Abzan Rally

Ray Tautic, 1st SCG Richmond

Let’s just start with the winner because this week it doubled as the standout deck of the tournament. Some people weren’t sure if the Rally strategy was a week one flash in the pan or one with staying power, but it looks like a pro team or two will be sad that this information is out there. This build takes a significant deviation from the build that Tickal played, showing that there’s a lot of flexibility to the shell around the core engine. Both decks looked extremely powerful on camera and Ray took down the tournament while overpowering his opposition.

I tried out the Fleshbag Marauder/Liliana, Heretical Healer strategy in a fairer deck and found it to be potent but clunky. Here though? Both cards synergize nicely with the rest of the deck and for this metagame in particular it was an excellent call. Not only does it pick on the traditional Abzan Control decks running out one spell a turn, but it was quite abusive against the Heroic decks in the Top 8. The extra removal combined with Liliana and the full Deathmist package give it a respectable fair game as well—especially when backed by Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors for value.

For the first time in Standard, Collected Company actually looks like a scary card instead of just sweeper protection. It can set up an immediate Liliana flip, it can power out the other pieces of a combo, it can just fill the board with bodies to buy time until you Rally. This also helps minimize the inclusion of other spells in the deck—there’s less room to get too cute.

Speaking of the mana, it is rough. You absolutely need three Mana Confluence, and I could imagine needing four just to ensure you hit your Elvish Mystics early and still have BB or WW available later. One thing I noticed is that you rarely can Rally early unless you play Citadel early. Using Den Protector to buy back a Windswept Heath is going to be an underutilized line to watch for. I haven’t played the deck nearly enough to be certain, but the 2nd Plains has felt awful and I frequently wanted a 21st land. Adding a Temple of Plenty in exchange for a single sacrifice effect or Marauder could also help, or cutting the 2nd Plains for the 2nd Forest.

There were other strategies present, so let’s touch on them.

Heroic

My opinion of Heroic has largely aligned with Sam Pardee and Tom Martell in that it typically varies from wildly unplayable to an awkward gimmick deck at best. Not much has changed with the release of Origins in that regard. Two very good players picked it up to attack the format and got some solid results. I feel that Rally and Heroic are both trying to accomplish similar goals by doing the same thing—a collection of creatures + support that can go around board stalls and end the game quickly. Both also have draws that are Thoughtseize and Downfall proof, which helps thwart Abzan Control’s game plan against you.

Rally just does a better job of what Heroic is trying to do in fair matchups and lines up better against other decks trying to go wide.

GR Devotion & Abzan Control

It’s hard to argue with just jamming a giant GR Devotion deck. Just throwing haymaker after haymaker at a problem until they cave is still a respectable strategy. The key here is that the metagame finally has the tools to adapt, and decks are getting better at going wide. Straight control found an interesting engine piece in Thopter Spy Network to keep up and the Rally deck can win through a clogged board while also being able to survive a Dragonlord Atarka sweep.

The key will be how each deck tunes itself against the new threats. Being able to exile creatures or graveyards is a boon, so cards like Tormod’s Crypt and Anafenza, the Foremost should both see a boost in popularity. Ideally we’d just jam Anger of the Gods and take advantage, but Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid don’t exactly take kindly to fire. What these decks represent is the status quo and the old guard. They take up large chunks of the metagame because they remain consistent and have high quantities of powerful cards. If you want to go outside the box, you need to remember what you’ll be battling against most of the day.

Sultai Control & UB Control

Robert Vaughan, 5th place at SCG Richmond

On the one hand this deck has Jace and a varied toolbox for dealing with an open metagame, on the other we don’t have Thopters. I’ll live. Right now Sultai Control fills the vacuum formerly occupied by Esper Dragons, since a big easy-mode win condition is no longer needed. These decks are focused on filtering to whatever key cards they need to survive. Instead of purely utilizing Dig and the occasional Anticipate, this deck just wants to hit lands and then stay on pure gas. Den Protector may be a bit expensive, but it feels a lot like a tutor when you’ve been cycling through your deck for the first five turns of the game.

This deck’s biggest weakness of course comes from the tiny decks that just win before you have a chance to get going. It can get a lot of momentum going and translate that into easy wins later by making better use of its mana and pinpoint answers. If you just start punching the Sultai deck before it gets going though, it’s going to struggle to hit that fundamental turn where it turns the corner. Anyone can tell you that with a 3-color mana base, Bile Blight is not exactly consistent. Nor is Satyr Wayfinder or Jace particularly good at blocking or surviving cheap burn. I’d want a much better anti-red sideboard if this was my plan for the weekend.

Deck of the Week: UB Thopters

Jim Davis, 10th at SCG Richmond

A number of pros and even Hoogland himself commented that people would be playing the UW Control deck with Hero’s Downfall instead, so this isn’t exactly a shock. Still it solidifies that many people are moving away from the Esper Dragons builds in favor of engines, whether they be Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Thopter Spy Network. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s true at the Pro Tour as well or if they go with the classic draw-go staples and back to Perilous Vault or update the Dragons builds.

The payoff here is that you get THOPTERS! And Ashiok I guess, but Thopters are the important part. Languish continues to make the rounds, but honestly for the current metagame it may do more work out of the sideboard. The number of decks that pack it in to Languish right now is pretty low right now and I kind of like having more cheap interaction to protect Ashiok. Of course, that could be a bit of recency bias, where everyone decided they didn’t want to lose to Languish, so they hedged against it at the same time. This should be the weekend where we see people begin to back off Languish, and other small ball decks start coming back.