear about how to beat Bant Company, not just about its new technology and how awesome it is?
I suppose I can talk about that too.
Bant Company is a phenomenal deck. It's flexible, has a high density of powerful cards, is hard to play against, and has the speed to kill early but the power to go late. However, it's not without its weaknesses.
There are three major ways to beat Bant Company:
Get Under Them
I played against a ton of different Humans decks in Baltimore, but the only one that really had me concerned was Kellen Pastore's Mono-White Humans deck I played against in the finals.
Humans decks trying to play four- and five-drops just couldn't compete with me, but Kellen was only interested in killing me as quickly as Humanly possible. This very fast clock, backed up with the evasion that Gryff's Boon provided, is just the ticket to get under the Collected Company card and tempo advantage engine.
There are probably other good examples of decks that can go wide in the format, but the biggest takeaway is that you must be able to lessen the impact that Reflector Mage, and to a lesser extent Bounding Krasis, has on slowing you down. If Reflector Mage bounces your three-or-four drop, you are likely in a world of hurt, but if you can force it to bounce a one-drop or a card like Thalia's Lieutenant that can gain more value later, then you are well on your way.
Going wide is the key, as is having some sort of good finishing blow like Gryff's Boon to break through.
Go Over Them
At first glance, Joshua Dickerson's G/R Ramp deck looks like a relic of past formats.
However, Joshua's deck is actually quite brilliant given the current state of the format. Most of the format's early Ramp decks looked just like pre-rotation G/R Ramp decks minus four copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose, if you like having colored permanents in play), Ramp without Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is sort of like cereal without milk. It's there, you can eat it, but it's far from enjoyable. It's very understandable that these first Ramp builds failed when their best card was taken from them, and it's also understandable that the deck would need a significant makeover to be viable again.
Joshua's deck is that makeover, and it is very focused on stalling the game until it can cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger over and over again until it wins. This sort of over-the-top strategy is very well-suited to handle Bant Company, as Bant Company is powerful and flexible but doesn't kill overly quickly and is vulnerable to super-high-end cards like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
The last path to beating Bant Company doesn't really have a pillar in the format yet, but the idea is just to completely ignore them. The Ramp deck does this to an extent, but the goal is to present a powerful engine and try to interact with them as little as possible.
It is still very much in its infancy, but the Cryptolith Rite token/big mana decks would do a very good job of this. Reflector Mage and Bounding Krasis don't really interact with them profitably, as they manage to go wide at the same time as presenting large and over-the-top threats. Combo decks have always feasted on midrange tempo/value decks, as the midrange tempo/value decks simply don't have the clock necessary to close the game before they can assemble their powerful combination of cards.
This could also be done with some sort of Zulaport Cutthroat / Nantuko Husk deck, possibly also using Collected Company. Bant Company is prone to creating battlefield stalls and walls of creatures, and if you have the ability to just sacrifice your battlefield to deal twenty damage, they are going to have a difficult time dealing with that.
Can It Be Defeated?
I think the honest answer is yes. Bant Company is a great deck and will likely be a major player in the format for as long as it is legal, but I'd imagine the Pro Tour is going to normalize Standard once again. I firmly expect at least two new decks to emerge in Madrid and for Bant Company to fall in line with the rest of the format.
Bonus Modern Decklist
Eldrazi Displacer in all formats!
- 4 Tidehollow Sculler
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Wasteland Strangler
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
PAX East Panel
You may have already heard about it on SCGLive® coverage last weekend or seen it via social media, but I couldn't be more excited to be joining Cedric Phillips and Jeremy Noell at PAX East tomorrow for a panel all about the SCG Tour®, SCGLive®, Magic on Twitch, and Magic as a whole!
This is a fantastic opportunity for us to bring Magic to people beyond our immediate sphere of influence and continue to strive for Magic to be recognized as a big-time and legitimate E-Sport. Magic: The Gathering is the best game in the world and it's about time for it to be recognized on the same level as games like League of Legends and Hearthstone. PAX East is a huge event and our panel will be viewable live at the event and on www.twitch.tv/twitch at 11:30 AM EST tomorrow.
Make sure you tune in!
Last week I took a week off from Challenge Thursdays on my stream for my drive to Columbus for the #SCGINVI, and this week I will once again be on the road to Boston for PAX East.
But fear not. Challenge Thursdays must go on!
This week we are going to start earlier than usual to accommodate my travel. The poll is going to end at 3:00PM EST, and the stream will go live at 4:00. This will give me the usual one hour to build my deck after you are done with your voting.
For a quick refresher, Challenge Thursday is a special day on my stream controlled by you, the viewer! Submit challenges to me on Twitter using the hashtag #JDCT. These challenges can be anything from deckbuilding restrictions (play singleton in Standard; play a Modern deck built with only uncommons and mythics) to more specific build-arounds (play four copies of Wretched Banquet in Modern; play Mono-Red Control in Standard). I select five of my favorites to put into the poll you see below. Then you vote. Whatever the winner is, I have one hour to build my deck and then go live on my stream!
Cast your votes and tune into the stream at 4:00 PM EST!
And don't be shy about submitting your challenges!