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Winning A PTQ With Stoneforge Bant (Or Why Analyzing Metagame Data Matters!)

Tuesday, March 1 – Congratulations to Reid Duke, who won the second online PTQ with Mirrodin Besieged! His newest iteration of Bant has the card that’s on everyone’s mind: Stoneforge Mystic. Find out more in his analysis.

This past week, I’ve had more fun playing MTG than I have in as long as I can remember. I’ve been diligently tweaking and fine-tuning my pet deck
(Bant) in an Extended format where I really feel like anything is possible. I’m thrilled to report that Knight of the Reliquary and I finally took down
a PTQ online on Saturday night.

I’m ready, however, to get back on a regular schedule, especially in terms of writing. For those of you interested, I’ve included an extra section at
the end of this week’s article with a brief story of Saturday’s tournaments and a little bit of key info about the Bant deck. For everyone else, I’ve
analyzed results from the first few weeks of Extended tournaments with Mirrodin Besieged.

Extended With Besieged

Table 1

This data is taken mostly from the nine post-Besieged PTQs that I have available. However, since the results of this weekend’s PTQs weren’t in at the
time of writing, I also included Magic Online results from the past eight days to ensure that the data also reflects recent trends. The “Other
Appearances” value counts all PTQ 5-8ths, all Premier Event Top 8s, and all Daily Event 4-0 finishes.

“Success” is an arbitrary measure that I made up to rank the decks. I gave each deck two points for an appearance and an extra point for every win in a
PTQ Top 8 (3 points for 3rd-4th, 4 points for 2nd, 5 points for 1st). “Success” can be used as an approximation for how (relatively) likely it would be
to face a given deck in the final few rounds of a tournament. It doesn’t take into account overall win percentages or overall popularity.

Faeries remains the top deck, although anyone could have predicted that would be the case for at least a few weeks after the new set. There simply
hasn’t been enough time yet to fully explore all the new possibilities that Mirrodin Besieged brings. However, Faeries was a fantastic deck last month,
and I’ve seen firsthand that it gains its fair share from Mirrodin Besieged.

I played the Sunday PTQ in Paris and watched a friend, Jarvis Yu, win the whole thing with Faeries. Jarvis’s only Besieged card was Go for the Throat,
but he had great things to say about both that and Sword of Feast and Famine.

“Go for the Throat was great, since it kills all of the threats (except Tempered Steel ones). I should have realized that Sword of Feast and Famine is
one of the best ways to win a Bitterblossom war, as well as letting you attack with Tar Pit and still keep mana up for their turn. My only loss in the
swiss was to Faeries with Sword of Feast and Famine.”


The above chart clumps together all results from the past two and a half weeks. I need to make a special note that the stats for U/W Stoneforge don’t
really show how dominant the deck has been lately. Traditional U/W Control has a lot going for it, and the Stoneforge package really shores up its
weaknesses by allowing it to effectively pressure Faeries and Scapeshift.

At this point in the season, Magic Online’s Extended tournaments are small and composed of dedicated grinders. They are all playing this deck! It’s
been over a week since I’ve played a Daily Event and not faced U/W Stoneforge at least twice.


Although U/W Stoneforge may be insane against the field in general, it’s not particularly strong against Bant. On the way to my PTQ win, I went 3-0
against the deck and beat it in the finals. Bant may have an important position in the post-Besieged metagame.

Mirrodin Besieged changes Bant from a semi-competitive rogue deck into a top contender. Mirran Crusader is out of hand in a deck with eight exalted
creatures as well as Elspeth, Knight-Errant and an equipment package. It substantially changes the Faeries matchup by providing a game-one threat that
can’t be easily removed. Similarly, Sword of Feast and Famine is a powerful equipment that grants the two most important protections in the format.
Having a card that turns Birds of Paradise into a threat makes mana flood almost a nonissue with Bant.

Since I first wrote about the deck, it’s been gaining popularity slowly but steadily. I played two mirrors on Saturday. It’s an appealing deck because
it’s straightforward, fun, and has no glaring weaknesses. It has a good matchup against the top two decks (Faeries and U/W Stoneforge) and can be
metagamed to beat almost anything else.

Fauna Shaman isn’t the best two-drop in the format, and neither is Putrid Leech. In my opinion, it isn’t Bitterblossom, and it isn’t Stoneforge Mystic.
I can’t praise Qasali Pridemage enough. He hits hard when he attacks and contributes damage the turn he comes down, sometimes allowing a Birds of
Paradise to take down a Jace Beleren or a Mirran Crusader to do much more than that. Destroying a Bitterblossom, a Sword, or a Khalni Heart Expedition
really interferes with the opponent’s game plan. Beyond that, Wargate can’t win the game as long as Pridemage is in play. On Saturday, I had two
separate Wargate players complain about my drawing multiple Pridemages. I’ll make all the Wargate players out there a deal: stop playing a deck that
needs an enchantment to win the game, and I’ll stop playing my extremely efficient weenie that can kill it at my convenience. Until then, you won’t
catch me with fewer than four.


Naya and Jund are old favorites who still have their die-hard supporters. Jund doesn’t gain much from Besieged but is the type of deck that can really
punish players who want to putz around with their favorite new cards and forget what it takes to beat a deck full of the format’s powerhouses. Naya has
new options in Mirran Crusader and Sword of Feast and Famine. Also, it’s not from Mirrodin Besieged, but may I recommend Qasali Pridemage in Naya?

The biggest surprise may be the resurgence of G/W Trap. Jay Lee won his PTQ without using a single Mirrodin Besieged card. That doesn’t mean, however,
that the new set didn’t do its part to set things up for the Trap deck. This is a strategy that really preys on decks that try to play fair like Bant
and U/W Stoneforge. Any deck that lacks the efficient creature control of black and red is going to have a very hard time even competing with G/W Trap.


The last deck I’d like to mention is Elf Combo. From my own, very limited testing, it shows a lot of promise. Green Sun’s Zenith is just what the
doctor ordered to make the deck a consistent, well-oiled machine. Here’s a card that serves as an accelerator in the early game, a Regal Force in the
late game, and extra combo pieces when you need them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some savvy Elf Combo players tear through unprepared PTQ fields.

Bonus Section: Winning a PTQ with Bant

My alarm went off at 5:45 on Saturday morning, telling me it was time to get up and head to Hartford, CT, for the PTQ. I was feeling great, confident,
but not pressured because I knew my deck was sick enough that if I didn’t win today, I would win one eventually.

Things went more than according to plan, and I started out 5-0 against a wide variety of decks. Between my confidence in the deck and the way the day
had been going flawlessly, I felt invincible. I didn’t even consider the option that I wouldn’t make the Top 8. At this point, all I would have to do
(hopefully) would be to win one of the next two and draw in.

I promptly lost round six to G/R Scapeshift. Game one is quite bad in this matchup. The post-board games are more than fine, but I still need a good
hand with the right mix of cards to win. In game two, I kept a hand without a counterspell and didn’t draw one right away. After some thought, my
opponent made a good call and fired his Harrow + Scapeshift into my open mana and did me in.

Round seven, I faced Wargate, and my Pridemages really pulled their weight. I won game one but lost game two, and in game three, my opponent put me in
a tough spot when he Nature’s Claimed my Sword of Feast and Famine during combat. I had only one Unified Will as permission and had to decide if I
wanted to use it to keep the pressure on or save it to protect myself from his combo. He had only three cards in his hand and five lands in play. If I
made him discard, he could only keep two cards and needed Prismatic Omen + Scapeshift + untapped land to kill me. I decided to take my chances in the
hopes of locking up the game quickly and countered his Nature’s Claim. It was a big mistake in retrospect because I should have known he had good cards
based on the way the game had played to that point. Also, it was likely that I could have won without leaving open a vulnerable window if I held my
Unified Will. He held onto an Omen and a Scapeshift and drew an Island to kill me on the spot.

I won the final round and finished in seventeenth place. It was a good tournament overall but disappointing because it hadn’t finished as well as it
started. I got home at 10 pm and killed some time until the online PTQ at midnight where I registered the above Bant decklist, which was two cards
different from what I had played earlier in the day.

One of the two changes I made was to cut my fourth Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, so I felt great when I lost the first round to Red Deck Wins.

Now let me explain a dilemma that I’ve come to face many times in past few years. It was 1:00 am, and I had a 0-1 record. I wanted to brew a pot of
coffee to stay sharp, but if I lost again, I’d want to drop and go to sleep. I remembered reading about an ancient Chinese general who ordered the
bridges behind his army burned so that there would be no temptation to run away. It was fight…and win, or die. I wasn’t ready to give up yet, so I
fired up a fresh pot and took down a U/W Stoneforge player in round two to get some momentum going.

I feel like I redeemed my mistake against Wargate as I beat three different Scapeshift decks over the course of the tournament.

In the finals, I played against U/W Stoneforge for a third time. Game one, I had a great draw on the play and won quickly. I felt confident, but in
game two, Ch0b1 got me good with his tech of Gideon Jura. Game three, I opened with a hand of four good lands, Qasali Pridemage, and two Knights of the
Reliquary. I sighed because it was unlikely that I could beat a good hand with Day of Judgment with that opener, but I felt like it was unrealistic to
try to mulligan into something better. After all, not every six-card hand has lands, an accelerant, threats, and a counterspell. It seemed like Ch0b1
was struggling to make his land drops because he spent his early turns Preordaining and Vendilion Cliquing himself. I Tectonic Edged a land to keep him
on the back foot as long as possible, and by the time he finally cast Day of Judgment, I was able to Path to Exile my own creature in response and give
myself enough mana to activate Stirring Wildwood, equip it with Sword of Feast and Famine, and finish him off.

So at 9:00 am on Sunday morning, after 27 hours of intense MTG, Ch0b1 conceded, and the “new cards” window popped up with some booster packs. It’s
lucky to get a second chance at anything, but this will be the third time MTGO has given me a chance to try my luck at the Pro Tour.

Secret Bonus Section: The Bant Deck

Decklist

I feel guilty that Hero of Bladehold was on the bench for the PTQ win. Bant started as a “Big Zoo” type of toughie deck, and Hero of Bladehold was the
best toughie. However, the Stoneforge Mystic package means that I can win with my weenie creatures instead, and it makes the deck much more consistent.

The one complaint I have about Bant is that it lives and dies by drawing the right mix of spells. That’s why you see numbers like three Mana Leaks,
three Stoneforge Mystics, and two Paths to Exile. These cards are great, but it’s dangerous to draw multiples.

I was very happy with my decklist (but I guess that’s usually the case when you win the tournament). In my mind, the flexible slots are (maindeck) the
third Mana Leak and the second Path to Exile and (sideboard) the fourth Unified Will and the Gaddock Teegs. Faeries is a good matchup, but it would be
tempting fate to play fewer than four Great Sable Stags while Faeries is this popular.

Game Play

The hardest part of playing Bant is mulliganing. I win much, much more often when I start with a Noble Hierarch or a Birds of Paradise, but it’s not as
simple as mulliganing every hand that doesn’t have one. I’ll keep a good hand where my first play is a Stoneforge Mystic, a Qasali Pridemage, or a Mana
Leak on the play in some matchups.

It’s common for Bant to start out ahead, so I spend most of my mental energy figuring out how to maintain my lead. I try to put myself in my opponent’s
shoes and figure out what they need to do to win. Then I work to make sure it doesn’t happen.

It’s important to use the best tool for every job. I like to keep in a good number of Paths to Exile in control matchups because if I have a Path for
their creature, then I can spend my Bant Charm on their Cryptic Command and my Unified Will on their Day of Judgment. The first time you stare at a
Bant Charm as they cast Cruel Ultimatum, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s bittersweet that I’ve worked so hard on a beloved deck and won’t get to play it in any more important tournaments. I’m not complaining, though.
There are definitely some bold knights out there who can carry the Bant flag, and it’s time for me to hand it off. After all, only one of us is allowed
to attack at a time.