If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
As a team, it is our belief that Bant Company will be one of, if not the single most played deck at Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad. After two weeks of testing, a few of us (myself, Shahar Shenhar, and Brock Parker) will be playing it.
Bant Company does more fundamentally powerful things than any other deck in the format. It has access to above rate creatures like Sylvan Advocate and Archangel Avacyn, the ability to produce card advantage in long games in the form of Tireless Tracker, Duskwatch Recruiter, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and interaction via Reflector Mage and Bounding Krasis. It’s all tied together by one of the most powerful cards in Standard, Collected Company.
The biggest issue with Bant Company in our testing was the mana base. The deck attempts to play three colors in a format where most decks are limited to two, but excels when it’s able to play creatures on curve, making hands with too many taplands a real liability. For most of the first week we played with and against stock Bant lists, we were turned off by these issues. But the power of the deck couldn’t be denied, so we tried to make it work.
The inevitable conclusion was simply to play more lands. Bant Company rarely has issues with mana flooding, given both the power level of the cards and the prevalence of mana sinks like Recruiter and Lumbering Falls. As a result, we found that in many games (particularly in the mirror match), you wanted to keep hitting land drops all the way up to turns 6, 7, and beyond. The 6th and 7th lands were particularly important because of Sylvan Advocate and Nissa, Vastwood Seer.
My analysis of Bant is that if the mana works, it is without a doubt the best deck. In this, functioning mana requires both access to 3 colors and untapped lands on critical turns.
As of this writing, we are debating between 26 and 27 lands. I like the idea of 27, but it’s tough to balance playing the right spells with having enough hits on Collected Company when you play that many lands.
For the most part, the matchups in Standard can be divided into 3 different (non-mirror) classes.
Midrange Creature Decks
The first are midrange creature decks, like Eldrazi. These decks should be rapidly pushed out of the format by Reflector Mage, which is absolutely the key card against them. They are typically not that great against your tempo cards and also often lack answers to Jace. These are among the easiest matchups for Bant Company.
The second class of decks are removal-heavy decks, like White/Black Midrange, UR Goggles, or BG Seasons Past. Against the decks that rely on Languish, you have a variety of flash creatures, Sylvan Advocates, and Lumbering Falls, all of which make it difficult for Languish to get much more than a 2-for-1 (and often less).
Against decks that try to beat you with 1-for-1 removal, you have a variety of creatures that provide card advantage. Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter are almost always 2-for-1s when sequenced properly, and Nissa and Jace also provide value. Flipped Nissa is close to unbeatable for some decks.
One of the things I dislike about most of the control decks in this format is that they are very weak to Negate. They don’t benefit much from bringing in their own Negates or Duresses because the Bant deck is mostly creatures, which creates a very awkward tension.
I’m sure that the people who play these decks will have a plan for Bant—I’m just not convinced it works.
The third class of deck is the type I’m most worried about—White Weenie. These decks attack on a different axis, come out very fast, and have the ability to punish any of your slower draws. I personally believe that Reflector Mage is the best card in Standard against White Weenie as it provides both interaction and a blocker. There are basically no cards in any other color that interact with 2 creatures worth of board presence for 3 mana.
That said, many of the cards in our sideboard are dedicated to this matchup: Tragic Arrogance, Declaration in Stone, and Felidar Cub. It would be easy to bring in tons of removal, but I don’t like making Collected Company that much weaker, which is where the extra 2-drop creatures come in. They also help set up Dromoka’s Command more reliably.
On the eve of the Pro Tour, I feel Bant Company is the best deck in Standard. Hopefully, less of the field shows up with it than I think should.