Abzan Control at GP London, Part 1

(First things first: Currently debating whether to write this blog in English or German, so if you have an opinion on that, help a brother out!)


It’s Thursday as I write this and I’m still weirdly sleep-deprived from the weekend. Spending the whole night at Gatwick Airport to save some money seems to be a worse idea than it used to be …

GP London was still a ton of fun, though, and also a very interesting tournament when it comes to figuring out this Standard format – so I thought I might write a little bit about what we played, how we arrived at our conclusion(s) and some interesting games I had.

I mostly prepared for this tournament with partners-in-crime Andi Reling, Sascha Schwarz and Mike Hofmann. Our testing began pretty much as expected, with Mike retreating into the Mystic Monastery, Sascha building a bunch of Abzan decks and me yelling at Sascha because almost none of them contained Courser of Kruphix. It’s really weird to me how someone who loves playing Control decks so much can have such a strong bias against a card that basically reads „This card generates value“, but that’s how it is. Sascha quickly zoomed in on the aggressive version of the archetype, figuring it gave him a better chance against the new decks that were popping up at the Pro Tour (and because it gave him an excuse to cut Courser). Consequently, we basically had the Abzan Aggro deck with Hangarback Walker three days before San Diego (which was not a terribly difficult discovery to make), but we were unsure if this deck really gave us better chances against the field than Abzan Control.

Andi and I really liked the look of the deck, but the matchup we expected to face the most was Abzan Control itself, and the aggro version is historically bad against that. Now that Abzan Control also got Languish from Magic Origins, we figured that the matchup might be even worse and running the aggro version in a field full of Abzan Control was too high a risk. (Judging by the Top 8, we were likely wrong on that, but more on that later.) Sascha even made a spreadsheet and everything, comparing the matchups of the different Abzan versions across the board and concluding that Abzan Aggro would likely be the best choice. Andi and I disagreed on that, since we didn’t really expect a ton of Sphinx’s Tutelage, Constellation and Rally the Ancestors decks, which were among the matchups that improve the most by playing the Aggro version. (It’s true that Tutelage and Constellation met in the finals just the week prior, but we expected those two performances to mostly be a fluke. Luckily, we were right on that.) What we did expect in great numbers, though, was Abzan Control, and we really wanted to make sure we had a solid matchup against that. With that in mind, Andi and I arrived at the following Abzan list:

4 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Silence
4 Temple of Malady
4 Windswept Heath
2 Llanowar Wastes
2 Caves of Koilos
4 Forest
1 Plains
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Siege Rhino
3 Den Protector
3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

4 Abzan Charm
3 Hero’s Downfall
3 Languish
2 Ultimate Price
1 Bile Blight

3 Thoughtseize


3 Fleecemane Lion
3 Dromoka’s Command
2 Read the Bones
2 End Hostilities
1 Duress
1 Bile Blight
1 Utter End
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Same ol‘, same ol‘. It’s funny how the more we tested and the more different cards we tried, the closer we got to the same configuration Patrick Chapin, Matt Sperling and others played at the PT and in Grand Prix San Diego. It’s almost like those guys are good at Magic or something. We tried a lot of stuff like Hangarback Walker or maindecking Dromoka’s Command, but in the end, this list looked pretty solid to us. Languish is a card I initially didn’t like too much, but has grown on me exponentially. It’s poor in the mirror, but every other relevant deck is based on small- to medium-sized creatures (even Devotion) and Languish shines in those matchups. I also completely cut Thoughtseize from the maindeck for a while, but luckily Andi convinced me to put them back in. The thing is, Thoughtseize is really not that great against a lot of our expected matchups, but it is still the best cheap card to have against the field, since no matter the matchup, at least it does something, unlike cards like Dromoka’s Command or even Hangarback Walker. Thoughtseize is more of an early drop in this deck than anything else. It gets boarded out a ton, but I think cutting it is a mistake.

In retrospect, I have mixed feelings about our sideboard. I liked going to End Hostilities instead of Tragic Arrogance, since we decided to ignore the Constellation matchup anyway and just wanted to have a card that is reliable against other green decks. Tragic Arrogance obviously has a higher ceiling in those matchups, like when you wrath them for everything except their lowly Elvish Mystic while you get to keep Courser and Siege Rhino, but in those matchups, it doesn’t really matter if your creature stays in play or not. You might win some turns faster, but wrathing them probably wins you the game anyway, since it sets the game up in such a way that you can grind them out. Also, Elvish Mystic typically dies to Languish beforehand, and a savvy opponent might even chumpblock with their weakest creatures to play around Arrogance. However, you really don’t want to face a board like Mystic, Boon Satyr, Hangarback Walker when holding Tragic Arrogance, or the card will be aptly named. Those matchups are typically fine for you, so it’s really about avoiding worst-case scenarios, which is why we went with End Hostilities. (Against the Thopter deck, Arrogance is obviously better, but End Hostilities is still great because it kills attached Auras and equipments.)

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is mostly there for the mirror, which we wanted to improve further, as well as the odd control matchup. Utter End is just a nice catch-all and not as clunky as you might think since sideboarded games tend to slow down considerably. I know Andi hates the card with a passion, but I liked it. Three Dromoka’s Command were at least one too many. I think I’d cut the third copy for something like an Unravel the Aether or a Glare of Heresy moving forward.

We actually didn’t test a lot of other decks, to be honest, since we always expected Abzan to be the best. I did try some fringe decks like RW, but they were mostly as bad as estimated. I was also interested in Jeskai, but I figured I could leave that task in the capable hands of Mike, our resident Monastery Mentor. After he emerged from a testing session with Marc Tobiasch declaring that he would play Thopters, I knew that I could safely discard Jeskai as a potential deck choice.

When Andi and I arrived at the site Friday afternoon to meet up with the others and play some games, we found Sascha deeply immersed in some test matches against Jasper Grimmer and Christopher Passow. Apparently, the three thought they had broken it by including Avatar of the Resolute in their Abzan Aggro deck, which gave the deck a sorely needed additional two-drop as well as the potential for some really broken starts. At that point, I was actually very close to jumping ship and playing their aggro version. Christopher, Sascha and Jasper are all players I have a ton of respect for and if all of them insist that their deck is great, there is likely some truth to their statement. They were even so convinced by their innovation that they tried to buy all copies of Avatar of the Resolute in the room – only to be foiled by a trader who had a three-digit number of them in stock. Unlucky.

Playing some games against our Abzan Control list even showed that the matchup is likely to hover around 50:50 since they included Herald of Torment as well, probably the most dangerous card Abzan Aggro can employ against the control version. I decided to the test the list in a side event, but after Andi revealed to me that he left all of his cards in our hotel room (booh), I abandoned that plan and just jammed Abzan Control. After going 3-1 in the side event, I concluded that Abzan Control was probably fine and stuck to my guns after all. (You might also call it laziness.)

In the end, I’m very happy about that decision, since Sascha was the only one of about six people who did even remotely well with the deck. Jasper went 1-3 drop, and Christopher was also out of competition quickly enough to focus on other activities (Tinder, crushing people with UR Thopter in side events). In retrospect, trying to jam a GG two-drop alongside some double-black creatures and a bunch of white cards was probably too ambitious. The Berlin guys actually taught me another tech, though: Tired of forgetting who you lent cards to? Actual no idea who you borrowed that random Mythic from? Just snap a photo of them and the card in question with your smartphone beforehand. Makes for great memories AND a convenient way to keep track of your cards! (You don’t even have to remember their name!) Although, judging by the picture I took after borrowing an Ajani from Jasper, I clearly have yet to master the technique:

Next up: The actual tournament, along with my good Day 1, my less good Day 2 and some really crazy games. See you then!


3 thoughts on “Abzan Control at GP London, Part 1

  1. Ormus

    It was on top, just very briefly because I published the news article a few minutes later. I’ll do a manual tweet now. Not sure about the twitter thing, it seems to miss entries sometimes. I hope this will change when I update the site (planned next month).

  2. Pingback: Abzan Control at GP London, Part 2 | Swimming with Dolphins

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