Over the past few weeks I’ve been playing Abzan with a splash of blue for Ojutai and some sideboard countermagic. The deck is a blast, and there’s nothing more satisfying than smacking someone for 5 and finding a Siege Rhino.
I played it in two competitive events, scrubbing out of a MOCS one weekend and chopping the Top 4 of a TCG 5k the next. In the 8-person events, I 2-1 more often than I 3-0, but I 3-0 more often than I 0-1, and I’m 14-4 in Dailys. Others have picked it up and Top 8’d a few PPTQs as well.
It’s not Caw Blade, but it is profitable, powerful, and intuitive to play. People have asked for an article, so here it is.
Deck Difficulty: Easy
The most common question is “how’s the mana?” But if you do a color count the mana base is just as consistent as regular Abzan. The blue splash only has nine sources, but that’s enough to hit Ojutai on time and the deck is excellent at slowing down the game and hitting land drops.
Ojutai is a great finisher, complementing the other threats in the deck while being different enough to be useful. While you can’t protect it with countermagic in the main deck, you do have discard to force it through, plenty of other high-powered threats to draw removal, and Den Protectors to get them back.
For me, reaching a tuned list is more satisfying than Top 8’ing a tournament. Most players’ goal is to Top 8 or win the tournament, but for me that’s more of a byproduct. The point that I’m getting at is that I’m happy with the numbers, and it’s rare to be this confident in every slot.
I tested out a number of things over the fourth Abzan Charm, including a Crux of Fate and a Ajani Steadfast. Ajani is cute with Ojutai, and solid with Siege Rhino and Elspeth, but it wasn’t connecting as often as I’d like. It was still better than Crux, which always felt nice to have in hand but rarely cast.
Esper Dragons is one of the better matchups. Game 1 is winnable but not favored, and comes down to whether you can land enough pressure before they start chaining Dig Through Times. Den Protectoring back Thoughtseize is a win condition, as is slamming threats and getting in damage.
This is one of the few matchups where casting Den Protector as a 2-drop can be correct. Damage matters, and they will eventually have to deal with the pressure. On top of that, it soaks up edicts from higher priority targets down the line.
Game two is a lot different, with counters to mitigate Dig Through Time and the like. With a higher density of relevant disruption, Den Protector gets even better.
They’re more likely to have Ashiok, and I used to keep in 1-2 Hero’s Downfalls as outs. That said, it’s an obscure way to lose because the Ashiok needs to survive discard, Negate, and attackers.
The pair of Self-Inflicted Wounds have been great as an efficient answer to Ojutai.
One of the things I like about this deck is that the game 1 matchup against everyone is winnable, and Atarka Red is no exception. What you’re looking for is cheap disruption into stabilizing cards like Courser or Siege Rhino.
This is the only matchup where Abzan Charm is bad.
Post-board you know what’s up and you should be mulling much more aggressively for specific cards.
Elspeth is the true MVP, and I’ve only lost once after casting her.
Self-Inflicted Wound is absurdly good in the Abzan mirrors, and after Siege Rhino it’s the best card to rebuy with Den Protector.
Abzan Control (The Mirror)
Game one is a lot about how your draws match up, and if one person draws a few extra lands it could easily mean the game.
This used to be an even sideboarding plan before I added the fourth Abzan Charm, which is one of the better cards in the matchup and can also help hit land drops. As such, I don’t mind going up to 61, though if the idea gives you the willies then shave a Thoughtseize or just stick with two Disdainful Strokes.
I experimented with bringing in Dromoka in this matchup, but didn’t like it. The game is often won in chunks and who gets in bursts of damage with sustained pressure. Think Self-Inflicted Wound and Siege Rhino with Den Protector to get them back.
There are a variety of Raptor-based aggroish strategies available, and I tested just about all of them because they’re supposed to beat up on Esper Dragons. Some do and some don’t, but they all lose to Elspeth. Every time I had a configuration that I thought I liked, some Abzan player would drop an Elspeth and I wouldn’t be able to win the game.
It’s a large reason I started testing Abzan Control. Also, exiling Raptor with Abzan Charm is sweet.
Be careful, though. Sometimes your hand is purely reactive, and you can end up losing to a curve into pressure and then Whisperwood Elemental or Mastery of the Unseen to put the game away. If you have pressure, those cards are a lot easier to handle, which is one of the nice things about playing a pile of Siege Rhinos and Ojutais.
There are a lot of variations on this archetype, so I’m not going to give a set sideboard plan. Don’t cut Elspeth and you should be fine.