The Dragonmaster’s Lair – The Sword In The Stone(forge)

Friday, March 4 – The power of Stoneforge Mystic has invaded Extended! Funnily enough, Brian Kibler was working a Bant list much like the one by Reid Duke to win his PTQ. What has Kibler so excited about this color combination right now?

Do you remember your first time? It’s a magical moment. For me, it was tucked away in the breakfast nook of a Parisian hotel. I’d come over
in the wee hours of the morning, heart pounding in my chest at the possibilities before me, and furtively sneak down into the nook to meet up with my
companion. When it happened, it was a feeling unlike any other. I was on top of the world – exhilarated, powerful, in control, like nothing could
stop me.

What was it like the first time you hit someone with a Sword of Feast and Famine?

Sword wasn’t a card that leapt off the pages of the Mirrodin Besieged spoiler like a Tezzeret or Green Sun’s Zenith, but it has quietly
taken its place as the most important card from the set. It provides two of the most valuable advantages in Magic – cards and mana, all wrapped
up in a bow with +2/+2 and two hugely relevant colors of protection to go with it. An unanswered Sword will end the game, and quickly.

Sword-toting Stoneforge Mystics and Squadron Hawks took the Pro Tour by storm, and results since have shown that the pairing is the real deal and not
just a one-time fluke. If PT Paris wasn’t proof enough of Caw-Blade’s dominance in Standard, StarCityGames.com Open: DC this past weekend saw
Sword-bearing Hawks take the title, along with half the Top 8 slots and nine of the Top 16, along with two Boros decks for good measure. Gerry Thompson
took the title with a Caw-Blade list metagamed for the mirror and against beatdown decks by splashing red:

Standard isn’t the only format where Sword’s keen edge is making itself felt. Sometime partway through PT Paris, I was already set on
booking my ticket to GP Kobe because I was certain I could find a powerful home for Mystic-Sword in Extended. Unsurprisingly, some Magic Online
grinders beat me to it, with the last two online PTQs being won by Mystic-Sword decks. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that they were won by
entirely different decks! __SipItHolla took down the PTQ on the 20th with a deck that was essentially Extended Caw-Blade, designed by cohort
_ShipItHolla, aka Michael Hetrick, while Star City’s own Reid Duke, aka reiderrabbit, won the PTQ this past weekend with a Stoneforge Bant list
of his own design.

The Holla twins’ deck leverages all of the potent control elements U/W has to offer in Extended, all built around the same basic Mystic-Sword
package from Standard. Cryptic Command is particularly potent in this build, since you can use it extremely aggressively thanks to Sword’s untap
ability. Being able to bounce-draw, or tap-bounce, or whatever combination you want on your own turn and pass it back to your opponent with another
Cryptic Command at the ready is immensely powerful. Cryptic is already a card that can cause huge swings in the tempo of games, but with Sword, it can
simply bury your opponent incredibly quickly.

Much like Caw-Blade is a much more proactive deck than Caw-Go, this next generation of U/W in Extended is dramatically more aggressive than its
predecessors. Rather than try to wait out combo decks like Scapeshift and beat them with countermagic, you put the onus on them to respond as you tear
their hand apart with Sword. It completely turns the dynamic of combo matchups on their head because you are now the aggressor by virtue of a single

Not only that, but Mystic-Sword gives you a turn 2 play that trumps Faeries’ turn 2 Bitterblossom, which was previously the last thing you wanted to
see when you were sitting behind a Celestial Colonnade in Extended. If you play a turn 2 Mystic on the play, only a discard spell the next turn can
stop the Sword from hitting the table, since you can just put it directly into play with the Mystic, and if they kill the Mystic on their turn, you can
play it the old-fashioned way by tapping your mana during your main phase.

I haven’t had a chance to try out the U/W list, since I’m a lowly peasant without Cryptic Commands on MTGO, but I like the theory behind
it, and the build looks solid. The singleton Mulldrifter seems a bit out of place, but without playing the deck, I can’t say if I’d cut it
or for what.

I’m not sure I’m entirely sold on the two-sword split here, though. Feast and Famine seems dramatically better for this deck than Body and
Mind and seems particularly important against Faeries, where a singleton Sword is vulnerable to being sent to the graveyard early by an Inquisition or
Thoughtseize immediately after it’s fetched up. Having a backup Sword of Feast and Famine to fetch in those situations seems like it could easily
make the difference between winning and losing the game.

Reid’s list is, amusingly enough, nearly identical to the deck that I’ve been brewing up since that day in Paris and is even more my cup of
tea. After all, it has my buddies Noble Hierarch and Knight of the Reliquary – we go waaaaaaaaaay back.

Bant was the first place my mind went when I started thinking about Stoneforge/Sword in Extended. What can I say – I like a disruptive beatdown
deck! An aggro-control Bant deck is able to take advantage of all of the benefits of a Stoneforge-equipment package – the protection, the
power/toughness boost, the attrition, and the mana advantage. While a deck like Caw-Blade is primarily interested in just the triggers generated by the
Sword (and the convenient ability to slip by Bitterblossom tokens), Bant can take serious advantage of all of the elements by actively putting serious
pressure on the opponent.

The biggest example of this is Mirran Crusader. Mirran Crusader is a potent creature in its own right, but combined with a Sword, he’s an
absolute killing machine. Double strike means that not only does he get twice the benefit from the power boost from the sword, but he also triggers the
effects twice. This means double discard from Sword of Feast and Famine and double untap too – which is rarely relevant but can actually matter
quite a bit with the utility superstar itself – Bant Charm.

Bant Charm is in an absolutely perfect place in Extended right now. It has three modes, and all of them are awesome. Opponent has a triple-pumped
Joraga Warcaller? Put it on the bottom of their deck! Sword of Feast and Famine on the other side of the board? Break it! Path to Exile aimed at your
Sworded Mirran Crusader? No sir! Not only is Bant Charm perfectly positioned in Extended at the moment, but it’s also especially effective in a
deck with Sword of Feast and Famine. Bant Charm’s utility comes at the cost of having to pay a relatively clunky three mana, but when you can get
a rebate on your mana from Sword and still play more creatures or keep counter mana up, it’s smooth as silk.

Also incredibly well positioned is Qasali Pridemage. Pridemage is one of those role players who has been an unsung hero of so many top squads in his
day but never gets the credit he deserves (this is where I’d make some sports analogy if I followed that sort of thing). But in a world where
Sword of Feast and Famine is popping up everywhere and where even the decks that don’t have it are packing Prismatic Omen, Bitterblossom, or
Tempered Steel, Pridemage isn’t just a luxury of playing G/W – it’s virtually a reason to play G/W. The ability to have an on-board
threat that preempts your opponent’s Sword from hitting you is huge, and I wouldn’t leave home without a full set of Pridemages in any deck
that could support them.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of playing Stoneforge Bant is the fact that I can play the full eight-mana creatures and rarely feel as though
they’re dead draws. Having powerful equipment makes even a lowly Birds of Paradise into a serious threat. This is actually quite a big deal, as
many other Knight of the Reliquary decks can’t afford to play a full complement of Birds and Hierarchs for fear of flooding, which costs them a
significant number of the deck’s most explosive starts.

I’ve been playing around with Bant online a ton – as I said, I’d been working on it prior to Reid’s PTQ win – and I like
it a lot. The deck has game against pretty much the entire Extended field and has a lot of play to it. It’s exactly the style of deck that I like
to play – an aggressive deck with disruption and answers for the metagame. I’ve tried a lot of different cards in the deck and sideboard in
a wide variety of matchups, and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle of what matters in each.

Faeries is all about sticking a hard-to-answer threat and protecting it in game one, which can include Sword of Feast and Famine on just about
anything. Reid mentions in his article that he sideboards out Mana Leak, which doesn’t make sense to me given how powerful Cryptic Command is and
how much of a tempo swing Mana Leaking it can be. Most smart Faeries players are on the Nighthawk/Sower plan after sideboarding, so many games can come
down to races, and being able to stop a Cryptic Command or something like a Jace can be crucial. I’ve played with varying numbers of Great Sable
Stags, and I’m not sure how important they are. They’re certainly good but so is Mana Leak. Reid is correct that you can’t have a
deck full of reactive cards because the way you lose most often is failing to draw enough action, but you need to be able to fight the tempo fight.
Otherwise, Faeries can get way ahead with cheap removal and countermagic, and being able to Mana Leak expensive spells like Cryptic Command is one way
you can do that.

Another popular deck I’ve run into a lot online is Elves. This is a matchup that I misunderstood at first, but since getting a better grasp on
it, I feel like it’s quite easily winnable. Early on, I was sideboarding cards like Linvala or Baneslayer Angel, but realistically those cards
don’t fight the draws they have that beat you (though Baneslayer can if you get it out fast enough). Elves kills you with a critical mass of
creatures and lord effects very quickly, which makes the best cards against them simply cheap spot-removal spells. I’ve long been a vocal
proponent of Oust, and it’s a card I’ve been playing quite a bit in my Bant sideboard. I’m torn whether I actually want any Ousts
before the full amount of Paths because Path is by far the best card against Elves and is decidedly better against decks like Stoneforge Bant, but Oust
is still dramatically better against Jund and Fauna Shaman decks, so I’ve been splitting the difference. Sower of Temptation is another card that
could fit into the sideboard against other creature decks, especially in the mirror. I’ll take the Mirran Crusader thanks!

I haven’t played much against the various Scapeshift decks, but Sword of Feast and Famine is so powerful against resource-intensive combo decks
that it seems like it must offer a pretty serious edge. I’m not sure I’m a big fan of Reid’s quad Unified Will in the sideboard. The
deck has so many creatures that die to Volcanic Fallout that I can imagine quite a few situations in which Unified Will just ends up turned off in your
hand. It’s certainly a solid card in some number, but I think I’d mix things up with some number of copies of Flashfreeze and Negate in the
mix as well, especially since there’s sure to be matchups against creature decks where you want a bit of extra counter cover.

One card that has been excellent for me in my versions of Stoneforge Bant is Sword of Body and Mind. Reid played only two Swords of Feast and Famine,
and I feel that’s not optimal. There are many situations where I want to fetch a Sword of Body and Mind – especially against Elf Beatdown.
A Sword of Feast and Famine does very little to hold off an army of marauding Elves, while a Mirran Crusader equipped with a Sword of Body and Mind can
kill your opponent while generating multiple blockers a turn for you. Granted, the millstone effect of Sword of Body and Mind is sometimes a drawback
against decks with Vengevine or Knight of the Reliquary, but I’ve found its applications at digging you out of disadvantaged board states and
protecting your creatures from Jace is more than worth the slot.

Honestly, I wish GP Kobe were sooner because I don’t want Stoneforge Bant to have more time to catch on in the real world before the event.
I’m certainly going to be brewing up more decks in the meantime, but I’d say there’s a very high likelihood I’ll be swinging
some Swords when I’m next in the land of the Samurai, and there’s a good chance I’ll have some Knights to carry them for me…

Until next time,