Deep Analysis – Bantcrasher in Standard

Read Richard Feldman every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, September 25th – Shards of Alara promises much to the player searching for cool Constructed plays and strategies. With five distinct shards to mine for synergies and tech, the new set looks certain to send shockwaves through Standard. Today, Richard Feldman looks at an intriguing aggro-control option offered up by the Blue, Green, and White offerings of Bant… Warning: contains spoilers.

Shorecrasher Mimic has obvious potential with the impending influx of playable Bant (U/G/W) cards. A 5/3 trample for two mana is a huge deal, but you have to be careful in building a deck around him. If you include too many subpar supporting cards for the sake of pumping your 2/1 to 5/3, you’ll quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a Terror or cheap burn spell. At that point you’ll really wish your hand consisted of anything but those subpar support cards.

On a related note, Rafiq of the Many is a 3/4 Exalted for 1UGW that gives your solo attackers Double Strike until end of turn. If you cast Rafiq with Shorecrasher out, you will then attack with a 6/4 trample double strike monstrosity, which pretty much amounts to two consecutive Akroma attacks in one turn. Rafiq also combos well with Rhox War Monk, the 3/4 lifelink for UGW, as he yields an attack that will make you gain eight life and force a chump block unless the opponent is willing to take eight on the chin as well.

The tension point around Exalted in Standard is this: having solid attackers that stand on their own is excellent against the board sweepers of Five-Color Control, but attacking with one creature at a time is terrible against Bitterblossom from Faeries. Rafiq is basically the super-Exalted guy, so building a deck to abuse Rafiq thus demands the inclusion of creatures that can productively attack alone into a Bitterblossom. Shorecrasher Mimic, when he is DoubleAkroma, certainly fits the bill, as does Treetop Village swinging in for a hearty eight points of trample damage. Rhox War Monk and his eight-point life swing qualify as well. The rarely-used Hungry Spriggan comes in as a 5/5 Trample Double Strike for three mana when Rafiq is involved, which is a good bit more exciting than his usual offering.

However, building a deck to accommodate both Rafiq and Mimic also requires a certain quantity of Blue and Green cards. Fortunately, Jhessian Infiltrator – a 2/2 unblockable for GU – meets the criteria of both; he activates Mimic and attacks for six unblockable damage with Rafiq on the table. He also provides a nice supplemental two-drop to complement Mimic, which helps the deck’s curve along.

Bant Charm, like the other Charms, is nuts. For UGW you get your choice of: counter an instant, put target creature on the bottom of its owner’s library, and destroy target artifact. Most often, it will be the most reliable spot removal spell in the format. It hits Mistbind Clique, Chameleon Colossus, and Demigod of Revenge, all without putting any of them in the graveyard. Only Crib Swap does all that, and it has a considerable drawback that the Charm does not. On top of that, Bant Charm can also counter a game-ending Cryptic Command or burn spell, and – just in case it proves relevant – it can also destroy an artifact. An easy include.

You can see a deck starting to take shape here. Based on the cards we have to work with, given our constraints (Blue and Green cards, and cards that combo well with Rafiq without being stopped by Bitterblossom), this will be a midrange beatdown or aggro-control deck of some sort. It will attack Five-Color by playing out a small number of hearty threats and backing them up with counters and removal for blockers. It will go after Faeries with cheap fat that tramples. It will race Red with the lifelink guy and bigger creatures, while keeping removal or counters back for Demigod and playing defense with 3/4s later on in the curve.

Assuming 3 Spriggan, 25 lands, the ubiquitous 4 Cryptic Command and 1 Oona, and four-ofs everywhere else, this list has room for seven more cards. I probably want three or four of those to be a one-drop or two-drop, and the rest can fit in pretty much any point in the curve.

Waveskinner Aven, the 2/4 Flying Exalted for 2UWG, is just an embarrassment. I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Stoic Angel, the 3/4 Flying, Vigilance with “players can only untap one creature each turn” for 1UGW shows more promise. She definitely seems like a clunky, inefficient beater against Five-Color; in that matchup, her ability is a liability, and four for a 3/4 flying is not exactly a bargain. On the other hand, I could see her doing very good things against Elves and Merfolk, and assuming she doesn’t hurt the curve too much, she can probably be productive against Red.

The real concern with her is Faeries. Obviously if they have flooded the board with tokens, Stoic Angel will keep their attacking damage minimized. On the other hand, I get to untap one creature per turn and keep my Angel untapped while the opponent gets to make a new (untapped) Bitterblossom token and untap one creature per turn. Is that a good position for me? I’m not sure, but I think she’s worth trying.

A larger problem is that right now this deck has only four removal spells. The problem with that is Sower of Temptation. It is unbelievably difficult to win when the opponent sticks a Sower, and I am unequivocally not okay with having only four answers to it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many efficient ways to kill a 2/2 Flyer using only Green, Blue, and White cards. There are clunky answers, like doubling up on Dark Banishings by adding Crib Swaps to my Bant Charm collection, and there are silly answers, like putting in Steward of Valeron (GW for a 2/2 Vigilance Llanowar Elf) and Cloudthreshers, but that is probably not worth it against decks that aren’t Faeries. Sadly, my best option might just be to include 3 Sowers of my own and put Stoic Angel in the board out of respect for the curve. That leaves four slots left, and the next-best answer I am comfortable with in these colors is Broken Ambitions (which, while not the most consistent answer to Sower of Temptation, is at least a hammering against, say, a deck built to win by resolving Cruel Ultimatum), so I’ll finish off the first draft of the maindeck with those.

On to the sideboard.

Now that Blood Knight is gone, Deft Duelist (UW for a 2/1 First Strike Shroud guy) reminds me a lot of Silver Knight; he’s fairly intractable against Red (give or take notable exceptions Ashenmoor Gouger, Ghitu Encampment, and Boggart Ram-Gang), but has some nicer qualities against the rest of the field. I don’t think this deck wants Silver Knight maindeck, but I agree with Manuel Bucher that he makes a lot of sense as a board option.

Cloudthresher is basically a given here. Against Bitterblossom, I’m not sure if Naturalize or Wispmare would be better, but I’m leaning toward Wispmare due to mana cost and blocking capabilities. Looking over the list, I don’t think I want Stoic Angel after all; I already have Cryptic Command, Rafiq, and Sower of Temptation in the four-spot, and I don’t see boarding any of them out. Since including more four-drops than that would overload the mana curve, I think the Angel’s going to have to sit this round out. I’ll try Wake Thrasher against Five-Color and leave it at that.

Here’s the first draft of the deck:


4 Treetop Village
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Flooded Grove
4 Adarkar Wastes
3 Plains
2 Brushland
2 Mystic Gate
2 Seaside Citadel (comes in tapped, taps for U, G, or W)

4 Shorecrasher Mimic
4 Jhessian Infiltrator (UG for 2/2 unblockable)
4 Broken Ambitions

4 Rhox War Monk (UGW for a 3/4 lifelink)
3 Hungry Spriggan
4 Bant Charm (UGW to counter an instant, put a creature on bottom of library, or Shatter)

4 Cryptic Command
4 Rafiq of the Many (1UGW for a 3/4 Exalted, solo attackers get double strike)
3 Sower of Temptation
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae

4 Deft Duelist
4 Wake Thrasher
4 Cloudthresher
3 Wispmare

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers. When I originally mapped out this deck, I had 4 Spriggan and 3 Rafiq; after all, Rafiq is a legend. Then I realized that the way this deck is set up, if I can get a Rafiq and one other creature (okay, except Sower) to stick, chances are I’m going to win. In that situation, I’m either attacking for 12 trample (Mimic), 6 unblockable (Infiltrator), 8 lifelink (War Monk), 10 trample (Spriggan), or 8 trample (Treetop), and there’s a solid chance I’ll do the same on the following turn as well.

None of these are guaranteed victories by themselves, but they are incredibly brutal – particularly when the rest of my team is on defense staving off a counterattack – and I would expect it to be rare for the opponent to recover from such a beating without killing Rafiq and making me glad I had a backup copy in my hand. Given all that, I expect I’ll usually win when I play a Rafiq with a second one in my hand – even a single Rafiq attacks for 8, after all – and the few times I do lose from that position, it will almost never be because of the Legend Rule.

On to lands. Treetop Villages are the obvious manland for this deck, not only because they are the most obliquely powerful of the available 2/1 Flying, 3/3 Trample, 2/2 Changeling, and 1/5 dumpster, but also because they have the most synergy with Rafiq. Including the Treetops, the deck has 16 Blue sources (counting Reflecting Pool), six of which produce double Blue — plenty to support Cryptic Command and Oona. It also has 16 Green sources and 16 White sources (again, counting Reflecting Pool), plenty to support Treetop activations and a wide range of sideboard options.

The 4 Shorecrasher Mimics are activated by 4 Infiltrators, 4 War Monks, 4 Charms, and 4 Rafiq, for a total of 16 cards that pump him up – not counting the other three Mimics, which could arguably bring the total up to 19. I’m fine with all of those cards in the context of the deck at large, so even if my Mimic meets his untimely end the same turn I cast him, my hand won’t be clogged with useless Simic cards included primarily because they pump Shorecrasher.

As I write this, Shards of Alara has not yet been completely spoiled, so I’m hesitant to post sideboarding guides and test matchups that may or may not exist when the full list is out, new decks start cropping up, and the new format starts to actually take shape.

Still, I’m excited by the possibilities here. This deck generates some very backbreaking plays from an assemblage of largely powerful individual cards, some of which are among the best in the format. We’ll have to see how the matchups shake out (once we know what the matchups are, mind you), but I’m rooting for this potential contender in the first few weeks of the new Standard!

See you next week,

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]