I chatted this past weekend with my buddy and fellow Legacy player, Spencer Hayes. He told me excitedly about a deck that he played this weekend in a Michigan tournament with his friend, Paul Kim, resulting in two Top 8 finishes. I was interested to hear about it because it ran several powerful but under-utilized cards in Legacy like Noble Hierarch and Vendilion Clique. Further, their list ran Spell Pierce, one of the most interesting cards from Zendikar in my opinion. I was eager to get a grasp of how his deck played out, so we called each other up, booted up MWS and played some games against gauntlet decks. Here’s the list that Spencer was running:
Here, you can see how Misty Rainforest really aids the deck in a way that was not possible before Zendikar. It facilitates openings that begin with a Forest and Noble Hierarch, one of the most potent plays against the format’s many mana denial decks. Against a deck that packs Daze, this opening blanks a card in their hand and puts the Bant player far ahead in mana. The Hierarch also lets the Bant player win Tarmogoyf standoffs and can deal a considerable amount of damage on its own, as you’ll see. With Qasali Pridemage, the deck has a full eight Exalted creatures. Though this makes a card like Swords to Plowshares more devastating, as it can negate an entire attack phase, it also makes any creature on its own a more formidable attacker, balancing out the weakness to removal in some ways.
The basic gameplan of Tempo Bant is to play out an early attacker and utilize cards like Daze and Wasteland to increase its mana advantage. It then can ramp into a card like Knight of the Reliquary or Vendilion Clique. Both, while seemingly costing three mana, functionally often cost much more in Legacy because the player is holding up mana to protect against Daze, Spell Pierce an opponent or cast Brainstorm to find cards. Often, one big attacker (or three Exalted creatures on the board) will quickly end the game.
A Sample Match Against Zoo
I loaded up Mitchell Reiners’ Naya Zoo list from the StarCityGames.com Philadelphia $5000 Legacy Open, which has been my gauntlet Zoo deck recently. Spencer and I talked about what he feared from Zoo and what would be strong from his deck. Spencer was most afraid of an early, strong start from Zoo, but was unconcerned about Price of Progress because he had three basic lands. He expressed that Zoo was unwise to attempt to burn out his Noble Hierarchs, since Zoo performed best in his testing when it just raced Tempo Bant. Spending a burn spell on the mana creature tended to slow Zoo down and made cards like Fireblast and Price of Progress worse because they couldn’t kill out nowhere. Further, Spencer said that, surprisingly, Spell Pierce was mostly dead against Zoo decks. The reason was that he tapped out a lot in his early turns and Zoo’s low mana curve meant that he was unlikely to catch their burn spells with the counter.
We rolled and Zoo won, going first.
I mulliganed into a hand of:
Knight of the Reliquary
I lead with a weak Kird Ape from Plateau and pass the turn. Spencer plays a Noble Hierarch and then passes back. Luckily, I drew a Wooded Foothills, so I get a Taiga and attack. My postcombat Tarmogoyf is Dazed. As a side note, throughout the match, I considered whether I would play around Daze and how much it would hurt my hand to lose my creature. In this case, I had a Knight to play out in the next turn and I wasn’t too worried about losing my Tarmogoyf. Spencer played a Qasali Pridemage, attacked with a Hierarch for two Exalted damage and passed the turn.
I dutifully attacked with my Kird Ape and then played a postcombat Tarmogoyf that I drew from the top. I was able to keep the pressure on Spencer. I played the Tarmogoyf as a little psychological tweak and because it would be stronger than the Knight at the moment. Spencer thought about the Tarmogoyf for a moment, letting me know that his hand had Force of Will and no removal spells. He allowed it. I had a Plateau untapped, which I used to Lightning Bolt him – unfortunately, it ran into a Spell Pierce!
Life totals at this point had me at 13 life and Spencer at 10.
I played a Knight of the Reliquary after Spencer played his own, weaker, Knight. He paused and asked how big my Tarmogoyf was. All this is happening with the Knight on the stack. Spencer, thus, has Force of Will and is considering whether he could race my beefy attackers. His only real racing cards are a Knight of his own or a Vendilion Clique, which he is considering tossing to his Force of Will. The Knight resolves after Spencer confirms my suspicions about having the Legendary Faeries in hand. He simply Wastelands my Taiga and I think I’ve got the game in the bag.
During my draw step, Spencer cast Vendilion Clique, targeting me. I cast Price of Progress in response, bringing the life totals to 5-6. I attacked with my two monsters, leaving the Kird Ape, at this point back to a 1/1, on the bench. He had to chump block with the Clique, and I played a Grim Lavamancer and passed the Turn. Spencer lost the race the next turn and it was off to the sideboards!
I cut my Qasali Pridemages for three Red Elemental Blasts and a Path to Exile. Looking back, I don’t know if I should have taken out proactive cards for reactive ones, but I thought the Cat Wizards were a bit slow in the match and didn’t have many relevant targets.
I kept a hand of:
Knight of the Reliquary
Spencer plays a Tropical Island and a Noble Hierarch and passes the turn. Now, I wonder whether I should play around Daze. I really want my Nacatl to resolve, since it represents a lot of potential damage. I was content to play a Taiga and pass the turn. Spencer went for a Ponder on his second turn after missing a land, provoking a Lightning Bolt from me at him in response. He resolved the cantrip and played another land, attacked and passed the turn. I played a Plateau and a Chain Lighting, bringing the life totals to 14-19.
Spencer attacked with his Hierarch and passed, an uneventful turn. I played my Horizon Canopy into a Wild Nacatl, safe from Daze. Spencer Pondered again and was very excited about his results; I soon found out why when he Wastelanded my Plateau, shrinking my Nacatl to a slip.
Luckily, I drew another Windswept Heath and dug up my second Plateau. I attacked, bringing the life totals to 15-11. Afterward, I played the Sylvan Library and passed the turn. The Library is an amazing threat from Zoo, as its own life total often does not matter (so you can draw an extra card or two) and the selection, especially combined with fetchlands, is great for finding burn spells or more monsters.
Since I could not cast it with my mana situation, Spencer kindly relieved me of the Knight of the Reliquary in my hand via his Vendilion Clique. I drew a Lightning Bolt to replace the Knight. My Nacatl was removed by Swords to Plowshares and I flung a Lightning Bolt at the Clique to stop the damage. He attacked with his Exalted Clique twice while I was drawing lands (even with Library active!) and I dropped to 7 meager life, matching Spencer.
I activated two Horizon Canopies to clear off my library of lands. I had Price of Progress and Fireblast in hand, but Spencer had only one nonbasic land; the maximum damage I could deal was six. Spencer made another Vendilion Clique at the end of my turn; I attempted a Fireblast, floating RG. He didn’t take the bait and Force of Will, leaving him at three life. He attacked with his Clique and showed me a Hydroblast after the game.
In the third game, I kept a hand of:
Path to Exile
Path to Exile
I was very happy to see the Grim Lavamancer, since it can dismantle many of Spencer’s creatures. I lead with a fetch into Taiga, played a Wild Nacatl and passed the turn. Spencer played a land and passed. I attacked with my Cat after playing Plateau and landed a postcombat Grim Lavamancer, only to lose it to a Hydroblast at the end of my turn.
Spencer played Ponder and then passed the turn. I felt I had a good lead in this game, especially when my Wild Nacatl got in for three more damage. Alas, Spencer knew that Zoo always plays its threats after combat and held a Swords to Plowshares to munch on my 4/5 Tarmogoyf that I played.
Spencer Wastelanded my Taiga and passed the turn. I fortunately had a Forest in my hand to make the Wild Nacatl big again, but it, too, ate a Swords to Plowshares and life totals stood at 26-14.
After a Brainstorm at the end of my turn, Spencer played a Forest, Ponder and then a Noble Hierarch. We traded burn and I cast Path to Exile on an attacking Qasali Pridemage. Later, Spencer cast a Vendilion Clique, which I also Pathed, and which saw only a lonely Horizon Canopy in my hand.
My opponent then played a Tarmogoyf and attacked with his Hierarch. In my draw step, he cast another Clique and found that I had drawn a Plains to go with my Horizon Canopy. I cycled the Future Sight land and drew a Grim Lavamancer, quite a threat against his creatures.
Unfortunately, I get tagged for 7 life the next turn and I am down to 14 life. I removed his Vendilion Clique with my Red Wizard, only to lose it to Path to Exile on his turn. I played a Knight of the Reliquary to defend myself the next turn, but Spencer, through his many cantrips, had a Sword to Plowshares for it as well. I was able to double Lightning Bolt his Tarmogoyf, but Spencer had too many attackers and I lost the next turn.
We decided to shift gears to another matchup…
A Sample Match Against Team America
I booted up Jimmy McCarthy’s Team America deck from GP: Chicago to see how Spencer’s tempo deck played against another devastating tempo deck.
I lost the die roll and kept a hand of:
Force of Will
Spencer lead with a Noble Hierarch and passed the turn. The mana creature would render much of my deck irrelevant if Spencer drew enough lands. I Wastelanded his Tropical Island after drawing a Flooded Strand. Spencer played an Island and just attacked. I played my fetchland into an Underground Sea, resolving a Ponder. Spencer had the Wasteland for my Sea, though, illustrating that much of this matchup would revolve around destroying each others’ mana. On my next turn, my Thoughtseize was Dazed. Spencer used his turn to Wasteland my Bayou.
On my turn, I drew another land like a champion and played Ponder, drawing a Flooded Strand and stacking a Tombstalker on top. My Sinkhole was Dazed and Spencer played a Misty Rainforest for a Forest into another Noble Hierarch. Spencer attacked me with his double-Exalted Hierarch, reducing me to 11 life compared to his 18.
I Sinkholed his Forest and he attacked. I played Tombstalker, which was countered by Force of Will. This told me he didn’t have removal in his hand, or else he would have just cast his White removal with a Noble Hierarch.
Spencer played a Qasali Pridemage to further his Exalted theme and I could not stop his onslaught.
I sideboarded by removing a Thoughtseize and two Ponder for three Extirpate. The dream would be to nail a Tropical Island and then remove all of them, but taking out Swords to Plowshares or Force of Will would be strong as well, and the peek into his hand would shape further plays. Ponder, being a Sorcery, made early plays with Stifle a bit worse and I needed to kill as many of his lands as I could. I kept a hand of:
Spencer mulliganed to five.
I played and Underground Sea, only to have it Wastelanded. I played my Tropical Island, only to lose it, too. Spencer finally played an Island. I deliberately missed dropping my Wasteland to bait a dual land from him and he obliged by playing out a Tropical Island. My ensuing Wasteland was met by him playing a Brainstorm, then Dazing it to return his dual and paying for the Daze. I Dazed his Brainstorm and cast one of my own. What a stack!
Spencer played another Brainstorm on his turn. Mine showed me a Snuff Out and an Underground Sea, so I utilized the removal on his Hierarch. Spencer used a third(!) Wasteland on my Underground Sea and I was, again, looking for more lands.
His Noble Hierarch was answered by my Tombstalker, on which he used Swords to Plowshares. At that point, I Extirpated his Swords so I could peek at his hand. I was holding another Tombstalker and a Force of Will, but no Blue card, so I needed to see if it was profitable to cast the attacker. Sure enough, he had a Force of Will and Spell Pierce, so I waited.
While Spencer could stop the baited Tarmogoyf that I drew, he had no answer for the other flying Demon, and I won.
My third game hand was:
Force of Will
Spencer played a Noble Hierarch from his Tropical Island and passed the turn. Ugh. I drew Stifle, played my Underground Sea and cast Snuff Out on his Hierarch, only to have Spencer use Force of Will, discarding Daze. On his turn, Spencer used Wasteland on my dual. Aha, my Stifle will protect it! Sadly, Spencer had a Spell Pierce to stop that. I played a Wasteland and hit his land with it, while Spencer played a Ponder and then a Tundra. I used a Snuff Out on his Hierarch, only to have Spencer use his own Path to Exile on the card to find another land. I had three Tombstalkers in hand and a Force of Will, without the sufficient graveyard cards to cast the Demons. Spencer landed a Tarmogoyf that was 4/5. I played a Tombstalker, only to have Spencer draw a Noble Hierarch to Exalt his Tarmogoyf! I couldn’t handle the green giant and lost soon after.
Our games illustrated that his deck was robust and capable of making many gains on account of Wasteland and Daze, especially when the Noble Hierarch allowed him to play as usual, even when losing his land drops. Spencer indicated that his sideboarding was usually very light, often siding out a copy of Daze or Force of Will, depending on whether he was on the draw or play, respectively. Against very aggressive decks like Goblins or Zoo, Spencer and Paul side out the Spell Pierces for Blue Elemental Blasts. Spencer also mentioned that they had a Counterbalance version of the deck, which he played in the Michigan tournament. He advised it for CounterTop-heavy metagames, but I would rather just run Spell Pierces against such a deck because I could have a chance of stopping Sensei’s Divining Top.
Spencer and Paul feel that the deck is superior to Canadian Threshold; I find myself agreeing. While burn spells are somewhat powerful, Qasali Pridemage and Vendilion Clique give this deck a lot more punch. Though this deck doesn’t run Stifle, the Spell Pierce is a fine alternative and can fulfill many of the same duties of Stifle by slowing an opponent down. The deck can also support cards like Rhox War Monk on the sideboard or even the maindeck, and can adjust with a miser’s Elspeth, Knight Errant or similar card for a “trump” strategy. Though Spencer doesn’t run them on his sideboard, I could also see Armageddon in a control-heavy metagame. In sum, Tempo Bant is a great, powerful, consistent deck running some of the time-tested hits of the format alongside new and exciting cards. Give it a try!
Until next week…
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