elcome back to Johnnies of all shapes and sizes! After talking about some individual cards from Shards of Alara last week (to much reader response, but hang on for the details) we're settling into Bant Week here on magicthegathering.com. The first of five shards can only mean the first of five shard-themed weeks. I'm personally very excited about today as it marks my first theme week article on a permanent writing basis! Okay, there were the Preview Weeks, but they're basically super theme weeks. I mean, there are three of them back to back to back. It's more like a theme fortnight. Or something.
As we all should know by now, one of Shards of Alara's flavorful questions is, "What happens to a plane when colors A and B are taken away, leaving only C, D, and E?" When I first heard of this plan, I rejoiced at having not just one red- and black-aligned shard, but two. I then mulled over the other shards containing red and black in my head. Here was my initial mental shard breakdown, complete with stream of consciousness ramblings:
- Jund: RED!!!!...and black!!.... together... wow cool green is cool too I guess... I bet this shard will have crazy mana ramping.... and burn obviously I mean it's red... DRAGONS <3 <3 <3...
- Grixis: RED!!!!... and black!!.... blue is good also... I always kinda liked Crosis, the Purger... who's a DRAGON!!... it's mainly black well that means graveyard stuff... sounds like a scary place...
- Naya: RED!!!!... but no black *whimper* but GIANT MONSTERS ARE GIANT.......... it's red so it must have burn it must!... Cat people are back from the future!...
- Esper: No red, ugh... but artifacts are back in a big way... good thing March of the Machines is in Standard...... they're colored, neat... the people have cool swirly stuff attached to them... awesome...
- Bant: No red??... at least black is.... what....... noooooooooooo! *Falls into abyss*
Fortunately, my opinions have changed a bit since that initial moment, along with my grammar and sentence structure. While I still think Jund and Grixis are the bee's knees, I don't hate Bant at all now that I've seen the whole set.
Before we dive into the plane of angels, castes, and all things exalted, I'd like to address some comments about last week's article. I received the most mail ever in regards to the Lich's Mirror deck. Many were confused at just how Rain of Gore would ever trigger, since Lich's Mirror doesn't actually say "gain life" on it anywhere.
While this bafflement is understandable, the Comprehensive Rules have a verdict for similar cards, such as Sway of the Stars and Biorhythm. Thanks to alextfish on the forums for digging this up:
Comprehensive Rule 215.5: If an effect sets a player's life total to a specific number, the player gains or loses the necessary amount of life to end up with the new total.
I hope that clears everything up nicely. To make it extra clear, I'm going to be building around a similar Bant card in today's first deck. That card? Invincible Hymn. It works just like Lich's Mirror in that rules respect. Let's say you have 40 cards in your library when you play the Hymn. Your life total doesn't magically (although we are playing Magic) become 40. You have to gain enough life to get there.
The Bant-flavored Invincible Hymn (check out the thought-provoking flavor text) is the latest in a long line of bombastic life gain effects. Congregate was arguably the first real offender, but the chain has multiplied as of late with spells such as Heroes Remembered and Dawnglow Infusion. Strangely, the Hymn kind of reminds me of Pac-Man. Like the classic arcade icon, it counts up the life points as it plows through the individual cards. I might be talking about a Shards of Alara card I've similarly dubbed "Evil Pac-Man" in a couple of weeks; try and guess what it could be!
On a more card-to-card comparison, Invincible Hymn reminds me a lot of Battle of Wits. Both of them like it when you have tons of cards in your library, and both of them basically win the game when they're played in such a deck.
Sure, I could just throw four copies of the Hymn in a huge deck, or add one copy to a white-infused Elder Dragon Highlander deck, but that's easy. What if you started out with a normal 60-card deck that somehow added cards to itself, then played Invincible Hymn out of nowhere to stun your opponent? And gain some life, too. But mostly stun your opponent. Hey, I wouldn't see it coming.
How would I add cards to my library repeatedly? The Wish cycle from Judgment wouldn't work, as they remove themselves from the game upon being played, but eventually I found the Research half of Research // Development, which conveniently adds blue and green to an otherwise white deck. A Research slapped on an Isochron Scepter could add four cards to your deck, slowly building to a huge deck. As a bonus, you can cheat the Development half into play with the Scepter.
One of my pet cards, Wheel of Sun and Moon, fits here also. If you enchant yourself, any cards that would go to the graveyard instead refill your library for a big Invincible Hymn count.
I knew the deck would be pretty darn slow, so I added numerous Wrath of God effects and Holy Day effects. The latter can be imprinted on a Scepter to create a soft combat lock for extra annoyance or if you don't have Research on a stick going yet. While getting your deck to over 100 cards is a daunting task, usually 70-80 cards is enough. Since a played Hymn will get shuffled back into your library thanks to the Wheel, you should be able to pad your life enough to draw it again. Since you're ideally Researching every turn, the second and third Hymns should take the game.
Look at Me, I'm Abusing R&D!
I went with the Urzatron because it made the deck a lot faster. Prismatic Lens can both accelerate and filter your mana for your many color requiring spells. Isochron Scepter can also imprint Dawn Charm and Angelsong. When playing the deck, don't be afraid to lower the Wrath of God; you're going to want to survive as long as possible. Also, try to save your Sakura-Tribe Elders. A lot of useful cards, like Wrath and Primal Command, will just be Wheeled to the bottom of your deck, so shuffling is important.
When you're Researching for extra cards, I'd highly suggest cyclers. They don't need to be played, they can draw you a card, and with a Wheel out, they won't lessen your library count. I'd actually recommend the Urza's Saga cycling lands over the Onslaught ones, only because colorless mana is a bit easier to come by here. Other cards that help you survive are always nice, like Faith's Fetters or Oblivion Ring. Once you're out of danger, you can go find a win condition of your choice!
Remember, it's all about saying, "I went to 90 life from an Invincible Hymn. In a 60-card deck!" Fun stuff.
Winged and Expressionless
The flagship creature for Bant, Stoic Angel, was previewed to great hubbub. A flying and vigilant 3/4 for four is good news no matter where you are, and a creature taxing ability is just icing on an emotionless cake. Since the Angel has vigilance, you'll always have at least one creature untapped.
The first card I thought of to use with Stoic Angel was Silkbind Faerie, and that's just devastating. You don't even need to choose the Faerie to untap each upkeep, as it does that of its own accord and in the process taps down the single untapped creature your opponent controls.
The next component for the deck came from a brief but entertaining email entitled "Simple Synergy" from Air139. It read, "Stoic Angel. Any exalted creatures. Silkbind Faerie." Quality over quantity, I say! Indeed, exalted is great with Stoic Angel, because it will trigger even if all your other creatures are tapped and unable to attack. Another reader suggestion about exalted came from John, who enlightened me as to the exalted interactions with Topan Ascetic and Soul's Might. With the former, tapping down your exalted guys makes the monk wicked big, while the latter can be played on any exalted creature to make the bonus permanent.
Since I want to be tapping down nearly everything, I turned to Deluge and Murkfiend Liege. Deluge can lock down the board with a Stoic Angel in play, while the Liege pumps all your guys while making things very unfair for your opponent. Another unused but wacky creature from Eventide that I want to use here is Crackleburr. With it, untap two of your blue creatures to bounce the only untapped creature your opponent has.
I knew I wanted to add Jhessian Infiltrator, and that quickly reminded me of another card the same John from above made me aware of: Quietus Spike. Not only it is a deadly combo with the Infiltrator, but it can be reequipped at will, meaning that if one of your creatures gets the Stoic look, simply equip it to your untapped creature. Attach it to Dawnray Archer for some mega pinging.
If this deck were to be ported to Extended, I'd suggest things like Loxodon Gatekeeper and Frozen Æther, the latter of which narrowly missed being in Standard with Stoic Angel. Sky Hussar might be worth running as well. In Legacy, I'd be psyched to add Nature's Revolt to the deck. Infinitely locking down all creatures is cool, but locking down all lands while I'm at it is just awesome. Obelisk of Bant or other nonland mana sources might be necessary if one were to go down that road.
In the previous deck, you'll probably notice the lack of any white exalted spells, like Sigiled Paladin or Angelic Benediction, which happen to be quite good. Turns out, in a surprising twist ending, I'm saving them all for this deck, which revolves around a great idea that Nate Hannon sent me: exalted creatures + extra combat phases.
Whenever you play a spell such as Seize the Day alongside exalted creatures, you'll be delighted to realize that the exalted bonus lasts throughout the whole turn, and subsequently all extra combat phases. As Nate says, "Let's say you have Battlegrace Angel in play. You can attack with it to deal 5 damage and gain 5 life, which is not a terrible deal for five mana. But if you play Seize the Day, you can attack again to deal 6 damage and gain 12 life. If you have the mana to flashback Seize the Day, that's another 7 damage and 21 life. Even if your opponent is still alive, you just gained 38 life." Nate's right that multiple instances of lifelink trigger separately. And if you have just one other creature with exalted in play, your life total will skyrocket even further.
At the time, Shards of Alara had not been completely spoiled, so Nate didn't have a full deck list, but he suggested using double-strikers, which are great with exalted guys. A turn-two Sigiled Paladin followed by a turn-three Hearthfire Hobgoblin is good times. I also thought Galepowder Mage would be a great addition as well; it doesn't mind attacking alone, and it can screw over any potential blockers it sees with its Flicker-ish ability.
I decided to add some copies of Pull from Eternity. With it, you can bring back Seize the Day and other flashback spells, as well as have some straight-up removal with the aforementioned Galepowder Mage.
Some cards that I couldn't find room for were Waves of Aggression, which opens the door to a mono-white version of the deck, and Silent Arbiter, which ensures that you'll be attacking with only one creature. With all the exalted bonuses, the lone blocking creature your opponent musters will probably be beaten.
That's it for this week. Until next time, have fun with Bant!