In a land before time, way before Sharptooth tyrannized Littlefoot and blue decks alike, way before the sky was painted red by phoenix feathers, way before white knights ruled the plains.
In a land before time, when Guilds of Ravnica was just released, and everyone tried to find the heirs to Chandra and Glorybringer, buried deep under heaps of scrap.
In a land before time, good old Sir Nico rode out, eager to find the holy grail to secure him victory at the upcoming Pro Tour in Atlanta.
The metagame on day 1 after Guilds of Ravnica launched on Magic Online was a wild one. Mono-colored decks were popular, blue tempo decks, red aggro decks, as well as green Stompy decks were all over the place, and some Dimir, Esper, and Azorius mages tried to maintain control over this new metagame.
I had a plan. Kind of. Selesnya would have good tools to beat creature-based decks. Blue would help against control. Bant had to be the key to success. And that’s how my first glorious list was born.
The mana wasn’t optimal, but it worked out just fine, even without the access to eight shocklands.
Shalai and Lyra were my plan A against decks with creatures. Accompanied by more good creatures, my plan was to overload the removal of my opponents and let my Angels fly to victory. Since I played many legends, I tried out Mox Amber for the full Magic Christmas. Cheap threats paired with countermagic out of the board should be enough against blue decks.
And indeed, the deck played very well. I 5-0’d my first league. I was on fire and already started trading in these Bant cards for the tour. On day 1 of a fresh format. Some might call it enthusiastic, some might call it naive. I called it “SUPER MIDRANGE LEGENDARY BANT BEATS!”
I kept on working on the deck. The Moxen were cute, but way too fragile. Even in my first League, I kept boarding them out. But the combo of cheap creatures and counters felt great against control, and so did Lyra and Shalai against the rest. Against decks that opted to go wide, Urza’s Ruinous Blast was just insane. I wasn’t sure on Jadelight Ranger versus History of Benalia yet, but I knew I wanted Greenseekers and Emmaras. Greenseeker was a great low drop against pretty much anything, as it was a fine blocker against all of the Knights and the white weenies, as well as a supreme grinder in the slower matchup. It felt very much like Courser of Kruphix, but not as easy to play. The default was to activate it at their end of turn, but you would often want to use it in your upkeep or main phase. The planeswalkers also performed well. They were a great followup plan against a sweeper out of control decks, and you could easily protect them. Often enough, casting a planeswalker into Ruinous Blast was just GG.
The mana base needed some fixing, and in order to optimize the checklands, I went up to four Evolving Wilds, with which I was very happy. The deck felt a lot like playing Jund. My pre-board games were rough, but in my post-board games, I felt favored against everything I played.
The metagame started to settle. There were lots of control decks, against which I didn’t drop a match until my 12th. Mono-Red, G/W Aggro, Mono-Blue Tempo, and Boros were very popular, and some first Golgari lists popped up. Harpooner snuck into the deck by being very good against some of your problem cards: Tempest Djinn, Aurelia, Doom Whisperer, and Thief of Sanity. I tried Citywide Bust and Slaughter the Strong. The latter was very effective against Trostani and Loxodon decks.
After playing another League, I also finally decided between Jadelight Ranger and History of Benalia. Since I already had a Dryad, the extra lands were not as relevant—the mana base didn’t let me run both—and History was better at protecting your planeswalkers and yourself against aggro. Ranger had to go.
And then, all of a sudden, everyone was playing Golgari. The deck was very good against me, and I needed to change quite a few slots. In order to minimize Chupacabra damage, the Angels needed to go, and in order to battle post-board Carnage Tyrants, I wanted Settles. Strokes found their way into the main deck, and they were very, very potent against Golgari. Curving Teferi into Stroke would often just seal the deal against midrange. I also discovered Treasure Map, which was excellent with Karn and Greenseeker.
I wanted a healthy mix of counters, and Syncopate was great against problematic 3-drops such as Enigma Drake, Thief of Sanity of Legion Warboss, but still capable of countering the more expensive cards. I often flooded out in the late game. I opted for 24 lands, but with Dryad, I actually wanted more. I ended up adding one Arch of Orazca for the late game, which worked out very well as a 25th land.
The deck performed very well, until Arclight Phoenix started showing up. The U/R matchup felt awkward, and I started testing U/R myself. Between Leagues, I came back to Bant, and this was my final list:
This matchup is a pure grind. You have cheap counters and diverse threats, and you sometimes just run away with a game by playing an early Tocatli Honor Guard. Your main concern is Carnage Tyrant. While you can still handle it by blocking or Settling, it’s still a dangerous card that trumps your planeswalkers. Overall, the matchup is positive and you should win around 55% of your matches against it.
U/R was the main reason not to play my deck, since I expected it to see lots of play at the PT. The matchup isn’t horrible, since you do have some good tools against them, but against a good player piloting Drakes, you shouldn’t win more than 40% of your matches. Lyra is your best weapon against them, but you can also win with a fast draw backed by removal. Depending on what cards they have seen out of your deck after game 1, you can try to go under for game 2 if you’re on the play and skip the Seal Aways, which are obviously not good if you’re planning to beat down.
Winning the die roll helps a lot for game 1, since your deck contains lots of slower cards that are mediocre once you draw too many of them. Once you can get rid of them in games 2 and 3, your deck is exactly what you want against mono-red. There are lots of ways to handle Experimental Frenzy, cheap spot removal, and Lyra to run away with the game.
While you’re an underdog in game 1, it gets much better in post-board games. Overall, you should be winning around 55% of your matches.
This plays out a lot like mono-red, but since they don’t have burn, it’s easier to keep them in check. Again, you’re an underdog in game 1 and your chances of beating an on-curve Reinforcements are very low, but after sideboarding, you have removal for their key cards and a curve low enough to interact. Depending on their list, you have between a 50 and 55% chance to win. Hope for lots of life gain synergies in their deck.
Control was my main reason to run the deck, but with the low presence of blue decks, I also warped the list. The matchup is still good, since you do have everything you need to play a decent tempo game. Don’t overextend into Clarion, and try to keep their Drakes in check. Sometimes, you can force their hand and let them tap out for something more pricey. This will be the moment to slam Teferi, optimally protected by some countermagic. You should still win around 60%.
The slower the deck is, the better you are against them, since they will just feel like a worse Golgari deck in this matchup. If they try to grind you out with Immortal Sun, you are well equipped to overpower them. If they have planeswalkers and more low drops, things get more difficult. If you see multiple Viviens, board out Lyra. Against a more aggressive list with Loxodons and Emmaras, you have to board into more spot removal. In the end, the matchup ranges between 45% for the more aggressive version and 55% against the slower ones.
Bonus Deck List
In the end, I decided to play Bant at the PT, but not a midrange list. Andreas Ganz gave me his Turbo Fog list, which was insanely good against Golgari, as well as against the other midrange decks, so I jumped aboard to make some people angry by locking them out of the game. In the end, I played 6-4 with the deck, losing my last two rounds against Mono-Red, which, besides Mono-Blue Tempo, was probably my worst matchup. I missed another Pro Tour invite, as well as some prize money.