After three years of playing Magic full time, I decided to do something else and return to school for my second year of studying computer science and system development. I wanted a bit of a break from the Magic lifestyle and I even decided to skip Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica—the first Pro Tour I’d missed in seven years—to participate in an Artifact tournament. To say I’ve missed competitive Magic is an understatement.
I’ve especially missed the people and I looked forward to going to the first Mythic Championship. Not only that, but testing Constructed on Magic Arena was great and the format seemed fantastic. For those who don’t know, I’m a big fan of the Standard formats Ravnica blocks create, as I’ve written in a previous article about designing Standard. An issue this time, however, was that I recently started an advanced course in programming and algorithm analysis, and it was consuming almost all of my free time. I told myself that I would choose a powerful stock deck that I liked, play it, and stick with it. There had to be something to my liking. But I couldn’t help myself… the format is just too sweet and there were too many opportunities and ideas to try.
I tinkered with a few different brews and I didn’t really like any of them in the metagame. A previous iteration of Bant Tokens was one of the brews, and then I came upon Bant Control. I had an idea that in a format full of Sultai, White Weenie, Gate decks, and Nexus of Fate decks, playing a control deck could be powerful. To be compete in the late game, you could use most of the taking turns package with Wilderness Reclamation, Growth Spiral, and card draw, but instead of playing Nexus of Fate, which is more easily counteracted by sideboarding, you play a bunch of counterspells. With that, you could play card draw spells like Chemister’s Insight, Hydroid Krasis, and Search for Azcanta to fuel up and then let Wilderness Reclamation untap your lands so you could interact. The number of counterspells gave you a fantastic matchup versus Nexus of Fate and instead of trying to race the aggro decks, you punished them by playing actual ways to deal with the creatures. With more speed comes less consistency and staying power.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to last. Only a day or two before I had to travel to Cleveland, I started losing—a lot. The format had turned quite hostile toward noncreature spells, with U/R Drakes and especially Mono-Blue Tempo playing tons of Dive Down and Spell Pierce in the main deck. Enabling your game plan was too hard and you couldn’t reliably control them. I tried tons of different sideboard plans with creatures, but couldn’t really get much to work. I even tried a Sultai version, but deemed the cards you had to play a bit too clumsy and not versatile enough. I couldn’t really get past the Diamond ranks in Arena and I was starting to fear that I had to switch decks, which is very scary so close to the Pro Tour.
I tried to figure out what I wanted to accomplish with an abstract plan derived from my knowledge about it. I wanted to be proactive and I didn’t want to durdle around, because being defensive in a format with as many proactive and fast decks as this one was too hard. I also didn’t want to play tons of noncreature spells, given splash damage directed at Nexus of Fate and the amount of Spell Pierce and Dive Down running around. But creatures that worked as removal were instead great against these cards. For example, Hostage Taker, Kraul Harpooner, and Deputy of Detention.
Something I did acknowledge was that none of these proactive decks were that great at protecting themselves either, especially Mono-Blue Tempo and Nexus of Fate. Nexus of Fate only really runs short-term defense in Fogs and bounce spells, whereas Mono-Blue plays evasive creatures that are hard to block and counterspells and tempo to spells to interact, but is terrible at blocking if your opponent is faster. I also noticed that there was less and less actual removal being played, especially sweepers. Finally, I came to a conclusion that led me full circle back to Bant Tokens. The 2-drops featured in the deck, Hero of Precinct One and Emmara, were absurd if they were left unchecked and the new metagame let them and their tokens live a lot longer than before.
But this time, I knew exactly how I wanted to construct it and what I wanted for sideboard cards given my increased knowledge of the format since I tried Bant Tokens the first time. I wanted it to be faster, leaner, and more proactive with more Venerated Loxodon. I needed the deck to, with the help of a snowballing game plan instead of tons of 1-drops like White Weenie, goldfish as fast as White Weenie on turn 5. That’s why Mono-White had such a great Nexus of Fate matchup, they never had time to set up. Before, the deck was slightly more focused on playing Hero of Precinct One as Emmara 5-8 especially with Dovin, Grand Arbiter. Dovin had to move out of the main deck, and given the new metagame, Conclave Tribunal had to move out to make room to increase the number of Deputy of Detentions to 4. The last thing was to test.
It was a success. I went from rank Diamond 4 on the Arena ladder to Mythic without dropping a match, with a fitting final match to achieve Mythic against Yuuya Watanabe playing Sultai. With a few last minute changes, I ended up registering this at the Mythic Championship.
4 Hallowed Fountain 4 Temple Garden 4 Breeding Pool 2 Sunpetal Grove 4 Glacial Fortress 2 Plains 1 Forest 4 Emmara, Soul of the Accord 2 Shanna, Sisay's Legacy 1 Knight of Autumn 4 Venerated Loxodon 2 Trostani Discordant 4 Deputy of Detention 4 Hero of Precinct One 3 Legion's Landing/Adanto, the First Fort 4 History of Benalia 2 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants 3 March of the Multitudes 4 Flower/Flourish 2 Incubation/Incongruity Sideboard 2 Vivien Reid 1 Dovin, Grand Arbiter 3 Tocatli Honor Guard 3 Negate 2 Disdainful Stroke 2 Baffling End 2 Kraul Harpooner
I ended up going 7-3 with the deck, losing to Steve Rubin on Mono-Blue, Owen Turenwald on Mono-Blue, and Pascal Maynard on Temur Reclamation Control. I definitely believe you can improve on the archetype and tune it even better, given more time. Mono-Blue Tempo is a good matchup—I won twice against it playing out of four times—and you could definitely improve it even more by adding more Legion’s Landing, Baffling End to the main deck, or another Baffling End/Kraul Harpooner or two to the sideboard. Other than that, I was happy with the deck and I would recommend it in the new metagame. It’s fast, consistent, grindier than it looks, can adapt to almost everything, and extremely fun to play. You haven’t lived until you’ve convoked a Venerated Loxodon turn 3 with five creatures at least once!