Standard Fare - Grand Prix Providence, Is It Time to Abzan? [Joel Labrada]
Alright, let's get right into it and start with the list.
Abzan Midrange/Control - Joel Labrada
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Silence
4 Windswept Heath
3 Sandsteppe Citadel
3 Llanowar Wastes
2 Caves of Koilos
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Why & When to Play This Deck
Every matchup feels like a 50/50, which seems unfair to begin with. You mean I have a decent shot of winning regardless of my opponents list? Sign me up. The cards we have access to within these colors scream value; having access to the best removal and arguably the best creatures is reason enough to sleeve this deck up for battle. When the metagame is dominated by fair midrange decks and Abzan Aggro, then this deck is well-positioned.
Why & When Not to Play This Deck
Matches tend to be grindy regardless of the matchup. If you don't enjoy or plan on playing 35-45 minute rounds and may mind having to squeak out a win in extra turns, then this might not be the deck for you. If the metagame reverts back to GR Devotion or Whip decks make their rounds again, then this deck could potentially be positioned badly. Basically, if the meta shifts to decks that can go over the top of us, this deck becomes a bad choice.
Top 3 Cards in the Deck
Gold - Den Protector
Den Protector is actually 'the real MVP'. It's the glue that holds our deck together and is always a two-for-one. Our opponent not being able to respond to the morph because the morph mechanic doesn't utilize the stack is also nice and busted. Recurrence on value cards like Abzan Charm, Siege Rhino, and fallen planeswalkers really puts a beating on any opponent.
Silver - Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Literally the best card in the Abzan matches. She does everything we want it to do. She handles big fatty boards, she provides chump blockers, and oh yeah...her ultimate to put your team in the air wins games.
Bronze - Courser of Kruphix
Four toughness is the magic number. This card digs deep. Courser is also important in the Abzan matches. Courser is particularly well-positioned against the Mono/Atarka Red decks. If curved into properly, it can run away with the game by generating blips of life. Against the control decks, Courser generates an overall incremental card advantage by letting us hit our land drops consistently while sculpting our draw step/hand. Apart from hard linear strategies that can afford to ignore Courser like Bant Heroic, an uncontested Courser can beat any deck in the format between the incremental card advantage and life gain.
Honorable Mention - Siege Rhino
Rhino is more or less the reason to play any Abzan archetype. It literally never gets sided out. I would side into the second playset if that was kosher/legal. If we didn't know Siege Rhino was good by now, then now we know.
Matchups You Want to See
Mono Red/Atarka Red
We honestly shouldn't lose to this deck. Between the triple Bile Blight in the main and the triple Drown, triple Arashin Clerics, and two Commands in the board, this matchup is not as abysmal as everyone seems to believe. Call me crazy but it's even sort of favorable, especially post board.
Game one is a freeroll. Win the die roll, hit a Bile Blight into Courser and a Rhino to pull the game in your favor. Games two and three are actually unfair for our red opponent if we curve out; Fleecemane/Cleric into Courser/Drown into Rhino. Seems good.
We're lowering our curve here; cutting pinpoint removal because we're putting in cheap mass removal. We also cut the self-mutilating cards like Thoughtseize and Read the Bones to preserve our life total.
I like to think of this matchup as our best match up considering we run basically the same deck except our deck has the things that deck wishes it could run, which it potentially does post board. The scariest cards to deal with in the matchup are probably Rakshasa Deathdealer or an uncontested Fleecemane Lion. But we have so many answers to those cards it's uncanny and these situations usually don't come up very often. But when they do, it takes a certain level of finesse to deal with, which is fine.
Their most important cards in game one are Thoughtseizes and Wingmate Roc. Having your hand picked apart is tough to come back from in this matchup. But more importantly, it's about giving up information. If the opponent sees you're light on removal, they jam something you have to remove and then level you with a better creature like Rakshasa or playing and monstrousing Lion for 7. A raided Wingmate is also incredibly difficult to deal with. With all this being said, we can win the attrition battle and the matchup feels favorable overall.
It hurts to side out a courser here especially against an Abzan deck, but it's acceptable due to the fact that Dromoka's Command runs rampant in this particular matchup. We again take out the self-mutilation cards to protect our life total. Nissa is pretty self-explanatory. 4/4 tramplers are good blockers and attackers.
I think this is another matchup that is incredibly favorable for us. Sequencing your spells correctly is incredibly important in all your matches but they're particularly important here. The main interaction we have to be aware of is the fact that we almost strictly have to use our Abzan Charms against Thunderbreak Regent because Abzan Charm doesn't remove Stormbreath Dragon. It seems trivial maybe even borderline idiotic to be writing this, but removing a Regent with Downfall in order to save your Charm to draw cards only to brick and watch your opponent resolve a Stormbreath and run away with the game is heartbreaking. We defeat ourselves more than our opponents defeat us within this matchup. Just remember to use the right spells to kill the right dragons.
Bile Blight hits nothing worthwhile in this matchup other than an elf on turn two with us on the play. That seems great, but I don't think Bile Blight is where we want to be in this matchup. The Dromoka's Commands are a safe hedge against cards like Crater's Claws. At the very least, it could be used as a pseudo removal spell against most cards in our opponent's deck except Stormbreath Dragon. The second Crux is a beating for our dragons opponent. Ugin and Nissa are incredible.
Abzan Midrange/Control (The Mirror)
Welcome to Grindfest 2K15. The Abzan midrange/control mirror is one of my favorite matches to play. It's not favorable; it's not unfavorable. It's a flat 50/50. This means that there's a lot of room to just flat out outplay your opponent. The worst cards in this matchup are Thoughtseizes. There's no happy medium with this card; it's great early but is the worst topdeck if even slightly behind on board or cards. Den Protector, Elspeth, Courser, and Abzan Charm are the best cards in the matchup. Me and my playtest group have two theories. Number one, the first person to land an Elspeth and have it survive will win the game. Number two, the player that is forced to use the Charm as removal rather than card draw will lose the game. Of course there are situations where it's obvious to tick down Elspeth or situations where you have to use a Charm as removal to avoid dying or to remove a blocker to provide for a lethal attack. We can also use these spells slightly more liberally if we have a Den Protector (the MVP) in our hand.
Thoughtseize is the worst card in the Abzan matches. Cutting Bile Blights in the face of Elspeth and Fleecemane seems counterproductive but by grinding this matchup over and over at tournaments as well as within my own play group, I feel it's correct to opt for more overall power within our deck via our planeswalkers in this matchup. We also want all of the card draw in this matchup; always side in the second Read the Bones and leave our playset of Charms in tact.
Matchups You Want to Avoid
This is actually our worst matchup. We can't keep up with the board vomiting by one for oneing, which is what this deck is designed to do. The matchup feels like it's 80/20 them. I actually don't believe we can beat Genesis Hydra. After sideboarding, Drown in Sorrow with our opponent on the three land, three mana dorks (none of them Sylvan Caryatid), and any spell seems like one of the ways we can squeak out a win in this matchup. But the likelihood that this situation comes up seems little to none. The second Crux out of the board seems reasonable but easily countered by a Whisperwood Elemental with face up creatures on the board. This matchup is just Bad News Bears. Thoughtseize instantly becomes our best card in this matchup. This deck has recently reemerged; so if you expect to see this deck, then maybe jamming 4 Thoughtseizes in the main is the play.
In Flex Slot
The last slot is a toss-up between wanting the second Crux or the singleton Duress. Both have merit but have downsides as well. Crux interacts terribly with Whisperwood but cleans up GR Devo's board nicely. Meanwhile, Duress can whiff terribly against this deck. But it can potentially connect, grabbing a sideboarded Nissa or a See the Unwritten from our opponent. I would side in the Crux on the play. Hopefully we hit 5 lands on turn 5 right after they tap out for a Surrak, the Hunt Caller. I would side in the Duress on the draw to prevent getting blown out by something like Nissa or Ugin.
UB & UBx Control
The matchup is not unbeatable by any means, but it's another open invite to Grindfest 2K15. Game one can be pretty abysmal if we hit any of the Bile Blights, but that's fine. This matchup is comparable to the mirror but UB has tricky countermagic. My rule of thumb is to jam threats in order from least threatening to greatest and try to exhaust their removal or counters at my leisure rather than theirs. Playing around obvious counterspells like Disdainful Stroke is key as well. These decks have reverberated back to Perilous Vaults and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, so holding up Downfall mana is usually correct rather than jamming courser on turn three. We don't have any clean answers in the 75 for Vault, but usually a couple of low-end threats like a Courser and a Fleecemane beating face will likely force them to crack the Vault if their hand is removal-light or Crux-less. Sequencing your threats correctly will usually be enough to steal a match from these decks.
Things are pretty straightforward here; we cut our four dead removal cards for cards that aren't going to rot in our hand. Elspeth is so incredibly awful in the UB and UBx matches because most decks run Silumgar, the Drifting Death which blanks Elspeth. Even leaving the third copy in the deck post board seems incorrect. The only worthwhile argument for Elspeth being in the deck is that it could potentially deal with a Dragonlord Ojutai in the Esper Dragons match, but the second Crux does the same thing for one less mana. It's a preference call. If your opponent is running Icefall Regents, then there could be more of an argument for keeping Elspeth.
Thanks for the support. Remember to comment if there are any questions or if I missed anything.