Adventures In Magic the Gathering: Abzan Aggro In BFZ

On October 2nd, Battle For Zendikar will be released in the wild, and we will all then be experimenting with the new Standard Format, trying to come up with the best new brew to take down a tournament, whether at a competitive level or even just for casual play at local stores. One of the decks in the last year that has proven to be a major contender at both levels of play with incredibly consistent results is Abzan Aggro, which became a force with the release of Khans of Tarkir and with the help of cards such as Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino, the latter of which has truly changed the Standard format in a short time and has also made inroads into Modern.

With every new set release, the first thing people do is look at updating existing deck archetypes. With Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey Into Nyx and Magic 2015 going out of Standard in 10 days, Abzan decks are losing quite a few toys such as the Scrylands, Fleecemane Lion and Thoughtseize. It is a big change of course, and with all the new fancy things we are getting in Battle For Zendikar, here’s my take on how a new Abzan Aggro deck would look like for the first few wees, until someone breaks out a radical list at the upcoming Pro Tour or a Star City Games Open or a Grand Prix.

Google Search image.

Anafenza, the Foremost in all her wrathful glory (Google search)

A typical Abzan Aggro (with some minor variations) list right now looks like the following:

22 Creatures – 4x Hangarback Walker | 4x Den Protector | 4x Fleecemane Lion | 4x Anafenza, the Foremost | 4x Siege Rhino | 2x Wingmate Roc

12 Spells – 3x Dromoka’s Command | 2x Ultimate Price | 3x Abzan Charm | 2x Hero’s Downfall

2 Planeswalkers – 2x Sorin, Solemn Visitor

26 Lands – 3x Caves of Koilos | 2x Forest | 2x Plains | 3x Llanowar Wastes | 4x Sandsteppe Citadel | 3x Temple of Malady | 4x Temple of Silence | 1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth | 4x Windswept Heath

Sideboard – 2x Duress | 3x Thoughtseize | 2x Self-Inflicted Wound | 1x Ultimate Price | 2x Herald of Torment | 3x Tragic Arrogance | 2x Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

This list took 3rd place at the Star City Games Standard Open at Worcester just nine days ago and is fairly indicative of how the deck has evolved in recent weeks with the release of Magic Origins, with the inclusion of Hangarback Walker at the 2-drop slot to smooth the mana and the Tragic Arrogance out of the sideboard to mostly combat decks that go wide, such as ramp decks. It plays perhaps 1 or 2 lands more than I think that it should, but it is still a pretty good list.

With the new set around the corner, and four sets leaving the format, there are quite a few changes to be made here. The loss of scrylands means that we can’t smooth out our draws in the early stages anymore, to perhaps draw the required mana to cast certain spells and creatures, or to draw those selfsame spells and creatures. The loss of Thoughtseize means that one of the best cards in the deck to combat any other deck is gone, and we need a suitable replacement. The same goes for Hero’s Downfall and Fleecemane Lion and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Herald of Torment and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

So here instead is my take on how the deck can change to fit the new format.

AA Creatures

21 Creatures – 4x Hangarback Walker | 3x Drana, Liberator of Malakir | 4x Anafenza, the Foremost | 4x Warden of The First Tree | 4x Siege Rhino | 2x Wingmate Roc

AA Spells

10 Spells – 3x Dromoka’s Command | 2x Ultimate Price | 3x Abzan Charm | 2x Ruinous Path

AA Planeswalkers

5 Planeswalkers – 2x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar | 3x Sorin, Solemn Visitor

AA Lands

24 Lands – 2x Plains | 3x Forest | 2x Swamp | 2x Caves of Koilos | 3x Llanowar Wastes | 4x Sandsteppe Citadel | 2x Sandstone Bridge | 2x Canopy Vista | 4x Windswept Heath

AA Sideboard

Sideboard – 2x Duress | 2x Transgress The Mind | 1x Tragic Arrogance | 2x Self-Inflicted Wound | 2x Planar Outburst | 2x Den Protector | 2x Gideon’s Reproach | 2x Stasis Snare

The idea here generally is to curve from the Warden to Hangarback to Anafenza/Drana to Rhino to Roc. It is a pretty solid curve I think. If you get a Warden down but don’t have a Hangarback then you can simply level up your Warden and start beating down. The Hangarback is good for defense early and late because of the death trigger on it, and presents an alternative angle of attack. And this is where both Anafenza and Drana come in. They both pump your team, and getting to untap with either of them on the board is a huge advantage because they will just add counters to relevant targets and Drana can even grow herself, becoming a bigger and bigger threat. The Rhino is pretty self-explanatory and the Roc I’m keeping as well because it represents a significant advantage once on the board.

The removal/spells package is largely the same. The Ultimate Price is slightly worse in the new format because of the expectation that there will be tons of Eldrazi decks all around and with their Devoid ability the spell won’t be able to touch them at all. That’s why I don’t have any extras in the sideboard either. Abzan Charm however is going to be a very great spell because it can hit almost all significant Eldrazis as it gets around Indestructible effects. Dromoka’s Command is a great spell as well mainly because of the counters and fight options, which are going to be very relevant in the new format, especially since ramp decks are losing their turn 1 Elvish Mystic and turn 2 Sylvan Caryatid and turn 3 Courser of Kruphix. As such, it is also slightly worse off since there are going to be fewer decks running Enchantments and few, if any, Enchantments from Battle For Zendikar are expected to break out. But you never know.

The real wrench here is Ruinous Path. It is inferior to Hero’s Downfall since it is sorcery and not an instant, but it is also better in the late game since it has the additional Awaken mechanic tagged on to it. A tad expensive, but in situations where destroying a creature or planeswalker is all you can do, it gives you an additional benefit, and that should help you turn a corner.

Of the two different Planeswalkers that I have, Sorin is a must-have of course. It is good at all stages of the game, and is a solid card by itself. The new Gideon however presents something of a challenge. The neat thing about it is that you can immediately -4 it to get the Emblem for the anthem effect, and even if not, it is going to hit for a staggering 7 damage on turn 5, just by itself. He protects himself quite well, and is a card that is never bad in multiples, because you can just sacrifice the first one to get the Emblem and then cast the second in the following turn to get bigger creatures.

The land package also changes quite a bit now. Canopy Vista is the new dual land from the set, commonly being referred to either as the Battle Lands or the Tango Lands. It can only enter the battlefield untapped after turn 2, but I think it is an advantage over scrylands because of that very same effect. It is good land topdeck in the later stages of the game when you are usually casting multiple spells a turn, but we shall see. I’m not going overboard on it, especially not now, because I want to see how it works in practice before going the full distance. And once I do, I would probably run an off-colour fetch to help bring it out. The Sandstone Bridge is another new addition that I want to try out here, because of its “spell effect”. I will probably end up cutting it out entirely because it doesn’t do anything on an empty board, and just replace the with more basics or Caves of Koilos to up my black sources of mana. Right now, with this base, I have 11 sources for black, and 16 each for white and green, which is decent enough here I think. Could it be better of course, because losing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth really sucks. Other than that, the mana base is pretty straightforward.

For the sideboard, I had to spend a lot of time on it, and I’m not much happy about the composition. The Duress, Den Protector, Self-Inflicted Wound and the Tragic Arrogance look good, but I’m not sure if I have the numbers down right. The Planar Outburst is our new wrath, and is something that I’m really on the fence about because while it gives me some answers to ramp decks and Eldrazi decs in particular, it also wipes out my own board, and I’m not so sure about that. The Gideon’s Reproach is iffy as well because while it is an efficient spell, it does have a restriction, and that restriction is pretty important for combat in general. And the Stasis Snare, well it is there because it has Flash and gives me instant-speed answers in a world where Ruinous Path just might not be all that good. The downside of course is that it is an Enchantment and susceptible to the requisite removal, so we’ll see how it works out. The huge upside of course is that it takes care of any Eldrazi and that’s pretty significant in the new format.

*****

SIege Rhino

So that’s all that I have for now. There are several flex spots in that list of course.

I still want a better 2 drop because I don’t like Hangarback Walker all that much. I may just switch it out for an Heir of the Wild which I find to be more consistent. That would be the traditional route of course, and another thing is that the Deathtouch on it will likely be very relevant in the new meta. But, I can’t ignore the fact that the Walker provides a 2-1 for any opponent unless they can exile it. Other than that, I’m pretty happy with the creature package.

And the same goes for the spells as well, because I think that between the three of them I have an answer for pretty much everything, and I can always board in some more specific removal. The fact that three of my spells can do multiple things is also nice because generating card advantage or board advantage that way is always a good thing

The Planeswalkers definitely need to be tuned as well, to get the numbers right. I feel what I have is in a good spot, but if Gideon proves to be more effective, then I’ll have some decision-making too.

The lands I don’t have an issue with as well, for now at least. As I said above, some of the numbers might have to be tuned but overall, I’m happy with running 24 lands in all. More than that and I always feel as if I’m compromising with the rest of the deck and that’s not something that I want. I also have only my Wardens as a mana-sink so I don’t feel like I have to go higher with the land count.

The sideboard definitely needs some more work. Time will tell what kind of new archetypes emerge and what answers we need, but I hopefully cover most of the things without compromising anywhere.

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Posted on September 21, 2015, in Gaming, Magic the Gathering and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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