Abzan Midrange - Standard Deck Doctor

This deck doctor entry was submitted by Will Y.


As Land Say Go grows, we undoubtedly will get a plethora of decks to sort through, and sometimes, we come across a deck or two that needs a little help. Often times the submitter will ask for advise on how we would approach their list, or to help with the mana base, or to help build a sideboard. Sure, we'd love to help!


This deck was submitted by Will Y., and this deck is one of those mentioned above. He requested that I help come up with a sideboard, and if there was anything I'd tighten up in the list. Well, I've played it in a few 3 match series and I do have some suggestions for you, Will.


First, let's break down the game plan before we go deep into the weeds on directions we can take this deck or cards that I think should be included.


The Creature Package.

So, we have an interesting set of creatures here. The only 2 creatures that aren't going to be multicolored is Hero of Precinct One and Priest of Forgotten Gods. A play set of Hero of Precinct One joins us for battle, and at first glance, it seems like a strong card for us to have. I know during my games, it was definitely gaining me a lot of incremental value with all of the 1/1 Humans I was accumulating from the variety of multi-color spells we can cast throughout the game. Once we have these 1/1s we can then use our Priest of Forgotten Gods to sac off the tokens, force our opponent's to lose 2 life and sacrifice a creature, and then we get two black mana and an extra card.

We are running a number of highly effective multi-colored creatures. A full play set of Knight of Autumn is in this deck, and I think this is a great choice. This card screams utility and almost every deck that can play it in Standard, should (at the very least in the sideboard). It is great hate against Rakdos Burn or Mono Red with its gain 4 life on its enter the battlefield trigger; it is also great hate against those darn, pesky enchantments like Wilderness Reclamation or Search for Azcanta. We also have the option to buff it with 2 +1/+1 counters if we just need to get in some fast damage against a control player or grow our creatures out of the range of White Weenies. Knight of Autumn is a great answer card in this Standard meta.



Speaking of answer cards, we also have Aryel, Knight of Windgrace. This card is a wonderful answer to both control and creature decks. Since Aryel has vigilance, she skirts around spells like Seal Away. On top of that, you can utilize her after attacks to kill an opponent's creature by tapping her and your other vigilant knights. You can also use her as a great way to deal with control. If you are able to stick her, you can literally just keep her on the battlefield and pump out 2/2 vigilant knight tokens by paying 2W and tapping her. The reason you would want to do this against control is that it is a great way to circumvent their counter spells by allowing you to build your board presence. You'll continue to accumulate cards in your hand and then when your opponent does deal with the board, they'll likely be tapping out for some sort of a board wipe, giving you the option to cast a few spells on your turn to recover.



We also are running 2 Elenda, the Dusk Rose. Since we are sacrificing our tokens, we are able to make use of their death triggers with Elenda. Every time a creature dies, we place a +1/+1 counter on her. Then on her death, we get a number of 1/1 Vampires with lifelink equal to Elenda's power. So, the bare minimum for this card is that she replaces herself if killed before you can grow her. What I also really like about Elenda is that she has lifelink, so as she grows, you are able to gain back life lost from aggro or burn. Another piece of hidden synergy is that if we need to get a sudden board and your opponent isn't killing your Elenda, you can cast another one on to the battlefield, sacrifice the old one, get your amassed board and grow your new Elenda from the death of the first. Some neat looping capabilities are available.


Speaking of death triggers, we also have a play set of Conclave Cavalier. I have to say, I was a little skeptical of this card at first, but it is definitely one of the best creatures that we play in this deck. It is a great beater, hitting in for 4 damage, its a great blocker, as it has vigilance, it is even great against kill spells, as we get two 2/2 vigilant tokens on its death. I found that Conclave Cavalier was not difficult to cast with our mana base, and it often prompted a response from our opponent, even as far as our opponent cashing in a Teferi just to tuck it into our deck. All in all, a very good card. Round of applause.


Lastly, we have a single copy of Vona, Butcher of Magan. I think Vona can be exceedingly powerful, giving us a great way to remove problematic nonland permanents by exiling them. She's a 4/4 for 3WB with vigilance and lifelink. Her activated ability of pay 7 life and tap her can be dangerous, especially as you are putting yourself at risk of a blow out if they are able to kill her before she deals combat damage to gain you back 4 of the 7 life you paid. But, if you are able to land her, and attack to gain more and more life, her activated ability can pick apart your opponent's best defenses.


Planeswalkers.

We are running a few planeswalkers here to help us control the board. These walkers are also great since they are multi-colored; they will trigger our Heroes. We are running a single copy of Vraska, Golgari Queen and two copies of Vraska, Relic Seeker. I've played my fair share of Vraska in standard, and both versions of her are acceptable. They both provide incremental value on their plus ability, Golgari Queen giving us card draw and a life point, so long as we sacrifice off a permanent (in this case, we hope it is a token from Hero of Precinct One or a Conclave Cavalier). Relic Seeker will give us a 2/2 with menace, other great piece of fodder for the Golgari Queen. They both have "destroy options" attached to them as well. Golgari Queen can hit any nonland permanent 3 CMC or less, and Relic Seeker can destroy a creature, enchantment, or artifact while also providing you with a treasure every time you blow something up. Lastly, they both have "win the game" ultimates: Golgari Queen gives your creatures deathtouch, and kill an opponent after hitting them once, no matter their life total. Relic Seeker puts your opponent down to 1 life, and with all of your 2/2 menace tokens you have been making with her, should be able to sneak in and finish the job. Both are very good walkers - win conditions by themselves.


Our Spell Package.

As far as our spell package goes, we are running a full set of Mortify, this 1WB instant destroys both a creature or an enchantment, so it is an instant speed answer to something like a Skarrgan Hellkite or a Wilderness Reclamation. We are also running 2 Consecrate//Consume. Consecrate is another instant speed option to create a token off of Hero, but it also hates on cards like the Phoenixes or Jump-Start cards as it exiles a card from a graveyard and draws you a card. Consume, a sorcery for 2WB, forces our opponent to sacrifice their largest creature and then we gain life equal to that creatures power - wowee zowee. Consume specifically is great hate against a card like Carnage Tyrant being an edict effect; it circumvents the hexproof on Carnage Tyrant. We are also running 3 Incubation//Incongruity (specifically only the Incubation side) to trigger our Heroes and dig 5 cards deep for a creature. We have a card advantage tool kit in Find//Finality. Find gives us up to 2 creatures from our graveyard back to our hand, getting back our most important spells. Finality also gives us a bad Languish for 4GB, a spell that can be a great reset button if needed.


Overall Suggestions.

If you weren't to drastically change the deck, a few of the things I think you should change are as follows:


Sideboard.

We first would want to add a sideboard, and below is what I would probably run given your list as it is now. Our worst match up is against counterspell decks, so we'd want to have our Duress' to pick apart those hands early. Since many of our creatures don't do something immediately when they hit the battlefield, I think against the removal heavy match up we should be running 3 Shapers' Sanctuary to refill our hands once our creatures have become targeted by a removal spell or by a Mono Blue targeted ability. For the decks that are able to get much wider than us, faster, I would love to see something like Kaya's Wrath or a Golden Demise, something to help us sweep the board. I'd run 3 Assassin's Trophy in the sideboard to help take care of a flipped Azcanta or pesky planeswalkers like Teferi or Vivien Reid. In addition, I'd run a couple Vraska's Contempt to facilitate a similar role, but to also have the added ability of exiling the creature or planeswalker and gaining us a couple life. Lastly, against the aggro or graveyard match up (probably even control, to be honest), I'd bring in a few Kaya, Orzhov Usurper. This card can single handily can win you the game, or even keep you in the game as you gain life from her +1. Not to mention, her -1 is a great answer to much of what Mono Blue is doing, run a couple of copies.

My Sideboard Suggestion:

3 Duress

3 Shapers' Sanctuary

2 Kaya's Wrath

3 Assassin's Trophy

2 Vraska's Contempt

2 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper



Honestly, I'm surprised that Assassin's Trophy wasn't in the deck at all. Especially since it fits your colors, takes care of any problematic permanent, and that it triggers your Heroes, I think that it is an important card to have. I think I would run it over Consecrate // Consume in the main deck and would even drop a Mortify for a third. If you do that, running Consecrate // Consume in the sideboard is "good," just run a fourth copy of Assassin's Trophy and put the 2 copies of Consecrate // Consume into your sideboard.

Also, overall, I didn't really like Incubation // Incongruity in the deck. Yes, I know its cheeky with Hero of Precinct One. Yes, I know it digs you 5 deep to find something. But in all honesty, I was whiffing quite a bit with it. Personally, I'd rather play something like Adventurous Impulse. Sure, we see 2 cards fewer, but we have 2 categories of cards we can hit: Creatures or Lands. So, I'm not worried about casting it like I was with Incubation. Also, it felt really bad getting hit by a Thief of Sanity only to have them steal my Incubation // Incongruity and cast Incongruity, exiling my 6/6 Elenda, a line that I can't even play myself since the deck doesn't run blue or mana fixing. I think there are better options.


I would also run a few specialty lands like Memorial to Folly or Memorial to Unity. Being able to recur our creatures once they are killed or being able to dig 5 deep off of the land to find a needed creature, I think this feels great in the deck as it mirrors both Find and Incubation.


My First Impressions (without a sideboard).

This deck definitely seemed to have some nice moments in game. I did win rounds with the list, and even caused a few early match scoops. There was, however, an impending feeling of scramble - what do I do next? While I was playing it, I felt like the deck was trying to do too much and not doing anything well enough to remain competitive. There were a few questionable choices in the list, and I think we can find a better line of play for it by figuring out a more cohesive game plan. So, here, I'm going to divide the deck into 3 strategies, and I think we'll be able to better find a direction for the deck and really push the synergies.


Sacrifice Theme

So, let's take a look at the direction we can go with rampant sacrifices. When we use cards like Elenda, the Dusk Rose and Priest of Forgotten Gods, we can find some strong synergies that a sacrifice focused deck could have. If we are going to go this direction, we need to take a look at a few cards that would fit really well within our colors.

Gutterbones or Reassembling Skeleton

These two cards are actually part of a larger strategy, specifically based around Priest of Forgotten Gods. Since the Priest gives you mana after you sacrifice your creatures, you can make use of that mana and get back either of these two creatures from your graveyard. Both have an activated ability of 1B to return to your hand (Gutterbones) or to the battlefield (Reassembling Skeleton), and to be honest, this synergy is deadly. The downside to Gutterbones is that in order to get it back, an opponent has to lose life. Well, luckily, pairing it with Priest of Forgotten Gods is perfect as it forces our opponent to lose 2 life in addition to a sacrifice trigger. Either way, being able to have something you can recur is just where you want to be in a sacrifice strategy. Food for thought.


Midnight Reaper

Another thing we need to do is weaponize our creatures deaths. If we are going to be sacrificing our creatures for more and more value, then perhaps we will want something like Midnight Reaper, a 3/2 for 2B that draws us a card (and we lose 1 life) every time a nontoken creature we control dies. I think this card would become exceedingly important in a sacrificial strategy, allowing us to refill our hands as we expend our onboard resources. We just need to be careful not to kill ourselves from all of the death triggers. It happens.


Afterlife

I'd use more of the Afterlife mechanic in this deck, something along the lines of Tithe Taker (which is great counter-control hate) over Hero of Precinct One would feel better in the list. We also have Ministrant of Obligation that gives us a big Afterlife trigger with Afterlife 2. I think both of these cards could be really effective in a sacrifice themed deck.

More Impact

If we are going to be running more 3-4 drops, I think running cards that have an immediate impact is important. Cards like Plaguecrafter fit our theme really well. Plaguecrafter has a great enter the battlefield effect that allows us to sacrifice himself (if needed) - think of him as three mana Edict. Torgaar, Famine Incarnate could be a totalitarian way to get free sacrifice triggers, he also can be an early 7/6 that does half the work for us by putting our opponents down to 10 life, or saving us late in the game when we need to bounce back from a low life total. Heck, even Teysa Karlov would be a solid option, doubling up our Afterlife triggers, doubling up our Midnight Reaper triggers, and even doubling our Elenda triggers.


Recursion

I'd also strongly consider 1 or 2 copies of Journey to Eternity. Journey to Eternity is a great way for us to recur back some of our early creatures after sacrificing them off to our Priest of Forgotten Gods. On top of that, it gives us a way to skirt around counter-control and continually, without interaction from our opponent, bring back our big game creatures later in the match. Card's good, Will.


A Committed Knight Theme

You actually have the start of a really powerful Abzan Knight deck here. So, if we were to go this direction, I'd definitely recommend running your Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice over Hero of Precinct One and Priest of Forgotten Gods. Both are great ways to deal a ton of damage, plus get buffed by the Knight Lords that we have access to right now in Standard. On top of that, they both skirt around black and white removal, respectively, and being a potentially 3 powered first striker can be huge.


Let's also not forget the power that is History of Benalia, if we want to be making knights and knight tokens, History is a great way to do this. Not to mention, once History of Benalia concludes its third chapter, we have a perfect way to super anthem our knightly team and get in with huge points of damage.


Bloodcrazed Paladin is another great addition to a Knight deck, maybe as a sideboard card against heavy removal match ups. Being able to flash in a 1/1 that gets buffed for each creature that died that turn can be absolutely hilarious (it could make for another interesting option in a sacrifice deck if we are going to be sacrificing 2-4 creatures in a turn to get a 2 mana 4/4 or 5/5). I don't think this card has seen enough play, and I think it has a good place here.

We do also have cards like Dauntless Bodyguard, a low to the ground aggressive 2/1 that can also have late game relevance if we top deck it. We can sacrifice the Bodyguard to save a named card from targeted removal or combat damage as it gives that creature indestructible until end of turn. And if we are going to go low to the ground and aggressive with it, we could be running Cavalry Drillmaster, a 2/1 for 1W that buffs a creature +2/+0 and gives it first strike when it enters the battlefield. This is a decent way to get in large points of damage. Also, just throwing it out there again, Midnight Reaper is also a knight.


Did I mention that Knights have a couple lords? There is Benalish Marshal, a hard to cast 3/3 for WWW that buffs your team +1/+1. But we do have a more traditional tribal lord in Valiant Knight, a 3/4 for 3W that gives our other knights +1/+1. We can also pay 3WW to give knights we control double strike until end of turn. This ability is extremely powerful and shouldn't be taken for granted!

If we are going to go knightly, we also have the ability to run a few spells. Assure // Assemble is a great inclusion in a deck like this. Assure for G/W G/W is a flexible spell that allows us to buff a creature and give it indestructible until end of turn, a great way to protect against targeted removal. Assemble gives us an instant speed way to put 3 2/2 knights with vigilance onto the battlefield, a great way to use our mana late game and feed into our other knight strategies. We also have Sprouting Renewal, a 2G sorcery that can be Convoked out to either put out a 2/2 knight with vigilance, or to destroy an artifact or enchantment. Again, another great synergy for a knight deck, as it provides more board presence and can help us handle broken artifacts or enchantments.

Multicolor Theme.

Lastly, we can go all in on the multicolor theme of the deck and run more creatures and spells with higher impact that can better facilitate breaking Hero of Precinct One. We can run cards like Kaya, Orzhov Usurper main, or another already mentioned card such as Assassin's Trophy or Assure // Assemble. I mean, even cards like Flower // Flourish would be a great inclusion as we can then use it to tutor up needed lands to thin our deck while also giving us a 1/1.

Don't forget spells like March of the Multitudes, another great option to be able to flood our board with tokens while also gaining more value from our Heroes. Dude, we also have other decent payoffs along side our Hero of Precinct One. We can also run Rampaging Monument, a 0/0 (really a 3/3) with trample for 4 colorless mana that allows us to put a counter on him whenever we cast a multicolor spell, which we'd be doing...all the time. Or we could run Tome of the Guildpact, a 5 CMC artifact that draws us a card whenever we cast a multicolor spell. It also has the plus side of ramping us and fixing our colors. What about cards like Status // Statue? Great instant speed removal for creatures or even artifacts and enchantments. There are a lot of different high impact cards we can be running. So many, in fact, that I can't name them all here. But I tried. :)


In Conclusion.

The deck had some cool moments during testing. We were obviously missing a sideboard and I think if we had one during our gameplay, we probably would have fared a bit better than we did. I do, however, think the deck is a bit unfocused and could use a bit of editing to really dive into the synergies of what we want to be doing and really tune the deck. I've outlined a few different directions we could take the deck, and I think where I chose to go with it feels pretty good. Personally, I think the knights strategy is going to be your strongest build. I do think that if built right, any of the strategies can put up winning results. I hope you found this helpful, let me know which way you would take it in the comments down below.


~Derek

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