FNM and TCG Player with Bant Auras

So, this week I did something I almost never do: I played the same deck multiple tournaments in a row. I know it hurts my consistency to constantly be fiddling with different decks; you don’t really learn all the subtleties of a particular deck until you’ve played it a bunch. So I thought I’d play one deck a bunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t really think that cunning plan all the way through, because the deck I played is not one that has a lot of subtleties. However, it’s a good deck, and lessons were learned, so I thought I should write them down.

The deck, of course, is Bant Auras (a.k.a. Bant Hexproof). It’s straightforward and only a few cards different than the one I played at the most recent Sunday Standard at my FLGS:

The differences: (1) Got rid of Fencing Ace in favor of Loxodon Smiter. I came to really dislike the Ace, because it just dies to everything and simply isn’t any kind of threat on its own. Yes, it can be better when it’s suited up, but the Smiter just wasn’t doing it for me. (2) I changed up the sideboard, adding two Rootborn Defenses in place of Selesnya Charm. I expected more Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation, which are bad for this deck, and can only really be managed by Nevermore and cards like Rootborn Defenses. Turns out this sideboard probably wasn’t optimal; Strangleroot Geist would have been much better than Nevermore, though I’m still not sold on Selesnya Charm.

Anyway, on to the matches.

Tournament 1, May 24th: Friday Night Magic

There was an SCG Open in Dallas this weekend, plus it was a holiday weekend, which meant attendance wasn’t great, only 17 players, so 4 rounds cutting to top 8.

Round 1: Ryan, playing Junk Midrange (not Reanimator)
Game 1 I got off to a slow start, and he was the one who ended up with a Fencing Ace with Unflinching Courage on it, and then later he got a Hydra out, and I lost that race. Game 2 I got early Geist with Courage and something else, and ran him over easily. Game 3 was similar, though this time it was an early Stalker instead of a Geist.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Melody, playing Possibility Exhaustion
What, you might ask, is Possibility Exhaustion? It’s a RWU combo deck based on Possibility Storm and Cure of Exhaustion. Once your opponent gets that, you cannot cast another spell for the rest of the game. Other than that, it’s a control deck with lots of sweepers and card draw. The earliest the combo can come down is turn 5, but if it does and you don’t have any way to get rid of enchantments, you have to get there with whatever creatures you have on the board at the time the combo comes down. Urgh. Game 1 I punted, getting her down to 2 and failing to pump with the Simic Charm in my hand, and she came back with a Supreme Verdict and then next turn, the combo. Oops. I sided in all the Nevermores, the Negates, and the Ray. I got Nevermore for Curse of Exhaustion but she did get down a Possibility Storm. Let me tell you, playing Magic with one of those in play is an experience in annoyance. You cast what you have, and hope it turns into something. I managed to get two Stalkers on board, but no enchantments, which was not a fast enough clock. I finally turned a Pilgrim into a Smiter, had a Ray in hand that turned into a Negate for her Terminus, and won the day. Game 3 I got turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Rancor, sat back on a Negate and brought it home quickly.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3: John, playing Junk Rites
John is one of the top players at the store; he makes very few mistakes, and always plays a Tier 1 deck. Fortunately, I think this particular matchup favors the Bant deck. Game 1 I got an early Giest suited up and was bashing for 9 with lifelink plus the Angel token. He even got an Angel of Serenity out, but that doesn’t stop Ghost Pants. I boarded in the Ground Seals and maybe the Feeling of Dread and off we went. I did not get a great start, though not an awful one, with a turn 2 Voice which got Rancor. He blocked it for a trade, and I followed with a Stalker and a Pilgrim. When I cast Rancor on the Stalker, he blew me out with Golgari Charm, a nice little 4-for-1. Oops, forgot about that card. The good news is that I had a Smiter next turn, and drew into the enchantments I needed, so he carried the day. This deck just really punishes decks that can’t race and don’t have enough removal, which is where Junk Rites sits.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: John, playing BR Zombies
We ID’d, something he had never done before—he’s a relatively recent convert from kitchen table to the tournament scene, but coming along really strong of late. We played three games without sideboard just for funsies, and I won games 1 and 3 of those. This is actually not the best matchup, since BR Zombies can race pretty well and has enough removal that a hexproof guy is pretty much a requirement. Game 1 I got it off a turn 2 Stalker that got suited up, game 2 I didn’t get anyone hexproof and lost the race to Messengers, and game 3 I won with an early lifelinked Geist.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Quarterfinals: Zach, playing BR Vampires
Vampires? Seriously? In the top 8? I guess it was a softer field than usual. He won the roll and ran out an early Vampire Nighthawk to my Stalker, then he followed with a Stromkirk Captain. Turns out that’s actually pretty good if you’re a deck with no removal, so we had to race. I eventually got lifelink on the Stalker to make up for the lifelink on his Nighthawk and then slowly drew into enough enchantments to win the race with his other vampires. I sided in Feeling of Dread and the Nearheath Pilgrims. Game 2 I got an early Geist followed by Rancor and Spectral Flight and hit him for 10. He had a Captain again, and then put out a Nighthawk, which could actually block and kill Geist. Good think I had the Feeling of Dread in hand.
4-0-1 matches, 8-2 games

The top 4 were Melody and John (from round 3) and someone I didn’t know playing BW Tokens. I rather liked all those matchups but everyone else wanted to split to play EDH, so I agreed to it. I have to remember when I agree to top 4 splits at FNM to make getting a promo one of the conditions, though I already have one of this month’s promos from the previous week.

The deck did exactly what I wanted it to, so I was happy to sleeve it up for the next day’s tournament.

Tournament 2, May 25th: TCG Player Platinum Qualifier $1k

Houston hosts a comic con of its own every year called Comicpalooza. The relevant thing for me is that it was also hosting a TCG Player Platinum, which is a $1k event. With an SCG open within driving distance, I figured the field would be reasonable. Turns out it was not only reasonable, but quite small: only 48 players showed up. My 12-year-old son Simon came with me with his UB Zombies deck that has been doing really well at our FLGS. The real downside to the tournament was that the start time was listed as noon, but the room was really well-hidden so they gave people some extra time to find it… but they gave way too much extra time, so we started nearly two hours late. Look, an hour is excusable, even reasonable, under the circumstances, but two hours? Come on.

Anyway, we eventually got started. I was really optimistic, as I’d been playing pretty well and the deck had been cooperating. Ha, ha.

Round 1: Paul, playing RDW
RDW is not exactly the best matchup, since it can race. Pretty much like BR Zombies, I have to get hexproof guys or lifelink to win. The good news was that game 1, I won the roll, got turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Rancor and Spectral Flight, and killed him in two attacks. The bad news was that he still managed to get me down to 8, so on the draw I’d have been dead, even with that opener. Game 2 illustrated that problem pretty well; I had both a Pilgrim and a Geist in my opener (and a Smiter, which is a good roadblock against RDW) and a couple auras, but a Sunpetal Grove as my only green source. I guess I should have mulliganed that hand, as I lost with him still at 20. Game 3 I probably should have mulliganed again, as my opener was four land, two Geists, and an Unflinching Courage. Unfortunately, in the four draw steps I got, I drew… four more land. Even with the lifelink on the Geist, I could not race him. I hit him twice down to 4 but still died. If I had drawn a single chump blocker I think I should have had that one. Ah, well, variance…
0-1 matches, 1-2 games

Round 2: Dominic playing RUG PeddleCaster
I lost the roll and he played a turn 2 Nighshade Peddler followed by a turn 3 Izzet Staticaster, stranding the pair of Smiters in my hand. From there, I drew essentially only land for the next five turns… but I wasn’t dead, because he wasn’t drawing anything either. (I was taking one per turn from the Peddler.) I finally drew a Stalker and immediately suited him up and hit for 7 with lifelink the next turn. He also finally started to draw action but he could not race the 14-point swing I was generating per turn. Game 2 was one that he readily admitted he had no business winning. I got an early Geist, suited him up, and hit for 10… and then he dropped Glaring Spotlight and killed the Geist. Fine, I played another Geist, he played a Huntmaster. I suited up the Geist, which he double-blocked but it still put him at 1. I played Giest number three and still hand a Rancor. He topdecked… Thragtusk, going back to 6. I decided I had to hit him, but that again only put him at 1. Grr. I drew and played a Pilgrim, and put Rancor on him… but that didn’t get me past the beast token. My next four draws were, you guessed it, land. He came back with Huntmaster and Ral Zarek and a second Huntmaster, and killed the Pilgrim when his pair of Huntmasters flipped because I had no spell to play. OK, fine, game three. My opener was Stalker, Simic Charm, and five land. Not a keeper. My six had no land. My five had no land. My four, however, had two land in it. It turns out, however, that four cards is not enough to win with, especially when your opponent plays Huntmaster on turn 3 and 4 (he had Farseek on 2). Yeah, my Rancor’d Voice of Resurgence could hang with that. Ultimate suckage. 0-2, but I refused to drop because 4-2 could still make top 16 and my son was 1-1 so he wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. Still, not really the start I was hoping for.
0-2 matches, 2-4 games

Round 3: Robert, playing Boros Aggro
My round 1 opponent lost and I was literally at the bottom table–worst record with the worst tiebreaks. Whee. Worse, my opponent was playing what looked a hell of a lot like my DGM prerelease deck. I lost the roll, but kept since I had a Geist and some auras in hand. I still lost this game, on the funniest thing ever. He dropped a Boros Elite on turn 1, and on turn 2 dropped a Syndic of Tithes. Turn 3 he played a Firefist Striker and extorted. That one extort won him the game. Why? I swung back for ten (Geist plus Spectral plus Rancor), which put him at… 11. I could not kill him next turn and so I was dead to a haste creature or a burn spell. I had not other play so I had to just swing and hope. I hit him to 1 and died to I don’t remember which. I guess I could have held the Geist back to block, but there was no other draw that got me out since the Striker would have prevented any other creature I could have put in the way from blocking. Grr. In went the Nearheath Pilgrims, the Fogs, and the Feeling of Dread. Game 2 I mulled to five (ugh), keeping four land and a Stalker. Fortunately, the top of my deck was kind and gave me Courage on turn 3 followed by a pair of Ethereal Armors. Game 3 I got an early Geist and got him suited up and killed him in three attacks, including a second attack with Courage, bringing my life from 6 to 12 so I could win the race. Of course, the thing that even kept me at 6 was… Fog. Tech! And fortunately I got off the schnide, which was good.
1-2 matches, 4-5 games

Round 4: Clark, playing RWU
Clark’s deck was something between a midrange deck and a control deck. I got turn 2 Stalker with Courage and he went all the way, though on his last turn to live Clark did burn me down to 11. In went the Negates, the Rootborn Defenses, and two Nevermores. Game 2 was a near thing. The key thing was me drawing both Negates and both Nevermores. I managed to nullify both Revelation and Verdict and Negated a key Helix along the way, and actually outraced an Ætherling with a 8/6 flying, trampling Loxodon Smiter—one of the few things Ætherling cannot do is fly. He died with both a Revelation and a Verdict in hand and was none too pleased about it. Not really my best matchup but I got there. I was also finally above .500 in games, which was good.
2-2 matches, 6-5 games

Round 5: Chuck, playing Gruul Aggro
Chuck was top 4 in Texas States the weekend before with the same deck, so he was a capable pilot with a good deck, and a bad matchup for my deck. Game 1 proved that really effectively; he got the god draw, turn 1 Stromkirk Noble, turn 2 Burning-Tree into Firefist Striker, turn 3 Flinthoof Boar with haste, turn 4 Hellrider. Yeah, OK, no way I’m beating that. In went the Nearheath Pilgrims, the Fogs, and the Feeling of Dread. Game 2 he mulled to five, kept a one-lander, and was looking at turn 2 Geist and had no second land to play, so he just scooped. Game 3 was more interesting. He burned my turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim, which I followed up with a turn 2 Nearheath Pilgrim and I could tell he was annoyed with that play. I followed with Geist, bonded to the Pilgrim. I then had turn 4 Spectral Flight plus Ethereal Armor, hit him for 10 and gained six back up to 17. He came back with a kill for the Pilgrim but did not have the damage to kill me, and I had another Armor to hit him for a zillion. He was annoyed that he didn’t have the mana for a Reckoner because he drew the one Forest in the deck, but I don’t see how even a turn 3 Reckoner was going to get him out of that. Nice to now be above .500 in matches after the horrible start I had.
3-2 matches, 8-6 games

Round 6: Ryan, playing Junk Rites
Yay, a midrange deck! I lost the roll and he opened with a Pilgrim off a Temple Garden, and I opened with a Pilgrim as well. His turn 2 was swing with the Pilgrim, land, go. My turn 2 was Geist. My turn 3 was Armor, Armor, swing for 12. He scooped. I put in the two Ground Seals. I have to admit I don’t really remember how game 2 went other than that I didn’t have much going on and he managed both a Thragtusk and a Centaur Healer during that game. Game 3 I got an early Voice and a Geist but no auras and he kept holding up 4 mana on his turn, which I read as Resto. When I drew the second Geist I tested that, and he did indeed have the Resto. I drew auras after that, including Courage, trampling over another Resto, then drew Armor, then Armor, and that was it.
4-2 matches, 10-7 games

I had the worst tiebreakers of all the 4-2s (by rather a lot), so 4-2 was only good enough for 16th, but given the horrible start I was pretty OK with that. Unfortunately, 16th wasn’t enough for cash, but I got a very nice playmat and 10 TCGPlayer points, though I’m not sure what good those are since there are few TCG events in my area, so getting the other 10 necessary to go to their $50K tournament in November seems unlikely, not that I could make it anyway—November is horrible time for me to be traveling.

Deck Notes

Anyway, the deck. It’s not like I could say I didn’t know what I was getting into with this deck. First, it’s inconsistent. It’s a high-risk, high-reward deck. The great draws are fantastic–turn 2 Geist plus a meaningful aura can win against most opposition. The bad draws are unplayable, so you have to be willing to mulligan aggressively, which sometimes backfires. It’s not a hard desk to play in terms of the number of decisions that have to be made, but because the deck is so “all in” on its core strategy, the decisions you do have to make (frequently, the decision is “can I win if I just race?”) are very high-impact.

Second, it’s pretty matchup-dependent. Its best matchup is against midrange decks like Jund and Junk Rites, and there are a lot of those in the field right now. It can be soft to sacrifice effects (e.g., Liliana) that do appear in some of those decks, but that’s not a fatal weakness and can often be played around. It does not match up particularly well with the premier aggro decks because it can be out-raced; the better draws of Gruul Aggro, for instance, are very difficult to beat. Control decks are a mixed bag: RWU isn’t too bad, but Esper control seems like a tougher matchup because of the possible sacrifice effects; Far // Away seems like a particularly good card against Bant Auras, though I haven’t actually played that matchup.

Were I to play it again, I wouldn’t modify the main deck at all; I strongly prefer Loxodon Smiter over Fencing Ace, but that may be a matter of personal preference. I would change the sideboard, however. I did not fully appreciate why some people are running Strangleroot Geist in the sideboard, but now I get it. SG buys time against the aggro decks, being able to trade with most of the stuff in those decks more than once. It’s also good against sweepers and sacrifice effects. It’s good enough here that I would consider running it main deck if it weren’t for the GG casting cost.

The one real upside to this deck, particularly for long tournaments, is that the matches are usually short, one way or the other. It’s much less draining to get through many rounds when your matches take 10–15 minutes.