Last week I wrote countering Counterbalance and detailed the best ways to minimize the effectiveness of Counterbalance in Legacy, where it has been dominant for years. This week I want to talk about how to best beat Mantis Rider.
Leading up to Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, it was my belief that Mantis Rider was one of the best cards in Standard, and it was so strong that regardless of whatever matchup I faced, I felt like if I drew 2 in my opening hand I almost couldn’t lose. Even today there seems to be a misunderstanding about how best to fight Mantis Rider.
Draconic Roar: Poor
This one is relatively simple: it’s flat-out the best rate you can get at instant speed—you never have to get attacked and invest mana on your next turn fighting the big bug. You can simply Draconic Roar, untap, and deploy a threat. The reason Draconic Roar isn’t more commonly played is because it makes you put crummy cards in your deck to fulfill the Dragon requirement. (By the way, this isn’t an actual requirement, but rather a giant upside that incentives you to play Dragons.) Thunderbreak Regent, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury are just not cards you want to put in your deck in a meta rich with Crackling Dooms. You’re gaining efficiency with your Draconic Roars, but exposing a Dragon just once to a Crackling Doom undoes all that hard work you just put in. I would not recommend playing with Draconic Roar in Standard at this time.
Silkwrap is excellent and everyone plays it—rightfully so. But it falls short as an answer Mantis Rider. It’s just poor to engineer a situation in which opponents cast Mantis Rider on an empty board, you spend your turn casting Silkwrap, and then they just untap on turn 4 with a still-empty board. This kind of exchange is highly favorable for the Dark Jesaki deck since it lets them make good use of Ojutai’s Command.
Silkwrap is a great piece of removal to put in your deck that also happens to kill Mantis Rider, but if your only goal is to beat people who play Mantis Rider, you can do a little better.
Rending Volley: Excellent
This is the big winner and the clear-cut best answer available. It doesn’t see as much play, but that’s not due to lack of power—it’s because it’s a less flexible sideboard card and doesn’t come in against many decks. It can kill Anafenza, the Foremost, but you don’t want to put this in your deck and then lose to a Siege Rhino or Warden of the First Tree. I think Rending Volley shines brightest if you’re playing Atarka Red and want to improve your Dark Jeskai matchup, or if you are playing Dark Jeskai yourself and want a good card for the mirror. 1 mana, uncounterable, and super strong at any point in the game, it also kills Jace—a card that is completely broken.
Surge of Righteousness: Mediocre
I’ve seen this become more and more popular against Jeskai Black and that makes sense if you see 3 Tasigurs and 4 Mantis Rider. It’s a fine card, but I hate sideboarding in conditional removal spells against aggro-control decks. You give the deck with the wider card selection a better opportunity to control how the game plays out. If you draw Surge of Righteousness and they have a Jace, they can simply loot away the Mantis Rider and start using Dig Through Time to win the game. It only works in a small subset of games that the Jeskai deck has a Mantis Rider or Tasigur, is mostly concerned with attacking and not blocking, and they don’t have Dispel. I recognize that you play Surge in your sideboard regardless, for Abzan or Atarka Red, and so it’s easy to think that once it’s there you might as well bring it in as some splash damage against Jeskai. But you should avoid this line. I’ve played matches where I sideboarded out all my Mantis Riders because I saw multiple Surge of Righteousness in game 2. I still had Tasigur, but there’s no reason why I can’t just leave Tasigur back and activate its ability over and over.
Ruinous Path: Terrible
This card stinks, don’t play with it.
Wingmate Roc: Superior
To no one’s surprise, this is one of the best answers in Standard to Mantis Rider. Oh, you have a 3/3 with flying? That’s cool, I have a 3/4 with flying to trump it, also I have another 3/4 with flying and this one actually gains life too. Despite the fact that your creature had haste and attacked multiple times, I will win this game and I’ll do it at 20 life. Any deck with white mana in it and between 12-20 creatures should seriously consider playing with Wingmate Roc or having a good answer to it.
The popularity of Ojutai’s Command is a response to Wingmate Roc’s power level. The popularity of Gideon is due to the vulnerabilities of Ojutai’s Command. The popularity of Mantis Rider is in huge part as an answer to Gideon. I don’t mean to speak in circles, but all of these cards are so good, so much better than the second tier of cards you can play in the format, that the way they match up against each other is very important. Any game you play you need to think about every single one of these cards since they’re played in large numbers and can decide the game singlehandedly.