Looking toward Pro Tour Magic Origins this coming weekend Standard has shifted once again. I'm sure that many players were expecting typical decks such as Green/Red Devotion and Abzan Control to continue their dominance this past weekend, but this was not the case. In fact, a deck that is not well known at all took down SCG Richmond: Abzan Rally. This is not a typical strategy, and many players may not have gotten a chance to play against it yet. A close friend of mine, Ray Tautic, claims that this deck is very good, and it's hard to argue with him. He essentially couldn't lose at SCG Richmond, so this graveyard based deck is worth putting time and testing into.
There was an earlier five color version of Rally the Ancestors deck from a couple weeks ago which may have provided a baseline for Ray Tautic to work from. Here is that list played by Matthew Tickal:
This list is very rough since this is essentially a brew of Matthew's that has ended up being very good, but he may not have tuned it quite enough. Matthew has a lot of the same elements as Ray Tautic, but he has gone in the direction of playing all five colors. This does make the manabase a bit more awkward than the straight Abzan list of Ray's, and it isn't clear that all of the colors are worth it. The pull to blue is of course Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. The new planeswalkers have hit Standard with a bang, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy does work well here because of the ability to loot through your deck, and putting cards into the graveyard certainly can work to your advantage. The way the games play out, the games end with a Rally the Ancestors more often than not, so having a creature in play is oftentimes worse than having it in the graveyard, as you can't Rally the Ancestors it back.
Playing blue makes some sense here because of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, but it is hard to see a good enough reason for playing the red. There are actually no maindeck cards which are red, which means we are just splashing for sideboard cards. While this is true, adding the fifth color isn't much tougher on the manabase once you have added the fourth, as there are already going to be Sylvan Caryatid's and a playset of Mana Confluences. With that said even in the sideboard there are only two red cards, so it is hard to get behind the inclusion of lands like Frontier Bivouac and Mystic Monastery. Overall this is a good initial stab at building a Rally the Ancestors combo deck, but Ray Tautic was able to build off the ideas of Matthew's and cut down on the amount of colors in the deck.
Here is the deck that won SCG Richmond this past weekend:
The first noticeable difference between this deck and that of Matthew's is that here we are straight Abzan. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is the main incentive to be more than three colors, but it doesn't seem like going in that direction is necessary. By not playing more than three colors we can shave a Mana Confluence and cut the Sylvan Caryatids completely. Sylvan Caryatid isn't great in the deck, since the deck isn't really ramping, as the curve essentially stops with Rally the Ancestors at five mana. You would generally rather be playing a Satyr Wayfinder and making your land drops. Elvish Mystic is very different from Sylvan Caryatid, as it ramps you to three mana, and there are a bunch of three-drops in the deck. I do think the deck might be a little light on actual lands, as it only has twenty, and nobody likes to miss land drops. However, there are more untapped lands in Ray's list which allows you to combo in a more timely fashion.
There are a few different combinations of creatures that work well in the deck, and it may not be obvious how they go well together so nicely upon just looking at the list. For starters most games will end with casting Rally the Ancestors while having a Mogis's Marauder in the graveyard. Mogis's Marauder is the card that allows your creatures to have haste and attack after having just being rallied back. The other piece to Mogis's Marauder is that it can of course give at least some of your creatures intimidate. Black creatures with intimidate are particularly effective against other creature-based decks that don't contain black creatures. For example, a deck like Monogreen Devotion essentially won't be able to block any creatures that Mogis's Marauder targets. While it may seem like Mogis's Marauder isn't that great in the deck since all the creature's aren't black, meaning they may not all get intimidate from the Mogis's Marauder trigger, this just isn't the case.
A large part of why Mogis's Marauder is so great, is that it is being played alongside Nantuko Husk. This means that on a lot of boards the only relevant creature to give intimidate to is the Nantuko Husk. The intimidate will make it unblockable and then you can just sacrifice the rest of your creatures to Nantuko Husk, and go for the kill. Nantuko Husk works very well with Mogis's Marauder but is also just an important component of the deck. It is the only sacrifice outlet in the deck, besides the Fleshbag Marauder style cards, and it allows you to throw creatures in the graveyard in order to have them brought back later. On the kill turns for example many times it is correct to go ahead and sacrifice every creature besides Nantuko Husk before casting Rally the Ancestors, as they will be coming back anyway from Rally the Ancestors.
For some creatures in the deck their biggest use is their come into play trigger, so being able to recur these creatures as many times as possible is quite important. Mogis's Marauder and Satyr Wayfinder are some examples of this, but there are also others. One of Ray Tautic's innovations was the addition of both Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder. These creatures do the same thing: they edict your opponent and let you sacrifice a creature. Then you can generally bring back your Fleshbag Marauder and have some more fun by continuing to make your opponent sacrifice creatures. This type of effect is clearly very good against a deck like Abzan Control that only plays a few creatures, and all of which are very powerful. The effect is not as good against something like Monored that has a lot of bad creatures, and even creature tokens it doesn't mind sacrificing.
The theme of sacrificing creatures should be apparent at this point, and its importance to the deck can't be denied. The deck does play a morph package that also works well with sacrificing creatures. The combination of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Here though we are seeing the package incorporated into a combo deck rather than the more traditional midrange and control decks which also play it. Deathmist Raptor of course doesn't generally mind going to the graveyard, and there are plenty of morphs to help return it to play. Den Protector can recur any combo piece, and this helps in case you are playing against any control deck with Counterspells, or in some cases you will mill a Rally the Ancestors with a Satyr Wayfinder.
The new morph to this equation is Grim Haruspex. This can of course return a Deathmist Raptor, but it also means that any time another of your creatures dies or is sacrificed, you can draw a card. This helps allow the deck to also play this card advantage game,and just Overload the opponent on resources. Even if the opponent has an immediate removal spell for Grim Haruspex, if you have a Nantuko Husk in play you can still sacrifice some creatures and draw some cards before it dies, or just bring the Grim Haruspex back later. Rally the Ancestors is of course your primary way of bringing creatures back from the graveyard, but there is also another way.
Here we see the full four copies of Liliana, Heretical Healer. This card is absolutely busted as it is very easy to flip, and when it does flip you not only get a 2/2, but then you can immediately bring back another creature from the graveyard. This helps a lot on the combo turns when you actually win the game, but it is also nice with just a Fleshbag Marauder. You can make your opponent essentially sacrifice two creatures if you go ahead and recur the Fleshbag Marauder after flipping Liliana, Heretical Healer. Liliana, Heretical Healer gives the deck another axis to fight on, as it also is a planeswalker that your opponent needs to answer. Being that there are so many ways of sacrificing creatures it is easy to flip Liliana, Heretical Healer when needed, and the fact that you can immediately bring back any creature in the deck provided it is in the graveyard is quite a powerful effect.
When compared to Matthew's list there are obviously different options in terms of ways to search for creatures. You definitely want some ways to search for specific creatures as there are spots when you are looking for a specific one you need in order to combo out the opponent. Gather the Pack and Chord of Calling were the options Matthew went with. Gather the Pack is nice because it helps you fill up the graveyard, but at the same time it makes you not actually want to put creatures in your hand sometimes, which is a bit of a weird dynamic. Chord of Calling can of course find any creature quite easily, but can be a bit slow as well.
Personally I'm a fan of instead going for the full set of Collected Company as Ray did. While it is true that you no longer have Chord of Calling to know exactly what you will get off your searcher, in a deck like this that doesn't play creatures that cost more than three mana, Collected Company seems like a natural fit. In addition, there are more high impact creatures Ray can hit off a Collected Company, since he isn't running cards like Sylvan Caryatid. Many times it will be correct to go ahead and main phase the Collected Company with this deck even though it is an instant.
There are a few different combinations of creatures which you can hit off Collected Company, that are specifically important to be aware of. Mogis's Marauder of course is the card that can allow you to attack immediately with whatever you Collected Company for. One of the most potent two card combinations though is a Fleshbag Marauder plus a Liliana, Heretical Healer. Oftentimes the opponent won't be able to see it coming, and will need to sacrifice their whole board to the Fleshbag Marauder recursion plan. Collected Company being able to put two combo pieces into play for just four mana almost makes it too strong of an option to pass up.
Hopefully this helped provide some insight into the different lines the Abzan Rally the Ancestors deck can take. The deck is quite complex so it really does take some reps before starting to get the hang of it. The deck is certainly fun to play with, and I expect to see a lot more of it.
Thanks for reading,