It’s been brought to my attention that Oko, Thief of Crowns might be banned on Monday. At this point, I’ve left the USA and won’t return until the SCG Tour stop in Richmond, where I’ll be teaming with Nick Prince and Ally Warfield. I’m slated to be in the Modern seat and the only deck I brought with me is Bant Stoneblade.
That means two things:
The first is that if Oko gets banned before then, I’ll be in a pickle. It also means that I truly believe in Bant Stoneblade and I don’t think that will change between now and then.
Simic Urza is clearly well ahead of the pack in Modern, partly because it’s not easy to hard target, but Bant Stoneblade is solid against it. Similarly to Urza, it too is difficult to hard-target. Bant has a clock, disruption, and difficult-to-remove threats, so the recipe for what makes Urza so strong is there, except Bant has a slight edge against Urza and some of the new decks out there, like Simic Titan.
Bant would a good deck before Oko, Thief of Crowns, but now it’s an incredible deck.
At each spot on the curve, Bant has some of the strongest cards in Modern. Force of Negation and Spell Queller give you game against combo decks, the Equipment helps you grind against midrange, there are various sources of card advantage, and Oko solves basically everything else. If you need specific help in any given matchup, you have some of the best sideboard options.
Winning via a tempo advantage is the main gameplan. Thanks to one-drop mana accelerators, Stoneforge Mystic, Spell Queller, Oko, Force of Negation, and Path to Exile, you should be able to get onto the battlefield more quickly than your opponent and stay there. Your cheap cards will allow you to snowball any advantage you have, putting your opponent in a position where they can’t utilize all their resources before they get run over.
Barring a slow draw or an opponent who is able to interact with you, Bant is able to shift into a controlling role with Ice-Fang Coatl, Oko, and Stoneforge Mystic. That versatility is huge because it means your opponent will often sideboard in a way that doesn’t line up against your current strategy, leaving them at even more of a disadvantage.
I’ve tried both and Birds of Paradise is stronger than Gilded Goose overall. If you don’t have Oko at the ready, Gilded Goose mostly sits around not accomplishing much. The second toughness can be relevant and so can the Food-making ability against aggressive decks, but with so many three-drops in the deck, you’d prefer your mana accelerator to consistently make mana.
In a different metagame, Giver of Runes would be a fine one-drop to use instead of Birds of Paradise but there’s not much spot removal in the metagame at the moment. I’m not using the maximum amount of Path to Exiles because removal isn’t very important currently, especially considering how easy it is for Ice-Fang Coatl; Oko, Thief of Crowns; and Teferi, Time Raveler to invalidate your opponent’s creatures.
Arcum’s Astrolabe is less of a mana fixer and more of a way for you to immediately create an Elk once you cast Oko. You can also bounce it with Teferi’s -3, gaining some valuable card advantage. I started with two copies and quickly went up to three, which is a place I’ve been happy with. There are several turns where you have spare mana, so you can weave in an Arcum’s Astrolabe relatively effortlessly. Playing more copies might lead to you being flooded on them, which isn’t a scenario I want to be in.
The only other two considerations in the maindeck are Once Upon a Time or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Having a quick burst of cards in the mid-game is incredibly powerful but I don’t like Jace’s position in Modern at the moment. Once you have four mana, you’re typically reacting to what your opponent is doing because of how powerful the possibilities are. Plus, Jace is very weak to commonly played sideboard cards like Mystical Dispute.
My sideboard contains hate cards for big mana, additional creature removal, some cheap countermagic, and Tireless Tracker for matchups that will go longer. Overall, it’s a solid mix of cards but will certainly shift as the metagame does.
Two other sideboard cards I’m interested in are Meddling Mage and Gaddock Teeg. They have niche use-cases but are incredible in those spots. Depending on what I expect the metagame to be, I could see either of those taking some sideboard slots.
Deputy of Detention is another sideboard card, although that one is more of a hedge than anything. It handles the role of extra spot removal for creature decks, can remove planeswalkers, and other problematic permanents like Oblivion Stone and Phyrexian Unlife. Those needs aren’t particularly common but if you find yourself wanting something generic to bring in against a wide variety of decks, Deputy of Detention is a fine choice. It’s also one that I like more than Knight of Autumn.
VS Simic Urza
I will happily Force of Negation an early Oko but there aren’t many solid targets for it outside of that. Late-game, having an extra counterspell for Cryptic Command / Mystic Sanctuary locks is nice, so keeping in a single copy seems fine to me.
Emry, Lurker of the Loch is a scary card but I’d rather let her do her thing and try to fight through it rather than use Path to Exile on Turn 1 or 2. On Thin Ice is an option but it eventually gets blown up by Engineered Explosives. Ignore trying to remove their threats with spot removal and focus on tempo-ing them out with planeswalkers and Equipment.
VS Eldrazi Tron
This matchup is somewhat difficult to sideboard against because how their deck plays out varies from game to game. Sometimes they have an explosive Tron draw, which is where you’d want Damping Sphere, but other games start with Chalice of the Void into Thought-Knot Seer and they beat you down.
I tend to like versatile cards against Eldrazi Tron because of that. Things like Damping Sphere, which are only good against a specific draw, aren’t something I’m interested in.
VS Mono-Green Tron
This matchup (and to some extent Gifts Storm and Amulet Titan) is the only reason I have Damping Sphere in my sideboard. If Mono-Green Tron ends up being completely supplanted by the other big mana decks in the format, you’ll free up two sideboard slots.
Get on the battlefield as quickly as possible and try to stop their ways of coming back. Wurmcoil Engine can be an issue at times but Oko and Teferi can handle it. Oblivion Stone is weak to Spell Queller and you can beat Ugin with Equipment and flash creatures. It’s a difficult dance but you tend to come out on top more often than not.
You can probably stop them from assembling Tron for a few turns but it won’t last forever. At some point you need to give up on that plan and focus on closing the door on them.
VS Simic Titan
If they have Primeval Titan and Cavern of Souls in short order, you’re in trouble. Thankfully, very little in their deck can beat Sword of Feast and Famine, so that’s always a reasonable way to close the game. Even if they do resolve Primeval Titan, you can often deal with it via Path to Exile or Oko and race them.
Ashiok, Dream Render is the best hate card possible.
Expect to lose some games by inches. Overall, you’re quite good at containing their threats and fighting through their disruption, plus you have several cards they have very few ways to beat.
VS Bant Stoneblade
Oko and Teferi are the most important cards in the matchup. If one player has Teferi and the other doesn’t, so many cards are invalidated. Path to Exile is mostly poor except in the case of Spell Queller.
In sideboard games, proceed with caution. Develop your mana and slip some bait spells out there while trying to set up a turn where you can win a counter war over a planeswalker.
This matchup can be difficult because of how much they play to the battlefield. Not having a comeback mechanism makes matters worse. Thankfully, you have Oko and Ice-Fang Coatl on your side, so the tools to stave off their aggression are better than before.
I don’t mind a couple of Mystical Disputes here despite Cavern of Souls. They’ll have some non-Human creatures like Phantasmal Image and Deputy of Detention, which are fine cards to counter. Plus, they might not draw Cavern of Souls each game.
This matchup is on even thinner margins than Death’s Shadow. Each game will feel razor-close unless you’re able to resolve Stoneforge Mystic and protect it with Force of Negation. If you expect more Burn in your metagame, you should pack some dedicated hate.
The same can said about Dredge. Ox of Agonas will likely lead to a resurgence in the archetype, which is scary for Bant. Add some Rest in Peaces to those Ashioks or hope to dodge the matchup entirely. You’re not 100% to lose but very few of your cards actually interact with what they’re doing, your clock is slow, and they will eventually Conflagrate your entire battlefield.