Through all the twists and turns that the Standard format has taken over the past few months, Bant Company is only the only deck that’s always been there. Jim Davis used it to win the SCG Baltimore Open way back in April. Two weeks later, it was the most popular deck at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. But while other decks like UW Humans, Red Eldrazi, and UR Control have either gone extinct or morphed into new archetypes, Bant Company is still regularly putting up top finishes.
It’s Bant Company’s flexibility that has allowed it to survive for all of these months, even through substantial shifts in the metagame. Bant is not only flexible in its gameplay, allowing the pilot to shift seamlessly between defense and offense, but it’s also flexible in deck construction. Customizing the creature suite, the sideboard, and the small handful of flexible spell slots in the main deck can help Bant Company adapt quickly and counteract whatever strategies other players are using to try to beat it.
Brian Braun-Duin, Top 8 at GP Costa Rica
This is the deck list that Brian Braun-Duin used to make the Top 8 of Grand Prix Costa Rica. It looks different from the Bant Company decks from a month ago, and it very likely looks different from the Bant Company decks that will do well 3 weeks from now!
The defining factors of Brian’s particular list (a Brad Nelson collaboration) are the maximum number of value creatures—Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Duskwatch Recruiter, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Tireless Tracker—for the most staying power in grindy games, as well as Eldrazi Displacer to dominate board stalls. In particular, the Displacer is what gives Bant Company its punch against GW Tokens. It lets the deck mow down Hangarback Walkers, eliminate the threat of Ormendahl, Profane Prince, and generally come out on top in any kind of creature stalemate.
So the question becomes, how do you beat a deck like Bant Company, especially when it’s a bit of a moving target? In my opinion, the best answer starts by identifying the characteristics that all versions of Bant Company have in common. These include:
- High creature count.
- Low removal count (generally, a low count of noncreature, nonland cards).
- Reflector Mage and instant-speed threats.
- Lots of card advantage, staying power, and resilience to mana flood.
- Hits its stride around turns 4, 5, and 6. This will always be true due to the number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, the mana curve of 2- and 3-drop creatures, and the card Collected Company itself.
The next step is to brainstorm some general ideas for capitalizing on these aspects of Bant Company.
Board sweepers are good against decks with a high creature count. Creatures like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Linvala, the Preserver are going to reliably get their full value. Spot removal will always find a target (although the question of whether or not loading up on spot removal is a good strategy against Bant is a bit more complicated).
Creatures that dominate when unanswered are good against decks without much removal. Kalitas, Eldrazi Displacer, and Dragonlord Silumgar come to mind. But Reflector Mage complicates this one, and makes expensive creatures that lack immediate impact on the board a bit risky.
Card advantage and staying power are difficult to exploit. Being either very fast or very powerful in the late game are good options if you don’t want to fight Bant at its own game.
Last but not least, if you can be fast enough to have a substantial board advantage by the time turns 4 and 5 roll around, you might be able to steal games before the Bant deck really comes online.
Finally, let’s put these ideas together into some realistic strategies to beat Bant.
What To Do
- Play Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and lots of removal. This is the plan that I’ve personally been turning to, but it’s important to note that this is a two-part plan. If you have all removal, they’ll just grind you out. If you have Kalitas but not enough removal, then you can still lose to an unanswered Eldrazi Displacer or Tireless Tracker. The combination of Kalitas and Languish is difficult for Bant to play against, since using Reflector Mage to bounce Kalitas will set them up to get Plague Winded by a board sweeper.
- Play Cryptolith Rite and Eldrazi Displacer. The 4-color Company decks featuring Cryptolith Rite are well set-up against Bant. They generate more mana, do more powerful things, and Bant doesn’t have enough removal to break up their synergies.
- Be Very Fast. White Weenie and the more aggressive Bant Humans decks can sometimes get the jump on Bant Company. These decks are much faster than Bant out of the gates, and if you can protect yourself against Tragic Arrogance out of the sideboard, you’ll have success.
- Be Very Powerful. I like ramp spells like Nissa’s Pilgrimage and Explosive Vegetation quite a lot against Bant Company. Instead of trying to neutralize each threat as they play it, spend the early turns progressing your own game plan. I hate facing down 4 open mana and asking myself, “Should I play a creature that’s probably going to get Reflector Maged anyway? Or should I pass with a removal spell to try and kill 1 of the 2 creatures my opponent hits off Collected Company?” Ramping straight into Chandra, Flamecallers or Dragonlord Atarkas can be a fine way to avoid this question.
What Not To Do
- Don’t be reactive. Bant Company is impossible to control. Too many of their cards generate card advantage and the threats will just keep coming. You can slow them down, but you’ll never run them out of gas.
- Don’t play into Negate and Ojutai’s Command after sideboarding. Bant Company is adept at passing with open mana. After sideboarding, they’re going to tailor their deck to exploit whatever spells you’re trying to cast on your own turn. Even though it sometimes whiffs, I’m a fan of Duress post-board against Bant in order to help resolve your key spell. If you don’t have access to Duress, then err on the side of cheaper spells, and don’t play in a way where all of your eggs are in one basket.
- Avoid planeswalkers. The exception is GW Tokens, which is simply a great deck and does perfectly fine against Bant Company. But in slower decks, planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited and Arlinn Kord just aren’t going to get the job done. Bant has tempo plays, flash threats, and always has multiple creatures on the table, so planeswalkers are simply too hard to protect in any kind of close game.
Bant Company is adaptable, flexible, and very tricky. Having a reliable plan to beat it isn’t easy, but it’s very important if you want to win in Standard. Take some of the ideas in this article, and put them to work in whatever your deck of choice is for this weekend.