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Abzan Aggro Party

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

The standard tides have shifted yet again. Last week I spoke about how I believed Dromoka’s Command would continue to be an important part of the meta game and would be what’s necessary to beat the top contenders of the time in RDW, Ensoul, and Tutelage. Fast forward a week later and there’s five Abzan decks in the top 8 and four of which play the full four copies between the main and sideboard. This wasn’t that surprising to me and shouldn’t have been for you either.

Besides having access to Dromoka’s Command what else does Abzan Aggro have going for it? Let’s take a look at the winning list and dissect what the heck is going on.

The first thing I notice is the creature suite is quite good. Not in the overall sense that the cards are powerful and that rather they match up well against the current meta game. Anafenza, the Foremost just completely shuts down the entire graveyard for combo decks like Abzan Rally that have been popular as of late thanks to an open series win a few weeks back. It also happens to have pretty sizable stats for its cost and combos quite nicely with the four Hangarback Walkers. The deck is playing those four Hangarback Walkers because it’s freaking Hangarback Walker. The card is good in almost every matchup and finally someone realized instead of boarding them in to just main deck four. Then we have Fleecemane Lion. This card certainly dipped in popularity for a while thanks to the threat of Languish but now the card is back in high numbers because the amount of Languish went down. There’s no surprise or question as to why Siege Rhino is in the Abzan deck. Den Protector gives the deck some extra card advantage to help grind certain matchups along with being a potent finisher in conjunction with Abzan Charm or Dromoka’s Command counters. Finally there’s the singleton Warden of the First Tree to have another finisher that’s good at all points of the game.

The removal spells in here are also the best the format currently offers. You have access to both Abzan Charm and Dromoka’s Command right off the bat. Both of these cards are just fantastic at attacking not only opposing creature decks but both have mostly useful targets against Ensoul, RDW, and Tutelage. Finally you have Ultimate Price and Hero’s Downfall filling out the removal suite. I do believe going forward Ultimate Price needs to go in favor of something like Valorous Stance simply because Abzan Aggro is by default the new public enemy number one. Besides the removal suite the deck also has two Planeswalkers. The interesting part is both Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes are just fantastic with Hangarback Walker. Not to mention both have additional benefits outside of that and give the deck a little more strength against control decks.

There’s nothing really spectacular going on with the mana base or sideboard that’s worth noting. Therefore we can skip over that. I believe the real question is what’s the best way to attack this deck and the other popular decks going forward?

I think there’s a few legitimate ways to attack Abzan Aggro. The first is to simply play a dedicated control deck. All the removal spells in this deck are just terrible against control decks. Not to mention having only a single Hero’s Downfall also makes this weak to Planeswalkers as well. A deck like Esper Dragons is very well positioned against Abzan Aggro and might be a great choice going forward. None of the creatures outside Hangarback Walker really threaten Esper Dragons. Having access to Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Bile Blight still make Hangarback Walker not nearly as effective against a control deck as you’d hope. Then there’s Crux of Fate, Languish and Foul-Tongue Invocation to get rid of other pesky creatures. I could easily see a resurgence of Esper Dragons going forward. It was the best deck to play a couple months ago and it could be time for it to shine again. My only major concern is how this deck would hold up against the quantity of RDW and to a lesser extent Ensoul. This is where meta games can be quite tricky.

Another legitimate option to combat Abzan Aggro might be Atarka Goblins. Again I’m going back to the removal suite Abzan Aggro has and it really struggles in handling a large quantity of creatures and really has no answer to an Obelisk of Urd. For reference let’s take a look at the list that won the MTGO PTQ last week.

Let me begin by saying this deck should be playing Goblin Piledriver over Monastery Swiftspear. There’s really no good reason why that swap hasn’t happened. Outside of that you see why this deck looks very good against Abzan Aggro. This deck goes wide. Very wide. It also comes out of the gates very fast. It’s not like the RDW lists we’re used to seeing that had value creatures like Abbot of Keral Keep and use a bunch of burn spells to finish off the opponent that way. Goblins have the ability to just play too many things too fast and too big thanks to cards like Stoke the Flames and Obelisk of Urd. Being able to cast multiple big spells in one turn makes the tempo swings truly unstoppable. The Abzan Aggro list has no Bile Blights or Drown in Sorrow’s to fight it off either. Tragic Arrogance is the best hope, but with only two of them and often times coming too late to make a difference Atarka Goblins is a sweet choice. Also because this deck goes so wide and makes so many tokens it has a favorable RDW matchup as well. So although this didn’t show up in London, it may be perfect for the week ahead.

Finally the last choice might be to play an updated version of Abzan Control. Let’s be honest in saying that Abzan Control has the right tools to beat literally any deck. The trick to doing that is figuring out what the popular deck is going to be any given week and adjusting your list to combat those cards that week. As I was saying earlier Languish has been down in numbers, but with the emergence of Abzan Aggro everything in that deck dies to it minus Siege Rhino. This is also another place where you can make Dromoka’s Command bad by simply sideboarding Courser of Kruphix. You can also exploit the lack of Hero’s Downfall by utilizing Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Hangarback Walker isn’t really an issue since you have access to Abzan Charm and you can even play your own Hangarback Walkers against Abzan Aggro if you want.

The dance continues as the meta game shifts week in and week out. Staying on top of this is going to be pivotal in making any deep runs at PPTQ’s or even FNM. That’s what I love about standard. What’s good today certainly doesn’t have to be good tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

John Cuvelier
@JCuvelier on Twitter
Gosu. on MTGO

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