Magic Math – Grand Prix London By The Numbers

Last weekend, Grand Prix London was dominated by Hangarback Abzan. Fabrizio Anteri piloted the deck to a 1st-place finish, but even more impressively, there were 5 copies in the Top 9!

Aggregate Hangarback Abzan

Based on those 5 decks, I determined the aggregate Hangarback Abzan deck using the method I outlined here:

The main alternatives for the last few non-land slots in the main deck were the 1st Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, 4th Abzan Charm, 2nd Warden of the First Tree, 1st Wingmate Roc, and 3rd Ultimate Price. In the sideboard, the main alternative options included Glare of Heresy, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and more Herald of Torment.

So what’s the deal with this deck?

Hangarback Abzan is like Abzan Aggro, but with Hangarback Walker instead of Rakshasa Deathdealer. The Hangfather is good early and good late, easy on the mana base, excellent against Mono-Red, good with Tragic Arrogance, and happy to receive +1/+1 counters from Anafenza, Dromoka’s Command, or Abzan Charm. It also provides protection from Languish or Foul-Tongue Invocation. The card is solid overall, and you don’t need Shrapnel Blast to take advantage of it.

The idea of Hangarback Walker in Abzan Aggro was not a secret. Brian Braun-Duin had been writing about it, and Chad Kastel finished in the Top 8 of an SCG Premier IQ in Washington on August 9. But it took London by storm, and it will likely become a big player in Standard going forward.

Overall Match Win Percentages

Combining the deck archetypes for the 238 players in Day 2 of GP London (as determined by Tobi Henke, Craig Jones, and me) with the match results of Rounds 10-15, I could obtain the match win percentage (excluding mirror matches and draws) of all the popular archetypes.

GP London Day 2 Match Win Percentages

Archetypes colored in green won a lot; the red ones in the table did not. Although the sample size is relatively small—the results for Abzan Rally and Esper Dragon, for instance, are based on only 40 matches each—I want to make several observations:

  • If you like to curve Fleecemane Lion into Anafenza into Siege Rhino, then it’s probably best to go for the Hangarback Walker version. The difference in win percentage between the versions with the artifact (57%) and without (31%) is startling. Sure, the sample size for the latter is small, and Florian Koch did manage to win the Super Sunday Series in London with a list that purposefully ignored Hangarback Walker in favor of Thoughtseize and Gather Courage, but the numbers for Hangarback Abzan are promising.
  • Mono-Red appears to be poorly positioned right now, winning only 40% of the matches. People may have too many hate cards, such as Arashin Cleric, in their sideboards at the moment.
  • Esper Dragons didn’t post a Top 8 finish, but it nevertheless had a very high win percentage on Day 2. Against Hangarback Abzan, it went 6-2, which is an indication that the matchup is favorable for Esper Dragons.

Matchup-Specific Match Win Percentages

With the data that I had on the Grand Prix, I could also determine how often any one archetype defeated any other deck in Day 2. The table below shows this for the four most-played decks.

GP London Matchups

The way to read this is that Abzan Control played against Hangarback Abzan 19 times, winning 5 and losing 14 of those matches.

This lopsided matchup was a huge surprise to me! I’d have expected Abzan Control to be favored against Abzan Aggro because it can keep pace with the aggressive starts but can play a 2-for-1 Languish and win the late-game with Elspeth. In fact, before seeing these numbers, Abzan Control was the deck that I was going to suggest for the current field full of Hangarback Abzan.

How could Hangarback Abzan suddenly be a 74% favorite in this matchup? Are Thopter tokens all you need to beat Elspeth? I messaged 9th-place finisher Ondrej Strasky and 1st-place finisher Fabrizio Anteri, both of whom played Hangarback Abzan at the Grand Prix.

“I have no clue; going into the tournament I thought it was my worst matchup,” Strasky told me. “Maybe it’s because Abzan Control is so hard to play?”

Anteri agreed: “I would have also imagined Abzan Control to still be the favorite… First thought that comes to mind is bad players on the Abzan Control side, that’s the hardest deck to play and with so many 50-50 games every little decision can make a difference. Other than that, I think Abzan Control is a bit clunky and Languish is not as good as it looks against the deck.”

So the jury is still out there. For now, I’d guess that the 14-5 result was just a fluke because the sample size of 19 matches is small. As an indication, if the true matchup was 53% in Abzan Control’s favor, then the probability that Hangarback Abzan would win at least 14 out of 19 matches is 1.7%. This is small, but not impossible.

What to Play Now?

I’m currently considering a kind of mix between Hangarback Abzan and Abzan Control for my WMCQ this weekend. In line with what Fabrizio Anteri suggested to me, start with Hangarback Abzan, cut an Ultimate Price and/or Dromoka’s Command, and add one or two Elspeth. This should improve your chances in the mirror. Alternatively, a Blue/Black Control deck with Perilous Vault could be well-positioned because it can exile Hangarback Walker and is not afraid of Dromoka’s Command.

What do you think the best deck to play this weekend at the WMCQ will be?

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