Deck Guide – Modern Abzan in D.C.

As with the previous 3 Pro Tours, I tested with Team Day1MTG and even though we gathered very early, I had already chosen my deck. I’ve been playing BG/x decks since Bloodbraid Elf and Deathrite Shaman were legal, and after the bannings, it was clear that Abzan Midrange would be one of the best decks.

I spent my time there tuning the ideal 75 cards:

  • Dark Confidant vs. Tasigur, the Golden Fang: This was the first issue to solve, both are good in the mirror and while Confidant is good against combo decks like Scapeshift and Tron it’s absolutely terrible against Burn and aggro matchups. Tasigur, on the other hand, is never a dead card, so we ended up playing it.
  • Tectonic Edge vs. manlands: Tasigur requires at least 10 fetches, so along with the usual requirement of duals and basic lands we ended up with only 4 slots free. The addition to Siege Rhino doesn’t allow too many colorless sources and along with the fact that we were expecting a lot of mirrors matches where manlands are far more important, we decided to play just one Tectonic Edge, 2 Treetop Villages, and 1 Stirring Wildwood.

In the end, thanks to Daryl Ayers, most of the team played Scapeshift, Calcano was on Doran, while 2 teammates and I listed this 75:

Even though I think this is the best deck at the moment, I ended up doing poorly in Constructed with a overall record of 5-5, beating 2 Burn, 1 Jund, 1 UWR Tempo, 1 Abzan, and losing to 2 Affinity, 1 Infect, 1 GW Hate Bears, and BW Tokens.

Other than BW Tokens, played by Ivan Floch, where I was destroyed, Affinity where I mulliganed to 5 and 4, and against UWR Tempo where my opponent conceded both games on turn 5, the other 7 rounds were very close. In general this deck has close matchups against the field, you have good tools against almost every deck but you need to draw the proper cards.

I played against Matt Sperling, and in game 2 I didn’t mulligan a hand that contained no hate cards (like Lingering Souls, Damnation, or Stony Silence) and kept a hand with Tarmogoyf, Fulminator Mage, Abrupt Decay, Siege Rhino, and 3 lands. I didn’t draw any of my sideboard cards for the rest of the game and lost.

Lesson learned and during the last round of Swiss, playing for the 10-6 again vs. Affinity, I mulliganed a similar 7-card hand, and found myself mulliganing to 4 cards with very little chance of winning the game.

I don’t know yet if mulliganing fair hands vs. Affinity is correct, and I think that this could be a very interesting discussion. It’s the same story against Burn, where all you want is discard spells + Tarmogoyf + Timely Reinforcements, but obviously it’s not a good strategy to always mulligan hands until you find a Reinforcements.

There are a lot of decks in Modern, but knowing how to sideboard against the 4 most popular archetypes will go a long way.

Abzan on the play



On the draw



It’s pretty well known that discard spells are bad in the mirror due to the fact that grindy matchups come down to topdecking and you don’t really want to draw discard spells when both players are hellbent. I don’t think this statement is always correct, and my opponents—Nam Sung Wook and Pascal Maynard—at the Pro Tour were on my side, since they both kept discard spells in as well.

There are multiple reasons:

  • The power level in the mirror match is very high right now, and there are a lot of cards that have a huge impact on the board, where you can’t simply play a removal spell and be satisfied with your 1-for-1 because those cards had already done an important job (i.e. Liliana of the Veil, Siege Rhino, Tasigur, the Golden Fang with 4 mana open).
  • Sometimes the game goes very long, and the hands are full of cards thanks to Tasigur, the Golden Fang, so even a late Thoughtseize is still good.
  • Some people love to board in expensive cards like Sigarda, Host of Herons, Gideon Jura, Batterskull, or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, and those cards are very difficult to answer and a Thoughtseize can remove them. On the other hand I don’t like any of those cards myself, since you don’t want over-board, taking out cards that are good (Thoughtseize) to put in sideboard cards for just one matchup, and that you can have problems casting (the double-white is usually an issue.)
  • Fulminator Mage is good only on turn 3 on the play or to destroy a manland, and can be a dead draw like Thoughtseize in the late game with a board full of 4/5s.

An important tip in this matchup is not to play a 2-drop on the draw if you didn’t Thoughtseize our opponent on turn 1, because Liliana of the Veil could be devastating. Wait to draw one of the 4 Lingering Souls or a Thoughtseize to clear the path for the future creatures.




This sideboard plan is also very interesting, since I see a lot of people boarding out 4 Liliana of the Veils and adding 4 Fulminator Mages, but I don’t think Liliana is so bad. Obviously there are scenarios where she doesn’t shine, but post-sideboard you have more removal spells and more Lingering Souls to trade creatures and clear the path for her.

Fulminator Mage also isn’t great—a Grizzly Bear that doesn’t block anything and destroys a Nexus is not always what you want to do on 3 mana.

Once again I like Thoughtseize, even though they are bad after turn 4 they are excellent on turn 1 or 2 since Affinity has very few real threats and usually taking one or two away can lead straight to a victory. Also sometimes opponents board answers to Stony Silence or Lingering Souls, and Thoughtseize can be helpful to protect your hate cards.

Scavenging Ooze is very bad against them. You are not winning by out-racing them, and it doesn’t block anything very well. The life gain could be useful, but sometimes they play Rest in Peace or you simply don’t have mana between casting removal spells/threats and preventing damage to yourself by putting your lands into play tapped.

Siege Rhino, on the other hand, is excellent. The life-swing is relevant and can’t be profitably blocked by Etched Champion.

Overall the matchup is bad game 1 and good game 2 and game 3.




Burn is a high variance deck, if they draw 4 or 5 lands we are very likely to win. Discard spells are very important, even if they deal us 2 damage, because they prevent at least 3, and more importantly can clear the path for a Timely Reinforcements or Siege Rhino stripping a Skullcrack or a Flames of the Blood Hand.

At the Pro Tour I found myself winning a game where I kept the following hand on the draw post-sideboard:

UR Twin



Here Unravel the Aether shines since it is able to answer every threat they offer: Blood Moon, Splinter Twin, Batterskull, Keranos, God of Storms, Threads of Disloyalty, and Vedalken Shackles.

Lingering Souls is not bad, since they are less likely to combo after sideboarding and more likely to go aggro with their X/1 flyers, just be sure to not be tap out if they can have their combo in hand.

Game 1 is pretty good, while post-board gets a little bit worse but still OK. Be aware of Blood Moon and fetch for basics.

Overall I was satisfied with my testing in Constructed, but I was even more confident about my Limited preparation. We did a huge number of paper drafts, and I did a lot online as well. The first days I kept drafting green decks: Temur, Abzan, Sultai, 4 colors, always with mediocre results even with good rares or premium uncommons, while Christian Calcano and Dan Jordan were always winning with their 2-color aggro decks. We decided at that point that going aggro was the key and that Goblin Heelcutter was the top common, and that Aven Skirmisher a very underrated card and is insane in the archetype. Also red provides awesome cards like Bathe in Dragonfire and Pyrotechnics, so with that in mind I started forcing RW online with very good results.

I had a very tough first pod: I was sitting between Ari Lax and Shouta Yasooka and my draft started as I expected: I first- and second-picked Bathe in Dragonfire, and third-picked Pyrotechnics! Turns out that the guy who opened Pyrotechnics picked a red card over it, and ended up UR. In fact after the first few picks I didn’t see many playables, other than some white cards in the form of 2 Arashin Clerics, 1 War Flare, and 1 Wind-Scarred Crag.

My first-pick second booster was a very tough choice between Murderous Cut and Highspire Mantis. Even though the first is better than the second, I already had some white cards and also in our testing RW performed better than RB.

I was very short on playables though, so I had to play very bad filler, like off-color morphs and the only 2-drops I had were 2 Arashin Cleric, but I had great removal spells, good evasive creatures, and a very good rare: High Sentinels of Arashin.

This was the deck:

I managed to go 2-1 stealing the crown of King of the Hill from Ari Lax in the second round, losing in the pod finals against a strong Mardu deck with good mana, Zurgo Helmsmasher, and 2 Goblin Heelcutter.

I finished Day 1 5-3 and my second Pod was a little easier, I was between Shuhei Nakamura and Pascal Maynard, but didn’t recognize the other 5 people.

I opened Mastery of the Unseen, which I think is one of the best white cards, and after 3 white picks, I got passed a Wild Slash that locked me in RW.

In the second booster I opened Flying Crane Technique in a pack without a red or white card. I usually don’t like splashing when playing an aggro deck, but I ended up picking two dual lands and three Efreet Weaponmasters, ending up Jeskai.

This was my deck, and even if the power level with all the rares is enormous compared to the first one, I still prefer that one for its linear plan and good proportion of removal and evasion:

I don’t like Valley Dasher overall, I think the card is only good on turn 2. The same can be said for Aven Skirmisher, since in this format there are a lot of decks that can’t defend against flying creatures and with 2 Trumpet Blast effects even a 1/1 flyer can be relevant.

Once again I managed to go 2-1, winning against Pascal Maynard with 4-color control.

Game 2 he played Sultai Skullkeeper, I played Leaping Master, and he smashed Heart-Piercer Bow on the table, killing my creature. In my hand I had another Leaping Master, a Gore Swine and drew an Aven Skirmisher: things weren’t looking good. I played a morph creature, he played Jeskai Windscout, and I drew Act of Treason, cast it on his Skullkeeper, and caused my opponent to kill his own Jeskai Windscout! In the end Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker arrived to help me finish my opponent.

Then I lost to 4-color control with Kheru Dreadmaw, multiple Walls and Death Frenzy, and featured Ugin, the Spirit Dragon killing Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker when he was at 4 life. In the last round I played against full Jeskai. The first game he drew all his three colors and won very easily with powerful spells of every color and his own Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, but the in next two he had problems with mana and I won pretty easily.

Overall I was satisfied with my Limited preparation, but I was very upset about Modern, since I know my deck was great but didn’t draw well at all during the tournament and missed, for the third time in a row, the Top 75.

Hope you enjoyed this report. This is all from Italy! Ciao!

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  1. Pingback: Banlist Test: Stoneforge Abzan vs. Affinity (Pt. 1) - Modern Nexus

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