It all started in Denver.
It was the Saturday night of the Grand Prix, and Brian Kowal and I were brewing up Extended decks. Mirran Crusader was on our minds, with the ominous
Stoneforge Mystic looming just behind. As Kowal put it, “you don’t have to run red to be able to play with Woolly Thoctar anymore!”
We started with a G/W shell and ended up exploring the other colors. We went down the possibilities and eventually came up with a Bant list
surprisingly similar to the one Reid Duke would use to Top 8
the online PTQ just hours later.
A week of taking results into account and refining later, this is the 75 (give or take a sideboard tweak or two) I would be running in my PTQ the next
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Mirran Crusader
The Game Plan
For those of you used to more Mythic-style Bant decks, something like this may look a little different. This is an aggro-control kind of Bant deck,
accelerating into threats that quickly threaten the opponent while backed with countermagic and some light disruption.
Why this kind of deck over Mythic? Mythic has a much more linear angle of attack. It certainly can create far more robust starts that this deck — but
by the same token, it can produce as equally great failures. Mythic takes Volcanic Fallout especially hard, where this deck can recover from one, since
its hand isn’t gummed up with expensive spells.
That’s not to say this deck doesn’t have any absurdly strong plays. We’ll get to those. But first things first — the mana!
The mana base for this deck is very tight, and there’s a surprising amount going on. It’s hard to know how many lands you actually want, but through a
lot of games in real life and Magic Online, I’ve ended up with a mana base I’m satisfied with. Â
The first thing you have to balance is your ability to play an accelerant on turn 1. Your games where you have a turn 1 accelerator are like night and
day. Unlike Reid, I’m playing the full eight just because it’s so crucial you have one on the first turn. (In fact, I even looked into Llanowar Elves
at one point so I could have a ninth!)
However, it’s kind of silly to play all of these accelerants if you can’t consistently cast them on the first turn. This mana base has fourteen green
sources, which seems to be the sweet spot so far. A Seachrome Coast could be another Forest or Verdant Catacombs to bring the count to fifteen, but the
Forest count has been fine so far.
Misty Rainforest and Verdant Catacombs fix your mana plus help out Knight thanks to the Island and Murmuring Bosk. The Bosk is a card I’d love to cut
but is a necessary evil; I removed it for a while, but there are simply too many situations where fetching for a white source is a make-or-break kind
of deal that it’s worth the times when you draw it and end up back a turn.
Lands entering untapped is crucial in this deck, since your goal is so often to curve out perfectly. As a result, you have to be careful with the
manland count. I started with five and slowly whittled down to just three.
While good in the long game, you simply cannot afford to hinder your first, second, and third turns by putting lands down tapped. Furthermore, going
long, you often want to leave countermagic mana untapped anyway, so activating manlands becomes a dubious proposition. If you do activate them and
attack, then you might not be able to counter, but if you don’t activate them against an empty board, the jig is up.Â
Seachrome Coast helps on the mana to support your WW and U cards. You don’t really want to play a Mystic Gate because you have Spell Pierce in your
deck, and the only UU card is Vendilion Clique anyway.
As far as the other one ofs go, the Tectonic Edge is crucial enough in some matchups I wanted another in the sideboard, and the maindeck one is awesome
against a large variety of decks; the Sejiri Steppe is there for the great Knight of the Reliquary interaction.
You could play one Wooded Bastion over the second SeachromeCoast. It gives you an untapped white source that Knight can fetch in case of emergencies
and helps you cast Mirran Crusader. I recognize you can’t cast Birds off of the Bastion, but I think you’re okay on turn 1 green sources, and past turn
1, it helps your mana so much. The bigger problem for me is making sure you have access to blue mana consistently, which the second Coast helps with.
Onto the creatures!
I’ve already explained why I think eight accelerators are required in this deck, but for those of you who skim the mana base sections and/or are
attracted to big, bold headers, I’ll briefly cover it again. You pick up a ton of free wins off of turn 1 mana accelerator, turn 2 threat. I respect
that you can get the draws where you’re mono-Birds of Paradise Control this way and also that it makes you more susceptible to Fallout, but the raw
power is enough to tilt the favor toward eight one-drops. The difference in games when you have an accelerator is enough to make any risks worth it.
Of course, sometimes your early-turn play doesn’t always work out. Maybe they have a Lightning Bolt; maybe you didn’t draw one. Either way, in times
like these, you have a nice suite of two-drops you can turn to. (Mid-paragraph unrelated tip: if you don’t have a one-drop or a two-drop in your
opening hand with this deck, mulligan.)
Qasali Pridemage is excellent right now. Besides providing a nice exalted bonus, artifacts and enchantments are everywhere! From Prismatic Omen, to
Bitterblossom, to Sword of Feast and Famine, this former sideboard card is ready for some maindeck play. While it does get sideboarded out here and
there, it’s been mostly awesome for me, and I’m perfectly happy with the four.
Stoneforge Mystic, on the other hand, is a card that needs no introduction in this day and age. It’s a backbone to this deck and a complete breaker.
I’ll get to its targets in the spells section, but the Mystic is just as good, if not better, than it has been elsewhere recently.
In an ideal game, though, you can skip your two-drop and jump to a three-drop. Fortunately, you have some great options.
Knight of the Reliquary is a card I think most people understand and respect by now. Whether accelerating your mana, fetching up manlands, sending the
final points through with Sejiri Steppe, or just crashing in for six, the Knight is one of the scariest threats you can deploy on the second turn in
this format. I’d love to have one more Verdant Catacombs to pair with him, but even with “just” six fetchlands, he’s very good.
In the other corner of the three-drop slot is the newcomer: Mirran Crusader. Let me tell you now; this guy is the real deal.
First of all, he costs three and hits for four. In today’s day and age, that’s not insane, but it’s certainly on curve at least. But the thing is he’s
seldom just hitting for four. With eight exalted cards in your deck, usually he’s getting in for six or eight points of damage as early as turn 3. And
that’s with an average draw.
You want to hear about a good draw? Okay, sure. How about turn 2 Mirran Crusader, turn 3 Elspeth… take ten! How about turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic
for Sword of Feast and Famine, turn 3 Mirran Crusader, turn 4 Stoneforge activation, equip, attack… Take eight, discard two cards, oh, and I’ll untap
all of my lands.
Yes, unfortunately he is susceptible to Volcanic Fallout and Lightning Bolt. However, he attacks right past all manners of Faerie tokens, Putrid
Leeches, Elvish Archdruids, Primeval Titans, Kitchen Finks, and more. He can’t be Disfigured, Go for the Throated, Doom Bladed, or even Hornet Stung.
Mirran Crusader is awesome and going to see play in Block, Standard, and Extended. It’s definitely a card worth picking up early.
Finally, I had one slot left and was thinking what I wanted to do with it. I weighed my sideboard and maindeck options, thought about what kind of card
I wanted, and eventually settled on one Vendilion Clique. Having access to three after sideboarding is very nice.
The short answer: I tried out varying numbers of each, and this is the configuration I like best.
The longer answer? I started with four Pierces and ended up at two because you can’t afford to draw two dead ones. It’s good in a lot of situations,
but it’s also dead in some as well. Mana Leak costs one more but takes down Mistbind Cliques, Primeval Titans, and all kinds of assorted problematic
creatures. Bant Charm is the worst for countering spells (though it still shuts down Cryptic Command decently) but makes up for it by blowing up
creatures and Sword of Feast and Famines.
Reid only had three Leaks in his build, but I really think countermagic is what pushes this deck above other similar decks of its caliber. Often, you
can just ride one threat to victory, so having a Knight or Crusader out there and being able to sit back on a counterspell or two is definitely a
Elspeth is a card I’ve tried varying numbers on, and I think I’m finally happy with two. It’s clearly insane with Mirran Crusader, and jumping anything
else is pretty swell. Against Jund and U/W, it gives you a nice plan, and with the rise of Stoneforge Mystic decks, it’s good to create tokens that can
block creatures equipped with either Sword.
However, it does cost four in a deck that wants to protect its board with countermagic, and an opening hand with two can be a little iffy. For now, I’m
sticking with two, though I could see cutting the Vendilion Clique to go back up to three. Â
Finally, the two equipments.
Originally, I just had two Swords of Feast and Famine. There weren’t a lot of situations where I felt like I wanted Sword of Body and Mind, and
whenever I drew a sword naturally, I wanted it to be of the Feast and Famine variety. However, on a tip from Alexander West, I tried out one Behemoth
Sledge and have been liking it so far. It’s an unfortunate nonbo with your Mirran Crusader’s protection from green, but other than that, the life gain
and trample have been enormously relevant in a lot of matchups.
Faeries is a great matchup for you and a major allure of playing this deck. Yes, they can certainly win games where they Disfigure your turn 1
accelerant and then have Bitterblossom and some action afterward, but on the flip side, the much more common sequence of accelerator into Knight of the
Reliquary or Mirran Crusader is very rough for them. Even Kitchen Finks is a pretty reasonable threat.
Sword of Feast and Famine is a particular issue for the Faeries deck, since it lets you strike past Bitterblossom tokens, making Vendilion Clique much
better than usual. With that said, be careful to play around Vendilion Clique with your Stoneforge Mystic; often I’ll just activate it main phase.
G/R Valakut is a really tight matchup. I keep winning, and if I was looking solely at numbers, I’d be around an 80% favorite, but so many of the games
could go either way depending on what the Valakut player rips. You’re basically just throwing as much damage as possible at them and doing whatever you
can to disrupt them in the meantime.
The problem with disrupting them is that you have no good answer to Scapeshift. Spell Pierce and Mana Leak will never counter Scapeshift alone, so you
just want to throw your counters at their early ramp spells to stunt the Valakut player by one or two turns. Often, that’s all you need, especially if
your Sword is active. Otherwise, you’ll either be Cliquing their Scapeshift away or crossing your fingers.
Unlike Valakut, which is just a race, you have a lot of good tools to deal with Wargate and can play a longer game against them. You can deal with
Prismatic Omen and counter cards like Cryptic Command, which they’re using to buy time. Watch out for Day of Judgment and Sun Titan after sideboarding,
but especially with the aid of Vendilion Clique, you’re pretty favored in this matchup.
+3 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, +3 Path to Exile, +3 Kitchen Finks, +1 Tectonic Edge
-4 Qasali Pridemage -3 Mana Leak, -2 Spell Pierce, -1 Vendilion Clique
Jund is definitely one of your harder matchups. That’s not to say it’s highly unfavorable or impossible, but I’d say game one is probably around 40%
depending on if you can stick a threat (especially Mirran Crusader) or sword. You have no real good answer to a Demigod chain in the first game, so
keep that in mind.
After sideboarding, you pick up a ton of tools to deal with them, and the matchup becomes much better. You trade your countermagic for extra ways to
contain their creatures and buy time, which is what you’re mainly looking to do until you can get a piece of equipment online.Â
+3 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, +3 Path to Exile, +3 Kitchen Finks
-4 Qasali Pridemage, -2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant, -1 Sword of Feast and Famine, -1 Vendilion Clique, -1 Mana Leak
Your creatures are all pretty vulnerable here, though if you untap with Knight, you’re usually in good shape. Your endgame plan is Behemoth Sledge, so
always be playing with that in mind. You just play the control deck and attrition them until you can hit that point; hopefully you can make it there.
These games go one of two ways:
It’s a total blowout in your favor with an accelerator, threat, and then countermagic backup
It’s one of the longest, grind-â€˜em-out matchups I’ve ever played
I’ve been winning most of my matches against the new kids on the block, but they haven’t made it easy. The matches have been taking forever; I almost
never am at risk of timing out on Magic Online and have found myself with my back up against the chess clock in this match constantly. Because of Day
of Judgment and the propensity of the games to go long, I’d rather sideboard out some of my mana creatures to better prepare for the long haul.
Game one of Elves is likely your worst matchup. Barring a good Mirran Crusader draw or a stumbling draw on their end, you’re probably going to lose.
After sideboarding, you can pick apart their lords with spot removal and eventually hit Linvala, which shuts down a lot of their game plan if they
haven’t assembled everything already. If you expect a lot of Elves, I was sideboarding Day of Judgments online for a while.
Unless you have an answer for Fauna Shaman like Bant Charm, Naya can be a rough game one. After sideboarding, similar to Jund, you pick up a bunch of
cards that are effective against their strategy. I’m not entirely certain that you want to be cutting Pridemages against them because of their
equipment, so sideboard by ear of what you think they have.
There are plenty of other good choices for a deck like this. Here are a few I tried.
Thrun, the Last Troll:
I was convinced Thrun was going to be awesome. Good against Faeries, good against control, good against Jund… If you look through some of the Daily
Events I played in last week, you’ll see I had these in the maindeck! Unfortunately, they didn’t live up to my expectations. A 4/4 really isn’t all
that threatening if that’s all it is, and even an untargetable 4/4 can just be blocked by Bitterblossom tokens every turn. Against control, getting to
the six mana I wanted in order to play Thrun with regeneration mana up never really happened. He was great against Jund if you could circumvent the
Demigod plan somehow, but even then, he wasn’t really holding the weight I hoped a four-mana spell would hold.
Hero of Bladehold:
Hero is a card Reid swears by, but I couldn’t get into it. It cost four — a premium mana slot when you’re trying to hold up countermagic — for a guy
who doesn’t affect the board until next turn. If you play a Crusader on turn 2, Hero gives them a perfect opportunity to use Go for the Throat. In
general, I felt whenever I was attacking with the Hero, I was in such a good position anyway that it could have just been something else.
I tried this card and did not like it at all. It’s another card that felt great when I was already winning, but wasn’t that impressive when I was
trying to establish a position. Plus, it costs five! It’s decent against Valakut but not overly impressive otherwise.
Time Warp is such a dream in this deck. Equip Sword, attack, untap my lands, Time Warp… catch me, I’m swooning! Unfortunately, five is more than I
really want to pay for a card in a world outside of my fantasy wonderland where I get to equip Sword and hit, then Time Warp. It’s certainly a really
sweet card, but the mana cost and being stuck in your hand in the early game is what dragged it down for me.
Great Sable Stag:
I didn’t feel like I needed it against Faeries, and I already have a lot of excellent threats I can plop down on turn 2 anyway.
This is a hard counter against Scapeshift decks — but only Scapeshift decks. U/W often keeps creature parity with you and has Mutavaults to mess you
up. I didn’t really want a counterspell just for Valakut, but it’s a route you can go if you want to fight them.
A nice anti-Jund, anti-Red card, but for five mana, the price tag is going to keep it stranded when I need it the most. Plus, I sideboard out my
countermagic against Jund, making it a easy removal target if I don’t already have an active Knight… in which case, I’m probably winning anyway.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor:
I thought Jace was going to be excellent in this deck when I tried him, but he failed. Sometimes, you hit spots where you need to gas up, and Jace
would help there. The problem is that you usually get one Brainstorm out of him — if he resolves in the first place — and then he dies. Against
Faeries, Jund, Red, Elves, and Naya, he’s pretty mediocre. Against Valakut and Wargate, he’s merely okay. Is that the kind of card I want to play with?
Stoneforge Bant is a deck you have to play tight and carefully with. I’ve seen games slip through my fingers by inches, and I’ve seen myself reclaim
games I thought were gone. You have to think about every line of play and how to get the most damage in. It’s one of those decks where few of your
matchups are truly bad — it’s just about maximizing your chances in each, and each one is crucial.
With all of that said, I’m sure there’s still some innovation to be had with this archetype — but I’ve been very happy with my build so far. Play some
games, try it out, and let me know what you guys think! I’d love to hear your feedback.
You can either e-mail me at Gavintriesagain at gmail dot com, tweet me @GavinVerhey, or post in the forums. Otherwise, I’ll be coming to you live on
SCGLive at the StarCityGames.com Open: Edison this weekend, and, if nothing else, I’ll talk to you then!