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Utter Beatings: Drafting Bant

 

Exalted sucks. Not the mechanic mind you, but the Exalted theme deck that is how Bant is most often drafted. It basically can’t beat a single pinger or sweeper. Infinite chump blockers like Metallurgeon, Puppet Conjurer, and Necrogenesis are also hugely problematic, as then evasion creatures are the only relevant cards in the Exalted deck. If the deck stumbles at all, it is just dead as it plays defense so poorly and most of its cards are terrible past the opening turns. Even in games where you actually get to play Magic, the deck just does not have any advantage, so there is just no reason to tolerate the deck’s problems.

And yet I believe that Bant is underdrafted. For some reason, people equate “drafting Bant” with “drafting Exalted”. Faced with the prospect of either never drafting Bant or playing a terrible Exalted aggro deck, most drafters smartly choose the former. But there is a better alternative. I have a very different (and much more successful) approach to drafting Bant: the fatty Bant deck. Just as Naya has a range from small, aggressive decks to more controlling fatty decks, so too does Bant. The Bant fatty deck has much in common with the Naya fatty deck, as most of the cards overlap. The bread and butter for both archetypes are acceleration and boom booms.

Druid of the Anima and Steward of Valeron are key cards in the archetype and should generally be picked over your typical fatties like Cavern Thoctar and Jungle Weaver. The two pieces, acceleration and fatties, are equally important, but the acceleration is much more scarce. There are no good substitutes for Druids and Stewards, while there are plenty of options for fatties and all are pretty much interchangeable. If you already have a healthy amount of acceleration but are short on fat, then by all means take Cavern Thoctar over Steward of Valeron, but as a general rule that is the wrong pick. Sunseed Nurturer is quite playable here. You want the acceleration, and the life gain is very good, essentially trading with two otherwise problematic evasive power. It will be competing with Obelisks for space, and losing that fight if you are light on fixing, but you should definitely be happy to see a late-pick Sunseed Nurturer.

Bant fatty decks tend to be less focused on the five-power theme than their Naya counterparts, for a number of reasons. Obviously there are several red incentives for five-power that Bant misses out on, like Mayael the Anima, Where Ancients Tread, and Rakeclaw Gargantuan. Red offers five-power guys where blue does not, so there are just fewer monsters going around for you to collect in Bant. With less focus on five-power, random 5/3s like Mosstodon and Beacon Behemoth are worse in Bant than in Naya. In Bant, you are looking for your fatties to gum up the ground and provide card advantage by being too big to trade one for one with other creatures, so 5/3s are not really what you want. Paying six or seven mana for a 5/5 is just fine, and you should try to have around three such cards (Cavern Thoctar, Yoked Plowbeast, Jungle Weaver, Vagrant Plowbeasts (would it really have been too much for them to call them “Loose Plowbeasts”? – LSV) , Nacatl Hunt-Pride, etc). Steelclad Serpent is perfectly servicable in this role, and will often be better than Mosstodon. Wild Leotau is a very strong card, and is especially nuts in these fatty decks – pick him very highly. He’s no Woolly Thoctar, but turn three him and you probably can’t tell the difference.

One final reason for big Bant decks to be less fatty focused is that Naya decks have to lean pretty much exclusively on giant guys as their “card advantage”, whereas Bant gets to actually draw cards. Card draw is pretty insane in the fatty archetype, as it ensures you have plenty to do with all of your extra mana. Fatty decks all too often run into problems drawing the wrong pieces: acceleration without the fat, or fat without acceleration. Card draw really helps smooth these problems out. It ensures that you are profitably using your accelerants even without expensive spells to cast. You can get away with running fewer fatties, both because you are less reliant on them and because you can dig into them, so your draws are much less likely to get clogged with expensive spells. And of course, card draw is just a much more reliable path to card advantage than relying on bigger creatures.

Drafting Bant is all about card advantage. You are not exactly building a control deck, as you plan on beating down with lots of dudes and often racing, but you should be able to grind out most decks if the game comes to attrition. You should be ecstatically first-picking Kiss of the Amesha and Drumhunter, as those cards are just nuts. Courier’s Capsule should actually be a lower pick than it would be in an Esper or five-color deck, as it is more easily replaceable for you. You still want them, but you should be taking good fatties and curve-fillers over them. Look to pick up Gift of the Gargantuans instead. Gift of the Gargantuan is probably the most underrated card in the entire format. It is quite good in this archetype, most often better than Courier’s Capsule. The deck should be built to make use of plenty of mana, so the land is very much worth a card, and digging you into fatties is exactly what you want. Rhox Meditant is a Courier’s Capsule that draws you a zero mana 2/4 – I weep a little inside every time I have to pass one. The awesome part is that no archetype can take advantage of the card the way this one can, so you typically don’t have a problem grabbing a couple. Armillary Sphere is, as always, simply insane. For just two more mana than cracking a Panorama or landcycling, you get an extra land, making the card both awesome fixing and efficient card advantage. Exalted also makes for a nice source of card advantage, as it gives all of your creatures added value. Even a small amount of exalted can break open a stalled out board, letting you trade up a creature turn after turn.

Building a controlling Bant deck is somewhat awkward thanks to the limited removal options. It’s pretty important that your creatures are able to gum up the board, so creatures that can handle evasion go up in value: Court Archers, Naya Battlemage, Sunseed Nurturer, etc. Resounding Silence is amazing here, as the bad removal spell is perfectly desirable even without cycling, and cycled Silence just is. Still, you can’t reliably handle everything with your creatures, and your removal is spread thin, so you will often find yourself racing. A good curve is obviously very important, and you don’t want to waste too much time dicking around drawing cards. The on the board card advantage provided by Exalted, Rhox Meditant, Drumhunter, etc. is the best way to go about it. Kiss of the Amesha also qualifies, as the life gain alone can dominate a race. Sylvan Bounty being cast has proven itself to be very valuable in the archetype, as it ensures that you win any race. A card like Akrasan Squire is playable in the archetype as it can really put you ahead early on. Sighted-Caste Sorcerer is still best avoided, though. Pump spells are pretty terrible in the deck as well. You spend most of your time on defense, where they are miserable, and your creatures are usually just bigger than your opponent’s anyways, especially on offense thanks to Exalted. Excommunicate is unplayable.

Below are the results of my two most recent drafts in this archetype, to give you a picture of what it looks like when everything comes together. The first deck is a little rough around the edges, with some subpar spells maindeck, but it is still very strong overall. It has sufficient card advantage, exceptional removal, and excellent bodies (though not quite enough of them- another fatty or two would have served this deck well). It swept an 8-4, even beating Broodmate Dragon and Violent Ultimatum in one game in the finals. The second deck lost in the finals of an 8-4 and is excellent even without its rares.

Deck 1

 

Deck 2

 

 

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