Abzan Aggro, and specifically Hangarback Walker, completely dominated Grand Prix London. That was possibly the hastiest dash through the morphing metagame we’ve seen in some time. It went from the menace of Abzan and Siege Rhino seemingly slain by the rallying of the ancestors to the Pro Tour, where many of our best players showed prowess with both fire and scissors, leaving the rock decks in the dust. Grand Prix San Diego showcased an entirely different deck that delved deep to defeat the green decks. But green megamorphed into a brand new threat last weekend to take down all comers and established itself on top of the heap once again.
We went through two full metagame cycles just to come back to Abzan Aggro, a deck that was seemingly left out in the cold by Magic Origins. Languish decks have been beaten down, and while Abzan Control still is trying to represent, it’s just another tool in its arsenal there. Instead of red and scissors decks slowly being hated out of the metagame, they were gone within two weeks of totally dominating a Pro Tour.
Now the best move could be to go back to the decks that were good immediately after Origins hit. Zvi just wrote an article on Abzan Rally, and with the world turning back toward anti-Abzan decks it could be a strong choice. Mono-Red’s departure from the metagame opens up sideboard slots and also encourages people to play decks that the Fleshbag/Liliana package is good against. Anafenza is still a threat, but Dark Betrayal goes a long way and even maindeck removal is acceptable now.
Unfortunately, Hangarback stymies the sacrifice effects and stops the Mogis’s Marauder kill. So you might need to get creative with maindeck Minister of Pain or cut the combo kill entirely, and focus on simply attaining more resources than the opponent. You could also go the 5-color route and win via Purphoros, or go deep with Shaman of the Pack and Siege Rhino, all of which dodge combat entirely.
This is my best attempt at a build that’s still fully committed to the Rally engine. Cutting down to 3 Rally and dumping the Marauder kill are both of interest to me. At that point, the deck changes dramatically though, because adding Deathmist Raptor to the main deck starts to feel better, then Siege Rhino starts looking good, and so on. The main constraint comes from wanting the combo package and still turning Collected Company on. Give one or the other up and suddenly a lot of angles open up.
As for specific changes, most of them are aimed at fixing the bad mana and adding some utility over sacrifice effects. Reclamation Sage + Minister of Pain is a concession to Hangarback while keeping enough sacrifice effects to flip Liliana with some consistency. Would I like more maindeck answers to Anafenza? Yes. Is there room? Not really. Even fitting in the pair of Hidden Dragonslayers was a challenge. Post-board the quad-Dark Betrayal plan helps quite a bit and Herald of Torment lets you play a fairer game.
The biggest problem with this deck is that the “best deck” has 4 maindeck Anafenza, which means you basically dig yourself a hole against them game one. You could cut a Rally and a Liliana for Hero’s Downfall to help Dragonslayer and then slice some combo pieces off for Deathmist Raptor and go from there—like I said, you can spiral quickly into an entirely new deck if you want.
Big dumb fliers have proven effective against angry Rhinos. While Hangarback Walker may not be at its best here, an army of Thopters backed by Kolaghan represents a whole lot of damage. It also provides the deck some precious defense which earlier builds relied entirely on spell-based removal for. Having a solid defensive creature to buy back with Kolaghan’s Command can significantly change how games against aggressive starts play out when you’re light on removal. Or in the case of the Mono-Red match, when you do have Anger of the Gods but need to conserve as much life as you can. I feel like Dan Ward and Sammy Tukemann were on the right track with this build.
My deck is inbred for the online metagame compared to real life, because some players are still budgeted into Mono-Red and that keeps the population a bit high. With that said, the turnaround after the last two weeks of results has been swift. I’m seeing as much Abzan now as I was three months ago and far more Hangarback Walkers than ever before. The one swap I made that’s up in the air is to move away from the power threat of Goblin Rabblemaster for the consistent damage of Flamewake Phoenix.
What I like about the Phoenix is that you aren’t trying to rush, so there’s not as much pressure on your 3-drop. Dinging for 2 a turn isn’t turning any heads, but consistent damage that can’t be stopped by the majority of removal is hard to find. On the flip-side you can jam Goblin Rabblemaster which improves now that Searing Blood is going away, and can threaten a ton of damage on the play. I’m just less pleased with how often it either runs into Thopters or gets into a fight thanks to Dromoka’s Command. The power difference may be too big to justify the downgrade to evasive recurring damage, but considering how grindy Abzan can be I’m liking it right now.
You could make a case that this deck is just worse than Abzan, but it really feels like a great mix of Abzan’s interaction and the best part of GR Dragons (Dragons and Draconic Roar).
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…
You could ditch all of the above and simply jam Esper Dragons. It nearly got there in San Diego and had one of the higher Day 2 win percentages at Grand Prix London. Rolle also just shot me a message that Esper Dragons currently has the best winning percentage on Magic Online despite the higher levels of red infestation compared to real life.
Esper Dragons by Vansguy
While I haven’t played this particular build, just about every time I check up on Esper Dragons on MTGgoldfish I see his name cashing Daily Events. After about the 10th one in as many days you just assume the player has some idea of what’s going on, especially in a metagame that was deemed hostile to the deck. A lot of this stems from players cutting their anti-control cards and Reid Duke was likely on the right track with his straight UB Control list as well. Only they kept coming up a week too early for the metagame to adjust.
As for the deck itself, not much has changed. Silumgar’s Scorn is still great, your removal and Thoughtseize go a long way toward blanking opposing text boxes and chaining Ojutai hits is near-impossible to overcome. Dragonlord Ojutai may be the weakest he’s been in a while though, so playing around with the exact Dragon composition isn’t out of the question.
That’s all for this week, though Standard should stay fluid until Battle for Zendikar as we rotate PPTQs into a fresh Standard season!