Hangarback Abzan Primer

GP London is in the books, and I’m glad to have written a part of it. I built, tested, and played the deck that put 5 copies into the top 9, with two of my roommates reaching the Top 8 and one the finals. Unfortunately, I lost the last two rounds in mirror matches against Daniel Fior and Marcio Carvalho, knocking me to 11-4 and 46th place—still, the success of my two teammates almost feels like a win.

Standard shifts each week—you have to correctly guess the metagame, and a deck that put up great results last weekend might not be good the following week, so for GP London I was searching for something to beat Mono-Red and GW Midrange. It could have been RG Dragons, since Stormbreath Dragon is so good against a white-based deck, but I would have had a poor matchup against Devotion without access to a catchall card on the level of Tragic Arrogance.

I felt like Abzan Aggro was the deck to play. I started playing it with 4 Rakshasa Deathdealers and completely hated the card. It was terrible against Searing Blood, very mana intensive, and weak to Languish and Deathmist Raptor.

Luckily, Magic Origins brought a perfect 2-drop for this deck: Hangarback Walker. Even though it costs XX, we can call it a 2-drop. It synergizes perfectly with the +1/+1 counter subtheme with cards like Anafenza, the Foremost, Dromoka’s Command, Abzan Charm, and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

After I tried the card I instantly saw how insane it was, especially against Mono-Red where it is very often a 2-for-1 that buys you a lot of time.

Other writers like Brian Braun-Duin pointed out this new addition a couple of weeks ago, so I started from there to tune my list. But it wasn’t until Friday before the GP, when I showed my deck list to Marco Cammilluzzi, that he pointed out that Wingmate Rocs could be great in this deck. It didn’t take us too much time to figure out that he was right.

Abzan Aggro

Warden of the First Tree was definitely the weakest link in the deck, but you need a lot of creatures to make your Dromoka’s Commands work. You also need creatures to pressure your opponent, and sometimes Warden can sneak under their defenses while they’re setting up their game.

I think that 2 is still the right number, and that having a weak card that you are likely to board out often doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be cut.

Hangarback Walker was the great innovation, insane when they just fire a removal spell at it on turn 2, or when you make it into a Spectral Procession on turn 3 by using Dromoka’s Command to kill an opponent’s creature—like Matteo Moure did in his semifinal match against GW Midrange.

It’s important to play around Abzan Charm in the mirror match and not grow Hangarback beyond 2 counters, and also it’s important to watch out for Anafenza, the Foremost before letting it die. Remember that it’s an artifact so it will survive along with another creature to Tragic Arrogance, and it can also survive against Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.

Den Protector is a great card, but its time as a 4-of is gone, there are too many fast decks in the format. Even though I understand that you can just play it on turn 2, you don’t want to have 4 Coral Merfolk in your deck, and that’s why I think 2 is the correct number.

Wingmate Roc was insane throughout the tournament. It’s only weak point is Languish, but the Thoughtseizes are helpful there, and often they are too committed with cards like Courser or Nissa to wipe the board freely. His high points are mostly against GW Midrange and Abzan Aggro where the ground is stalled and the skies are free.

4 Fleecemane Lion, 4 Anafenza, the Foremost, 4 Siege Rhino constitute the core of the deck and can never be trimmed.

Not everyone liked Sorin, Solemn Visitor—BBD only had them in his sideboard—but I think that there isn’t really a matchup where this card isn’t good and you end in a race in so many matchups that this card happens to always be useful. His flying tokens are another good weapon against Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, one of the scariest cards to face for this deck.

Removal Spells

We played just 3 copies of Dromoka’s Command because you board them out in multiple matchups like Abzan Control, Devotion, and blue control, and you don’t want the 4th copy against Abzan Midrange. Meanwhile it’s great against Mono-Red and any deck enchantment-based deck—that’s why we had the 4th copy in sideboard.

I insisted on playing 3 copies of Ultimate Price, maybe because I overthought it. I figured that Stormbreath Dragon would be dominant in this GP to answer the wave of GW Midrange in San Diego. It turns out that only Brad Nelson and Martin Juza played the deck (both with great records).

Ultimate Price is bad in the mirror match but still very effective against many decks like Mono-Red, Abzan Control, Jeskai, and GW.

Abzan Charm has always been a 4-of in every Abzan deck I’ve played so far, and it was a 4-of even Thursday before the GP, but after the second time I lost to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in a game that was otherwise unlosable, I knew I would want at least 2 copies of Downfall main.

As Sam Black pointed out in an interview for the SSL, if this deck has too many 3-mana removal spells it can be too clunky, that’s why I wanted to play six at 2 mana and only four at 4 mana.

Cards that Didn’t Make the Cut

Brimaz, King of Oreskos was a 3-of in my initial version of the deck because I wanted to tune for Mono-Red, but it’s a little clunky facing down a Deathmist Raptor or an Anafenza, and you can’t really play a double-white card alongside 2 Hero’s Downfall.

Herald of Torment was in the main deck as well, great against Devotion and Abzan Control but very weak against Mono-Red. We decided that it was better to keep him in the sideboard for those bad matchups.

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is a very synergistic card with Den Protector and Hangarback Walker, but just doesn’t impact the board like Wingmate Roc does.

Valorous Stance should have probably been somewhere in the 75—I would cut 1 Ultimate Price for it going into next weekend. It’s great against Abzan and Devotion, and never really a dead card even against control.


I knew right away that I wanted 3 Tragic Arrogance in order to have a great weapon against Devotion, UR Thopters, and Constellation.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was another card that I wanted badly to fight the Mirror Match and GW Megamorph, which are both historically weak to it.

You have to play Thoughtseize in your 75 if your lands produce black mana. A must against control decks and fantastic against Heroic.

As I said, Herald of Torment is just there for a few matchups, but has a great impact there: Abzan Control and Devotion.

The 4th Ultimate Price and the 4th Dromoka’s Command help the Mono-Red matchup, where you need to board out 2 Abzan Charm and board in those 2 good spells.

Unravel the Aether was mainly for UR Thopters, but since the deck seems to falling in popularity, it could easily be cut.

Since the rise of Abzan I could see playing some number of Self-Inflicted Wound and Glare of Heresy as 2-mana removal spells for every creature in Abzan Aggro.





This is a good matchup and the main reason to play this deck.

You have big blockers with ways to gain life and get out of bolt range. The only problems come from painlands, so if you have a hand with good lands don’t hesitate to keep it—you don’t need many spells to win the match.

Abzan Aggro



Elspeth is huge here. Tragic Arrogance, on the other hand, is a situational card—not good if you are winning, great if you are losing.

The matchup is very much die-roll-dependent and the games are usually very swingy.

Abzan Control



This is not a good matchup, but it’s way different from what I remembered. The reason it changed is Hangarback Walker.

You can steal early damage and then eventually get them with Herald of Torment.

It’s important to play around Languish with your cheap creatures and around Abzan Charm with Hangarback Walkers.




Even if Hangarback is synergistic with Tragic Arrogance since you can select it along with another creature, it’s too weak and slow for this matchup, and you need to cut a lot if you want to make room for 13 cards.

Sorin and Den Protector are good cards, but we are boarding in so many expensive cards and you have start to cutting at the top.

The usual way to attack this matchup is through the skies, since the only blocker available to them is Dragonlord Atarka. Herald of Torment or Wingmate Rocs can take over the game if you manage to keep the board under control.

Another great card for this matchup is Warden of the First Tree—mostly in game 1 when they don’t have any Roasts and you’re able to grow him to 13/13 or more and just do nothing for the whole game.

I talked about a few matchups here, but if you want to know more don’t hesitate to ask me in comments.

Good luck in your WMCQ!



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