It takes quite a bit to tear me away from my two greatest loves in Magic; Temur, and land based strategies. Contrary to popular belief, however, it does happen. This last weekend we saw a plethora of new decks at the SCG Standard open, one of those decks being Bant Midrange. It’s a deck that saw not one, but two Top 8 finishes, wherein both of said finishing decks were within a two card difference of each other. This deck intrigued me greatly, almost forcing me to seek and test it in preparation for the upcoming Mythic Qualifier, and today I present to you my findings. But first, the list.
Something that this deck has taught me from the six matches that I’ve played with it is just how many lines the deck has on any given turn once five mana has been reached, which can happen relatively easily by turn three. Additionally, most of the decision making that is involved in with this deck is dictated based on not only what deck your opponent is playing, but what the board state represents on those turns. What I’m attempting to communicate is that the decision making process for this deck is more akin to that of a control deck than a midrange deck.
This has made the learning process for this deck somewhat difficult, as it’s mostly situational. I’ll break down the deck the best way I can to explain my thought process further.
Llanowar Elves and Incubation Druid: This is how we can justify having such a top heavy curve. Llanowar Elves gives us the potential of playing ahead of curve, giving us superior and faster board states, but is one of the worst cards to draw in the late game.
Incubation Druid is a form of accelerant that can adapt in the late game to give us three extra mana, which will open up a plethora of opportunities for us. It makes our Hydroid Krasis a lot more threatening, it allows us to power out multiple threats in a turn, not to mention it upgrades the body of the druid up to a 3/5, which is not laughing matter. This allows Incubation Druid to hardly ever be a dead draw.
Growth-Chamber Guardian and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds: Both of these cards have impressed me far greater than I expected them too. Against aggressive decks, resolving a Guardian with three mana open will guarantee that the next couple of turns’ attacks are going to get more and more awkward. They gum up the board state and help to stabilize us once we’re in the mid game.
Vivien is where the core functionality of the deck resonates from. She provides a decent enough amount of card advantage, but giving us the ability to flash creatures in is absurd, especially when played on turn two on an empty board. She allows us to take over games by always playing with maximum information. I wasn’t high on this card when she was spoiled, but I can’t express how badly I wish I could play six copies of her.
Deputy of Detention and Knight of Autumn: These four slots in the main deck are to grant us versatility. Deputy has proven great in many situations, being able to get rid of tokens in any amount has been huge, especially when staring down the barrel of a History of Benalia. It can hit planeswalkers, which is more relevant now than it’s ever been, and it can even surprise remove blockers to allow for a lethal combat step.
Knight of Autumn has so much built in versatility that I would feel I’m not giving the card enough respect if I didn’t play the entire playset somewhere in the 75. It’s great basically everywhere, save for the control match up, where at worst it’s a three mana 4/3. With mono-red on the rise, the ability to gain four life and put a body that will trade with most of their creatures is something I’d be caught dead not packing in my arsenal.
Granted, I have a phobia of mono-red.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Frilled Mystic: And we arrive at our four drop slot. Shalai is great to help further stabilize a board state, but is downright absurd if she has flash. When she does, she does a good impression of a Frilled Mystic, usually countering a removal spell when she enters. The added benefit of protecting planeswalkers from Vraska’s Contempt and protecting your face from burn spells is gravy.
Frilled Mystic has actually under-performed for me in my experience, but it almost feels necessary to play them. If all of your creatures have flash, then your opponent has absolutely no idea if you’re holding up a counter spell, a game ending threat like Oketra, or maybe you just have a hand filled with dorks. The point is, mind games are pressed onto your opponent, and they have to take gambles. Their lack of information is what gives Frilled Mystic it’s power.
Teferi, Time Raveler: My opinion on this card has changed dramatically over the course of the last three days. At first, I thought this was the end of Standard as control finished it’s transformation to God-Tier.
I then realized we can utilize it to fight control on their own turf, provided something like mono-red doesn’t push it out already.
I further realized just how awful of a card it is against the aggressive decks. It can provide a small amount of tempo and take an amount of pressure away from your face for a turn or two, but it otherwise does nothing against aggressive decks.
Finally, I realized that Nexus of Fate decks can’t win through a Teferi. Or rather it makes their life a lot more difficult. This is the reason I’ve decided to keep the three in the mainboard, and even included the fourth in the side. It’s an extremely good gate card against Nexus of Fate, and that alone justifies it’s mainboard inclusion.
God-Eternal Oketra, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Hydroid Krasis: The original Bant Midrange lists were on a 3-4 split of God-Eternal Oketra and Hydroid Krasis. I found this to be way too off balanced.
I would often times find myself with multiple copies of a legendary creature that is already extremely difficult for my opponent to cleanly deal with, and drawing a Hydroid Krasis when you have less than six mana is essentially a bricked draw step. It felt very skewed and awkward, and the deck is already extremely soft to aggressive decks.
I solved all three of these problems by trimming a single copy of both Oketra and Krasis, and including two copies of Lyra Dawnbringer in the main. This has already proven to me to be correct, as Lyra has brought me back from some extremely unfavorable board states. A 5/5 first strike will eat most any threat that’s attacking me, and being able to flash her in will quickly turn tables. Not to mention the instant padding of the life total that happens any time you play her just further stabilizes you.
I’m not downplaying the power level of Oketra or Hydroid Krasis. They are both still extremely powerful cards, and perhaps the reason to play the deck. They are, unfortunately, simply too awkward in multiples to justify playing the numbers that were given to me.
Bant Midrange feels like it has an extremely high learning curve. There is a lot of room for error and mistakes, and each game provides different problems that require different answers. This deck contains the means to beat any deck in Standard, which is perhaps where its strength lies. No match up feels like an auto-lose, and although the aggressive match could really use some work, I’m going to be testing out Bond of Flourishing moving forward to see how that helps give the deck the last bit of consistency it needs.
If I had to give some closing advice for potential pilots of this deck, I would reiterate my number one rule for timing in Magic; as late as possible, as early as necessary.
When a creature deck like this can utilize timing in such a strong way, you need to take full advantage of as much information that you can squeeze out of your opponent. Most of the deck functions at instant speed if things are going well, and you need to navigate every turn like it’s your last.
I reiterate again; as late as possible, as early as necessary.