A Farewell to Bant

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Standard

A Farewell to Bant

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

And just like that, we’re through another PPTQ season. At least for my area, there is one remaining PPTQ that I will not be able to attend, so this past weekend, I ended my Shadows over Innistrad PPTQ season with a top 8 at a local IQ. I spent the day with great friends, was able to, as mentioned, casually stroll into top 8 at fourth place, and get my pin and playmat for the season. I’m a little upset that I didn’t cash, and that I lost to just a poor matchup in top 8, but the rest of the day went great.

So with no remaining PPTQs for me to attend until Eldritch Moon is released, I say farewell to Bant Collected Company, for now. As most people who track PPTQs know, the season with Eldritch Moon will be Modern. This is a double-edged sword. While I won’t have to have a Standard deck except for when I attend (read: win. Don’t even bother showing up, please) the SCG Invitational in New Jersey in August, I do have to play Modern, a format in which I’ve been a lost soul since the banning of my beloved Splinter Twin. Part of me just wants to sleeve up Pestermites and Deceiver Exarchs any way simply because “that’ll show ‘em.”

But I digress. While I’m happy to not really have to pay for new cards with Eldritch Moon, and that I won’t truly have to wade too deep into the waters that will assuredly be dominated by G/W Tokens, I am not too comfortable with the state of Modern as a format right now. While a lot of people point to Modern as being a healthy format right now, this goes back to the discussion of what people consider a healthy format.

As someone who really likes when a format has three, four, or five “best decks” and then a myriad of completely viable, playable, lower tier strategies, the way Modern used to be when Jund, Twin, Affinity, Burn, and Tron were king, it’s a bit underwhelming that there’s no handful of decks one can point to and say “that’s the best deck, play that.”

There’s some inner part of me that really likes synergistic creature-based combo decks. This is part of the reason why I played the four color rite deck in Standard for a couple weeks, and I even had a stint playing Cephalid Breakfast and Project X back in the day. Another part of me however really likes tempo style decks, like the current iteration of Bant Company in Standard, or back in the day with Splinter Twin and Snakes on a Plane. Since there is no deck in Modern that is considered to perform well other than sort of Infect that lies in the latter type of deck I mentioned, I’ve been drawn to the Abzan Company deck.

I like decks that have two gameplans. They sort of squeeze the opponent on two fronts. This is probably also why cards like Tireless Tracker and Nissa, Vastwood Seer appeal so much to me. Tireless Tracker is an efficient creature that continues to get bigger and threatens to become a powerful threat on his own, all while drawing you extra cards. The same can be said for Nissa. She not only draws you a card (forest) when you play her, but as a planeswalker, she draws you an extra card a turn while threatening to create an unbeatable board state with her -7.

This is what draws me to the Abzan Company deck. You’re on this combo plan initially, but can also be on a sort of grindy aggressive deck with your Persist creatures and Gavony Township. Township is a heck of a card, and as the game goes longer, keeps getting better and better. Post board, you can configure your deck in such a way that you become really good at grinding as well with cards like Courser of Kruphix and Pharika, God of Affliction, while still maintaining all of the good stuff you had pre board.

My only reservation about this sort of deck is the amount of hate that people bring for it. While the deck doesn’t see hate hit it as hard as hate cards keep Affinity in check, it is still scary to be playing on the unfair side of the tracks. Cards like Rest in Peace and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, which people are playing more and more, make playing this deck a real headache with very few ways to remove them.

There is also the threat of these Nahiri Jeskai decks. Their gameplan is to just control the board, Emrakul you, and win. While gaining infinite life is fine, unless you exile Emrakul, they’ll eventually win since they can just shuffle their graveyard into their deck and eventually deck you.

There have been other options I’ve been thinking about as well. I have the cards for Infect and Jund, and I can also build the Bant Eldrazi and Bant Company decks (Reliquary Retreat or whatever). Those last two decks may just be flavors of the month, and I may not even enjoy playing them, but they lean on the fair side of Magic, which is where you want to be if you don’t want to get blown out by hate cards. Jund and Infect, while fine decks, just feel not great to play. Jund a lot of the time to me feels like the cards just don’t do enough when people are killing you on turn 4. The deck in my experience doesn’t have too great of a Jeskai Nahiri matchup, and the burn matchup feels like stepping into a sauna on a muggy, humid, summer day.

Infect feels like an interactive version of Bogles, where if you don’t have the right cards in your hand, or don’t draw the right cards, there’s a very good chance that you lose, and there are still hate cards for the deck that exist, as well as the Abzan Company deck just playing upwards of six maindeck hate cards that can be tutored for.

Anyway, I feel like the Abzan Company deck is right up my alley in terms of decks I think I enjoy, and plans I enjoy. It lets you grind out long games, it lets you combo win on turn three or four at the earliest, it lets you attack as a kind of midrange aggressive deck, and it has a sort of transformational sideboard. I do think though that it is a deck I won’t be 100% in on at any given time. I think that it’s only a matter of time until Collected Company gets banned in Modern. There’s no way a card this good will be able to stick around. It puts a limit on how good they can make creatures with converted mana cost three or less, and having a card that puts that sort of design restriction on R&D is just ripe for a banning in the future. As such, I think I’ll keep my other options hanging around for the next few years, just in case.

So now that I’m pretty sure I’m set on my Modern deck, I want to give my trusty Bant Company deck a grand ol’ viking funeral. Let’s lay it upon the funeral pyre, set it afloat, and loose an arrow so that it may burn in one final blaze of glory.

Since last Standard, I have been playing the deck. Since then it’s given me a second place, two top fours, and a whole bunch of top eights. I’m unlikely to go back to the deck after Eldritch Moon, simply because the matchup against tokens is simply dreadful, and I don’t think it’s going to improve once Eldritch Moon releases. For those of you playing Bant Company and looking for a sort of different list, here’s what I played to another top eight over the weekend.

Since last weekend, the changes to the maindeck are -1 Tireless Tracker, + 1 Eldrazi Displacer, and -2 Declaration in Stone, + 1 Ojutai’s Command, + 1 Dromoka’s Command. Last week, I added the Displacers for the Tokens matchups, and they were great when I drew them, but I wasn’t able to find them in the finals against tokens when I really wanted them. I also felt like a lot of the time, I had multiple Trackers in my hand, which isn’t bad, but one would have been enough. This was an easy swap. I definitely also felt like having a one of Ojutai’s Command is something I wanted, and having Declarations in Stone felt gross when I was hitting actual creatures and letting my opponents investigate. The sorcery speed also felt really slow, and counter to what my deck was trying to do. I prefer to play this deck as much at instant speed as possible, which plays well with the counterspells from the board.

The board changed a bit, – 1 Dragonlord Dromoka for + 1 Tireless Tracker, and -1 Dispel for + 1 Declaration in Stone. The Declarations are still good against a bunch of decks with stupid creatures like Dragonlord Silumgar, so I definitely still wanted them. I also felt like Dragonlord Dromoka underperformed last week, and Tireless Tracker overperformed. Against the control decks like Esper and BW, where some of my creatures are poor, like Reflector Mage or Eldrazi Displacer, Tireless Tracker overperformed, so he definitely gets a slot in the board as a four of.

I still feel like the Tokens matchup is gross. When people are playing a ton of planeswalkers and ways to defend those planeswalkers on the battlefield, the Bant deck has a hard time winning. That’s what I lost to in the top eight of the IQ this past weekend. I think moving forward, I would add a fourth Negate and third Tragic Arrogance to the board. You need to draw those cards, and the deck doesn’t have a reliable way to get its non-creature spells. If there is some creature with cmc 3 or less that I’m missing that is actually really good against planeswalkers, I would put that in the board over either of what I said. Maybe Bygone Bishop or Eldrazi Skyspawner? Those may be better options. As it stands, Planeswalkers are the reason Bant Company is in a poor spot in the metagame.

I would still probably play the deck if I had to play in another event this weekend, as I think it’s one of those decks that beats up on every deck that isn’t tokens (or ramp, but seriously, where’s that been?!).

Anyway, it’s time to think Modern for the next season, and I’m taking the next month off of playing competitive REL magic, as there are no real events for me to attend outside of random IQs. Good luck to all of you who are competing, and make sure you all have a [good] plan against the tokens decks if you’re not playing them.

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