Stoneforge Mystic is roughly as strong as Tarmogoyf— Piotr 'kanister' Gogowski (@kanister_mtg) August 31, 2019
I don't entirely agree with that assessment, but at the end of the day, Stoneforge Mystic mostly helps midrange decks. Again, the scariest part of the card is it adds another angle to decks like Whirza or Snowheeli that puts them into Splinter Twin territory, but we haven't quite gotten there yet. I'm working on it, though.
Anyway, Tarmogoyf is a midrange creature and that's it. Stoneforge Mystic does that job by putting Batterskull onto the battlefield on Turn 3. Overall, it clocks slightly worse than Tarmogoyf, but it gives you vast late-game power by being able to move Equipment around. Those are the exact situations where Tarmogoyf gets outclassed.
Plus, with white being a stronger color than green in general, Stoneforge Mystic is definitely getting the nod from me. That wasn't the case in Legacy because having a clock actually mattered against combo and the planeswalkers provided a stronger end-game than Equipment. Green also had Deathrite Shaman, so I always leaned green instead of white when possible.
Although there have been countless Stoneforge Mystic decklists thrown around (many by yours truly), it's time to hone on what we think are the best choices out of those options. Whirza might be the best deck in the format at the moment, so that's a high consideration, but next in line is easily Bant Stoneforge.
Bant Stoneforge already has some sort of pedigree, considering it put multiple players into Day 2 at #SCGDFW.
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Caustic Caterpillar
- 1 Deputy of Detention
- 4 Giver of Runes
- 1 Hexdrinker
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Ranger-Captain of Eos
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Ice-Fang Coatl
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 3 Spell Queller
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 4 Ice-Fang Coatl
Both these Bant lists are solid but can be improved upon.
I appreciate both players eschewing Collected Company, as the counterspells, removal, planeswalkers, and Equipment are much stronger overall. Many of sideboard plans involve bringing in creatures that would work under Collected Company, so it wouldn't be the worst card to play, but there are more pressing matters at the moment.
Although Ranger-Captain of Eos into Caustic Caterpillar is some wild technology, it won't hold up well. For starters, having to play Ranger-Captain of Eos in your Bant deck is sad times, as there are so many other worthy considerations in the three-mana slot. The backup plan of fetching a Hexdrinker is also cute, but very low on power level. If you wanted to go hard enough to play maindeck artifact destruction (which, granted, is completely reasonable in this Modern metagame), I'd recommend playing Deputy of Detention or even Knight of Autumn instead.
Let's cut the nonsense.
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Deputy of Detention
- 3 Giver of Runes
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Ice-Fang Coatl
Building the Best Maindeck
My Bant deck started by trying to build a deck that used Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise to accelerate into Teferi, Time Raveler and Karn, the Great Creator. In a format with Whirza, Mono-Green Tron, and Stoneforge Mystic, Karn seemed incredible. Then Lotus Box put three players into the Top 8 with their version of Burn, and Karn no longer seems like a playable Magic card.
I experimented with various versions to see if I could play Karn and still smash Burn, but it didn't seem likely. In the end, I cut the Karns, but it's something I could see revisiting at some point in the near future. There were some cool things you could do with Karn, such as sideboarding artifacts like Sword of Light and Shadow or Dragon's Claw while still keeping the Karn Wish-sideboard to a minimum. That gives Karn more utility and you still get to have a reasonable number of sideboard slots.
Without the heavy top-end, maxing on mana creatures isn't a necessity. In fact, I'm glad I get to play Giver of Runes because it curves so well into Stoneforge Mystic. Bant used to rely heavily on its mana accelerators because it didn't have enough strong two-drops, but now we don't care if they Bolt our Bird. That's just one less removal spell for Stoneforge Mystic, Spell Queller, or Deputy of Detention.
Burn is a difficult matchup, especially in Game 1, but playing more Force of Negations helps. If you cast Stoneforge Mystic on the play with Force of Negation backup, you'll win that game a high percentage of the time. It gets harder on the draw, but Force of Negation makes things way easier than if you didn't have it. Their sideboard Path to Exiles and Smash to Smithereens are quite good, but that just means you have more time to set up your more powerful cards.
Given how spell-dense Modern is at the moment, Force of Negation is incredible, especially when you have a threat worth protecting. The blue card count is something you need to be mindful of, but other than that, it doesn't have much of a downside. There are so many ways to recoup lost cards and most of the games are won based on your first three turns that's it's worthy of inclusion, even in high numbers.
Knight of the Reliquary is a huge creature that looks like it contains a lot of utility, but ultimately fails. The lands you can fetch are severely limited in Modern and you're better off just attacking for five most of the time. Tireless Tracker is a different threat that draws you cards and gives you something to spend your mana on, so it's a much stronger card overall.
Between Equipment, Clues, and various sources of card advantage, we have plenty of uses for our mana. Getting to effectively double that mana production through Sword of Feast and Famine is ultimately why I chose that to be my maindeck Sword of choice. You could make a case for Sword of Fire and Ice in this deck, but Feast and Famine will be better.
Constructing the Manabase
There is a distinct lack of utility lands in my manabase and Burn is basically the cause of that. Some matchups might be won or lost based on your ability to sacrifice a Horizon Canopy in order to find more gas, but with Burn's presence in the format, playing zero Horizon lands seems like the best choice at the moment. If my deck contained Knight of the Reliquary, it might be a different story, but Knight isn't particularly strong against the decks I expect anyway.
Three copies of Razorverge Thicket is a lot, but it's the best land for casting your one-drops and helps cast the sideboard Kor Firewalkers without taking a bunch of unnecessary damage. By leading on Razorverge Thicket, you're committing to not having enough snow permanents for Ice-Fang Coatl until Turn 4, but that should be fine. A draw containing two Razorverge Thickets might delay that too much, which is why I'm not playing all four copies.
You'll be fetching basic land past Turn 1 the vast majority of the time, so the manabase isn't too painful. It also means that you don't want extraneous shocklands clogging your otherwise smooth draws. One of each is completely reasonable.
Tuning the Sideboard
Constructing the sideboard is difficult, but now we have a clearer picture of what the metagame looks like, so we can make more informed decisions.
Obviously Burn needs addressing. It wouldn't surprise me if some of Ty's and Kaleb's losses came at the hands of Goblin Guide and friends. There are plenty of lifegain effects in Bant, but if you can't remove Monastery Swiftspear or Eidolon of the Great Revel, a little lifegain won't save you. Having a hammer would be really nice against Burn and Kor Firewalker seems like the best one. I'd imagine that most Burn players will bring in their Path to Exiles against Bant, but that's not the worst trade in the universe.
If they don't draw a Path to Exile and you draw Kor Firewalker, you'll probably win the game. If they do draw Path to Exile and you don't have a Kor Firewalker, it's one less burn spell they could have in their hand, which might give you enough time for your better late-game to come online.
Collector Ouphe is also hugely important because of Whirza and Mono-Green Tron. On the other hand, Damping Sphere's value has diminished greatly because of how narrow it is. If things like Gifts Storm were more popular, I could see playing a mix, but it seems worse than Collector Ouphe in the matchups you care about. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is another card we could use instead of Damping Sphere if we wanted a tool against Storm and Burn, but it's much worse against Mono-Green Tron.
Collector Ouphe isn't the greatest card to go in your Stoneforge Mystic deck, but it's passable. If you know Collector Ouphe is going to be on the battlefield and sticking around for a while (because of a Unified Will, Force of Negation, or Giver of Runes), you're probably in a fine position. Plus, your Stoneforge Mystic can always dump a 4/4 onto the battlefield, so it's not completely useless.
We want some additional countermagic in the sideboard for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; Urza, High Lord Artificer; and the like. Disdainful Stroke hits most things you care about, but Unified Will has the added bonus of tagging smaller things like Thopter Foundry as well. There will rarely be a matchup where you want a counterspell against a deck that's going wider than you are, so Unified Will seems like the best choice.
Jund and the various Death's Shadow decks are also concerning. You need to be able to remove their threats while also grinding, which is no small feat. Ice-Fang Coatl goes a long way, but I fully expect my equipment to get blown up in sideboard games. Thragtusk got the nod because it helps grind (more so against Jund than Death's Shadow) while being a potent top-end against Burn, but I could easily see it becoming Kitchen Finks or Knight of Autumn as well.
Veil of Summer would be excellent, but it's a narrow card. If black midrange decks make a huge resurgence at some point, I'd be more willing to play Veils in the future. Counterspell-based blue decks aren't really viable at the moment, but Veil would strong against those as well.
Ashiok, Dream Render is my thin attempt at fighting TitanShift and Dredge. It's also another blue card for Force of Negation, which is helpful in both matchups. It could very well turn out that Ashiok is medium enough against both decks that it's not even worth playing. You get some bonus points against Whirza by shutting down Whir of Invention, some of their manabase, and Goblin Engineer or Stoneforge Mystic, but Ashiok's inclusion is unlikely to make or break that matchup.
Manriki-Gusari is nonsense. If you cast Stoneforge Mystic and search for Manriki-Gusari, your opponent knows they shouldn't deploy their Equipment without a way to protect it. That could very well be advantageous, but it's far more likely that Manriki-Gusari sits around doing nothing while your opponent figures out the correct time to deploy their Equipment. If your opponent searches for Batterskull, search for a Sword with protection from black instead of Manriki-Gusari. You'll be much happier.
At the end of my process, I became convinced that we shouldn't mess around with a sideboard full of broad answers and should instead focus more on hammers. Bant doesn't exactly have a naturally strong matchup against Whirza, Burn, or Mono-Green Tron, but we have the tools to smash them in the sideboard games. We just have to make concessions elsewhere.
Sideboarding Against the Ten Best Decks
Teferi, Time Raveler isn't ideal against Burn, but it has enough usefulness to keep a couple of copies in your deck. If they keep Rift Bolt in their deck, you can completely counter it. Should you stick a Teferi and pair it with Spell Queller, it's even better, since your Spell Queller would probably die at some point anyway. Being able to bounce your Spell Queller for another use is incredible and one of the ways you prevent yourself from getting burned out. You also need to be mindful of your blue card count for Force of Negation.
Your main Stoneforge Mystic target is obviously going to be Batterskull, but you might end up playing grindy games where being able to search up a Sword matters. In that case, I'm much happier with Sword of Light and Shadow over Sword of Feast and Famine. More testing is probably needed to determine if I actually want a Sword in my deck or not. This is one of the few matchups where a second Batterskull would be reasonable, but even then, it's unlikely to ever matter.
With everyone likely to copy the Lotus Box Burn list, you might be better off leaning on some form of enchantment. Worship seems like the best candidate, but it's rather narrow in application. You could make a case for it being playable against TitanShift, Dredge, and some other more fringe matchups, but that isn't terribly excited. If you wanted to play a single copy over a Kor Firewalker, I'd be down for that.
For other decks, Leyline of Sanctity seems like a slam dunk. This deck doesn't have nearly enough removal to stop all their creatures, so you're risking dying to their creatures even with a Leyline on the battlefield.
VS Mono-Green Tron
Between Deputy of Detention and Teferi, Time Raveler, you don't have to worry about Wurmcoil Engine, so sideboarding out your Path to Exiles is completely fine. Tireless Tracker is slow, but it keeps the disruption flowing. I will concede that the third Deputy of Detention could be overkill and the fourth Ice-Fang Coatl might be stronger. There are curve considerations, the velocity, the fact that you don't want too many reactive cards, and that Ice-Fang Coatl disguises Unified Will.
VS Azorius Control
Maybe Ashiok is supposed to come in here? Azorius will typically be lighter on fetchlands than your average Modern deck, so Ashiok isn't doing too much work there. If you manage to cast it Turn 2 on the play, you can shut down their Stoneforge Mystics. Later, you can blunt the effectiveness of Snapcaster Mage. Overall, it seems medium at best.
I could see cutting an Equipment here, which would probably be Batterskull. If your opponent shows you a bunch of Spell Quellers and Restoration Angels, you want to keep in some Path to Exiles. Thragtusk is already very medium and that can go instead.
VS Four-Color Whirza
You don't sideboard out Stoneforge Mystic just because you're sideboarding in Collector Ouphe. Against Whirza, the Swords (unless you have Fire and Ice) are mostly pretty bad. Protection from black can help against some of the versions with Fatal Push and the like, but it's still not good enough.
This matchup is close in Game 1, but you shouldn't be losing sideboard games very often.
Having another way to remove Tarmogoyf would be nice, but Winds of Abandon and On Thin Ice have their downsides. I'd prefer On Thin Ice against Burn and Death's Shadow variants, but it's very, very weak against Jund and its Abrupt Decays and Assassin's Trophies. Granted, they have no shortage of great targets for those cards, so maybe On Thin Ice could be worth it. Deputy of Detention has similar issues and I'd be fine sideboarding in another copy, but at least that wields a piece of Equipment.
If you want the other Deputy in the deck against Jund, I think you have to cut a land. The grindy nature of the matchup might lead you to believe Birds of Paradise is the correct call, but playing a three-drop on Turn 2 can be backbreaking. Having a bunch of cheap creatures to pick up Swords isn't the worst idea either. There's also the matter of cracking Tireless Tracker Clues, so you kind of want all the mana you can get your hands on.
This is one of the few matchups where I actually want all three pieces of Equipment and I'm fine with naturally drawing them. All you ever want to do is connect with a Sword and you don't ever want to run out of weapons for your Stoneforge Mystic to fetch.
VS Bant Stoneblade
The protection from white on Sword of Light and Shadow is decent here, but the effect is so minimal overall that I'd rather have Sword of Feast and Famine. Your creatures won't be trading very often, but I could see a world where you start recurring Ice-Fang Coatls in the mid-game and get to bury your opponent.
Consider swapping Swords if you think that's the case. This could also be another matchup where you want access to all three pieces of Equipment because they're important and your opponent will be trying to blow them up. Realistically, the matchup should come down to tempo and won't get that far.
VS Grixis Death's Shadow
The sizing on Batterskull is mostly irrelevant against their creatures, so I prefer having both Swords here instead. Additional spot removal would help here too, but it's not a popular deck at the moment.
Clock and disrupt them. Try to maneuver around Anger of the Gods if possible.
Thragtusk isn't ideal, but it could be good if you have Ashiok slowing them down and need a sticky beater to fight through removal. Either way, it seems better than a Path to Exile or Deputy of Detention, but maybe I want a small number of Paths to clear Primeval Titan out of the way when making an alpha strike.
You should happily use any Force of Negation on their first enabler. Slow them down, try to create a battlefield presence that can get through some Prized Amalgams and Narcomoebas, and don't overextend into Conflagrate.
Other than that, pray, because this matchup isn't great.
Bant Stoneblade is a very good Modern deck that has the tools to beat everything. It's not the most powerful or the flashiest, but the sideboard options put it over the top in the current metagame. The next couple of weeks will be pretty good for Bant, especially as Burn gets hated out. Once it's safe for Karn, the Great Creator to make an appearance, Bant gets even better.