Not Dead Yet – Rising from the Ashes

I just wanted to let my readers know that I’m not dead yet, and neither is this standard metagame. We are mere WEEKS away from a new set and people are still churning out new decks. I don’t know why, but I’ve gotten the brew bug again and I’ve decided to put some decks together. I was really happy to go 6-2 in the USA while I was home last week, but at a 20 person FNM yesterday I came back my “real” world here in Nagoya, Japan. I went 1-3, with my only win coming from a bye using my BG aggro deck. I didn’t play bad at all, in fact I made some good plays and got my opponents’ life down dangerously low in almost every game, but I couldn’t finish them off. I lost to mono red thanks to double Hellriders, Omnidoor Control thanks to my opponent’s Terminus miracle when he was at 1 life, and a Naya aggro deck centered around Domri Rade which also featured my friend Hellrider. The overall meta was dominated by Esper control, with a strong showing of aggro decks using Red, Green, and White, and quite a few other well built decks that while strong, have been flying under the radar lately (such as the mono red deck I lost to).

As I stated in a previous article on my website, my Simic midrange deck is dead. Rising from its ashes is my Bant Zegana deck.

Bant Zegana
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Glacial Fortress
Sunpetal Grove
Gavony Township
Temple Garden
Hinterland Harbor
Breeding Pool

23 lands

Loxodon Smiter
Angel of Serenity
Restoration Angel
Arbor Elf
Prime Speaker Zegana
Avacyn’s Pilgrim
Master Biomancer

26 creatures

Azorius Charm
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Simic Charm

11 other spells

Cyclonic Rift
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Psychic Spiral
Rest in Peace
Detention Sphere
Grafdigger’s Cage
Supreme Verdict

15 sideboard cards

The problem with my Simic deck was that it lacked any type of removal and had trouble in long games, especially against Esper control where it was usually milled to death. Bant Zegana is nothing new. When Prime Speaker Zegana was originally released, I was telling everybody how awesome of a card it was, especially in a Bant (GWU) deck that has access to Restoration Angel, but she has only recently seen play. For those that are uninitiated to midrange decks and didn’t have a chance to read my earlier article (Home, Home on the Midrange), I’ll break down how they work.

Most midrange decks tend to be in green (GRW, GRB, GWU), but they also come in different colors sometimes (UWR midrange was extremely popular during M13 and at the start of Return to Ravnica). Midrange decks are decks that accelerate into extremely powerful mid to late games, and they can do this a number of ways. Blue uses card draw to do it, but the best way to accelerate is with mana creatures such as Arbor Elf and Avacyn’s Pilgrim and spells like Farseek. These cards let you cast big creatures and spells much faster than you usually can, and before you know it your deck can be applying oppressive pressure or creating an almost impenetrable wall against decks with smaller creatures like aggro. How it plays depends on your strategy and what cards you use.

This Bant Zegana deck is really balanced for the current metagame. As I stated above, Esper control and aggro decks are in their element now. Reanimator has made a comeback, and there are even some Naya (GRW) midrange decks seeing play again. I feel that Bant is balanced not only because it has access to massive card draw with Prime Speaker Zegana, but it also has tempo cards like Simic Charm and Azorius Charm to slow down aggressive aggro decks, tons of life gain from the Thragtusk/Restoration Angel combo, and Master Biomancer to ensure that drawing mana creatures late in the game won’t be an entirely worthless.

The sideboard of a Bant (GWU) deck gains Rest in Peace against reanimator which the Simic deck did NOT have before, Detention Sphere for Planeswalkers and other multiple threats, and Supreme Verdict to counter those hopeless draws that Gruul aggro gets on turn 2 (which can result in 8-10 points of damage on turn 3 thanks to Burning-Tree Emissary).

Aggro decks were never really the problem for me before thanks to the life gain and large creatures which quickly turned the odds in your favor, but Esper control using Nephalia Drownyard and Jace, Memory Adept were. I think it will largely depend on the metagame in your neighborhood, but you can adjust the sideboard accordingly and add in more Psychic Spirals or Witchbane Orbs to assist you in getting around this.

The Meta Matchup

For those of you that haven’t used this type of deck too much, you might feel a little uncomfortable using it and not know how to side out for certain match ups. Let’s start off with the most obvious one: Reanimator.

  • In: +2 Rest in Peace, +1 Grafdigger’s Cage / Out: -2 Angel of Serenity, -1 Garruk, Primal Hunter

Rest in Peace is a given, and Grafdigger’s Cage is a good back up. About half of the reanimator decks out there are Human reanimator decks using Angel of Glory’s Rise to bring everybody back from the graveyard, and with Ray of Revelation very common in Frites/Reanimator decks, I like to have a back up just in case the others are taken out. The Cage stops Unburial Rites from being cast as well as a hard cast Angel of Glory’s Rise from bringing all humans back to the battlefield.

I would take out Angel of Serenity because you want your deck to be a faster, and with Rest in Peace in play it loses half of its power. Sure you could use an Angel/Simic charm to remove their threats from the game for good (as it enters the battlefield, target 3 of their creatures then return it to your hand on the stack before the effect triggers), but usually that’s not going to happen. Garruk will draw you cards, but like I said, you want more speed.

Next up are those deadly fast aggro decks like GR aggro, Mono Red, and the Aristocrats.

  • In: +2 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, +2 Supreme Verdict / Out: -2 Garruk, Primal Hunter, -2 Angel of Serenity

These decks are extremely fast and you can fall behind really quick. In some cases you can die by their 4th turn, so what you need to do is to stall or slow them down. Trostani is more of an afterthought because she’s done well for me in the past against aggro, stemming the loss of life as early as turn 3 with the right mana combination and gaining it back with each creature you play, but the real key to these  match ups is Supreme Verdict. Fast aggro decks burn through their hands very quickly and have no way to refill them once they’ve put everything on the board, so if you can wipe the board with a wrath and reset the battlefield or stall them with tempo cards like Azorius Charm, 85% of the time you’ll be in the winning situation. Garruk and the Angel are out just because their casting costs keep them from doing any good early on.

The last meta match up I’ll go over is for Esper control. It’s my bane and I’ve been struggling to beat it lately. I’ve been able to beat it with my BG aggro deck when I get great draws and reduce their life to zero before they can cast Supreme Verdict, but anytime they get off a Sphinx’s Revelation it seems to end up swinging the game back in their favor. So, how does Bant Zegana beat Esper control?

  • In: +2 Negate, +1 Psychic Spiral, +1 Grafdigger’s Cage / Out: -2 Master Biomancer, -2 Simic Charm

I can’t help but think that this isn’t enough against Esper control. Yes holding onto Negate until they tap out for a Sphinx’s Revelation will help, and having a Psychic Spiral to counteract your cards flowing into the graveyard from Nephalia Drownyard and Jace is nice, But I still don’t know if that’s enough. Grafdigger’s Cage will be useful if they are using Snapcaster Mage, stopping them from flashing anything back until they use Detention Sphere on it, and it will also let you to continue using your Angel of Serenity to recycle your creatures that keep getting blown up by Supreme Verdicts. If they aren’t using Snapcaster Mage, then you’d probably be better off with another counterspell like Negate or Syncopation so tweak the sideboard to your individual situation.

What lies ahead . . .

I’m feeling pretty good with this deck against aggro thanks to the tempo cards and board wipes, and I think it will perform well against Reanimator as well, but I’m really worried about the control match up. My previous Simic midrange deck could easily beat UWR control, but Esper always proved to be a challenge. I don’t think that this deck list is finished, so as I play more and get some feedback on it I’ll be changing it around (especially to beat Esper). As always I would love to hear from you and to get some suggestions against various match ups, so feel free to leave a comment below.

Next week we should start seeing some Dragon’s Maze spoilers, so keep an eye out for some more articles on how we can use the new cards! Thanks for reading.