Rally the Ancestors is still public enemy number one. But it no longer catches anyone off guard, and the hate is starting to pile up. In a sea of Anafenza, the Foremosts, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghets, Hallowed Moonlights, and even Cranial Archives, Rally isn’t as appealing as it was in the past.
Bant Company put up a couple of good finishes, started to pop up in the Top Decks on MTGO, and appeared in my own column last week. Well, the cat is very much out of the bag at this point as many of the top Pros played their versions of Bant Company in last weekend’s big quarterly MOCS tournament.
The key card, like Rally decks, is Collected Company. Instant speed does a great job of playing around sweepers, and the mere act of passing with 4 mana up means the opponent is never in a great position to attack you. With so many powerful creatures at 3 mana or less, the deck building restriction of making Collected Company as consistent as possible isn’t a painful one. Collected Company may be the best card in Standard right now, and if it isn’t, it’s:
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy has held the top spot in the Standard Power Rankings for an awfully long time. I know people are somewhat sick of hearing about Jace’s virtues, but they are plentiful. Flashing back Collected Company is the best, but filtering your draw is also outstanding. Jace works so well in decks with graveyard interactions, such as Rally, and there are enough benefits to getting particular cards in your graveyard with the Bant Company deck that turn-2 Jace is still the best thing you can do.
The single card that has been causing me the most tilt on the other side of the battlefield has been Reflector Mage. We all knew this card was solid, but just how amazing it is definitely came as a bit of a surprise to me. Bouncing a creature provides tremendous tempo, especially attached to a 2/3 body for only 3 mana. This forces through some small chunks of damage here and there while completely throwing off the opposing curve. Hitting this off Company can often be completely backbreaking, and it’s often academic to win the game after doing so.
A cunning mage will quickly notice that this deck gets to play 4 copies of what may be the 3 most powerful cards in all of Standard (for their mana costs). Those also happen to be 4-of inclusions for Rally the Ancestors. This is a huge signal of how good these decks actually are, since getting to consistently draw the cards that dominate the entire metagame is huge.
Sylvan Advocate looks decent on the surface. After toying around with various builds of Abzan that include lots of Shambling Vents and Hissing Quagmires, I’ve been blown away by just how good it actually is. A 2/3 vigilance for 2 is decent and will often get in some early damage while getting to play defense against little red creatures or Soulfire Grand Masters. I’ve been able to run 27 lands in my Abzan decks thanks to the Advocate and have been very happy. A 2/3 lifelink or 3/3 hexproof creature late in the game is good, but often not crushing. Giving those lands a +2/+2 boost on top of having a 4/5 vigilance attacker is fantastic.
Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor are nothing new together, but they haven’t seen much play. Abzan found better threats and Green Devotion is no longer in the format. They work well with Collected Company and can put tons of pressure on the opponent. Den Protector’s evasion and Raptor’s deathtouch both work to force through damage here and there. This late-game engine combined with the tempo generated by Reflector Mage helps Bant Company close out games.
Bounding Krasis got to see some real Modern play before it got to shine in Standard, but it looks like he finally found a home. An instant-speed creature is great, ambushing attackers or presenting a threat that can get damage in before an opponent can cast Roast. It can also come into play, tap a token created by a planeswalker, and then add 3 points of pressure per turn. Additional instant-speed options are crucial in a deck that is built around Collected Company.
Dromoka’s Command is basically just too good not to play. At only 2 mana, it’s pretty easy to squeeze in on the curve. It’s the best way to kill creatures with the fight ability, can be an easy 2-for-1, kills Silkwraps and other problematic enchantments, and can prevent damage from a key Kozilek’s Return or Roast. Dromoka’s Command offers too much for too little and is a big reason why WG strategies have been so prevalent in Standard.
Hall-of-Famer Paul Rietzl ended up missing Top 8 on tiebreakers in the MOCS with this Bant Company list:
LITTLEDARWIN, 11th place in the Standard MOCS
Rietzl opted to play 4 copies of the 6 best creatures he felt he could find with Collected Company, in addition to the 4 copies of Collected Company.
From there, he fills his deck with a single copy of Hidden Dragonslayer and Yasova Dragonclaw. Both have some potential, but aren’t especially outstanding anywhere. A nice benefit of playing a card like Hidden Dragonslayer is the synergy of adding additional morphs to a Deathmist Raptor deck.
With 26 creatures, the standard 25 lands, and 4 Collected Company, Rietzl fills his deck out with 5 Commands. Here, he opted for 3 Dromoka’s and 2 Ojutai’s Commands. Ojutai’s Command has great synergy with both Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Sylvan Advocate. The price isn’t cheap at 4 mana, but having more instants available at that cost for a Collected Company deck is quite strong. Opponents will often be looking to play their powerful creatures when a Company deck has 4 mana up, knowing that’s coming, and can’t play around Ojutai’s Command since the deck will have Company far more often than Command. When players are playing incorrectly by playing around Ojutai’s Command, that’s the best spot to be playing it.
Platinum Pro Lee Shi Tian took the same deck in a slightly different direction on his way to a Top 4 finish:
LEEARSON, 4th place in the Standard MOCS
Lee completely cuts Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy from the deck and finds a way to make it work. I know players are often looking for more “budget” ways to build decks, which typically means “how can I play this deck without Jace?” so here you go!
Lee’s deck is more aggressive with 4 copies of Warden of the First Tree. He also has 2 copies of Knight of the White Orchid. Knight can help you “steal the play” back when you’re on the draw, although it requires your opponent to already have 3 lands in play, so I don’t really love it in this deck. Being on the draw is a huge disadvantage in the mirror as the person on the play is likely to be able to keep the tempo up and is commonly going to be the only player attacking. Knight can steal the play back, but you still can’t cast a Collected Company before your opponent, so I’m not overly enthused.
Lee also opts to play Nissa, Vastwood Seer, a card that many versions of the deck have played 1-2 copies of. With the addition of Warden, Knight, and Nissa, the mana base has to change. I think this is another big loss since I love Lumbering Falls (and any creaturelands, in general), but his version is just a straight WG deck splashing for Reflector Mage and some sideboard counterspells, so it really doesn’t belong. Being able to rely less on blue mana and become more of a focused 2-color deck will help with consistency, but losing Jace is a big cost.
The player who went the furthest off the beaten path for their Bant Company deck had to have been Platinum Pro Brad Nelson. Brad found himself in the Top 8 with this list:
FFFREAK, 6th place in a Standard MOCS
Nelson discovered in his testing that being on the draw in these creature mirrors meant that the game was extremely hard to win—it was hard to find profitable attacks as the ground would get gummed up and you were always a step behind. His solution was to add flying creatures.
Eldrazi Skyspawner is great. It gets hit off Company, provides multiple bodies, and even provides a tempo boost. It’s not a lock to have a 4th land, so a Scion token casting Collected Company when you don’t have the mana can be the difference between winning and losing. A Scion can also conveniently ramp you to 5, where a true game-breaker potentially awaits.
Wingmate Roc is so good in midrange battles. Roc offers multiple flier, life gain, and often ends the game immediately. You don’t want to get Wingmate flooded, as 5 mana is no small amount and you can’t hit this off of Company, but it’s powerful enough to be worth an inclusion.
The final flying addition also seems to be exactly what the deck needs. Stratus Dancer, like Hidden Dragonslayer or Den Protector, is a card that can be cast on turn 2 and not be embarrassing, although the Dancer is a much better early play than the others. This also means that Stratus Dancer is a much better hit off of Collected Company than 2/1 ground creatures. Later in the game, stopping a Rally the Ancestors can easily win a game. A 3/2 flying creature that returns your Deathmist Raptors is a nice one.
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 sideboards we have from our 3 Platinum Pros.
Lee Shi Tian
Arashin Cleric is still the premier creature against aggro decks. A 1/3 body is solid enough against Monastery Swiftspears and Zurgo, Bellstrikers, and the 3 life represents another entire card. Being able to hit Cleric off of Collected Company is nice, although not always needed, and the added utility of playing Cleric in decks that have Ojutai’s Command is massive.
A single copy of Stratus Dancer is found in both of our Bant Company decks with enough blue to play Jace. This card has seen a bit of play here and there, but has never been spotlighted. It’s a solid creature as a 2/1 flyer for 2 mana, but it’s quite powerful against decks looking to play bigger spells. Crux of Fate and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon don’t look very exciting against this morph.
Our blue versions of the deck also have a single Harbinger of Tides. A solid creature that you don’t mind hitting off of Collected Company, Harbinger can provide another nice tempo boost. Where Harbinger really shines is against decks that are planning to tap 5 mana for a huge haste creature, such as Reality Smasher or Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury.
Removal spells are common sideboard cards. Valorous Stance gets the nod in all of these Bant Company decks as a way to protect your creatures from cards like Murderous Cut while being able to kill Dragons, Anafenzas, Siege Rhinos, Tasigurs, Kalitas, and many more. Silkwrap is also included in all 3 sideboards as additional removal spells that can stop early creatures—a nice card to have against many of the aggro decks in the format.
Lee Shi Tian, despite only splashing for Reflector Mage in his WG deck, still has 5 copies of various kinds of counter magic in his sideboard. Rietzl follows suit, and Nelson goes up to 6 (in addition to a Stratus Dancer and 2 more Dancers main). That is a ton of permission. Ramp decks are tough matchups for creature decks since Ugin threatens to wipe the board and not let anything come back. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger can come down in many games before you’re able to finish them off. Disdainful Stroke is your most powerful weapon in this matchup.
Stroke can counter all of the big spells, which is fantastic, but more importantly, it can “preemptively” counter all of the big spells by countering an Explosive Vegetation or Hedron Archive. By countering the mana ramp, you may be countering every big spell the Ramp deck would cast.
Disdainful Stroke also does serious work against many of the most popular decks in Standard today. Against Esper Dragons, it counters all of the key cards, namely the Dragons and Dig Through Times. Against Mardu Green, you can counter all of the threats and many of the important cards. Siege Rhino and Goblin Dark-Dwellers all fall to this spell. The fact that you can keep this up for only 2 mana, especially in a deck with so many other options to cast at instant speed, is a key part of the sideboard.
Dispel is the other key sideboard counterspell in Standard. It stops both Rally and Collected Company, and it shuts down Fiery Impulse, Crackling Doom, Kolaghan’s Command, Murderous Cut, Ojutai’s Command, and Dig Through Time. So many decks in Standard revolve around instants, and a mere 1 mana to counter them represents a huge tempo swing.
From there, you can take things in whatever direction you see fit for your metagame. Mastery of the Unseen is excellent against control decks, including many flavors of Jeskai Black. Surge of Righteousness is excellent against red aggro and any deck relying on Mantis Rider. Hallowed Moonlight is additional utility against the Rally decks.
As for sideboarding against the Bant Company deck—there isn’t much that I love. Flying creatures are a nice start, but if your deck is clunky and relies on Dragons, you can easily be punished by all of the tempo. If the metagame was filled with decks like Bant Company, I would strongly consider something like BR Dragons. Thopter tokens, various flyers, and solid removal are great ways to fight against this deck.
The Ramp deck is typically going to be good against strategies like this, but the RG version feels much weaker than the mono-green deck. The RG version benefits in many matchups from having Kozilek’s Return and not having creatures that die to cheap removal, like Fiery Impulse and Wild Slash. Bant Company doesn’t have these removal spells, and almost none of the creatures will die to Kozilek’s Return (at least, not until it returns). The mono-green version with all of the mana creatures will consistently ramp to key numbers much faster than the versions without them, so that’s the nightmare matchup for Bant Company. Drawing enough copies of Disdainful Stroke and Stratus Dancer can still turn that around, but your clock is unlikely to be fast enough before they’re able to deploy game-winning threats repeatedly.
I wish I could recommend great sideboard options, but I don’t have much. Sweepers are solid, but they have counters, Collected Company to cast after the sweeper, instant-speed creatures, and Deathmist Raptors/Den Protectors that thrive in a post-sweeper world. Being able to play bigger creatures that can go over the top is nice, so cards like Wingmate Roc help, but they’re slow and raid isn’t always easy to trigger versus a deck filled with Reflector Mages and Bounding Krasis.
Right now, Bant Company looks like it’s a tier 1 deck that fights as one of the best decks in the format. There isn’t anything that stands out as true “hate” and there aren’t many horrible matchups, so I expect this deck to be around for a long time.
Have you found a particular sideboard card that shines against Bant Company? How about a card that one of our Platinum Pros didn’t play that makes Bant Company even stronger? Sound off in the comments!