Duel With Ruel – Tribal Zoo Versus Bant: The Tribal Zoo Perspective

SCG Open Richmond!

Thursday, February 18th – Antoine Ruel returns to play out an important Extended matchup once more, this time piloting Tribal Zoo against his brother’s Bant. With the PTQ season continuing apace, articles such as this (and Oli’s companion article coming tomorrow) are invaluable to everyone looking to pick up a blue envelope…

This week, I will test the Tribal Zoo deck against Olivier’s Bant deck.

Manuel Bucher, my flatmate, keeps on claiming that Bant is the best deck in the format. Maybe this testing session will make Olivier change his mind on which deck he will play in Oakland. So far, he wants to run a Black/Green Dark Depths combo deck… I guess we’ll see if this test session helps him or not when we get the GP results. [Editor’s Note: This was obviously written before the Grand Prix, folks.]

Before Worlds, I tested the same matchup against Manu, and Zoo seemed to have a little edge. It even seemed to be the only deck in the gauntlet to be ahead against Bant. Let’s see what happens there now.

I hope that I will post winning results for the first time, as it’s embarrassing to lose every week in my own column.

My decklist :

Olivier’s decklist :

I chose to run the version that Manu updated last week. Again, the goal of this column is not to have the best version against the opponent’s deck, but the one we think is the more popular, or the one people would (or should) play.

This Zoo version is probably better against Bant than the slower version. Everything should be about tempo, and not allowing him to put counters on his Jitte.

Maindeck Games (12 wins, 12 losses, 50% games won)

We both won 9 games on the play and 3 on the draw. I think that the one playing first will have a great edge. The only games in which Olivier had a slight chance to win when I was playing first were the ones in which I got terrible draws.

If you take a look to the Bant decklist, you see that he plays 25 creatures. Among those, we have 1 Birds, 4 Noble Hierarch, 4 Meddling Mage, 3 Qasali Pridemage, 2 Venser, and 3 Clique, which are all bad fighters, especially when compared to Zoo’s cheaper guys. Only 11 of his cards have a real impact on the game: Tarmogoyf, Rhox War Monk, and Umezawa’s Jitte. If you make sure that you can deal with them, you should win.

Of course, his countermagic can protect his win conditions, and that is when it comes down to tempo. If you have a good draw (do not hesitate to mulligan!), you will pull ahead in the game. Being on the defensive, your opponent will not have the luxury of choosing which spell to play, or whether to keep a counter up. He will have to react as quickly as possible to the board, and try to survive by basically tapping out every turn. Thus, his Mana Leak on turn 5 won’t be too scary.

Whenever I tested Faeries against Zoo for this column, Manu was playing around the counterspells a LOT. The strategy here is not the same. Faeries is a specific case, as any creature that resolves might kill you, and the deck does not have pressure or threats to gain a real advantage with the time you lost casting nothing. Of course, on turn 2, if you have the option to play either a Tarmogoyf (a Squire, likely, at this point) and run into Spell Snare or cast a Loam Lion, then you should aim for the cat. If you do not have anything else other than a two-drop, go ahead and play it, as Bant only has 3 Spell Snare, and those will always find a target anyway.

Against Bant, you have to dominate the board and kill him before he gathers enough threats. Once he does have the game lead, especially with Umezawa’s Jitte, you will lose. Maindeck games are mostly all about the equipment; your opponent’s goal will be to put counters on it, while yours will be to stop that happening at all costs.

I have tried to play control games here too. For instance, would you keep this hand on the draw?

Lightning Bolt
2 Tribal Flames
Arid Mesa
Temple Garden
Marsh Flats.

I kept it, figuring I would go for a more controlling gameplan by killing all his threats. The game turned out to be weird. Olivier is smart, and guessed that if I kept a hand with no one-drop, then my hand would be expensive guys and removal. So he decided to go for a more controlling game, and his deck has the edge in such a match. My strategy became to avoid his Mana Leak by casting one spell a turn, always keeping three mana up so he’d have dead cards. In the long run, I still lost the game because he eventually activated the Jitte.

Keep in mind that the faster you can kill him, the more chances you have to end up winning. I would strongly encourage you to discuss this opening hand choice of play or mulligan in the forums. If you take a quick look at it, it seems like an obvious auto keep, but the more I think about it, the more I think it should be a mulligan. Of course, if you draw a one-drop (13 out of 53 remaining cards in the deck: 24%), the hand becomes great, but if you draw a land (18/53: 33%), you will probably lose.

If you do not know what your opponent’s deck is, whenever he is on the play, I would strongly encourage you to adopt an aggressive mulligan strategy. No one-drop ? Try to get one in your six-card hand.

The Bant deck only has a few threats, and you have to be able to get rid of them. Whenever Oli cast Noble Hierarch on the first turn, I would almost never kill it. First, it slows you down if you cannot play a guy because of it. Second, I would rather keep my removal to kill the few efficient creatures that he will draw. Let’s say you burn it, and he casts a Tarmogoyf on turn 2. With your instant or sorcery in the graveyard, plus the Hierarch, it is already 3/4. You have to kill it, even if you make it a two-for-one, but as you already spent a burn spell you might not be able to do so. Even if you can, then he will cast another Lhurgoyf or a Rhox War Monk, and you will be embarrassed about the previous Hierarch kill.

Specific Card Plays

Playing Spells Before Attacking
If you have a Tarmogoyf ready to attack, play your spells that might be countered and make it bigger before attacking. It’s also the same with Vendilion Clique; while most of the players like to cast it during your draw step, I like casting it during the attack to have a chance to destroy my opponent’s game plan. Maybe that’s bad play, but I like it. The problem is that if your opponent is aware of it, then he will cast his threats before the attack. As a Zoo player there, I think that sometimes you should play your spells in the first main phase. Even if a Venser shows up, adding a powerful 2/2 to his blockers and taking advantage of you casting your spell at the “wrong” moment, you should be able to get over it.

Path to Exile:
I see TONS of players casting this in their opponent’s upkeep, whereas it is most of the time 100% more effective cast during the draw step, as he has a chance to draw the land he would have searched for. Here, it’s a bit different, as Bant plays countermagic. Most of the decklists I saw did not include Bant Charm, only Mana Leak, so if you can play around it, why not cast it in the draw step? This is taking a high risk for a low value, as his odds of drawing the one land are something like 1 out of 44.

Lightning Helix:
Please do not attack into a Tarmogoyf, or, even worse, into a War Monk, planning to finish it off with Helix and get it Spell Snared. It may seem obvious, but if you do, it will be an auto-loss.

Fetchlands/Ravnica lands:
In this specific decklist, it is a lot easier to get a Swamp (Godless Shrine, Blood Crypt) than an Island (Hallowed Fountain), mostly because the 4 Verdant Catacombs can’t fetch it. So, if you can search for any of them, go for the Blue land first, as you will get your domain easier. Also, Hallowed Fountain works pretty well with Stomping Grounds as your first two lands.

Also, if you do not need the mana from your fetchlands, it is better to keep them on the table as your odds of drawing a Lynx (or a Ranger of Eos for the cat) are higher than the draws of the land you would purge from your deck. As a matter of fact, it will be good to keep lands in hand at some point, for a couple of reasons:

– To bluff
– To keep them for the Lynx

I read on the forums that a lot of people do not like Lynx, but, at least in this matchup, he is insanely good. He is bigger than the Goyfs and Rhinos that your opponent will have to keep in defense to hold back your army of little guys. MTG has turned into a game where a 2/3 can be considered a weak guy in the last few years, which I do not like too much… but at least Ranger of Eos became good thanks to this!

Knight of the Reliquary:
This card is the nut. It is bigger than War Monk, bigger than Tarmogoyf, and if you have it untapped, the Bant player cannot attack with his guy equipped by Jitte. This is the one card you do not want to waste on a Mana Leak. You also want your opponent to play his Path to Exile on your guys before it shows up.

Sideboarded Games (18 wins, 8 losses, 69% games won)

I won 8 games out of 13 on the draw, and 10 out of 13 on the play.

Here is my sideboard plan:

+1 Slay
+3 Deathmark
+1 Umezawa’s Jitte

-2 Lightning Helix
-1 Goblin Guide
-2 Loam Lion

I hesitated whether or not to board the Thoughtseize in, but I wanted to keep some early pressure, along with lots of removal. Ancient Grudge almost made it as well, but the best plan against Jitte is still to kill all his guys and attack with yours, not to have dead cards in hand.

For once, the first sideboard plan turned to be very efficient. I probably got luckier than when playing game ones, but this matchup seems really good overall.

He had the best 2 sideboard cards: Kitchen Finks and Threads of Disloyalty. I only added cheap removal.

With 4 Path to Exile, 4 Lightning Bolt, 4 Tribal Flames, and now 3 Deathmark and a Slay (killing a Tarmogoyf with it feels insanely good), it is easy to get rid of most of his 23 creatures (19 if you consider than killing a Hierarch is bad), assuming that he boarded out the Pikulas.

Your additional removal spells kill his two big creature threats: Tarmogoyf and Rhox War Monk. They definitely give you the tempo, which, as I said about the main deck, is one of the keys to winning this matchup.

The game and card processes are the same as game one, except maybe for Qasali Pridemage. It is often good to keep it in hand, saving it to destroy a Threads of Disloyalty and ruin your opponent’s game plan. Obviously, it has more chance to get Spell Snared this way, but it is still better than having it stolen. Then again, it is still better to have this stolen rather than a Tarmogoyf, but I am sure that you will be able to make this choice strictly considering the specifics of the game you are playing (how many Spell Snares were already cast, if you think he might have one, what creature he would steal with his enchantment, and, obviously if you need it on the table to have more aggression on the board).

The sideboard was perfect in the matchup. I would recommend that the Bant players to read Olivier’s part of the article to make theirs better. According to what he suggests (Engineered Explosives?), maybe some cards will be good against his new strategy. He is so far behind at this point, I would not consider Bant a serious threat anyway.

One last mulligan question: would you keep this six-card hand, on the draw after boarding?

Marsh Flats
Tribal Flames
2 Knight of the Reliquary
Wild Nacatl

Good luck to everyone in their PTQs, or in the PT.

If you are in San Diego and want to discuss any matchup that I’ve tested, or anything about the column itself, I will be glad to oblige!

PS: Oli did not play Bant at the GP…