It’s been a rollercoaster of playability for Bant Company in Shadows over Innistrad Standard ever since its debut performance at #SCGBALT. The deck initially took the format by storm, crowning Jim Davis the format’s first champion, putting multiple players into the Top 8 of the #SCGINVI, and then absolutely dominating the #SCGCOL Standard Open where it was more than half of the Top 32 decks in the event. It seemed almost unstoppable going into the Pro Tour, but players seemed to be ready for the flash-style tempo-based creature deck. Miraculously, one copy of the deck snuck into the #PTSOI Top 8 as the bottom seed, but then was only stopped by Steve Rubin and his G/W Tokens deck.
It was interesting to see Bant Company make it all the way to the finals of the event, since the deck as a whole did pretty poorly at the Pro Tour. In fact, the only team to do well with it was the Hareruya Pros, who ended up having four very reasonable finishes with the deck.
Much like Abzan Aggro from #PTBFZ, I thought maybe the deck only underperformed due to poorly tuned decklists and would become a dominant force again once everyone transitioned over to the best version of the deck. This was not the case, looking at #GPTOR and the SCG Classic from #SCGMKE. Bant Company was barely visible in either event. It sprinkled some lists into both events’ Top 32s but didn’t break into the Top 8. Bant Company got annihilated this past weekend, and today I want to figure out why, since it’s the deck I am leaning towards playing at #GPNY.
My biggest theory for why the deck seemed to underperform this past weekend is the possibility of fewer players piloting it, due to how poorly positioned it is against all the big teams’ “anti-Bant Company” decks they brought to the Pro Tour. G/B Aristocrats in particular was a deck many players wanted to try out last weekend which has an absurdly good Bant Company matchup. Players might have gotten skittish at the thought of taking Bant Company to an event, making it seem like it had a bad weekend when in fact it was just underrepresented.
If it was played in relatively high numbers, the next theory is that it got beaten by G/W Tokens, which was the most popular deck by a wide margin, as well as all of the Cryptolith Rite decks that sprouted up thanks to Team Ultra Pro’s G/B Aristocrats deck. Team East West Bowl showed up to #GPTOR with a crazy four-color Cryptolith Rite brew that used the combo of Brood Monitor, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Eldrazi Displacer to siphon each and every life point an opponent may have. Now, Bant Company has a very difficult time beating any Cryptolith Rite variant, but I do believe the G/W Tokens matchup is heavily in Bant Company’s favor. That said, it isn’t the easiest matchup to play from the Bant Company side, making its first run against G/W Tokens potentially lopsided in G/W Tokens’s favor.
Now, I’ve actually been testing Bant Company extensively ever since the Pro Tour. I do love the G/R Goggles deck I and the rest of Team EUreka played at #PTSOI, but Bant Company has always held a special place in my heart. It’s something about the deck’s ability to play Magic forever that causes me to gravitate towards it.
I also love the combat step, and would only choose to play a deck at a Pro Tour that doesn’t get to use it if I thought it was very well-positioned, which I believed G/R Goggles to be. That’s no longer the case, since G/W Tokens is becoming the most popular deck, which makes playing a deck weak to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar not the place to be. I chose to go back to Bant Company and try to work out all of the deck’s kinks.
Bant Company isn’t perfect and I will never say it is. The deck is trying to play three colors’ worth of spells, all within the first four turns, to create a tempo advantage. The deck feels almost broken when the lands all enter the battlefield untapped but practically unplayable when they don’t. The worst thing is that there really isn’t a great way to mitigate this. Sometimes you will just have bad mana with the deck. That’s why the first change I made to the deck was adding a 26th land.
That might seem like too many lands, since we are so used to the number being 25, thanks to the deck’s original designer Andy Ferguson playing that many. It was fine back then, since the deck not only had fetchlands to help the mana’s consistency, but also fewer mana-sinks.
Bant Company is mana-hungry! Duskwatch Recruiter, Tireless Tracker, and Lumbering Falls constantly demand excess mana. The deck even has Sylvan Advocate, which really wants you to be able to hit six lands on time. Rarely, if ever, have I felt like I was flooding out, but the only time I would even consider that is when I don’t have a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to help loot away excess lands. The deck needs 26 lands and we should all be playing that many.
This also brings up one of my fundamental philosophies on Standard. I’m a firm believer in playing an extra land in the deck when the format is driven by building a battlefield presence in the early-game. Flooding is a real thing that can happen, but most lopsided games are decided by mana screw rather than mana flood. It’s so easy to just give up on a game simply due to not having enough lands or the wrong ones. When this is an issue, I just add a land. It might not matter in the later stages of the game, since your cards might have generated enough advantage to mitigate the flood. Once both players have a more specific gameplan thanks to sideboards, you can simply cut a land to make your deck more spell-dense. This happens quite frequently when on the draw.
It’s not easy to find room for the 26th land, but I don’t think the deck needs all four Dromoka’s Commands anymore. Once you make that sacrifice, the deck looks like this.
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
Lumbering Falls is falling low on my list of important cards for Bant Company. Lands entering the battlefield untapped is more important to me, which is why I am playing more Yavimaya Coasts. Lumbering Falls shines brightest against the format’s control decks, but Bant Company is already heavily favored in those matchups.
In fact, that is the reason for wanting to play this deck at #GPNY. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is gaining traction in this format right now thanks to all of the Cryptolith Rite decks trying to take advantage of all the G/W Tokens running around, which makes me think similar midrange and control decks will be more popular this weekend than ever before.
Bant Company, if played correctly, can just play at a very slow pace and gain more card advantage than they can or off-tempo them enough times to deal ample damage with little resistance. The only important things to make sure that happen in these matchups are making your land drops and keeping them from establishing a battlefield. That’s one of the main reasons that my sideboard looks like it does.
Dealing with Goblin Dark-Dwellers; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; Dragonlord Atarka; or Dragonlord Silumgar is very important. At the same time, you can’t overload your deck with removal spells. That’s where Ojutai’s Command truly shines in this deck. Not only is this card a clean answer to any of the threats control decks play, it also is a great way to bring back important creatures in the late-game.
Reflector Mage is fairly good in these matchups, since you need to deal with these threats, but without Ojutai’s Command or a few Declaration in Stone to draw into, they often are tempo plays that force you to try to end the game as quickly as possible. Being able to play the games at your own pace is important, which is why I value Ojutai’s Command much more highly than others.
Like I said earlier, making sure you hit all of your land drops is crucial against these matchups. That’s why I am also playing a third Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Tireless Tracker in the sideboard. These cards have a much higher impact than the third and fourth Bounding Krasis against dedicated control decks.
Fans of my work might notice this sideboard has my name written all over it with the absence of the more expensive, higher-impact cards like Surrak, the Hunt Caller or Dragonlord Dromoka. I’ve found that Bant Company really wants to be able to make small adjustments to the creature base as well as the curve, dependent on matchup and whether on the play or draw.
Not playing these hard-hitters has allowed me to build the sideboard with a small number of creatures that help change my curve rather than have specific abilities for certain matchups, like Stratus Dancer or Hidden Dragonslayer. I might be losing a small percentage against traditional ramp strategies by not playing many cards for that matchup, but I’ll always sacrifice a matchup I don’t feel I will play that often.
The deck’s biggest fear is if a large portion of the metagame is playing various Cryptolith Rite strategies. These decks have the ability to cast Collected Company as early as turn 3, which makes it very difficult for Bant Company to get any traction in a game. Sometimes they deal enough early damage while also spraying the battlefield with so many creatures that a Zulaport Cutthroat keeps us from even stabilizing with Tragic Arrogance.
I wish I’d found an amazing way to beat up on these decks, but the only thing I’ve figured out is that you have to take a controlling role, keep from dying, and hope to win the late-game with Tragic Arrogance and a few flipped planeswalkers. It doesn’t work all the time, but it has given me a win percentage worthy of taking Bant Company with me all the way to New York.
The matchup that I do feel extremely favored against that’s not the popular opinion is G/W Tokens. I was initially in the camp that the matchup was slightly bad for Bant Company when I first picked up the deck, but lately I’ve found it to be pretty easy to win a match against if played correctly.
This matchup is easiest when on the play. G/W Tokens has a tough time getting any traction in the early-game thanks how easy it is for Bant Company to beat up on planeswalkers. Once the game develops and the planeswalkers have been dealt with, the game transitions into G/W Tokens trying to win the game via Archangel Avacyn.
The Serra Angel upgrade will either try to flash in and stabilize the battlefield or try to set up a battlefield wipe alongside Hangarback Walker. The latter of the two can be slightly played around by not aggressively targeting Hangarback Walker with Reflector Mage when you don’t have a Dromoka’s Command or Archangel Avacyn yourself to protect against Avacyn’s angry side.
On the draw, things are a bit different. The best G/W Tokens draws are very difficult to beat, since the Voice and Ally of Zendikar work well together at making sure neither gets dealt any damage. These games often play out with both players pouring everything they’ve got onto the battlefield, which almost always favors the deck with planeswalkers and more Archangel Avacyns.
Sometimes they don’t have four mana to curve Sylvan Advocate into Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. This makes it much easier to steal the initiative in the game and turn a game on the draw into another Archangel Avacyn subgame, which we are usually favored in.
Sideboarding for this matchup is the most important aspect, since I’ve found my plans on the play to be fairly different from when I’m on the draw.
On the play:
On the draw:
The biggest difference is that I push the advantage of being on the play as hard as possible. You’ll find Ojutai’s Command counters Archangel Avacyn fairly often when on the play, since you don’t have to invest too many resources into killing planeswalkers. I still want to have access to Tragic Arrogance on the play, but I don’t want to flood on the effect. I just always want to be drawing live if things go poorly in the early-game, and just one Tragic Arrogance can take over a game thanks to its initial impact as well as being able to be cast out of the graveyard later.
On the draw, things have a much higher chance of going poorly which is why we lean harder on Tragic Arrogance to help out in the mid- to late-game. Since our Plan A is to take a more controlling role, cards like Nissa, Vastwood Seer; Tireless Tracker; and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy are extremely important in the late-game to make sure we never run out of cards. That said, I have won two games already in Leagues on Magic Online with three Tragic Arrogances rotting in my hand. Sometimes you just have it all in this matchup, and G/W Tokens has a very difficult time coming back from an early battlefield presence.
There’s still much to learn about Bant Company before #GPNY, but I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m going to use these final days making sure that these are the 75 cards I want to take into battle, but I do stand behind this list, even though I won’t be here to post any potential updates. If there is any change, it would be cutting the Clip Wings for something necessary that isn’t obvious yet.
Now, I don’t advise playing this deck if you don’t already have practice with it. My win percentage in the past couple days has been much higher than the initial days of testing, and most of that can be attributed to now having a deep understanding of the deck and all of its matchups. The deck can be very unforgiving at times, which makes it risky to be in any situation for the first time at a serious event. Even though I would love to hand you the whole fish for the coming weekend, the most important lessons about this deck must be learned the hard way.