Why—ugh—another article about Abzan Control? I know there’s a wealth of information about the deck out there, but I have to tell you that I think most of those articles are missing the mark.
I decided to write this article because I’ve been doing well with the deck, and because I believe the version I’ve been using is the best version available.
Abzan Megamorph is challenging, versatile, and decision-intensive. If you can pilot it well it will reward you. The biggest weaknesses for the deck seem to be Stormbreath Dragon, and creature-heavy, spell-light draws from Abzan Aggro.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector
It’s no secret that these two cards are peas in a pod. The cheap unmorph cost on Den Protector makes getting Deathmist Raptor back trivial. The fact that your deck now contains Den Protectors for them to kill means they have to at least consider that if they blow up your morph it might be a Deathmist Raptor. While I was preparing with The Pantheon for PT Dragons of Tarkir, our testing revealed the power of these two cards together and that, in combination with many other factors, actually lead to me playing the Chromanticore deck that no one did well with.
So, is Deathmist Raptor a trap? I used to think the answer was maybe, but now I don’t.
The SCG Season 2 Invitational in Columbus, Ohio
Here’s the list I used: (3rd place overall, 6-2 in Standard)
This list has come to be seen as completely Standard and not at all revolutionary. But it was a very good starting point. Leading up to this tournament I never really considered strategies other than Abzan for Standard. The big question for me was always whether Elspeth was a better end-game than the Dragonlord package. It turned out the biggest thing the Dragonlord deck was missing was Siege Rhino, which I found unacceptable. Not having Siege Rhino made beating the red decks a lot harder, and the sideboard of the Abzan Megamorph deck was much better suited to beating red decks as well. I didn’t want to invest a lot of time to figure out the optimal build for the 5-color Abzan Dragonlord deck, so I went with Megamorphs instead.
Abzan Megamorph fit my play style. It didn’t have much in the way of terrible matchups, and not much in the way of amazing ones either. Thoughtseize decks seem to go that way these days. The added benefit of the Deathmist Raptors is that they happen to make Esper Dragons an easy matchup—though not unlosable (I did manage to lose to it in the Swiss of the tournament, due largely to an error in game 1). Blue control decks are usually overrepresented at tournaments like this, so I was pretty excited to have that be my “good matchup” and take my chances against the rest, knowing that my sideboard could handle red decks.
In addition to losing to the aforementioned Esper Dragons deck (1 of 4 that I played against) I also lost to Mardu Dragons in some ridiculous games. This match made me think the matchup itself wasn’t that good, but I think it’s actually just close and not good or bad. I almost never win with Stormbreath Dragon and I almost never beat it. Go figure. This deck is particularly weak against Stormbreath Dragon (only two Hero’s Downfall to kill it). Careful play (especially with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion) can lead to victories, and drawing an excess of Siege Rhinos when you get paired against this deck is something I’d highly recommend.
After the Invitational was over I was pretty sure that Elspeth was better than the Dragonlord package, as well as just about every other card in the format. I knew I would be playing her in some capacity at GP Providence but I wasn’t sure exactly what else to include in the deck.
The thing I kept thinking about was how hard it was to beat opposing planeswalkers. In round 7 of the Invitational I was in a feature match against an Abzan deck that had access to Ajani, Mentor of Heroes and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon for the sideboard games. This was a pretty steep uphill battle that I managed to win, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that these planeswalkers were not to be trifled with. I kept making deck lists based around planeswalkers, but they never took off. Eventually I decided I just wanted to play the planeswalkers in my Megamorph deck. Other people maindeck Ugin, so why not? Having access to Ugin and Ajani in game 1 means you can play for a very long game and feel confident that your late game will trump theirs—regardless of what theirs might be.
Let’s start with Fleecemane Lion because this will likely be the biggest point of contention.
I don’t like this card in the control strategies. In Abzan Aggro it’s an efficient creature that can help dictate your opponent’s plays. Chances are if they’re playing your game, they’re going to be ill-equipped to do so. In decks with extra mana like Bant-Megamorph or Gw Devotion it can be a great mana sink and a fantastic blocker. But, in Abzan Control I feel like the biggest thing it has going for it is that it survives Crux of Fate and/or End Hostilities. This isn’t an insignificant feature, but it doesn’t make it better than playing Deathmist Raptor and Satyr Wayfinder. In truth, the biggest selling point for Fleecemane Lion in this deck is that it bolsters your matchup against red and Abzan Aggro (because it might trade for their Lion) in game one.
Satyr Wayfinder’s face value on the other hand is a 1/1 for 2 that probably replaced itself with a land. However, in a deck with Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector its value goes up immensely. The value of getting the ball rolling for your engine cannot be understated. Milling something like an Ugin isn’t even that bad, because sooner or later you will probably draw a Den Protector which will let you get the Ugin back when you need it. While it’s true that it’s hard to get a lot of value out of a 1/1 in the format right now, it’s not impossible to block a Goblin token or protect a planeswalker. It can also aid in a double-block at no real cost.
When you build your Abzan deck in Standard it’s important to have a 2drop that does something. The last option is probably Sylvan Caryatid, but it doesn’t fit with the other cards I want to play despite offering you faster access to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Ugin. I want to play a couple of wraths in my deck and I don’t want to have so many mana sources that do nothing else against control decks.
Here’s the deck list I used for GP Providence (15th place, 12-3 with 2 byes.)
Not many things have changed in the main deck:
First, I put the Ultimate Price back in the sideboard in anticipation of green devotion decks cropping up, and indeed green devotion ended up winning the tournament. The maindeck changes, minor at first glance, are actually pretty big. I’ve never been interested in playing random 1-ofs that you can’t tutor for, but these are both pretty late-game win conditions, and with the Satyr Wayfinder/Den Protector engine you can actually see and use a lot of the cards in your deck if you plan for them. The 7 scry lands and Coursers also help in that regard. It goes without saying that when playing this deck you should plan on having the game go pretty long—with Ugin and Ajani in your deck you’re favored in a long game, it’s that simple.
As for the cards I removed, the Tasigur is nothing special in this deck. It’s a great card and I won’t ever tell you otherwise, but with the amount of junk in the deck (late-game Thoughtseizes, more Wayfinders, even just being given back a Raptor can be disappointing), his ability isn’t that great. The body is nice and against aggro decks especially he’s welcome—that’s one place he might be missed, so maybe we’ll try to sideboard him.
It’s difficult to build a deck with the intention of “beating the field” when the field consists of 40 decks. You see this all the time in Eternal formats, but those decks have the benefit of using much more powerful sideboard cards and strategies. I think Standard is awesome right now with tons and tons of viable strategies—Whip decks just had a resurgence after dominating a while ago and then disappearing, who knows what else will crop up? But, we only get 75 cards, and they all have to count.
The fourth Deathmist Raptor was not missed at all. I wouldn’t exactly call it a luxury but it just seemed like a waste of a valuable spot. To be clear, playing one fewer means you mill it less often, but you also draw it less often. It’s a good trade. In the matchups where they’re great you can still find them pretty easily and when you’re boarding them out you’re happy you only have three in the maindeck anyway.
As for the tournament itself, it taught me a few more things. The Abzan Aggro matchup is not particularly good or easy. I’m not sure the best way to fix this, but I’m going to hopefully figure something out. More spot removal is the easy answer. Glare of Heresy, Self-Inflicted Wound, Surge of Righteousness, Radiant Purge—I don’t know if any of these are really worth including. Glare might be the best since it has applications against Elspeth in other matchups, and can give you another answer to Mastery of the Unseen should you want one.
Next, it’s clear to me that Crux of Fate’s reign has ended and now we simply must play End Hostilities. This will first and foremost require a shift in the mana base. It used to be the case that the Dragonlords largely existed in decks full of Dragonlords and those were the only creatures you really cared about killing (against those decks). Well, the cat is out of the bag. Some of the Dragonlords happen to be good enough to play in decks without Dragons in them. So, you must be able to kill non-Dragons and Dragonlords at the same time. Against Esper Dragons it will be nice to board out your wraths anyway, so this isn’t necessarily an unwelcome change.
Lastly, Wingmate Roc put me to the test in round 8 of the tournament, it also changed how I was sideboarding in later matches against Abzan, so I think this is a card we should play going forward.
I plan to play the following deck list at the SCG Open in Baltimore this weekend:
When approaching your games with the deck remember that trading life is almost never correct in a 1:1 ratio. If the game goes long enough you will probably win. This isn’t necessarily true against cards like Crater’s Claws, or haste Dragons, so tailor your play accordingly!
In general I don’t really believe in sideboarding guides. Sideboarding has to be a fluid experience and the more you think about a matchup on your own the better off you’ll be when it comes to figuring out how to sideboard in your next unexpected matchup. Keep in mind that I can’t account for every card in every deck that you might play against and you’ll often be better served by using this as a guide rather than a reference.
I know these numbers don’t always quite match up but sometimes it’s more important to choose which cards are coming in and out based on what you’ve seen, or how you feel the matchup should play out.
You’re basically presideboarded here, but you can always improve the matchup a little bit with sideboarding.
Cards you want to bring in:
Cards you want to take out:
If they have Fleecemane Lion the End Hostilities are bad and the Siege Rhinos are good. If they have Deathmist Raptor your Siege Rhinos aren’t going to be that effective. Taking Thoughtseize out of the deck makes it a bit easier to topdeck something useful in the midgame.
This matchup is hard, each of their creatures is a must-kill and they have plenty of their own disruption, but the end-game favors you significantly, and if their draw isn’t perfect it’s actually a fair matchup. Elspeth is queen here, so if you live long enough to cast and use her a few times, you should be golden.
Cards we are interested in bringing in:
Cards we want to remove:
The goal here is going to survive. You probably won’t have time to draw extra cards with Ajani in games you’re not crushing. If you are crushing, there’s a good chance any card will win you the game and having something situational like Ajani isn’t worthwhile. I don’t think it’s worth trying to mise with Thoughtseize against them. The 2 life matters and all of their cards are great (some are better, obviously) and not having to play it early can allow you to develop your mana in a more natural way.
Cards we want to bring in:
Cards we want to take out:
So, we’re at an impasse because all of our cards are good. There are worse problems to have. I think I’d board out the 2 Downfalls unless I saw Ashiok. It’s still a good card and it’s nice to have instants that work well against Ojutai, but in my mind it’s better to have proactive cards in this matchup than reactive ones.
Aggressive Red Decks
I could see bringing in just about every card in the sideboard other than Nissa, Worldwaker. We should look at how many cards we want to remove first:
So that’s 13 and maybe the Ajani isn’t needed, but I’m not convinced the Murderous Cut is great in this matchup. So I’d probably bring in these:
Arashin Cleric is not a great card and Drown in Sorrow is definitely better, but I think it’s pretty important to have plays at every stage of the mana curve against them, and now that we have Wingmate Roc having something in play to attack with is going to be extremely helpful.
Cards to bring in:
Cards to take out:
I haven’t played this matchup yet and I’ve heard it can be on the harder side. I’m not sure what the last card to take out should be, or maybe you just leave the Murderous Cut out of the equation. Trying to get value out of your cards without falling too far behind will be the name of the game here. The right strategy might involve Drown in Sorrow to slow their mana down, but in games where you actually get to the midgame drawing a Drown in Sorrow could spell disaster.
Cards to bring in:
This deck has Goblin Rabblemaster and can sideboard in Boon Satyr, it’s also full of mana creatures so the Drown in Sorrows shouldn’t seem too strange. The other removal spells are for killing the namesake Dragons. This is another hard matchup, and I haven’t figured out exactly which cards to remove. On the surface Deathmist Raptor seems irrelevant but they might have their own, in which case you want yours. The big planeswalkers that aren’t Elspeth also come out.
Cards to take out:
This is another close matchup—Stormbreath Dragon has been haunting me for a while. The Dromoka’s Commands can aim at Outpost Sieges that they’ll probably sideboard in and it’s not too hard to get a 2-for-1 against some of their smaller creatures if they keep them in. The fact that Dromoka’s Command cannot kill Stormbreath Dragon (protection from white) means you don’t necessarily want to keep the Deathmist Raptors in to fight with, but you might. I’d be open to suggestions on how to approach these Dragon matchups because, realistically speaking, they seem the most difficult.
I want to leave you with an interesting situation that came up at GP Providence.
I added a bit of information here to help clarify the situation:
What’s the play? It’s their attack step. The Lion is not monstrous (it has a counter from Anafenza). Our morph is Den Protector.
You – 14 life.
(Face-Down Den Protector.)
(+1/+1 counters on Deathdealer and Fleecemane Lion.)
3 cards, unknown.
What would you do here?