Abzan Still On Top
Recent results indicate that Abzan Aggro is the best-performing archetype in Standard. It continues to do well in large events, including a victory at Grand Prix Paris:
This decklist is very similar to what Brad Nelson used to reach Top 8 at Grand Prix Toronto, and like the deck I talked about playing last week.
With a decline in red decks, the third Dromoka's Command has been replaced by a fourth Thoughtseize, which is great against a metagame where Abzan Midrange is on the rise.
Dosimont has also cut a land, which I do not support but is certainly within reason, for a Surrak, the Hunt Caller: a very powerful card that makes this deck even more effective when on the offense, though even worse when behind on the board.
Most interesting is the sideboard, which has seen some major additions.
Dosimont added two Elspeth, Sun's Champion to the sideboard; it's a major trump in the mirror match and against Deathmist Raptor decks, and it's also a fine tool against Abzan Control and Esper Dragons.
Glare of Heresy is a natural response to the recent success of Abzan Midrange. Glare of Heresy most importantly deals with Elspeth, Sun's Champion, as well as Siege Rhino. It's also great in the mirror match, where it exiles Fleecemane Lion and Anafenza, the Foremost.
The fourth Dromoka's Command is best against Red decks, where it can counter burn spells and devour small creatures. It's also strong against decks that use many enchantments, like those with both Courser of Kruphix and Mastery of the Unseen or Whip of Erebos.
Dosimont has done away with Ultimate Price, which is a major concession against RG Dragons, but clearly an excellent metagame call for him in Paris.
Another Abzan Aggro deck reached the Top 8 well, the decklist notable for playing two Brimaz, King of Oreskos:
Gerry Thompson won last weekend's Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) with Abzan Aggro, also an update on the Abzan Aggro deck Brad Nelson played to a Top 8 at GP Toronto:
With a decline in red, the fourth Thoughtseize comes in from the sideboard, just like in Dosimont's GP Paris deck. Here, it switches places with a Sorin, Solemn Visitor which goes to the sideboard. The mana has also changed, with the third Caves of Koilos being cut for a fourth Temple of Malady, which on the whole makes the deck more powerful and the manabase less painful.
Most interesting is the sideboard, which has seen the addition of some new sideboard cards, including the two Glare of Heresy, the fourth Dromoka's Command, and one of the two Elspeth, Sun's Champion of Dosimont. Gerry also included the third Wingmate Roc (a change supported by Nelson in his Top 8 interview), and two Mistcutter Hydra.
Wingmate Roc excels against other Abzan decks, where it trumps Elspeth, Sun's Champion. It's quite strong in the mirror as well, because it will win any race and is impossible to deal with profitably. It's especially great against Deathmist Raptor decks - including GW Collected Company - and is of course always good against Atarka Red.
Mistcutter Hydra is the most jarring inclusion to the sideboard. It's certainly a great dedicated hate card against Blue Devotion, which has had some recent success, but that doesn't seem like good enough reason to include the card. It's certainly strong against Esper Dragons, but it does fall to black removal. I will have to get more experience with the card, but I expect these slots more than any others are open to tuning.
Absent from the sideboard altogether, like in Dosimont's list, is Ultimate Price, but Gerry has also cut Den Protector. This card has performed very well for me, but if Esper Dragons is on the decline, there is a case for cutting the card in favor of other options.
Gerry's Abzan Aggro decklist is the one I'll be playing going forward, but in the sideboard I'll have Den Protector replacing Mistcutter Hydra. I also think that Ultimate Price is always worthy of consideration, especially with RG Dragons likely to again grow in popularity as the metagame cycles.
Abzan Control is of course still a strong player in the metagame, and one of the few decks that can claim an edge on Abzan Aggro. Here's the decklist played to the Top 8 of GP Paris by Pro Tour Fate Reforged winner Antonio Del Moral Leon:
Compared to the deck used by Lucas Siow to win GP Torotono, Antonio's deck is a bit faster and more aggressive with a fourth Fleecemane Lion and a Sorin, Solemn Visitor replacing a Thoughtseize and a Nissa, Worldwaker, but even down to the sideboard it's very much built in Siow's mold.
The Rise of Collected Company
Craig Wescoe popularized Collected Company with his Top 8 finish at GP Toronto, and Zan Syed improved on Craig's quarterfinals performance with his own 2nd place finish at GP Paris.
Syed has included two Hidden Dragonslayer, which are particularly potent against Siege Rhino and Anafenza, the Foremost. Hidden Dragonslayer also ambushes tapped Dragonlord Ojutai. As a two-mana 2/1 creature with lifelink, it's also a fine threat, especially against aggressive opponents like Atarka Red.
Compared to Craig's decklist, he has done away with Brimaz, King of Oreskos altogether which makes the deck less aggressive and Collected Company a bit less consistent. Instead, he has included three maindeck Mastery of the Unseen, compared to two in the sideboard in Craig's deck. This makes the deck more difficult to attack with conventional creature removal, and it gives the deck more Staying Power into the late game. It's certainly a strong card against control opponents. The potential for lifegain is also beneficial in racing situations against other aggressive opponents, especially Atarka Red. Mastery of the Unseen is quite mana-intensive, but Courser of Kruphix ensures a steady supply of mana, eventually allowing Mastery of the Unseen to generate two or more manifests a turn.
In the sideboard, a pair of Elspeth, Sun's Champion punish other Deathmist Raptor decks and help stem Abzan Aggro. It's also a fine solution to Stormbreath Dragon, but three Plummet, in lieu of Craig's Windstorm, belie the deck's weakness.
Whisperwood Elemental gives the deck a strong answer for sweepers like Crux of Fate and End Hostilities and is, in general, a powerful threat in slower sideboard games against nearly any opponent.
The addition of three Hornet Nest is certainly good against Atarka Red, but it's surprisingly effective against Abzan Aggro. This deck is reliant on attacking on the ground, and it's quite difficult for the deck to race through a swarm of deathtouch Hornet Tokens. With Abzan Charm and Dromoka's Command occupying the bulk of the deck's removal package, Abzan Aggro is forced to rely on its dwindling numbers of Hero's Downfall to destroy Hornet Nest. With Ultimate Price on the decline, Hornet Nest is better than ever.
Another GW Collected Company deck also reached the Top 16, but I'd like to focus on the Four Color Company deck that went undefeated on Day 1 and finished in 11th place:
This deck makes the most of Collected Company by including all of the best aggressive creatures in the format across four colors, including Fleecemane Lion, Goblin Rabblemaster, Mantis Rider, and Savage Knuckleblade. It pairs these creatures with the best burn and removal spells we have come to expect from aggressive decks in this format, including Stoke the Flames, Dromoka's Command, and Valorous Stance. Ojutai's Command is a versatile addition to a deck with so many strong two-mana creatures to potentially return to play.
The sideboard includes some powerful cards, including Arashin Cleric to combat Atarka Red, Hornet Nest to stop Abzan Aggro, Disdainful Stroke and Negate to buy time against control opponents, and even a single Treasure Cruise.
The power level for this deck is certainly there, and the concept is sound, so the only thing holding this deck back is the mana. More time will tell us if this deck is a flash-in-the-pan that got there by a run of good luck, or a fundamentally sound deck supported by a robust manabase, but let's take a deeper look right now.
The deck has access to fifteen land sources of green and white, fourteen sources of blue and red. According to the guidelines laid out by Frank Karsten in his article on colored mana sources, these numbers meet the requirement of thirteen sources of green and white mana needed to cast any of its two-mana creatures by turn two, and the twelve sources requires to cast any of its three-mana blue and red creatures by turn three, with 90% reliability. In fact, these mana counts exceed this minimum, meaning this deck will cast its spells even more reliably. The gold mana costs in this deck do complicate the issue, but on the whole this deck is fundamentally sound.
It would appear that the real costs this deck has to pay is tapped lands, but it doesn't actually play more than some Abzan Aggro lists, which means that the real price is losing scry triggers. There is also the life cost of three Mana Confluence, but this deck does play less painlands than Abzan Aggro. Compared to an aggressive deck without tapped lands, like a classic Zoo deck, there is certainly a cost of lost speed, but the lack of one-mana plays in this deck means this cost is mitigated, even more so than in Abzan Aggro, with its Thoughtseize and Warden of the First Tree.
The Return of Jeskai Tempo
Jeskai hasn't made a big name for itself in the wake of a poor performance at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, but a finals berth in last weekend's Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS), which drew 348 qualified players, is promising news:
Two additions to the archetype draw my attention: Stratus Dancer and Ojutai's Command.
Stratus Dancer is easy to understand; it's a proven sideboard card that is excellent against control decks like Esper Dragons and Abzan Control and even spells from Atarka Red. I have seen it maindeck in Bant Ojutai and Temur, and it's not a stretch it would be good here. It's actually quite good as a two mana 2/1 flyer, especially when followed up by Mantis Rider. Later in the game, it's pure card advantage, and the Counterspell is surprisingly effective against nearly every opponent.
Ojutai's Command is an expensive four mana, so for a mostly reactive card, it needs to be quite good. The most often used mode is "draw a card," which forms the baseline from which the rest of the card is judged, and the reason why it will always generate card advantage.
Gaining four life is the most narrow mode, but it generates real card advantage against burn spells, and it can help to win a race against any opponent. The best mode is the Counterspell, which counters creatures from every major deck in the format. It's most efficient against midrange creatures like Siege Rhino, and Dragons, but later in the game it's certainly still effective against cheaper threats.
The most proactive mode, returning a two-mana creature to play, is effective for returning to play the oft-killed Soulfire Grand Master. Combining these two modes, Counterspell and reanimation, is a powerful tempo play that will set the opponent behind and put the Jeskai deck into position to win the game. Jeskai has been called Jeskai Tempo by some in the past, so Ojutai's Command has its heart in the right place.
Ashcloud Phoenix is excellent against Esper Dragons, but it gets worse the more Abzan Charms there are in the room.
This deck also includes three Dig Through Time, which gets back to the controlling roots of the archetype established by Shaun McLaren with his finals finish at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. With the card advantage generated by Dig Through Time, Ojutai's Command, and Soulfire Grand Master, this deck is well-suited to the control role, so it's comfortable playing longer games against opponents. That being said, this is still an aggressive deck at heart, and it utilizes its creatures to pressure the opponent and put them within burn range of four Stoke the Flames and four Lightning Strike.
The sideboard provides the deck with efficient answers for a variety of threats it will come across in the format, whether it be Glare of Heresy for Abzan Aggro and Abzan Control opponents; Disdainful Stroke for Abzan Control, Esper Dragons, and Collected Company decks; Roast for Siege Rhino; Courser of Kruphix, and any aggressive creature; Gainsay for blue control; Erase for Mastery of the Unseen and Whip of Erebos; or Magma Spray and Twin Bolt, for small creatures from Atarka Red and decks with Elvish Mystic.
The sideboard also includes three Mastery of the Unseen, which allows this deck to generate an endless amount of pressure and board presence in a long attrition game against control decks. It's not likely expected, and an opponent unable to interact with it will likely succumb to the onslaught of 2/2 manifests, some of which will turn into more threatening creatures.
How are you tuning your Standard deck this week?
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