Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

There’s been a recent trend for week one Magic: The Gathering Standard tournaments: aggro reigns supreme.

Humans was the talk of the Magic world during the first Shadows over Innistrad tournament at the StarCity Games Baltimore Open before it came up short against Bant Company. The deck would get its revenge a week later, though, at the Columbus Invitational. Before that, Atarka Red took week one of Oath of the Gatewatch at SCG Atlanta. Battle for Zendikar’s opening tournament, SCG Indianapolis, was won by Atarka Red as well. You’d expect, then, that humans would be out in full force for week one of Eldritch Moon at SCG Columbus.

You’d be wrong.

While Humans as the 4th most popular deck in day two at a total of seven copies, there were a whopping 120 players in day two. Compared to 34 Bant Company decks, 18 U/W Spirit decks, and 10 Bant Human decks, the aggressive archetype wasn’t as prevalent as expected. Its conversion rate, however, was pretty solid, as the deck finished in 12th, 15th, 22nd, and 40th.

So where did all of these human decks go? Is aggro really that poor right now? Is Bant Company just that good in Magic now? It’s tough to say either way, especially since the top 64 of Columbus is so heavily skewed towards midrange decks, minus a couple of outliers. The weaknessnes of traditional blue-based control and red-based aggro have become more and more prevalent now in a world where you can cast Collected Company to find one of the format’s best counterspells. With the lack of a red-based aggro deck, the power of burn isn’t too popular either, meaning there are few ways to cheaply interact and kill a Spell Queller. Sure, you can Reflector Mage it, but that’s not a permanent answer.

Not that burn spells would matter when this is still in Magic’s Standard for two more months.

Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

The addition of Selfless Spirit is another way to protect your Spell Queller. This “combo,” if you well, was best used by Devin Koepke winning deck:

Bant Company – Devin Koepke

Lands – 25
3 Forest
1 Island
5 Plains
3 Canopy Vista
4 Evolving Wilds
2 Lumbering Falls
4 Prairie Stream
3 Yavimaya Coast

Creatures – 27
3 Duskwatch Recruiter
4 Reflector Mage
4 Selfless Spirit
4 Spell Queller
4 Sylvan Advocate
3 Tireless Tracker
3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Spells – 8
4 Collected Company
4 Dromoka’s Command

Sideboard – 15
3 Lambholt Pacifist
1 Tireless Tracker
2 Negate
2 Ojutai’s Command
2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
2 Declaration in Stone
1 Planar Outburst
2 Tragic Arrogance

Devin was able to identify the pre-existing core of the Bant Company deck (Sylvan Advocate, Reflector Mage, Tireless Tracker, and Duskwatch Recruiter) and added in new cards while subbing out less optimal choices. Most notable are the subtractions of Jace, Vryn’s prodigy and Bounding Krasis. The former makes sense; it only felt good at best and was always miserable to find off a Collected Company in the clutch. The latter, however, was an interesting choice at first glance, but makes more sense in hindsight. What’s ultimately more important: tapping down threats or flat out countering them while protecting your board? The Spell Queller/Selfless Spirit combo proved to be stronger than simply playing a 3/3 for 3 with flash and a solid enter the battlefield ability. As for Thalia, it’s a solid body with solid abilities that can does the work of Bounding Krasis by simply existing. Any negative thoughts I had on the card from the weekend came from being blown out by it; I fell into the trap of results oriented thinking and that’s something you just can’t do. Thalia is good even if your Naya opponent goes untapped land into Radiant Flames to kill your turn two Advocate into turn three Thalia on the play.

Devin, like many, didn’t bring Elder Deep-Fiend to the table. The card is great, don’t get me wrong, but I learned one big thing this weekend: Elder Deep-Fiend isn’t exactly the best card against a deck that plays both 1.) at instant speed and 2.) Reflector Mage. It’s possible that in the right meta, Deep-Fiend is absolutely nuts for this deck. The card only over-performed against people who were already stumbling and Bant Company is already good enough against people who have slow starts. The card will find a home, but not yet. As for Tamiyo, another new addition to seemed to be a slam dunk for Bant, it’s not found here, though Dan Jessup’s 5th place deck, Tom Maney’s 10th place deck, Ethan Gaieski’s 17th place deck, as well as several others ran the card. Tamiyo is best in the right match-ups and I don’t think we can figure out the right numbers for her until after the Pro Tour when the meta is better established. She’s definitely worth consideration but is in no means mandatory for the archetype currently. As a sideboard card, though, it’s a solid choice.

Speaking of sideboards, these were all over the place for Bant Company decks. This ties in with the absolute strength of cards in Bant’s colors. Looking at Koepke’s sideboard, Lambolt Pacifist is great as an early threat/efficient blocker. Being able to put it out of range of Languish and Grasp of Darkness with one Dromoka’s Command is a nice touch as well. The third Tireless Tracker helps in any stalled out board states to out draw the opponent. Negates answer removal/Planeswalkers, not much else said there. Ojutai’s Command, a card that fell out of favor for me recently, has reflexed its muscle thanks to the addition of Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit. The ability to bring back those cards from the graveyard while doing an additional thing, such as drawing a card, gaining life, or countering a creature spell, is absolutely huge. There are potential scenarios where an Eldrazi Emerge deck casts an Elder Deep-Fiend to trigger a Kozilek’s Return. Ojutai’s Command that counters Deep-Fiend and brings back Selfless Spirit is a clean answer to this. The devil’s advocate would say that Summary Dismissal answers this as well, but the flexibility of Ojutai’s Command is too good to ignore.

The combination of both Tragic Arrogance and Planar Outburst is an interesting one. Obviously, Outburst is great when you have a Selfless Spirit; it’s a one-sided board wipe. Should your opponent also have Selfless Spirits, then Tragic Arrogance is a far cleaner answer that can also help trigger an Avacyn to finish off the creature you left behind. In addition, if G/W Tokens isn’t going anywhere (the deck had a solid, respectable weekend), then this would be a preferred boardwipe to help answer their Planeswalkers and Enchantments cleanly.

Of course, this is just one way to build a sideboard. You could be like Ethan Gaieski and run the following:

  • 2 Decimator of the Provinces
  • 3 Tireless Tracker
  • 2 Negate
  • 2 Ojutai’s Command
  • 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
  • 3 Declaration in Stone
  • 2 Tragic Arrogance

The ability to grind out the game with Tireless Tracker before turning the corner with a Decimator alpha-strike into Avacyn flip is something that’s super appealing as a way to ensure you’re focing through damage. Sure, Decimator’s Emerge cost is 6GGG, but that’s only six mana in a deck that loves playing a five mana spell. Getting to that point isn’t exactly too hard. The issue, though, is running Avacyn and Decimator; it’s taxing on your Collected Companies.

Then there’s the ability to just flat out go in a completely different direction like Jack Fogle did:

Bant Company – Jack Fogle

Lands – 25
3 Forest
3 Island
3 Plains
3 Canopy Vista
4 Evolving Wilds
3 Lumbering Fals
4 Prairie Stream
2 Yavimaya Coast

Creatures – 28
4 Duskwatch Recruiter
4 Elder Deep-Fiend
4 Foul Emissary
2 Lambolt Pacifist
4 Reflector Mage
4 Spell Queller
4 Sylvan Advocate
2 Nissa, Wastwood Seer

Spells – 7
4 Collected Company
3 Dromoka’s Command

Sideboard – 15
2 Lambholt Pacifist
2 Tireless Tracker
1 Dromoka’s Command
3 Negate
1 Ojutai’s Command
2 Repel the Abominable
1 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Declaration in Stone
2 Tragic Arrogance

Between the two decklists, we’ve found a common core for the creature base:

  • Duskwatch Recruiter
  • Reflector Mage
  • Sylvan Advocate
  • Spell Queller

It feels incredibly odd to leave off cards such as Tireless Tracker and Bounding Krasis, but it’s quite possible that they’re just outclassed now. Krasis can very easily be repleased by Spell Queller (removing the threat instead of tapping it is far superior, especially if you can protect it) and Tireless Tracker was far and away one of the least impressive creatures I had this weekend. That being said, when it was impressive, it completely over performed. So, you know, there’s that to consider; just keep in mind that your mileage may vary.

Fogle, unlike many others, went all-in on the Deep-Fiend to the point where he ran Foul Emissary alongside it. It’s something that worked in his favor throughout the weekend, but you have to wonder if the combination is worth it moving forward.

Bant Company is just such a flexible deck that you have to wonder what’s going to be able to counter it, especially if you can easily bring out a Selfless Spirit to the battlefield to help protect both your Spell Queller and your entire board of threats.Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

It doesn’t matter if creatures are indestructible when they have 0 toughness. If Selfless Spirit becomes best friends with Spell Queller in Bant Company, then this is the type of removal that will be needed to combat the format’s newest threats. Plus, we can’t forget about everyone’s favorite angel, which Bant Company happens to be running.

Of course it’ll take more than these removal spells to combat one of the most powerful decks in Standard. The archetype has proven to be incredibly resilient and the ability to play at instant speed can allow the deck to quickly retool after a Languish. There’s still a weakness that’s able to be found within the deck: Planeswalkers. As a creature oriented deck, Bant has to attack the walkers in order to kill them. Decks that would be running Grasp of Darkness and Languish have a whopping total of four Planeswalkers capable of performing legitimate defenses.

Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

Midweek Magic | Breaking Down Week One of Eldritch Moon

As good of a card as Spell Queller is, it can’t counter two of these Planeswalkers. Most importantly, the two that it can’t counter are able to kill Spell Quellers that are already on the battlefield, allowing you to get back a key removal spell or, say, a Gideon or Liliana, which then can go to work providing roadblocks; Gideon and his 2/2 Knight Allys and Liliana and her +1 ability. The amount of work that needs to be done by a Bant Company deck to overcome a Planeswalker focused deck is substantial, especially since you better believe these decks are bringing in Hallowed Moonlight out of the sideboard, as well as running Secure the Wastes into Westvale Abbey as an alternate win condition; hey, you do have to win the game at some point, right?

If you’re feeling super spicy, you can splash a third color to add in cards like Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. Maybe even work big with Oath of Jace and Emrakul? To be fair, we might be getting a bit too spicy, but who knows; if we’re going to see two months of Bant Company, we might need a little bit of spice to change things up.

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