Running the Gauntlet Conclusion – Standard UB Control vs. Abzan Aggro

Welcome to the fourth and final installment of this, the first edition, of Running the Gauntlet. Four weeks ago I started it off with a primer about UB Control in Standard. Since then, every week I’ve played a matchup with Owen Turtenwald. This week, Owen and I played our Running the Gauntlet decks against each other—My U/B Control against his Abzan Aggro.


Deck List

The Matchup

This is a pretty tough matchup for UB Control. The biggest problem is that starting on as early as turn one, the Abzan Aggro deck plays very powerful threats. Even their 2-mana creatures, Rakshasa Deathdealer and Fleecemane Lion, can easily win the game on their own if unanswered quickly. Deathdealer in particular is very difficult to beat in the mid- to late game, since other than Perilous Vault and Ugin there’s no way to get it off the table. The same is true for Fleecemane Lion.

Because of these cheap threats, Abzan can usually force UB to play on its back foot. It can be very hard to leave mana up, since even the 2- and 3-mana creatures hit so hard that you’re forced to tap out to kill them for fear of something like Valorous Stance. Also, because all the threats in Abzan Aggro are so powerful, right down to the 1-drops, it really weakens your sweepers. Where a deck like Mono-Red is basically forced to go all-in and hope that you don’t have it, Abzan Aggro can typically be content to just keep one or two threats on the table.

Owen’s list also had Boon Satyr this week, which is actually particularly troublesome. The way the UB deck is going to be able to win games is basically tap out every turn two through four to kill a creature, then start chaining card draw into creature removal for a few turns before landing a big threat. With Boon Satyr, if I’m able to hold open mana on Owen’s third turn, he can wait until the end of my fourth turn to cast Boon Satyr, then if I spend mana to deal with it, he can untap and play Siege Rhino or Anafenza or another big threat. If I don’t spend mana to deal with it, he can still play a threat in his main phase, and if I do spend mana to deal with that, he can continue to pressure me with Boon Satyr.


After playing (and losing) six matches, here’s how I think I’d sideboard now:


-2 Perilous Vault

This card has some good applications, such as killing Lion and Deathdealer. However, in practice, spending 9 mana and a card to effectively answer a 2-mana spell is not where you want to be. Obviously, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but I think in the games where Vault is good, it’s because the Abzan Aggro draw had some glaring holes. I think in any reasonable game, Perilous Vault is far too slow and you don’t typically have time to even cast it.

-2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Leaving in Ashiok on the play to try to get lucky is a reasonable strategy, and possibly even a correct one, which I was trying at first, but ultimately it didn’t seem to work out, and I felt like I’d rather have cards that actually do something.

-2 Dissolve

I like counterspells in general, but against fast decks they tend to be at their worst. Against this type of fast deck, I think they’re even worse as you’re often tapping out to deal with threats. You still leave in a couple in order to deal with cards like Siege Rhino and Nissa, but you don’t want your hand to be flooded with counters in the early game.

-2 Disdainful Stroke

Dissolve is typically better but the important thing about Disdainful Stroke is that it allows you to cast two spells as early as turn four, more likely turn five, with Disdainful Stroke and Hero’s Downfall. Disdainful Stroke allows you to realistically answer two threats in a turn the fastest, which makes up for the lack of power level vs. Dissolve.


+3 Thoughtseize

I don’t typically like Thougthseize against aggro decks, but this is a major exception. Your goal with Thoughtseize is simply to break up the curve of the Abzan Aggro deck. Often times you need to do your best to make them take a turn off, so rather than answering a fresh threat, you can answer a threat from a previous turn and then untap with mana up and play 1-for-1 as the game goes on. Also, although the deck is aggressive, it’s not a Stoke the Flames deck, and you’re likely going to know when you’re in jeopardy of getting “burned out” by a Siege Rhino.

+1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death

Silumgar is okay. It gives you a board presence and can block a Fleecemane Lion for a while after it goes monstrous. Also, with Bile Blight, he can go on the offensive and kill Anafenza, which isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something.

+2 Pharika’s Cure

Boon Satyr, Rakshasha Deathdealer, and Warden of the First Tree are enough to bring this in.

+1 Murderous Cut

Murderous Cut is possibly your best sideboard card, as if you’re trading 1-for-1 this will almost assuredly let your cast two spells in a turn very quickly.

+1 Crux of Fate

Slightly better than Perilous Vault, although not great either. I think it’s still worth having for at least the potential to get a 2-for-1.

Overall, the matchup just isn’t very good. If we added some Dark Betrayal to the sideboard to have cheap efficient answers to half of the Abzan threats, it would probably help. More Murderous Cut would be good too, but then you run the risk of overloading delve cards, which sort of defeats the purpose.


I played against Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, Mono-Red Aggro, Sidisi Whip, and Abzan Aggro. I felt Ascendancy Combo was slightly even or maybe a small favorite for UB. Mono-Red and Abzan Aggro are both horrible matchups. Sidisi Whip is very good for UB. Overall, UB Control is a good deck, but it’s not a great deck. The power level of the cards just isn’t high enough, and there is a tremendous amount of luck in getting good mana draws. Your cards have to line up near perfectly against a lot of the archetypes to win the games and it’s just not a great place to be. Maybe things will change with Dragons of Tarkir but we’ll have to wait and see.

Be sure to check out Owen’s side of this week with Abzan Aggro, and we’ll be back in a few weeks with new decks and another installment of Running the Gauntlet after Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.

2 thoughts on “Running the Gauntlet Conclusion – Standard UB Control vs. Abzan Aggro”

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