For the first time in the last year, I am missing a Standard Grand Prix because of things out of my control. Months ago when the Grand Prix schedule was posted, I was incredibly excited about the idea of traveling to Quebec City and Indianapolis for two Standard Grand Prix in the weeks following the Pro Tour. I've recently been putting up results early in formats, which I mostly contribute to the amount of time I spend playing and studying the new world around us. Because of this, I felt like Quebec City, and Indianapolis the week following, were both very good opportunities for me to put up another solid Grand Prix result. Unfortunately I am not able to make these events, which really hurts. Having not played in a Standard Grand Prix since Providence where I got 9th place on tiebreakers has definitely left me wanting that Top 8. Plus Canada is possibly my favorite place to travel.
So, what was I going to play this weekend? Well, Siege Rhino of course!
Abzan Red is a deck that I was introduced to back at the Open in Indianapolis during week one by Top 32 competitor Raja Sulaiman. Piloting a Abzan Blue deck, or more accurately described as the Bring to Light decks without the namesake card, I felt as though I controlled the mid to late game against all of my opponents throughout that weekend...except Raja. In our match, he was able to grind games out with the combination of Planeswalkers paired with Den Protector and Siege Rhino, alongside some of the best removal in Standard.
While Crackling Doom and Abzan Charm did not have the best showing at the Pro Tour, the combination of those cards offers midrange decks a lot of the tools that are necessary to fight against the higher represented decks, such as Jeskai Black and G/W Megamorph.
While the press for the card is pretty quiet, Abzan Charm is still on the short list for best spell in Standard. The card is truly wonderful. Being able to mess up combat for your opponent in multiple ways, refill after dealing with the board, or offer a catch "most" removal spell in the most relevant way possible is just one of the best things you can do with three mana in Standard. When Mantis Rider and Deathmist Raptor are two of the premier threats, Abzan Charm seems like a solid card to have access too, and if I could register more than four, I gladly would.
I will admit to writing this deck off as being over prepared for Siege Rhino mirrors and underprepared for decks such as Atarka Red and R/G Landfall, but after playing more and more games with it, I am happy to admit that I was wrong. While the deck was obviously prepared for other Siege Rhino decks, it has a good game plan against the aggressive decks as well.
Around the same time I was looking into this deck, friend of the program Jake Mondello messaged me with this screenshot:
I want to quickly mention Jake as someone that is generally on point with where you should be looking in the format. While I was pondering a deck like this before this message, a few days afterwards I started thinking that the deck had a real shot at being something special, and that was completely because of the backing that Mondello gave the archetype.
I want to first point out how smooth the mana is in this deck. Playing Jeskai Black or Abzan Blue, I often felt like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy was awkward to play without the inclusion of tri-lands, such as Mystic Monastery or Opulent Palace. In this deck, we are concentrated more so on one- and three-mana plays rather than two, so there are less awkward hands where we can't curve our two-drop into our three. Cinder Glade followed by Swamp and Plains is generally the best draw mana wise in our deck, but Shambling Vent slotting in as the first or second land is also fine.
There were a few other things about the list that I loved. Duress seemed like a wonderful card to play in the main of a deck that was packing so much removal. Cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Dig Through Time can present issues when we are so focused on trading one for one, so having access to something like Duress in game one, especially when paired with Den Protector, gives us a much better axis to fight on.
In addition to the maindeck Duress, the sideboard might be my favorite thing about this deck. Having access to so many cheap and powerful cards across so many colors gives us great options when upgrading in post board matches. I have been very surprised at how great post board games feel across the board.
While I made a few changes from the original list piloted by Raja, I do feel like the deck is in a good place. I went undefeated through the swiss before having to drop during Top 8 because of something that came up outside of the Magic world...sometimes real life interferes. Oh well.
The main changes that were made were removing the majority of the Planeswalker package, along with the Hangarback Walkers. After playing games with the deck, I felt like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was not only difficult to cast, but also slightly underwhelming. While having the ability to play to the board was nice, I felt like there would be better options than Gideon.
Hangarback Walker was the next card to go, as I felt like it was less important without a bunch of Planeswalkers to block for. Sorin, Solemn Visitor followed the pair, as without the other two, his plus one ability felt useless.
These cuts allowed me to include four copies of Fiery Impulse, which is one of the best cards to be playing right now. Having more cheap ways to interact with the red based aggressive decks, while also being an all-star against all variants of Jeskai was definitely where I wanted to be.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer was another addition to the deck that I was very fond of early on. I really liked the idea of having solid targets for Den Protector and Kolaghan's Command in the mid to late game that offer options other than just Siege Rhino, similar to Dragonmaster Outcast in the Ojutai's Command decks. Overall, I have liked the inclusion of Nissa, but I would entertain the idea of cutting it for other options. Early, it is generally a three mana card that falls to the end of the priority list of things to do. Once you reach turn six and later, being able to play Nissa, flip it, and play another spell that turn allows you to start pulling further and further ahead.
After this last weekend and some further testing, this is the list I am at now:
Tasigur, the Golden Fang was an oversight for me and I cannot say much more than that. I was discussing with locals what threat I could play that isn't a big mana investment and isn't affected by my own Languish. Once I saw the results from the Pro Tour, I realized Tasigur was the perfect fit and I felt pretty silly for forgetting about it. Similar to Nissa, the ability to double up on spells in the midgame leads to us turning the corner quickly.
Transgress the Mind found its way into the maindeck after I realize I want it against nearly every deck other than Atarka Red. It feels like a long time since we could just play four copies of Thoughtseize and call it a day, but the exile clause on Transgress is not something to overlook. Hitting spells such as Dig Through Time to prevent Jace from recasting it later in the game is just one of the things that Transgress offers.
I didn't mention it early, but the change from Ruinous Path to Utter End was pretty obvious to me. In a deck full of three mana cards that interact at mostly instant speed, having a complete catch-all at four feels like a fine trade off. The awaken clause on Ruinous Path did come up at certain points, but the more games that I played with it, the more I realized that the ability was win more and rarely won me games that I wasn't already ahead in.
While I do change how I sideboard depending on what I see from my opponent's deck and how they are treating the match, I do want to include a brief sideboard guide to highlight some of the non-intuitive things that I have found success with.
Jeskai Black+3 Silkwrap
+2 Outpost Siege
+1 Kolaghan's Command
+1 Transgress the Mind
-1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
-1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
-2 Utter End
Silkwrap is no secret anymore and is arguably the best card in the format against the Jeskai Black decks as we currently know them. While they do have access to Tasigur to get above Silkwrap, we have plenty of answers to the 4/5.
Outpost Siege was the card I was most surprised to find success with against Jeskai. With the heavy inclusion of Ojutai's Command, the Jeskai deck is very prone to large, non-creature threats. It was very common in testing for Jeskai to pass representing Command or Dig Through Time and for me to lay my forth land alongside Outpost Siege on Khans. The constant card advantage gained with the Siege is enough to offset opposing Dig Through Times or Treasure Cruises.
Transgress the Mind is favored for me over Duress because of the ability to hit Mantis Rider, as there is no such thing as too many answers to that card.
G/W Megamorph+3 Silkwrap
+2 Outpost Siege
+1 Tragic Arrogance
+1 Transgress the Mind
-4 Fiery Impulse
Interestingly enough, I have been bringing in the same cards against Jeskai and G/W Megamorph. It is possible that depending on the popularity of those decks, cards like Silkwrap and the additional Transgress the Mind could find their way into the maindeck.
Silkwrap is a slight worry against a deck with access to the full set of Dromoka's Command, but being able to hit a Hangarback Walker and give our Outpost Siege a small insurance policy is worth the risk.
Atarka Red+3 Silkwrap
+3 Surge of Righteousness
+3 Radiant Flames
+1 Virulent Plague
-1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
-1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
-2 Transgress the Mind
-4 Abzan Charm
One of the easiest ways for them to beat us is with token makers and Outpost Siege, which is why I have left in the slightly overpriced Utter End. There are games where Virulent Plague sits on a board while you get beat down by Zurgo and Lightning Berserker, but there are enough Dragon Fodders and Hordeling Outbursts running around to justify it to me.
That is all for this week! I hope you enjoyed the read and give this deck a shot. Another part of the reason that I was so upset about missing the upcoming Grand Prix is because I feel like this deck is very well-positioned in the metagame and I was expecting big results from the weekends. If you have any questions or comments about the deck, please let me know! I make a point of checking the comments on the article, but I can also be found on Twitter at @Vaughan212. Give me a mention and let's talk shop!