Last weekend I went 12-3 at Grand Prix Houston, good for 24th place. For those of you who read my article last week, it will come as no surprise that I did so running Bant Company. Here's the list I played:
There are two questions to ask yourself when constructing the Bant Company maindeck:
Eldrazi Skyspawner does two things that the deck really wants done: fly over stalled boards to in Collected Company mirrors, and guarantees the fourth mana in order to cast Collected Company. My problem with the card is that it doesn't do either of these things well. A two-power flier just isn't a fast clock — both players start at 20 life, no matter how weak they are to the flying keyword. And yes, Bant Company really wants access to that fourth mana on turn four, but it also wants access to it on turns five and six; the deck is very mana hungry, and one Eldrazi Scion token does not satiate that hunger.
Instead of playing one card that gave me access to both flying and mana, I played two different cards that each only did one, but did it well. For flying, I maxed out on Stratus Dancer. Face-up, Stratus Dancer has the exact same body as Eldrazi Skyspawner a turn earlier, and face-down can grow to be a much more formidable three-power flier. Nissa, Vastwood Seer was where I looked to duplicate Skyspawner's ability to hit mana number four, and I was very impressed. I cannot overstate how much better a Forest in hand is than an Eldrazi Scion in play. We aren't trying to ramp to five, just to guarantee four mana on turn four. With Nissa, Vastwood Seer, not only can we insure our Collected Company, but we are markedly closer to turning on our Sylvan Advocates and being able to cast two spells a turn. Flipping Nissa, Vastwood Seer is also very real in this deck, and very good. Bant Company can protect a flipped Nissa, Vastwood Seer like no other deck, allowing her to steadily tick towards her ultimate and put our opponent in quite a bind.
As for what cards to play that Collected Company cannot find, I have the acceptable number at five. 25 lands, four copies of Company and five Collected Company misses leaves the deck with 26 hits. Post-board it can be okay to go down to 25 hits to maximize interaction, but before sideboarding, the deck needs to be as lean and powerful as possible. Whiffing on a Collected Company will make your otherwise strong draw look pretty silly. Dromoka's Command is my favorite Company miss to run and I max out on it long before I look to other options. Dromoka's Command has so much versatility to it, which is exactly what I want out of this slot. As great as creatures are there's a lot of things they can't do, and giving up those things is the big cost you pay when playing a Collected Company deck. There's so many effect holes to plug in an only creature deck that we can't possibly plug them all with only five slots, so we want to play the most versatile card we can. On this tip, Dromoka's Command delivers.
Another option that has seen some play in Bant Company lists is Ojutai's Command. Being able to leave four mana up to represent both Collected Company and Ojutai's Command is great, as these are cards that can't both be played around simultaneously. The problem right now is that the value of the creature counter mode on Ojutai's Command in the metagame is low, in no small part due to the popularity of Collected Company. Leaving four mana up for Ojutai's Command only to have them cast a Collected Company instead of a creature is a beating. The safety valve on Ojutai's Command has always been the return Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and draw a card mode, but I can no longer justify playing four copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Early on in playing this deck I discovered that the best feeling I could possibly have was using Reflector Mage to bounce a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and the worst feeling was when my Jace, Vryn's Prodigy got tagged by a Reflector Mage. The Reflector Mage/Jace, Vryn's Prodigy interaction is how I rationalize the trend in Bant Company lists to play less Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and I haven't looked back since deciding to continue that trend line on down to two Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.
My tournament went alright. I lost the first two rounds I played to G/R Ramp and the Hardened Scales deck, then managed to win nine straight before finally suffering a loss at the hands of B/R Dragons, which I then promptly beat in the last round to finish the event. I was happy with my list, even though the decks I played didn't feel representative of the meta I expected — can you believe I never got paired against Four-Color Rally? Going forward, I'm sure I will find some tweaks to adjust to where the rest of the format is heading, but I don't have a solid enough read yet on the trends set in motion last weekend to know what they will be.
But the big question for Bant Company in the wake of Grand Prix Houston isn't one of minor tweaks, but rather a fundamental redefinition of the deck. Simply put: are we supposed to be playing red? Look at this list that made the Top 8 of the Grand Prix:
The red splash gives us access to Mantis Rider and Savage Knuckleblade, absurdly powerful Collected Company hits. Mantis Rider strikes me as being a good bit more appealing (indeed, another Bant Company splashing red list in the top thirty-two only splashes for Mantis Rider). A three-power flyer with haste is head and shoulders above every other card in Collected Company mirrors, and is no slouch in a lot of other matchups as well. Further, Savage Knuckleblade puts the pressure on ramp like no card Bant has access to, enabling starts fast enough to actually beat a reasonable ramp hand.
My default is to play as few colors as possible at all times, in order to reduce the amount of variance in my games. I am not convinced that I have to splash a fourth color to win and am unlikely to do so until that changes. The four Battle lands in my list were by far the worst cards to see in my opening hand, and to splash red you have to increase that count to six. Playing more Battle lands is the biggest cost of the splash and will cause you to have more draws that play out very awkwardly, with lands that come into play tapped at the worst times. That being said, if you find yourself being forced out of viability due to an explosion of ramp and don't want to switch archetypes, I think the red splash is the best way to shift that matchup in your favor.
Grand Prix Houston was one of those special tournaments where a previously unknown deck rises from the depths of obscurity to become the story of the tournament. At Houston, that deck was Hardened Scales. Playing in tournaments like these has a unique feel to it, and for those out of the know, that feeling is not positive. Many of my friends have played their only Pro Tour at such an event (Pro Tour Theros/Mono-Blue Devotion or Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch/Eldrazi come to mind) and it really is quite unfortunate. It can kind of feel like you've been robbed, like you did all you possibly could to prepare for this event and unforeseen circumstances rendered all of that work completely moot.
If you find yourself in this spot, don't panic. No matter how tightly coverage is weaving its narrative around this deck, no matter how crazy social media is going over it, it's still unlikely you play against it more than once or twice throughout the course of the tournament. One or two matchups is absolutely enough to influence how successful your tournament is, but not so much that the work you did to prepare doesn't matter.
The first step is to find out what you can about the new deck. In this day and age, it's nearly impossible for a truly new deck to emerge from nowhere. I found a version of Hardened Scales among the 5-0 Magic Online league lists from the day before the Grand Prix started, and used that to inform myself of the cards they could be running. While any list you find is likely to be 5-10 cards off the version being played, understanding the kind of effects they have access to can do wonders to help you muddle through your first pairing against it.
Next, you need to come up with a plan prior to playing against the deck. Don't waste time thinking about all the sideboard cards you will be playing next week to beat this deck. Sometimes you have to do crazy, unorthodox things to win with the cards you have. I remember a Grand Prix I played with monoblack Devotion where the plan I came up with to beat RW Burn was to never allow their Searing Blood to kill a creature. Sometimes that meant not playing Pack Rat until turn eight, but it gave me the edge I needed to survive. Don't be afraid to be creative.
Lastly, recognize that you are likely to lose the first time you play against the breakout deck. Cost of doing business, I'm afraid. Your inexperience in the matchup is their reward for risking their tournament on an unproven deck. You will make mistakes playing a new matchup for the first time — it's inevitable. Don't get tilted, play as best you can, and make sure, above all else, to learn as much as possible. The marginal utility on your first playthrough is huge, and is more than enough to tip the scales the next time you get paired against the new deck.
Thanks for reading,