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Top 4 with Abzan in Paris—and Post-Rotation Bant

Before GP Paris, I went to Prague for a couple of days to stay with David Dobis and Petr Sochurek. I brought 3 decks with me: Rally, Esper Dragons, and Mono-Blue Eldrazi. Because the last premier Standard tournament I played was 3 months ago, I didn’t have much experience with the format and these were the 3 decks that I liked the most out of the limited preparation I did.

Esper was my favorite deck of the last season by far because I got to play Jace and Dig Through Time, two of the most powerful cards printed in a long time. Everyone was talking about Siege Rhino’s farewell to Standard and how Rally was the best deck, but almost no one cared that this was also the last big tournament where Dig was legal. I mean, that card is banned in Modern and Legacy, and people were still choosing not to play it in Standard!

My plans fell apart right after I played the first set of games with Petr and his Grixis Control. I didn’t win a single game. Cheap disruption spells like Duress and Transgress the Mind, combined with Painful Truths to refill his hand, were just too good against Esper.

Kalitas and a stream of cheap removal spells made my life miserable with Rally. It got even worse post-board when he brought in Dispels and Radiant Flames. It’s not like I would drop a deck after getting smashed by one bad matchup—it was the realization that more than half the decks in the format had access to these cards.

My last hope was the Mono-Blue Eldrazi deck. It’s no secret that I have a preference for aggressive decks and this one looked promising. I was winning a fair amount of games but it quickly became clear that it was very weak to Jace and Kalitas, and overall felt a bit underpowered. If I could have played Dismember, it would have solved all of my problems, but there was no such card. Spatial Contortion kills half as many creatures for twice as much mana.

What now? At this point, everyone was joking that I should have stayed home. Two beers and 5 games later, and Petr was laughing that none of my cards did anything. He suggested that I at least try something real, like a deck with Siege Rhino. Everyone was playing conditional removal like Grasp of Darkness and Fiery Impulse so it didn’t sound so bad.

We got home, I took some random list from Magic Online, went 3-2 in a League with it, and called it a day. On Thursday, I changed the sideboard and mana base a bit, cut down on Gideons because I was boarding them out in almost every matchup, and somehow won my next 15 matches.

Abzan

This is what I ended up playing at the GP. I think the list was almost perfect, with the exception of 1 Arashin Cleric in the sideboard that should have been a Kalitas. I had 1-2 in the main for a while, but 2 black mana on turn 4 wasn’t easy, so I moved them to the board for the Rally matchup. Before submitting my deck list, I loaded the wrong version of the list on my laptop, forgot to change it, and that’s how I ended up playing 1 Cleric. Atarka Red was nowhere to be seen, so it was pretty much like playing a 14-card sideboard.

One of the reasons why the deck is so good is because of the addition of Sylvan Advocate. It easily justifies playing 4 Shambling Vents, a move I’m otherwise wary to make since it makes too many of my lands enter the battlefield tapped. It also makes Dromoka’s Command better and improves your early game if you need to sequence your lands in a way that you can’t play turn-3 Anafenza. Flooding out is also less of a factor now that your 2-drop turns itself and all your Shambling Vents into 4/5 monsters. After the fetchlands rotate out of Standard, I can see this become the norm in every green deck, so pick them up along with the creature lands before they get more expensive.

Anafenza into Siege Rhino is still the most powerful opening you can have with the deck, so I cut out all the Hissing Quagmires and replaced them with Llanowar Wastes. Silkwrap is the best way to get rid of Jace and gets rid of Nantuko Husk with Anafenza in play. It also helps that no one is playing Dromoka’s Command right now.

It surprised me how bad Gideon was, so to the sideboard it went, along with a bunch of discard spells to improve the control matchups. Wingmate Roc is one of my favorite cards, but you don’t want more than 2. Speaking of which, if you are playing against this deck and you want to kill a creature, do it before it attacks.

Warden wasn’t that impressive because of Reflector Mage, but you need it for early pressure and Dromoka’s Command. I thought about cutting 2 for main-deck Transgress the Mind, but in the end went with the creature. I would also rather only have 2 Den Protectors, but they are great in control matchups and there isn’t really anything better.

Generally, you want to fetch a Forest, Plains and an RB or UB dual with Canopy Vista as your 4th land that gives you a second white for Gideon. Keep in mind that it matters which black land you fetch, as Sunken Hollow represents Stubborn Denial while Smoldering Marsh means you could be playing Mardu Green. With your fifth land, you want to make sure you can play Abzan Charm and Dromoka’s Command in one turn and later have enough black sources to activate multiple Shambling Vents.

The sideboard is self-explanatory with a lot of narrow cards. Self-Inflicted Wound comes in against decks with Siege Rhino and Sylvan Advocate (but not against Rally), all the discard spells + Gideons + Den Protector against control decks (Transgress is especially good here because they can’t flashback the cards with Jace) instead of Dromoka’s Commands and some of the early drops, and Hallowed Moonlight against Rally.

As for the GP, CFB did an amazing job and I wish every GP were like that. There was enough space to play, lots of places to buy decent food that wasn’t unreasonably overpriced, free working WiFi, and great side events with an even better prize wall. I pooled some of the prize tickets from Friday with my friends and got one of the sets of World Championship decks with those gold borders and I’m looking forward to taking them for a spin.

It’s pretty awesome that 8-man side events now have a 20/10/5/5 payout (compared to 5/4/2/2 back in the days for the same money) or that you can get a piece of Power for winning one of the big daily Showdowns. Now if only we could get rid of paying for the Constructed Sleep-in Special and have electronic deck lists be the norm instead of the written ones, and the world would be perfect.

As for the actual tournament, I lost twice, both times to Dark Jeskai. Everyone was telling me that Rally was a bad matchup but I don’t think so. They can’t effectively block Siege Rhino and bouncing it feels pretty bad too, so it puts them under a lot of pressure and Anafenza with removal means that they don’t get any value from Rally. Wingmate Roc, Hallowed Moonlight, and Duress are all great in the matchup too. I was boarding out some Abzan Charms, Gideon, and a Den Protector. I played against Rally 5 times in the tournament, never actually drew Hallowed Moonlight, and still didn’t come close to losing the match.

That said, Jace and Dig Through Time are just so powerful that even though I played a deck I was winning so much with, I still felt like I wasn’t giving myself the best chance to win. It seemed like everyone was very aware of that, as in every single round, I was always the only person not playing blue.

Going forward, most of the cards will obviously rotate out, but I found this list in the coverage that I think is worth taking a look at:

Bant Tokens

Wingmate Roc rotates out, and without fetchlands it might be too difficult to make a 3-color mana base work, but Hangarback Walker/Sylvan Advocate, Nissa, and Gideon is a nice sequence of plays on turns 2-4. Dromoka’s Command, Silkwrap, and Declaration in Stone give you enough answers for Jace, and you can top off your curve with Archangel Avacyn or maybe even get a little fancy with Second Harvest. Hanweir Militia Captain works very well with a surprising end-of-turn Secure the Wastes, and Angelic Purge might not be the worst way to sacrifice your Hangarback Walker for some flying tokens.

That’s all I have for today. See you next time!

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