I have always had a soft place in my heart for Bant. I mean, the place just seems like a pretty chilled out little corner of the Multiverse. Doesn’t it? You’ve got some rhino monks milling around, probably gaining you a bunch of life, which is pretty nice of them. There’s all sorts of angels frolicking about. No doubt getting up to silly angel nonsense up in the skies and the place is so lousy with mana dudes keeping your cup full that you can barely spend all that cool blue, white, and green magical juice! Damn. What a shame it is that the shard is so poorly represented in modern.
It is not for lack of love though. The people want Bant to be strong. The problem is that the allied colour pairings of Bant, green-white and blue-white, have been more appropriately complemented by their respective common enemy colours. If you wanted to play blue-white, then you wanted Lightning Bolts and big threats like Thundermaw Hellkite or Keranos, God of Storms to close the game. Alternatively, if green-white was your jam, then black would be your best choice as a third colour because it gives you access to the Viscera Seer/Melira/Finks/Redcap combos, as well as Siege Rhinos, Lingering Souls, and premium removal. This was especially true recently with Abzan Collected Company decks performing so well in a field of jacked-up Eldrazi super monsters. So what do, little Bantonian stalwart? What do?
Well, Bant needs a hero…
This little guy is pushing Bant`s stock up, and with good cause. He is aggressively costed, has a respectable body, and his effect has this uniquely annoying way of blowing up your opponent without them even realizing how much tempo they have lost. The card is just ri-diggitty-diculous, and most importantly, an absolute blast to play with. So, I put together a Bant list for the last Face to Face Modern Showdown. I took a bit of inspiration from Peter Schreier’s recent top 8 Bant Humans list, and the wealth of Abzan company and Birthing Pod lists over the years. Here is more or less what I played, with some minor updates:
Bant Chord by Nicholas Kiverago
So, there is no Collected Company in this list. While I think Company is a fine choice for the low to the ground combo-focused Abzan decks, I’m less hot on it for a deck with Reflector Mage. The main reason being that you miss out on playing everyone’s best friend:
Best Friend-oration Angel
Resto is the besto. She opens up so many interesting lines of play when you pair her with the right creature package. She follows up Reflector Mage beautifully, re-buys your Eternal Witnesses, and Fiend Hunters, and often serves as a finisher by beating your opponent down in the air when the ground game comes to a stall. You can bet that the board stall scenario is bound to happen often in a deck playing so many creatures. So let’s have a bit of a look at those creatures and how they function in the deck.
The Mana Dudes
Noble Hierarch is the best one-drop dork in the format with Birds at a close second. The ideal first turn is always to play one of these with the hope that they survive. The Wall of Roots and Lotus Cobras allow for extremely explosive second and third turn plays. Cobra lets you make three mana every time you play a fetchland, which allows you such silly plays as playing both a Lotus Cobra and a three-drop on turn two. The interaction between Knight of the Reliquary and this card provides you with bursts of mana in the mid to late game, which can help you pay for a chord of calling and make meaningful attacks. The wall provides a more consistent source of mana with a more resilient body than the cobra. It works very well with the two copies of Gavony Township. I think that the Cobra is better choice for a deck able to trigger landfall up to four times in a turn in a modern meta where you see less copies of Lightning Bolt. However, if coloured spells make a comeback in a post Eldrazi winter modern I would probably be more inclined to up the number of Walls.
Knight and Reflecto Man are both powerful turn two plays, but also have great mid and late game effect. Knight is as big as a 4/4 on turn two and can sometimes grow upwards of 8/8 or 9/9 before she has completely crushed everything in her path. Being able to follow up a Reflector Mage with a Meddling Mage, naming the creature you just bounced, can quite often put you so far ahead of the game that your opponent has no hope of catching up. At other times, Meddling Mage acts a disruptor by naming a key piece of your opponent’s removal or a crucial piece of their combo. She can also be searched up quite easily with Chord of Calling as early as turn three to wreak havoc with your opponent’s game plan. Imagine responding to your opponents Cascade trigger by searching her up and naming Living End, or naming Abrupt Decay against your Jund opponent while a Spellskite soaks up all their Lightning Bolts.
Since this deck wants to skip its curve and play a three drop on turn two, you will often be in a situation where you want to chord for a two drop on turn three. As such, much of this real estate in the deck is occupied by low cost silver bullet creatures that you can tutor up to punish your opponent’s strategy. This theme continues through to the sideboard with more narrow but powerful hate creatures and value targets for Chord of Calling to address specific match ups.
If you were paying attention at all to the evolution of Birthing Pod decks in modern a few years ago, you would have probably noticed this combo popping up from time to time. Pod decks started to move away from the Melira based combos in favour of the Archangel and Spike Feeder as the deck became less about jamming a combo and more about being a midrange value-fest. This combo is much more stable than fiddling about with Persist creatures. It gives you the option to go infinite with only two creatures and without anything going to the graveyard. Even better, it only takes up two slots in the deck with creatures. It helps that both cards are not terrible top decks in their own right. Spike Feeder is at its worst four extra points of life and Archangel of Thune will win the game on her own if not promptly dealt with. The same cannot be said for Viscera Seer or Melira, Sylvok Outcast.
Simplicity is key in the noncreature, nonland section of the deck. One of these you point at things in your deck that you want to put into play, the other you point at things on the battlefield that you want to go away. There a few more options in the sideboard for tricky, instant speed interaction, but the main deck is very lean in this department.
Eleven fetchlands ensure you have access to all of your colours when you need them and help to pump up your Knights of the Reliquary to an unreasonably large size.
Three Shocklands. You can use these to make coloured mana. I hear that used to be good.
The Sejiri Steppe gives you the ability to tutor up instant speed protection from a colour, providing you have an active Knight of the Reliquary in play. The majority of the time this card is just the only annoyingly slow comes-into-play-tapped land, but when you need it, you will be glad it’s there. Ghost Quarter can searched up by Knight as well as boosting her stats once you activate it. Gavony Township is just tremendous advantage in a board stall and thus warrants a two-of spot. This card can win the game with nothing but a Bird of Paradise in play. SO, there is a trend in decks running Knight to go overboard with tricky singleton lands. I think that this can mess heavily with the consistency of the mana and lead to awkward draws when you’re trying to curve out naturally while being aggressive. Knight serves this deck primarily as a beater. Land tutoring shenanigans come second.
As with the toolbox creatures in the main deck, the sideboard can be designed to respond to swings in the modern meta. Recently, Intrepid Hero and Phantasmal Image have been there as deft answers to Eldrazi; and Kitaki, War’s Wage and Reclamation Sage can be Chorded up to help fight with Affinity, Lantern, and Tron.
This is only one way of approaching a sideboard though. This colour shard has a lot of flexibility to account for meta demands and play style. You can load up counterspells, prison enchantments, or big green beasts. It all depends on how you want to pilot the deck and what match-ups you expect to be facing.
Reflector Mage has been seriously good, mostly because of how he can put the brakes on Eldrazi aggro decks and buy you enough time to either out-value them or find your combo. Yet, here we are in a post-Eldrazi world. The question to consider is; how does this ban affect this deck? With Eye of Ugin being banned, but Eldrazi Temple left in the mix, you can be sure that the Eldrazi will continue to exist in some form. Provided there is still Eldrazi spaghetti mixed in with your metaballs, Reflector Mage will still be good. If, on the other hand, the format becomes more about the midrange and control grindfests with GBx and UWx variants making a comeback, you can easily swap the Mages out for anything from Loxodon Smiters to Geists of Saint Traft and still be able to roll over your opponents with the delicious flavours of Bant as your base. The shard has some super tasty options and I hope to see it getting more love in the future.