The Industry Standard: Prime Speaker Bant At #SCGCOL *5th*

Andrew Shrout put Prime Speaker Bant on the map yet again at the SCG Standard Open in Columbus. Read on to find out more about the deck before #SCGPHILLY!

Hello world! I’m Andrew Shrout, although you might know me better by my Magic Online name, JohnnyHotSauce, or possibly by my Sioux name, Runs Above Expectation. You may recognize me from my misadventures last month in San Diego, where I made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, or perhaps from StarCityGames.com events, where I’ve done some pretty good work this Standard season combining Thragtusk with various mythic card drawers. That theme continued this past Saturday in Columbus, as I finished in the Top 8 with Prime Speaker Bant.

I’ve been playing the archetype for a while now. After winning a SCG Classic Series with it at the beginning of March, I briefly discussed its formation with Glenn Jones here. The deck has evolved quite a bit since then. The "stock" Prime Speaker list in pre-Dragon’s Maze Standard, like the one Joe Spanier used to qualify for the World Magic Cup, cut the mana elves and began playing things like Azorius Charm and Supreme Verdict. That style of deck did well for a while but eventually fell out of favor, and since the release of Dragon’s Maze, Prime Speaker Bant has seen hardly any play at all.

For my part, it had been a stressful couple of weeks since I’d gotten back from the Pro Tour in San Diego. A combination of bad luck and worse judgment found me in Sweden more-or-less by accident for the Grand Prix last week, where I chained an 8-1 performance in Sealed into a 1-5 in Draft finish, but other than that I had hardly thought about Magic at all. In fact, I hadn’t played a single game of Standard since SCG Invitational: Atlanta, so I was approaching my deck selection for SCG Standard Open: Columbus with a completely clean slate. I consulted with several people, and they all said the same thing: Standard is almost frustratingly open, anything can win, and any of the known archetypes are just as good as another. Or, as Jan Van der Vegt put it, "All the decks suck."

I looked at Magic Online Daily Event results for decklists, found nothing exciting, and left Friday expecting to play U/W/R Control, Junk Reanimator, or The Aristocrats, content with any of these choices but unenthusiastic. I personally hate being in this spot going into a tournament, as I think apathy about my deck choice is very bad for my performance psychologically. Nearly every time I do well at a big Constructed event, it’s either with a brew I’m anxious to experiment with or an established deck I’m completely in love with.

My car mates, Jack Fogle and Bobby Graves, were equally stumped by Standard, but Bobby mentioned that he had played a PTQ a few weeks prior with Prime Speaker Bant. I’d completely forgotten that it was an option and was immediately intrigued at the possibility. It was also a familiar tool to take into a Standard metagame I hadn’t played in, and it being some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing Magic didn’t hurt either. My brewer’s fire was reignited, and I was suddenly very excited about Standard, so over the course of the threeish-hour drive from Louisville to Columbus we hashed out the list that Bobby and I ended up playing.

From the beginning, the big hole in the deck had been the two-drop. We needed a card that could effectively block a 2/2 attacker and gain value and that would also demand an answer from a control deck, allowing us to bridge to the planeswalkers-and-draw-sevens late game. Strangleroot Geist previously filled this slot but had been fairly unimpressive, and Voice of Resurgence was the perfect upgrade.

The planeswalker package also changed quite a bit. My impression of the metagame was that I primarily needed to be able to beat Junk Reanimator and various flavors of The Aristocrats, and I knew Garruk Relentless was one of the best tools available to do so. Once I moved up to three copies, I was wary of playing additional Garruks, but I still wanted a planeswalker that would reliably provide pure card advantage. Recalling that my two primary targets were also Lingering Souls decks, I was happy to fill that slot with Jace, Architect of Thought, a card whose stock has improved immensely in the new metagame.

Finally, the top end received a facelift. Bobby had played two Aetherlings in his PTQ and loved them in the board-stall matchups where Angel of Serenity had previously shined. Conveniently, these are also the matchups where it is the easiest to flip and keep a Garruk Relentless. Now that we had three copies of Garruk, I was comfortable going down to just one copy each of Angel of Serenity and Aetherling.

Between Relentless tutors and chaining Prime Speakers and Revelations, I was confident I’d be able to find them when I needed them, and they were less likely to clunk up my opening hands in other matchups. It is a little weird only have one copy of Angel against Junk Reanimator, where the endgame frequently finds multiple Angels exiling each other, but Selesnya Charms and the Clones out of the sideboard mostly made up the difference.

The sideboard was nothing too fancy, as I mostly fell back on plans I had already used in previous versions of the deck. I’d been happy with Clone and Supreme Verdict when I’d played the deck on Magic Online, and they are both outs to a pantsed-up Geist of Saint Traft, one of the deck’s biggest weaknesses. The only card that was actually new to the archetype for me was Unflinching Courage, which felt like a strict upgrade to the anti-aggro measures I’d previously had access to because it allows you to continue being proactive rather than sitting on blockers and hoping not to get blown out by Mizzium Mortars, Pyreheart Wolf, or something similar.

I was fortunate at the tournament itself to mostly face decks I felt prepared for. I beat three Junk Reanimator decks, a mostly even matchup on paper but one in which I have a lot of experience. I also won three rounds against various control decks. Prime Speaker Bant has always been excellent against control thanks to its planeswalkers, card-advantage engines, and resilient threats. Voice of Resurgence just pushes this edge even further. My last two rounds were on camera against Andrew Tenjum’s Naya and Caleb Durward’s Jund, two talented players whose decks were substantial underdogs in a midrange mirror against a deck that can consistently draw a new hand every few turns.

I picked up my one loss early against Alex Blackard in round 2. Alex was fresh off his Top 4 finish at the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in St. Louis with an aggressively geared U/W/R list featuring Geist of Saint Traft, Thundermaw Hellkite, and a lot of burn. Geist is one of this deck’s biggest fears. I managed to win game 2 with Voices and Smiters, but in each of the others Alex backed up a turn 3 Geist with removal for any blockers I could find.

Four rounds later, I was pretty sure my tournament was over after I lost a quick game 1 to a triple-enchanted Invisible Stalker. I consider the Bant Hexproof matchup basically unwinnable and had simply hoped to dodge it, although in retrospect it seemed fairly popular in Columbus. However, I somehow managed to win games 2 and 3 thanks to some clutch sideboard cards and to some mediocre draws from my opponent. Geists were Cloned, Stalkers were Verdicted, multiple two-for-one Detention Spheres were cast, and 6/6 lifelinking Smiters connected several times.

Sadly, the wheels came off in my Top 8 match against Adam Johnson. My deck’s primary plan against aggro is to present good blockers, so I was especially vulnerable to his Madcap Skills. This was the second Constructed tournament in a row that I was swiftly dispatched in the first single-elimination round by little red attackers. If this keeps up, I may have to change my Sioux name to "Chokes In Quarters."

If I were playing in another Standard Open this week, I wouldn’t make any significant changes to my list. One thing I did notice was that I boarded in Detention Sphere in literally every round, so I might look to make room for a few in the maindeck. It’s another bridge card against aggro and is an out to problematic things like Assemble the Legion, Domri Rade, etc. in the midrange and control matchups. It also occurs to me now that Angel of Serenity might be a significant part of the game plan against The Aristocrats, as the deck is short on answers to Boros Reckoner and it’s a "sweeper" that doesn’t turn on Blood Artist, so I’d look for a way to make room for a second copy of it as well.

Despite the coming up short in the end, I was certainly pleased with the deck, and it will definitely be my Standard deck of choice going forward. I didn’t actually get to play a game against Junk Aristocrats, so I’m still not sure what that matchup is like, although my gut tells me the four-drop planeswalkers are both monster trumps so I’m not especially worried about it. Aside from that bit of uncertainty, the only matchup in the field I actually feel unfavored against is Bant Hexproof.

Having only one bad matchup in such a wide-open field is a fantastic place to be, and I expect the deck to start making waves again. The same 75 I played at the Open won a Premier Event on Magic Online the very next day, so I certainly think it will continue to be well positioned. Of course, as I’ve been saying all along, resolving a big Prime Speaker is one of the best feelings in Magic, so even if I didn’t like its position so much, I’d still want to be playing the deck that lets me have a blast drawing 20+ extra cards every match.

If you have any questions about the deck, ask away! I’ll be watching the comments. Thanks for reading!