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Abzan Aggro – Card Choices and Deckbuilding – Part III

Hi guys, It’s been a while!

I admit I could’ve written part three last week, but as you’ll see I progressed Abzan Aggro into a rather ‘interesting’ direction and I didn’t feel like sharing what I was working on with everyone before I got a chance to actually try it out in a tournament setting. As I was able to play in two PPTQs, going 4-2 (one of the losses being a concession to a friend) and 3-1-1 (quarter’s: 2-0 and semi’s: 1-2, losing to Atarka Red) I can reasonably safely say that what I’ve been doing is the real deal regardless of how greedy and unlikely-to-be-any-good it might look on the surface.

Before I go into the details of the list I played on the weekend and consider other possible avenues and options going forward, I’d like to recap on my previous list’s weaknesses.

– while I felt favoured in the Esper Dragons match-up, there were rough boardstates that involved them curving counters and removal into an early Dragonlord Ojutai that would take over the game
– maindeck Dromoka’s Commands were incredibly awkward against the control decks and drawing two often meant game over against any reasonable draw from their side
– still not the most popular threat, but being completely unable to deal with Stormbreath Dragon in game one is not great
– the mirror being mostly a coin flip often involving monstrous Fleecemane Lions and other hard to deal with threats sticking after lots of trades and removal spells feels really bad
– sometimes a lack of enough removal spells that can get rid of fatties, especially noticeable versus devotion decks, led to defeat.

Interestingly enough there is one card that does a pretty good job of, if not outright solving, improving all of these issues and generally being an awesome fit in a deck that primarily wants to deal 20 points of damage but has a strong midrange plan as well. It’s a card that has been suggested as being awesome in the current meta by multiple writers multiple times and yet nobody is playing it.

CracklingDoom

This card’s just sweet. It kills the biggest thing on our opponent’s board, disregarding annoying keywords and abilities such as hexproof, indestructible and regenerate. It’s also not in our colours. It belongs to the Mardu horde. The only problem is that the Mardu horde sucks in terms of threats compared to what Abzan offers. But alas, don’t fear, for the answer’s straightforward and near; we simply splash Crackling Doom in our three colour deck that already has a slightly dodgy manabase. Four-colour decks are gas and are what every cardboard warrior and spellslinger should aspire to. There’s also no better way to show blue mages how laughable and futile their efforts are than by smashing them with all four colours that actually do something in this game. I tried that and soon realised that the mana is actually not significantly worse than in my old three-colour lists and actually better than in lists trying to play green two-drops, Brimaz and Hero’s Downfall in the same deck. But enough of the rambling, here’s what I actually sleeved up for my PPTQs.

Rhinos of Doom

Creatures: (21)
Warden of the First Tree
Fleecemane Lion
Rakshasa Deathdealer
Anafenza, the Foremost
Siege Rhino
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Planeswalkers: (1)
Xenagos, the Reveler

Spells: (12)
Crackling Doom
Abzan Charm
Thoughtseize
Lands: (26)
Sandsteppe Citadel
Nomad Outpost
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Mana Confluence
Llanowar Wastes
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Forest
Plains
Swamp
Mountain

Sideboard: (15)
Ultimate Price
Dragonlord Atarka
Seismic Rupture
Dromoka’s Command
Xenagos, the Reveler
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Let’s start with the manabase: we’ve got 16G/16B/15W/12R sources which is perfectly serviceable for the spells we play. On the other hand, we have to rely more heavily on fetchlands as more taplands or more painlands are not really an option for me in a metagame where Atarka’s Commands try to ruin our four colour fun. Drawing basic Mountain in your opening hand with two other lands is pretty miserable too, but like I said, I was positively surprised by this manabase overall and haven’t been able to find a better one yet. We have a higher than necessary number of red sources to ensure being able to cast our anti-red tech of choice, Seismic Rupture on turn three as frequently as possible (a 89% chance with 12 sources, while Drown in Sorrow, the more powerful option, would only be a 76% one).

Moving on to the spell selection in the maindeck, I believe there is only one flex slot as all the other card are simply too good in this deck to not play them as 4-ofs. I ended up going with a miser Xenagos, the Reveler as another threat that can take over the game that together with the second copy out of the sideboard would facilitate the plan to go over the top with Dragonlord Atarka against the mirror, slower Abzan decks and other midrange strategies. I still believe that this plan is theoretically sound even though I didn’t get to test it much in actual games as the number of midrange mirrors I played was very low, which makes sense given the polarisation of this standard environment between Esper Dragons and hyper-aggro red decks. There’s still alternatives though and I will try to test the following cards in the flex slot.

Crater’s Claws
As a 1-of this is both an additional removal spell, albeit a pretty clunky one if ferocious isn’t online as well as a possible game-ender when cast late. Being able to kill a creature for R against red while also potentially burning out midrange and control opponents sounds attractive but the lack of mana ramp in this deck and not-overly-high number of 4/X creatures might mean this Fireball+ doesn’t end up being good enough.

Kolaghan’s Command
2-for-1s are good. Another card that we wouldn’t mind drawing against both ends of the standard metagame spectrum but that’s possibly not where we want to be in most gamestates in board-oriented midrange slugfests where we can’t always afford playing a 3 mana Raise Dead + Raven’s Crime. Incidentally hating on Perilous Vault is a clear plus though and this card’s also worth exploring as a sideboard option.

Mardu Charm
This is probably my favourite of these options on paper and the first one I will play some games with. Unlike the red/black command this is rarely a 2-for-1 against most decks that don’t try to attack us with X/1s but it’s incredibly flexible and useful against aggro, control and midrange strategies. Playing a fifth RWB spell in our deck with multiple basic Forests could be an issue though.

As two of my three losses with the deck last weekend were against G/W aggro/midrange decks built around Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, I’d like to take that match-up more seriously in my sideboarding which means a return to Self-Inflicted Wound as I prefer a more aggressive approach against their superior late-game and inevitability due to a never-ending stream of dinosaurs and other creatures. As control seems to have gravitated even more towards Esper Dragons, it is not necessary to change any cards in that match-up which means we can fully dedicate our 15 slots to beating other decks.

Overall, I think the following list is a good starting point moving forward and the sideboard can be easily tuned to reflect changes in the metagame as being in four colours provides us with a wealth of options to choose from. At the very moment, splashing red for the best removal spell in Standard and assorted other goodies seems to be worth it but a return to a more consistent manabase would be called for as soon as Dragonlord Ojutai’s popularity wanes again.

Rhinos of Doom v2.2

Creatures: (21)
Warden of the First Tree
Fleecemane Lion
Rakshasa Deathdealer
Anafenza, the Foremost
Siege Rhino
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Spells: (13)
Crackling Doom
Abzan Charm
Mardu Charm
Thoughtseize

Land: (26)
Sandsteppe Citadel
Nomad Outpost
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Mana Confluence
Llanowar Wastes
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Forest
Plains
Swamp
Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Ultimate Price
Dragonlord Atarka
Seismic Rupture
Dromoka’s Command
Self-Inflicted Wound

That’s all for now! See you again soon!

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