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My Mind Bending Weekend: Abzan Evolution at GP Indy

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

My Mind Bending Weekend: Abzan Evolution at GP Indy

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all,

Last week I talked about finding the fun when you’re playing Magic and I made sure to do so in Indianapolis. At X-3 going into the final round with the Jund deck I had been playing for about 8 months, I was not happy with my choice for the weekend. I had lost 3 very close games and had mulliganed a fair bit. My opponent was quite excited about the prospect of day 2 so I conceded to him in Round 9. I did this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was staying about one hour away from the venue meaning I’d have to wake up at 7:00 to reasonably make it to the venue on time. Secondly, I would likely have to go undefeated in the 2nd day to make any money at all. Thirdly, and most importantly, I had a spicy meatball I wanted to play in the premier Modern event on Sunday.

Oh LAWDY is this deck a blast. The idea behind this deck came from 3 fundamental assumptions.

#1: Eldritch Evolution is a broken Magic card. Being able to accelerate AND tutor in one card is absurdly powerful in midrange matchups, let alone the fact that a 31 creature deck is generally favored against most aggressive decks.

#2: Eldritch Evolution is hot garbage against blue decks. Having your opponent Spell Pierce or Remand your early Evolution is back breaking and requires you to have a better plan post-board against blue decks.

#3: Boarding in Distended Mindbender and another card advantage mechanics is an excellent post-board plan against these blue decks.

In order to sell you on this deck, I’m going to provide a small sample of delightful sequences:

#1: Entomber Exarch returning Distended Mindbender to cast Mindbender a second time!
#2: Chording for Elesh Norn to have my Birds of Paradise kill a Thought-Knot Seer
#3: Chording for Scavenging Ooze at the end of turn with an Archangel of Thune in play to give my team 5 +1/+1 counters and swinging for 45.
#4: Chording for Eidolon of Rhetoric in response to a Bring to Light.
#5: Eldritch Evolutioning Voice of Resurgence into Siege Rhino
#6: Eldritch Evolutioning into Entomber Exarch to take a Valakut

This was just a couple of fun things you can do with this deck. The possibilities are fairly endless. There are so many deckbuilding decisions and I’m very excited to explore them. I’d really like to squeeze in a Sigarda, Host of Herons and a Murderous Redcap. The maindeck Kataki felt kind of ambitious, but, Affinity was a high presence in the main event and also in the trials on Friday, so I decided to hedge. The 3 Painful Truths in my sideboard should very easily be Thoughtseizes. Initially, I believed I needed a card to gas back up against blue decks and attrition builds, but, that was not the case. My real problem was losing to combo strategies. I handily beat Bant Eldrazi twice and just in case you’re wondering: Distended Mindbender is the stone cold beats against that deck. Taking their 1-3 mana removal spell (Blessed Alliance, Path to Exile, Dismember or even Ancient Stirrings) AND their fatty is a delight. Not to mention the fact that Mindbender being a 5/5 before exalted gives you an excellent blocker and attacker in crowded board states. Speaking of ways to crush Eldrazi, Grave Titan being a 6/6 deathtouch that makes 2-4 creatures makes for an enormous wall. Going forward, I’m considering cutting the Solemn for a Redcap and cutting the Sin Collector from the sideboard for a Sigarda. Also, Twilight Mire is garbage. Any hand with dorks and Twilight Mire was very tilting. I’m interested in another Green and Black land, but, I don’t know what fits the bill. I’m tempted to add a Marsh Flats, but, I don’t want to dilute the land count with additional fetches taking some percentages away from naturally drawing lands to cast your five and seven drops. The last card I’d like to give specific attention to is Windborn Muse. Windborn Muse is a Ghostly Prison that comes in handy against swarm decks and should not be taking lightly. It answered a lot of my early concerns in testing.

In the remainder of this article, I’d like to answer a couple questions that I have been asked about the deck:

#1: Why Not Collected Company?

When you look at this deck, it’s very easy to see the makings of a very powerful Abzan Company deck. However, I think you have to choose between Company and Evolution in deckbuilding. Doing both is probably difficult. If you’re playing Collected Company, you need about 24-26 hits off Collected Company. After adding Collected Company, you’ve only got about 7-9 slots left for Eldritch Evolution AND the bullets you want, to say nothing of adding extra interaction or Chord of Callings. My initial list for the Evolution deck included 45 UNIQUE cards I wanted to play in my deck. While Collected Company helps add to the board, I wanted to play a ton of bullets in my 60 and I wanted the maximum impact of powerful 4 and 5 drops. Abzan Company is very anemic when it’s not drawing what it needs. I was not interested in filling my deck with Viscera Seers when I could be playing Obzedaddy, Siege Rhino and Elesh Norn! In terms of the sideboard, non-company decks get to sideboard much more fluidly. I don’t have to worry about Collected Company ratios, keeping in the right number of redundant Anafenzas and Meliras, or finding out the right bullets that only cost between 1 and 3 mana. One last thing: playing 0 Collected Company means I never get to complain about missing on Collected Company.

#2: Why Not Red?
Red offers some powerful options like Avalanche Riders and Ruric Thar, but, Black offers DISTENDED MINDBENDER. Seriously, do yourself a favor and sleeve up Distended Mindbender in Modern and enjoy the heck out of giving your opponent a headache. Mindbender is more broadly powerful than anything that Red had to offer, so the next question becomes whether or not it’s worth going to a 4th color. For me, I wanted to see if the Abzan shell did enough on its own, and plenty of mileage with the deck, I’m very convinced that Abzan gives enough. Going forward, I’ll keep tweaking the deck, and it’s possible I’ll go back to Red, but, the mana constraints are quite high with adding another color, and with the post-board plan to take Evolutions out, you are often paying the full price on your cards. On the topic of taking out Eldritch Evolutions, Black certainly adds the best post-board plan against control and combo decks.

#3: Is this Competitive?
Heck yes! This midrange approach to Abzan toolbox offers a less proactive combo, but, a more productive beatdown plan. Additionally, Thoughtseize and Mindbender offer reasonable ways to catch up to combo decks, while big threats like Obzedat, Siege Rhino, and Grave Titan offer excellent topdeck threats in attrition matchups. Furthermore, Abzan Evolution isn’t too big and cumbersome. It still offers 20+ low drops, and powerful Evolution targets that still come down early. I’m still trying work out the balance and I’m also trying to figure out how to squeeze in some interaction from the tougher matchups like Affinity, Infect, and Big Mana strategies. This deck, with some tuning, offers a powerful option that I might actually be taking to the WMCQs later this month. I think it has chops and I’ll be taking the deck to its limits in the next few weeks. This week, I’m queuing up for 2 PPTQs (hopefully I only need to play one) and you can be sure I’ll be bending minds in both.

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