A few weeks ago, I came across a hot brew that Reddit user AnOddSmith had posted, featuring Prime Speaker Vannifar in a Bant shell. Having played with Vannifar in Standard already, I was extremely interested in what the archetype was capable of. Between then and now, I’ve experimented with the deck, updating and tweaking the list, and enjoying the excellent balance of competitive viability and sweet moments it offers.
I put the deck aside in the lead up to the Mythic Championship, but it came up again while discussing Standard with some mates. It was at that point I was excited to discover that my good friend Marc “Fergblaster” Ferguson had also been playing Bant Pod! He had both a best-of-one and a best-of-three version, fully updated with cards from War of the Spark, ready to crush the ladder grind.
Best-of-Three Bant Pod
1 Plains 1 Island 4 Forest 4 Breeding Pool 2 Glacial Fortress 2 Hinterland Harbor 2 Hallowed Fountain 4 Temple Garden 4 Sunpetal Grove 2 Hydroid Krasis 4 Llanowar Elves 1 Fblthp, the Lost 4 Incubation Druid 1 Kraul Harpooner 4 Militia Bugler 1 Exclusion Mage 1 Deputy of Detention 1 Knight of Autumn 4 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty 1 Spark Double 1 Conclave Cavalier 4 Prime Speaker Vannifar 1 God-Eternal Oketra 1 Biogenic Ooze 1 Trostani Discordant 1 Lyra Dawnbringer 2 Finale of Devastation Sideboard 4 Dovin's Veto 2 Teferi, Time Raveler 3 Knight of Autumn 1 Lyra Dawnbringer 1 Vivien Reid 1 Time Wipe 3 Carnage Tyrant
It doesn’t take much to realize this is a heavily battlefield-focused, value-oriented deck. Every non-mana-dork creature is designed to synergize with Vannifar, and there is also a fair amount of creature-based interaction to disrupt what your opponent is doing. Overall, this deck offers enormous flexibility, given its access to a repeatable on-board tutor effect, and can adapt to more or less any opponent.
Rather obviously, its best draws revolve around Vannifar, particularly when she’s deployed on turn 3. From there, you can adapt your play style based on what your opponent is doing, relying on the wide range of creatures at your disposal. While there’s nothing quite as heavy-hitting as Melira, Sylvok Outcast plus Kitchen Finks, this deck still packs a real punch.
Against aggro, gaining life with Knight of Autumn or gumming up the board with Conclave Cavalier is a good way to slow things down. Or you can do both with Trostani Discordant. Against control decks, God-Eternal Oketra and Biogenic Ooze represent must-answer threats that prevent you from being blown out by sweepers. Against other midrange decks, you can grind ’em out with Shalai and Hydroid Krasis, and take advantage of your planeswalker suite to gain extra value.
Here are a few quick notes on certain specific cards.
- Fblthp, the Lost doesn’t just draw two when you pod away a Llanowar Elves—Finale of Devastation for two will also net you an extra card.
- Exclusion Mage is important against removal-heavy decks where Deputy of Detention is a liability. You might think Deputy is better, but in matchups where tying up their mana is important (against a deck trying to resolve Lyra, for example), a Man-o’-War effect is a better option.
- Conclave Cavalier is an excellent way to punish sweepers, and should be your go-to 4-drop when you know you want to pod to five. In particular, podding Cavalier into Trostani adds a lot of power to the board.
- Shalai, Voice of Plenty ranges from mediocre to truly excellent, and is at her best in long, drawn-out affairs. Remember that you can flash her in with Vivien in response to removal.
- Knight of Autumn and Deputy of Detention offer game 1 interaction against otherwise troublesome permanents. Deputy of Detention is worse than it looks—it dies to a slight gust of wind, and while it can clean up tokens very neatly, most opponents won’t have trouble killing it. Not to mention it’s a horrific nonbo with Vannifar, as you never want to sacrifice it.
- Spark Double is one of the sweetest cards in the entire deck, and undoes a fundamental rule of Magic in letting you have two identical legendary creatures concurrently. Two Trostanis gives everything +2/+2, two Shalais gives everything hexproof, and two Vannifars means you can pod from three to five in a single turn!
The noncreature spells in this deck offer a lot of utility, and help the deck fight on a different axis. Vivien is an incredible inclusion as a cheap source of card advantage, but acting as a Leyline of Anticipation is enormously powerful, particularly when you’re playing interactive cards such as Exclusion Mage.
Finale of Devastation is a great inclusion in a deck filled with one-ofs. This is particularly true thanks to its ability to search the graveyard as well as the library. It means that if they Thought Erasure or counter your Oketra, for example, you can still Finale for five to bring her back from the graveyard. In this way, Finale of Devastation strongly rewards you for playing so many one-ofs.
Finally, the sideboard allows you to take a much more interactive, controlling posture post-board. Dovin’s Veto and Teferi, Time Raveler both work to fight through countermagic and removal, with Teferi forcing Nexus decks to play a fair game (which they’re usually not very good at). Keep in mind that Nexus decks have started to run more bounce spells, thanks to the rise of little Teferi.
Vivien Reid, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Carnage Tyrant help you go bigger in midrange and control matchups (Lyra is, of course, also excellent against aggressive decks). Time Wipe is a bit of an experiment, but has shown promise so far in combating other creature-heavy decks.
Best-of-One Bant Pod
1 Plains 1 Island 3 Forest 4 Breeding Pool 2 Hinterland Harbor 2 Hallowed Fountain 2 Glacial Fortress 4 Temple Garden 4 Sunpetal Grove 1 Trostani Discordant 4 Llanowar Elves 1 Fblthp, the Lost 4 Merfolk Branchwalker 3 Wildgrowth Walker 4 Militia Bugler 1 Exclusion Mage 3 Jadelight Ranger 1 Deputy of Detention 3 Knight of Autumn 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty 1 Spark Double 1 Baird, Steward of Argive 1 Ajani, the Greathearted 1 Conclave Cavalier 4 Prime Speaker Vannifar 1 God-Eternal Oketra 1 Lyra Dawnbringer 1 Biogenic Ooze
If you’re looking to play some best-of-one Magic, on the other hand, this deck can be rebuilt and reconfigured accordingly. In doing this, we’re making one very significant change—we’re adjusting the creature suite quite significantly to head off aggro decks, given their popularity in the best-of one queues.
To that end, the good old green explore package comes in, along with extra copies of Knight of Autumn. These cards work to buffer your life total significantly while also contesting the board. It’s perfect where every other game is played against Mono-Red. That’s not all that Knight of Autumn does, however. This is the perfect best-of-one card. It’s flexible and never dead, and provides fringe effects without losing general playability.
Ajani is another card that fights off Mono-Red, while also providing a useful effect in other drawn-out matchups. Finally, the hottest piece of anti-red technology is Baird, Steward of Argive. His stats, plus his ability, make him a total nightmare for aggressive red mages. He’s the perfect thing to pod your Knight of Autumn into. And with Spark Double? That’s right—an opponent will have to pay two per attack, and get through a 2/4 and a 3/5. Not to mention Spark Doubling Shalai is almost a total lockout for Mono-Red!
Now This is Bant Podracing
This archetype has all the tools you need to take on more or less any deck in Standard. Its engine can be clunky—hence the importance of early plays—but an unanswered Vannifar makes it trivial to pull ahead and cruise towards victory. As long as you adopt the correct posture against different decks (preserving your life total against red decks, playing around sweepers against control decks, etc.), this deck doesn’t just straight-up lose to anything.
Except Ashiok. That card’s a real hoser. I don’t want to talk about it.
Ultimately, this deck is flexible, resilient, and can be adapted to fight through any field. Is your best-of-three metagame skewed towards aggro? Chuck in the explore package, replacing Vivien and Incubation Druid. Need some punch at the top-end? Play Dream Eater or Carnage Tyrant, or maybe even Roalesk. This deck is a blast to play, and might even carry you higher up the ladder than you’d first think!