Grand Prix: Sendai is now over, and Brian Kibler was crowned champion. There is no doubt that he should be voted into the Hall of Fame this year, after everything he has shown in the last few months. The tournament also revealed a “new” deck: Next Level Bant, originally created by Patrick Chapin. At the end of Day 1, three of the four undefeated players (Kibler/Mori/Watanabe) were running it.
With GP: Manila next week, the deck should become a strong contender, and who knows, maybe win a second GP in a row?
As the poll next week already features Next Level Bant versus Jund, this week we will test it against the second most played deck in the format (according to the GP metagame): Blue White Control. Kibler’s list seems very good, and I expect it to win the matchup easily. It does not seem too vulnerable to Day of Judgment, nor to Baneslayer Angel. Making sure you’re the player making the Planeswalkers first will be important. Celestial Colonnade should be important too, and I expect UW to be able to handle them better. Let’s find out!
I will play Brian’s version from GP: Sendai…
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Scute Mob
- 2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 4 Sea Gate Oracle
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Wall of Omens
Olivier will play this Blue/White list:
Maindeck Games (13 wins, 11 losses, 54% games won)
On the play: 8 wins, 4 losses
On the draw: 5 wins, 7 losses
None of us mulliganed to fewer than six cards. The two decks have very solid manabases, and do not need to mulligan that much. Next Level Bant (NLB) can be either a good aggressive deck or a control deck according to its draws, which makes most of its hands valuable. It also has a lot of card draw to be synergistic and consistent.
For once, I really enjoyed the games, as both of us had answers to the opponent’s threats, and the games were long, different, and skillful. The only game-breaker in the matchup was Martial Coup, which I’ve not beaten thus far. Everything else was okay on both sides of the table.
The games were a lot tougher than I expected. Blue/White has no dead cards. More importantly, they are all powerful and efficient. Every single game I lost on the play was either due to mana screw (Spreading Seas plus Tectonic Edge do not help there), or on an absurd draw from Oli such as turn 2 Everflowing Chalice; turn 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor; turn 4 Baneslayer Angel; turn 5 Baneslayer Angel. I should definitely have won more games on the play, as turn 3 Planeswalkers are just too good. If your opponent does not have Oblivion Ring, you will win.
The games were mostly “Battle of the Planeswalkers.” I do not know if WOTC anticipated that most Standard games would end up this way, but they found a very accurate name for their XBOX game. If I had something against NLB, it would be that it is probably the most expensive Standard deck ever built (maybe Super Friends or Mythic actually holds that dubious honor).
The player that kept a Planeswalker going for a few turns would almost certainly win.
The most important thing is casting your Planeswalkers first in order to activate them before they eventually die. If you have to choose between casting a Vengevine, an Elspeth, or a Jace on turn 3 or 4, always go for a Planeswalker. I usually played the White one first, as it would be able to stop Oli playing his Blue one on the turn following, and also because I would rather have this one Oblivion Ringed away.
Elspeth is easy to play, as you only activate it to make a token when you have no non-wall creatures on the board, and you give +3/+3 flying the rest of the time, doing your best to avoid a Path to Exile that might ruin your plans; even if you have to be slower, it is better to be safer. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was not so hard to play either. When Oli had a Baneslayer Angel on the board, I would bounce it. Otherwise I would Brainstorm until he passed the turn with 4 mana untapped when I had it on the board. As he could not possibly have Oblivion Ring or a Jace of his own, I would go for the “+2” plan, and deny him access to those two cards and anything that would really threaten my lead on the game. You obviously use the +2 ability when there is a Celestial Colonnade on your opponent’s board!
The good thing about the matchup is that you should have the Planeswalkers on the table first almost every time, thanks to the mana acceleration, and you will be able to kill his with your creatures, while this will be tougher for your opponent.
As expected, my Celestial Colonnade and Stirring Wildwood did not do much. Even though Oli played Spreading Seas on any of my lands on the table whenever he could, it was still very easy for him to Exile/turn into an Island/destroy a manland that would arrive later on. On the opposite side, his Celestial Colonnades were much better. Any time a Baneslayer Angel or an Elspeth, Knight-Errant dealt me early damage, the land would finish me off if necessary.
I was unconvinced about the two one-shots Brian had – Bant Charm and Borderland Ranger – but they both ended up pretty good. Bant Charm was amazing, as it dealt with Baneslayer Angel and sometimes counter an annoying Path to Exile. The Angel was a lot of trouble. As Blue/White plays Oblivion Ring and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, he has answers to yours, which only leaves NLB two Path to Exile and a Bant Charm to avoid almost auto losing to the Baneslayer; it seems very hard to race it, and it usually buys enough time to draw a second copy.
In theory, I thought that Vengevine would destroy him. In practice, they did not accomplish much. The only time in 24 games I reanimated one, it was when I discarded it to a Sphinx of Lost Truths then played a Ranger of Eos (why is a 3/2 White guy being played so often, hehe! ) and a Noble Hierarch on the following turn. The worst thing was that if I HAD two at the same time at any point in this whole process, it would have been merely okay. Usually, they just kept on being Pathed or chumped by Wall of Omens or soldier tokens. Best case scenario, it would just lose a race to Baneslayer Angel. They would have been better if Oli had to cast Day of Judgment more often (and at least lose a Wall, to clear the way for the haste dude), but I cared so little about the sorcery that Oli kept it back for some marginal spots. I will keep the Vengevines after boarding, as I might just not have had them in good spots, but that might be a mistake.
The first sideboard plan was:
But as I did not want to damage the synergy of the deck too much, I decided to cut Ranger of Eos and Scute Mob to lower the curve. Oli will probably sideboard out his Wall of Omens as well, and the Sea Gate Oracle will have a bit more impact than pre-board, and the deck definitely needs three-drops diggers.
The matchup will become really controlling, and I do not think that an extra 4/3 guy will change much. I would rather have some card advantage, and try to have more Planeswalkers active.
Sideboarded Games (17 wins, 9 losses, 65.3% games won)
On the play: 9 wins, 4 losses
On the draw: 8 wins, 5 losses
The matchup became almost one-sided here. As I said last week, every time any of the Bant decks boards in counters, they crush the control decks.
Combined with mana acceleration, Negate and Deprive become winning cards. They protect you from the threats your hand has no answers against, and they protect your own permanents. Blue/White does not have that many cards you cannot deal with during a game. If only one category of card has an impact on the board at a given moment(Wrath effects / Baneslayers / Path to Exiles/ Planeswalkers), your opponent will not hold many copies, and the countermagic will secure your lead. I would recommend casting your spells with Noble Hierarch when you have a counter up. First, your opponent might not notice you “forgot to attack for 1 point with it.” Second, if you have only two mana up, including a mana creature, I might just Path to Exile it and cast a dangerous spell in my second main phase. Notice that you can also bluff a counterspell by not attacking with a mana creature, but that only works if you expect your opponent to be smart.
The crucial turns to keep counters up rather than playing spells will be on turn 4/5/6. You have to be able to understand how the games will progress for the few next turns to know whether you should play your own spells (and have them Negate by your opponent) or wait to make sure you will counter his. With the mana acceleration, you should always be ahead in the game development and be able to cast two spells in the same turn first.
His counters are mostly Negate and sometimes a few Deprive (from what I have seen, they sometimes replace the Everflowing Chalice main), which means he will not be able to stop many creatures. So if you can, try to cast creatures when your opponent has mana up, and spells when he is tapped out (which is pretty often, I must admit).
I enjoyed the Mold Shambler in the sideboard a lot. It is always good for the ego to destroy a 70-euro card with one that shops do not even sell.
I ended up happy about sideboarding out 1 Vengevine. I ended up bringing the others back a few times, and it was quite efficient, but three were enough. It is obviously best to keep Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise in hand when the Elemental is in the graveyard. If you stick to my sideboard plan, do not expect a Sea Gate Oracle to get you a creature, but it could still happen as you have 16/59 cards which still are creatures, so around a 47% chance to get your Vengevine back. Waiting one more turn to get one more chance if you can afford it will be better; if you fail, you will not see the Elemental for a while.
However, if you find a slot in your sideboard, a fifth counterspell should make your deck even better against the omnipresent control decks of the field, and in the mirror.
I really enjoyed playing the deck and the games, which made this a huge change from Naya and Jund. The deck seems really powerful, but it will win less when the opponent knows its plan a little more. I will definitely play something like this at my Nationals (but it will be tough to find all the cards).
Apparently, the poll for next week indicates that we will be testing Next Level Bant again, this time against Jund (but it might change). I am looking forward to it! Until then, I hope you are rich and can enjoy the deck too!