I was pretty ecstatic when I got off my plane and checked the results of #SCGCOL. It's not entirely clear whether that's because over twenty hours of traveling is pure brutality or that I thought the Pro Tour was still going to be the Wild West.
A few Bant Company decks and some other scattered players?
The idea that #PTEMN could be a fresh slate relatively untouched by the impact of tournament results was a beautiful thing and I couldn't wait to get hard at work solving the format.
This morning we got to work building the stock decks from this past weekend and getting to battle.
Now I know it's not going to be easy.
Devin Koepke's and his new team Cardhoarder really put the polish on what was already a major player in Standard; their Bant Company deck is ridiculously good.
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
On the surface it might appear like there are relatively few differences, but honesty everything really has changed.
Going into this weekend I thought it was pretty clear that Bant Humans and Bant Company were viable choices and each had their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Bant Humans has a slight edge in pure power and speed with the ability for Thalia's Lieutenant to quickly win a sizing war with an opponent and push the tempo-generating nature of Collected Company.
I'm pretty sure that, despite the ability for Bant Humans to be a little bit “faster,” my initial impression is just incorrect.
It's not just that Spell Queller is absurdly good – we all expected that to some degree – it's about the implications for how Bant Company plays and the manner in which it is able to combat other strategies now.
I talked about this a bit last week, but the first problem is the nature of the Catch-22. If Bant Company has a better draw, then it is basically impossible to present your cards in the correct order at the right time to avoid getting blown out by one of their various flash elements, all while being able to generate traction or even just protect your life total.
Spell Queller is a monster because Bant Company can take a turn catching up and eventually getting ahead on the battlefield with Collected Company. Then Spell Queller can secure their advantage for the crucial turn or two that it requires for their pressure to be insurmountable or their grindy elements to create a stranglehold on the game.
Selfless Spirit is the other big addition from Devin's list, which completely eschews Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Lambholt Pacifist. The Selfless Spirit does a number of things, even if you simply ignore the fact that it has relevant stats.
While the most obvious is that it insulates your card advantage-generating creatures from spot removal, that isn't even the tip of the iceberg. Selfless Spirit fundamentally changes the way that other creature decks are able to attack Bant Company.
It doesn't matter if your opponent has you outclassed on size anymore on a stalled battlefield; Selfless Spirit means that Bant Company can chip away at their opponent in the air and continue to draw more cards unopposed. If your opponent ever attacks you, then you suddenly have the option of eating the majority of their creatures with several double-blocks, or perhaps you can threaten blocking every single of their opponent's creatures and cracking back for lethal.
Finally, it puts Archangel Avacyn over the top. Of course, it's not like the mighty mythic needed too much help, but Selfless Spirit certainly has put the debate to rest over whether the Angel belongs in Bant Company as a swing-slot. These two interact almost too well. Not only does Selfless Spirit act as a “flip on command” similarly to the Hangarback Walker for zero interaction that G/W tokens leveraged, but it also is a free way to insulate your own entire team from the symmetrical nature of the Purifier's fire.
My only real issue with Devin's list at all is that he favors Tragic Arrogance over Planar Outburst in his sideboard. Planar Outburst is yet another fantastic interaction with Selfless Spirit for going over the top of creature mirrors.
What Does Having So Many Fliers Mean?
Bant Company can play so much differently now. The glaring difference is that planeswalkers are easier to attack and it is a bit more elementary to enable some chip shots on an opponent and work them towards a lower life total, but once again that's only a piece of the puzzle.
Previously, Bant Company utilized Bounding Krasis as a means to push through additional damage. Standard is in a weird place where the two- and three-mana creatures that the majority of decks have access to are so powerful that battlefield states can sometimes bog down. This was a major reason for why fliers were at such a premium previously in general.
Now Bant Company isn't forced to make these kinds of more aggressive exchanges to push through damage; instead they have the option of actually sitting back on these excellent blockers, 2/3s and even 4/5s, to manage the battlefield and continue to generate card advantage with Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter while Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit soften up an opponent. Once they have been pushed to that lower life total, it is easy to pounce and turn the corner with a key Reflector Mage or Dromoka's Command.
Collected Company Has Changed
Bant Company's namesake has also gotten an upgrade in power, which of course it didn't really need. It's not exactly easy or intuitive, though, and I keep finding myself in situations where I'm constantly thinking that I could have timed my Collected Company a bit better. Previously, basically every situation involved end-step or mid-combat Collected Company castings to try to maximize Reflector Mage or make attack steps go in Bant Company's favor.
Now with Spell Queller and Thalia, Heretic Cathar, there are a multitude of scenarios that can be manipulated. It keeps coming up surprisingly often that it is correct to Company with a creature on the stack; that way, Spell Queller has the potential to “counter” the creature or Thalia can make it enter the battlefield tapped. Both of these cards can push through damage, but it requires that the card isn't on the battlefield.
There are also some more bizarre scenarios where you are blatantly trying to spike Spell Queller to stop a removal spell or something similar, but these are fairly obvious or extreme.
The other interesting aspect of trying to manipulate Collected Company is Thalia's interaction with nonbasic lands. If you can correctly predict that an opponent may need exactly all of their mana for a turn, perhaps playing Collected Company on their upkeep to try to disrupt their land drop is truly the best play.
When a card now has the potential to interact with creatures on the stack, creatures on the battlefield, spells, and lands, it's not going to be an easy card to play with! This simultaneously adds a lot of fresh new dimensions to the card, while also making it is even more powerful than before!
In essence, Bant Company already used to be pretty good at basically playing every single aspect of the game, but now there are simply no glaring weaknesses. Bant Company has various means to generate significant leads on the battlefield with its namesake and various high-powered cards like Sylvan Advocate, Dromoka's Command, and Reflector Mage. The addition of the eight Spirits has given them many more ways to retain this advantage through several different forms of opposition.
I still don't really know how to beat it. My initial impression was that the addition of more creatures that aren't sized well to block would make the deck more vulnerable to getting run over by something like Boss Humans, but I quickly realized that wasn't the case when I discovered the impact of Selfless Spirit in the matchup.
Further, the inclusion of the Dauntless Escort impersonator also puts a bit of a damper on Kozilek's Return. Sure, it doesn't necessarily remove the powerful Eldrazi card's ability to handle creatures permanently, but having a full additional turn of reprieve is a big deal.
We already know how difficult it is to try to hang and grind with Bant Company due to the power level of Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter. I suppose on paper I'm at a bit of a loss. Going over it still seems like the right way to attack it, and that's how I plan on leading my testing.
That being said, Bant Company is firmly the deck to beat (again?) going into the Pro Tour, and Card Hoarder's list and success at #SCGCOL is going to be a huge contributor to that fact.
The Other Results
The coolest deck in the Top 8 is certainly Ronnie Ritner's B/W Angel Control. If there's something that is actually capable of going way over the top of Bant Company, it is melding Brisela.
- 2 Thalia's Lancers
- 1 Archangel Avacyn
- 1 Bruna, the Fading Light
- 3 Gisela, the Broken Blade
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 1 Linvala, the Preserver
Having access to this super=powerful and robust late-game win condition is also a welcome addition to control decks these days. I'm not sure exactly how to build this deck and feel Ronnie may have been a little too heavy on trying to maximize the “toolbox” nature of having access to a tutor. There's definitely something here, though.
There was a G/W Tokens deck that both made the Top 8 and got ninth. Eric Rill's attempt to incorporate Ishkanah, Grafwidow is certainly interesting, but the way this his deck is constructed doesn't lead me to believe that enabling delirium is a consistent or reliable occurrence.
Further, Andrew Boswell went as far as to prepare for the flying menace with three copies of Noose Constrictor! I can appreciate what both players were trying to do, but c'mon, is this how far G/W Tokens needs to sink to compete? I, for now, stand by what I said in my last article that G/W Tokens is on the verge of death, even if it was able to get some solid results this weekend. The simple fact is that there's now a tuned version of Bant Company in the public eye that poses many difficult questions for G/W Tokens.
What was perhaps the most surprising result is that G/R Goggles made it to the elimination rounds. It is entirely possible that the absence of G/W Tokens could open the doors for Goggles to be competitive once more. It wouldn't surprise me if my Eureka teammates (and Brad in particular) had to try this one out this week.
Overall, the stage has largely been set. There's still #SCGBALT to be seen before the Pro Tour, but Devin's win this past weekend was no fluke. Card Hoarder's version of Bant Company is a monster that will continue to make its presence known throughout this early part of Eldritch Moon Standard.
I hope I can beat it in two weeks.