Saheeli. Gideon. Felidar. Ballista. If you’re like me, you’ll practically roll your eyes at the sound of these names. Standard has slowly converged to a 2-deck format, and if you can’t beat 4-color Saheeli or Mardu Vehicles, you’d best pick another deck. But the brewer in me refuses to believe in such stagnation. Adversity is merely a step toward eventual success. With enough iterating you can build sweet brews that can actually compete against the top decks. Today’s list gets to do sweet things while still having game versus these nightmare standard decks. It also gets to play a sweet value card that’s shown up a bit in Modern but hasn’t really found a home yet in Standard—until now.
Abzan Rallier is all about early pressure combined with the sweet nectar of the gods that is value. You get to taste a little bit of that Tarmogoyf-like Modern power because you get to play 8 copies of 2-mana, 4-power threats. That kind of power bump has to scare your opponent a little. They’re going to go out of their way to kill your turn-2 Greenwheel Liberator or Grim Flayer. That’s exactly the point where you respond with a revolted Renegade Rallier and throw 7 power back on to the board for 3 mana! Now that’s a dream start I can get behind, and one that is easy with this deck.
As mentioned before, this card is pretty much just a 4/3 for 2 here. You have 7 ways to turn on revolt turn 2, and on turn 3 you have Evolving Wilds and Sinister Concoction as additional enablers. Originally I started with Scrapheap Scrounger in this spot, but found that as aggressive as this list plays, it still wants the potential to trade off into a Renegade Rallier. Scrapheap Scrounger couldn’t make those plays defensively, though it still provided crucial inevitability versus control decks and thus shows up in the board. I then tried Sylvan Advocate instead, but it isn’t imposing enough on turn 2 and simply didn’t die often enough. That sounds pretty awesome until you remember that the deck is trying to capitalize on the strengths of Renegade Rallier.
Finally I tried the Liberator, trying to push the deck toward a more aggressive version. This worked out particularly well since Rallier always brings back Liberator as a 4/3. A 4/3 also has some important stats in Standard: Punching through Shielded Aether Thief, attacking past Gideon tokens, and trading with Heart of Kiran. After a whole lot of searching I had found the 2-drop for the job.
Simply put, this is the best card in the deck. It’s often a 4/4 after a single hit on the opponent and demands an answer or just runs away with the game. Thankfully it comes back from the dead a lot in this deck, which means that it runs away with the game frequently. Your most common way to get delirium is with artifact, creature, enchantment and then one of instant, land, or planeswalker (Traverse for sorcery too, but usually you want to search for more threats). Easy delirium is also a key to the deck’s velocity and ensures you don’t die to your Mindwrack Demons.
I’ve waffled back and forth on this card’s inclusion, but ultimately like it. Without it, you can easily die to the Felidar/Saheeli combo and it is removal that you can bring back with Renegade Rallier. In addition, it helps you get awkward types like land into the graveyard for delirium when you don’t have an Evolving Wilds. The deck also has some trouble attacking past a resolved Torrential Gearhulk, and Concoction works as a concession to that problem.
Liliana, the Last Hope
Toolcraft Exemplar is a very strong Magic card but looks pretty embarrassing when Liliana joins the party. Lili also helps your grindy game plan with her -2 and can represent multiple threats when buying back a Rallier. Mindwrack Demon helps enable both Liliana and Rallier and curves naturally into a Lili -2 followed by a turn-5 -2 turning on revolt for your Ralliers. At that point, you should have a large enough board and stacked hand that you can attack past whatever broken plan your opponent is up to.
Originally this was a 1-1 split with Ishkanah in the main, but this deck just wants to attack in the pre-board games. Gearhulk helps facilitate that and usually turns Mindwrack Demon into a two-turn clock thanks to all your 4-power 2-drops. Traverse helps you find your couple copies or your singleton Noxious Gearhulk in the later stages of the game, and the Gearhulks also provide an important two types for quick delirium.
To the Slaughter
This card definitely slaughters the top decks and I’d play more main deck if the deck were more interested in typically long, grindy G/B-Delirium-style games. Post-board you can become more of a controlling deck and that’s where the extra copies of To the Slaughter shine. In addition, both Saheeli and Mardu typically board in extra planeswalkers, giving the card even more blowout potential.
The Sideboard and Matchups
Most of the space in the board has the main public enemies in mind. The vast array of G/B decks have fallen a bit out of favor recently, but you can retool the deck with more white and include Fumigate in the sideboard for that matchup if it is prevalent in your local metagame. Otherwise, sideboarding is pretty straightforward:
On the Play
On the Draw
Your play versus draw plans look so different because they’re reactions to your opponent’s board plans, and an indicator of who has initiative in the match. On the play your opponent will usually try to board up more and keep you from developing your plans. This means a higher planeswalker count and a higher curve, letting you set up clunkier cards like To the Slaughter for maximum efficiency and you have to rely less on an Ishkanah to stabilize.
On the draw you’re just trying to survive and that’s reflected in the increased removal suite. Additionally, your Mindwrack Demons are considerably worse at pressuring Gideon. On the play they kill a curved Gideon unless it +1s for no value, but that doesn’t work on the draw. One final interaction I always look for is a turn-4 Dead Weight, which enables revolt into a Renegade Rallier. This is a pretty clean way to get a 3-for-1 and will often be a game-deciding play if it works out.
On the Play
On the Draw
Here I like to just stay aggressive if you’re on the play. You still have an army of 4-power creatures, which can really put on a ton of pressure and force your opponent to react. Fatal Push isn’t particularly incredible at stopping the combo, but you do have revolt on your opponent’s turn more than anyone else. To the Slaughter and Sinister Concoction are both far better at stopping the combo, though be careful because you will usually need delirium for To the Slaughter.
Tireless Tracker is your go-to play if the game gets into a midrange card advantage war, though that isn’t where you want the match to go since their deck is much better at this game plan. You’ll want to get ahead of that portion of the game and tap out for a Demon or Gearhulk, which puts you way ahead on board. This does risk dying to the combo, but I’ve found it’s better than otherwise losing to their value planeswalker plan. Of course, if you’re already ahead and have an answer to the combo, this makes less sense, so use your judgment.
You should have the tools against various other decks that pop up, though the sideboard isn’t built with those decks in mind. Scrapheap Scrounger is a great tool against controlling decks and doesn’t come in versus either the main enemies, and the mix of reactive and proactive answers in the board should give you game versus most normal decks. Even against some of the more fringe decks like U/R Zombies, you have haymakers like Kalitas.
I want to give a big thanks to Jared Sherman for the initial concept. This was a super fun project to work on and it was even more fun thanks to its ability to win games. Renegade Rallier is an awesome value engine that also advances your board and that’s a unique effect we don’t get all that often. Give this deck a whirl if Standard has got you down. If you can’t beat ’em, try, try again!