For all its faults, I really enjoyed this standard format. Kaladesh is on the horizon and standard will lose a huge chunk of its previous self (origins and dragons of Tarkir). But before we bid adieu to Collected Company and its partners in crime, Jace and Nissa, the Bant daddy will have one last chance to shine at SCG Richmond this weekend. While I would be lying if I told you I planned on playing anything but Bant Company this weekend, I do wish that some cards got more love than they did throughout the format. A few of these cards won’t be rotating but I still think they’ve got a chance to put up some solid results this weekend. Some of these cards were underplayed because of the oppressive nature of a few top tier cards in the format while others were just kinda forgotten about. Join the daddy as we talk sleepers in the twilight of this standard format!
1. Always Watching: This card has been one of the main reasons human decks were able to compete with the larger, more powerful, Bant Company decks. Outside of humans the card has seen very little play. This is mainly because a midrange white creature deck without collected company is likely the wrong place to be. The card doesn’t fit in company because there’s a high threshold for non company hits and non creatures in the deck. Usually, it’s best to use creatures and spells that are both versatile and high impact. Ojutai’s Command, Dromoka’s Command, and Archangel Avacyn are prime examples. Furthermore, there’s already a critical mass of three drops. Because of this problem slower white decks that could use always watching were both inferior and weak to Dromoka’s Command. As company decks move towards Declaration in Stone to fight the Emrakul/emerge decks and the mirror and move away from Dromoka’s Command Always Watching is poised to be a powerful card. There’s an incredible synergy with Dragonlord Ojutai and the bonus to support creatures like Knight of the White Orchid, Reflector Mage, and Bygone Bishop is a noticeable bonus. The toughness boost allows them to be relevant on defense and still attack and survive combat efficiently. I think a WU Always Watching deck has been on the fringe of playability basically the entire duration of the format. I think this weekend’s open will see less commands than ever before. It’s a good time to be curving Knight of the White Orchid into Reflector Mage into Dragonlord Ojutai with an Always Watching at the ready.
2. Demonic Pact: This card has many of the same problems that Always Watching does, namely Dromoka’s Command. Spell Queller can also prevent the card from coming down and randomly might stop you from getting rid of it and subsequently cause you to die. These don’t sound like votes of confidence for the card, however, I feel like it’s rather well positioned against decks not playing Dromoka’s Command or Spell Queller. Playing pact facilitates playing another one of the most underrated cards in standard, Silumgar’s Command. It’s five mana casting cost can dodge Spell Queller and its powerful effect can catch you up even from some rather unfavorable board states. It also bounces Demonic Pact and can help relieve pressure so the pact can provide the advantage you need from it. A UB deck dedicated to killing things could splash Harmless Offering and just have the combo option as an afterthought as opposed to the focus of the deck. Demonic Pact also provides lifegain, a highly desired resource for slower UB decks.
3. Hangarback Walker: My brother, Derek, taught me how to play magic when I was small and annoying. Even then, over 15 years ago, he loved black based rock decks. He’s currently favoring GB delirium and has been doing very well online. Hangarback Walker is a two of sideboard card he’s been using to great effectiveness against other black midrange decks. The card is weak to both Reflector Mage and Spell Queller, important pieces in the best deck in the format. But, by relegating the card to the sideboard you can use it only when it’s optimal. It taxes the most important resource in the black midrange mirrors, removal. And once your opponent is forced to deal with it you have fueled delirium and are playing a deck with a ton of recursion options. Casting a hangarback multiple times will pressure their walkers, tax their removal, and could ultimately win you a lot of games. It’s also very cheap and thus has a low opportunity cost. I don’t like the card in game ones but it can be very good in the right spot. The other rock decks have very few ways to exile it and essentially have to kill it the hard way. One card that’s good against it is Liliana, the Last Hope but that’s easy enough to work around.
4. Cryptolith Rite: Another one of our local players, a guy named Steve, played rally last season and fell in love. Now he has been playing rites decks the entire duration of this format. Despite Cryptolith Rite having dropped out of the metagame almost completely he’s still playing it. Harlan Firer was up visiting daddy in New York so we could test for the RPTQ and we decided to test all day Friday and ended up playing FNM with our Bant decks as well. Steve crushed us both, convincingly. I’m not sure if the deck is actually good or not but in the right hands it’s still doing some very powerful things. Eldrazi Displacer is dominant against Bant Company, especially in tandem with Reflector Mage. You don’t have to bounce all their creatures, just enough to slow them down til you can find the Brood Monitor combo. Displacer also turns their Spell Quellers, usually an important piece of interaction, into a huge liability. For those that don’t know how the interaction works, whenever your opponent casts a spell with converted mana cost 4 or less you can target their Spell Queller with Eldrazi Displacer in response. This will free up your spell and exile theirs because it’s not a “may” ability. This is huge blowout because not only do they lose a potential attacker or blocker (spell Queller is tapped) but they also invested X mana and got nothing while you cast a spell for free! That’s pretty brutal. I’ve been playing two Eldrazi Displacer in my Bant Company decklist for this reason as well as the card’s general utility in the mirror. With sideboard Reality Smashers to shore up the matchup against various Languish decks Cryptolith Rite decks are poised to dominate the creature mirrors. I’m not sure if the deck should go the combo route with brood monitors and the like or if it should streamline itself as a Bant deck topping out with some Eldrazi emerge guys. Regardless, the rites decks have been underrated and underplayed for basically the entire format.
5. Chandra, Flamecaller: I almost want to put Eldrazi Displacer in the last slot here but I could write an entire article about how good that card is. Also, I’ve been playing it all along and would hesitate to call it a sleeper in the conventional sense of the word. I’m excited to board in a subjugator angel for the mirror and tap their board every turn. But alas, one last card that the format has forgotten is Chandra, Flamecaller. This fiery lady was so much better than people originally believed her to be. She saw widespread play in Mardu Green, Jeskai Black, and Ramp. But aside from the flash in the pan that was Grixis Control and some more ramp, the card has seen next to no play, especially since the release of Eldritch Moon. It could be a function of the color red being extremely weak in the current metagame. As the Bant decks move in a more attrition based, grindy direction to increase percentages against black decks and the mirror it’s likely that they’re reducing their level of instant speed interaction. This undoubtedly makes Chandra better. There will be draws that the card lines up poorly against but that’s why I don’t advocate (hehe) it out of a Jund or Grixis style midrange deck. I think the card shines amidst a critical mass of late game threats. This way you force the opponent to play around multiple things and increase the chances that they’ll make a mistake. Also, you have other options for that mana if the board isn’t good for Chandra that turn. Furthermore, you could even incorporate cards that allow you to discard the expensive walker and smooth out your draw. Tormenting voice and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy do this well. While I do think the goggles type build of UR could be an optimal configuration (especially in postboard games), I think the best shell for Chandra is the RG delirium ramp deck, similar to the one piloted by Reid Duke at the pro tour. This deck has enough things to do at 6-7 mana that it isn’t priced into spending that turn on Chandra, Flamecaller. The added card type is great for the games where you need your Emrakul, the Promised End on a critical turn. This deck can often play Ishkanah with delirium as well. Ishkanah makes a giant spidery wall to protect your Chandra while it ticks up. Once you untap you’re likely only losing spiders if you tick Chandra down while you could always continue beating down protected by some great blockers. I think Chandra, and Ramp in general, is in a good spot this weekend.
Thanks for checking this one out! I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to read one of my articles. Writing is hard and I’m not sure I’m a truly compelling writer yet but I am glad to have some feedback and some exposure. See you next week!
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