Feature Article – Bant Aggro in Extended

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Wednesday, April 8th – Extended season draws to a close this weekend, and players are still looking for hot new options. Today, legendary Magic writer Jeff Cunningham returns with a no-nonsense primer for Extended Bant Aggro. If you’re looking for a deck packed with aggression and a good matchup against the format’s main contenders, this is the article for you!

Here is my current list of Bant Aggro.

I would highly recommend this deck for any remaining PTQs. It has very strong matchups against both Faeries and Zoo. It has good matchups against Affinity, Loam, and TEPS. Elves and Slide are tough but winnable. Obviously having a very good matchup against the two biggest decks in the field is huge.

I played in two PTQs this season. In the first I played an early version of this deck, without any Path to Exiles, and with Spell Snares. I went 5-2, beating Affinity, Zoo, TEPS, Affinity, TEPS and losing to Swans and Zoo. I felt that even the matchups I lost were good matchups, and that I had been unlucky to lose.

I worked on the deck and played it in a PTQ last weekend. The list was similar to the list above, but had Kitchen Finks instead of Rhox War Monks, and Cranial Extractions in the sideboard, among a few other small changes. I went 6-0-2, beating Doran, Faeries, Faeries, Gifts Rock, Faeries, and Zoo, and then in Top 8, Affinity and Bant. I lost in the finals to a Kiki-Jiki combo deck. I felt that a lot had to go wrong for me to lose there (including my own poor sideboarding decisions), and that my deck was favored in the abstract.

There are plenty of Bant decks going around, with a ton of variation between them. I feel my strength in Constructed formats is my ability to really tighten up archetypes. I’ve put a lot of thought into the card selection and the numbers here, as well as the sideboard strategies. Let me lay it out for you.

4 Noble Hierarch
4 Birds of Paradise

24 land and 8 ‘Birds’ may seem like a lot of mana sources. However, 4 of those lands are creatures, Hierarch has a healthy contribution to the deck’s offense, and any creature can carry an equipment. Besides acceleration, the upside of playing this many mana sources is that you usually won’t stall and, barring cheap creature removal, will usually have a three-drop on turn 2.

Initially I was only playing 3 Birds of Paradise, in an effort to minimize the degree to which I’d be wrecked by Engineered Explosives or Wrath effects. Ultimately, though, you really want one of these in your opening hand, and mass removal is something you learn to play around and minimize as much as possible.

4 Tarmogoyf

If anything goes without much explanation, it’s this.

4 Troll Ascetic
3 Rhox War Monk

It quickly became apparent once I started to work on this deck just how many viable three-drops there are for this strategy. Vendilion Clique, Kitchen Finks, Ohran Viper, Doran the Siege Tower, Trygon Predator, Knight of the Reliquary, even Woolly Thoctar (allowing you to play Contested Cliffs) were things I considered. Why these Troll Ascetic and War Monk?

Vendilion Clique: This is great because it gives you some more disruption against Combo decks like Elves and TEPS game 1. It’s also a flyer which can be significant with Jitte. Being able to play it end-of-turn is also a valuable option. I felt this was too fragile – almost worthless – against Zoo, and that is a dealbreaker.

Kitchen Finks: I played this in the last PTQ instead of Rhox War Monk because I reasoned that it was slightly better than War Monk against every deck other than Zoo, and not much worse than War Monk in the Zoo matchup. In regards to other matchups, what is nicest about the Finks is that, combined with Glen Elendra, the Persist gives you a lot of control against Wrath decks. I was wrong to downplay how much better War Monk is than Finks in the Zoo matchup, though. Finks is certainly annoying, and good value. But it’s a passive play in the matchup, kind of like Bottle Gnomes in the sideboard of a Red mirror match. Rhox War Monk will win the game almost singlehandedly if they can’t kill it immediately, and if they don’t have Sulfuric Vortex. They only have so many Path to Exiles to go around, and if they happen not to have one or if they have used it already, they are in danger of losing the game on the spot.

Ohran Viper: For a while I was playing Ohran Viper. Against Control strategies, it is a very immediate threat. Against Zoo, it can block and trade with anything. In the end, I decided that it just didn’t put on enough pressure. Hitting your opponent for three a few times can sometimes give you a lot of options down the line.

Doran, the Siege Tower: Besides being a five-power three-drop, Doran turns off Cranial Plating, powers up Birds, Hierarchs, and Goyfs, and allows you to profit from Shizo, Death’s Storehouse and Okina, Temple of the Grandfathers. It is, however, a Legend. It also alters your manabase from the most comfortable configuration. In a base GWU deck, it is inconvenient to design a system of fetchlands that will find you a Swamp. So typically you’re looking at an extra two damage to play this on turn 2. It also reduces the number of Blue sources you can play; i.e. Breeding Pool, Forest, and Birds of Paradise won’t get you there. Maybe someone else can figure out a workable manabase to profitably incorporate this guy over Troll Ascetic or Rhox War Monk. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea, I just couldn’t get a good fit.

Trygon Predator: Besides obviously being pretty dumb against Affinity in this deck, this is just too cute. That is, it just doesn’t put on enough pressure (less than Ohran Viper). The utility isn’t consistently significant enough to warrant the power drop.

Knight of the Reliquary: The upside of this guy is that if you play it late it should be huge. It also lets you get accelerate into active turn 3 Glen Elendra, which is cool. I don’t think I would get cute with the land search ability, beyond playing a Mutavault over 1 Treetop Village. I did consider 1 Tomb of Urami to “go nuclear” at the end of your opponent’s turn! Basically, what I didn’t like about this guy was having to power it up for a turn or two before attacking with it.

There are many different angles you can take from the starting frame of 8 Birds, 4 Tarmogoyfs, and 8 three-drops. I considered various versions that used Countryside Crusher, Knight of the Reliquary, and Thoughts of Ruin, but the strategies simply weren’t as robust.

Woolly Thoctar: Another such angle is to go big and combine Doran with Woolly Thoctar, or Woolly Thoctar with Taurean Mauler and include Contested Cliffs. My experience and impression was that these versions didn’t win you many games you weren’t already winning, made the deck more vulnerable, and made the manabase worse.

Troll Ascetic: It’s strange to me that this is still in here, since its abilities don’t seem that relevant. Shroud: well, they’ll kill another guy instead. Regenerate: why not just play a tougher guy, like Doran? What can I say other than that thinking about it in that way must be an oversimplification because those abilities seem to be more relevant than you would expect. Troll plays well. It is nice to be able to put equipment on Troll, and know he won’t just die in response.

Rhox War Monk: Against most decks it is just a 3/4 for 3, with the lifegain being only of marginal benefit. Against Zoo, as I mentioned, I like the fact that it gives you one more way to just end the game if they have the “wrong answers”. This is much better than having something mediocre against Zoo here. You might reverse the numbers of this and Troll Ascetic if you anticipate a lot of Zoo.

None of the options I’m playing are untouchable, with Finks and Doran both presenting reasonable alternatives, but this seems like a smart configuration to me. It leaves you well-balanced against both Zoo and Faeries.

3 Glen Elendra Archmage

I’ve discounted certain three-drops for not being aggressive enough, so how do I justify playing a four-mana 2/2? The three-drops are important in this deck because they often come out turn 2; you get more value out of an aggressive three-drop. This card serves a slightly different function, which is to lock out the game if you’re ahead. I’m not sure if a big dumb beater is enough for four mana. The deck wants a certain number of cards, especially to be online around this stage of the game, that are capable of disrupting your opponent, because the depth of the pure beatdown approach is very one-dimensional. What’s nice is that this is also a creature that’s on the curve.

I also considered Venser Shaper Savant, Sower of Temptation, and Cryptic Command.

Venser, Shaper Savant just never seemed to do enough here. This deck doesn’t feel like a tempo deck; it’s more of a stripped-down grinder deck, i.e. A Rock variant, like Doran.

Where Glen Elendra is often a dangerous threat, Sower of Temptation was just dead against too many decks, among other problems.

Cryptic Command just isn’t at its best here. The game doesn’t usually play out in terms of creature stalemates or races (except sometimes in the Zoo matchup), and the cards you draw into aren’t that valuable mid-game. Anyway, it’s just not as proactive as Glen Elendra.

4 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Sword of Fire and Ice

There’s a tendency to play only 3 Umezawa’s Jitte because extra copies may be redundant. However, especially in decks that are vulnerable to opposing Jittes, it’s smart to play 4 copies if your deck can accommodate. In a format where most decks play Jitte, it has a dual purpose: Jitte, or destroy target Jitte.

Six equipment is a lot. It’s acceptable in this deck because you have so many creatures to equip them to. Even if you run out of Birds, you have seven fetch-lands that can find Dryad Arbor out of nowhere. Especially with acceleration to get them on sooner, these are fairly strong plays against many of the decks in the format.

4 Path to Exile

At first, I was one of those people who thought that this card was vastly overrated. It seemed like giving your opponent a land was a huge advantage. The fact is that such a cheap cost for such a powerful effect really helps you sculpt your game. It’s especially important in an archetype like this one, which naturally tends toward clunkiness. Also, Extended decks tend to have a lower average casting cost, which means an opponent will get less use of the extra land than in Standard.

2 Stifle

A filler card, and it comes out in most matchups. One reason it is not at its best here is because typically you’re using your mana turn 1 to play a mana creature.

Still, I like these here because:

1. It’s cheap for often useful, sometimes devastating, effects. Again, it’s important to have some cheap effects in a deck like this.
2. It’s nearly an auto-win versus TEPS, which is still around. Without it, the first game is not good. Even though you go up to 4 Stifles and 2 Telemin Performance after board, you still want Game 1 to be passable.

Given this reasoning it wouldn’t be out of the question to run 2 Gaddock Teeg here instead. Teeg is worse against TEPS though, and I’m not sure if it’s better against the field. It’s definitely a substitution to consider.

At certain points I tried both Spell Snare and Mana Leak. Spell Snare was decent, Mana Leak was awful. There is a lot to do with your mana in this deck, which presents two problems for these spells, mainly for Mana Leak.

1. You telegraph the fact that you have a counterspell if you leave up mana to use it.
2. You are likely to miss the window in which to counter the spell, making these cards useless.

With Spell Snare, I wanted a card that allowed me to control the board a little more – Path to Exile is a better choice in this deck.

2 Bant Charm

Basically, you want at least two artifact removal spells as potential answers for Shackles. This also helps in a Jitte war. I was considering playing 1 Bant Charm 1 Engineered Explosives to open up a sideboard slot, but I find that Bant Charm is far more efficient than EE in general. I’m not sure if I would want any more Bant Charms as you’re hitting critical mass on the number of three-mana spells in the deck.

I struggled with the decision of Bant Charm or Oblivion Ring. Oblivion Ring can remove Sulfuric Vortex. However, between the disadvantage of Oblivion Ring sticking around to be potentially removed later – especially in Faeries – and its having to be played at Sorcery speed, I decided to go with Bant Charm.

1 Dryad Arbor

Basically, this turns your first redundant Green fetchland into a 1/1. This is a handy option to have open to you in every game. It can beat for a few damage, save a few damage by chumpblocking, or suit up.

3 Treetop Village
4 Windswept Heath
3 Wooded Foothills
2 Flooded Strand
3 Island
3 Forest
1 Plains
2 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Temple Garden

4 Worship

The way I think of Worship is this: you’re going to want something against Affinity. As of now, Worship is 99% an autowin against Affinity if it resolves. The reason you play it over Kataki is that it’s also an autowin against Mono Red (a tier 3 deck, granted, but it pops up), Elves (if they don’t bring in enchantment removal. Some don’t even have access to any; neither of the two Elf decks in the Top 8 of Hannover did, for example), and is a useful tool in some other matchups. That said, do not bring in Worship offhandedly. Against many decks (for example, Faeries) it is almost a blank, since by the time they’re actually ready to get you below one life they’ll have a recurring Venser, or something similar, to put it away. Assuming your opponent doesn’t just lose to it, then the card is only valuable if: your opponent has very few outs to it, has a gameplay that involves killing you quickly, and you will be able to kill them relatively quickly (i.e., not let them draw half their deck because you can’t break through).

As Affinity and Red decks diminish in popularity, and Elves players learn to sideboard enchantment removal against this deck, it could be time for Worship, or at least a couple of Worships, to evolve into something else. Just make sure that something else is worthwhile. Otherwise, having four auto-wins against many Tier 2 and 3 matchups is just nice to have.

2 Stifle
2 Telemin Performance

These cards are concessions to TEPS, though Stifle is good against Faeries. I used to splash Black for Cranial Extraction against TEPS and Death Cloud, but as these decks dwindle in popularity, I decided that the maindeck Overgrown Tomb wasn’t worth it. I prefer Telemin Performance to Trickbind because there is a new trend of bringing in Akroma, Angel of Wrath. At least Telemin Performance does something in that scenario; it can procure a blocker if they’ve gone all-in on Akroma.

3 Engineered Explosives
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Trinket Mage

The Trinket Mage package can go either the 5 Explosives route (Elves) or the 4 Relic + 1-2 Explosives route (Loam, Slide).

The strengths of this build of the archetype are:

1. It doesn’t get cute with the numbers. Eight Birds, not seven. Four Jitte, not three. Four Path to Exile, not two or three. I am a proponent of tweaking numbers in general, but you have to know when and where to max out. Sometimes, even though you recognize that the fourth Jitte is worse than the third Jitte, it’s still best to play the fourth Jitte.
2. It covers a lot of bases; most of the cards in this deck are good in most matchups.
3. As mentioned, the general weakness of the archetype is that it is clunky. This list is streamlined as much as possible, with lots of acceleration, a closely managed mana-curve, and a fine balance between creatures and spells.

Classically, among top players, the 4 Bird 4 Elf ~8 Good 3-drops (e.g. Hypnotic Spectre) structure has been disparaged for a few reasons.

1. The plan can be disrupted by removal on the mana-creature, removal on the three-mana threat, or mass removal.
2. The decks either don’t have card advantage, or can’t make good use of extra cards.
3. The strategies and synergies are shallow.

I agree that to some extent these fundamental issues are at work here, but again they have been mitigated as much as possible, in a variety of ways. Besides several minor points, most of which fall within the category of streamlining (ways to survive mass removal, ways to minimize game situations in which you’re drawing off the top hopelessly), there is also the fact that Extended is an extremely defined format right now, and abstract versatility and power is less important than specific versatility and power. To make another minor point, these fundamental issues are somehow less relevant in Extended than they are in Standard. The character of Extended has always been different than Standard (for example, Genesis saw play in Extended, but not Standard) because decks tend to be more compressed; they are forced to have disruption, and cards that are relevant in a variety of matchups. For some reason this aggro-rock structure is slightly better under these conditions. (Jank was always better in Extended than it was in Standard!)

More specifically, recently there has been the suggestion that Bant is a deck that “can’t win a PTQ.” I think the idea of considering whether a deck is appropriately powerful, versatile, and well-positioned is important, but also that this deck in this form fulfils those requirements to an appropriate degree.


Faeries (very good)
Zoo (good)
Loam (good)
Elves (not good)
Affinity (good)
TEPS (good)
Slide (okay)
Bant (okay)

Faeries (and NLB):

Practically every card in your deck is very good against them. Troll Ascetic presents a major problem, and Sword of Fire and Ice is game over. If you’re on the play and open with a mana-creature, they can’t stop your turn 2 three-drop.

Knowing which counters they play – Spell Snare, Spellstutter Sprite, Mana Leak, and some number of Cryptic Commands – is a big advantage. For example, it’s turn 5 and you have five lands and a Bird in play… even against 3 untapped lands, you can safely play Sword of Fire & Ice and know they can’t do anything about it. If you’re on the draw and started with a turn 1 mana creature, you have the option of playing around Mana Leak or not; it’s the only response they can have, and sometimes it’s best to just go for it.

Their primary avenue to victory here is Vedalken Shackles. Play aggressively, and with the potential of Shackles in mind (for example, don’t play a Tarmogoyf if the only way you can lose is if your opponent plays Shackles and steals it to block your Troll). Ration your Bant Charm if possible. Sower is very poor against you; it either gets Path’d, Stifle’d, Jitte’d, SoFI’d, or Charm’d.

Be conscious of Engineered Explosives to avoid being devastated by it.

Assuming you think your opponent is playing 2 Shackles, 2 Sower of Temptation:

-1 Birds of Paradise
-1 Rhox War Monk
+2 Stifle

It’s pretty hard not to bring in Stifle, considering they have 7-8 fetches, and it counters Sower, Ancestral Vision, and Engineered Explosives.


There’s not much to say about the gameplay in this matchup; most of the decisions happened in deckbuilding. I sometimes slow-roll my Tarmogoyfs until they’re out of the Incinerate/Helix range.

Their primary avenue to victory here is Sulfuric Vortex. Turn 1 guy, turn 2 guy, turn 3 Vortex is very difficult to beat, although it is possible. Again, there’s not much you can do to play around it, except to take a generally aggressive tack when prudent. The good news is that the vogue builds of the moment (Saito’s, and Bill Stark) don’t have maindeck Vortex.

-2 Stifle
+2 Worship

Even though most lists play 3-4 Hedge-Mage and would probably bring in 2-3, I bring in 2 Worship. I find this is a good backup, considering Stifle’s mediocre in the matchup. Often if they have a Hedge-Mage they will use it to kill an equipment and then be left empty handed when Worship hits.

Obviously, if you get wind they’re not playing Hedge-Mages, you bring in the full set of Worships. And play around Volcanic Fallout if they’re playing Saito’s list (which has no enchantment removal).

Loam (Rock):

Don’t rely on Birds or Hierarchs for mana as your opponent may have Darkblast. Don’t walk into Damnation; most lists play those now. Damnation and Wrath of God aren’t that bad against this deck because all of your creatures represent solid threats in themselves, especially when combined with a piece of equipment. Use your Treetop Villages wisely; supplementing an attack with them while your opponent is tapped out, and protecting them while your opponent is likely to remove them so that you can attack and play a creature after Wrath hits. Death Cloud is a major threat against you, but fortunately no one’s played that in weeks. Although things can go wrong, this matchup just tends to play out well for you.

+2 Trinket Mage
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+1 Engineered Explosives
-2 Stifle
-1 Birds of Paradise
-1 Rhox War Monk
-1 Bant Charm

Relics obviously manage Loam, and prevent you from getting Worms-locked.

EE is just another option for Trinket mage.


The Elves matchup is this deck’s worst matchup, besides various Tier 3 fringe decks, though it has certainly gotten better with the inclusion of 4 Path to Exile.

Unless you can get an early equipment online, through a Wirewood Symbiote, you’re in trouble.

+3 Engineered Explosives
+2 Trinket Mage
(+4 Worship)
-2 Stifle
-3 Glen Elendra Archmage
(-1 Troll Ascetic, -1 Birds of Paradise, -1 Path to Exile, -1 Bant Charm)

If your opponent is not aware that 4 Worship is coming in from the sideboard, they may not board in any removal at all. If they think you’re just playing Equipment, it’s far more efficient for them to just beef up their Viridian Shaman network. The thing is that you’re taking a serious risk for that free win, because the extra cards you’re taking out are all solid. Try to get a read and proceed accordingly. If they see the Worship (i.e. If you play it Game 2 and they shortly concede), I would usually take it out, even though some builds of Elves don’t have any enchantment removal whatsoever.


All things considered, this matchup is pretty awesome. Path to Exile is so good here, and its increased prominence is probably one of the reasons why Affinity is quickly becoming extinct.

Ration your removal for the important spells where possible. That is, Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Master of Etherium. Any one of these left unchecked can potentially end the game very quickly.

Of course, always keep Soul’s Fire or Fatal Frenzy in mind.

-3 Glen Elendra Archmage
-2 Stifle
+4 Worship
+1 Engineered Explosives

If your Worship hits, it should be game over. The only outs I’ve come across are Krark-Clan Shaman and Krosan Grip, both of which are pretty marginal. Once it’s online, attack with a Jitte’d Troll until they run out of fodder for Arcbound Ravager.


If you have Stifle game 1, or in subsequent games, protect it by leaving up two mana in case of Remand. Besides that, short of a ramped out Glen Elendra, you’re pretty low on disruption game 1. The best you can do is put pressure on them so that they may have to go off prematurely.

+2 Stifle
+2 Telemin Performance
+2 Engineered Explosives
-4 Path to Exile
-1 Umezawa’s Jitte
-1 Bant Charm

Some TEPS players may bring Gigadrowse in against you. Because of this possibility, it’s best to leave up a fetchland for your Stifle mana.

Is Trickbind better than Stifle after sideboard: Trickbind just loses to Gigadrowse (assuming you don’t have 2 untapped fetchlands waiting); Stifle just loses to Pact of Negation, or to Gigadrowse + Remand (again, assuming you don’t have 2 untapped fetchlands waiting). Stifle also comes in against Faeries. I could see going 2 Trickbind instead of 2 Stifle in the board and then not bringing anything in against Faeries, except maybe an Engineered Explosives as another answer to Vedalken Shackles, but I feel Stifle has the edge.

Telemin Performance hasn’t been tested, and may be too slow. If you find that this is the case I would just go with Trickbinds, and rely on Jitte or Sword if your opponent does bring in Akroma.


I haven’t played this matchup enough to know it closely, but it’s clearly fairly similar to Loam, except that their Enchantments, particularly Astral Slide, are good additions against you.

If they Slide their own creature out you can lock it out with a Stifle.

+2 Trinket Mage
+2 Relic of Progenitus
+2 Engineered Explosives
-1 Birds of Paradise
-1 Rhox War Monk
-2 Bant Charm
-2 Stifle


The mirror could be downright weird, as many players won’t have a good way to remove Worship. Even if they do, if they don’t get it soon enough you may be able to lock them out with Glen Elendra. This matchup can play out sort of like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. If you bring in all of your Worship gear, and they have no Enchantment removal, you’re advantaged. If you bring in all of your Worship gear, and they have kept their deck moderately aggressive but add iffy enchantment removal, you’re disadvantaged. If you keep your deck exactly the same and they dilute theirs with iffy enchantment removal, you’re advantaged. If you both do the same thing, it’s a tie – even footing.

+4 Worship
-2 Stifle
-1 Glen Elendra Archmage
-1 Rhox War Monk

I would also say it’s perfectly acceptable to leave the deck completely unchanged, depending on your sense of what they’re bringing in. Obviously if they have Trygon Predators you just want to keep the deck exactly the same. If you think they’re bringing in several Worships, you could go on the defensive with Trinket Mages and Explosives (for 4, off Birds). I wouldn’t sweat this matchup too much, as it’s still fairly rare, Worship isn’t that played in general, and there’s a lot of variation from build to build.

As of right now (which, unfortunately for you, is a little while before you’re reading this) this deck is well-positioned. However, with Slide and Elves on the upswing, and TEPS and Affinity on the downswing, it will not be as good of a choice. It’s also probably not as good now that I’ve made all the weaknesses and sideboard strategies public. There is room for improvement on the deck. The sideboard could be rethought in light of the changing metagame, re-approached and adjusted for Elves and Slide.

Still, the deck is well-tuned, and a good choice.

Jeff Cunningham