It's always a strange feeling when you play the deck that won the tournament but go 0-2. Leave it to Osyp to find some way to make me feel happy and oddly uncomfortable at the same time. Thanks buddy!
While the U/W Spirits deck's place in the metagame didn't quite seem solidified, I liked how well-positioned the cards were against Devin Koepke's flying-heavy Bant Company list. By playing Noose Constrictor and Ishkanah, Grafwidow, I was able to hedge against U/W Spirits and Bant Company at the same time. Even if U/W Spirits waned in popularity (which it did), at least I'd have some tools for fighting Bant Company, or at least the theory went.
Unfortunately, my tournament was over quickly. I punted both Game 3s in my first two matches, decided my head wasn't in it, and stuck around to railbird Josh Cho on his 8-1 run with the same 75. I did walk away with some important lessons, though.
The idea was that Noose Constrictor would function like additional Sylvan Advocates. As it turns out, Noose Constrictor doesn't scale nearly as well and isn't nearly as powerful as Sylvan Advocate at any stage unless you have a full grip of cards or are getting beaten down by a swarm of fliers. However, it never seemed difficult for Bant Company to finagle its way into a winning battlefield position against my Grizzly Bears with reach. Thalia, Heretic Cathar, especially when protected from Dromoka's Command by Selfless Spirit, gave me headaches.
I also should have asked myself if I actually wanted additional Sylvan Advocates. With the format speeding up, I thought so, but there were noticeable diminishing returns in the games I played. With Hangarback Walker filling that role already, perhaps I jumped the gun. Ideally, you'll have a single two-drop per game, but you also want something to do on turn 3. If you don't draw Nissa, Voice of Zendikar or Dromoka's Command, that turn 3 wants to be another two-drop. That led me to believe that Noose Constrictor would be good, but I was constantly disappointed.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow is solid in G/W Tokens, but it comes at a cost. Evolving Wilds isn't something the deck actively wanted before, and while it makes Canopy Vista more reliable, it makes Fortified Village worse. It's not like Canopy Vista needed the help anyway.
There's a tension with Hangarback Walker also. If you want to cast Ishkanah, Grafwidow with delirium (and you should, it's nice), you will probably have to cast Hangarback Walker for zero every once in a while. Right now, Hangarback Walker is either getting bounced or getting ignored while it's on the battlefield. Dying isn't very common.
Cutting the Evolutionary Leaps was hasty. You know what's better at beating fliers than Noose Constrictor? An army of Hangarback Walkers courtesy of Evolutionary Leap. Maybe an Angelic Purge would be nice?
The five-drop slot was already crowded with Archangel Avacyn and Tragic Arrogance out of the sideboard, which Ishkanah, Grafwidow does not play well with. It was a concession to how much I needed the reach, while also trying to shift the deck into a more Spider-friendly environment. After all, Ishkanah, Grafwidow works incredibly well with both Nissa and Gideon.
I did some things right, and some things wrong.
At the end of the day, my new cards didn't exactly over-perform. In fact, I desperately wished I had Evolutionary Leap in my maindeck. For comparison, Osyp's list had exactly zero new cards, and he won the tournament. Even old school G/W Tokens still has game, at least if no one is really playing #MTGEMN cards.
If I were playing at #PTEMN, I would strongly consider registering this:
Traverse the Ulvenwald is just something I missed, at least in the context of G/W Tokens. It's basically a free sorcery for the Spider, which is something we previously lacked. Declaration in Stone was in the maindeck, not because I wanted it there specifically, but because it was a passable sorcery that would hit the graveyard relatively early. The Westvale Abbey exists because of Traverse the Ulvenwald, but it's probably unnecessary.
The first Linvala, the Preserver or the third Ishkanah, Grafwidow was a point of contention during deck-building. Both serve roughly the same purpose of gumming up the battlefield and helping you stabilize. With Linvala, the Preserver maindeck, I could potentially save a sideboard slot, but there wasn't anything in particular I wanted. Keeping the curve as low as possible was a consideration too. In this case, we have Traverse the Ulvenwald (and Evolutionary Leap) to find it, so I think it's worth the inclusion.
The Hallowed Moonlights are placeholders and I don't think they are very good. If you really want to hammer Bant Company though...
I was impressed by Selfless Spirit and how well it protected Bant Company's important creatures from Dromoka's Command. That makes me consider the card for G/W Tokens, especially since it works nicely with Archangel Avacyn, but I don't think it's what we want.
The Most Critical Lesson
The main lesson I learned was that I should probably be playing more Magic. The first rounds tend to be a little shaky for me no matter what I try, but last weekend was especially bad. There's no way that I would have made the mistakes I did if I were on my "A" game. My tactical game is generally on point, but these were egregious errors that were out of character.
I'm good at Magic, but I'm not good enough to play at peak performance without the necessary reps. Despite being able to get away with it in the past, I should really try to play more Magic during the week.
Lesson learned. And now that the set is on Magic Online, I'll be doing that.
Thankfully, there was the Modern Classic on Sunday, and I had plenty of ideas. Initially, I was going to play a version of the Elder Deep-Fiend / Kozilek's Return Grixis Control deck that Michael Majors posted, but then I had a better idea.
Yeah, we're doing it.
I went 3-2 in the Classic and waited for Josh Cho to finish out the Standard Open. Unfortunately, his Day 2 was not nearly as good as his Day 1. My losses came at the hands of Burn and Eggs, two notoriously bad matchups. Neither deck interacts with Grixis on the axis that Grixis is trying to interact on, so it's generally up to the sideboard to fix those issues. In this case, I fell short.
The deck was a blast, and it's what I'm going to work on moving forward.
My updated list:
Since this list is focused on casting powerful three-mana cards, we can easily load up on Scars lands. Conveniently, it gives us more U/B lands to make casting cantrips and Liliana, the Last Hope easier. Scars lands are consistently great, especially without any four-mana cards.
My initial list had some Pia and Kiran Nalaars, which weren't bad. I definitely like them against Infect, Affinity, and other grindy matchups. After playing some games with the deck, I realized a couple things. First of all, trying to build the manabase to hit UU, BB, and RR was difficult. Second, Tasigur, the Golden Fang was the threat I wanted more often than not.
I started with fewer Thought Scours, but with so much graveyard interaction, playing the full four copies is probably correct. You would much rather play with a full graveyard than without one, and graveyard hate is incredibly sparse right now.
Shriekmaw instead of some Terminates has pros and cons. Sorcery speed is certainly a downside, plus it doesn't kill Dark Confidant, Inkmoth Nexus, or anything in Affinity. However, it does take out Master of Waves and makes it much easier for Grixis to kill big creatures like Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary thanks to all the recursion.
Ancestral Vision is a big exclusion, but I don't think it really belongs alongside Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Inquisition of Kozilek. It's more of a "Snapcaster Mage plus counterspells" type of card. If you really wanted to, you could sideboard it against grindy matchups, but in this deck, I think it would be worse than Painful Truths. Plus, you don't exactly need more card advantage.
As always, the sideboard (or the maindeck, for that matter) isn't set in stone. The majority of the deck is blue and black, so I wouldn't be surprised if a two-color deck was viable. Losing Lightning Bolt is rough, and it's probably worth the splash, but it's still worth a consideration.
Other sideboard options include:
But what about #SCGRegionals?
Wrong Wrong Wrong
I can't help but wonder if the Bant Company lists are doing it right. Granted, Devin's #SCGCOL-winning list with Selfless Spirit in the maindeck is some nice technology, but a few things concern me. What's the optimal creature set, what's the optimal manabase, and what's the plan for the mirror?
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
You likely have some questions.
Honestly, I don't know. Eleven is just the number everyone else seems to have settled on. With the G/W Tokens deck, I felt a tad flooded on two-drops with eleven, so I could see that number being reasonable here. If the two-drops were a bit better, I could see playing more. As is, the power is all tied up in three-drops.
Is 25 enough hits off Collected Company?
It's basically the minimum. Archangel Avacyn is so powerful and it complements the flash / flyer theme so well that I can't imagine playing without it. It adding a layer to the deck is very powerful.
Isn't 26 land so many?
Yes and no. I desperately want to play a 26th, with the intention of siding out one on the draw in most matchups. However, that leaves us even lower on hits for Collected Company, and that's kind of unacceptable. Fitting the miser's Nissa, Vastwood Seer into the maindeck is my hedge.
With the way the lands sequence, I think it's correct. Any hand with Evolving Wilds and a Battle land or two is bad times, so having Fortified Village over any Battle land increases the chances of you actually get to play a two-drop on curve.
Why so many Thalia, Heretic Cathars?
That card has given me so many beatdowns all by itself that I'm pretty sure it's worth it. The body has the right stats and it seems backbreaking in the mirror. On the play, I can see scenarios where it makes it so they can't play their three-drop or four-drop on curve, and that's a free win.
What's up with Linvala, the Preserver in your sideboard?
From attacking the Bant Company deck, I've always leaned on Linvala, the Preserver, so I find it difficult to believe it isn't the best card in the mirror also.
It's not set in stone, though. Regardless of what deck I'm playing, I find that having Linvala in your opening hand, especially on the play, isn't a great place to be. If you wanted to curve out, which you kinda need to do to keep pace in the mirror, you're going to have twelve physical cards on turn 6. Asking them to be six lands and five cards that curve perfectly is a tall order, even with an extra card to spare.
It's possible that on the play, you should be focusing on curving out and beating your opponent, but that's difficult when they are likely going to side in powerful cards that stop you from doing that, such as Tragic Arrogance. Suddenly, being on the play is almost a liability.
On the draw, Linvala is more likely to make an impact, as you will likely be further behind than if you were on the play. That tends to lead people only bringing in zero or one copy of Linvala on the play, but I still feel like that's incorrect. Either way, the games are going to be more grindy post-sideboard, and Linvala, the Preserver is the best topdeck you can hope for.
This is probably what I'm playing at Regionals this weekend (even though I clearly have some stuff to figure out by then). I have faith that everything is going to change after the Pro Tour. Therefore, if I want to beat up on people with Bant Company (aka the Delver deck of its era), it has to be now.
I'm not trying to break it; I'm trying to win the tournament.