Last week I wrote a deep analysis of Abzan Hangarback after GP London. In this one you’ll find an updated deck list with the updated sideboard plan, after my recent win at the Italian WMCQ.
Over the week I tested various decks, like Abzan Control, which is supposed to beat Abzan Hangarback. Turns out it doesn’t, and loses to a few more decks you normally beat with the aggro version.
I also tried out Jeskai, which has a good matchup against Abzan Hangarback, but again I was losing to every non-Abzan deck.
I didn’t want to play UB/Esper Dragons for fear of Mono-Red players, mostly because the whole of my testing is based on 8-person queues on MTGO. I know that’s a different story for the paper metagame, but I figured that at the WMCQ, people will play whatever they have—and Mono-Red is a deck that most players can get if they want it.
I’m not going to post the deck list I won the WMCQ with, since I think I made a few bad choices. I’ll share my current deck list, which is also what I’m going to play in GP Prague:
I cut Warden of the First Tree. I know many of you will say “I’ve already done that”—the point is that the metagame slowed down quite a bit and you can sort of take it easy.
Because of this, I also cut Mana Confluence for the 11th tapland. That might seem like a lot for an aggro deck, but isn’t a true aggro deck, and scrylands are great! I’ve added a Temple of Plenty so that now your mana base is 17-17-17 and everyone is happy.
I’ve added 2 more Den Protectors.
I remember that in my previous article I was against this choice, but since the metagame is now full of very slow decks (like Abzan Control, Jeskai, Esper, mirror) those cards are insane, and the more you have the better it is.
I didn’t change the numbers on Wingmate Roc because it is the best card in the mirror and a key card against Jeskai. It usually grants you plenty of 2-for-1s, or even more.
The rise of Hangarback Walker demands an answer and Abzan Charm is the most versatile. Still, I think you can’t afford to play the full 4 because you need a couple of answers for planeswalkers like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
As for the sideboard, I just trimmed a Thoughtseize for 2 Duress so that I’m still able to sideboard smoothly against Mono-Red, but mostly I need answers for Ojutai’s Command. That card is a beating, and it’s the best card against you. You need to kill Jace early, usually with an Ultimate Price, and then whenever they counter one of your creatures and get back their planeswalker you’re so far behind that you can never recover.
On turn 7 in the 6-0 bracket I played against a good player from Rome. In game 3 I had 2 Rhinos, 2 Den Protectors, and a Wingmate Roc in my hand but didn’t cast any of them, I just kept drawing and playing lands, waiting for a discard spell. He was doing nothing as well, waiting for me to tap out.
Long short story: Discard spells are great in this moment, and it’s the reason why you should play Abzan over GW.
I also added Self-Inflicted Wound which is natually great against all the Fleecemane Lion decks, but in my testing I discovered that it’s also good against Jeskai, being able to kill Soulfire Grand Master and Mantis Rider for only 2 mana with an upside. It is much better than Abzan Charm in that matchup.
Finally I cut Dromoka’s Command because I needed space for Duress, and it was a good card only against Mono-Red and UR Thopter. Against Red, you already have a third Ultimate Price and 2 Duress, and you have nothing more to board out in addition to the 3 Abzan Charms. Thopters, I think, will be played less and less as Standard progresses (even though 2 players hit Top 8 with it at my WMCQ).
As I said, whenever you’re building a Standard deck you always need to have a smooth sideboard plan for this matchup, because it’s the most punishing if you don’t have the right cards at the right moment.
Abzan Hangarback (Mirror)
This is a little more complicated since, with the exception of Ultimate Price, all your cards are great, but you really want to board in 4 cards from the sideboard.
I like trimming one Hangarback Walker since you don’t want to draw 3 or 4—if they have Anafenza, the Foremost in play they are so bad that even having 2 in your hand will likely be very bad. Otherwise it’s a great card that you are really happy to play on turn 2.
Usually if you have the Lion + Hangarback hand I like to play Lion when I’m on the play to start the pressure. If they already played their Lion though, I don’t want to run mine into their Dromoka’s Command, therefore I’d lead with Hangarback Walker. That’s why I would board out 1 Fleecemane Lion on the draw. Another tip is to always kill their creatures on your turn to make their Dromoka’s Commands worse.
The quality of Hero’s Downfall depends on the number of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion your opponent is playing post-sideboard, but generally you can deal with Elspeth in a few different ways. So, if you saw zero in game 2 then you can afford to cut one for game 3.
This is another matchup that I’ve tested a lot and I came to this conclusion: Fleecemane Lion isn’t good enough. Their plan usually relies on Languish and you just have to dodge that by boarding out all your cards that die to it. Well, Anafenza, the Foremost is still an insane card against Den Protector and Hangarback Walker, but it’s the only creature that dies to Languish without leaving something behind (like Hangarback and Den Protector).
Dromoka’s Command isn’t that good because there’s nothing great to kill, and they leave their mana open so often that you don’t want to play into their removal spells.
Thoughtseize is good to discard their high impact cards like Elspeth and Ugin, and can also interrupt the Den Protector chain.
If you draw Tragic Arrogance you will likely win, if you don’t then you will most certainly lose. Not the deck I would like to play against often in a tournament.
Wingmate Roc isn’t great against Crux of Fate and Languish, and Self-Inflicted Wound is a great answer for Dragonlord Ojutai, since you really need to keep your Hero’s Downfall for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and your Abzan Charm to draw cards.
Discard spells are the key. Their hands are so devoid of real action sometimes they become a simple puzzle—if you take out the right piece, everything falls apart.
This is an exceptionally difficult matchup. You have to play as a control deck, and make them waste their burn spells on 2-for-1s. That’s why I don’t love Fleecemane Lion, because it’s the only profitable target for Lightning Strike.
You have to playtest the matchup and always play around Ojutai’s Command.
I hope I answered every question you had from my past article, and I will continue replying to your inquiries—So don’t hesitate do hit me up!