Usually the focus of rotation is on which high profile cards and archetype staples are leaving or entering the format. The defining change of the recent rotation was the loss of the Khans block fetch lands. This left a lot of questions surrounding what was possible with mana bases in the new standard.
When preparing for the standard rotation ushered in by Shadows Over Innistrad I fully expected that we’d be playing mostly 2-color decks. If 3-color decks were viable I expected them to be midrange/control strategies that could afford to have tapped lands on the early turns of the game or 2-color decks with a very light splash of a third color.
I wanted to play Bant Company for many reasons: 1) it didn’t lose much in the rotation, 2) the deck was very powerful even during the 4-color good stuff era of old standard, and 3) it’s a play style I really like (a flash based aggro/tempo deck with lots of play, card advantage and late-game resiliency). I expected the mana would not work for the deck to be viable anymore and I started thinking about other 2-color archetypes.
But once Jim Davis, Kevin Jones and others showed that Bant Company was still great I knew I had to play it. I briefly thought about how to beat Bant but I’ve made that mistake too many times before and told myself that instead of trying to beat the best deck I should just play the best deck.
Tuning Bant Company
I sleeved Jim’s SCG Baltimore winning deck with just a few changes. Because of the breakout performance I spent the week trying to figure out how to get an edge in the mirror.
Looking over the list two things really stood out. First, there was very little evasion. Second, there was very little removal. I expected a lot of mid-game board stalls. It seemed obvious that moving to more flyers would be great in the mirror. I considered Bygone Bishop and Stratus Dancer (which doubles as an answer for opposing Collected Companys). Archangel Avacyn seemed insane every time it was cast and I decided if I was going to use flying as my trump I should go all-in and board up to four of the marquee mythic. For the flash mirror I also added x2 Hermit of the Natterknolls which I thought would alter the pace of the game in my favor.
Friday afternoon I tuned into the SCG Player’s Championship coverage and saw that this weekend Davis was playing a new version of the Bant deck that included Eldrazi Displacer. I thought the idea was interesting. Before committing to Bant Company I had spent some time trying to figure out a deck that could make use of Eldrazi Displacer blinking Archangel Avacyn. I hadn’t considered jamming all of these ideas together into one deck. I watch Jim play for about 5 minutes until I saw him fetch a basic Wastes with his Evolving Wilds. At that point I just laughed and completely dismissed the idea of Displacer as unplayable. I was already surprised that the 3-color manabase was working so there was no way I was going to try a 4-color deck and add a colorless land.
I went to FNM with my changes and set to play my first games with the deck. I tried to focus on the sequencing of both spells and lands as I got familiar with how the deck played. There’s a lot of play and I missed a number of triggers and lines so I’m glad I was getting the practice before the weekend PPTQs. I boarded up to 4 Avacyn in every single matchup. I played one mirror: we hit a board stall, my opponent didn’t have Avacyns and I did, which was the difference. My sideboard plan seemed to work and I decided to fit all 4 Avacyn in my main deck for Saturday.
Triple PPTQ Day
Local stores and judges had coordinated a triple PPTQ event for Saturday. I love this idea of stores working together to offer multiple PPTQs on the same day. It’s convenient for players and judges, feels like an exciting local event and draws more players than would typically go to PPTQs. I do wish they had spaced the events out a bit differently. I don’t think there there was enough time between events for players to realistically play in each event. I would like to see each event starting at the end of round 3 (or 2) of the prior event instead of having a scheduled start time. Ordering the sealed event first or last would allow for this type of schedule.
With only theory crafting and one FNM as experience, here is the list I played in the Saturday morning standard PPTQ:
I played against 4 different archetypes in the swiss rounds, including one mirror. The Bant deck is hard to pilot but it’s also hard to play against. It was clear that this early in the format players weren’t used to playing against it yet. Some players also had card availability issues and were playing with compromised versions of their standard decks. I was able to go 4-0 in the swiss and draw the last two rounds to secure a spot in the top 8.
The top 8 included four copies of Bant Company. We were joined by Mono-white Humans, Mardu control, an innovative Naya clues deck and one other archetype that escapes my memory. I won the quarterfinals in a Company mirror. My opponent got an unfortunate game one loss for a sideboarding error and then Avacyn took me to victory in game three.
I had been refining my sideboard strategy for the mirror on the fly. I was trimming one of my three Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy since he just didn’t seem fast enough to keep up on board. A big difference in my strategy was that I was not bringing in Negate. There aren’t many spells in the Bant deck and I didn’t want to be holding a dead card. My only available counter was attached to Stratus Dancer. At FNM and all weekend on Saturday/Sunday I consistently found my Bant opponents ending the game with dead Negates in hand or looting them away to Jace.
The semi-finals was another mirror, this time against Neal Sacks who was playing the Eldrazi Displacer version. He raved about the deck. He even claimed that the mana was better in his deck than in the non-Displacer version. He had more untapped lands which lets you curve out more reliably. I ended up getting completely crushed but I learned a lot from this match.
In game one, I had the advantage of being on the play. I started on two taplands and Neal got to make the first play with a turn 2 Sylvan Advocate. Despite being on the draw he got to dictate the pace of the game by being the first to commit to the board.
In game two, Neal’s turn 2 play was a Jace. I was able to curve out and put him under a lot of pressure early. Jace gives some card selection but it just takes too long to flip these days. I had been trimming on Jace already but this was my first indication that Jace may be actively bad in the mirror.
In game three, I had an early Jace. I lost this game – are we seeing a pattern? It was a close game but Neal had gotten ahead on board and kept the pressure up with Company. I had drawn my sideboard cards, Hermit of the Natterknolls and Archangel Avacyn, but neither one of them was getting the job done. Ahead on board Neal was main phasing his Companys to try to push through damage or passing the turn and activating Eldrazi Displacer instead of casting spells. Avacyn was able to come down but was always getting bounced, tapped or blinked. Neal’s version of the deck was able to out-tempo me by having a better manabase that allowed him to curve out and then press his on board advantage.
Displacer looked great in the mirror. It acted as pseudo-removal to get damage through a stalled board. It finally took advantage of the Displacer/Reflector Mage combo that people have been fantasizing about since those cards came out. Most importantly it could get found by Company. Having your mirror-breaker be a hit off of company was huge. I whiffed on two Companys in the top 8 that only hit spells and Avacyns.
Neal went on to win the tournament. I chatted with him about the deck after the match. Later Saturday night I texted him and asked for the list so that I could take it on Sunday.
Sunday PPTQ Win
Sunday I arrived at the PPTQ with my new and improved Bant Company list. Neal had cut Avacyn altogether. I couldn’t bring myself to do this since the card was just too good in most matchups. Besides, I wanted to have it all and Displacer/Avacyn alongside Displacer/Reflector Mage sounded awesome. I cut the third Tireless Tracker (since I didn’t own three) and the Hidden Dragonslayer to make room for them.
Bant Displacer Company
3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Duskwatch Recruiter
4 Sylvan Advocate
4 Reflector Mage
4 Bounding Krasis
3 Eldrazi Displacer
2 Tireless Tracker
2 Archangel Avacyn
4 Collected Company
2 Dromoka’s Command
2 Declaration in Stone
1 Ojutai’s Command
3 Canopy Vista
4 Prairie Stream
2 Lumbering Falls
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Evolving Wilds
1 Stratus Dancer
1 Den Protector
2 Clip Wings
2 Archangel Avacyn
1 Hidden Dragonslayer
1 Lantern Scout
1 Dromoka’s Command
1 Void Grafter
1 Ojutai’s Command
1 Felidar Cub
Sunday was a small event with only 12 players in the field. I dropped a match in the swiss to a mirror where I made some bad keeps. I was disappointed in the round 2 loss and had a hard time mentally staying focused on my games.
I won round 3 and faced a win and in against Nick Allain on Mardu Control who had also top 8’d with me yesterday. His deck seemed prepared to beat Bant with main deck sweepers, Planeswalkers and zero Reflector Mage targets except for Linvala, the Preserver. In game one I was soundly crushed ending the game with a fist full of Reflector Mages and Declaration in Stone that had no targets. The matchup felt really bad. After sideboarding though I got to cut my dead cards including all of the Reflector Mages, some number of Collected Company and boarding up to x4 Avacyn, a Den Protector and Negates for a Bant value build. I won game two with early threats backed up by Company and Negate for Nick’s trump cards. In game three he kept a slow hand so my turn 2 Duskwatch Recruiter was able to transform and won the game when his first play was a turn 3 Painful Truths.
I was able to draw the last round to finish in the top 4. [Note: I almost screwed this up because one player had a bye for round 5 and the reporting system includes the 3 points from the current round Bye in the standings. It looked like two players were on 10 points and three players on 9 points which meant that we couldn’t all draw into the cut to top 4. I almost played the match before we realized that one of the 9-point players was really a 6-point player who had been given the extra 3 points from the current round Bye.]
The top 4 in this event was three Bant Company decks and one ramp deck. It turns out that Bant Company was proving to be quite dominant this weekend and I was really happy that I had made a good deck choice. I had also been playing enough with the deck the last couple of days that I was confident going into any potential mirror matches to win the invite.
In the semifinals I played against Ben Coursey who was borrowing the deck for the tournament. It was clear that he hadn’t played a lot with the deck so I felt good about my chances. Despite my experience, Ben was on the play and a good tempo draw would be hard to beat. In game one he led with Jace on turn 2 and I felt a sigh of relief. I curved out and hit better Companys where as Ben’s Company hit more Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. From then on I boarded out every single copy of Jace in the mirror. Game two played out similarly and I capitalized on having better tempo plays despite starting on the draw again. Avacyn sealed the deal.
The finals was going to be another mirror match. I faced another friend in the finals, Josh Truskowski, who had taken down the ramp player. Again I was starting on the draw.
In game one, Josh got off to a fast start but I was able to stabilize the board at 8 life. We headed into a board stall and then Eldrazi Displacer took over the game. I was able to use Reflector Mage to control his combat steps and bounce guys back to his hand at end of turn. Josh eventually found a Reflector for my Displacer but it was too late as I bounced enough of his team back to hand to make a lethal alpha attack on the next turn.
In game two, I was the one able to create some pressure. I got attacked down to 7 early but was able to use Lantern Scout to turn the tempo back in my favor. I got Josh low on life but then made a couple of conservative attacks not wanting to risk my Displacer or Lantern Scout in combat. This gave Josh the time to top deck a Sigarda, Heron’s Grace followed by a Dragonlord Ojutai. Sigarda completely dominated the board. She was able to make a number of soldiers that helped his creatures trade up and eventually ate away at my board. Josh had found just enough Void Grafters to negate my Displacer activations and completed an impressive comeback victory. I thought I was in a can’t lose position at one point so watching this game slip away was pretty deflating.
I changed my sideboarding for game three after seeing his plan of Angels and Dragons. I brought both of my Ojutai’s Command back in. Not only did it answer his flyer’s but it could also rebuy Sylvan Advocate which was proving to be the most important creature on the ground. It usually the biggest creature around and it also made Lumbering Falls into a huge threat.
On the play I was ahead from the start. I was able to use Ojutai’s Command on back to back turns to protect my attacks from an incoming Bounding Krasis. I felt like I was in a commanding position and Josh was left with only a card or two in hand and behind on board. However, he hit on Collected Company and then top decked a Declaration in Stone to exile two of my Sylvan Advocates which completely changed the game. We went back into a stalled board but I did have some clues available from a Tireless Tracker.
We went back and forth for a few turns. Josh was empty handed. I had two clues and an active Duskwatch Recruiter so I still had plenty of resources and I was going to have to find a way to break through. Josh had stabilized but he was only at 4 life to my 14. He made an aggressive attack and I analyzed the board. I realized that Josh had made a mistake with his attack and I triple-checked myself as I felt the PPTQ win so close at hand. I had 2 attackers left to his 2 blockers. My plan had been to activate the Recruiter at the end of his turn and start digging for cards. But I also had 9 lands including two Lumbering Falls. I was one mana short of activating both creature lands and attacking for lethal. I realized I just needed to sac the clues and dig for an untapped land to seal the victory. I sac’d the first clue and found another Duskwatch Recruiter. The second clue found a spell. My heart started to beat a bit faster – please no, was I going to brick on finding a land? I drew for my turn and saw a basic Island, the best card in Magic.
The finals match was really quite satisfying. Josh was a great opponent and we had some really tight and interesting games. Neither of us played perfectly – it’s pretty hard to do under pressure with a deck that complicated – but the match was truly awesome. In all I think the finals lasted close to two hours and it felt great to come out on top. After making the cut to single elimination in three PPTQs in the last two weeks I was happy I could finally close one out in the last event of the season.
Finally, a big thanks to Neal for help with the list.
The Future of Standard
After Bant Company led the SCG circuit and then dominated the PPTQs this past weekend I had a friend ask what deck he could play that would beat Company. Company is great at playing a tempo and value game against other creature decks. I told him I thought the key was to make their Reflector Mages really bad. For example, it felt like Allain was onto something with his take on Mardu. I suggested that the two best anti-Bant strategies would be creatureless control or going wide with tokens.
In fact, I even considered a Bant Company deck with a transformational sideboard that ditches Company for Nissa/Gideon as a trump in the mirror.
Well, the PT was this weekend and we saw some breakout decks along these very lines. GB Seasons Past control went the creatureless control route while GW tokens was the breakout deck of the tournament and won the whole thing. Team Ultra-Pro and Team Channel Fireball found a third strategy that capitalized on Bant’s lack of removal in GB Sacrifice.
Bant had a big target on its back for the PT and all of these decks were able to find a favorable matchup against it. Going forward I don’t know if I can play Company for right now. Players will be excited to try these fun new PT decks and they are all tuned to beat Company. I expect I will play Company again, but I think I’ll wait a few weeks to see how things shake out locally before I go back to it.