With all the fetchlands and battlelands in Standard right now, proper sequencing of your lands in the early turns is essential. A few weeks ago, I covered several Dark Jeskai opening hands and described which lands I would play and/or fetch in the first few turns of the game. In this article, I’ll do the same for Abzan. Abzan won Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar in the hands of Kazuyuki Takimura and was the most popular and second-most popular deck on Day 2 of Grand Prix Quebec and Grand Prix Indianapolis, respectively.
Kazuyuki Takimura, Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Champion
In the following 4 opening hands, you are on the play against an unknown deck, and the question is: Which lands would you play and/or fetch on turns 1, 2, and 3?
This one is easy and essentially just a warm-up exercise. The sequence of lands I describe allows you to play Warden of the First Tree on turn 1, level it up on turn 2, and cast Anafenza on turn 3. You have close-to-perfect mana after that. The only thing that could go wrong is that you might draw Gideon followed by a string of Forests and Llanowar Wastes, but that’s an unlikely scenario.
It is tempting to play Shambling Vent on turn 1 so that you get the tapland out of the way and have the flexibility of fetching basics with Flooded Strand later. Indeed, this is often the correct line of play. However, in this scenario, a turn-1 Shambling Vent will leave you unable to cast Warden of the First Tree if you topdeck it.
Moreover, there’s no real upside to playing a turn-1 Shambling Vent over Flooded Strand here. If I topdeck Hangarback Walker on turn 2, then I’d still prefer to fetch a tapped Canopy Vista on turn 2 because I’d rather have Anafenza on turn 3 for sure than a Hangarback Walker on turn 2 and maybe nothing on turn 3. And if I topdeck a basic land on turn 2, then I’ll hit my curve no matter which land I played on turn 1.
In the end, with this Abzan deck, all you need to cast your spells is G on turn 1, BGW on turn 3, and 2WW on turn 4. My solution allows for that.
This hand has plenty of options for reaching perfect mana, but there is still the question of when and which lands you want to fetch. My solution is guided by four factors: deck thinning, lands remaining in the deck, Gideon, and Den Protector.
Deck thinning is not a huge factor—in the late game, I often actually leave fetchlands uncracked because saving a point of life is typically more impactful than increasing the probability of drawing a spell by a little bit—but it can be a tiebreaker for land sequencing decisions in the early turns, especially if you’ll likely have to crack those fetchlands at some point in the game anyway. If I have an opening hand with 4 or more lands, like this one, then I don’t want to draw more lands, so I like to fetch as early as possible. It can also help make a topdecked Murderous Cut cheaper. This is why I start with a fetchland on turn 1 and activate it right away.
The next factor is which lands remain in the deck. In Abzan, Wooded Foothills can only fetch 2 Forest, 2 Canopy Vista, and 1 Smoldering Marsh, while Flooded Strand can only fetch 2 Plains, 2 Canopy Vista, and 1 Sunken Hollow. Running out of lands could come up, so if you’re not sure what to do with your fetchlands, try to fetch a land that leaves you with the largest number of options for later. In this case, because you already have a Forest in hand, I prefer to leave as many lands for Wooded Foothills in my deck as possible, and thus I lead with Flooded Strand.
Gideon is the next piece of the puzzle. With our opening hand, we need to fetch a basic land with either Wooded Foothills or Flooded Strand to guarantee that our battlelands will enter the battlefield untapped. Moreover, our fetchlands need to get us a black source for Abzan Charm and preferably a second white source for Gideon in case we draw the planeswalker later in the game. The only way to do that is to fetch Smoldering Marsh with Wooded Foothills and Plains with Flooded Strand.
Finally, my choice to play Forest on turn 2 is based on Den Protector. What I’m about to say may not apply if we immediately draw Hangarback Walker or Warden of the First Tree or if our opponent plays a Dromoka’s Command target in Hardened Scales or Obscuring Aether, but I prefer to cast Den Protector face up on turn 2 if I don’t have another play. In my experience, it’s more important to curve out with Abzan than to try to get as much value from your cards as possible, and the 2/1 is an acceptable 2-drop, so that’s why I would plan to play Forest on turn 2.
This is a tough one. You have to choose: Do you try to hit your curve with a 3/3 Warden of the First Tree in the hope of drawing another black source for Anafenza? Or do you slow down and set up perfect mana instead?
My solution is the safe play. If, in contrast to my solution, you would fetch Forest on turn 1 with Wooded Foothills to make a turn-1 Warden, then you have 2 draw steps to find Flooded Strand, Wooded Foothills, Llanowar Wastes, Sunken Hollow, or Smoldering Marsh for the perfect curve into Anafenza. The probability of finding at least one such land in your first two draw steps is only 41%. Your chances improve a little bit if you take into account Shambling Vent, although it may not help you cast Anafenza on curve.
So let’s say that you’re roughly 50/50 to find a black source in time. The problem is that if you don’t, your chances of winning go down drastically. And if you do, then the advantage of having a 3/3 Warden instead of a 1/1 Warden is not that large. All things considered, I would just play safe in this situation: guarantee perfect mana and get the turn-2 Warden and turn-3 Anafenza for sure.