Two Decks and a Format

Howdy.

Today I want to keep talking about Modern as well as the state of Standard. Teammate, Stu Parnes, and myself have been working on Bant Company and made some breakthroughs. Since I’ve been playing the deck more, I’ve come up with some concrete sideboard plans. Of course, Bant Company isn’t the only deck on my mind so I have other lists to share, too.

Let’s get to it!


Selfless Spirit
I began changing this deck from the original Abzan Company strategy by cutting Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer. There are so many great options for 3-drops and I felt Kitchen Finks wasn’t the best choice; so, it was changed to Voice of Resurgence to get value against removal-heavy decks and Burn. The amount of Elemental tokens I produced was too low for my liking, so I kept cutting them. It was a failed experiment, but most new ideas won’t make the final cut, and that’s all right. I also tried Selfless Spirit on the recommendation of some friends, Michael Bergoin and Raja Sulaiman. It protects Devoted Druid and the flying is surprisingly relevant.

While Voice of Resurgence and Selfless Spirit can have applications against decks with removal, they don’t shine against non-interactive strategies. This isn’t what I want in my Game 1 cards, if I can help it. So, I’m returning to my Bant Company roots from Standard a couple years ago with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Opponents with removal will not allow me to untap with Jace, which acts as a pseudo Selfless Spirit. Jace is a distraction that can run away with the game on his own. I actively want to reveal Jace to Collected Company because I can likely flip on the following turn to flash back my powerful instants.

Chord of Calling also works favorably with Jace’s flashback ability; convoke can still be used. The +1 ability that gives a creature -2/-0 is also cute against Grixis Death’s Shadow; I can turn off ferocious for a turn by shrinking their single large creature. To be clear, Jace is not insane, but rather the best option for a versatile 2-drop. I recommend you be as powerful as possible Game 1 because anything can happen in Modern.

Eternal Witness is only a payoff spell if I draw another great card that goes to the graveyard. Jace joins Devoted Druid as powerful 2-drops that must immediately die. This is key as it allows more opportunities to cast witness on turn three to return something other than a fetch land. Jace’s looting ability also wants cards to discard, so he plays well with Witness even if he survives a turn.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
There’s a chance I only play a single Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and play a single Fauna Shaman. It’s similar to Jace, but they each have advantages. Playing a Fauna Shaman on turn 2, on turn three I can discard a creature to search for Devoted Druid. Shaman plays well with Eternal Witness and is powerful enough off of a Collected Company because searching for Spell Queller repeatedly is pretty great.

The other card I added to the maindeck is Reflector Mage. This card gets boarded out often because many decks don’t play creatures and is just a ⅔ for three mana without a target to bounce. Grixis Shadow can be a very tight matchup and Reflector Mage is primarily here to combat Gurmag Angler. This interaction wins games no other creature could.

Another key change to the deck is cutting down to a single Tireless Tracker. There were too many mana sinks against removal decks. This means I was able to get away from the heavy fetch + shock mana base. Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch work very well with the fast lands, so I went up to five.

Geist of Saint Traft has been a great sideboard card, so I went up to three. The opponent will have plenty of sweepers after sideboard: Anger of the Gods, Flaying Tendrils, Kozilek’s Return, or Supreme Verdict. Geist is a way to create a threatening board position without over committing.

The overall Game 1 theory is to push the Devoted Druid + Vizier of Remedies combo as hard as possible. Geist of Saint Traft and other threats that primarily deal damage are going to be weaker. The first game goes by very quickly as both players are looking to get their powerful effects online as quickly as possible. Despite Wizards of the Coast claiming they want Modern to be a turn four format, I can win on turn three fairly consistently with a turn two Devoted Druid.

Chord of Calling
As the opponent sideboards interaction with creatures, I can’t rely on assembling Devoted Druid + Vizier of Remedies. Devoted Druid is still a very strong mana dork, so I never board them out; but, Vizier get significantly weaker because it has no other applications outside of making millions of mana.

I can’t think of a matchup where I wouldn’t cut at least a single Chord of Calling. As my opponents get better at killing creatures, the value of Convoke declines. It’s also a miss on Collected Company which matters when I bring in Path to Exile, Walking Ballista, or Unified Will.

The flex creatures such as Tireless Tracker, Reflector Mage, and Scavenging Ooze don’t directly help you combo and can come out for games two and three. I only play singletons of many creatures because they have diminishing returns and not because I actually find them with Chord of Calling. Keep in mind that Jace can be boarded out often, too. His -2 will typically be weaker after sideboard when you take out Chord of Calling. If I’m not bringing in Path to Exile then the number of meaningful instants will be too low. I have the Path to Exile caveat because I want Jace to be good against decks with lots of removal such as Jund and Grixis Death’s Shadow.

If I’m playing against a removal-heavy deck Path to Exile is good against their clock which slows down the game. A Birds of Paradise can be cut in situations like this. I often cut a Birds of Paradise when I bring in Burrenton Forge-Tender as it’s another 1-drop. Birds is better on the first turn over Noble Hierarch because I would prefer the hierarch to not run into a removal spell. Exalted not only deals additional damage, but the +1/+1 can add additional counters to Devoted Druid without dying for a turn as a form of mana ramp.

Grafdigger's Cage
Grafdigger’s Cage is a popular Modern sideboard card, but you get a clue if the opponent can realistically play it. Snapcaster Mage decks typically won’t play the Cage because spells cannot be cast from the graveyard. Dryad Arbor cannot be searched with Green fetch lands so I would prefer to not have cage in those decks. Eldrazi Tron has a small amount of sideboard options and doesn’t care if cage is in play, so count on them having it in their fifteen. Jund can support Cage, but Abzan has Lingering Souls so they are less likely to have it.

Qasali Pridemage can come in against a potential Grafdigger’s Cage. There aren’t many meaningful artifacts and enchantments to blow up currently, but they do exist. Remember that Collected Company can still be cast to get it out of your hand against Stormbreath Dragon’s monstrous ability. The Cage is weaker against you post-board because Chord of Calling is already one of the first cards to be removed.

You can goldfish faster than Ad Nauseam and Walking Ballista works favorably against Phyrexian Unlife, so a maindeck Pridemage isn’t necessary. The converted mana costs in the deck are fairly spread out so I don’t care much about Chalice of the Void Game 1. Don’t worry about Qasali Pridemage blowing up Blood Moon because mana dorks are good at making it less effective.

Pithing Needle has never been cast against me, but it can shut down Devoted Druid’s untap ability. I don’t care about this after sideboard as my deck is better at interacting, so I’m all right with an expensive Llanowar Elves. Naming Walking Ballista is a bad idea because I can make millions of mana to cast it as a very large creature and can attack on the following turn. The same can be said about Leyline of Sanctity. I can’t ping you millions of times, but I can shoot down all opposing creatures and attack with a very large ballista. Don’t waste your time with it.

Here are some sideboard plans:

Eldrazi Tron:

Unified Will counters All is Dust, which is key, as this sweeper can unlock powerful Eldrazi under Spell Queller. Path to Exile can be hit by Chalice of the Void, but is needed to interact with Walking Ballista. Qasali Pridemage hits the Walking Ballista as well as the Chalice that locks out Path to Exile. Remember Spell Queller can counter Eldrazi through a Cavern of Souls.

Grixis Death’s Shadow:

Make sure you play around Stubborn Denial by killing delve creatures immediately. Their sweeper of choice is currently Kozilek’s Return, so Burrenton Forge-Tender isn’t good here.

Dredge:

Forge Tender is enough to make this a great matchup. Protect your mana dorks and combo from Conflagrate and win with the big Walking Ballista. Chording for x=1 to find the forge-tender is a key interaction. Be mindful; they bring in plenty of removal including Darkblast and Abrupt Decay, which can be a headache.

Scapeshift:

Make sure the Spell Queller that countered a Scapeshift doesn’t get killed by Anger of the Gods. Use Quellers to counter early mana ramp if the opportunity arises.

Affinity

Watch out for a potential Whipflare or Ghirapur Aether Grid.

Jeskai Geist

Their potential sweepers post-board are a single Supreme Verdict and Engineered Explosives. They may also have a single Izzet Staticaster.

Abzan Company

I plan on playing Bant Company this weekend at SCG: Cincinnati because I haven’t felt massively disadvantaged in any matchup. This version of the deck is under the radar so your opponent’s won’t always know what to do.

Four-Color Death’s Shadow

I wanted to try other Modern decks in preparation for the SCG Open so I tried my hand at Death’s Shadow. It’s clear these Black decks are very powerful, interactive, and notably going into hiding. This means new decks such as Storm are making a resurgence that traditionally have a horrible matchup against Death’s Shadow.

Rather than begin with Grixis I went back to my roots: Tarmogoyf:


Architects of Will
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been unimpressed with Mishra’s Bauble. It acts as a delirium enabler against creature decks, but does less against other strategies. This is because the graveyard often has a fetch land and a discard spell. If you can cast Fatal Push, then an instant will go to the graveyard, but they can be stranded in hand depending on the matchup. If this happens, Mishra’s Bauble adding artifact to the graveyard doesn’t accomplish delirium.

I essentially swapped two baubles for two Architects of Will. There were a couple weeks where Architects made a splash and then faded, but I still think it belongs in the deck. It’s not free to cycle like the bauble, but it provides delirium in any matchup quickly. I have searched for Architects with Traverse the Ulvenwald when there are already Death’s Shadow or Tarmogoyf in play. There will be a point where I have enough beefy creatures on the battlefield that I need to ensure my opponent doesn’t draw anything relevant. I was actually more excited to add Blue for Architects than Stubborn Denial.

Dismember has been pretty strong. I am a big fan of removal that can be used against opponents that don’t play creatures. Instant can be added to the graveyard by casting Dismember at eleven life targeting Death’s Shadow. This takes your life total to seven giving Death’s Shadow -5/-5 for a unique pump spell. I prefer multiple Dismembers over Abrupt Decays because it’s important to respect the power of Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

Red doesn’t seem worth it to me because I can replicate all of the effects in the other four colors. Ancient Grudge is nice, but White provides Stony Silence. Kozilek’s Return can be replaced with Flaying Tendrils. Tarfire was in initial versions, but Architects of Will accomplishes a similar goal while being playable in all matchups. The Blood Crypt is not free as many of the 5-color versions of Death’s Shadow waste a sideboard slot on a Godless Shrine. I’ve been happy with two Swamps and zero Forests. Traverse the Ulvenwald make me want the second basic to search. If my life total is low I can find the second untapped land from a fetch.

Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls is effective against decks that plan on destroying all of my threats and plays well with and against Liliana of the Veil. The 1/1 spirit tokens block Chameleon Colossus and Mirran Crusader which are popular anti-shadow cards. I haven’t seen many Great Sable Stags that accomplish a similar goal while being cheaper to cast than Chameleon Colossus.

Liliana is the primary reason to play {B}{G} Shadow over Grixis. The Planeswalkers shine in the mirror where it’s all about attrition. I’m basically making a deck that is stronger against decks with a higher mana curve that were designed to prey upon Grixis Shadow.

I also prefer to have the shadow redundancy thanks to Traverse the Ulvenwald. Grixis Shadow can kill with delve creatures or Death’s Shadow which means reducing your life total might not be good. If I pay a bunch of life and cycle cards to find Gurmag Angler I would have preferred to stay at a high life total. That randomness is something I would like to avoid in my Modern deck.

Modern is currently a great format. There isn’t a deck out there that’s dominating. Now let’s get to the other format we know and love: Standard.

Standard

In my last article, I broke down Standard as a rock-paper-scissors format consisting of Ramunap Red, Temur Energy, and {U}{B} Control. I have since shifted views and thought of Standard like this:

Tier 1: Temur Energy
Tier 2: Ramunap Red
Tier 3: {U}{B} Control

Prior to US Nationals it seemed like Temur Energy was the best deck much like previous Rogue Refiner shells. {U}{B} Control plays plenty of answers to the threats of Temur Energy and doesn’t have the ability to easily answer multiple creatures. These control decks can’t cover all of their bases and players have decided to attack {U}{B} with {W}{B} tokens.

Whirler Virtuoso
The tokens strategies have popped up to take advantage of Blue decks playing Essence Scatters and expensive spot removal. The control opponent won’t be able to interact with a resolved Hidden Stockpile. {U}{B} can easily be displaced by {W}{U} Approach as they can win through inevitability from Tokens.

Tokens also gets to effortlessly play anti-Red cards such as Sacred Cat and Anointer Priest.

I’m not sure if Tokens is here to stay because even Ramunap Red can spam Rampaging Ferocidon to improve the matchup.

Ramunap Red has been able to take down the control decks despite the life gain from Black removal such as Essence Extraction and Vraska’s Contempt. The 1-drops get under countermagic which control the dynamic of the games that are difficult to change for the Blue mage. As a Ramunap Red player I couldn’t find a strategy I liked to take down Temur Energy. Bristling Hydra makes controlling the game a difficult task while Whirler Virtuoso makes attacking less effective.

Temur Energy has been able to dominate despite having a target on its head. William Jensen is both the world champion we want and deserve and he did it all with Temur Energy. It’s clear that Standard has enough archetypes available to fight Temur in the first game when their deck is filled with useless removal spells. Tokens plans on going wide to make Abrade/Harnessed Lightning embarrassing and {U}{B} doesn’t need creatures in the early game. Temur can adjust their deck accordingly after sideboard to beat any strategy, but they need to win both games. We saw Gerry Thompson in the US Nationals coverage use technology in the form of Lifecrafter’s Bestiary to fight this morphing metagame.

Huey and the rest of PGO knew this is the dynamic of the Standard format and split their maindeck interaction by playing Commit // Memory and Essence Scatter over additional removal. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is falling out of favor as she doesn’t line up well against Vraska’s Contempt or tokens strategies.

Here’s the list I would register given the current metagame:


Longtusk Cub
I’m at a crossroads for the payoff spells to play in the maindeck. Chandra is weak against these tokens strategies, but gets around Essence Scatter. It doesn’t get stolen by Confiscation Coup which is a plus. Since Winding Constrictor is on the downswing, I don’t want to play Chandra in the maindeck at the moment. She gets better after sideboard when control decks bring in creatures as I cut removal.

I’m sticking with the energy theme by playing a couple Glimmer of Genius in the maindeck. It combos well with Longtusk Cub as a way to get energy at instant speed. The card draw component finds me additional spells to cast that gain additional energy, too. The more energy spells the deck contains the more powerful it becomes. I also get to make the sideboard Torrential Gearhulks more powerful by making instants part of my payoff package.

I think this deck is scariest when there’s an abundance of energy in reserve so I prefer to hold onto it more than most players. For example, if Longtusk Cub connects I don’t want to pump it up often because the opponent will eventually kill the cat. I prefer to set up a powerful Whirler Virtuoso or Bristling Hydra.

Huey and company were very smart to maindeck Essence Scatter, but players are playing around it more so I think the time has passed. You also get an edge with this version by representing a counter only to cast Glimmer of Genius.

I’m sticking with Appetite for the Unnatural in the sideboard because it’s great against the tokens decks and Search for Azcanta.

That’s all I have for today. I hope to have a good finish with Bant Company this weekend at SCG Cincinnati. Standard proves to be interesting as hate cards emerging for Temur energy gives fringe decks a chance to strike.

Thanks for reading!

— Kyle


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