In a field full of slow decks dedicated to grinding each other out, Abzan Rally broke through to take down an Open tournament and make every control deck I was looking into playing look like a sitting duck. Open tournaments are typically full of aggressive strategies and especially red decks, so while the Pro Tour would obviously be somewhat faster, it was easy to believe that red could be kept in check. I knew red was quite good, and considered playing it, but I didn’t like the upside. If it was good, I’d be battling mirror matches in a deck that is out of my wheelhouse against better prepared teams and facing tons of hate. If it was bad, I was toast.
Instead, I gambled that Burn could be contained (regular Red is not great but it is fine) and played to my strengths: I would build a Rally deck that, if Rally was the right choice, could win it all. On Thursday, I tested the mirror match until I was confident I had it handled. In round 4, I won a mirror easily thanks to that work, but noticed Sam Black was on his feet suspiciously quickly. Then he smashed me in round 5 with Mono-Red Burn and all the cards I didn’t want him to have, and I knew I’d made a huge mistake. At 9-2, I looked around and all but one of the decks in my bracket were either Thopters, a bad matchup I didn’t think even existed, or Burn. I was toast and I knew it.
The deck can adapt, however, and as the field reacts to Burn and Thopters, it plays right into to Rally’s strengths. Rally is very good at creating incremental progress and forcing opponents into awkward situations while you build toward Rally the Ancestors. You have a spell that—once you have gone through enough of your deck—wins the game on the spot, and it takes a lot to get through you on the ground after the first few turns. I feel very good facing off against any deck that isn’t attacking me in the air or aggressively burning me out.
Here’s the list I played at the Pro Tour:
The two changes from the original list are the 21st land—a very necessary Temple of Silence—and a single Herald of Torment. Herald solves a lot of problems, giving you another way to win games that seem either unwinnable, or unwinnable without a big Rally the Ancestors. You can put bestow onto a Nantuko Husk and kill them on the spot, or use it to take out a planeswalker like Liliana, Defiant Necromancer or Xenagos, the Reveler that’s going to ruin your day, perhaps even Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. It’s a huge edge in a mirror matchup where it is very difficult to kill the enemy without overwhelming advantage. It also strengthens Collected Company since it’s a great option to put into play, and improves Mogis’s Marauder since that card is otherwise often short of devotion. Plays that otherwise would not be able to do 20 can suddenly get the job done.
The sideboard was based on the revelation that you don’t want cards that aren’t part of your engine. The core plan of this deck is to build synergy with your morph creatures, along with Liliana and Husk, use the sacrifice effect from five copies of Merciless Executioner on Satyr Wayfinder and other inessentials, and then finish up with Mogis’s Marauder. Each piece strengthens every other piece, and every time you spend mana and a card on something else, or you mill something else, you’re not making your engine better. Why do you want removal?
Anafenza, the Foremost has to die.
If Anafenza doesn’t die, you lose. Period. Your deck is now terrible. So what’s the best removal spell against decks with Anafenza in them? Dark Betrayal! You don’t even want to bother killing most other stuff, but it kills the big enemy Anafenza, the Foremost and it also kills Siege Rhino and Liliana, Heretical Healer, and occasionally Grim Haruspex. Otherwise, you’re forcing yourself to play correctly, and it allows you to double-cast on turn four (or three with an Elvish Mystic) in the mirror or elsewhere, to take control of the initiative on the draw or put the enemy away on the play, while also making it much harder for them to try to sneak in a Nantuko Husk kill.
The problem with this build is your anti-red plan is woefully inadequate. You’ll need more. A lot more. The fourth Arashin Cleric not being there was criminal, but that’s also not enough. Cleric of the Forward Order is more of what you want, but is also a worse card, so go that way only if you want 6-8 such cards, but that is reasonable. Your main deck is strong, and it is fine to simply stand pat. Thoughtseize can safely be cut, as it was mostly The Fear talking. You can also consider playing more Reclamation Sages, as they are very good against Thopters and fine against red since they kill Eidolon of the Great Revel. Find a good solution to those two matchups that doesn’t eat too much of your board, and the deck is a solid choice going forward for players who like this style of play.