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Standard Rough Draft: Abzan, Red, and Bring to Light

New format, same old Rhino. Let’s jump right into a new exciting format where Siege Rhino is legal. The four decks in my initial testing, Abzan, Jeskai, Mono-Red, and Abzan Bring to Light, I chose based on the fact that smashing them against each other is pretty fun. There are a few stable archetypes such as Esper Dragons, Mono-/Atarka Red, and Jeskai, but the card choices and metagame can make such a huge difference in how they perform. I’ve already seen Temur, 5cc Dragons, Ramp Dragons, Ramp Eldrazi, Bring to Light Control, Bring to Light Abzan, Aristocrats, UB, and UW Control on the MTGO Beta and that’s not even the full list.

So I started with Abzan, Mono-Red, Jeskai, and Abzan-base Bring to Light.

For the most part there’s nothing really wrong with stock Abzan. I see players claim that their new brews beat the popular deck, as usual, and every time I try it I can’t imagine them beating this deck. The problem is simple—it isn’t that Siege Rhino is impossible to deal with, it’s actually outclassed by Woodland Wanderer. But while a number of ways to deal with Rhinos have left the format, Abzan Charm and Valorous Stance are still around. Both of these are cheap instants with secondary functions, which make them the best options in midrange fights. Ruinous Path is definitely helpful, but needing to tap down mana at sorcery speed can be a serious downer. Hangarback Walker is also surprisingly hard for non-Jeskai decks to deal with, which is weird because we just went through two months of endless Thopters.

Abzan

Right now that’s the main difference I noticed when battling Abzan against other midrange decks (at least, the ones without Jace). It doesn’t help that post-board they still have to try and beat the classic one-two punch of just casting Siege Rhino into Tragic Arrogance. Ob Nixilis has also proven to be one of the best 5-drops to follow up Rhino, and since I’m not trying to beat down constantly I actually prefer him over Gideon here. Such a high loyalty ‘walker is pretty tough for normal midrange to kill, and the traditional use of killing a creature immediately and forcing the opponent to react is sorely lacking from cheaper planeswalkers.

Otherwise it’s pretty much the same old Abzan from before except it’s more prone to people going over the top of you because of the lack of Thoughtseize and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. That may be the determining factor between more aggressive Abzan builds and this traditional midrange type—stopping one or two Dragons or even an Eldrazi is pretty easy. Trying to stop multiple threats is a huge problem, and Greenwarden of Murasa best encapsulates the issues with grinding some decks out now. Still, the combination of Transgress the Mind and Den Protector does a number on any go-big plan.

Some will look at the mana and immediately note the low number of battlelands and I did actually make another mana base involving the battlelands. I chose to showcase this one primarily because it was hitting on curve far more often and could actually support my sideboard cards.

I’ve seen more extreme versions with 12 or more fetches and I can’t really picture it working out. I can buy that a well-refined battleland mana base is going to be more consistent or give better mana ratios than the traditional version while giving some color flexibility. However, there’s no way to take these decks with off-color fetches and battlelands seriously if they want to cast 2-drops. If you don’t mind sacrificing your first two turns or keeping hands with an off-color basic and double battleland, then so be it.

With that many fetches and battlelands you’re almost assured you’ll need to fetch duals early to not be color screwed, and that means you’re either fetching weird combinations of basics to make the rest active or just accepting that you have 20 enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands in your deck.

Red

As for other decks, this is my current goldfish red deck:

There’s nothing special going on with this build, I just wanted to build a fairly quick red deck that didn’t snap-lose to blockers and had options against Radiant Flames. It’s surprising how difficult it is to interact early in this format.

Losing burn sucks, and not even getting a new Lightning Strike was very unfortunate, since it limits the number of answers to 3-toughness creatures, specifically Mantis Rider. As a result, you have to be more open to either trading on board, trading via Titan’s Strength, or just hoarding creatures. What’s nice is that the ways to punish you for hoarding creatures are typically expensive and obvious* in their setup and execution. This is good because you aren’t going to have games where you just dome them for the last 10 points of life over two turns, you have to do it fair and square.

*Radiant Flames excluded since it comes down turn three and even casting it for 2 probably clears the board.

The number one thing I can tell you about any red deck with more than 2-3 dash creatures is be very wary about board presence. Choosing when to commit a dash creature and when to simply use it as a mana sink is a much more difficult decision now, and Goblin Heelcutter has gotten a boost against a slower metagame. People will be using normal blockers to stop you instead of just a bunch of spot removal or Sylvan Caryatid.

My sideboard is a reaction to seeing a pretty bad set of potential adjustments for a mono-red deck post-board. The only real option seems to be going big or boarding in a bunch of narrow answers that probably dilute your deck too much. What’s nice about the going bigger plan is that your Swiftspears and Abbots still carry over well even when playing a deck more on-curve with Dragons and Thopters.

Bring to Light

Normally I hate playing specialized archetypes that are going to need a lot of refinement to be good at the beginning of a season, but Bring to Light checks all the boxes of a build-around.

  • Adds power and utility to your deck, check
  • Doesn’t require massive cost, check
  • Isn’t terrible in multiples, check

You could argue the second point, but you don’t need more than a handful of toolbox slots to maximize its effectiveness. With the new battlelands, mana restrictions that would normally be a factor also don’t exist.

Too Many Rhinos

The massive upside of this list over everything else is the sheer power of Bring to Light both in its versatility and the power of tutoring a Ruinous Path or Siege Rhino directly out of your deck. Nabbing a Dragonlord Ojutai as a win condition if you get stuck in a ground struggle also seems like a really easy way to break a stalemate. Or if you resolve one against control you can net a Kolaghan’s Command into a Den Protector chain.

Once I saw the new lands, I knew I’d want to try to make a Jace/Siege Rhino deck, but what I didn’t realize was that the new tutor would support both pillars of the strategy so well. I don’t mind jamming all 4 Bring to Light because it can play different roles as needed. The key is simply to not go nuts overloading on 4s and 5s, you still need to do things before casting it. Not everything needs to be cute either, cutting a single Charm for a different kind or a Kolaghan’s Command can make sense. Making your entire removal suite into singletons to try and cover every eventuality is over the top.

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