Reflecting Ruel – Bant Versus Tribal Zoo: The Bant Perspective

SCG Open Richmond!

Friday, February 19th – Earlier this week, Antoine Ruel locked metaphorical horns with his brother in an Extended battle of Bant versus Zoo. Antoine piloted the menacing menagerie, while Oli picked up Manuel Bucher’s Bant build. Today, Oli shares his opinions on the matchup from the Bant perspective, and suggests ways in which to make the results turn in Bant’s favor…

“Bant versus Zoo.”

That was Antoine’s answer when I asked about this week’s matchup. Good news… Bant is, along with BG Dark Depths, one of the two decks I’m planning on playing at GP Oakland. I’m thinking of playing it, not because I have tested it yet (I went 3-2 in Worlds with the deck and haven’t played it since then), but because Manu keeps on telling me how good it is, and how obvious his choice would be if he was to go to the Californian Grand Prix. [Editor’s Note: Obviously, the testing and writing was completed before last weekend’s Grand Prix.]

When I asked Manu if he would change anything from the list he had posted online in his Positive EV column the previous week, he told me it was the best version he had, and he would run the same 75 cards.

Therefore, I guess you won’t be much surprised by the list I’m running today:

For reference, although I didn’t know the build before we played, here is Antoine’s Zoo deck:

Preboard Impressions

From my memories of playing Bant at Worlds, the maindeck was slightly in Zoo’s favor. Now, the question is this: what type of Zoo deck Antoine is running today? A Tribal Zoo deck would be a lot more annoying than a “normal” Zoo deck, as it just has too many ways of dealing with Rhox War Monk and Tarmogoyf.

Preboard Games: 12-12 (50% wins)

The first games really look like a tennis match. Whoever is serving (or playing first) wins. The difference is that I can’t threaten him on his serve, while I feel like he’s going to break my serve pretty much every time. In the end, we both won 3 games on the draw and ended up with a 12-12 total, which to be honest didn’t feel right. Antoine definitely took more mulligans than he was supposed to take, and 13-11 or 14-10 for him would have seemed fairer.

The big problem in the matchup is, once again, that it is extremely difficult to win whenever you’re on the draw. The thing is that pretty much everything you do is off tempo.

Spell Snare: Easy to play around, and very visible if you play a Blue land untapped on turn 1.
Mana Leak: Useless whenever they’re not land screwed.
– Lands: Getting your lands onto the battlefield tapped is too slow, but playing two of them untapped almost kills you. If you fetch for basic lands and open with Hierarch or Birds, you’ll often be in big trouble if he can kill them.
Meddling MageQasali Pridemage: These don’t do much in the match up anyway.
– Venser: Good on the play, but systematically off tempo on the draw.

Even Tarmogoyf and Rhox War Monk are not so much trouble for him, as Tarmogoyf often doesn’t stop much in the early game, and because Tribal Flames and Path to Exile provide him with a lot of ways to kill my bigger guys.

When you’re on the draw, you should often take risks. For instance, if they open with Steppe Lynx and you have a slow hand, just play Path on it. Yes, you’ll probably die from Knight of the Reliquary or Ranger of Eos (or even from Baneslayer Angel in another version), but you’ll also die if you don’t do a thing. To put it simply, if you both draw equally well, you’ll never win on the draw, so you have to take risks and assume he won’t be drawing well.

Still, as the score shows it, this matchup is far from being a blowout. If you are very late when on the draw, you are a bit faster than them when playing first. All of a sudden, your turn 1 accelerators work, and so do your counterspells. Also, the tempo you gain makes cards like Umezawa’s Jitte and Vendilion Clique a lot better. Talking about the Clique, I was able to use it in combination with Meddling Mage several times, and it wins more games than it would seem. The 3/1 is one of your best cards main deck, for two more reasons. First, it is obviously a good combo with Jitte and, if your opponent can’t kill it right away, this combo wins the game. Then, you can often take the lead in the race but not be able to finish them, in which case both players’ creatures are staring at each other while waiting for their Summoner to draw a card which would unlock the situation; this will usually be Path or Tribal Flames for him, and Path or a flyer – Vendilion Clique – for you.

Postboard Impressions

+2 Kitchen Finks, +3 Threads of Disloyalty. +3 Spell Pierce
-4 Meddling Mage, -3 Qasali Pridemage, -1 Vendilion Clique

I decided to go with Manu’s sideboard plan in his last tournament report. I don’t know at this point what’s in Antoine’s sideboard, but those Threads of Disloyalty should be a great help for me and make the matchup closer… if he isn’t running Duergar Hedge-Mage, of course. I have the feeling Chalice of the Void could be useful though, and I may try them in a few games.

Postboard Games (7-19: 26.92% wins)

I understood quite quickly I had made a wrong assumption about the matchup. While I thought sideboarded games would be very similar to the preboard ones, where my major concern was to slow his beating down. As I was pretty confident in my ability to do so thanks to Finks and Threads, I had made a wrong assumption. Indeed, he didn’t care much about being slowed down, as he’d made his deck slower as well. Indeed, Antoine brought in cards like Umezawa’s Jitte and Deathmark, which made it very easy for him to get rid of my few threats.

We started with me playing first, and I only won 4 out of 13, making the match up look dramatic. Of course I had taken too many mulligans (2 double, 4 single), but I still felt very powerless. With Deathmark coming in, he now had more answers than I had threats, as well as more aggression. After 7 or 8 games, though, I adapted my style of play. I would now adjust to what the matchup had become, and play it like a Control mirror. For instance, when I would draw Rhox War Monk and either a counterspell or Vendilion Clique, I’d hold back my rhino until I could back it up in order for it to avoid a removal spell. If I had early drops and counterspells, I would sometimes decline to play my guys, keeping the mana open for Mana Leak and Spell Snare in order to stop him spreading excessively. It is very important, however, not to keep the mana for Spell Snare instead of casting a spell in the early game, as the card is often easy to read and to be played around. I wanted to try Chalice, but I had the feeling the card would be off tempo most of the time, and decided not to bother.

Then it was Antoine’s turn to play first, and the result was pretty similar, with a 10-3 advantage in his favor. I could have expected worse, as I had the disadvantage and didn’t have the tempo anymore. In the very same way as in the preboard games, counters were pretty bad and easy to play around. However, I still managed to play many close games because of the global changing of the matchup. Indeed, the disadvantage of tempo mattered far less than in preboard games, making the game quite similar whether I was on the play or on the draw. Still, after 6 games I decided to try something different, as I was tired of the Mana Leak not doing anything, so I boarded two Meddling Mage, one Qasali Pridemage, and one Vendilion Clique instead of the counterspell.

He now had some Jittes, but apparently not many of them, and it changed the course of only one of the first six games, so I thought adding one Pridemage to help deal with it was enough. I liked Clique as it’s faster after board than it is main deck, and even though you can’t get rid of all the threats he’s holding, you can at least gather precious information. And as I was going back to running three copies of the flash faerie, I considered boarding back in the card I like the least in the main deck: Meddling Mage. Let’s put it clearly: Chris Pikula avatar is not good in the matchup. Even so, I still think it’s correct for several reasons:

– The fact that’s it’s too small to be efficient in combat matters less after board, when the matchup gets slower.
– With 3 Cliques in the deck, it can win one game in a while all by itself.
– When you have an unfavorable matchup, you can’t neglect a card which can win games on its own, even though it only happens once in a while.
– Bad or not, it’s still often better than Mana Leak.

The main reason for the 19-7 disadvantage is the failure of the sideboard cards.

Spell Pierce helped more in the beginning than afterwards. Was it because he knew about it, or was it because the game circumstances were not the same (the card is clearly more efficient on the play)? Probably a little of both, but with Antoine boarding in cheap removal spells, the card’s impact was very uneven.
Threads of Disloyalty is not a card I drew a lot, but I was still a little disappointed by it, as I even lost a game in which I cast two of them. The thing is, you don’t always have the choice of the creature you’ll be stealing. If you steal a Nacatl while being attacked by a Steppe Lynx, a Steppe Lynx, or even a tapped creature, the impact of the card will lessen a lot. Also, Antoine didn’t have Duergar Hedge-Mage in the board, while some Zoo decks will, and the card nullifies both the removal and the card advantage aspect of the aura.
Kitchen Finks is good, no argument there. However, even though the card is probably necessary, its impact on the game is “only” that it gains a lot of tempo. It is still very good, but it illustrates the problem of the deck in the matchup: you have no major threats, no scarecrow they absolutely must deal with no matter what, nor any card they can’t deal with, as his sideboard Jittes often annihilate your own.

Possible Modifications

At first, let’s make it clear: the matchup would be a lot closer against a non Five-Color Zoo build, which would have far fewer answers to your key cards. Then, concerning the games Antoine and I have played, I wasn’t fully satisfied with Spell Pierce, which is still useful in the sideboard but doesn’t really belong in this matchup. If you want to win this matchup no matter what, you will probably need 7 or 8 copied of Threads plus Finks. Even this won’t necessarily make the matchup positive, but it’ll probably make it even. I’d also like to run one Meloku the Clouded Mirror.

As the games are longer, and as you give him many targets for your removal spells, a singleton Meloku would often survive, and untapping with it should mean auto-win.

Therefore, if you can manage to find enough slots, it would be good to bring in the following to make the matchup favorable:

-3 or 4 Kitchen Finks
-3 or 4 Threads of Disloyalty
-1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!