Thalia Is The Truth. Bugler Is Not.

Ross Merriam hates this as much as you do: Cedric may be right. Militia Bugler is everywhere, but Ross is convinced it’s wrong to run! So what’s the verdict here?

Have you ever had a friend that has a penchant for hyperbole that leads to
them making some truly ridiculous statements?

I’m betting yes.

The thing about that friend is that, they sure aren’t afraid to be wrong
and they’ll brush it off quite easily when they are, but the absolute worst
case scenario is when they happen to be right. You know they’re going to
either be loud and obnoxious about it or throw in a few snide comments with
the same tone of voice as italicized parentheticals have in text. I don’t
know which is worse, but they’re both horrible.

It gets to the point where you don’t even want to admit to yourself that
they’re right, because living a lie is easier than facing the truth.

Now imagine that this friend also happens to be your boss.

ruly this is the darkest timeline.

Cedric Phillips, our fearless leader here at StarCityGames.com, has been
a…let’s say, vocal opponent of Militia Bugler since the card started
seeing significant play in Humans. He took the time to
put his thoughts on paper
recently and while I’m not as low on the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy as he is,
I was caught up thinking about the card he favors in its place:

After a weekend in Dallas where I played against six unfair Faithless
Looting decks, I was looking for some additional sideboard cards for those
matchups. The typical card you see in stock lists is Auriok Champion, but
I’ve never been a fan of that card since it’s underpowered and not very
widely useful. I didn’t expect to see as many graveyard decks in Baltimore,
and Modern is such a wide format that you need your sideboard cards to be
powerful and flexible in order to be prepared for the natural variance in
your matchups.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar is very good against Vengevine, Goblin Bushwhacker,
and Flamewake Phoenix. Humans is generally favored going long against those
decks because its topdecks are a lot better and unless they set up a
single, explosive turn you’ll eventually lock up the ground and kill them
in the air with Mantis Riders.

But in addition to its applicability there, Thalia is also excellent in a
number of other matchups. It’s excellent against Tron, where your goal from
the Humans side is to end the game before they land a big threat since
you’re unlikely to beat any of them, barring a Reflector Mage on Wurmcoil
Engine. It’s quite good in the mirror and other creature matchups, giving
you a significant edge in development when played early and making it
difficult for larger creatures to become relevant in time against your
aggressive draws.

Even in removal-heavy matchups, where it’s at its worst, the card demands a
quick answer lest they fall very far behind having most of their lands
enter the battlefield tapped. The card has a very high ceiling, and as I
thought more about it, the more I wanted to play them in the maindeck.

I mentioned as much in the debut of
What We’d Play
last Friday, though, I hadn’t yet committed to more than a single copy in
the sideboard. I ended up taking the leap, registering the following list
in Baltimore:

After wrapping up my 9-5 and draw into top 64 (aka the bread and butter,
aka the hot mediums), I reflected on my tournament and the card that stood
out the most was indeed Thalia, Heretic Cathar. I sideboarded it out
several times on the day, but it was a critical card in several of my match
wins on the weekend.

It was particularly notable in my three Tron matchups on the weekend. And
that’s underselling it by quite a bit. Thalia, Heretic Cathar may be the
single best card in the format for Humans if you’re trying to beat Tron.
Casting it early makes it incredibly difficult for them to assemble Tron in
a timely manner while also delaying their ability to utilize Tron by at
least a turn. It’s essentially Time Stretch and a 3/2 body for three mana.
Time Stretch costs ten mana and 70% off is enough of a sale to get people
lining up outside the store at 6:00 am.

I do think that Cedric hit the nail on the head with regard to Thalia, Heretic Cathar having a higher ceiling than Militia Bugler, and that makes it a better maindeck choice.

The most telling part of Thalia’s prominence is that I didn’t play against
a single Faithless Looting deck, which were the matchups that first brought
the card to my attention, and it was still very effective. An early tapped
land in Modern is a significant impediment to the opponent developing their
battlefield and Humans is excellent at playing from ahead.

On the other hand, Militia Bugler continued to be, akin to my record on the
weekend, hot mediums. It’s a card you don’t want to cast until turn 4 or 5
when the battlefield has developed on both sides and it’s clear what you’re
looking for, but early in the game casting a 2/3 with vigilance isn’t
beating anyone, and I’m not going to play the card in the hopes of
consistently chaining them with Phantasmal Image. Honestly, I’d rather be
using my Images on more impactful creatures.

So where does that leave me moving forward with Humans? Here’s where I am
right now:

The one thing I’m going to look for is space for an additional one-drop.
I’ve played Kytheon, Hero of Akros and Thraben Inspector at various times
and Experiment One is another fine option, but it’s mostly there to lower
the curve slightly. Modern right now has a metagame that is quite fast as
the control decks have come down in popularity, and you want to be casting
multiple spells as early as possible. The added one-drop also makes it more
likely that your turn 1 Aether Vials activate on turn 2. Getting ahead is
the name of the game, and even a slight adjustment down in curve helps you
do that.

I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Militia Bugler in the sideboard, but
it tends to be good in matchups where Thalia, Heretic Cathar isn’t so it
makes for a fine swap. I was bringing out one or the other all weekend, and
it’s nice to have a variety of different two-for-one creatures against
removal-heavy decks rather than loading up on even more disruptive
elements. In long games there are few topdecks better than Militia Bugler,
but the goal here is to not be playing long games unless you’re forced to.

I do think that Cedric hit the nail on the head with regard to Thalia,
Heretic Cathar having a higher ceiling than Militia Bugler, and that makes
it a better maindeck choice. In general, game 1 is a time when linear decks
want to do their thing and overpower the opponent and while Humans isn’t a
typical linear deck because it has so many disruptive creatures, it’s still
a deck that wants to get ahead on the battlefield and close the window
before the opponent can draw out of the soft lock of Kitesail Freebooter,
Meddling Mage, and the like.

The push to play more generically powerful cards is further exacerbated my
the nature of Modern being such a wide format. You need your game 1 deck to
facilitate your own gameplan as much as possible so that your synergies
come out strongly and overpower the opponent to the point where you don’t
have to worry about what your opponent is doing.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar may be the single best card in the format for Humans if you’re trying to beat Tron.

Also, Modern is full of decks that have very powerful draws, so to win
matches against them you need to maximize your deck’s ability to hit the
top end of its range. You’d rather have two draws that are 9/10s in a match
and another that’s a 0/10 then three 6/10s. There isn’t as much room to
outmaneuver your opponents during the game in Modern relative to other
formats, so you need to put your work in when tuning your deck for a
tournament and sideboarding.

Militia Bugler is a textbook 6/10. It’s not going to take over a game by
itself, but it’s always going to do something relevant and that’s just not
what I’m interested in. I want to embrace the variance. Sure, Thalia,
Heretic Cathar is going to be a weak draw on turn 10, but I’m unlikely to
be winning those games in the first place, and Militia Bugler isn’t pulling
anyone out of a big hole unless you hit a great chain with Phantasmal
Images and a horde of 2/3s is good.

The more I think about it, the more Militia Bugler sounds to me like Dark
Confidant, which was a popular choice for a flex spots pre-Bugler, but not
one I ever embraced because it didn’t have a high enough immediate impact
and it was unlikely to live long enough to let you grind out the decks that
are trying to go long. Militia Bugler providing immediate value changes the
calculus, but even a three creature chain off of it is unlikely to help you
grind out Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Supreme Verdict.

Humans’ plan against high-impact cards is to stop them from resolving with
the disruptive creatures, not win through them. To that end, Militia Bugler
can put in some work by digging for another disruptive creature like
Kitesail Freebooter or Sin Collector. It also plays nicely in the
post-sideboard games when you’re bringing in high-impact creatures, like
Gaddock Teeg. The games naturally slow down a bit too, offering you more
time to deploy the Bugler and whatever creature you find off of it.

So as much as I hate to admit it, I’m fully committed to Team Cedric in
this debate. There’s a lot of inertia in the hive mind towards Militia
Bugler, and it takes someone with the (often misguided) confidence of
Cedric to go against the masses. I mentioned earlier that part of the
mindset here is not being afraid to be wrong, and the benefits of that are
what I want you all to take away from this article.

Being afraid of being wrong will invariably hold you back and lead you
beholden to the whims of the hive mind. Stock decks are the Militia Bugler
of Magic: they are never going to be too bad or too good. But Magic
tournaments don’t reward you for not crashing and burning. They reward you
for being in the top 8 of a field of over 500, which means hitting the top
end of your range.

There will be times when you make some changes from the stock build, and
they’re wrong and that’ll be a feel bad scenario, but each failure is a
chance to learn and grow while giving into the fear of being wrong will
lead you to stagnate as a Magic player.

And you know this is very important because I avoid stroking Cedric’s ego
like the plague.