First and foremost, allow me to preface this with an apology for the lag between my last contribution and this one. Alas, Real Life beckoned and I had little choice but to answer its tedious and humbling call.
But enough with the excuses! Let’s get down to brass tacks and make up for some lost time.
Bant is one of those decks that seems like it should build itself. It’s something ChrisKool and I go back to time and time again when we feel the pang to give a new deck wheels.
Bant has an expansive arsenal sprawling three hyper-efficient colors. It bolsters some of the best and burliest men in contemporary Magic, as well as numerous directions in which to take the deck.
But therein lies the quandary. What, exactly, would comprise an optimal Bant build? How many men do you play? Which men? How aggressive should it be? How much counter magic (if any) should you play? ‘Geddons? Upheaval? Tempo and bounce? Draw power?
This is the dilemma with Bant; it has a ton of good cards, yet it’s still, in some bizarre and mysterious way, lacking. Even with a slew of more-than-viable options, there aren’t many, if any, successful examples of decks on which to draw.
But I was determined to figure this out. I wanted to play an onslaught of ridiculous guys, a small counterspell suite, and ‘GEDDONS!!!
So I decided to get some dirt under my nails and try something a little different.
Anyone that plays this format knows that with the ever-expanding catalogue of mana fixing and ridiculous lands at our disposal there is little to no incentive to play a deck that doesn’t splash a little here, there, and everywhere.
All it took was a little nudge from Mystical Teachings to push me to the Dark Side.
This is the end result, which garnered me a first place PE win in its first showing:
ONCE YOU GO BLACK…
The first obvious inclusions under the “add black” roster were the four incredi-removal spells: Vindicate, Mortify, Putrefy, and Maelstrom Pulse. I didn’t want and/or need much removal, just the best removal. These cards nicely fill that alongside a few other in-color Bant cards.
I opted to shove Deed to the board since I was playing elves and a decent amount of bodies. This is a pretty common conundrum with B/G. Wiping the board is swell and all, but the potential card disadvantage was enough to dissuade me.
Black also gave me access to Shadowmage Infiltrator, which fell nicely under my aggressive control mission statement. I tried to keep a lot of my card drawing in the form of men, since I was way too artifact light to play Thirst for Knowledge and didn’t want to play sorcery speed draw like Compulsive Research and Deep Analysis (which detracted from the deck’s ability to be reactive.)
With this in mind, I added Mask of Riddles, which seemed questionable at first, but proved to be a most obscene beating in testing and in the aforementioned event. What’s better than Finkel? Promoting any dude on the table to Finkel status! Plus, it’s a two-mana permanent, something the deck is lacking.
Mind Twist is just too savage to exclude, especially with the critter ramp in the deck. Mana Drain turn two on the draw into Twist isn’t exactly fair.
Any time I can fit Tainted Pact into a deck, I do so, even if it means cutting down on the basic land count. It’s just too good.
With the high volume of higher-toughness-than-power men in the deck, Doran seemed like an auto-include.
Shriekmaw is a living breathing removal spell and the last of my black bodies, unless you count good ol’ Sygg (which is one of two possible deck construction concessions I would volunteer.)
On the whole Sygg has been nothing but reliable for me. Truth be told, Werebear is a better fit for the deck, but my excuse for the interim (and this actually won me a match in the PE, further reinforcing my delusion) is Sygg is one of a handful of Karakas targets. His casting cost is the truly vital part here, as the deck is in short supply of two-drop bodies, especially defensive ones.
Volrath’s Stronghold is last on my list of irrefutable reasons to add black to the deck, for reasons that are more than self-explanatory (especially with the high number of 187 creatures in the deck.)
MEAT AND POTATOES
Let’s break this down further still. Here’s all the Bant goods in detail.
I was beyond stringent when amassing creatures for the deck. With potential mana problems looming as a realistic snag, I really tried to trim the fat. I wanted to be able to ride a single threat all the way, so I had to have the right distribution of beaters and support creatures.
These made the cut:
My five beloved mana men, Birds of Paradise, Elves of Deep Shadow, Fyndhorn Elves, Llanowar Elves, and Noble Hierarch, smoothed out my mana, made playing ‘Geddons negligible, and sped up my beats as well as my ability to control the game early on.
As I said, there’s not much in the way of two mana dudes in the deck. The aim is to get a mana friend in play and slam one of the multitudinous three drops down post-haste. If not that, then lean on any of the two-mana counterspells until you can get there. Plaxmanta, Qasali Pridemage, and Tarmogoyf make up the turn two ranks. With Doran, I opted out of playing the two Boas, good or not. They just didn’t seem in character with the deck I wanted to build, nor did Sakura-Tribe Elder or Wall of Roots.
As stated, there is a glut of worthwhile three-mana candidates in a deck like this. Many fell by the wayside, Mindcensor Aven and Jenara being the last of note. (Jenara just felt a little too straightforward and underwhelming in testing; her most reliable use being to feed Force of Will.) It was actually pretty daunting paring this down to something reasonable and at the same time formidable.
Kitchen Finks, Man-o’ War, Trygon Predator, Brushhopper, Ohran Viper, Eternal Witness, Vendillion Clique, and Rhox War Monk are fan favs in Bant.
The new kid on the block is Hunting Cheetah. This guy is just insane. If you’re playing green and at least six targets for him to fetch, play him, particularly in a multi-color deck.
(Quick aside, no. Trinket Mage is not in this deck, nor is a main deck Pithing Needle, Scrabbling Claws (or any other graveyard muncher), Aether Spellbomb, Engineered Explosives, etc. Personally, I think Trinket Mage encourages the justification of main deck chaff. Sure, in a deck like Painter/Grindstone or any heavy artifact Control deck, he’s an all-star. But outside of that, I hardly consider him an auto-include in any deck that bolsters blue mana.)
Rafiq is your quick kill enabler with the various evasion creatures. At the worst, you’re probably drawing multiple cards, blowing up multiple artifact/ enchantments, or digging up Forests if he’s in play.
Loxodon Hierarch is your anti-aggressive/face-destroying specialist, grossly abusive with Stronghold.
Venser can get nasty with Karakas, and is pretty unfair in a sense most general.
I’m not a big Mystic Snake fan, but as a potential member of team Mystical Teachings he’s the right call and a more than welcome addition in the deck.
Like it or leave it, this is still a creature-heavy format. This means that Sower is very reliable at what she does, even more so when hiding behind some counters or a Lightning Greaves.
Glen-Elandra Archmage is another counterspell on wheels, and works double time as a recursive, defensive body.
This is where the deck tops out. No angel trifecta (Baneslayer, Battlegrace, or Exalted.) No Genesis, or the like. Beyond Maw, I’m only playing two other bodies.
Teferi is my anti-control/no-tricks-for you/ambush mastah! Another Teachings target that makes all your men Flash-worthy Teachings targets!
Meloku is last, but not least; bouncing lands pre-’Geddon, allowing me to get aggressive in a stalled game, and /or provide some needed “D” in dire straits.
COUNTERS, SUPPORT, AND EVERYTHING ELSE:
I didn’t want to play too many counters. Just enough to push through/protect my threats and keep my opponents off key spells.
Two-mana counters were high on my priority list with my choice to go light on the early bodies. These spells cleared the way for my more heavy duty guys, disrupting my opponent’s game development, putting them on my clock, and not vice versa.
I wanted to be able to choose my role in every game: aggressor or defender, depending on the circumstances. And with ‘Geddons, a high number of reactive spells seemed pretty counter-intuitive.
My choices are pretty straightforward, nothing flashy, glamorous, or shocking, really. Bant Charm is one of those versatile cards that has proven itself time and time again.
Cryptic Command is the only stretch, due to the three little teardrops in its cost. But it fit my selective aggressive/defensive strategy too well.
Pact of Negation is a great tool for forcing through any non-’Geddon spell for a deck like this, a bulletproof turtle neck for those turns you tap out to go for it.
I have to admit, Brainstorm and Ponder are usually the first two cards I boarded out, and almost always for Divert. However, I really like them game one, especially with the low non-dude card draw factor. They can smooth out bad mana, make a questionable opener acceptable to keep, and help you dig for whatever it is that your little heart desires.
Divining Top is just the more permanent and unfair version on the two above spells.
Ancestral Vision and Fact or Fiction finish off the card draw for the deck, doing so nicely.
Tithe picks up the slack for the greedy mana base (though it could just as easily be an Eternal Dragon, I suppose.)
Eladamri’s Call, Mystical Teachings, and Mystical Tutor give you quite a bit of reliable deck access (with Teachings functioning effectively as a second Eladamri’s.)
Lightning Greaves falls into this category simply for the fact that it protects your threats, as well as hasting them into the Red Zone. In most cases, you’re going to have the best guy on the table, so why not take a life insurance policy out on them?
If I can play Armageddon and Ravages of War, I do so. They are two of the most grotesquely brutal, undercosted mega-bomb spells in this format. It behooves me how scarcely I have seen them in T8 from week to week. Play them!
Oblivion Ring, Path to Exile, and Swords to Plowshares complete the removal package.
After the PE, I realized that Oblivion Ring was something of a crapshoot, as I had no way whatsoever to fetch it. I don’t espouse the “hope I topdeck this” tenet. In fact, I’d just as soon cut this than include Enlightened Tutor with the limited number of targets in the deck.
Elspeth and Garruk do what Planeswalkers do: win games and (all kinds of other stuff, too.)
Another nice perk of playing four colors is that it grants you more sideboarding options.
At the same time, it limits them. Even though I’m playing black, hosers like Dystopia and Perish just don’t jive.
Taking the three big archetypes into consideration (Beatdown, Combo, and Control), this was my list (haphazardly thrown together):
Divert could conceivably be maindeck. It’s disgustingly good against Red Deck Wins and the like. It’s a cheap foil against Control. I think I boarded it in about 90% of the time.
Duress and Thoughtseize are Combo/Control disruption.
Gaea’s Blessing is anti-Painter/Grindstone tech. Ironically, my only match loss on the day (as well as game losses) was to a deck that Grinded me out Game 3, after I argued with my gut instinct on whether he was packing Belcher or Grindstone, as I had not seen any Combo components in either game, but knew (from reputation) that my opponent usually played them.
Great Stable Stag is for Control.
Hide/Seek remains one of my favorite sideboard tech cards to combat the few thriving Combo decks in the format. It’s not a hot one against the decks that double up on Belcher and Grindstone, and it loses a little luster when you can only reliably play one half of the card (unless you have a BOP in play), but it’s good board nonetheless.
Hydroblast = obvious.
If I were a girl spirit in a predominantly Asian-themed realm, I would have a Kataki poster on my bedroom wall. He’s a real pain in the anus for the majority of Control decks that rely on cards like Shackles, Divining Top, and the like to get a leg up. He neuters artifact mana acceleration. And he’s pretty nifty against the artifact-based Combo decks, which also pack a fair amount of “brown thunder.” Depending on the meta, I could see pushing Kataki from the board to the main.
Krosan Grip is a surefire answer to the artifact Combos, and is generally a very, very good card against Control.
Pernicious Deed is sweep for decks that barf a ton of cheap permanents on the board, but, again, def not right main.
Seedtime won me probably five games total in the PE. Two words: Time Walk. In a deck where you’re either applying substantial pressure OR you need to get something on the table to apply said pressure, a card like this is much better than another “counter your counter” card.
Goad them into countering with the express intention of collapsing their skull underfoot or after they EOT card draw on you. Goods.
Sphere of Law is an obviously powerful Red hoser, but alas, I never drew it once in the handful of Red battles that weekend. Much like Oblivion Ring, I have to random into it, making it something short of reliable. I’d def edit this to something else, but what, at this moment in time, I am not so sure.
Stoic Angel is anti-Beats tech.
Tormod’s Crypt fleshes out the board as my Reanimator hate, accessible compliments of Tolaria West.
I really enjoyed playing this deck, despite my longstanding dislike for counterspells. I’m still looking for that primed Bant only list that has yet to coalesce from the Ether, but if anyone out there has one, send it my way.
And I’m on the prowl again for some more Deck Doctor submissions. So send something my way, if for no other reason than to put me in an intellectually compromising and potentially embarrassing situation in a public forum.
Keep it sticky,
AKA: so many trolls