With rotation on the horizon, I still have my sights set on creating a preliminary gauntlet for the new Standard format. So far, we have a fast aggro deck and a slow(ish) control deck. Now it’s time to add something in the middle of the road.
And more importantly, something that has Siege Rhino…
The tri-color gold cards have been among the best cards in Standard for a year now, and it’s unclear if Battle for Zendikar is going to change that. Siege Rhino, Abzan Charm, and Anafenza, the Foremost will still be a reliable and effective recipe for success. Today I’m Abzan, with a slant toward aggro instead of control. After all, we’re losing Courser of Kruphix, and gaining one very exciting cheap attacker.
Drana, Liberator of Malakir already has respectable stats for a cheap, evasive creature. The real selling point, though, is that she provides a large and irreversible advantage each and every time she hits the opponent. Note that her first strike will mean all of your other creatures getting their bonus before combat damage. On top of all that, she has nice synergy with Hangarback Walker. Drana is most definitely a kill-on-sight type of creature, and you’ll earn a lot of easy wins when your opponent fails to do so.
Abzan Aggro will miss Fleecemane Lion, but in my opinion, Drana is an upgrade over Brimaz, King of Oreskos, or whatever other creature we might’ve chosen for the 3-drop slot last year. Abzan Aggro’s greatest “loss” might actually be what it fails to gain in the fetchland/battleland mana base. Since it’s the colors of the Abzan “clan,” it only has Windswept Heath as an on-color fetchland, so you’d have to go pretty far out of your way if you were to restructure the mana base around fetchlands. That said, these colors will benefit from the addition of Shambling Vent, and we already know that Sandsteppe Citadel plus Magic Origins painlands will get the job done just fine.
On the whole, Abzan Aggro is largely a “normal” Magic deck. It plays the best 2-4 drop creatures available in the format, and backs them up with efficient removal. It has neither the speed of Atarka Red, nor the card advantage of Esper Dragons. However, it’s advantage comes from its consistency, and the fact that every card is individually excellent. Don’t underestimate this deck, or its ability to dominate the game with just a single creature or two.
What to Do
- Pack removal. Since Abzan Aggro has the best and most efficient creatures in the format, trying to fight them in combat is going to be a losing proposition. Instead, your best bet is to kill their creatures on sight, so they can’t get the ball rolling.
- Play board sweepers. However, the ones that you need against Atarka Red (like Radiant Flames) are not the ones you need against Abzan Aggro. You really need the “big” sweepers like Languish, Crux of Fate, and End Hostilities.
- Go “big,” but not “too big.” In old standard, the foil for Abzan Aggro were the slightly-larger Abzan decks. They were sleek enough to keep pace, but had the edge once things got to turn 6+. We lost Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, but keep an eye out for similar cards that can really shut the door on an opponent attacking you with a couple of annoying creatures.
What Not to Do
- Don’t try to block. Their creatures are better, and Dromoka’s Command is going to ruin your day.
- Don’t skimp on late-game power. What Abzan Aggro lacks in card advantage, it makes up for in the fact that any creature is a deadly threat off the top of the library. I’ve seen too many games where the control player successfully defends the early rush, but doesn’t have the Dig Through Time or Ugin they need to close things out. Abzan Aggro has a remarkable ability to rebuild and punish an opponent who floods out a little bit.
Regardless of how popular the exact deck list I’ve offered winds up being, Abzan Aggro is symbolic of the type of strategy you’re going to have to beat if you want to be successful in new Standard. It’s a typical, middle-of-the-road, “good cards” deck, and those tend to be scarier in practice than they look on paper. If your deck lacks focus, or comes up short in raw power, Abzan Aggro will serve as a reality check very quickly. Be sure to include it in your new Standard testing gauntlet.