Down And Dirty – Emotional Rides and Bant on the Rise

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Wednesday, October 21st – Kyle rocked up to his home territory Pro Tour with a hot Standard deck and a pocketful of passion. Sadly, the desire didn’t translate into the invite. Today, he shares his time at the LCQ, and lists his weapon of choice both pre- and post-tournament.

Sigh. Pro Tour: Austin has come and gone. Kibler is a rightful winner, showing us exactly how Stella Got Her Groove Back by documenting his return to the game, implementing his testing process, and his eventual rise to the top of Pro Tour Magic on these pages of StarCityGames.com. There was a very exciting mood and buzz in the air after Kibler 8-0’d, even more buzz when he fell flat on his face by 0-3’ing the second draft portion, and a hysterical cry when his name was announced for Top 8.

My ears were deaf to all the hoopla, however. After five PTQ Top 8s, and being one round away in the LCQ, I couldn’t qualify for the closest Pro Tour to my home town. I slid into a depressing fit, only to be cradled in the arms of Steve Sadin on Saturday night, with him whispering “everything will be okay” gingerly in my clogged ears over some delicious pork tenderloins and mac n’ cheese.

Quentin, Gindy, Noah, and Aceman did their best to quench my spirits on 6th that night, but my heart was absent from any festivities, and I pulled a no-show on Sunday after a hour-long drive home at five in the morning.

Aceman actually challenged me to a shot contest where the loser would pay for them, but quickly backed out when I told him my usual bar tab at the end of a night boasts upwards of ten beers and ten shots. Looking back, I should have taken his bet. He was celebrating his high $1,000 finish, whereas I was trying to drown out the sorrows of my mental mind state, and I obviously had a sick edge since he could barely handle a few Long Island Iced Tea and a shot of Rum over dinner.

One thing never to be forgotten is that tournament Magic is a roller coaster of emotions when you commit yourself to it, sometimes lasting for just a match or a game, or a weekend, but it can stick with you for months or years. Some days you’ll be on top with a 2100 Limited rating, and some days you’ll give every ounce of your Magical splendor only to fall just short, leaving a vile bitter taste in your mouth you can’t wait to replace with success or the open end of a bottle of Jack Daniels. My usual plan in situations like these is to completely shut off emotions and live in the moment, but as a tactical Magician I can never turn off my “thinking in advance” brain cell that has blessed me with superior cognitive abilities.

I knew that Jund player was going to double Blightning me while I was on a mulligan with only two lands, and I knew he was going to shove his hand in my face when he won the match. Just like I knew I was going to look him in the eye, look down at my lonely Plains and Forest, ignore his handshake, wish him luck, and get up and walk away humbly with some massive Doritos on my shoulder. I didn’t think he’d call me an *sshole when I was walking away though, and I surely didn’t anticipate turning around and going off on him, but c’est la vie.

Just remember, quitting is never an option. Time off, however… might be just what Chris Lachmann ordered.

This was my grinder deck, and one I’m definitely going to keep playing at FNM for a few weeks. Rhox War Monk and Baneslayer Angel are the two best creatures in Standard. Knight and Jenara are creatures that trump opposing Angels because they will eventually be big enough to outrace her on the other end, or just swing past her if she’s freshly cast. Jenara in particular surprised me this weekend; I got her up to a 19/19 at one point, and it really surprised me that such a resilient creature hasn’t seen more play.

Lotus Cobra and Noble Hierarch play the accelerating role when paired up against control decks, and make the Jund players use removal to keep me from dropping bigger spells with counter backup to thwart their Maelstrom Pulse or Blightning.

Path to Exile and Bant Charm give me great defense opposite Sprouting Thrinax, Hellspark Elemental, Hell’s Thunder, and whatever graveyard important synergies out there. Negate is a really great main deck spell right now, since it’s so cheap and can deal with a wide variety of game-ending spells. It’s the best answer to Blightning and works when you’re on the play or draw. Mind Spring was the MVP for me during the grinders. So often I’d one-for-one them, or they’d one-for-one me, and I’d pull way ahead with a Mind Spring for 3, 4, or even more if I’ve got a Cobra out.

More importantly, Mind Spring gives Cobra and Hierarch late game value, which other Bant decks don’t necessarily have. Iona and Rite of Replication also give them value later on, and are two very distinct “I Win!” cards. I actually cast Iona three times on Thursday, and won each game easily because of it. I also managed to kick a Rite on Baneslayer, but most of the time it would just become another Monk or extra Angel.

I’m honestly not sure whether or not Iona is good enough for the main. It should probably just be a fourth Bant Charm, or perhaps a second Rite of Replication, but Iona is a bit underwhelming at times when you’re not sitting on excess Cobras or Hierarchs. Iona is still a beast whenever your resolve it; against Jund you name Black and they have stone no outs other than triple Bolt. I also beat a Sphinx Control player by naming Blue while sitting on Negate backup for his Day of Judgment, and cast Iona a turn before the Mono White player because of my superior acceleration.

The sideboard could probably be configured a bit better. I don’t have much for Jund outside of Celestial Purge, while they are planning on bringing in Duress, Terminate, and/or Deathmark. I suppose a couple Hindering Light would be desired, but I’m not sure what I’d cut at this point. Pithing Needle and Oblivion Ring are there to deal with opposing Luminarch Ascension, Planeswalkers, and basically a versatile four-slot to deal with any problem permanents I don’t have a good answer to already.

Luminarch Ascension won me a very crucial game in the LCQ with only four minutes left in the round at the start of game 3. That was probably my high point on the weekend, since in the previous game I punted horribly by not countering his Rite of Replication when I had Negate in my hand. Complete brain fart, but I was vindicated by having a four minute game win after struggling with twenty+ minute games in the first and second.

Deft Duelist is another underrated all star that completely tears up those Mono Red and RW aggro decks running amok. If Goblins was more popular he’d be great there too, and he also has great value against control decks planning on boarding into a Luminarch Ascension control deck, since Wrath is the only card that can realistically stop him from getting in there, other than Wall of Denial.

If I was going to make some cuts to fit in Hindering Light for Jund, I’d cut the singleton Iona and a Pithing Needle for a pair. You’re not looking to change your Jund matchup that much after board, since the game plan is already pretty solid, you just want a few more versatile answers to their critters and disruption.

The real creature I’m looking at including in this Bant brew is Sphinx of Jwar Isle. What is Jund supposed to do against him? He’s bigger than all their creatures, they have absolutely no way to remove him other than a Jund Charm when I’m blocking, and he gives my late game fetchlands a ton of value by enabling me to see the top card, as if it’s a land I can shuffle into a potential spell. I’m probably going to cut the Knights for a pair of Sphinx to see how it works. Knight really underperformed for me. For one, I don’t really have enough fetchlands to make him worthwhile. For two, he’s just a crappy ground critter that clogs the board and forces them to chump. There were so many times that I’d play him, wait to attack because I know they have a removal spell, and search up a Gargoyle Castle as my potential finisher. Is that really what I want out of my big creature that’s supposed to win the game? He always dies, and sometimes leaves a crappy Castle hanging around. Sure, Sphinx costs twice his mana, but I never really played Knight on turn 3 anyway, unless I was trying to bait a removal to get Rhox, Jen, or Banegel in there.

So for all of those who don’t like reading and just scroll through for decklists, here’s the streamlined updated version…

Matchup Guide


+ 3 Celestial Purge
+ 2 Hindering Light

-2 Jenara, Asura of War
-1 Lotus Cobra
-1 Noble Hierarch
-1 Mind Spring

Boarding out a Hierarch and Cobra was one of my plans going into the event, because they have so many more answers to my actual spells post board and my speed isn’t as important as answering their fast draws, which are really few and far between. The Jund deck is more of a 3-color Rock deck. Turn 2 Leech is the best play in their deck, better than Bloodbraid into Blighting, because it sets up the tempo for the game, and dropping a Celestial Purge, Path, or Charm to answer their Leech is one of the best ways to answer them. Without Leech, their entire decklist is just good answers and bad creatures. Sprouting Thrinax is a 3 mana 3/3; that sucks. Bloodbraid is a 3/2 for 4; that sucks. Broodmate is pretty inspiring, but thanks to my Angels and Sphinxes I should have no trouble if they choose to size up post-board.

Jenara is another critter who loses value when they board in Deathmarks, and she was never that good against them to begin with since I’d have to wait until I’d have two mana up to play her and then skip a turn of answering their threats in fear of her dying to a Lightning Bolt. On my next turn, I’d then have to main phase the pump ability to get her past the three toughness range, at which point I’m still vulnerable to their Bituminous Blast and still can’t answer whatever threats they play. Long story short, she takes too much time and mana to set up properly, and she still dies easily to Deathmark/Maelstrom Pulse/Terminate.

Sphinx is the real bomb in here, and running it out turn 6 with no backup is the safest creature you can invest mana into in the Standard format. The longer he stays in play, the more foresight he provides, and he plays offense as well as being a stalwart on defense. I’d expect the number of these cards to rise dramatically to counteract Jund’s narrow answers to it.

Jund is still Jund, and if I don’t have an answer for their double Blighting draw or multiple Duresses I’m up the creek without a paddle in most situations. Multiple Bloodbraid Elf can also cause a quick demise. However, it’s important to remember that their Bloodbraids are always much weaker post board to an empty board, so waiting to play Cobra and Hierarch to make them whiff with a cascaded Pulse is something to keep in mind throughout the match. Playing the control deck here is the best route, unless you’ve got the turbo Cobra draw with Negate and Light backup.

Five-Color Control

+3 Luminarch Ascension
+2 Hindering Light
+3 Pithing Needle

-4 Path to Exile
-3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
-1 Baneslayer Angel

There are so many iterations of this deck right now, it’s just darn silly. Some play Rhox War Monk, some play Sprouting Thrinax, some are Cruel Ultimatum dedicated with four of them suckas in their maindeck. All play Bloodbraid Elf, but the Cascades aren’t as consistent as Jund.

Against them, the more expensive the threat, the harder it will be to keep it in play. They have Days and Broodmates for my Sphinx, so that isn’t too reliable. The Luminarch Ascension plan, on the other hand, is extremely potent opposite them, and with Hindering Light to back it up. We’ve Needle/Ring to stop their Jaces & AjaniVs, and Mind Spring to re-gas when they tap out for a Bloodbraid or something equally stupid. I feel like I have a big tactical advantage here since I’m faster, leaner, and more decisive in my game plan than them. My spells aren’t nearly as narrow as theirs, since my counter magic doubles as removal and I have a better proactive plan than them with Ascension post board. You gotta play tight to win this match, since it does revert to control on control, but all the tools are there, and they usually fall into the trap of Ascension post board by sideboarding in a bunch of removal.

Mono Red

+3 Celestial Purge
+4 Deft Duelist
+2 Hindering Light

-3 Mind Spring
-4 Lotus Cobra
-2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

Cobra really isn’t important here. The plan is to land a Deft Duelist, Rhox, or Baneslayer for defense, then start Lifelinking to victory. It’s a pretty mindless matchup, but my plan is precisely potent against them since their worst enemy is a turn 2 Rhox War Monk followed by turn 4 Baneslayer. They have to waste at least two spells to deal with either, and their arsenal just isn’t very impressive against a 2/1 First Striker who invalidates all their one-toughness hasty beaters. It might be overkill, but losing to these types of decks boils my blood more than a GG hand in my face. Actually, both boil my blood exactly the same, but nevertheless, I don’t want to lose to a stupid Red deck, and neither should you!

RW Boros Bushwhacker

+4 Deft Duelist

-3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
-1 Negate

Purge really isn’t that great against them here, and Negate is equally miserable, except to counter a Path to Exile or AjaniV out of the board. This matchup is a joke. Their deck is very easy to combat, my creatures are miles better and only a turn slower. However, my removal isn’t aimed to deal with a horde of little donkers. Their removal all sucks a bunch, so my proactive draw is much harder for them to combat than me to theirs, and in ten games of testing I’ve never felt like they actually had a chance to win outside of multiple mulligans or horrendous flood on my part.

Gavin’s Sphinx Control

+3 Pithing Needle
+3 Luminarch Ascension

-4 Path to Exile
-2 Lotus Cobra or -2 Bant Charm

I’m assuming they’re going to board in about twelve cards in exchange for the dead Lightning Bolts, Pyroclasms, and Wretched Banquets. Of course, they very well could assume they have to beat my Cobra draw and leave the Pyroclasms in, which is why I’m boarding Cobra out. If they don’t leave Clasms in, being fast is very important to the outcome of this match since he’s playing 27 lands, tons of card draw, Planeswalkers, and Negates post board. A quick creature draw is deadly against him, and Cobra is the backbone to that nut draw. Bant Charm isn’t needed so much. One of those “play it by ear” situations.

Game 1, this matchup is a joke. Their removal is aimed toward dealing with a completely opposite creature set than mine, and the card draw is pretty cumbersome, with that five or seven mana Sphinx, Capsule, and Jace, and only three Negates to stop my Mind Spring.

Post board, of course, they have a huge facelift with Countersquall, Liliana Vess, Haunting Echoes, and probably Essence Scatter filling up the dead slots.

My first goal is to shut down their Jace or Capsule with Needle, depending on which they lead with. If they drop turn 2 Capsule I’m obviously going to Needle it next turn, but if they don’t drop a Capsule I don’t necessarily want to Needle Jace blind because it forces them to tap out. My next plan is to engage in a Luminarch Ascension counter war. If I can sneak it in turn 2, or after a Jace or Capsule resolves on their side, I’m not sure if I can lose, but the goal is to resolve Ascension since they are nearly stone dead to it outside of a quick Chandra to ping me each turn. This is a big problem in Gavin’s deck that I’d expect him to address eventually, given how good and popular Ascension should be.

The mid game definitely is in his favor if I can’t land Ascension. He has a few more counter magic spells, lots more card drawing, and a Liliana/Haunting Echoes late game blowout plan that I can’t exactly answer without drawing lots of Negates and Bant Charms to back them up.

I’m not exactly sure what else the Standard metagame is made up of at this point. There are really only a few legitimate decks and a huge sea of unrefined fringe decks. I could talk about the Mono Black deck, Warp World, RG Aggro, Crappy Vampires, that 7-Chandra mess Manu suggested, or any number of potential brews out there, but most just seem like junk in my opinion. If you’ve got a matchup that you’d like to know how I’d sideboard, hit me up in the forums with a list and I’ll fill you in with my opinions.

Thanks for reading…