Prime Speaker Bant

Looking for a deck to play at SCG Standard Open: Richmond? Josh Ravitz made Top 4 of a PTQ with Prime Speaker Bant and explains why you should consider it.

I hate to admit it, but I actually enjoyed playing Standard recently. Ordinarily I would, if asked, complain about the state of Standard—the games are “simple” for the most part and frankly the blue cards are not good enough, which has a range of implications—let’s just say there is more to Magic than creature combat. While I didn’t win either tournament I entered, I didn’t feel wretched about my deck for once, which I consider a pretty large victory in its own right.

When looking for a deck, I generally look for a reasonable excuse to use a cool card and hopefully for a deck that is also good and fun. Mike Flores also thinks I tend to excel with not-the-deck-to-beat, but that isn’t always the case. Luckily for me, this deck offered a chance to cast my Beta Clones, which I love, and was a deck people were unlikely to be expecting while having fairly good matchups with the right sideboard cards. I was sold. If you happen to be looking for a sweet deck with the good parts of playing a blue deck (card drawing mostly—these days) while still having the oomph of a sweet green midrange deck, this is where you want to be. I would call not playing Augur of Bolas a bonus at this point in the metagame, and getting to play real cards instead is just so much better.

So without any testing under my belt but with some idea of how the games would go, I played Andrew Shrout Prime Speaker Bant deck in a SCG IQ tournament on June 29th. The list looked like this:

I finished the tournament with a record of 4-2, which isn’t great by any means, but I am assigning a lot more value to feel here than results, which is not something ordinarily available to me since I don’t care much for playtesting these days.

In round 5 of the tournament, I chose to play my opponent (also 4-0) for seeding. Faced with a winning board state, I took an autopilot line which quite literally blew up in my face, and I snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. My opponent was playing U/W/R Delver/Geist/Hellkite/Snapcaster tempo/burn. The matchup can be uncomfortable for the list I was playing at the time, but with more experience I would call the matchup winnable. This might be the only matchup I’d actually want Cavern of Souls for because I think that the way the games play out if they happen to stop your Thragtusk in game 1 or your Spider in game 2 you might well be up a creek, but overall I still don’t love Cavern.

In round 6 of the tournament (the quarterfinals), I played against Junk-Aristocrats and was crushed summarily. I wasn’t able to interact with his board because I never drew a Garruk Relentless in game 1, but at the time I was just woefully unprepared for the matchup. In game 2, I drew four more double blue cards than blue sources but probably wasn’t going to win regardless. The games took about ten minutes, and I was left feeling momentarily stunned.

I was, however, pleased overall. I had beaten Jund, Esper, Bant Hexproof, and Naya Humans, all decks that I’d lost to in the past with various other Standard decks.

Jund and Esper felt like a cakewalk, and I don’t think I got especially lucky in either matchup. Your cards are durable, hard to deal with, and hard to play against.

If a control opponent has mana up you can cast a Loxodon Smiter, develop your mana, Time Walk them to play a Restoration Angel (or ring the bell at Township Gavony) or simply let them counter something while triggering your Voice of Resurgence.

As for Jund, Olivia Voldaren could be trouble, as could an untimely Rakdos’s Return, but you have a ton of good draws to “deal with” both of those situations and the rest of the Jund deck just isn’t that scary for the same reasons. They need to line up their answers to your threats while not losing too much tempo and not losing to Abrupt Decay proof and Mizzium Mortars proof planeswalkers.

I was also very happy with the way the Bant Hexproof matchup felt. It’s hard to beat a Hexproof strategy with a purely reactive deck because anytime you stabilize but don’t end the game they can just come back with their Rancors. I do not say this lightly, but:

This card is stupid.

Ideally, your turn 2 Smiter will be the largest thing in play for at least a turn and then they can decide how they want to proceed, but the best part of that Smiter is that he doesn’t have to sit untapped and in defense mode—he can attack them once he is unable to block. Don’t get me wrong because this matchup can still be quite scary, but the Hexproof deck mulligans a lot, so while you can both muster a turn 2 Smiter under ideal conditions your odds of doing it are better than theirs. That being said, most of the time one single answer is all you need to take over the game or at least turn it around. You just need to make sure that when you draw that answer they aren’t sitting at a million or facing no pressure because they’re quite good in that spot.

So with a PTQ looming and a bit of confidence in my deck, I saw that Stainerson finished 14th in the Magic Online PTQ held on July 4th.

The maindeck differences are subtle, but they do exist.

-1 Garruk Relentless
-2 Arbor Elf
-1 Gavony Township
-1 Forest
+2 Cavern of Souls
+1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
+1 Restoration Angel
+1 Loxodon Smiter

Let’s start with the easy part:

-1 Forest
-2 Arbor Elf
+1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim

This change makes sense as a whole, but I don’t really wish I had cut a Forest from my deck despite adding the Avacyn’s Pilgrim and cutting the Arbor Elfs. You do want to have WG1 on turn 2 in most games, and a Forest plus a Pilgrim will get you there. If you’re lucky enough, you can play a Smiter with any land and go from there. I think having four total mana dorks is fine, and I think not playing Arbor Elf is fine. I think the change is marginal but ultimately correct. If you’d like to play a Cavern of Souls, I think this is where you get the slot.

The reason I don’t like Cavern of Souls in this deck is that, for one, your creatures have varying types, and while the highest-impact ones are identifiable (Beast, Angel, Shapeshifter, Merfolk) they are not always the most important cards in any given matchup, which leaves you with this land in your deck that isn’t that awesome and cannot be tutored for when it is. Combine that with the fact that the control matchups are super good for you in game 1 and game 2 and I don’t see any reason for the inclusion of this card. I’m toying with the idea of adding a Moorland Haunt, but I am not sure I want to cut the Forest at all.

Next up we have the more complicated differences. Namely removing a Garruk Relentless in favor of a Restoration Angel and simply finding room for the fourth Smiter. I definitely like the fourth Smiter and feel that it belongs as an integral part of this deck’s strategy. It isn’t a card I’ve ever boarded out, and having four toughness makes it extremely strong against red strategies while its game text makes it equally strong against blue strategies. I have rarely been disappointed to draw this card while playing this deck. It’s a nice threat to add to the board in the midgame when you don’t quite have ten mana for two Thragtusks but still want to force them to wrath (or die).

The third Garruk Relentless I think is a metagame call. If your metagame has a lot of Junk Reanimator or Naya Midrange, I think it’s a good fit; it fights other Garruks and mana dorks very well, though admittedly once M14 rolls around fighting other Garruks isn’t exactly a thing. I do think it will still warrant a slot if you’re expecting decks full of mana dorks though. It isn’t particularly strong against control decks in my opinion; it’s a steady source of Wolves, granted, but they’re too small and often irrelevant. It’s also somewhat annoying to get it to flip sometimes. That being said, Garruk, the Veil-Cursed is excellent against control strategies and can sometimes be worth the extra work of perhaps even fighting your own Wolf. I decided against the extra Garruk for the PTQ.

I also didn’t play a fourth Restoration Angel because while the card is obviously amazing it isn’t super strong here with only a few things to interact with on your side I did find myself casting it without any bonus comes-into-play-triggers a few times. I decided to play a maindeck Progenitor Mimic instead as a hedge against other midrange decks. It’s unbelievably good sometimes, and there are legitimately times when you can tutor for it with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. That’s when you want it. I certainly boarded it out enough that I’m not convinced it belongs in the main, but it is also very good in the mirror, so if people start playing this strategy…

As for the rest of the sideboard, when talking to Stainerson we agreed that we wanted to help our various “Aristocrats” matchups. I suggested Rest in Peace and Silklash Spider. Silklash Spider could be a pet card of mine if I were into things of that nature, but instead I will just say that it is excellent where it is excellent and that is in a surprisingly great number of places. I boarded it in no less than four times on the day as it provided a sense of security against the dreaded Thundermaw Hellkite menace. It can also turn Spectral Flight into a liability, and I should add that it once wore an Unflinching Courage very proudly as well. Stainerson agreed and offered that he liked the Mimic as something to board in against Jund and felt his second Aetherling was unnecessary. I got a little excited about the Mimic and played one main as well.

Here is the list I played in the PTQ on 7/6:

I was happy with this list going into the PTQ, I didn’t know enough to be afraid of the aggro red decks and felt the new Rest in Peace and Spider package would insure victory against the Aristocrats decks that were cropping up. I also felt I hadn’t harmed any of the matchups that were previously favorable in the process.

Notably absent from my sideboard are the two “big Garruks.” Garruk, Primal Hunter is a great card but ultimately provides no additional angle of attack in this particular deck. Coupled with the fact that if your opponent miracles a Bonfire they’re going to kill your Garruk or if they Rakdos’s Return your hand away they’re going to kill your Garruk, it just doesn’t make sense to include it here. I’d rather have something new and different to try or to make room for cards that are especially good in other matchups that need help (such as Rest in Peace).

I missed the third Selesnya Charm a bit, and after losing in the semifinals to another red deck I decided I missed the Detention Spheres too, although it is possible Rhox Faithmender has a place here as well.

Other than round 7 where my opponent made a “got-too-excited” mistake, nothing too noteworthy happened.

Round 1 – U/W/R Tempo/Burn (Delver, Geist, Hellkite). He boarded in Clone for my Angel of Serenity, but of course I had boarded her out. (1-0, 2-0)

Round 2 – Naya Midrange. I got beaten in game 1 so badly that I couldn’t even imagine not playing Naya Midrange at the next tournament, but I rallied and won a close game 3 with the aforementioned Courageous Silklash Spider. (2-0, 4-1)

Round 3 – Mono-Red Aggro with Ghor-Clan Rampager, Madcap Skills, and the usual suspects (including Boros Reckoner). I assume he played too few lands for Thundermaw Hellkite, which is another defining factor. Neither game I played here was close, but I do feel like I got extremely flooded in game 2; I may have lost game 3 anyway. (2-1, 4-3)

Round 4 – U/W/R Flash/Control. The games are so easy to navigate I felt like I could never lose. They’re not equipped to race or deal with all your threats. The highlight of the match was Mimicing my opponents Snapcaster Mage to flashback a Sphinx’s Revelation. I would like to point out that while U/W/R Tempo/Burn can cause problems for you, U/W/R Flash/Control is really a cakewalk. I have not played a competitive game against them yet, and I expect barring odd Aetherling shenanigans it is quite hard to lose. (3-1, 6-3)

Round 5 – Mono-Red Aggro with white. His deck featured Boros Reckoner, Vexing Devil, and Boros Charm. Game 1 was pretty easy—he conceded to a Thragtusk with a Restoration Angel kicker—and game 2 was extremely close, I would have died to Boros Charm for four consecutive turns, but he didn’t get there. Once I gained some life, he packed ’em in. (4-1, 8-3)

Round 6 – This time it was Mono-Red Aggro with green, but his deck featured a few more lands as well as Firefist Striker and Thundermaw Hellkite. Both games I had a reasonable draw able to interact in the early turns. Game 2 I was able to cast a Supreme Verdict on my turn 5 to kill his Hellkite and friends while at eight life. Eventually a Thragtusk was wearing an Unflinching Courage, and that was that. (5-1, 10-3)

Round 7 – Bant Hexproof. I lost game 1 in five seconds and was getting beaten down pretty badly in game 2, struggling to deal with an ever-growing Strangleroot Geist that had luckily not yet sprouted wings. It was approximately 12/x with first strike, lifelink, and, of course, trample. I had to double chump block it for what seemed like an eternity. My opponent, smelling blood, “went for it,” not realizing soon enough that if he Simic Charmed my Thragtusk I’d end up with a 3/3 to block with anyway.

I survived the attack, replayed the Thragtusk and a freshly drawn Mimic on the Thragtusk (I had a lot of mana…), and almost immediately drew Zegana, which drew me into a Selesnya Charm. He conceded somewhat prematurely, but I do think I would have won despite his staggering life total. He started with five cards and no second land in game 3, which was an anticlimactic finish to an exciting and important match. (6-1, 12-4)

Round 8 – Prime Speaker Bant. Turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim from a Temple Garden signaled more Hexproof, but turn 2 Hinterland Harbor, attack for one, go, signaled a mirror match! My draw was slightly better in game 1, and while I think my sideboard was far superior for this matchup given that he was playing Andrew’s original list, he also didn’t have a third land in game 2. I had a great draw and ran him over. (7-1, 14-4)

Round 9 – I took an intentional draw here, which may have very well doomed me. I think given the list I was playing I need to be on the play against the potential Mono-Red Aggro decks in the Top 8, but I can’t win the tournament if I don’t make Top 8, so I safely drew. (7-1-1, 14-4) He was playing Bant Hexproof as well.

Quarterfinals – This was a hard fought match through and through, and I may not be able to do it justice in a simple recap. I got very far ahead in game 1 with a turn 5 Zegana, and from there I resolved an Aetherling that he could never deal with. The game did take a while, though, because he was able to gain about twenty life and with flashed-in Supreme Verdicts and Azorius Charms Aetherling doesn’t always connect.

It is important to note that while this sounds easy there may have been some intricate handling of my own Aetherling that seemed obvious to me but might not have been; basically everything else was secondary and a distraction while I always planned to win with Aetherling, hoping the rest of my cards would drain his resources enough to do exactly that. I never ran out of action with a Jace and a mitt full of Thragtusks to deploy and thus was able to grind him out.

Game 2 he made a somewhat expert play of just running out a pair of Aetherlings against me, which I could have Angel of Serenityed if I drew her but didn’t.

Game 3 was complicated from the start as we each had turn 2 Farseek. I started with Garruk and a Wolf followed by a missed land drop and a Restoration Angel and a Wolf. I did some attacking while he played a Thragtusk and an Aetherling; I drew and played a Smiter and then had to Revelation for one, which found me a fifth land. The next turn I drew an Avacyn’s Pilgrim (my sixth mana) and played a replacement Garruk and the Pilgrim after his Aetherling killed the first Garruk. He tapped low for a second Aetherling, and I drew a land for the Angel of Serenity I was holding, which removed his Beast Token, one of his Aetherlings, and disabled the other one from blocking, which landed him at one life with just an Aetherling to my fifteen life, four Wolves, and Angel of Serenity.

He looked troubled for the first time all match and started nervously tapping mana and untapping mana. I think he knew he was beat but was trying to figure out his outs, and I of course can respect that. He landed on a small Revelation into a hopeful Supreme Verdict but came up short, and I won a game I don’t think I should have.

He could have ignored the Garruk Relentless that only made Wolves and simply attacked me each turn. He would have won the race; he also could have just played Sphinx’s Revelation on my end step instead of the second Aetherling, which may have found him a sweeper effect that I couldn’t beat. However, it was a long day, and he may have felt overconfident in that moment, which could explain his choice. (8-1-1, 16-5)

Semifinals – I think I may have made some errors in this match. Knowing my opponent was playing Mono-Red Aggro with the green splash, on the draw I kept Farseek, Restoration Angel, Jace, and a good mix of lands. It’s hard to say this isn’t an okay hand, but it might not have been good enough given how bad the matchup can be. He declared he was keeping, so I had to expect a reasonable start from him.

I think the best hand I can hope for is probably a one-drop, a Voice of Resurgence, a Loxodon Smiter, and a Thragtusk, and this hand was so far off from there that it was probably wrong to keep. Admittedly, if I go to six and the hand is bad and I go to five I’m probably not winning, but it’s pretty unlikely that I’m going to win with this hand unless I draw some of those missing pieces (the one-drop, the Thragtusk, etc.). I played a turn 2 Farseek, and an Angel on turn 4 to block left me drawing dead on my turn given his great start.

Game 2 he had a slow start, while I had a turn 1 Pilgrim, turn 2 Voice. On my turn 3, I played Courage and attacked, but he had a devastating Mortars. We traded blows back and forth a bit, and I was sitting pretty at 22 life and then nineteen. I had a Restoration Angel and could have Cloned it or his Reckoner. I chose the Angel, which given his eleven life was probably enough to close out the game on the following turn, but unfortunately he drew Hellrider, which made things very complicated.

He sent in just Reckoner, which I felt I couldn’t block at the time, possibly another mistake. I couldn’t attack on the following turn, and it turned out that blocking was disastrous (Rampager) but necessary. On the last turn, I could have drawn any land to play Angel of Serenity and probably win or any non-shockland to increase my odds from there, but of course I drew a Farseek. Thanks Worth! (8-2-1, 16-7)

After playing with the deck again, I still feel it is very well positioned. The Mono-Red Aggro matchup needs some help though. The third (sideboard) Courage would be welcomed back, as would the Detention Spheres somewhat. They’re weak against Renounce the Guilds, but I am still considering maindecking one in what I consider to be the last free slot, the maindeck Mimic. Should you be able to nab two guys against Mono-Red, you are probably going to win that game, and just knocking off a Madcap Skills and taking out their guy is great. It’s worth testing a maindeck Faithmender too I think.

Whatever we do going forward, it’s important to keep tabs on the Mono-Red matchups—that is by far the most troubling aspect of this deck. But there’s not a lot of room in the main to help that matchup (game 1), so I suggest you win your die rolls.

At first glance, sideboarding with the deck is somewhat simple as Angel of Serenity, Aetherling, Selesnya Charm, and some of the planeswalkers/card drawing will often be too slow or altogether unnecessary. But at the same time, you’ll want to craft a cohesive plan when you’re sideboarding. If your plan is to slow the game down with Silklash Spiders, Thragtusks, Mimics, and Angels you’ll want your card-drawing spells so that you can continue building up the board once they stop attacking you; in matchups like this it will often be right to remove your Voice of Resurgence as they will simply be too small to affect the board and you’ll feel foolish adding them to the board turn after turn while your opponents gigantic monsters sit on defense unable to attack into your larger men (and ladies).

The biggest thing I could see regretting removing or leaving in is probably Selesnya Charm. If your opponent has access to Olivia Voldaren, Madcap Skills, Thundermaw Hellkite, or Angel of Serenity, you’re going to want it very badly and not thinking it through could cost you dearly. Similarly, in sideboard games be careful not to “burn” your Charms unnecessarily.

I wrote that I had Clone in my deck in the Top 4 against the Mono-Red deck, and I did bring in both as well as leaving in one Angel of Serenity as an ideal “big creature” to clean up and take over with; it would have been a great topdeck in a close game. But unfortunately, ideal is maybe even too optimistic a word as that position is pretty hard to get to, but I was somewhat grasping at straws and in a moment of genius decided that if I could clone his Reckoner I might be okay for a few turns. I actually think this is right and would recommend it going forward.

I briefly mentioned M14 above and of course the rules change it brings along with it. It also includes a slew of cards that may be relevant to anyone considering this strategy going forward, and I want to touch on them briefly.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts: This card is probably Constructed worthy, but it may not see much play until the other “big Garruk” rotates out; this card feels really similar to me while costing one more. We don’t need or want this.

Primeval Bounty: Again, this card is also probably Constructed worthy, and I personally like it a lot. Unfortunately, it costs six, which means the life gain is probably not fast enough for us to be better than something like Faithmender.

Witchstalker: A great card that I expect to see this across the table in all matter of decks. Luckily for us, our “control” matchups are quite good already, and we do not need this in our deck. I’d rather have a 4/4 in its place, thus Loxodon Smiter.

Savage Summoning: Similarly, we do not need this if we aren’t going to bother with Cavern of Souls. Another card that is sure to be played once Cavern of Souls actually rotates out, just not here.

Lifebane Zombie: This card could be a problem. I don’t know if it’s good enough to ruin our deck, but since we cannot effectively block or remove it, it seems troubling to say the least. It will also likely nab something good from your hand along the way. If this card becomes popular, if it has a good home, our deck might not be a great choice.

Domestication: This is an interesting and unique effect for us, but it remains to be seen if it is a useful effect. It might be a good answer to Lifebane Zombie. Admittedly, I sort of hate the idea of boarding this in to deal with Lifebane Zombie, but it could easily test well and be good enough to bring us back to life.

Scavenging Ooze: Finally, a card I can recommend adding to the list immediately. While I feel Ground Seal is better than Rest in Peace against Junk Reanimator, Rest in Peace is a whole lot better against The Aristocrats, effectively shutting off their entire deck (Doomed Traveler, morbid, undying, flashback, Varolz, Tragic Slip…the list goes on). It remains to be seen if Scavenging Ooze is actually good enough against red decks to make the change, but I think that being able to become a 4/4 while gaining you incidental life along the way probably is good enough to warrant the swap.

Mutavault: This is not a card for our deck, but I want to point out that our deck is excellent against it. If it becomes popular, I think that’s a great reason to play this deck.

Elvish Mystic: This is a nice lateral change for Arbor Elf for a deck like Junk Reanimator that doesn’t want to play a bunch of basic Forests; our deck could safely play Arbor Elf instead of this and chooses not to.

Recommended decklist going forward (with M14):

I’d be hard pressed to recommend an actual sideboard configuration without testing more, but I know that the second Angel of Serenity is great against any midrange strategy, as are the Clones and Mimic. I’ve loved having the Syncopates against Jund and controlling blue decks. Similarly, I’d keep the Spiders and have either Rest in Peace or Scavenging Ooze in my sideboard. Two or three Unflinching Courage, maybe a Faithmender or two, one or two Supreme Verdicts, a Detention Sphere, an extra Selesnya Charm…we’re starting to run out of space here. I do I think it will be easy to create a sideboard if you know what you’re expecting to play against though.

I have never been a fan of handing out a hard and fast sideboarding guide and I know this article was long, but I feel that if you read it and absorb it you will understand how to sideboard with this deck to the point that you do not need a written sideboard guide at all.

Please feel free to leave comments; I will try to respond!

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