Staying a Step Ahead with Bant Midrange
The Standard format is still in its infancy, and I’m not satisfied with any of the popular decks that have been showing up at tournaments.
Aggressive decks like Zombies and Mono-Red are fighting an uphill battle against Thragtusks, Centaur Healers, and Pillar of Flames galore. Control and Unburial Rites strategies have enough tools to stall until they eventually go over the top but also have the ability to turn the game around instantly with a timely miracle or a turn-four Angel of Serenity.
Blue/White Control strategies-“American,” Bant, Esper, and straight UW are all viable-are required to play extremely narrow answers to the format’s threats and have their own weaknesses to Hexproof creatures (something I want to exploit) and cards like Rakdos’s Return and Slaughter Games. These decks also take an extremely long time to win, barring a miracle Entreat the Angels.
Jund has remained among the top decks, as evidenced by last weekend’s SCG Open in Providence, but there isn’t a definitive build for the archetype yet. Mizzium Mortars or Bonfire of the Damned? Which planeswalkers and how many? Black has a slew of spot removal-Tragic Slip, Dead Weight, Abrupt Decay, Dreadbore, and Sever the Bloodline-but White’s removal is less conditional and also happens to be excellent against Zombies. It feels like Jund is caught in the middle of the format, having to choose between many situational cards.Unburial Rites decks are all over the place in terms of card selection, as well. Some are creature-heavy, while some pack more removal. Their reanimation plan is easy to disrupt, and their beatdown plan is grindy and slow. I want to borrow from the lists that can play Centaur Healer into Restoration Angel, but more on that later.
And, lastly, how the mighty have fallen: Delver decks have all but disappeared, having lost so many key cards in the rotation. The cards that remain, namely Snapcaster Mage, Geist of Saint Traft, and Restoration Angel, are certainly still powerful, but without Ponder or Phyrexian-mana spells, Delver of Secrets is worse, Runechanter’s Pike is worse, the land count has to go up, and it’s harder to out-tempo opponents. A tempo-based aggro deck will have to look much different than before.
There are other decks and other strategies that exist, but, for the most part, we already know what to expect at the top tables. The enemies are known; now it’s time to look for a weapon.
I want a deck that is immune to Pillar of Flame. I want a deck with disruption. I want a deck that has enough options and flexible cards such that it rewards player skill. I want a deck that attacks the metagame in its weak spots.
Bant Midrange by Alex Bianchi
This list is derived from Phil Blechman’s Bant Midrange deck that was featured in a Deck Tech at SCG Providence. His goal was to be the “best Geist of Saint Traft deck,” which is a strategy that hasn’t had enough effort put into it. The best answers to Geist were Phantasmal Image, Phyrexian Metamorph, and Whipflare, and now it is primed to take over a format that has been left with more expensive versions of those answers.
I cut some of the slower cards like Sphinx’s Revelation and Dissipate from Blechman’s deck and moved some cards from the sideboard to the maindeck, but the core of the deck remains the same. We are highly adaptable and unpredictable, able to be the control deck against aggro and be the aggro deck against control. Our deck has a balance of proactive and reactive spells, with Charms that serve as both. We have answers to the format’s biggest threats, and Pillar of Flame is terrible against us. Let’s break down the deck further in case you don’t believe me.
These are some of the best creatures to halt aggro decks, especially against Zombies and their hordes of two-power creatures. We would play Augur of Bolas if our instant and sorcery count was higher. Lifegain buys us time when decks are going to the extreme of playing Bump in the Night. Centaur Healer into Restoration Angel is beautiful. Phil explained it best: “Everyone wants to go Thragtusk-Restoration Angel… but it reverses your curve.” While Thragtusk is something that we want more copies of in our sideboard, we desire a lower curve and the ability to play fewer lands than the control decks.
These are the stars of the deck. They’re not easy to remove from the board and pose a significant threat; any one of them can win on its own in four swings if left unanswered. Instead of being supported by equipment or Spectral Flight, we have short-term ways to protect Geist in combat, such as Azorius Charm, Feeling of Dread, and Restoration Angel.
We’ve seen how good this pair of planeswalkers is in every blue control deck. They add a completely different aspect to our deck, allowing us to bait an overextension into our Terminus or giving us the advantage on a stalled board. Jace’s +1 can make it hard for opponents to outrace us and improves our blocks in significant ways. Sigarda can now stop incoming Thragtusks, and Restoration Angel can stop Falkenrath Aristocrat. I believe that Tamiyo deserves a maindeck slot for her ability to lock down permanents, like lands and Thragtusks, that we would otherwise have trouble with.
These spells give us a way to interact on turn two, as well as protecting our Geist of Saint Traft on later turns. The first time I saw Feeling of Dread being used aggressively was in Jesse Smith’s Hexblade deck, and it’s proven itself to be a solid card on both offense and defense. All three modes of Azorius Charm are useful to us, but Griptiding an attacker or blocker is the most common use-an effect I had initially underrated. Syncopate might be the best way to fight Thragtusk, and I’ve found myself wanting a third copy in most decks.
Exiling creatures is incredibly important in Standard, and all of our removal spells do so. We’ll have times when we opt not to miracle a Terminus, but it’s necessary to have for when the board gets too full. Ironically, Detention Sphere is good against opposing Detention Sphere decks, since we can get their planeswalkers or Angel tokens with it, and they can’t touch our Detention Spheres or Hexproof creatures. Selesnya Charm most importantly hits Angel of Serenity, but it can also be used to save a Geist in combat or push through lethal damage.
1 Snapcaster Mage Snapcaster Mage is generally another Azorius Charm or Syncopate, and is less of a Silvergill Adept than he was in UW Delver. Hence, we don’t want many copies, but it’s still a two-for-one and another excellent target for our Restoration Angels.
Our manabase is solid, with 15 Blue sources, 14 White sources, and 10 Green sources. There might be room for one copy of a utility land like Moorland Haunt, but creatures are getting Exiled more often than dying in this format, and 1/1 Spirits don’t have much of an impact without equipment or anthem effects. Cavern of Souls is vastly underused right now as a two- or three-of to force important creatures through counter-magic. It comes at a low cost, and we can name “angel” (Restoration Angel and Sigarda) or “cleric” (Centaur Healer and Geist of Saint Traft) and slam creatures without fear of Syncopate.
This is exactly the kind of sideboard I like to have: narrow, powerful cards, with a few higher-end creatures and spells to better our control strategy against aggro and expand our threats against control. Loxodon Smiter is a big upgrade over Centaur Healer against control decks and Rites decks. His 4/4 body gives us the edge against opposing Centaur Healers and Restoration Angels and can cause a huge blowout if an opponent activates the Liliana of the Veil that they brought in to fight our Geist of Saint Trafts.
Other cards that didn’t make the cut: Saving Grasp, Rootborn Defenses, Lyev Skyknight, Cyclonic Rift, Thought Scour are all generally worse options that can be good in certain situations and are worth consideration given certain changes in the format.
I’ll be playing and tuning this deck over the next week or two and might end up sticking with it for longer than that. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any comments or suggestions!
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