As metagames shift and formats evolve, sometimes our favorite decks see upgrades and iterations that drastically alter their gameplay style and pilot experience. One of the decks with the largest changelogs in the format is likely to be Greasefang, where the core shell has seen three different color splashes that have dramatically changed the general game plan of the deck. I’ve covered one of the previous iterations before, but as the archetype has evolved to match the pace and popular answers of the format, so too does its construction. Let’s dive in to some updates with Abzan Greasefang.
Budget Pioneer Abzan Greasefang by Darren Magnotti
Note: Each Pioneer deck covered in this series is built at the time of writing to a $100 budget. This is in attempt to keep things reasonable for those who are actually looking to buy into the format on the cheap while not skimping so much that the deck is completely without the power to keep up. Every deck showcased in this series has been personally tested and is being shown off for a reason, whether it’s the deck’s competitive aptitude, its ability to transition easily into a nonbudget version or its capacity to teach a newer player a vital skill required to keep up in today’s competitive metagame.
Abzan Greasefang, as opposed to its Esper or Mardu siblings, is part midrange pile, part turbo combo deck. Of the three established paths to take the Greasefang strategy, Abzan is generally the fastest and most consistent in terms of assembling the combo. It dedicates more of its slots to typically “bad” cards that pull more weight in advancing towards the combo than they provide practicality in other circumstances. The pulls of Mardu and Esper are that they easily convert into midrange decks that happen to have a combo element to them, whereas Abzan prefers to combo as its primary game plan.
The combo, for those uninitiated, consists of the namesake Greasefang, Okiba Boss bringing back a Parhelion II and crewing it up to swing in for 13 damage from out of nowhere. In an ideal world, this iteration of the deck has access to the combo starting on turn two, which the other versions don’t have access to, along with a much more consistent turn three. Because the Pioneer format has generally gotten a lot more interactive recently, this version has come forward as the ideal due simply to its ability to end games before some of those interactive hate pieces can come online and end up mattering. While typically a quicker combo deck means a more fragile combo deck, the Abzan version also mitigates this by way of its inclusion of Esika’s Chariot, which can present a stable, expanding threat at all points in the game.
The main theme as far as setting up the combo is digging through the library in order to put copies of Parhelion into the graveyard in the first few turns. Stitcher’s Supplier comes down on turn one and acts as a first line of defense to get the self-mill started, but the real digging power is at the two-drop slot. Raffine’s Informant may look rather innocuous, but its capacity to get a Parhelion out of hand or card filter to help find a Greasefang, on top of being a three-power threat in the early turns, makes it one of the better cards in the deck.
Satyr Wayfinder provides some double duty, acting as another cheap chump blocker on defense while setting things up and by smoothing out the mana situation with its ability to grab a land. Grisly Salvage is probably the most important self-mill spell in the deck however, as it digs the deepest and can also grab a Greasefang to secure the combo on the following turn. Can’t Stay Away wraps things up with its ability to revive a milled Greasefang, even from the graveyard itself thanks to flashback. This card is one of the main pieces that really helps to increase the consistency and potency of this deck, as it eliminates several of the traditional circumstances that a reanimator style deck gets punished by variance.
Each card in this list is dedicated in some form or fashion to putting the Parhelion combo together. Aside from spending the first handful of turns setting up a chump blocking barricade, the deck also packs a couple of main deck answers to help push through the hate that opponents may be bringing to the table.
Duress’s main objective is to remove removal spells in the early turns, as the combo is relatively fragile due to it’s spanning across multiple zones. Unlicensed Hearse, three-damage burn spells, and artifact removal are all generally things that hamper the combo and dispatching those as soon as possible helps keep the game plan moving smoothly.
In a similar line, Witherbloom Command is very sneakily strong in this deck with its capacity to deal with answers to the combo from the main deck on top of providing some bonus utility. My most common modes were the self-mill plus destroying a permanent, which can clear out the likes of Unlicensed Hearse, Weathered Runestone or Bloodtithe Harvester and its token among many others. Some of its additional utility has been to help stay in the game against Mono-Red using the last ability, using the first ability to undo a scry-to-the-top from the opponent while rebuying a milled land in the later turns of the game, and creating a two-for-one against Heroic by killing off their turn one Monastery Swiftspear and turn two Illuminator Virtuoso.
I’ve found the deck to range from fairly consistent to downright explosive depending on its draw. While there are some weaknesses within the structure of the deck, there are work-arounds to help mitigate them as well.
Esika’s Chariot carries a lot of weight when the combo plan starts to go awry, filling a similar role as it had in the old Winota, Joiner of Forces lists of being a generically strong beater and midrange threat. Can’t Stay Away adds a tremendous amount of consistency to the deck as it doesn’t need to rely on having any cards in hand to function unlike the other two-color variants, which I believe is what makes this iteration a real contender in today’s Rakdos and Azorius dominated metagame.
On the whole, the deck is simple in its design and terribly efficient. Even when things start off a little rocky, say via a timely Thoughtseize from the opponent, the deck recovers fairly well thanks to the high redundancy in the dig spells. All in all, I think that Abzan Greasefang is a great choice for people who like large and impressive plays without working too hard for them, and who don’t mind playing around a hate card every now and then.
Pioneer Abzan Greasefang by Mr_richard93
Upgrades for this one are extremely straightforward, as the main deck nonlands are all fairly stock at this point. Thoughtseize doesn’t add a ton of utility as there aren’t many creatures that you might be hitting with it in Game 1, though being able to side in additional copies of a single target discard spell is quite valuable on occasion. Unlicensed Hearse is also leagues better than Go Blank in terms of graveyard hate as you don’t need to dedicate an entire turn to casting it in the later turns. It being a Vehicle is also pretty useful as it can go on the aggressive without fear with Greasefang on standby to recycle it. The deck is seeing fairly regular iteration, but for now the list seems to have solidified pretty well into this core.
That’s all for this one! Greasefang has been one of my pet decks since Kamigawa’s release, and it’s been fun watching it morph and shape with the demands of the format. Make sure to keep an eye out in the future, as I’m sure more iterations will pop up over time. Being one of the true reanimator-style decks in the format makes it a very appealing deck to some, while others are drawn to the simple design and function of a deck with all four-ofs. However you look at it, Greasefang decks absolutely slap, and are sure to be mainstays of the format for a long time coming. Until next time, star safe, play smart and thanks for reading!