Wolf Run Bant: an Origin Story in Montreal

Feature Article from Raphael Levy
Raphael Levy
2/19/2013 10:00:00 AM
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It was a cool 10 days I spent away from home. First in London where I played the Gatecrash limited GP then off to Montreal where I prepared for the big tournament and eventually played at the Pro Tour. I had very little preparation coming into London. I was on a vacation trip to South Africa where I played a Prerelease at The Underground in Johannesburg and only played one draft before I got to play day two of GP London. No need to say it didn't go too well (missed money after going 9-1 on day 1).

London was more of a training tournament for me then, I sure would have hoped to do better, but one can't ask for too much; the catching up happened the week after in a cute hotel in Montreal Old Town.

The crew consisted in Timothée Simonot (winner of GP London), Jérémy Dezany (winner of GP Lyon), Louis Deltour (Top 4 at GP Bilbao), Pierre Dagen (Top 8 at GP Bochum), Melissa DeTora, James Searles, a few other frenchies for the Pro Tour, and myself. We were supposed to test with the Czechs as well - Robert Jurkovitch, Lukas Jaklovsky, Ivan Floch, Stan Cifka - like we did for Seattle, but something went wrong in the organization (they booked another hotel… or whatever), and moving from one place to another to play wasn't an option when it's so cold outside and when you have to move a group of at least four people.

Turns out, our group was solid enough, and it's much more convenient to share information and test with a limited number of players. With too many people, it's too hard to keep a single agenda (the team's agenda) and move on together.

The idea we had of the field was mostly what we could see on Magic Online: Esper and Aggro. Aggro in the form of Gruul and Humans. We strongly believed we needed a deck to beat either one of them and do ok against the other. After some testing, we realized we couldn't beat both. You just can't have the weapons to beat both Gruul and Esper, at least in the main deck. With Saito's decklists being spread like Wildfire online, we expected it to be very popular and we wanted to beat it. The decks that were beating Esper were super aggro decks like Jund Aggro with a lot of haste creatures. These decks however couldn't beat Gruul as they were already taking too much damage from their lands to keep up the tempo Gruul imposes.

Jeremy had been testing a Bant deck, similar to a lot of lists played in GP Bochum a few months ago. For some reason, the deck totally disappeared from the Magic Online metagame and most teams had discarded it from their gauntlets. After further testing, here is what we ended up with:

Wolf Run Bant by Raphael Levy
Main Deck
Sideboard
3 Augur of Bolas
3 Centaur Healer
4 Restoration Angel
4 Thragtusk
Creatures [14]
4 Azorius Charm
2 Detention Sphere
2 Dissipate
4 Farseek
4 Sphinx's Revelation
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Think Twice
Spells [21]
4 Breeding Pool
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]


1 Akroma's Memorial
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
2 Negate
3 Rest in Peace
4 Rhox Faithmender
1 Supreme Verdict
2 Witchbane Orb
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


The Creatures:

3 Augur of Bolas
3 Centaur Healer
4 Thragtusk
4 Restoration Angel

The deck is originally designed to beat aggro creature decks like Gruul, Humans, or Naya. All creatures play their defensive role perfectly. With “only” 19 spells in your deck, Augur of Bolas roughly has one in three chance to miss, which is quite a lot, but the deck needs a two-drop able to hold the fort against 2/2s like Ash Zealots or other cheap creatures like Stormkirk Noble. The rebuy option Restoration Angel provides is not negligible.

Centaur Healers are huge against aggro decks. They provide the 3/3 body you need to block/kill attacking creatures while giving you extra life. They're far from lousy as a simple 3/3 for three against any other deck. Your plan is to kill with creatures and they are a pretty good front line for your beatdown plan.

There's not much more to say about Thragtusk, by far the best beater in the format for this deck. It gives you life, gives you a 3/3 when it dies or when you play Supreme Verdict. Huge threat with Kessig Wolf Run…

Restoration Angel works great with the above creatures. This kind of deck has been played over and over again, so I guess you don't really need more on this one.

Spells:

4 Azorius Charm
4 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Dissipate
3 Supreme Verdict
4 Farseek
2 Detention Sphere

Your game plan is to survive long enough to be able to cast a Sphinx's Revelation for three or four that will draw you more life gain sources and defense to get to your second Revelation and overwhelm your opponent.

The cycling effect and the removal effects of Azorius Charm fit your strategy. If your opponent is not playing creatures, just dig into your deck to find a Revelation or a threat. Otherwise, gain a lot of time by returning an attacker to the top of your opponent's library.

You won't be using the “all your creatures gain lifelink” effect that often even though you have to keep in mind it's a possibility, especially after board when you can have a Faithmender out. However the 4th ability comes very handy: the “return target blocking creature” can allow you to push a few extra trample damage when you have Kessig Wolf Run out, and since when you're doing that, it usually means you're ahead on the board and fighting your opponent's last defense line, the fact that he's going to draw his creature again feels a lot like a “time walk” effect too.

We only found two slots for Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's favorite card: Think Twice. It's less versatile than Azorius Charm but it helps you fight Liliana of the Veil and recover from Rakdos's Return against Jund.

You would play six to eight Farseek if you could; getting to four mana quickly is key to play your Supreme Verdict and fix your mana. You really want to be able to play your Supreme Verdict (therefore have WWU) and Revelation (UUW) but also, you need to fetch the red mana as soon as possible. You only have 6 sources of red mana in your deck, and you don't want to be struggling to activate your Kessig Wolf Run. You usually go fetch your Steam Vents or Sacred Foundry first and make sure you have both WWU and UUW. Later in the game, you either go fetch your second red source to activate your second Wolf Run, or get a Hallowed Fountain.

Detention Sphere doesn't really go well with Augur of Bolas, but there really isn't any spell that does as much as Detention Sphere in the format. Sometimes there's not much you can do to get rid of a Planeswalker (Liliana or Jace (any version)), and Detention Sphere is your best out. It's also a good answer to Falkenrath Aristocrat that has a tendency to survive all your removal spells. While you could improve your stats to hit a spell off the Augur if you switched them for other spells, the versatility of this card makes it worth playing. The other option would be to play Oblivion Ring. There are pros and cons for Oblivion Ring compared to Detention Sphere. First of all, you can't get rid of multiple cards with the same name like for example, Lingering Souls tokens. That could be an upside if you want to get rid of your opponent's Restoration Angel without exiling your own. Then you can't remove an opponent's Detention Sphere with your own… but that also works the other way around since your opponent won't be able to play his on yours. Overall, both are probably fine, with a little advantage to Detention Sphere.

Dissipate is not exactly the card you want to be holding against aggro decks, but the difference between zero and two hard Counterspells is very important. In control matchups, you need to be running a few of them to counter their key Sphinx's Revelation or Jace, Memory Adept.

Mana Base:

2 Kessig Wolf Run

The main difference with the conventional Bant decklist is the red splash for Kessig Wolf Run. How big is the difference? Huge. This card turned average matchups into favorable matchups, and it gives you the reach you're missing to finish off your opponent once you've established control. It gives you a decent chance to beat Esper that you wouldn't have much hope to beat otherwise. (Check the Round 5 Feature Match video coverage, link below, for a visual demonstration).

Every single creature becomes a deadly threat and would trade for any Restoration Angel your opponent will throw on your way. Centaur Healer can run into the red zone without fearing to be sacrificed for no reason. Some decks rely on throwing chump blockers at your Thragtusk for a while until they find a way to finish you off, with flyers, burn spells, or by milling you. This usually happens when you have 8 to 12 lands on the board. You won't give them very much time to find an answer…

We were not sure how many Wolf Runs we should run. We opted for two but there were three for a long time. We thought that by the time it's efficient, it's very likely you drew one already if you're only running two.

12 UWG Shocklands

All necessary to fix your main colors and make sure the:

3 Glacial Fortress
2 Sunpetal Grove

…come into play untapped.

1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents

You want to be able to fetch your red mana sources with Farseek. You don't really need a third land that produces red. Keep in mind that some decks are running Volcanic Strength and could make their creatures unblockable…

Sideboard:

4 Rhox Faithmender

The rhino is the ultimate weapon against aggro decks. They will win you the game if they survive a turn, and it will indeed help you survive that turn. Its 1/5 body will block about any creature without dying, and giving you two life in the process. Untap and play a Centaur Healer, a Thragtusk or a Sphinx's Revelation, and you'll probably get out of reach. An attack with Azorius Charm giving your creatures lifelink also works.

1 Supreme Verdict

In the creature matchup where your opponent is likely to overextend, you want to have as many wrath effects as possible. You don't really want the 4th Verdict main, but it's good to have it there.

2 Witchbane Orb

You could compare Witchbane Orb to Slaughter Game as it neuters a few spells in your opponent's deck. You board it in against Esper and Jund. As long as it's in play (Jund usually doesn't have a way to get rid of it), you are protected from: Duress, Lilliana of the Veil, Slaughter Games, Nephalia Drownyard, Devour Flesh, Curse of Echoes, Rakdos's Return, Jace, Memory Adept, Bonfire of the Damned and the two damage from Huntmaster of the Fells. Not bad for a single four mana artifact.

2 Negate

In control matchups, you need ways to counter your opponent's Sphinx's Revelation. Negate plays that role just fine.

1 Garruk Relentless

In control matchups, it's better if you can attack your opponent from different angles. Played on turn three thanks to a Farseek, Garruk is likely to do that job well.

1 Akroma's Memorial

We wanted to find extremely powerful cards, no matter the cost (as long as we could cast them), that would help finish games against decks like Naya or Junk (WBG) quickly with no real way to lose once they hit the board. We figured that making your Thragtusks Flying Haste First Strike Vigilance Trample Pro Red Pro Black Awesome, it would be hard to lose the game.

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1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

And we wanted a second card like that…

Gisela is by far, the most exciting addition we had to the deck. Back in Barcelona, my friend Jonathan Melamed tried every way possible to play the Angel. Emmanuel Vernay, the brain behind Frites, had one in every single of his decks since Avacyn Restored. James Searles suggested it when we were looking to fill that slot. And man did she deliver. Some decks just don't have any way to kill it. Bonfire? Right! If you have it in your hand against Naya, just survive until you can cast it, and she'll do the rest. It's unlikely you get attacked for more than 3 or 4 damage each turn, and you'll be attacking for 10+ damage during your turn. It also Negates Olivia Voldaren's ping ability (though not the control magic part unfortunately). Other point to keep in mind, you can't blink it with Restoration Angel…

3 Rest in Peace

One of the three Rest in Peace is there to help fight graveyard-light strategies, like control decks with Snapcaster Mage, or Think Twice. The second helps against strategies that use the graveyard on a higher level like Zombies for example. The third is only there to fight Reanimator decks. The Reanimator Matchup is quite hard due to the limited number of Counterspells and the inefficiency of the lifegain against them. Rest in Peace is such a huge weapon against them, and since we didn't know how many there were going to be in the tournament, we didn't want to be caught unprepared. You know, when you think “Reanimator is a great deck, too bad it loses to Rest in Peace,” then people start thinking, “well, Reanimator is bad, it loses to Rest in Peace, no one is going to play it, let's cut them from the sideboard”… and then you lose to Reanimator…

Here are a few sideboard plans:

Vs. Gruul:
+4 Rhox Faithmender
+1 Supreme Verdict

-2 Dissipate
-2 Think Twice
-1 Sphinx's Revelation

One of your best matchups (all aggro strategies based on creatures and burn are good matchups). Just survive till you get to your Faithmender and watch them struggle to get you down to 20 life.

Vs. Esper:
+1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
+1 Akroma's Memorial
+2 Witchbane Orb
+2 Negate
+1 Rest in Peace

-4 Azorius Charm
-3 Supreme Verdict
-1 Augur of Bolas

This matchup is really tough and you might need to find a better plan. You win when you manage to protect your threats and get there thanks to Kessig Wolf Run (extremely important in this matchup). When I played Ben Stark in Round 8, his Angels of Serenity in the sideboard looked like the hardest thing to get through...

Vs. Jund:
+1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
+1 Akroma's Memorial
+2 Witchbane Orb
+2 Negate

-4 Azorius Charm
-3 Augur of Bolas

Jund is also a tough matchup. Game one is usually fine, but it gets harder when they board in Duress and Slaughter Games. Gisela might get there singlehandedly, if you can protect it from Liliana and Dreadbore. Akroma's Memorial might be a good way to win the game as well. You'll have to deal with almost all of Jund's threat which would be lethal otherwise: Olivia Voldaren, Thundermaw Hellkite, Liliana of the Veil.

When it comes to sideboarding, your plan is quite similar against any control decks (add the 7 or 8 anti-control cards), and against aggro deck (bring in the extra Supreme Verdict and Rhox Faithmenders).

Out of our testing group, six of us decided to play the deck: Pierre Dagen, Jérémy Dezany, Timothée Simonot, Loïc Le Briand, Melissa DeTora and myself. We didn't all play the exact same list. For example, Pierre and Melissa decided to run one Syncopate and only one Detention Sphere main deck, Melissa played an extra red source (a Stomping Ground) and didn't run Akroma's Memorial in the board for a second Garruk.

After Day 1, all of us made Day 2, the overall record of the deck was 22-6-2 (22 wins, 6 losses and 2 draws) which is quite impressive. Day 2 was a different story. For some reasons, only Melissa and I managed to keep our record positive with it. I'm not sure I have an explanation for that. Maybe we were more ready to face “day-one decks.” I know some of them didn't start Day 2 very well and it kinda got on their Morale. Timothée and Jérémy confessed they threw away a few games on Day 2.

As for my match breakdown (the matches are also quite cool to watch, so please go ahead!):

Round 4 (at 2-1):
Vs. Peter Kelly, WUG Aura: 2-1
Round 5 (3-1):
Vs. David Gleicher, DarkBant: 2-1 (Video coverage)
Round 6 (4-1):
Vs. Gabriel Carleton-Barnes, WUG Aura: 2-0
Round 7 (5-1):
Vs. Shahar Shenhar, Gruul: 2-1 (Video coverage)
Round 8 (6-1):
Vs. Ben Stark, Esper: 1-2 (Text coverage)

Round 12 (8-3):
Vs. Samuele Estratti, Esper: 1-2
Round 13 (8-4):
Vs. Joe Demestrio, Jund : 1-2
Round 14 (8-5):
Vs. Richmond Tan, Naya 2-0
Round 15 (9-6):
Vs. Matt Keene, Gruul: 2-0
Round 16 (10-6):
Vs. Alex Gerlock, UWR Flash: 2-1

While most of my teammates missed money, I made Top 25 (19th) and Melissa made Top 8. It's always nice to see one of your teammates do well and have the fruit of your efforts rewarded. So, big congrats to her!

So what's next for this deck?

I believe it will be a standard staple for a bit, it crushes aggro and I'm sure there are ways to improve the control matchups.

Melissa's quarterfinal matchup was almost unwinnable in this configuration. On Saturday evening, we tested a bit, to figure out what we could do to help her win the whole thing. Unfortunately, my 0-7 session left me quite pessimistic. Melissa was only running one Detention Sphere main, and didn't have Akroma's Memorial in the board either, which I think would have been extremely good in this matchup. Falkenrath Aristocrat was way too good against us, and we had no real way to win. I read on the coverage that Tom Martel's corner said the matchup was gonna be hard and that it would be a miracle if he advanced. They made it sound like a miracle did happen. I didn't see it that way…

Anyway, it's not a reason to dump the deck, as I believe there's a sideboard card that might turn the matchup around… Found it yet?

Terminus.

The way the matchup is played, your opponent plays a bunch of dorks to protect their Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or Falkenrath Aristocrat, and you can't really damage them, it doesn't matter how much life you gain either. If you sweep the board thanks to Terminus, no more Aristocrat and you can freely attack with the Beast Tokens you get from Thragtusk. Now the problem is, what are you going to cut to add Terminus in the sideboard…

While Akroma's Memorial sounds like a really good card, it didn't do enough quite enough when I drew it. In fact, I would have loved it to be an Avacyn Angel of Hope. Yes, Avacyn, the 8/8 flying indestructible angel… Nice combo with Supreme Verdict and good against Supreme Verdict…

One card could also change a few things in the future: Ghost Quarter. Now that our list is public, people know that we're not running basic lands and that we're running very limited amount of red mana to activate Kessig Wolf Run.

The format is probably going to evolve a lot so it's hard to know how good this deck is going to be. If aggressive decks come back to prey on control decks, then Wolf Run Bant is going to be awesome. If people feel Esper is the deck to play and want to play mirror matches, then Wolf Run Bant might not be the right choice.

It's all in your hands now!

Cheers,
Raphael



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