Oath of the Gatewatch looks to offer quite a lot for the new Standard format. Eldrazi Ramp looks to be a big winner with World Breaker and Ruin in Their Wake. Devoid aggro may become an entirely new archetype. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Chandra, Flamecaller could bring big changes all on their own. But even with so many new choices, the deck to beat the first week of our new Standard format will be an old favorite.
Abzan was the most played deck for much of Battle for Zendikar Standard. Take a popular and successful deck with no clear weaknesses, give it a couple exciting and easy-to-include new tools, and you have a deck that a lot of players are certain to choose for their first tournament. If you want to win, Abzan is the first deck to gun for.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a hate card against Rally the Ancestors, a lifelinking body to lock up the game against Atarka Red, and a generally powerful card that slots right into Abzan. Similarly, most Abzan players play the full number of Shambling Vents without question, and will be happy to add a small number of Hissing Quagmires to complement them. Flaying Tendrils is a great sideboard card against Hordeling Outburst and weenie decks in general.
One last Oath of the Gatewatch card I’d like to mention is Remorseless Punishment. With Eldrazi Ramp getting a handful of new tools to diversify their threat suite, Infinite Obliteration might not pack the punch that it used to. For a deck that can reasonably attack the opponent’s life total, however, Remorseless Punishment looks to be a stellar option. Against a deck that won’t have disposable creatures in play, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the opponent’s resources. Instead of Infinite Obliterations, I think Abzan’s game plan against ramp should involve a mix of Duress, Transgress the Mind, and Remorseless Punishment.
What To Do
• Pack removal. If you want to survive against Abzan, you simply can’t let Warden of the First Trees and Siege Rhinos take away massive chunks of your life total. With Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet threatening to dominate the game in creature stalls, there’s an even greater need to come prepared.
• Grind them out. Abzan has built-in card advantage from cards like Den Protector and Abzan Charm, but decks like Dark Jeskai, Mardu, and Esper can get the better of them by packing lots of cards like Painful Truths and the various Commands. Combine cheap removal, life gain, and card advantage, and you can sometimes beat Abzan at their own game.
• Choose threats that are resilient against removal. Tokens and hexproof creatures are traditionally very good against Abzan, since it’s a deck that leans heavily on spot removal.
What Not To Do
• Don’t try to fight them in combat. The success of Abzan is due to the fact that it plays the biggest and most efficient creatures at every spot on the mana curve. They also have pump effects in Abzan Charm and Dromoka’s Command, and a healthy suite of removal. If you try to engage in a fair fight, you’re going to lose.
• Don’t skimp on late-game power. We often call the deck “Abzan Aggro,” but don’t be fooled. It’s difficult enough to survive their initial rush, but then you also have to beat the top of their library in the mid- and late game. Get too low on life and you can lose to a Siege Rhino. Skimp on card advantage and they’ll grind you out with Den Protectors. Construct your deck in such a way that you can absolutely bury the opponent in the late game, or your results against Abzan will suffer.
There are always a lot of question marks that come along with a new set. But one thing is certain: if it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it. Abzan was an excellent deck, and will remain an excellent deck. It will be both popular and successful following the release of Oath of the Gatewatch. It should be the first deck you test your new ideas against, and should be the deck you most want to beat this weekend.