Down And Dirty – Meta-Brewed Bant & Opening Artifacts For Christmas

StarCityGames.com 10K Open - Los Angeles

Tuesday, December 29th – With the format focus turning to Constructed in the New Year, and Extended in particular, Kyle eschews convention and discusses strong Standard decks based around Bant and Artifacts. If you’re looking for an edge in your preparation for this weekend’s StarCityGames.com Open Series: Los Angeles, look no further!

Poor, stale Standard… you haven’t changed much in the last few months. Jund is still top dog, and Boros is second in command, with the tight metagamers playing the easy-to-hate-out Fog deck. You can find those dudes who like to wear Gothic-looking pointy finger rings bloodsucking their way to the losers’ bracket with Vampires. Island-lovers are stuck playing with awkward Esper and UWR decks, neither of which has the card advantage necessary to be consistent against ANYTHING. The GerryT Fan Club can be found spreading things too thin, getting rammed by any deck that’s not playing Savage Lands. Cedric is still playing Kithkin, and no one really has the heart to tell the poor fella they rotated awhile back…

The combo players are stuck between Dredge – which is a legitimate contender in its own right once people figured out you want Immortal Coil maindeck – and juggling several different builds of that awful Ascension deck. The Mono Red guys with their pink sleeves are pretty happy with the tools they’ve got right now… it’s actually pretty scary how good the Red decks can be, especially with such a small pool. Two more sets and a few more good burn spells and we might be facing a field full of pink-sleeved popped-collared Red-heads. The anti-Jund midrange crew is sticking to the Shards, sporting Bant and Naya, but they often end up being dumb, narrow creature decks. Hopefully change is en route; Barrack is entering his second year, we’ve got a health reform bill, and we’ve got Worldwake to look forward to after being drowned out by Tiger Woods coverage on all major networks. We’ve got a total of four cards spoiled so far, but they aren’t exactly making me salivate.

Leatherback Baloth, which is a staggering 4/5 for the low price of selling your dignity to be able to cast this triple Green monster, is another example of the slow power creep. I remember thinking Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers was a busty triple Green threat, but that lil’ booger hardly made a blip to those stupid G/W or mono White dumb creature decks.

The much-anticipated Jace, the Mind Sculptor might as well have six freaking abilities, because the ones he’s working with now aren’t going to cut it. Four mana… Ponder! Sweet! I actually really like his synergy as an actual Brainstorm with the numerous fetch lands we’ve got, but something radical would have to occur for the format to slow down enough to make this guy viable. If the +2 ability were moderately playable his power wouldn’t be in question, but as is, your four mana spell has to do some serious work to see play in Standard.

Smother is back! I love me a Smother, and fully expect it to see play in lots of decks. I’m not sure if you can afford to run it as a four-of, since lots of decks are still trying to get around Jund’s removal by playing bigger critters and ones with built-in protection. As a two- or three-of, this card is pretty solid in several established decks already, and is better/worse than Doom Blade (sorry @Doom_Blade_Guy) because it actually does something when the two guys with Gothic-looking point finger rings are playing each other.

Finally, Serra Angel banged Coastal Tower, and out came this gem. These lands are pretty scary, and this one has me pretty excited to see the others in this cycle. I like trying to figure out the formula behind making such cycles. Clearly this is a Coastal Tower with an Air Elemental + Serra Angel combo. So what’s the Black/Red one gonna be? I just hope the Red/Green one has trample, as there are so few good tramplers around anymore. I miss the days when Spectral Force, Silvos, Shivan Wurm, and Endless Wurm were around, and Blue decks didn’t care about such nonsense Green beaters. Now they’ve got Terra Stomper, but all the Blue decks are gone! Oh, the irony!

A few articles back, I hinted that Bilbo Baggins Moreno and I brewed up a special Bant deck to contend with Jund so we could sneak up on the SCG S5K Standard Open St. Louis. I didn’t have enough confidence in the deck at the time, but I’ve been tweaking it since, and here’s the updated version.

The deck started out focused on the neat-o two-drops. The problem became that when I wasn’t playing against a Red or Black deck I would have crappy 2/2’s, so we added the Exalted line of attack with Rafiq, Finest Hour, and Ardent Plea to give them more value against decks we don’t automatically crush. Mimeomancer is the most recent addition, since Deft Duelist was a little underwhelming as a four-of. Behemoth Sledge gives us an out to those Emeria Angel decks that can assemble bunches of blockers at one time.

The sideboard is made to be versatile against the Fog deck, having Pridemage, Charm, and Negate to turn off their Mines and Fonts. Wall of Denial is there to have a lock-down creature to save damage opposite Boros, since Valeron Outlander isn’t going to help much. Ditto for the Mono Red matchup, where Pro Black is also the nut low. Bant Charm in general gives the deck a lot of options postboard, acting as a counter, a great way to get rid of Sprouting Thrinax, and another answer to the problematic Emeria and Baneslayer Angels.

The real surprise came when I was looking around the top block decks from Honolulu for ideas, and stumbled upon this beauty….

Who does this guy think he is? Swagger-jacking our great idea half a year before Billy and I thought of it! What a punk, letting the weasel out of the knapsack!

Despite having serious conflictions with his sideboard, his main deck is tight, lean, focused, and the singleton Sigil is quite brilliant. Standard and Block are two different beasts, but seeing this deck post a very credible finish in a format where the four or five color decks are eerily similar to modern day Jund seems like a promising start. That said, comparing that Block format to today’s Standard is like throwing a three-toed sloth in a cage with bloodthirsty ravenous vampire cheetahs. If I wasn’t testing for the SCG $10K Open weekend in Dallas, coming up in January I wouldn’t care about Standard… but since I am, I’m obviously trying to get something special to surprise the field. Billy and I have got three or four good playtest dates scheduled, and I’m pretty excited to get brewing to break Standard.

Here’s another deck for which I have high hopes…

I’ve talked about this deck before, but I keep coming back to it because it’s so dang consistent. It plays almost like the Dredge deck… however, this is really a focused control deck that cycles cards to streamline your draw. Then you use Open the Vaults as additional card draw to get back all the cyclers, Courier’s Capsules, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, and even Mind Control and Spreading Seas. You set it up with Sphinx of Lost Truths. Of course, you can also discard the Steel Wind to Blightning to enable a turn 5 Open the Vaults for the busty Jund beater. Path to Exile, Spreading Seas, and Day of Judgment slow them down enough to give you time to get there.

There’s also the subtle combo of having a Glassdust Hulk in play to make him go big from an Open the Vaults, and you can also use Tezzeret to kill them with Borderposts. You’ve also got a very realistic lock-down plan because, with Architects of Will, you can put a bunch of lands on top of their library to stall them out for a couple of turns. Mind Control is the real MVP in here, and it makes games go very long since it’s as good of a two-for-one as you’ll get in Standard Blue. If you take a Sprouting Thrinax, they are screwed… and have mercy on the White decks that don’t have a Path in their hand when they drop their Baneslayer Angel.

The aspect I like the most about this deck is its different sources of card advantage. In a format where Divination is being played, Open the Vaults offers one of the best ways to gain a bunch of cards on the opponent (when combined with the cyclers that replace themselves for one mana). It may look a tad on the slow side, but in your early turns you’re cycling, using Capsule, and casting Spreading Seas, and then you have Day of Judgment to slow them down at the four-drop. Once you get to the late game, Sphinx of the Steel Wind starts to show up to steal games as a better Baneslayer, but even if he doesn’t do the job, you’ve got the re-buys on Mind Controls from the Open the Vaults to close games out. It’s also wicked cool to Open the Vaults into a Mind Control to take their Sphinx of Jwar Isle/Wall of Denial/Uril the Miststalker, since you don’t have to target unless you’re casting the spell. Putting it into play directly enables you to put it on whatever shrouded creature they’ve got, which usually puts them in an awkward situation.

I still feel like this deck is a few cards away from being something seriously vicious. It does have some problems with the early game mana set up. There are thirteen Blue sources, twelve White, and ten Black, so you’ll get some choppy opening hands. Happily, you can usually cycle / Capsule/ Seas out of it. The real problem comes against the decks that don’t run very many creatures, as the Mind Control, Day of Judgment, and Path to Exile suddenly become virtual dead cards. That’s why the Luminarch Ascension plan comes in post board (which also comes back with Open the Vaults! OMG!).

Another idea is to cut all the artifact chaff to make room for an enlightening enchantment package to abuse Open the Vaults’ dual return ability… but, as of right now, we don’t have much to work with outside the Expeditions and Mind Control. A Landfall-centric build could turn out to be something worth looking into if Worldwake holds any goodies. While you’re on the landfall theme, you might as well throw some Hedron Crabs in there to fill your graveyard, maybe some Lotus Cobras to accelerate the Opening of the Vaults.

In Extended, we could use Open along with the Expeditions and Artifact lands to do something crazy (all you need is three Artifact lands to fully trigger all the Expeditions you bring back!). With Extended being relevant for the next PTQ season, Open the Vaults surely gets much better in a deeper card pool; if you’ve been around long enough to see Attunement become broken, you’re surely aware that Open could be just as deadly.

Merry whatever, Happy New Year, be safe, and watch out for flashing lights in your rear view mirror.

Thanks for reading…