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Sometimes

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

Sometimes you get to the finals of a PPTQ. Sometimes you have to mulligan down to four. Sometimes you win anyways. This was one of those sometimes.

Sometime last week I pointed out how I believed Abzan Aggro was the deck to beat. In doing so I listed three different options as how to go about doing so. On Saturday I had the first PPTQ of the season about an hour away from my house and thought it was a perfect opportunity to use one of those options. Abzan Control was my weapon of choice. I don’t really have an extensive understanding of how the deck operates since I’ve never actually played it before. I theory crafted a lot in the week leading up to the PPTQ with a Tampa buddy of mine Nathan Kirchmeier since he has been playing the deck since it was standard legal. After numerous conversations we ended up on the following list.

Sometimes Abzan Control is designed with Abzan Aggro in mind and how to beat it. This is one of those times. The only glaringly obvious omission from the main deck is Courser of Kruphix. I suggested this last week as an option to play around the Dromoka’s Commands from not just Abzan Aggro but the GW deck Kibler and company played at the GP as well.

Sometimes when you don’t play Courser in the main deck for some crazy reason and you need to move it to the sideboard. I went ahead and stuck with just two Coursers instead of four because knowing I would have more to bring in against control than out would make it a bit awkward. This would later turn out to be wrong but was worth trying. Most of the choices are pretty self-explanatory other than the Orbs of Warding. I hadn’t planned on playing the card but when I arrived at the site there was a sea of Majors Mill and I knew that matchup was going to be tough and wanted to hedge against it a little bit.

Sometimes you build a deck to beat Abzan Aggro and you just don’t play against any. Talk about strange. This just goes to show that knowing your local meta game is just as important as knowing the Grand Prix meta game. In the swiss rounds I played against in no particular order two Jacekai, BR Dragons, and RG Devotion to a 4-0 record and an easy double draw in to top 8. Of those matchups the only one that gave me trouble was RG Devotion. I do believe this matchup is quite poor for Abzan Control and I do have a plan for this and other rough or coin-flippy matchups going forward. I’ll describe these changes in a bit.

Sometimes you play against the same deck over and over again. The Quarterfinals had me paired against another Jacekai opponent. This matchup is very good for the Abzan Control player as long as you don’t walk in to Ojutai’s Command. I avoided doing so and easily dispatched my opponent.

Sometimes you get a blast from the past. The semifinals were against a RW Dragons deck. This list is much similar to the RW decks of old playing both Chained to the Rocks and Outpost Siege. A pretty sweet deck if you can avoid Dromoka’s Command, but I’m not even sure that is very good against a deck with four Stormbreath Dragon. I ended up grinding the deck out by saving my Hero’s Downfalls for Stormbreath Dragon and a clutch Utter End on an Outpost Siege never allowed him to get any card advantage going. I sat behind Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to close out the match.

Sometimes you play against the same deck over and over again. Sometimes you say the same thing you just said to reiterate it. The finals I was pitted against another Jacekai deck. I easily won game one again as this is a favorable matchup. Game two I flooded pretty hard and a timely drawn Dig Through Time chained together some great turns for my opponent and it forced a game three. In that third game my opening hand had one land. I mulligan to find another one land, I mulligan again to find no lands, and finally at four card hand I had found Temple of Malady, Temple of Silence, Forest and Dromoka’s Command. I scry some lands to the bottom of my deck and chain together a couple of Thoughtseize to strip my opponents’ hand of threats. A lot of passing back and forth as my opponent sits behind his hand full of counter magic while I draw lands, removal, and an Elspeth that I know better than to play in to his open mana. He gets frustrated being stuck on four lands and finally decides to deploy a Mantis Rider and let the shields down for a turn. I quickly punish that with a Hero’s Downfall on his turn and an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion on mine. Well about eight turns later and a lot of back and forth he’s unable to finish off my Elspeth and I’m able to win on the mulligan to four.

Sometimes you sigh in relief. Talk about a real nail bitter. It just goes to show you’re never dead until you’re….. Dead. Now after seven matches at the PPTQ and a couple of events on MTGO I have some more input regarding the deck.

Sometimes you start thinking more about the Abzan Aggro matchup and the main reason why you had Courser of Kruphix in the sideboard to begin with. I believe even with Dromoka’s Command being able to get a free hit off on a Courser the matchup is still favorable. I was siding back in Courser against everything so this leads me to believe removing Courser from the main deck was wrong and should be put back in immediately.

Sometimes you notice an uptick in Stormbreath Dragon which can be a problematic creature in a lot of scenarios. This makes me consider adding the fourth Hero’s Downfall and a Murderous Cut would be a strong move in the right direction in fighting this. Also having access to more ways in dealing with an early Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is a good thing to have.

Sometimes you need to figure out how exactly Abzan Control handles a deck like RG Devotion. You simply can’t go over the top against them. It’s just not practical. They have higher impact spells and play them faster. I decided that the best way to go about beating them was to instead bring the pressure before they get to do that. I decided that a transformational sideboard to Abzan Aggro would give you the best chance to beat them post board. Being able to curve creatures in to removal spells on the larger threats is usually good enough for the win in my testing. This also gives you a new angle of attack when playing a mirror match for example. Your opponent boards out all their Languish and creature removal expecting a long grindy game and you come out of the gates hard and fast. With all that being said, this is where I am today.

Sometimes making changes requires an update to the mana base as well. The deck is more aggressive post board and you have to make some minor changes to accommodate. Removing a scry land and adding a pain land will help make sure you’re playing threats on curve. You also have trouble occasionally getting double black and decided to cut down a Windswept Heath to add another pain land to give the deck a little more in the black department.

Sometimes you secure your spot for the next two RPTQ’s. Sometimes you spend your weekend instead of grinding PPTQ’s, playing in a 5k. Sometimes you need to stay ahead of the meta game and may need to find something new. Sometimes you have a fallback deck. This time that’s Abzan Control.

Till sometime,

John Cuvelier
Gosu. on MTGO
@JCuvelier on Twitter

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