Positive EV – Bant in Extended

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Tuesday, December 15th – The Extended PTQ season is fast approaching, and the wise mage will be well prepared. Manuel Bucher discusses his Bant deck from this year’s World Championships, and provides a selection of sideboarding strategies for the top decks in the field.

At this year’s World Championships, I played Bant in both Standard and Extended. With the very next Grand Prix, in Oakland, being Extended, today I want to talk about the Extended Bant deck. I’ll also share some sideboarding strategies for common matchups.

I almost didn’t test at all for the Extended portion of Worlds, as the preceding Extended Pro Tour gave me a pretty good idea on what I should expect in the field. Therefore the main “testing” I did for the tournament involved going over the matchups in theory, and choosing my deck from what I expected to perform the best. I didn’t expect a lot of people to test for the Extended part of the tournament. Therefore, a lot of people would run either a deck that is easy to play, or a deck that is very powerful. A deck like Zoo might be pretty powerful, but it doesn’t do unfair things, and it is really hard to play (in my opinion), so I didn’t expect that many copies to show up. I expected to see more Dark Depths, All In Red, and Hypergenesis. I also expected a fair amount of Dredge, but not in the numbers in which the deck showed up in Austin, simply because everybody has it on their radar. During the tournament itself, it became pretty clear that Thopter Foundry would be a big contender too.

Bant, in the form that Antoine Menard built and I ended up playing, is very powerful against any form of combo but Dredge. It has some weaknesses against beatdown and midrange decks, but the matchups are far from unwinnable.

One lesson I learned the day before the Extended portion of Worlds – and one for which I am very thankful to Raphael Levy – is that you almost never mulligan with the deck. If you have a hand that has between two and four lands, the vast majority of the time it is right to keep it.

Versus One-Mana Zoo
This matchup is really tough, especially if they run Slaughter Pact. Your goal during the game should be to get either Umezawa’s Jitte, Rhox War Monk, or Tarmogoyf online. Meddling Mage is almost a blank in the matchup, and the majority of the time I would name Lightning Bolt with the card before I can happily sideboard it out. You should obviously try to take as little damage as possible with your fetchlands. With Vendilion Clique, it is often right to target yourself, because you play it at a point where your opponent’s hand will be a lot of instants and Tribal Flames, while you might have some dead cards in hand like Meddling Mage or Qasali Pridemage.

+2 Kitchen Finks, +3 Threats of Disloyalty
-4 Meddling Mage, -1 Vendilion Clique

Vendilion Clique is slightly better than Meddling Mage because, simply because it is a lot better at carrying Umezawa’s Jitte, even though it makes your deck slightly more expensive. The good thing is that your sideboard is a lot better than your opponent’s. The only thing he can do is upgrade his removal suite and have a solution or two against Threads of Disloyalty and Umezawa’s Jitte. If you manage to stay alive without using Threads of Disloyalty, it is often the right play, otherwise a Vampire Hexmage or a Tarmogoyf might be a blowout on the other side.

Versus Baneslayer Zoo
Without having played the matchup, I don’t think it is very winnable. All their threats are bigger, and they run better removal than you. Punishing Fire, even without Grove of the Burnwillows, seems very hard to beat in the first game. Depending on the game state, I would either name one of the removal spells with Meddling Mage, most likely Lightning Bolt. Either that, or Baneslayer Angel.

This is how I would initially sideboard:

+2 Relic of Progenitus, +3 Threads of Disloyalty
-4 Meddling Mage, -1 Qasali Pridemage

The good thing is that neither Saitou’s version nor Rubin’s version is able to board in a lot of cards against you. Assuming Saitou’s version is not sideboarding out Tarmogoyf, Threads of Disloyalty targeting the Lhurgoyf can be a possible blowout.

Versus Thopter Foundry
They have a lot of problems dealing with your early aggression and disruption, with the only real solution being either counterspells or Engineered Explosives. Without knowing the decklist, I was naming Thopter Foundry with Meddling Mage, but with knowledge of the decklist, and the numbers in which the deck is running, I would lean more towards cards like Thirst for Knowledge or Engineered Explosives. You have to make sure that you are playing really quickly in this matchup, as you always have possible outs in drawing Qasali Pridemage or Bant Charm combined with Umezawa’s Jitte.

+2 Relic of Progenitus
-2 Path to Exile

I kept a pair of Paths over the Kitchen Finks, because I knew that they have Baneslayer Angel in their sideboard, and I expected them to get sideboarded in against me. Post-board games are very similar to pre-board games, as you both can’t improve your deck by much. Baneslayer Angel is attacking you from a different angle, but you have a solution to another problem: Academy Ruins.

Versus All-In Red
If you are able to play a turn 1 Noble Hierarch, you’ve almost already locked up the game. You have a lot of good solutions to all their threats, aside from the Blood Moon effects, but if you get your deck running even though one of the effects sticks, you are far from mired in a losing situation. If you have a Hierarch on the table, I would name Demigod of Revenge with my Meddling Mages. Otherwise I would go for Blood Moon, as you have the possible outs of Umezawa’s Jitte against the Magus of the Moon, assuming you tapped out to play the Wizard.

I don’t sideboard in this matchup. Playing Spell Snare over Chalice of the Void (for zero against Chrome Mox) and Kitchen Finks, which can be decent in fighting Empty the Warrens is questionable. But Spell Snare has the ability to give you an extra turn against Desperate Ritual, and can sometimes counter a Chalice of the Void which otherwise would lock up your main removal to the big threats.

Versus Hypergenesis
The matchup plays out pretty simple, as all you have to do is try to stop them from resolving Hypergenesis. The easiest solution for that obviously is Meddling Mage. Sideboarding, on the other hand, is pretty interesting against the deck. You obviously bring in 4 Chalice of the Void, and you cut 3 Spell Snares. The first question is what you cut for the fourth Chalice, and if you have cards that are worse than Relic of Progenitus’s cycling ability. I would cut one of the Jittes for the fourth copy of the disrupting artifact, but I am unsure if one of the Relics is better than the second copy of the equipment. I don’t think you are able to cut Rhox War Monk, as he is one of the guys that survive a possibly devastating Firespout. I like Qasali Pridemage, Bant Charm, and Path to Exile, because they can win you a game against a resolved and mediocre Hypergenesis.

Dark Depths
This is another matchup where your opponent has a lot of trouble even thinking about winning. Your fairly fast clock supported by the disruption, which is more than effective in this matchup, and gives your opponent a ton of trouble. Assuming my opponent doesn’t have Hexmage on the table, I name the Vampire with my first Meddling Mage. Otherwise it gets tricky, and I would probably name Engineered Explosives in pre-board games, and Tombstalker in post-board ones.

-2 Rhox War Monk
+2 Threads of Disloyalty

Threats can be a removal spell against Hexmage in the early turns, and can also deal with Dark Confidant. Also, if you’ve managed to get your life total above 20 or blocked the Marit Lage token for a turn, Threads can take control of the indestructible flier. All those scenarios are vey situational, but I think they come up more often than the times Rhox War Monk is good.

As with every deck, Bant also has a lot of trouble winning game 1. Meddling Mage naming Dread Return should give you enough time to win before they start casting Golgari Grave-Trolls and Stinkweed Imps. If you don’t control a Jitte in addition to the Wizard, you should name the Troll with a second Mage. Post-board games get a lot easier, as you now have ten outs to their Dredge engine, and their deck becomes weaker as they have to board in solutions.

+4 Tormod’s Crypt, +2 Relic of Progenitus
-4 Mana Leak, -2 Bant Charm

I like the Pridemages because they allow me to remove Bridges, in some rare scenarios in which I have a target. Both Mana Leak and Bant Charm are just too slow in the matchup, and you usually rather play guys than try to counter one of their spells. Spell Snare gives you the opportunity to counter both Ideas Unbound and Glimpse the Unthinkable, which are their major power spells, and you should gain a lot of time when countering either.

Scapeshift: the deck we chose to run in Austin. I was surprised to see how many people chose to run the deck at Worlds. The matchup is very depended on the list they are playing. If you play against a list like the one we played at the PT, you are drawing very thin, as your Meddling Mage can be dealt with easily. If you manage to stick it against a list like Shi Tian Lee’s offering, from the Worlds Top Extended Decks, you are in very good shape.

Sideboarding doesn’t give you a lot of options. You definitely want to cut Path to Exile, which is a total blank, and you want to add the spells that are dead the least. Therefore Relic of Progenitus and Kitchen Finks come in. Post-board games get a lot tougher, and make this the deck you would like to face the least (aside from the different Zoo versions).

I hope I covered all the major matchups. Indeed, when perusing the Worlds Top Extended Decks list, I didn’t find another deck that seemed worthy of discussion. If anyone would like me to write something about another matchup, please mention it in the forums and I’ll try to answer.

I think the deck performs really well in a heavy Combo and Control metagame, but it’s only mediocre in a Zoo-heavy metagame. The deck is performing well in the metagame in general, and aside from Rubin Zoo and Scapeshift, there are no decks you don’t want to face under any circumstances.

Thanks for reading…

Manu B