6.7% Blue (an M10 Standard deck update and two tournaments)

BantCharm.jpegElspeth,Knight-Errant.jpegMartialCoup.jpeg
This weekend Superstars ran five From the Vault: Exiled tournaments, with a tournament win in each yielding its eponymous product. This seemed like a neat way to give their customers a crack at a cheap copy of the set as well as a chance to play some reasonably competitive Standard. I knew I was going to make it to both Saturday tournaments, and I vacillated a bit between an updated version of the basic build I’ve been running and my take on the Blightning archetype…so I brought both.
It was a fun day of gaming that both validated my idea about how I needed to update the Elspeth build and taught me a valuable lesson about how to properly game a tournament.
Click through to the extended entry for my deck lists from the day, two tournament reports, and some thoughts about how to game the tournament as a whole.


Following the last PTQ, I’ve discussed how diverging from the core theme of the Team Elspeth build in an attempt to compensate for perceived weaknesses reduced its efficacy too much. I also touched on why I didn’t try an alternate approach. That left me wondering, in the meantime, how to address the deck’s weaknesses while keeping it strongly on purpose.
This deck attempts to operate as a card-advantage aggro deck, using approaches that tend to be orthogonal to those found in most current tier one builds (e.g. cascade, traditional card draw). It preys most effectively on decks that sacrifice significant tempo to the cause of mana fixing, such as Five-Color Control and many cascade-oriented designs.
On the other hand, the deck in its purest form folds pretty heavily in the face of token-oriented decks. Also, as I learned through last week’s testing, the pure form of the deck has to get lucky to beat someone who has decided to run four copies of Baneslayer.
In prior incarnations, the deck has tried to deal with the tokens (fundamentally, Kithkin) issue by sideboarding in or maindecking four copies of Cloudthresher, as well as bringing in four copies of Hallowed Burial. This was, unpleasantly, not enough. The Kithkin deck reloads with ridiculous efficiency. A Procession, Cloudgoat, or Figure off the top after a Burial puts you back in jeopardy far too quickly. After some thought, and knowing that the deck can usually hold out for a while against Kithkin when played properly, I settled upon a replacement for the ineffective Burials – four copies of Martial Coup. The difference, as is probably clear here, is that Coup leaves you with an effective fighting force after the fact. You can contest the ground and you can go on the offensive yourself depending on what you have in play (you might, for example, have Garruk in play, and if you untapped some lands to play that Coup, you can threaten a lethal overrun soon after).
The Baneslayer problem was a different issue. Solutions to Baneslayer need to be (1) permanent and (2) Instants, if at all possible. The first point is the most important – I tested Oblivion Ring here, but a Ringed Angel is coming back on line as soon as its owner can find one of their Cryptic Commands. The second point comes from the value of trying to take out Angel on their turn so you can continue the offensive, as well as having another try at taking it out on your turn. However, even in the absence of this desire for an Instant solution, I hit the very basic problem of having four copies of Path and being done at that. The deck can’t reliably hit Unmake mana, and you can’t Crib Swap a Baneslayer.
This dilemma returned me to the territory of considering a splash. Clearly, black is chock-a-block with options, but just as clearly the black splash is structurally unfeasible. I pondered red (again) for a while, but that doesn’t actually provide much in the way of clean solutions to this problem. However, all this thought of splashing reminded me that I could follow a reader’s suggestion and replace any and all Elves with Birds, leaving me with a one-drop collective featuring quad Noble Hierarch and quad Birds of Paradise.
Seems like one might successfully splash blue under those circumstances, right?
This led me to add a single Island and test the option of maindecking four copies of Bant Charm. This worked out quite well in my limited (say, one hour) testing the evening proceeding the tournament day, so I ran with it.
Here’s the build I took to the first tournament:
Team Elspeth, var. Bant

17 Creatures:
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Knight of the Reliquary
Kitchen Finks
Cloudthresher
20 Spells:
Path to Exile
Bant Charm
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker
Primal Command
23 Land:
Sunpetal Grove
Wooded Bastion
Plains
Island
Gargoyle Castle
Terramorphic Expanse
11× Forest
15 Sideboard:
Guttural Response
Ethersworn Canonist
Cloudthresher
Martial Coup

Now that we’re largely unsplashed and back in G/W, the four maindeck Kitchen Finks have returned. They continued to be the tremendous creatures they were before, and I will be a little sad to see them leave Standard in October. Maindecking four copies of Bant Charm clearly required that something go, and after some deliberation, I decided it would be most of the Threshers. Thresher is a house, but the deck is powerful on its own, and a starting position of one tutorable Thresher seemed fine (more on this as we go into the second tournament later on).
The mana base also saw some surgery. I added an Island, clearly. In addition, I cut it back down to two Terramorphics, as three had me drawing one in an opening hand a little bit too often. I also dropped one Wooded Bastion. This all left me at eleven Forests, which is enough to frequently let me hit turn one Forest, mana dork – something this deck really wants to do.
The sideboard had the other Threshers, the Coups, the same Canonists as before, and four copies of Guttural Response, a card I was kicking myself for not having included at the last PTQ.
Okay, on to the show…
Round one versus Ral playing Grixis control
I opened with Hierarch into Finks, whereas Ral had the not-terribly indicative Crumbling Necropolis opener. I swung with an exalted Finks, and then Ral dropped Illusionary Servant. This stalled the baord for a bit, as I didn’t yet want to trade away my Finks to kill something on his end. I cracked Gargoyle Castle for a Gargoyle and played a second Hierarch. Ral played an Esperzoa and I swung in. He let the first one through for 5 damage, then on my second swing the following turn he blocked the Gargoyle with Illusionary Servant and Doom Bladed one of my Hierarchs. Unfortunately, this didn’t do what he expected it to, and Servant still died while my Gargoyle still lived.
Incidentally, apropos of Riki’s latest article, I’ve noticed that by dint of playing decks of my own design, I generate a lot of situations where the cleanest solution is to call a judge to explain to my opponent how my cards work. I find that preferable to trying to get them to trust that I’m explaining it properly. In this case, I said, “Let’s just call the judge so you can ask him about it” rather than trying to explain in detail why my Gargoyle was already exalted. So we called over Eric Levine, who was judging the event, and he explained.
I flashed out Thresher, swung once, and Ral’s evoked Mulldrifter didn’t find him any solutions.
I sideboarded like so:
+4 Guttural Response
-4 Primal Command
I made the first play of game two with a Knight, who ate a Bolt. The second Knight hit a Cancel, which I countered with a Response. I churned a bit with Knight and then begun swinging for giant chunks of life. Ral played another burn spell at Knight, which got an “Okay” from me. When Knight didn’t die, he reread it, and then scooped.
Round two versus Jeremy playing Dark Bant
Jeremy opened game one with Birds into Stillmoon, and I sighed and considered scooping before deciding that a hand with double Finks could get me through it. This turned into a grindy game, but the life gain from Finks let me build enough board presence with Elspeth that suddenly the Stillmoons had to hold back to avoid a giant alpha strike from me. I played through one Garruk as Elspeth grew more loyal. Eventually, with three Hierarchs and a couple Beasts in play, I cashed Elspeth in for her ultimate (and then played backup Elspeth). Jeremy hit one of my Hierarchs with Maelstrom Pulse, which got the second “Okay” of the day from me. He scooped in the face of indestructible Hierarchs and we moved to game two.
Sideboarding:
+2 Cloudthresher
+2 Martial Coup
-4 Primal Command
Game two saw me mulligan to five, and Jeremy to six. I had some Finks and very eventually a Cloudthresher, but Jeremy had a cast of Rhox War Monks and friends (Doran being one of those), and while I held out for a while, he ended the game on 59 life. Super ugly.
Game three saw an early Jenara, Asura of War followed by Rafiq – one ate a Path, the other a Bant Charm. I had a Garruk, who generated some board clutter. Unfortunately, Jeremy also hit another early pair of War Monks for life gain, and as we went to time and extra turns, I was not able to close out the game.
Tournament Note – On draws and communication
I have tended to think of tournaments as process oriented things. Go to the round, play your opponent, win/lose/draw, move on. However, there are times when you know that a draw does neither of you any good, and at these times, it’s smart to discuss the possibility of conceding. I don’t usually think that way, and I really need to, because sometimes you can make a very clear case. This would have been one of those, as I had actually been paired down, and with the prize only going to the winner of the tournament, my chance of making it with a win in the first round was much better than my opponent’s, who already had a loss and would be put out of contention with a draw anyway.
I didn’t notice the down-pairing in the round pairings (and I could have, since points are listed), but even so, I should have talked with my opponent about it once a draw became a clear likelihood. In fact, I should resolve to always have a conversation about this in the future, even if it just boils down to “Concede to me?” and a polite refusal. I dramatically reduced my ability to win this tournament (which, other than the joy of the game, is why I am there) by failing to communicate with my opponent as we approached a draw.
Lesson, we hope, learned.
Round three versus Josh playing U/W Baneslayer
I’ve played Josh a number of times in PTQs, and it’s always a good match. We like affable players.
Game one looked good for me as I managed to stick an Elspeth and started some flying Soldier beats…and then a Baneslayer showed up, and my removal was largely absent. Hm.
In game two, things moved at the proper clip, with Hierarch into Knight into Elspeth into Garruk into concession and on to game three.
My notes for game three are sketchy, but the upshot is that Josh’s control was effective, and we went to time. This time around, I asked his record — unsurprisingly, my draw had me paired down. With that in mind, Josh conceded to me. We both agreed that on equal records, I would have conceded to him, as he had gained control and had a Baneslayer in play…just played in extra turns, where it couldn’t resolve the match in time.
In light of Josh’s concession here, I felt bad for not having properly communicated with my prior opponent, as that would, in a sense, have gained extra value for Josh’s politeness in conceding (note that I clearly would not have been playing Josh had Jeremy conceded, but I hope you follow my meaning here).
Round four versus Nick playing Kithkin
Ah, the bad matchup. In game one my nearest approach to survival was getting out two Kitchen Finks, and that did not do nearly enough against an expanding, exploding board of Kithkin.
Sideboarding:
+3 Cloudthresher
+4 Martial Coup
In game two, I began with a Hierarch to Nick’s Windbrisk Heights, meaning I actually hit him twice before he tried to swing back. His first real play was Honor of the Pure, followed by a Procession that ate Cloudthresher number one. He reloaded with a second Procession, which are evoked Thresher number two. He had a Figure of Destiny out, but that didn’t help as I ramped up into a Martial Coup, and he couldn’t recover in time.
Go, go new sideboard. Coup is so, so much better for this kind of matchup than Burial (or even Wrath). Team Elspeth wants to continue to be aggressive – it’s an atypical aggro deck, but it is an aggro deck, and going into the midrange mode of “temporary control” is not so good. Coup is great here, as it generates offense as it many-for-ones the opponent.
In game three I had some early beats, but Nick’s forces filled the board and I wasn’t seeing my sideboard cards soon enough. I held out, playing for my outs, but they did not arrive in time and the hobbits ate me.
It’s still a bad matchup, but at least I have game in sideboarded matchups now. Nick said he was nervous about the outcome in game three given the repeated devastating of his board in game two, and that is kind of what we have to go for here.
At 2-1-1 I was out of contention for the only prize here, but why not play on? I was going to be in the next tournament anyway, and I’d already learned my “talk to your opponent” lesson.
Round five versus Ryan playing Mono-black Rogues
Rogues, eh?
In game one, I had a Finks, but he had a Tendrils and a bunch of flying Rogues, along with the guy who gives unblocked Rogues +2/+1, which can end things surprisingly quickly. Oof.
Hm. I didn’t note my sideboarding here.
In game two, I killed his early pair of flyers with an evoked Thresher. I followed this with another Primal to get another Thresher (so we know that I sided in at least one Thresher) and gain some life, then played out Elspeth and started swinging with a 10/10 flying Thresher. The games don’t last long at that point.
In game three, there were some early rogue pokes, but I killed them off and played out Elspeth, and Ryan conceded rather than “wait for Elspeth to kill me.”
Mid-day thoughts
Okay, so that tournament taught me an important lesson that has nothing to do with the deck. What did it tell me about the deck?
I appreciated having the four additional maindeck removal options. I also realized that it was useful being able to go for a second Thresher (no surprise that I’d think that, as I previously ran all four in the main). I was also pleased, even though I didn’t win the match, at the effectiveness of Martial Coup in the Kithkin matchup. There’s a tremendous, tremendous difference there between clearing the board and clearing the board with a built-in follow-up offense. Seven mana seems big, but this deck has a lot of ways to accelerate into that early (Birds, Hierarch, Knight, Garruk). Given these thoughts, and how fun the deck is to play, I decided to stick with the deck for the second Exiled tournament of the day, with one minor tweak. Here’s the updated list:
Team Elspeth, var. Bant 2.0

18 Creatures:
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Knight of the Reliquary
Kitchen Finks
Cloudthresher
19 Spells:
Path to Exile
Bant Charm
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker
Primal Command
23 Land:
Sunpetal Grove
Wooded Bastion
Plains
Island
Gargoyle Castle
Terramorphic Expanse
11× Forest
15 Sideboard:
Guttural Response
Ethersworn Canonist
Primal Command
Cloudthresher
Martial Coup

I swapped one Thresher in and one Primal Command out of the main. That’s it.
The second Exiled tournament of the day had a slightly smaller crowd, yielding a four-round tournament.
Round one versus Josh, playing Five-Color Control
This is the same Josh who conceded to me in the first tournament. He’d told me in the break between tournaments that he was playing 5CC, so I told him as we sat down that I’d decided to stick with the same deck as before, rather than switching to Blightning as I’d said I might. Especially in this random little tournament, I didn’t feel good randomly having a one-up in information on him as I would have otherwise.
I mulliganed to six on the play, but opened on Hierarch into Finks, which is already bad for 5CC to deal with. He took 8 damage from an exalted Finks before Firespout ate my board a bit, and then he took 8 more damage from the persisted Finks (as I Bant Charmed away a Baneslayer in there) until he finally played a blocker I couldn’t remove…and I evoked Cloudthresher for the last 2 damage. On to game two!
For game two, I sideboarded thusly:
+1 Primal Command
-1 Cloudthresher
The PCs are there to screw up Vivid manabases, so it was time to go to full-four mode.
Game two saw an early Finks again, getting in (exalted) for 8 damage before Josh stopped the pain with a Volcanic Fallout. He followed that up with a Cruel Ultimatum, which switched us from 22-10 to 17-15. I played out a Thresher, but Josh had the Runed Halo for it. I continued to play out offense, eventually drawing a Hallowed Burial to sweep things away. Josh hit another Baneslayer, which swung again, swinging us from 24-10 (I’d resolved a Primal Command in there) to 19-15. I drew a Bant Charm, but wanted to wait a turn in hope of having double removal so I could power it through his Cryptics. He swung again, taking us to 14-20, and then played a second Baneslayer. Ugh.
Then I drew my second Bant Charm. Hm. I main phased a Bant Charm at one of the angels. When it went away, I figured the coast had to be clear, and Charmed away the second. Josh asked if it was fair to call me a sack then, and I said I thought it was.
With half his offense at the very bottom of his deck (sans shuffle effects), Josh now had a problem of not drawing into anything to stem the tide. He continued to draw and play lands as I drew and played threats, and in a very long game two, I finally overwhelmed him.
On not destroying things
Facing down 5CC and any deck running Cruels, there’s a lot of value in not killing stuff. That certainly wasn’t the point of my removal selections in this deck, but with all my anti-angel ammunition doing stuff other than destruction, I gain a lot of value against those Cruels. It’s nice.
Round two versus Ryan playing Mono-Red Aggro
As the first game started, I figured I was in good shape, as TE tends to have a good game against R/x aggro decks. The first game certainly bore that out, as I gained 11 life over the course of the game and ended up swinging with an exalted Thresher.
For game two, I sideboarded as so:
+1 Primal Command
-1 Cloudthresher
I took some early hits in game two from a Figure, then there was a Ram-Gang. My own speed was stymied by a Magma Spray taking out a Hierarch. I started drawing into Paths and trading them for Figures, then traded my Finks for Ram-Gang. Following all this, Ryan played a Demigod of Revenge, and the Finks I drew wasn’t nearly enough to help with that. Seeing no other removal in time, I lost.
This game simply saw my removal overloaded. Notice that I am firm about spending removal only on super-threats (Figure, Demigod) for this reason, but unfortunately, he had three of these threats and I only had two removal cards. So it goes. With each of us running eight of the relevant cards, there’s room for chance to have either one of us come out ahead.
Game three saw my early mana dork burned out again (this is, incidentally, why you never keep a hand that’s tied together by that one mana dork). There were early Figure beats followed by a wave of creatures as I didn’t draw into enough things to prevent the assault. After the match, Ryan remarked that he’d figured out, during game one, that he was going to win via creatures, so burn was basically never aimed at me in games two and three, instead being focused on destroying my defense so he could keep his guys around. I definitely think this is the correct way for R/x to play this matchup.
Down a match in this very concise tournament I was likely out of contention — but hey, I came to play. 🙂
Round three versus Jordan playing Four-Color Cascade
Game one saw one of my ideal “on the play” openers with Hierarch into Finks. I pushed through two hits with an exalted Finks before it ate some removal, and then I had a teenier exalted Finks. I flashed out Thresher after that, then Primal Commanded a Rupture Spire away, and Jordan couldn’t recover in time.
I didn’t keep notes, but suspect I sideboarded as follows:
+1 Primal Command
-1 Cloudthresher
In game two, I once again had the early Finks, although I started taking some pokes of damage back. Things looked good as I played out a Hierarch and an Elspeth…and then Jordan played Enlisted Wurm cascading into Bituminous Blast cascading into Maelstrom Pulse, and I didn’t have much of a board left. I held on with Finks for a while, but letting the game go long meant more opportunity for Jordan’s deck to serve up useful cascades, and I kept losing creatures while he built out his board, finally overrunning me with Bloodbraids and Ram-Gangs.
In game two, I played out a Kitchen Finks and hit my mana while Jordan had a slightly stumbling start. When I hit two Primal Commands, he was done (Primal Command is bad with Vivids, but brutal with Rupture Spire).
Round four versus Albert playing Combo Elves
This is a bad matchup for me – certainly in game one, if not in general. I played out some mana dorks, and when Albert played an Archdruid, I Pathed it during his next upkeep (don’t want him getting a free turn of untapped land, certainly…in retrospect, I should have done it after his draw, too, to avoid giving him the turn of thinned deck). I was also building up a Knight in this time, and hit once with an Elspeth-pushed flying Knight for a whopping 9 damage…before Elspeth was shuffled away with a Primal Command, leaving me with a stuck ground game. From here, Albert built his board while I tried to keep thinning with Knight. I played a Garruk, who was shuffled away by another Primal Command – notice how the Primals kept setting my Knights back, too.
Then Albert played out Coat of Arms, and the stalemate altered dramatically. He swung in, and suddenly I had the problem of facing down four 8/8 Elves who could go to 9/9 (if Perfect made a bonus Elf). I realized I had at best one more draw after this, and I had to optimize for the win on that draw. I had Albert to 4 life at this point (to my 22), so what outs did I have?
Elspeth. The deck’s namesake would be the win here if I had a creature left alive to attack.
I arranged my blocks to minimize damage while leaving me with at least one survivor for the crackback. I took 16 damage on the attack, dropping me to 6, and lost most of my creatures.
Untap, upkeep, draw Elspeth, win.
I was very happy here, as I correctly played to my out…and then had the satisfaction of drawing that out.
Sideboarding:
+4 Ethersworn Canonist
+2 Martial Coup
-3 Primal Command
-3 Garruk Wildspeaker
In game two, I mulliganed a one-spell hand into a no-land hand into five cards with one land and a Canonist, which seemed okay.
Canonist slowed Albert’s offense some, but I didn’t draw out usefully in time, and had one of my two lands Primal Commanded to the top of my deck, which tells you just how under the gun I was. That game didn’t last so long.
In game three, I hit some early Hierarch beats and watched Albert try to explode with an Elf-heavy, land-light draw. The main goal here, as far as I’m concerned, is to eliminate Archdruids as they appear, so I did so while playing out my offense. I finally flashed out a Thresher, hit once, and then lost it to a Mercy Killing (!), which gave me a giant board. Albert managed one more tricky turn to live, but he couldn’t really recover…and I was going to Martial Coup everything away a turn later, regardless.
Parting thoughts
I’m very happy with the current build. I think it’s resilient, and has the right threats and the right solutions. I also feel a learned a valuable lesson about how to play the tournament as a whole, which is nice given that it was not a bigger-stakes tournament or a PTQ.
I feel like there’s an obvious next question for this deck, which I’ll test in the coming week, but I’m very happy with it right now.