“I’m a quick learner.”
– Cedric Phillips, 2018
I’m not sure what I’m even doing here. By now, everyone knows that Militia Bugler is the truth. But hey, when your friend and boss asks you to write the easiest article of your life while also publicly humiliating him, you don’t turn that down.
Almost immediately, Militia Bugler has occupied three or four maindeck slots in Humans and the community has been very happy about it. Still, let’s ignore the fact that every single Humans list played since Core Set 2019 has come out has contained Militia Bugler, including every single copy to finish in the money at a tournament.
For those who won’t follow logic or reason, the results themselves are typically a slam-dunk argument. Still, results can be misleading and they can even lie. Given that, I’m willing to completely ignore this argument.
The Anti-Bugler Argument
There are basically three arguments for not including Militia Bugler in your deck.
1. Militia Bugler Is Bad Against The Majority of Modern Decks.
Cedric has asked me time and time again to tell him what popular matchups Militia Bugler is good against, often naming off the various combo decks he’s playing against on Magic Online. All the while, he’s playing three copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. That’s like complaining about being mana screwed when your deck plays ten land.
2. Militia Bugler Does A Terrible Job Of What You Want It To Do.
Ari Lax said that Militia Bugler doesn’t help you grind against Lightning Bolt decks because they will eventually stick a giant threat and invalidate your mopey threats. To wit:
That’s only sort of true. You can still swarm around them and/or eventually Reflector Mage their big creature.
3. You’d Rather Play Garbage Like Restoration Angel, Dark Confidant, Kessig Malcontents, Or Whirler Rogue.
Thalia, Heretic Cathar is a reasonable option, but also an incredibly narrow one.
The Pro-Bugler Argument (aka Reality)
Y’all act like a 2/3 is a blank piece of cardboard. Perhaps you should do some reading. The gist of that article is that a random body is worth more than it seems.
Not all games of Magic play out the same way. Sometimes you mulligan or your G/R Valakut opponent draws the removal half of their deck and the game slows down. Maybe you both flood out. I wouldn’t put Militia Bugler in my deck for these 10% scenarios, but if it’s a card I’m already considering playing, you’d better believe I’m going to weigh those outliers into the equation.
People started playing Restoration Angel in Humans because it added an additional layer to the deck. No one would argue that it wasn’t slow, clunky, or sometimes awkward, but people rarely played more than one copy in order to mitigate those concerns. The moral of the story is that nearly everyone in the universe has realized that Humans, a rather one-dimensional deck, could use another layer.
Games are also won or lost based on whether you get to use your mana every turn. Adding a 2/3 to the battlefield might not seem like much, but it matters! The rate isn’t incredible, but the body attacks, blocks, double blocks, gets pumped by Thalia’s Lieutenant, and keeps your Champion of the Parishes growing. The 2/3 body is no more irrelevant than Thraben Inspector’s was. Think about that.
The games Humans typically loses are when their Turn 4 is “play Horizon Canopy, sacrifice it, cast a second Aether Vial, and say go.” Maybe you can’t attack anymore because your Champion of the Parish can’t get over their Gurmag Angler or Tarmogoyf. Maybe the battlefield is clear and you start attacking with a Noble Hierarch because it’s all you have left, but we all know how that ends.
Can you imagine playing a game of Magic where you never run out of things to do? Humans has very little insurance against mana flood (and no, Horizon Canopy doesn’t really count).
The hate being pointed at Militia Bugler reminds me of those complaining about Hangarback Walker or the Dryad Arbor in Tom Ross’s Infect decks. You can’t necessarily point out what they do specifically, but once you remove them from your deck, you’ll realize that you lost a potential angle of attack.
The real lesson is that Militia Bugler adds a dimension to Humans that it didn’t previously have access to.
Cedric’s comparison to Kithkin is off for multiple reasons. For starters, you can’t port decks. Saying you want Militia Bugler to be good because you liked Reveillark should immediately disqualify you from the discussion. They aren’t even close to the same cards, they don’t accomplish the same things, plus Humans wouldn’t even want a Reveillark effect.
What it does want is velocity and traction, both of which can be provided by The Bugler.
Cherry-picking specific matchups to badmouth Milita Bugler is comical, especially for Modern. There are literally 40 different decks you might play against in any given tournament. At Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, Mattia Rizzi chided me for playing Wear // Tear in my sideboard. Cedric echoed him pretty well:
“What matchups do you actually want this card against? Seriously, look at the top 10 decks in Modern and you’ll see that you only want it in one matchup.”
I told Mattia that Modern is a vast format with a ton of random cards and there are enough matchups I could play where I’d want them. Then I proceeded to go 11-1-1 over the course of the tournament, eventually losing to a deck where I wish I had more copies of Wear // Tear, and I blew up plenty of copies of Leyline of Sanctity, Leyline of the Void, Rest in Peace, and Chalice of the Void to get there.
Mattia went 2-7-1 or something, losing to each of those cards.
Also, if you’re going to bring up specific matchup stats, at least get them right.
Ironworks trims combo enablers for spot removal, thus slowing down their combo. Citing Turn 3 and Turn 4 kills is a non-starter since that basically can’t happen post-sideboard, especially through your disruption. You get more time. If you want to spread your casting costs for Engineered Explosives, could I interest you in a wonderful three-drop?
Cedric mentions Blood Moon being the most problematic card in the Mardu Pyromancer matchup, which is literally the first card I cut against Humans when sideboarding.
To Ari’s point, I wouldn’t make the argument of “Militia Bugler lets you out grind midrange decks,” unless it was explicitly shorthand for “Militia Bugler gives you enough gas and ways to use your mana that you can get under the midrange decks and keep your tempo advantage long enough to bury them.”
Those Lightning Bolt plus giant animal decks have fallen by the wayside, partly because of how good Humans is. If your deck is all removal and you can’t get a good matchup against the deck with 37 creatures, it might be time to hang it up.
Reflector Mage is so brutal against them that the Militia Bugler point is moot anyway. “Kill your creatures and play a brick wall” is their plan against Humans, but it doesn’t always work out. In fact, it’s even less likely to work out with Militia Bugler in the mix!
To top it all off, Militia Bugler makes your mana better! It ensures your Aether Vials are strong, even in the late-game. Again, it might not seem like much, but once your Aether Vial gets to three, you will probably have some very powerful turns. Additionally, having a source of card advantage in your deck means you can play more land if you want to since you have built-in insurance against flooding.
Humans has its fair share of one-land hands (22%) and they basically have to keep if they have two one-drops and a two-drop. Realistically, you’d love to keep any opener with a one-drop and enough mana to play Magic, but since you can’t afford to flood, you have to play a low land count.
Overall, the mix of different necessities means that Humans has to mulligan very often. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could build your deck in such a way where that would happen way less?
Are people misusing Militia Bugler? Do they think it accomplishes something that it doesn’t? Absolutely, but it’s a brand-new tool and people haven’t quite figured out what they need to be doing with it yet. That alone isn’t a strike against the card.
Yes, there are some matchups where Militia Bugler isn’t particularly good, but the same could be said of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Reflector Mage, and basically any card in the deck that has a text box. Apparently “this isn’t good against every single Modern deck” is the new “dies to Doom Blade” argument.
I do agree with Cedric that the current Modern metagame isn’t one where you jam four copies of Militia Bugler and are ecstatic about it. If you’re playing on Magic Online versus in real life, you might even find that the higher density of combo decks is completely off-putting.
If you forced me to play Humans tomorrow, this is what I’d register:
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 2 Militia Bugler
Rather than a twentieth land, some have advocated for a singleton Avacyn’s Pilgrim, but that doesn’t necessarily fix the mulligan issue. Humans could probably make use of another one-drop, but having Militia Bugler in the picture doesn’t necessarily mean Avacyn’s Pilgrim is a better choice than Experiment One.
Either way, if you’re playing Militia Bugler, congratulations. You’re on the right side of history.