This report is long overdue since the event was nearly two months ago, but I think it’s still worth covering since it was my first Grand Prix Day 2. I’m trying to catch up on Grand Prix reports (GP Montreal will be covered in another post shortly) so that I can get back to writing about current topics. I also ordered a new computer last week, so I should be set up to start streaming and recording videos again soon. [Edit: The new computer is built so I’ll be streaming again very soon.]
Heading into the Grand Prix, GW Tokens had gotten hugely popular. The deck was already a part of the metagame but it was Gerry Thompson who highlighted the deck’s power in Atlanta by becoming the first player to go 15-0 through the swiss rounds of a Star City Games Open. He cast a new light on the already popular archetype with his innovations to the build of the deck and his fresh take on playing the archetype as a GW control deck. More players started picking up the archetype and existing pilots learned how to maximize the potential of the GW shell. Gerry top 8’d again at the next SCG Open two weeks later, showing that the deck was here to stay.
While Gerry T. got a lot of attention for his breakout build of GW top 8’ing two Opens in a row, Tom Ross was not to be outdone. Tom not only joined Gerry in the top 8 of both Opens, he WON back to back events with Wr Humans. With his success, the deck definitely had to be respected.
Meanwhile, Bant Humans had become the Collected Company deck of choice, combining the power of Company and Thalia’s Lieutenant. I believe the deck came out of Japan and then started seeing more play on Magic Online. It also put a few copies into the Star City top 8s along with Gerry and Tom Ross. Other decks in lower numbers included black control shells (usually playing Languish and Seasons Past) and a UR Eldrazi control deck.
My Deck Choice
Most of my experience in standard had been with Bant Company. For as long as that deck has been legal I’ve been a fan of the archetype. It had been seeing less play so I figured there was a reason it wasn’t a popular choice anymore. I tend to give the metagame credit for these macro decisions – if a deck is very popular and successful, then it suddenly sees a decline in representation, there’s probably a good reason that everyone is putting the deck aside.
I decided to check out some other decks. Even before the SCG events, I had started testing GW Tokens. On paper the deck looked very powerful and consistent so I had a feeling it might be one of the best decks in the format. I took it through two Magic Online competitive leagues and lost a lot of games. People were winning with it, but I certainly wasn’t one of them, so I knew enough to put the deck down. When Gerry made the 15-0 he was interviewed about the deck and how to pilot it. He said that one of the biggest mistakes players make was to take aggressive lines to try to kill their opponents. That had definitely been me. Basically any line you take toward killing your opponent instead of playing for the long, grindy game is a mistake. I knew it was going to take a lot of games to try and play the deck competently, and I just didn’t have confidence that I’d be able to figure it out in time.
I had learned from my previous standard GP not to choose a deck based on power level alone. I was going to pick a deck that fit my play style and that I felt comfortable playing with – and for me that meant Bant Company. Even though it wasn’t as popular, I knew the cards were still powerful and I already had a lot of experience playing it.
I started by testing Bant Humans. It had a lot of the same feel as Bant Company, but with some differences. Thalia’s Lieutenant was a pretty swingy card. Hitting one (or even two) off of a Company during combat could be insane. Returning a Lieutenant from the graveyard with Ojutai’s Command was also cute. But sometimes it was just a bad top deck on a threat-light board. I missed the consistency of Sylvan Advocate and I decided to go back to the classic Bant Company builds without the human synergy. My choice was validated when the very next weekend Brian-Braun Duin and Brad Nelson chose to play non-human Bant Company to good finishes at GP Costa Rica on the same weekend that Gerry was tearing up the SCG circuit with GW.
TLDR; I tried GW Tokens and realized I was a bad pilot that was going to need a lot of practice. I decided to go back to playing Bant Company since I had more confidence and figured it was hard to go too wrong playing such a powerful collection of cards. The next weekend my decision was doubly validated when 1) BBD top 8’d with non-human Bant Company (proving that it was still a fine choice) and 2) Gerry Thompson did a GW deck tech that explained how I was playing the deck wrong and why I was having poor results with it.
Tuning Bant Company
I started by comparing the deck list I had last played (at my PPTQ win in the end of April) with BBD’s Top 8 list (from the beginning of June). The first thing that jumped out at me was BBD’s use of x4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. I had already decided from my earlier testing of Bant Company that I didn’t want to play with Jace. I hated how he performed in the mirror since he didn’t have any effect on the board in the early game and it was too easy to fall behind on tempo. That freed up four slots for me to make some adjustments.
I did like BBD’s inclusion of x3 Displacer. There is a divide between Bant lists that play Displacer and those that don’t. That card has always over performed for me so I knew that I would be playing it.
Wr Humans Matchup
I did some testing online and played some events on Friday at the GP trying to decide on my final 75. I was consistently having problems beating Wr humans, especially if they had access to Gryff’s Boon. I would get to a point where I could stabilize the ground but a Gryff’s Boon would easily fly over to deal the last points of damage. I was going to have to make some concessions to that matchup because I expected it to be popular after Tom Ross had won back to back Opens with it. I added x2 Lambholt Pacifist to my main deck and x2 Lantern Scout to my sideboard. Pacifist is much worse without Thalia’s Lieutenant, especially against control where it might be unable to attack for multiple turns, but I wanted to lower my curve. Having more than four of Advocate + Pacifist was the best way to defend against Wr in the early game. Landing a Lantern Scout for even one turn would often be enough to get out of Gryff’s Boon range. Not to mention the possibility of using Displacer (or Sylvan Advocate) to trigger the Scout on future turns.
I didn’t like Jace, but I did want some additional Company hits that provided value in the late-game. Den Protector was my compromise. It’s not an impressive Company hit, but at least it’s a body. Morphing it is great and let’s you rebuy spells in a similar way to Jace. The evasion is relevant but I also really liked being able to play it face-up on turn 2 against White Weenie. It blocks so much better than Jace does. I was very conscious of playing an above average number of 2-drops because of my fear of White Weenie. Another 2-drop that I added was a fantastic blocker but also helped with another key issue of the deck….
I recognized that the primary way I lost games with Bant, especially in the mirror, was by missing land drops. I upped the land count to 26 from the typical 25 (which let me play x2 Lumbering Falls). I also included x2 maindeck Knight of the White Orchid and x1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer to make sure I hit my land drops. On the draw, Knight lets you steal back the initiative in the mirror, which is huge.
Another difference was the use of Fortified Village in my manabase. I didn’t know how many I wanted, but I definitely wanted some because being able to play on curve early was so important. Later, at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, LSV also played Bant Company and his testing team’s big ‘innovation’ was to play Fortified Village.
There are already so many mana sinks in the deck, I was satisfied playing only three Recruiter. Displacer is often your best mana sink. I often found that I wasn’t lacking for cards in hand and what I really needed was more mana. Given the opportunity, a lot of times I actually wanted to crack clues to hit land drops rather than finding more gas with Recruiter. Three was plenty for this build.
This is the first tournament where I actually sat down and wrote out my sideboarding plans for every popular matchup ahead of time. I built the deck as a complete 75-card deck (instead of 60 + 15 sideboard cards). I decided what I wanted my post-sideboard 60 to look like in each matchup and used that to help make my final choices on the last few maindeck and sideboard cards. It’s a concept I’ve read about but have never taken the time to put into practice.
I used my written sideboard plans during the tournament rather than trying to remember or figure it out on the fly. In the past I’ve definitely felt rushed during sideboarding and probably made mistakes because of it. Having a written plan seemed to help a lot (though I tried to be aware of when to deviate from it if my opponent’s sideboard plan or gameplay dictated it). I wanted to include my sideboard plans here in the write up but I lost the guide at the tournament. It’s so old by now that it’s obsolete anyway.
Most of the sideboard was fairly stock. I played x3 Declaration in Stone and x2 Lantern Scout for the White Weenie matchup. The Felidar Cub was for Evolutionary Leap and the second Ojutai’s Command to rebuy it. I was light on Planar Outburst and Tragic Arrogance effects since I didn’t know which was better and I felt neither was good enough against White Weenie. The Gryff’s Boon were a last minute addition to get resilient evasion in the mirror. I borrowed this tech from White Weenie, since I had trouble beating it myself. I planned to only board it in on the play. They underperformed for me.
Bant Company - GP Pittsburgh
I felt confident and relaxed heading into the start of Day 1. I had 2 byes but didn’t get the sleep-in special this time. Instead I got up early so I’d have time to become alert and focused and got breakfast before the start of the tournament. By the start of round 3, I was ready to play some Magic.
R3 (2-0-1) White Weenie (Draw).
R4 (3-0-1) BW Control (Win).
R5 (4-0-1) Abzan Seasons Past (Win).
R6 (4-1-1) GW Tokens (Loss).
R7 (5-1-1) GW Tokens (Win).
R8 (6-1-1) GW Tokens (Win).
R9 (7-1-1) Bant Humans (Win).
My first round of play I face White Weenie and was thankful I put some effort into improving the matchup. Even with my changes, the games were still very close. It’s surprising to draw against an aggressive deck. My opponent played deliberately at times but so did I once the board got stalled or when I was in sticky situations where I had to figure out how not to die. By the end of game 3 I had my opponent pretty well locked out with Displacer and Lantern Scout in play. I asked my opponent to concede but she didn’t feel comfortable doing so and we took the draw. By that point in the game I think I was a lock to win, but to be fair she probably should have killed me much earlier if she hadn’t forgotten about the Gryff’s Boon sitting in her graveyard for many turns of the game.
Getting a round 1 draw was disappointing, but it had the upside of practically guaranteeing that I wouldn’t face White Weenie again. Even with my changes it was still proving to be a tight match up so the early draw turned out to be somewhat beneficial. I got paired against grindy control decks for the next two rounds of the draw bracket and won easily.
As I moved higher up the bracket I started to hit the string of GW players that had come to dominate the tournament. I lost the first GW Token matchup in round 6. In game 1 I kept 2 lands on the draw and died with x3 Company in hand and only 3 lands in play and then lost a close game 3. I beat the next two GW Token boogeymen and then faced my first mirror in round 9. My opponent was playing Bant Humans though and I narrowly won a 3-game match. In game 3 we went back and forth trading Planar Outbursts and Tragic Arrogances. I topdecked an Eldrazi Displacer at just the right time which let me take over the board.
I finished Day 1 at 7-1-1 and was really happy to make my first Day 2 with a record that would’ve qualified even by the old 7-2 requirement. This was a very good start, and yet it didn’t feel like it had been that difficult. I felt like I had made a lot of good choices with my deck which made the games themselves a lot easier to play.
I went out for dinner and drinks but was back to the hotel in time for a good night’s sleep to try and make a run on Sunday. I was having fun and ready to play some more Magic!
R10 (8-1-1) Bant Humans (Win).
R11 (9-1-1) Bant Company (Win).
R12 (9-2-1) Bant Company (Loss).
R13 (9-3-1) GW Tokens (Loss).
R14 (9-4-1) Bant Humans (Loss).
R15 (9-5-1) Bant Humans (Loss).
I started out strong here winning my first two rounds, beating Christian Calcano in the true Bant Mirror in Round 11. After round 11 I was actually in 17th place overall. Playing at the top tables didn’t make me nervous at all as it would have in the past. I attribute this partly to my comfort with the deck and partly to playing more GPs. When I played in fewer big tournaments, I think I felt more pressure to perform well in each one.
It was astounding how picture-perfect the matchup ladder played out over the course of the tournament. Every single round I progressed through the gauntlet of expected decks almost as if I was being presented with a sorted list of metagame decks to beat, one end-boss at a time. I played White Weenie first and then handily beat two control decks. Then I entered the GW Token crowd and came out 2-1. Now sitting in the winner’s bracket, I faced four Bant Company decks in a row between Saturday and Sunday. After taking a loss I went back down to the GW Token bracket before facing two more Bant Company decks. In the last 10 rounds of the tournament I played against exclusively GW Tokens or Bant Company strategies. I didn’t get tired of this at all and really enjoyed playing the mirror.
At the end of Day 1 I was still pretty sharp. Once I took my second loss on Day 2 though, my focus fell off. I kind of felt like my run had ended and I think I let that subconsciously take some of the edge off of my game. By the last couple of rounds I was mentally spent and was playing poorly. I had an amazing start to the tournament, but this showed I still needed to work on my mental endurance to improve my Day 2 performance.
On the deck, I really liked my build. Eldrazi Displacer was insane all weekend. And the people who didn’t play it were equally insane. Displacer alone won me many games on Day 1. And on Day 2, I only started to have trouble winning once I started facing opponents who also ran Displacer.
I wish I had played x2 Jace instead of the Den Protectors. My earlier conclusions about Jace were made when Bant was still playing Bounding Krasis. Now that the deck had fewer tempo draws there was actually more time for Jace to effect the game. I never lost to it, but there were multiple games where I did have to prioritize dealing with it before it could flip and flash back Declaration in Stone.
Some other takeaways:
- This was easily the most comfortable I felt playing at a GP. I knew the deck, I didn’t put any pressure on myself to win, and I legitimately enjoyed piloting the deck through every game. This mindset made it easy to play well all day without getting burnt out.
- Building a 75 card deck and sideboard plan paid off. Not only did this help with deckbuilding, having a plan for each matchup made sideboarding a lot easier. This was another great way of reducing the mental strain on tournament day.
- A known metagame is not a bad thing. I know many players complain when a format is ‘stale’ or only has a few viable top tier decks. For competitive play, I’ve grown to appreciate the benefit of a known metagame. Which such a narrow meta I was able to come into this tournament very well prepared. And since I faced the matchups that I actually prepared for, I was able to succeed! It’s very satisfying to predict a metagame, prepare for that metagame and actually be able to see the fruits of that preparation come to bear in the tournament.
- I still need to work on being able to play my best Magic until the end of the tournament. This is the deepest run I’ve made at a tournament so far, and the first Day 2 that I’ve experienced. If I’m going to improve, I need to be able to play my best Magic for all 15 rounds. In this event I was able to do that for 12 rounds, but then I lost my focus.
- This tournament showed me that I have the skills needed to succeed at a high level. With the right deck and a little luck, I am capable of making a deep run. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to do just that.