Eternal Warrior #62: The Ballad of Mantis Rider

The 5-color Human Hatebears archetype is perhaps my favorite deck in Vintage, and I’ve featured multiple iterations of it here. This aggressive deck aims to shut down the opponent’s objectively more powerful strategies just long enough to win with a horde of 2/2’s, taking advantage of the fact that Cavern of Souls will put your maindecked hate-cards at an advantage against an opponent who relies too heavily on countermagic to protect his game plan.

My first iteration of the deck, in Eternal Warrior #26, featured fetchlands and Deathrite Shaman, but the manabase proved too unreliable. Subsequent iterations moved to the heavier use of the “pentalands” which can produce all 5 colors, with Caverns being joined by City of Brass, Mana Confluence, and Gemstone Mine. The printing of Containment Priest significantly boosted the deck’s power, as that one single hate-bear attacked multiple strategies, hitting everything from Dredge to Oath of Druids to Tinker-bots. I returned to the deck in Eternal Warrior #40, and chronicled my time playing a paper version of the deck locally and at GenCon with decent results.

Despite my fondness for the deck and belief in its power, it has remained a fringe archetype.

One of the fun things about having a “tribal” deck is that every new Human printed has the chance to increase the deck’s power. At 2016’s biggest Vintage event in Europe, the Bazaar of Moxen, the Humans finally had their big coming out party in the hands of Michael Ruppon. The Top 8 field consisted of Michael’s 5-color Humans deck along with three Monastery Mentor decks, Merfolk, Shops, Affinity, and Goblin Charbelcher.

Michael bested Belcher 2-1, followed by a couple of 2-0 victories against a pair of the Mentor decks, to win the event with this list:

The full set of Thalia is standard for the archetype, as are some number of Dark Confidant and Containment Priest. Noble Hierarch is likewise common to nearly all builds, as a mana-fixing is a high priority with this deck, and the ability to increase your clock and close out the game is likewise paramount.

Mayor of Avabruck does not always find a home in these decks. He’s a lord for your humans, which can be important — but his most significant role was in fighting against Shops, where a Turn 1 Mayor would spit out a steady stream of 3/3’s to keep you in the game and trade with opposing Lodestone Golems even if you were locked out later by their mana-denial plan.

Qasali Pridemage, while not a Human, has seen play in hatebears decks consistently through the years.

From there, the choices turn truly bizarre. The Humans deck which Top 8’d Vintage Champs in 2014 was running Huntmaster of the Fells, and many thought that the Standard all-star was a strange inclusion, but in hindsight that looks as mainstream as the Backstreet Boys compared to the choices in Michael’s list.

Nearly all creatures to see play in Vintage must provide either disruption or card advantage. Aggro-control decks with heavy countermagic have, of course, often used a small number of creatures as win conditions, such as Delver of Secrets or Young Pyromancer. But pure beatsticks don’t tend to fare well overall in the format. Even Tarmogoyf, the most efficient creature printed, sees no play these days. Mantis Rider provides no disruption at all, and costs a whopping 3 mana. But what it does do is close out games against clogged boards, and it does that fast and well. There are few fliers in Vintage these days. A flipped Delver would trade with it, but with even a single exalted creature on the field you can attack into the Insectile Aberration with no worries – and thanks to Mantis Rider’s vigilance, you can trade it away at your leisure should the damage race favor it. With 7 exalted creatures in this list, Mantis Rider could close out a game quite quickly. I’ve played Falkenrath Aristocrat in Humans before for a similar reason, and even I was pleasantly surprised with how well Mantis Rider played. But whereas I view Aristocrat as more of a game-ending burn spell to do the final burst of damage, Mantis Rider provides a legitimate board presence at more stages of the game and plays very well on defense.

There are other interesting choices here, such as Scab-Clan Berserker and Reflector Mage, and I discuss the deck’s choices in greater detail in the intro video here:

I took the deck into the queues and found a fun variety of decks to test against, from control to combo to aggro, and you can check out those matches here:

Thanks for joining me this week! If you have any thoughts about the future of the Humans archetype or any other interesting cards you think might make the cut, let me know in the comments!

 

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