It's safe to say that Abzan Control is currently the best deck in the format. So what can we do about it? Well most Abzan lists are running one, maybe two Dromoka's Commands in the sideboard and an Unravel the Aether? I also haven't seen a Back to Nature anywhere. You know what that means? YUP! IZZET MILL, BABY! Let's dive straight in shall we?
This deck hasn't seen many, if any, good finishes since Michael Majors won Grand Prix San Diego with it and I don't know why that is. This deck is really good and I've been smashing with it right and left. Majors had just one Monastery Siege and no Pyromancer's Goggles in his list. I've shaved some cards to have the full playset of Sieges and rock some Goggles. Why Goggles you ask? Because they are absolutely insane and a blast to play with, especially if you already have an Alhammarret's Archive on the battlefield. Win more? Nah, just the perfect amount of win. Let's go over the cards for people that are unfamiliar with the deck and what it's supposed to do.
Magmatic Insight: "One must destroy in order to create." And that's exactly what we will do! This deck can fully operate off five lands but we still run more lands than any deck in the format except control, which we are usually tied in number of lands. So that means you are safe to pitch lands to Magmatic Insight and still hit your lands drops. So don't be afraid to cast this spell, be confident you'll draw lands! And if you don't? Blame anyone but me.
Tormenting Voice: Kind of like Magmatic Insight but we can instead pitch any card to Tormenting Voice, though I find that you still pitch lands most of the time. Tormenting Voice and Magmatic Insight are just some of the cards that make this deck so consistent.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy: Another card that helps you cycle through your deck. Not only does it help you cycle but it can also flashback Treasure Cruises or more filter spells in Magmatic Insight and Tormenting Voice. It's also good to keep in mind that you can still mill your opponent out if they somehow deal with all your Sphinx's Tutelages.
Send to Sleep: One of the best Fogs we are going to get in this color combination. You almost always want to save it so you can cast it with Spell Mastery. Be conscious of that when you are delving with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Try to leave Tormenting Voice in your graveyard so you will still have spell mastery and so you can flash it back in the future with Jace, Telepath Unbound.
Anger of the Gods: One of the best board wipes right now, if not the best because of Hangarback Walker. Exiling the creatures is also very good against decks that need stuff to die, like Abzan Rally. Don't leave home without them, folks.
Sphinx's Tutelage: Your main win condition. You will assuredly win with Sphinx's Tutelage or die trying. Try to get this on the board as soon as possible, especially when you're playing against decks with Thoughtseize. The only time you don't play this on turn three is when you have Monastery Siege, then you'll have choices. If your hand is full of action then play Tutelage. If not, go with the Siege so you can loot away those lands and get to relevant spells. Don't forget that this enchantment has an activated ability and it may come up later in the game.
Monastery Siege: This card is amazing and it's so sad how little play it sees. It can single handedly shut off burn decks, especially the ones that did well at the most recent Pro Tour since they run a lot more burn than normal lists. After sideboarding against Abzan you almost always want to name dragons if they have no pressure on you. Naming dragons will keep Thoughtseize, Unravel the Aether, and Dromoka's Command at bay. If you get two Sieges on Dragons they will have to go all in on the Ugin plan.
Treasure Cruise: A fantastic card in general but amazing in this deck thanks to all the looting we do with Magmatic Insight, Tormenting Voice, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Monastery Siege, and sometimes the Tutelage itself. You'll be able to cruise for little to no cost if you've been cycling through your deck. Many decks are running Thoughtseize and Treasure Cruise is an amazing counter to that card since it just straight up wins against opponents trying to attrition you by giving you much needed fuel. Jace can also act as Treasure Cruise five through eight. ALL ABOARD THE CRUISE EXPRESS!
THE BIG SINGLETONS!
Dig Through Time: Now we get to the three singletons in the deck. Each one does something extremely powerful. I'm sure you all are aware how strong Dig Through Time is. Well it's no slouch here and it's easier to cast since we cycle like crazy. A strong way to get answers, fuel, or to find that Sphinx's Tutelage you need to get things going.
Alhammarret's Archive: Who doesn't want to play this card? NOBODY, THAT'S WHO! I've never lost a game after getting this card to stick on the battlefield. Any draw spell you play after is just game over. The Archive provides so much card advantage. All the extra life you gain from your lands is just gravy!
Pyromancer's Goggles: It's a Mirari that adds mana! But hey, we are pacifists here. We aren't going to copy burn spells. We aren't savages! We just want to draw all the cards, that's it, man. And maybe wipe the entire board with a copied Anger of the Gods. If you get this card out with Alhammarret's Archive, have fun and think of me.
Annul: When this card is good it's really good. You want this card against UR Ensoul Artifact, the mirror match, and any constellation deck. All those decks aren't played very much but you'll be very thankful you have this card when you play against them.
Disperse: Just a solid catch all. It's also your only way to deal with a resolved Orbs of Warding. Don't forget you can also use it defensively to save a Sphinx's Tutelage from being destroyed.
Negate: You want the full set of Negates against control decks since, if they're playing smart, they should let everything you cast resolve except for Sphinx's Tutelage. Negate is one of the better ways to combat that strategy.
Swan Song: Usually just the fifth Negate. It's also good in the mirror match since it can counter Enchantment spells as well.
Fiery Impulse: I'm honestly not sure that Magma Spray isn't just better than Fiery Impulse. Magma Spray does exile Hangarback Walker if you kill it with Magma Spray but I've never really had trouble beating that card. I mainly board in Fiery Impulse against red decks and against everything midrange I'd rather just have Send to Sleep. Play what you will though!
Send to Sleep: Good against Dragon decks where you usually board out all your Anger of the Gods and just leave Send to Sleep in. If you draw them too early you can always just pitch them to Monastery Siege or Tormented Voice. That's one of the great things about this deck, you can just pitch what you don't want for new cards.
Talent of the Telepath: Very good card against control decks or even slow decks playing Thoughtseize and/or Read the Bones. Another card that is pretty good in the Mirror match.
This deck is so fun to play and it's pretty well positioned at the moment. Sleeve it up and give it a go! It's been awhile since mill was a thing in Standard.
Another deck I want to talk about that also benefits from people not playing much enchantment destruction right now runs Jeskai Ascendancy, but it doesn't fully rely on the card. Instead the card just pushes the deck over the top. I came to this deck when my friend Jeremiah wanted to brew with Monastery Mentor. We both knew the card was amazing and believed it should see more play in Standard. So we started brewing; his list is slightly different because he runs Abbot of Keral Keep. I just don't believe that card is that good when you're playing Counterspells and eight mana sorceries maindeck. This is what I settled on.
How the Deck Operates
It's a strange mix of midrange, tempo, and control. You can take on different roles depending on what is in your hand and how the game is playing out. You typically want to save casting Monastery Mentor until you have a Gods Willing so you can save it from removal spells. Even if they manage to have two removal spells you will still be left with a 1/1 prowess token which can get there sometimes. You typically win off Monastery Mentor or a Soulfire Grandmaster that is backed up by a Jeskai Ascendancy or a ton of lands so you can take full advantage of his rebuy ability. If you can't pull either of those plans off, Ojutai still has your back and will carry you to victory.
Synergies in the Deck
The deck has a lot of little synergies like Soulfire Grand Master and burn spells or Jeskai Ascendancy and basically any creature. The big one though is Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Ojutai's Command. Ojutai's Command lets you buy back Jace at instant speed. Let me tell you, if you thought "counter target spell and draw a card" was good wait until you "counter target spell and return Jace back to the battlefield. It's just crazy, and in most cases it will have subtly won the game just from that play. Against aggressive decks you can Command to gain four life and counter a creature spell or gain four life and return Soulfire Grandmaster, it's actually just disgusting the amount of sick plays this card allows you to do. Ojutai's Command is the truth.
Remember how the deck could play as control, tempo, or midrange? Well with the help of the sideboard cards you can focus your deck more into one of those categories. For example against monored this is how I board.
-2 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
-2 Disdainful Stroke
-1 Valorous Stance
-3 Gods Willing
+1 Wild Slash
+1 Magma Spray
+2 Soulfire Grand Master
+4 Anger of the Gods
You can make a case to leave some number of Gods Willing in the deck in favor of Jace since he's typically bad against burn since they just burn him, right? Well Jace does the same thing. They have to burn Jace otherwise you can chump block then flip Jace and start flashbacking any of your burn spells or Anger of the Gods. If they do kill him that just means they have less outs to your Soulfire Grand Master. So I chose to leave him in since he's never a dead card like Gods Willing can be.
Also, pro tip, don't forget your lifelink off Anger of the Gods if you have Soulfire Grandmaster out. If you play those two cards at the right time you can close out the game pretty handedly!
This deck could also benefit from Hangarback Walkers but I'm not sure if they're good enough, and if they are, I'm not sure what to shave. If you test Hangarback Walkers in this list let me know what you think!
I hope you've enjoyed this article and this two decks. Thank you for reading guys and gals!
Also make sure to check out Freshly Brewed, my podcast with Frank Lepore where we discuss many things Magic and sometimes the life cycle of a caterpillar. Do they really try to commit suicide?
Until next time,
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