Last weekend, Brussels shook the Standard metagame. The most popular deck on Day 2 of the Grand Prix was Abzan, in line with the recent metagame evolution. Even Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura had enough faith in Siege Rhino to book a flight from Japan, sideboard plans at the ready. But it turned out that the Abzan decks could be beaten, in two different ways.
Simon Nielsen, Martin Müller, and Magnus Lantto all made Top 8 with this list, and Martin Dang and Wenzel Krautmann made Day 2 with a similar version. Together, they had a 79% win rate at the event (not counting byes or draws).
The deck was originally designed and played at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar by Matt Nass, whose deck guide is a good place to start if you want to learn more about the deck. The week after the Pro Tour, Pascal Maynard made Top 8 at Grand Prix Quebec City with a very similar list, but afterwards we didn’t hear much about the deck. Perhaps people saw that the most popular deck in the format had 4 maindeck Anafenzas and chickened out.
So what happened? The reason for success did not lie in new card choices. Sure, there were some sideboard tweaks like the replacement of Jaddi Offshoot with Arashin Cleric and the addition of Abzan Ascendancy to generate chump blockers against Mantis Rider or Dragonlord Ojutai. But by and large, it’s the same list as before. As Mangus Lantto told me, “it’s just that hardly anyone has been playing it so far. And the deck is also very hard to play. The first ten matches you play with it, you just lose. So you need a lot of practice, but the deck feels incredible.”
Lantto also reassured me that Anafenza was not that big of a problem. “The best matchup is GW Midrange because they are not fast enough and you can chump. Just adding 4 Anafenzas doesn’t change that. It’s beatable by Sidisi’s Faithful and removal from the sideboard, and they don’t always draw it.”
Team Cabin Crew
Lukas Blohon, Ondrej Strasky, Martin Juza, Ivan Floch, Thomas Hendriks, and Robin Dolar all sleeved up Esper Dragons, and scored a 76% win rate overall (not counting byes or draws).
None of them could agree on the last few cards, though. The list shown above is the aggregate from the 12-3 or better lists. Compared to the aggregate, the list that Lukas Blohon used to win the entire Grand Prix has the following changes.
These differences illustrate the large degree of customizability Esper Dragons has. If you want to learn more about the deck, then Paul Cheon’s deck guide from a month ago can be a good source. But the key reasons for its success in Brussels are that:
- It has the right answers and threats to compete with Abzan.
- Crackling Doom is gradually falling out of favor.
Match Win Percentages
The 4-color Rally players on team EUreka and the Esper Dragons players on team Cabin Crew had amazing win percentages, but that’s all based on a small sample size with some of the best players in Europe. And we shouldn’t forget that there were 8 other 4-color Rally players and 10 other Esper Dragons players in Day 2, besides 197 other proficient players who ran other decks.
I combined the deck archetypes for all of them (as determined by Tobi Henke and me) with the match results of Rounds 10-15 to obtain the match win percentages (excluding mirror matches and draws) of all the popular archetypes. Here are the results:
The Abzan category contains both Blue Abzan (56% win percentage on Day 2) and regular Abzan (51% win percentage on Day 2). The Red Aggro category contains both RG Landfall (54% win percentage on Day 2) and Atarka Red (49% win percentage on Day 2).
The key insight is that the good results of 4-color Rally and Esper Dragons hold up over a larger sample of players.
Next, I determined the matchup-specific match win percentages over the entirety of the Sunday competition. The table below shows this for the five most-played archetypes.
The way to read this is that Abzan played against Jeskai 43 times, winning 25 and losing 18 of those matches. The numbers confirm the favorable Abzan matchups of Esper Dragons and 4-color Rally.
A surprise is that Dark Jeskai lost two-thirds of its matches against Red Aggro. The sample size is small, but one possible reason is that many Dark Jeskai players have recently shaved Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness from their sideboards to make room for cards against decks other than Red Aggro. This goes to show that the metagame is cyclic and that all these numbers in these tables are merely based on specific versions of the archetype—they can change completely depending on metagame dynamics and sideboard choices.
In upcoming weeks, I would expect 4-color Rally and Esper Dragons to rise in popularity. With that in mind, I can offer a few quick recommendations:
- Add cards like Infinite Obliteration (ideally naming Nantuko Husk) or Hallowed Moonlight to your sideboard to combat 4-color Rally. Furthermore, if you have a deck in the Abzan colors, then make sure to include Anafenza, the Foremost in your 75.
- Add Crackling Doom to your deck to answer Dragonlord Ojutai. Alternatively, if Esper Dragons is on the rise, go for instant-speed threats like Collected Company, recurring threats such as Deathmist Raptor, or go wide with cards like Hordeling Outburst.
- Don’t play 4-color Rally yourself unless you practice enough and know how to handle the sideboard hate that will likely come your way. If you do decide to sleeve it up, then consider adding a few Fleshbag Marauders to your sideboard to deal with Dragonlord Ojutai.
What do you think is the best way to attack Standard this weekend?