Why Gerry Thompson Is Wrong About Militia Bugler

Looks like the feud isn’t ending quietly! Cedric Phillips has chosen to take on Militia Bugler and Gerry Thompson at the same time. Let’s see how that works out…

Gerry, ole buddy ole pal, what a storied history we’ve had. While you’ve been busy building a Hall of Fame resume over the past handful of years, I’ve been shoutcasting Magic tournaments and finishing 10-5 in Grand Prix like it’s going out of style. I almost stopped your undefeated run through the Swiss of SCG Atlanta in 2016 in Round 14, but as is oftentimes the case when it comes to you and I in Magic, I came up just a bit short.

And yeah, you were right about Skeletal Vampire over Akroma, Angel of Wrath in Solar Flare back in 2007, which netted me an Ohio Regionals win and an invite to my ninth-place finish at US Nationals (where I beat some chump from North Dakota in the last round). And you were probably right about a bunch of other cards and decks during my time of being a professional Magic player back in the day.

But this time, my friend? This time you’re wrong.

Militia Bugler isn’t the truth. Militia Bugler isn’t the second coming. Militia Bugler doesn’t even deserve to be called The Bugler, as Ben Friedman dubbed it a few weeks ago. Militia Bugler sucks in Humans and I’ll happily tell you why. But first, here’s a big picture of the stupid card in case you don’t know what it does:

Why do I think Militia Bugler sucks? That’s actually the simple part. Convincing you, however, may be a bit more difficult, but stay with me, because by the time this article is said and done, you too will be putting Militia Bugler where it belongs – in the sideboard of your Humans deck in very specific metagames.

Where shall I begin? The only natural place to begin! My Pro Tour Kyoto Kithkin decklist, of course!

Why start on my most relevant Magic accomplishment? Ignoring the fact that I’d like you to bask in my glory Keith Lee-style for a moment, let me turn your attention to my sideboard.

Back then, I made a living out of grinding my opponent into dust with aggressive decks by sideboarding into value creatures that they couldn’t keep up with. I welcomed the Boat Brew and Five-Color Control matchups because I was better set up to beat them early, middle, and late with my sideboard configurations. Simply put, when it comes to utilizing a value creature that replaces itself and is a pain in the neck for removal-laden midrange or control strategies, I was the guy doing that before it was cool, my friend.

So when you try to tell me that Militia Bugler is where Humans wants to be, I’ll tell you that it isn’t and I’m not saying it because I want to go against the grain. I want Militia Bugler to be good in Humans because I love grinding midrange and control players into dust with creature after creature after creature until they tap the mat and beg for mercy.

But this isn’t 2009 Standard. This is 2018 Modern, a format in which one can die on the third turn of the game with relative ease. And in this volatile of a format, you want me, your friend of fifteen years, to play a 2/3 for 2W that isn’t good in combat, is overcosted for its effect in the format in question, and in most instances replaces itself but doesn’t guarantee me the ability to find the exact card that I want?

I may be one who is prone to hyperbole, but I also have the ability to rein that in when necessary. And this is one of those times, because while I’ll never make the Magic Hall of Fame like you will, I will do my part to save my fellow Humans players from putting a bad card into their deck. And the way that I will do this?

The only way I know how! By going over some matchups!

Militia Bugler vs. Ironworks

I think we can both agree that a 2/3 for 2W against Ironworks is much too slow from a damage output standpoint. Even if an exalted trigger from Noble Hierarch or +1/+1 counter from Thalia’s Lieutenant is involved, Bugler’s effectiveness in this matchup is tied to the fact that it can find another piece of disruption. And when playing against Ironworks, a clock plus disruption is the name of the game. The fact that Bugler can potentially find a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Kitesail Freebooter, or Meddling Mage is rather appealing, though it doesn’t guarantee finding any those cards like, say, Recruiter of the Guard would (which, by the way, is the card I actually wish Militia Bugler was, but I digress).

So, in this instance, you’re spinning the proverbial wheel and hoping that things come up right. The hope is not only that you’re Bugler gives you the right piece of disruption, but also that you have the time to deploy it. As we know, Ironworks has the ability to kill an opponent on the third turn of the game, but for the sake of this argument, I’ll assume it’s a Turn 4 deck. In this matchup, you may be able to buy enough time for Bugler to find something relevant, deploy whatever was found, and cross the finish line before Ironworks solves the problem.

In Game 1. Because we both know Ironworks loads up on answers after sideboarding.

Because Ironworks slows down by sideboarding in answers, you would think having Militia Bugler to find more answers would be ideal. But you would be wrong, because the disruption tools Humans brings to the table are cards Ironworks is very ready to beat. And if you care to go the Damping Sphere or Stony Silence route, Bugler doesn’t find either.

My preference? Lower your curve, mix up your mana costs to trump Engineered Explosives, and if you’re hellbent on two-mana disruption, find a way to incorporate Phyrexian Revoker.

Summary: Militia Bugler is fine here, but chances are you don’t have enough time to deploy both it and the thing that it found.

Militia Bugler vs. Mono-Green Tron

Nope. Just nope. You know who doesn’t care about a 2/3 for 2W that potentially replaces itself and doesn’t find Mantis Rider, one of the best cards in the matchup?

What up.

We don’t have time for this nonsense against Karn and friends. You, given your Mardu Pyromancing, know better than anyone that Tron doesn’t give a crap about a card like Militia Bugler. The goal against Tron is simple – disrupt them and pressure them (in that order) when playing Humans. That’s it. Militia Bugler does neither of those things.

Further, it doesn’t have the free win capabilities of Thalia, Heretic Cathar, my maindeck replacement for Militia Bugler in Humans at the moment. Casting Thalia on Turn 2 on the play against Tron wins you the game. Casting Bugler on Turn 2 on the play against Tron? As Patrick Sullivan would say, I give it an F-.

Summary: Militia Bugler is a stinky fart while Thalia, Heretic Cathar has game-winning upside.

Militia Bugler vs. Hollow One

So, the question here is, “Is Militia Bugler better than Thalia, Heretic Cathar in this matchup?” The answer is “No!” and I’m happy to explain why.

When playing against Hollow One, Humans is the control deck. While Humans has plenty of explosive starts, Hollow One has more of them and trying to race them is generally a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, Humans has some pretty good ways of turtling up against them with large copies of Champion of the Parish to clog the ground, Reflector Mage to embarrass both Hollow One and Gurmag Angler, and Mantis Rider to win the game in the air, an area where Hollow One has a pronounced weakness.

Militia Bugler can find you two of the three cards that I mentioned, and I will give it credit that finding Reflector Mage is a big deal because it’s oftentimes the best card in the matchup. However, that 2/3 body, even if it becomes a 3/4, ain’t tussling with dem Hollow Boys or the Reel Big Fish. But our good pal Thalia, Heretic Cathar in combination with Thalia’s Lieutenant or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben sure is. Additionally, the text on Thalia, Heretic Cathar messes with hasty copies of Bloodghasts, ferocious copies of Flamewake Phoenix, and, on occasion, the manabase of Hollow One.

Thalia isn’t a perfect solution, of course, but it’s better than the alternative. When sideboarding, I’d be happy to leave either card in because Meddling Mage is so poor in the matchup in favor of Reclamation Sage and Auriok Champion.

Summary: Thalia, Heretic Cathar plays defense better than Militia Bugler, and that’s what matters most in the early stages of the matchup while you’re working on stabilizing and turning the corner.

Militia Bugler vs. Thoughtseize Midrange Decks

To save a bit of time, I’m just gonna roll all these Thoughtseize decks together, though Mardu Pyromancer is quite clearly the best of the bunch so I’ll save it for last.

Against Jund, I’ll clearly take as many Militia Buglers as I can get my hands on. There’s the potential for Thalia, Heretic Cathar to mess with Jund’s mana in the early turns, but realistically that’s not what the matchup is about and I’m not here to play pretend. This is even a matchup where I’m happy to hardcast Bugler since I sideboard out a few Aether Vials because drawing the second one is so bad and can actually lose you the game.

Against Grixis Death’s Shadow, again, I’ll take as many Militia Buglers as I can get my hands on. One of the goals of the matchup is to produce four-toughness creatures to fade Lightning Bolt and Anger of the Gods after sideboarding. Bugler doesn’t attack particularly well against a deck full of Death’s Shadows and Gurmag Anglers, but it does replace itself in most instances and allows you to grind them down while buying enough time before a pissed off Death’s Shadow finishes the job.

Where I think we’re going to disagree is how effective Militia Bugler is against Mardu Pyromancer. While I believe that Militia Bugler is a good card against Mardu Pyromancer, I do not believe it’s a great one and, again, I’m happy to explain why.

First and foremost, Milita Bugler doesn’t solve the biggest problem card in the matchup – Blood Moon. As we both know by now, Blood Moon is a huge problem for Humans, and even though Mardu Pyromancer fluctuates from playing it or not, Humans has to respect it at all times and bring in their copies of Reclamation Sage.

Next, Militia Bugler is worse than your sideboard options assuming your goal is to beat Mardu Pyormancer. Sin Collector is the absolute nuts against Mardu Pyromancer, as yanking a Faithless Looting or Lingering Souls is obviously great, but even nabbing a removal spell or discard spell is fine since that’s one less card in the graveyard for Bedlam Reveler. And If I’m looking for something to partner with Sin Collector to press my advantage against Mardu Pyromancer, Dire Fleet Daredevil is where I would go next. It’s a card that functions under Blood Moon and anything it casts from their graveyard is awesome (discard can take Blood Moon or Bedlam Reveler, Lingering Souls gives you a way to win, Faithless Looting gives you a way to refuel, etc).

Summary: If my goal is to beat the best Thoughtseize deck, Mardu Pyromancer, I want Sin Collector and Dire Fleet Daredevil before I want Militia Bugler. Thalia is mostly irrelevant against all these decks, especially Mardu Pyromancer, but loading up on Militia Bugler isn’t the end all, be all against a deck that can overpower you with Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer or lock you out with Blood Moon.

Militia Bugler vs. Storm

Much like Tron, you just don’t have time for this. You don’t really have time for Thalia, Heretic Cathar either, but because most Storm lists play at least twelve nonbasics, you might be able to mise a free win or slow them down long enough while also having a creature that attacks past Baral, Chief of Compliance and shuts out Empty the Warrens in most instances.

Ultimately, I’m not jazzed about either card in the matchup, but I think playing an early Thalia may lead to more wins. Both are getting sideboarded out for cards that matter (Sin Collector mostly, but Ethersworn Canonist is an option if you want to go that deep).

Summary: Neither card matters. It’s arguable which has higher upside.

Militia Bugler vs. Blue Control Decks

Let’s get this out of the way right now: if I’m paired versus Jeskai or U/W Control, Thalia is pretty close to a blank. Because Jeskai runs so many nonbasics, there will be games where you get them, but you can’t bank on that and it’s less likely to happen against U/W Control because they run so many basics. However, that’s a huge reason why I like Thalia as a maindeck card – the upside of just destroying someone’s draw because everyone in Modern plays so many nonbasics makes for a perfect maindeck card than you can happily sideboard out.

Militia Bugler is very much at home against both decks, though, once again, I’d argue that if my goal is to beat exactly this style of deck, I’d want Sin Collector and Dire Fleet Daredevil first against Jeskai and then Sin Collector and Militia Bugler against U/W Control (Dire Fleet Daredevil doesn’t have much to steal against U/W Control).

Summary: Thalia mostly sucks here, and Militia Bugler is better, but you have better sideboard options in Sin Collector.

Look, I can go on and on and breakdown every matchup in Modern, but I’m flying to SCG Dallas tomorrow (it’s 12:25am and I still need to pack…yikes…), so here’s the synopsis:

  • Militia Bugler is overcosted if you’re casting it regularly because in Modern, you don’t have time to cast a 2/3 for 2W that replaces itself. The format is too fast, too volatile, and too unforgiving for such nonsense.
  • If you have an Aether Vial, Militia Bugler is great, but it’s worth noting that when playing Humans, you’d much prefer your Aether Vial to be on two rather than three for Phantasmal Image, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thalia’s Lieutenant hijinks.
  • If you want to beat the decks that Militia Bugler is good/great against, Sin Collector and Dire Fleet Daredevil are more impactful options and you’d oftentimes rather load up on those first before going towards Militia Bugler.
  • Thalia, Heretic Cathar has a low floor but an extremely high ceiling because there are games that it will just win all by itself because of how people build their manabases (a la Blood Moon). To me, that’s a great maindeck card in a format as fast, volatile, and unforgiving as Modern.

Does Militia Bugler suck? For what Modern promotes, yeah, I think it kinda does. If the format were all Thoughtseize Midrange decks and Blue Control decks, I’d be happy to play Militia Bugler. But that’s not all the format is. Modern has this wide swath of decks and it’s impossible to prepare for them all. As such, if you’re gonna fill a flex spot, give me one with an enormous ceiling like Thalia, Heretic Cathar.

Gerry, we may not agree on this topic, but tell me we at least agree on this:

People cutting one Reflector Mage and one Phantasmal Image to fit in more copies of Militia Bugler are insane.

Because if not, we might have to stage another argument…