For the last few weeks I have wanted to play a Bant Company deck in Standard, but there are two popular decks that play the all-powerful Collected Company, and they're both Bant decks! One is traditional Bant Company, which has been around for a while, and Bant Humans, which has been surging in popularity. The decks are the same colors and play many of the same cards, so I want to talk about why each are so similar and the differences that make each their own unique archetype.
This past weekend, at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, I elected to play Bant Humans, but in retrospect there were some situations where I found myself thinking, "why am I not just playing traditional Bant Company?" That's not a good feeling to have, and made me still think about which of the two decks is better, or if the choice is more dependent on the metagame. What I will say though is that the Bant Humans list that I did play and took to a Top 16 finish this weekend is the best version of Bant Humans I have seen in action. The list is based off of teammate Mark Jacobson's recommendations, but has my own spin:
This deck has a lot of good things going for it, and also there are a few cards that stand out from some of the other lists. Eldrazi Displacer is a controversial card right now in both Bant decks, but it has a lot of synergy here even though it isn't a human. Blinking a Reflector Mage or Thalia's Lieutenant of your own provides a nice bonus, but there are spots where blinking any of your own creatures becomes important; when Thraben Inspector gets blinked, a clue is generated! The reason Eldrazi Displacer is so good, though, is the ability to also stop opposing threats. The most popular deck in Standard right now is W/G Tokens, and it is considered by many to be the best deck based off of results over the past couple months. Eldrazi Displacer is fantastic against that deck, which means it is okay to stick it in just about any midrange deck, especially if you can hit it off Collected Company.
Why is Eldrazi Displacer so strong against W/G Tokens? Against W/G Tokens, you aren't temporarily blinking out the creatures, you are permanently dealing with them most of the time. Both tokens and also Hangarback Walker will die permanently to a single Eldrazi Displacer activation. While the mana does suffer somewhat because of needing to activate Eldrazi Displacer, it is worth it.
The biggest card that sets Bant Humans apart, though, is Thalia's Lieutenant. This is the reason to play as many humans as possible, and it really helps make the creatures in the deck much more sizeable. The issue is that sometimes you don't want to play only humans, so there is a tradeoff. A flipped human turns into a werewolf, which will then not receive a counter from Thalia's Lieutenant, and Eldrazi Displacer, Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Archangel Avacyn aren't humans to begin with. Still, the majority of the creatures in the deck are humans and any time multiple copies of Thalia's Lieutenant are drawn or hit off Collected Company, things tend to snowball.
Thalia's Lieutenant has the potential to be fantastic, other than when trying to play around mass removal. In order to maximize this card you really want to create a board presence of multiple creatures. This is why after sideboard there are times when it is correct to take out Thalia's Lieutenant, but at that point the deck almost becomes a watered-down version of traditional Bant Company. Still, the deck can play either an aggressive game based around making huge humans, or sideboard into a bit more of a value creature deck.
In general, I have found Bant Humans to be favored against W/G Tokens, while traditional Bant Company has a tough time with that matchup. This may be the reason why Bant Humans is so popular; being well-positioned against the best deck in the format is important. With that said, there are times when traditional Bant Company feels more consistent, and it does have the better control matchup. Control decks definitely shouldn't be discounted and both of these Collected Company decks play similar value creatures which makes them able to have a very powerful lategame. Let's take a look at the Bant Company deck that made Top 8 in Pittsburgh:
Clearly there are humans in both decks, but traditional Bant Company has the luxury of picking and choosing which ones to play. Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker are fantastic at generating card advantage. Both decks play four copies of Evolving Wilds, which generated two clues with Tireless Tracker. These are creatures that are fine to cast on-curve but in are often better to save for late in the game, where they're more effective. Having mana sinks in Collected Company decks has always been important, so clues and recruiting more creatures is perfect. While the cards have a low casting cost, this deck can easily play long grindy games and come out on top.
There are multiple humans that are some of the best creatures in Standard. Reflector Mage is just the reason why Bant Company decks exist and requires no explanation. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, on the other hand actually has fallen quite a bit from its glory days during Oath of the Gatewatch Standard. It is amazing to me that traditional Bant Company is the most popular home for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and that it isn't played at all in Bant Humans. This helps illustrate the two different approaches of the decks respectively; regular old Bant Company wants to durdle as much as possible and be consistent by sculpting the perfect hand. Bant Humans, on the other hand, is capable of applying more fast pressure.
In my opinion Jace, Vryn's Prodigy actually doesn't do much for either of these decks and we see William playing three copies here, while other versions opt for as many as four. Sylvan Advocate, on the other hand, is one of the best cards in the format, period, and is a card Bant Humans can't afford to play. Being able to play Sylvan Advocate alongside Lumbering Falls gives you more insurance versus the Languish decks, rather than playing a potentially better two drop early in the game like Lambholt Pacifist. Lambholt Pacifist is not seen as much here because it really wants to be played alongside Thalia's Lieutenant to maximize its potential.
When looking at both Bant decks we see that about 25 Collected Company hits is normal for the maindeck. This leaves four slots for Collected Company and then six additional spell slots. Normally you would think that this would be six noncreature spells, since playing creatures which cost more than three mana doesn't make sense from a Collected Company perspective. However, Archangel Avacyn is simply too powerful not to play. The card is good against essentially every deck, so it makes sense to have a couple copies between the main and sideboard. The last card is of course Dromoka's Command which uses up the rest of the open slots.
This particular version of Bant Company actually maximizes Archangel Avacyn even more by playing Eldrazi Displacer. Sacrificing an Eldrazi Scion is a perfect way to flip Archangel Avacyn at will. Otherwise it is hard to flip her without fighting an opposing creature with Dromoka's Command. This deck has some wiggle room in terms of picking and choosing the Collected Company hits it does play. A card like Bounding Krasis, which isn't currently popular, could all of a sudden make its way back into the deck this week.
The issue with these Collected Company decks is knowing how to sideboard, since a lot of the sideboard cards add to the count of cards that can't be hit off a Collected Company. At Grand Prix Pittsburgh, I found myself boarding down to 21 Collected Company hits, which isn't optimal. However, by doing this, the deck becomes filled with more impactful spells and, in many cases, strengthens its lategame. For instance, in Bant Humans, a card like Thraben Inspector doesn't feel like it does enough to warrant a slot after boarding. The deck generally wants to become more controlling with more removal or counters, backed up by card advantage. There is always going to be tension between keeping enough Collected Company hits in the deck and putting in all the cards you want.
When looking at the sideboard from Bant Humans and Bant Company we see a lot of the same cards in the respective sideboards. It seems Tragic Arrogance is in just about every midrange deck in the format, and Declaration in Stone has proven to one of the most effective removal spells. There really isn't any card in either sideboard that defines the archetypes — these are just the best cards the Bant colors have to offer. This is another example of how when comparing Bant Company to Bant Humans the decks have more similarities than differences.
That's a hard question to answer without talking about the current metagame. I have touched on the strengths and weaknesses of both, but since the two decks are so similar, if you have a preference in terms of playstyle, go ahead and play to your strengths. This past weekend I went with Bant Humans because I was hyper-focused on having the best matchup versus W/G Tokens that I could. With that being said if W/G Tokens wasn't the best deck, this would be a different story.
There is a lot more combat math and each point of power and toughness matter when playing Bant Humans. It is the deck I like slightly more in today's metagame, but card-for-card, regular Bant Company is more powerful. Bant Company has proven to be a very solid choice, but has gone from being the best perceived deck to just another deck. Personally, I am leaning towards cutting Jace, Vryn's Prodigy from Bant Company altogether because the card has been unimpressive with all the White/Red Humans decks being played.
Thanks for reading,