The Heroes Of Richmond

CVM and Todd Anderson both played Bant Heroes at #SCGRICH, and they met in the semifinals with the same build. Read all about it here, and give it a try before #SCGRegionals this weekend!

If you’ve been reading my content for a while, you may have caught on to the fact that I am a big proponent of the “you do you” moniker. Being true to yourself and just doing whatever it is that you like doing is always something that I will get behind.

Sometimes though you are just lost and need very little convincing to get on a different (better?) path.

Heading into the Open Series in Richmond, I wasn’t sure what I was going to play. I felt like G/R Devotion and W/U Heroic were the frontrunners because I already had plenty of experience with them. I wanted there to be a good Dragons build, but I just couldn’t find something that I liked enough to run it, and considering that I had done little to no testing I felt like it would be better to differ to the expertise of someone who battled the weekend before in Chicago.

I traveled to the event with Todd, Tom, and Hillary, and waffled on what I was going to play up until shortly before I was going to go to bed. I had been chatting with Anthony Lowry about different Dragons possibilities. The Rally deck from Chicago was fairly weak to flyers, and I really liked the possibility of siding into Flamewake Phoenix against them in addition to the different flavors of control decks. I was still scared of Languish, but Anthony wanted to run Atarka’s Command in the sideboard to bring in and combat Languish, which was something that I hadn’t thought of before. There might even be a deck with Atarka’s Command in the maindeck along with your Dragons as a way to try and fight Languish, but I didn’t have the time to work it out.

I was resigned to just play G/R Devotion. I felt like it was the most powerful deck on raw power alone, but if Heroic and Rally decks showed up in force then we would be in a rough spot and I didn’t really think there was much that we could do about it. Todd had settled on Heroic and wasn’t looking back and told me something that really helped me get my mind right about what deck to play.

“G/R Devotion is undoubtedly the most powerful deck. If you play it, you will be almost a lock to Top 32 or even Top 16 this tournament but you will likely not win.”

I felt like this was probably true for this weekend. With all of the attention on the deck, it’s still fine to play since it can just overpower the hate, but in such a long tournament it’s going to catch up to me and I’ll likely end up with five or six losses.

We were on a straight W/U Heroic deck, similar to what Logan Mize used to make it to the finals in Chicago, but after playing a bunch of games against Hillary’s deck and getting obliterated by Harbinger of the Tides, Soulfire Grand Master, and Ojutai’s Command, Todd felt it would be better just going back to Bant. The addition of Dromoka’s Command is huge since it gives us a way to interact with creatures and can create some extreme blowout scenarios, and the addition of green lets us play upwards of eight fetchlands which opens up Treasure Cruise and subsequently Monastery Mentor.

Now I had played Bant Heroic previously and split an IQ with one Brian Braun-Duin and, as you can see, the deck really hasn’t changed very much. In fact, the list that Todd and I played was only three cards off; swapping an Ajani’s Presence for a Valorous Stance in the maindeck and swapping the two copies of Stubborn Denial for a Stratus Dancer and a Triton Tactics in the sideboard.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

The maindeck actually felt perfect. If I had to play the tournament over again, I would keep the starting 60 exactly the same. To be honest, though, there is very little wiggle room there. The mana is almost perfect. I know that Tom played a 4/1 split on Enlightenment and Plenty in the Temple department, but everything else is pretty standard and locked in. You have a little wiggle room with the creatures. Putting the third Lagonna-Band Trailblazer in the maindeck isn’t out of the question since you bring it in for almost every matchup. Seeker of the Way gets sideboarded out quite a bit, especially on the draw, but it’s a necessary evil since it’s so good against the aggressive decks and on the play it can be completely backbreaking. Curving one-drop into Seeker of the Way into an Ordeal is almost as good as just Ordealing up your creature on turn two, if not better.

The spell suite really only has the copies of Ajani’s Presence and Valorous Stance as flexible slots. Since we are on Monastery Mentor, I can’t see not playing at least some copies of Ajani’s Presence, but Valorous Stance definitely overperformed and I want at least one more in the 75; likely in the sideboard since Encase in Ice was such garbage.

I used every card in the sideboard (even the Encase in Ice) which is pretty neat and means that we were on the right track. In fact, I lost an overwhelming number of game ones and then grinded out the next two games to get the win through superior sideboarding. The ability to go up to four copies of Treasure Cruise and have some counterspells is much better than most people give it credit for. There are a large number of games where you just get to grind out these grindy decks with well-timed Ordeal of Thassas and Treasure Cruises. Games against decks like Abzan Control seem like we’re a little behind on card power since they have so much removal and some sweepers, but it’s not that hard to win games even with what looks like weaker cardboard when you draw ten extra cards over the course of the game.

I’m a little torn on the Stratus Dancer though. There was just never a really good time to use it when I was playing. I would bring it in against the control decks, the aggressive red decks, and it looked like Todd brought his in for the mirror (although I didn’t). It could be a Den Protector, which would be a cute experiment, but I’m not quite sure.

If I were to play the deck again I would keep the maindeck unchanged but try out something like this for the sideboard:

2 Hushwing Gryff
2 Aqueous Form
2 Ordeal of Heliod
2 Disdainful Stroke
2 Treasure Cruise
1 Island
1 Valorous Stance
1 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
1 Stubborn Denial
1 Triton Tactics

I think that the best way to go about fighting the Rally the Ancestors deck from the Bant Heroic side is with Hushwing Gryff. The edict effects of Fleshbag Marauder and Merciless Executioner are what really hurt us. Yes, they can get some insane value out of something like Collected Company and combo kill with Rally the Ancestors – which we could stop with something like Hallowed Moonlight or Tormod’s Crypt – but I prefer to be proactive against them. I would rather stop their efforts to prevent me from killing them than try to stop them from killing me.

Play to win. Don’t play to not lose.

Whether this is good or not is yet to be seen. All I know is that Ray’s Abzan Rally deck from Richmond this weekend was not only busted and just crushed the field, but it specifically beat the tar out of Heroic strategies.

Todd and I, playing the exact same 75, had a combined total of eight losses between us. Two of those were to each other – I beat him in the Swiss and he beat me in the semifinals – and three of which were to Ray and his Abzan Rally deck: he beat both Todd and I in the Swiss and then beat Todd again in the finals.

We were on point with our deck, but his deck was just on an entirely different level.

Playing against him and watching his games, I had a sense of deja vu. Watching his deck in action, it really felt like the weekend before Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir when I ran the tables in Syracuse with the bigger version of G/R Dragons. It just felt like I was playing a different game than all of my opponents, and the deck ended up skewing the subsequent PT into having a bunch of Esper Dragon control decks and G/R Devotion decks that tried to go over the top of the Dragons decks.

It will sure be interesting to see how the metagame at the PT adjusts for this version of the Rally deck. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is a beating for the deck, but the control decks will have a tough time grinding through Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, Grim Haruspex and Collected Company.

I would think that something like Abzan Aggro could be good against the deck though. Cheap threats like Warden of the First Tree, Fleecemane Lion, and Rakshasa Deathdealer paired with Anafenza, the Foremost seem like a very good strategy against them. Unfortunately it seems that Languish has all but pushed Abzan Aggro out of the format. If it does happen to make a comeback, I expect Pro Tour Magic Origins will be the place that it happens.

We can see from Ray’s deck that he doesn’t even have any discard spells in the deck to try and fight against the control decks. He just plans on valuing them out, which is especially potent since they can never really tap out or else they might get Liliana online or just flat-out combo-kill them with Rally the Ancestors feeding a very large and hasty Nantuko Husk.

I do like the Anafenza, the Foremost in the sideboard that Ray had. It seems great in the mirror, it can be a decent-sized body against the aggressive red decks, and it goes a long way towards helping us execute a beatdown plan if our opponent happens to have ways to interact with our graveyard. This goes along well with Dromoka’s Command, and unlike the five-color version of the deck with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, we can be flexible in assigning our roles and aren’t priced into “just” being a Rally the Ancestors deck.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t heavily considering playing the Abzan Rally deck. I actually put it together on Magic Online last night and played a bit, although I did make one change: I cut the fourth Windswept Heath since we only have three targets for it and added in a Temple of Plenty. It gives us the same number of green and white sources, and since we only had five (and now six) lands that enter the battlefield tapped, it shouldn’t really affect the deck’s tempo – plus it’ll help a little towards digging for our important spells like Rally the Ancestors or Collected Company.

On a more personal note, I want to address a post that I made through social media sites earlier this week. My girlfriend Nicole took a job a few months ago out in Seattle, and I will be relocating out there with her. We really appreciate all of the support that had been shared through Twitter and Facebook, it really means a lot. It does mean that I will be leaving Roanoke, but that doesn’t mean that I will be leaving Magic. I will continue to write here on StarCityGames.com and I will continue to play as much Magic as I possibly can. I’m working on some things with BBD so that we can continue to entertain all of our loyal BBD vs CVM fans, and I’m planning on using my new free time to delve back into streaming and will be setting a schedule and giving that a full-time go, so if you enjoy watching me play Magic while trying to interact with chat and figure out MTGO (spoiler alert: it can’t be figured out) then feel free to head on over to my Twitch channel and consider joining the Stormbeard Dragons!

Good luck to everyone this weekend, be it Pro Tour Magic Origins, SCG Regionals, or just crushing your local IQ’s. #Beardpower to everyone!