Conflux: Bant on the March Review (Part 2 of 2)
It’s a battle of neighbouring shards today as I look to pilot Bant on the March over the top of Jimi’s Esper Air Assault. Can the air war win this one, or will be a long, exalted grind on the ground?
A slow start for the both of us sees my turn-4 Valeron Outlander as the first play of the game, quickly matched by Jimi’s Esperzoa. It’s a solid enough play- even though the Esperzoa will return itself to her hand, it still thwarts my ability to get damage in off the Outlander next turn. Still, we’re both in solid enough shape for our mana, with both of us landing steady drops and fixing with Terramorphic Expanses.
Now turn 5, I add a Jhessian Balmgiver and pass. Back to Jimi, she bounces her Esperzoa back to hand and replaces it with a Vedalken Outlander. Next turn I add an Aven Squire, whose exalted allows me to break the impasse with my Outlander and attack for the game’s first damage. Down to 17 life, Jimi retaliates with a 2-point attack from her own Outlander before adding an Esper Cormorants.
The next 3-point attack from my Outlander on turn 7 similarly gets through, with Jimi dropping to 14. I then summon a Rhox War Monk and Suntail Hawk before passing. Back to Jimi, she attacks in with her Cormorants for 3, then plays a Faerie Mechanist. The Mechanist gives her nothing, presumably offering her a glimpse of the land she’s been missing since her third drop on turn 3. With eight cards in hand, she discards the Vectis Agent and passes. Next turn, I use the Balmgiver to make my War Monk unblockable, then it swings in for 4 thanks to the Aven Squire’s exalted. The Monk’s lifelink puts me up to 19, and leaves Jimi at 10. I then bring out Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer and pass. For Jimi’s part, she attacks for 5 with her aerial squad (the Cormorants and Mechanist), then adds a Windwright Mage. At the end of her turn, I Unsummon the Mage back to her hand, leaving her defenses wide open.
Thanks to a Gleam of Resistance, my all-in alpha strike is more than enough for the win.
Jimi opens much more promisingly this time, deploying a Court Homunculus off of a Plains. I also have a solid opener, turning a Plains into a Suntail Hawk. Next turn, Jimi fields a second Homunculus, which allows the first two swing in as a 2/2. I take the damage, then counterattack with the Hawk for 1 before adding a Valeron Outlander.
The Outlander on defense gives Jimi a moment’s pause to determine “who’s the beatdown,” and she decides it’s her. Back in come the Homunculi for 4, and I accept the trade of one of them for my Outlander, taking me down to 16. Over to me, I attack in again with the Hawk and pass. The Homunculus in Jimi’s graveyard is a bonus when she next deploys a Salvage Slasher, which pumps up her Homunculus back to 2/2 status. She orders it into the red zone, where it is unopposed. I’m now down to 14 life. Back to me, I bring out my first exalted creature- an Outrider of Jhess, then fire back with the Hawk for 2 in the sky.
Now turn 5, neither of us have missed a land drop yet. Jimi lays down an Arcane Sanctum, then attacks for 2 with the Homunculus. I attack back for 2 with my Hawk, then summon the Skyward Eye Prophets– at last, a real threat. Back to Jimi, she holds off on the attack, instead playing a Faerie Mechanist (which nets her a Scornful Æther-Lich from her library) and ending her turn. I attack for 4 with the exalted Prophets, which drops Jimi to 10 life, and pass.
The Æther-Lich makes its appearance on turn 7 after a 2-point attack from the Mechanist in the sky. At the end of Jimi’s turn, I tap the Prophets for my free card- Gwafa Hazid. Untapping, I swing back in with the Prophets for another 4 damage and this time it draws a chump blocker- Jimi’s remaining Court Homunculus. I then summon Gwafa, and place a Pacifism on the Aether-Lich to get it out of the way. Next turn Jimi comes in for 5 with the 3/1 Salvage Slasher and her Mechanist, and I take it all. She then adds a Windwright Mage, basic landcycles a Traumatic Visions into an Island (which she then plays), and passes- but not before I trigger the Prophets who bring me a Deft Duelist. Back to me, I play the Duelist after attacking in for 4 more with the Prophets. With me at 5 and Jimi now at 6, this one’s going right down to the wire.
Now turn 9, Jimi gives herself an ersatz heal by bringing out the Magister Sphinx, putting herself back up to 10 life. This is further compounded when she attacks with the Mechanist and Windwright Mage for 4. Not only does this drop me to 1 life, but the Mage’s lifelink puts her back at a much more comfortable 12. I have no way of knowing that the Parasitic Strix in Jimi’s hand will claim her victory next turn when I put my plans into motion at the end of her turn, but I have the right timing. I use Gwafa to ‘bribe’ the Sphinx into looking the other way for awhile, then Unsummon her Salvage Slasher. I then trigger the Prophets for a free cards (Giltspire Avenger), untap, and alpha strike a second time bolstered by Gleam of Resistance. I win this one by the skin of my teeth.
After such a close game, it’s just bad luck that Jimi mulls down to 6 and keeps a shaky grip. My turn-2 Deft Duelist is the game’s first play, which I follow with Gwafa Hazid on turn 3 after attacking. Jimi lands a Vedalken Outlander on turn 4, but Bant on the March lives up to its name. With a turn-4 Outrider of Jhess and turn-5 Skyward Eye Prophets, Jimi’s feeble coutners of a Rod of Ruin and Esper Cormorants aren’t nearly enough.
I continue attack after attack, steadily grinding down her life total, adding a Rhox War Monk. It’s almost a mercy on turn 7 when I bribe her Cormorants with Gwafa and draw a free card- naturally, Gleam of Resistance. Jimi scoops on the spot.
Thoughts & Analysis
In our last review- Naya Domain- we talked about ‘feast or famine’ strategies that work superbly when they go off, and tend to falter when they don’t. For the Shards of Alara deck Bant Exalted, that seemed very much the way of the mechanic. Get out an early evasive creature and a few follow-up exalted cards, and games could be over very quickly. But play nothing but enabler cards- or fail to find exalted ones- and you had a handful of overcosted weenies that could not long withstand a counterattack.
As we noted in our deck analysis, Bant on the March seems to have done a fairly impressive job of evening out the strategy. For one, it’s a shade less reliant upon exalted for its victory (indeed, there’s one less exalted card this time around despite there now being more cards in the card pool to draw upon). In addition, the creatures selected tend more towards the robust end of the spectrum in comparison to their predecessors. Bant on the March is a deck much more capable of standing on its own even without early exalted plays, and that makes it much stronger overall.
Although best used sparingly, Gwafa Hazid was a very effective inclusion here, as he tends to disrupt the offense/defense calculus every player must make each turn. Knowing that Gwafa could deprive you of a crucial blocker, you might be more inclined to leave a second back, thus blunting some of your offense. Although the drawback of the bribery (a free card for your opponent) is significant, used judiciously he can be removal-on-a-stick. The Skyward Eye Prohpets also seemed very strong for me in the games we played, and the card advantage they offer is not to be overlooked. With exalted, some removal, and a string of beats, the deck on the whole does exactly what it promises.
Hits: Good support of the exalted mechanic with evasive creatures and abilities like first strike; great improvement over the first Bant deck by building on its strengths and reducing its weaknesses
Misses: Exalted mechanic still tends to favour an all-in-one-basket attack strategy, which pinpoint removal can essentially Fog
OVERALL SCORE: 4.30/5.00