Reflector Mage is the real deal!
Given that Eldrazi Displacer is colorless, I think it's safe to call Reflector Mage the best white creature in Oath of the Gatewatch. It already found its way into Four-Color Rally as an answer to Anafenza, the Foremost and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, but today I'd like to talk about yet another application for Reflector Mage, one that I believe will soon become a Tier 1 strategy.
At SCG Columbus two weeks ago Andy Ferguson got second place with Bant Company. I have since been testing various iterations of the deck and decided on the following for this weekend:
These are some other cards to consider for the deck:
The deck operates as a pretty straightforward Collected Company deck. You play out creatures on the first few turns and then back them up with Collected Company to continue filling your board. What makes this deck more unique than the Green/White versions of Collected Company from last season is that this version has eight interactive creatures that serve as pseudo-removal (4 Binding Krasis and 4 Reflector Mage).
Reflector Mage is sweet because it gets us ahead on board by bouncing an opposing creature but it also puts us ahead in tempo by forcing the opponent to make a different play on their next turn instead of simply replaying the same creature. This allows us to realistically bounce Siege Rhino and kill the opponent before they have a profitable opportunity to replay the Rhino. It also means an opposing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy will not become a problem again for a few more turns.
Bounding Krasis works great with Collected Company because you can tap an opposing attacker or blocker or you can untap one of your own. More often than not we are racing since this deck is mostly about tempo, but sometimes you want to untap a Deathmist Raptor to block and deathtouch an attacking monster. Other times you simply want to untap Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to get another activation out of it. And sometimes you need one extra mana, so you untap Rattleclaw Mystic to essentially get a discount on Bounding Krasis.
In addition to the eight creature removal spells, we also have four copies of Dromoka's Command. These serve a few important roles. Primarily they kill opposing blockers and opposing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Secondarily though they counter Radiant Flames and Kozilek's Return. Deathmist Raptor can fight down just about anything and can often live through a fight. Sylvan Advocate can beat Siege Rhino in a fight as long as we control six lands. And Dromoka's Command also makes opposing enchantment-based removal such as Silkwrap and Stasis Snare much less effective against us. It also sometimes helps to keep us from losing to Mastery of the Unseen or Outpost Siege.
Deathmist Raptor has largely fallen out of favor in the past few months, but this deck loves the Raptor! It's a sizeable body to find with Collected Company and can surprise block an attacker mid-combat and kill it with deathtouch. We can also bring it back by morphing Den Protector or Rattleclaw Mystic. This gives the deck some extra staying power. And since we have Dromoka's Command to get rid of Silkwraps and Stasis Snares, it's going to be hard for the opponent to permanently deal with our Raptors. Also with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy we can strategically discard a Deathmist Raptor at an opportune moment and then bring it back by morphing a creature.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Warden of the First Tree provide the deck with a bit of reach when we flood. They are also fine creatures to hit off Collected Company, but you never really want to have multiples of either creature. So I went with just one of each.
Lumbering Falls is another way the deck gains reach. We usually have stuff to do for the first six or so turns, but then in the late game we want to close the game out. Lumbering Falls is great at doing this, especially if we have Sylvan Advocate on the battlefield. Not only will the Advocate be a 4/5 but it will also make Lumbering Falls into a 5/5.
I tried Ojutai's Command and it was pretty lackluster. I like that you can pass with four lands untapped and if they cast a creature, you counter it with Ojutai's Command, and if they don't then you cast Collected Company. I bricked a few too many times with Collected Company though, so I wanted to add a few more creatures. I liked Dromoka's Command and Collected Company better than Ojutai's Command, so the big blue spell ended up getting the axe. Being able to rebuy Sylvan Advocate or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy from the graveyard was pretty sweet though.
The deck really wants Fleecemane Lion, but unfortunately Fleecemane Lion is no longer in the format. Frost Walker is an interesting idea but I don't think it's powerful enough. Eldrazi Skyspawner is likewise interesting but I don't really want too many three-drops in the deck. Stratus Dancer might be better than some combination of Dispel, Hallowed Moonlight, and Disdainful Stroke in the sideboard since it counters a lot of the things those counters are in the sideboard for without lowering our creature count for Collected Company.
Arashin Cleric's primary role is keeping us from getting run over by red decks, especially those that generate Goblin Tokens. It's better than Surge of Righteousness in our deck because we can find it with Collected Company. Reflector Mage can also get rid of Goblin tokens or it can break up their combo as they go off if we cast Collected Company in response. We also have Dispel to break up either half of their combo or to counter an important burn spell.
Dispel also comes in against Jeskai decks, whether controlling with extra draw spells or tempo with Mantis Riders and Seeker of the Way. We primarily want to use Dispel to counter their Dig Through Time, but sometimes we use it to force through a Collected Company or to counter a removal spell (Crackling Doom/Ojutai's Command) when we just want to press our advantage. Remember that Dromoka's Command can also effectively counter a burn spell, including Radiant Flames.
Dispel also comes in against Rally since it counters Rally the Ancestors and Collected Company, which are their two key ways to get ahead. Our own Collected Companies are a little more powerful than theirs because our creatures are independently good while theirs require a critical mass of other creatures to become good. Our real game-breaker in the matchup is Hallowed Moonlight. They can rebuild fairly easily from a Dispel by simply finding another Collected Company or Rally the Ancestors, but a Hallowed Moonlight in response to Rally the Ancestors will exile every creature from their graveyard while also drawing us a card. Between these six spells and four Den Protectors to get them back, we have a solid game plan against the most dangerous deck in Standard.
We also bring in Silkwrap against Rally because it can exile any creature in their deck. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is the primary target, though really any creature is acceptable, especially if it creates bad blocks for the opponent, forcing them to walk into one of our instants in response to a Rally the Ancestors. Silkwrap comes in against any Jace, Vryn's Prodigy deck and any deck with ample targets. It's also good against Hangarback Walker. Just make sure to keep your creature count high for Collected Company whenever siding in spells for creatures.
Disdainful Stroke is our weapon against Elrdazi Ramp decks and also Crux of Fate control decks. Countering Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a big game, especially if you can get it back with Den Protector to do it again. Disdainful Stroke is really good in combination with Reflector Mage because you can bounce their Siege Rhino or whatever and then next turn leave up mana for Disdainful Stroke to counter it at your leisure. I was surprised how winnable the Eldrazi Ramp matchup was for this deck, especially post-board. Collected Company allows us to not just be at the mercy of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Dromoka's Command preventing the damage from Kozilek's Return is also big game, especially when it's the five damage variety. Two damage doesn't kill a lot of our stuff, so we can usually wait and just command it on the way back.
Stratus Dancer looks really interesting against all the Jace, Vryn's Prodigy decks (Jeskai, Esper, Rally). I have not tested it yet though, so I can't say for certain. I like the idea of being able to hit a 2/1 flying creature off Collected Company or flipping my morph to get a 3/2 flying creature that counters an opposing Dig Through Time or Collected Company. Sam Pardee liked Stratus Dancer a lot in my Bant Ojutai deck when he played it to a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Krakow and I think a lot of similar reasons to play it then apply now.
I have not tried Eldrazi Skyspawner yet either, though I am less optimistic about this one. It's better to hit off Collected Company since it gets a free Eldrazi Scion token, but it offers a lot less upside when cast from hand. It doesn't return Deathmist Raptor, it doesn't counter an opposing spell, and it doesn't mask our other morphs. The one really sweet thing it does do though is accelerate us to four mana for Collected Company when we don't have a fourth land. That is certainly worth something and may be enough to make it worth a slot in the deck.
Rattleclaw Mystic and Nissa, Vastwood Seer are recent additions, so right now those are flex slots. And the sideboard has a little bit of room to change too. I could see any of the five listed cards being good enough to include in the 75, but right now this is where I am at with the deck.
I played three 8-man tournaments on Magic Online with this deck and went 8-1. I have been surprised by how good Reflector Mage is. The wizard generates so much tempo and allows us to sculpt a game plan a couple turns in advance. It kills Bird tokens from Wingmate Roc as well as goblin, ally, zombie, and scion tokens. He also makes it really difficult for an opponent to profitably use a big creature against us. With everyone trying to cast Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in order to combat the Rally decks, Reflector Mage looks extra good.
Bounding Krasis has also over-performed for me. I had low expectations for a Trained Armodon with minor upside, but this upside has been highly relevant several times, especially when hit off Collected Company. One game I hit Bounding Krasis and Reflector Mage off Collected Company. I used Reflecting Mage to bounce one of my opponent's World Breakers and used the Bounding Krasis to tap the other one. Then I untapped, activated me Lumbering Falls, and attacked for lethal with all my creatures. The deck keeps pressing its advantage, so even a single turn worth of tempo generated by tapping or bouncing a blocker often created a big enough window to finish off the opponent.
If you're looking for something under the radar that can hold its own against the top decks in the format while utilizing one of the most powerful cards in Oath of the Gatewatch, Bant Company has it all and will leave your opponents cursing Reflector Mage under their breath!