I’m running an Abzan midrange deck that’s not all that far away from the Abzan deck I played in block, at Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx. This build, however, is a little more controlling.
Abzan Midrange by Patrick Chapin
Huey: Your deck contains a lot of one-ofs. What lead you to make these choices?
The Murderous Cut is more for larger creatures. It adds the ability for us to play two cards in the same turn, since Murderous Cut usually only costs 1 mana, assuming you can wait until turn four or five to play it. The first one maindeck makes us a much more dangerous opponent, as we could be threatening to kill a creature at nearly anytime. It may only kill creatures, but it is extremely efficient at that.
Conversely, Utter End can solve nearly any problem. Its drawback is that it isn’t very efficient at solving most of them. It is sort of a last-ditch answer to hard problems, and a fine second or third line of defense against normal ones. I’d love to be able to play more, but it’s hard, because a hand with multiple Utter Ends is pretty slow to react. I wouldn’t mind two at all, but playing more than that starts to get a bit dicey. Silence the Believers is less important now than it was in Block, since we have access to End Hostilities, and since there are so many more noncreature threats at the top of the format (most notably, many more planeswalkers).
After sideboarding, you can tune the deck against what you’re actually facing. Abzan has one of the best sideboards in the format, if not the absolute best. It has cheap, efficient removal for every permanent type, sweepers, card draw, planeswalkers, a variety of potential creatures to board in, and life gain.
The one Whip of Erebos is a little more random, but it accomplishes two goals: First, I wanted a ninth life gain card (in addition to Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino). In this area, it was very close between Whip of Erebos and Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and in fact, as of this interview, I am still not 100% sure on which of the two I will register. Second, Whip of Erebos (or Sorin) provides an added dimension to our offense against reactive decks, giving us more types of threats that don’t just die to every removal spell. Going long, I particularly like Whipping Hornet Queen. Earlier, though, Whip can still take over a game just on account of dropping it and immediately gaining 8 life that turn. If the game goes a few more turns, opponents are likely to succumb to Rhino after Rhino. If I do end up going with Sorin, the biggest advantage he offers is the extra point of power to all your guys, which combos perfect with lifelink. It’s nice that Sorin makes fliers, of course, but mostly, we’re in it for the life gain.
The mix of Erase and Unravel the AEther in the board is another decision I’m sleeping on tonight. I prefer Erase, but depending on how many people are going to play Perilous Vault, I really wanted a second answer to it in my 75. I wanted to play a second Utter End in this spot (and might still), but Unravel the Aether is so much cheaper, which is crucial when fighting Jeskai Ascendancy combo or red heroic (with Eidolon of the Great Revel, Hammer of Purphoros, Mogis’s Warhound, and more).
The miser’s Nissa, Worldwaker is primarily a concession to fighting control. It’s basically the best threat I can board against them, and I wish I could fit more. It’s just so hard, when there isn’t a ton of evidence to suggest control will be super popular. As a result, I’m using Read the Bones as extra anti-control cards, instead, since I also want them against black midrange decks with Thoughtseize, as well as when I transform into more of a control deck in some matchups.
One card I almost used as a one-of was Wingmate Roc. This card already sees a lot of play in Abzan, but it is worse in my build, due to not having Fleecemane Lions maindeck. I absolutely love it against Jeskai Tempo, but am currently leaning toward Arbor Colossus in that slot, given its strength in the GR/x Monsters/Planeswalker matchups. The Colossus is still good in the Jeskai matchup, as long as you have Thoughtseize to clear the way for it.
Huey: End Hostilities is a card that hasn’t showed up in a lot of Abzan decks. What made you choose to play it?
Patrick: Green Devotion has totally taken over the format, and I found End Hostilities to be the best way to fight them. Additionally, I like it against other green decks, including the semi-mirror. If you can sweep the board, draw some extra cards, and drop Elspeth or Hornet Queen, you’ll be in pretty good shape. The biggest problem with End Hostilities has been how much it clashes with Sylvan Caryatid. As a result, I am contemplating a pretty crazy plan. I have gone back and forth on Sylvan Caryatid vs. Satyr Wayfinder throughout testing. The Caryatid is better game one, but Satyr Wayfinder is better after sideboarding. In the matchups where Caryatid is better, Wayfinder is still totally fine. In the matchups where Wayfinder is better, I only usually want 2 or so in the deck. This plan is probably wrong, and one is just better; so at the moment I am on four Caryatids, but we’ll see what tomorrow morning brings. While this interview was the night before the Pro Tour, the list above should be updated based on what I actually played in the event.
Huey: Your deck has two copies of Hornet Queen. Hornet Queen saw a little bit of play at Pro Tour M15. Do you expect Hornet Queen’s coming out party to be here at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir?
Patrick: Absolutely. Hornet Queen is one of the defining cards in the format. Pro Tour M15 was Lifebane Zombie’s last hurrah, so it was not a good time for the Queen. The coast is clear, now. She is the perfect size to duck under Elspeth, yet slays her in one attack. Hornet Queen trumps most of the best cards in the format, including Hero’s Downfall and Stormbreath Dragon. It’s already a pillar of Green Devotion and Reanimator, but I think we’re going to see it showing up in Monsters decks, control decks, and Abzan, just to name a few. Not a lot of cards can actually compete with Hornet Queen, and I suspect a lot of people will not really be prepared for it. Even if you’re aware of it, it takes a lot of changes to one’s deck to make it able to interact with Hornet Queen reliably.
Huey: It’s hard to know when building an Abzan deck whether to veer toward a more aggressive build or a more controlling build. Your deck appears to more controlling. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the two approaches in new Standard?
Patrick: Most people seem to be leaning towards the aggressive side, which makes sense, given the foundation everyone is building on. I tested more aggressive builds, but ultimately went with a more controlling build because of how poor the aggression is against Green Devotion. Building the list more controlling also lets me trump the mirror. The biggest cost to being more aggressive is turning the control matchup from a slightly good one into a slightly bad one. Additionally, the aggressive cards are slightly stronger, on raw power, so if you can get away with playing them your deck is generally a little stronger. I suspect how aggressive or controlling Abzan decks are is something that will fluctuate a fair bit during the first month of the format.
Huey: Tell us about your sideboard and what lead you to make those choices.
Patrick: Read the Bones is primarily for fighting Thoughtseize decks, whether they are midrange like Abzan or Mardu or controlling like Sultai and U/B Control. It’s just great for fighting attrition battles, which can also include Green Devotion, once we board in so much removal.
Fleecemane Lion is just a great magic card, and even if it’s not the best positioned one, right now, it has a lot of good spots for it. I’d love to be able to play more, but there is just no room. Even with just two, it’s another threat against reactive decks, adding another dimension to our game plan. It also can serve as an early blocker, albeit much less effectively than in Block.
Arbor Colossus is another sideboard threat that can come in whenever we need bodies. It’s specialty, though, is fighting Stormbreath Dragon (as well as Mantis Rider and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker). It’s basically the best card against GR/x Monsters decks, which may not be very popular anymore, but are a challenging matchup for us. We rely pretty heavily on End Hostilities to win green mirrors, and the GRx Planeswalker decks have planeswalkers instead of all that many creatures.
The rest of the sideboard is basically just removal to help tune the deck against each opponent, as covered above. The lone exception is Nissa, Worldwaker, as an added threat against control and as an offensive threat that gives us a surprise way of fighting opposing planeswalkers that is outside the normal scope of our strategy.