Outlasting the competition: Abzan at GP LA

Hi! My name is Kai and this is my first article for AZMagicPlayers.com. At Jason’s invitation, I will be writing about my experiences related to Grand Prix Los Angeles last weekend. Hope you enjoy!

Standard was the flavor of the month, so to speak. While relaxing at Desert Sky Games during the Khans prerelease, I realized I had to prepare for a reality without Sphinx’s Revelation or Pack Rat.  No more ‘fairy godmothers’, cards that could save you from multiple misplays by their sheer power level alone. To borrow another Disney phrase, we were living in a Whole New World.

With GP LA looming, the deadline to come up with a decent decklist was fast approaching.  I managed to attend one playtest session with Matt Goslar and Scott Alter, where I brewed up a B/W deck splashing Siege Rhino and Abzan Charm. The deck was tolerable, but nothing special. I played it at the IQ at Play or Draw, and was impressed with both the tricolor cards, but the rest of the deck paled in comparison. I resigned to let the PT results speak for themselves, and determine what to play afterwards.

They say fortune favors the bold, though in this case I suppose it favored the lazy. Ari Lax won the Pro Tour, and just happened to be someone I used to team draft with at Michigan. I did very little work on decklists, and had no time to test or tune them. Instead, I got a bit of feedback from Ari and one of his teammates regarding the Abzan Midrange deck they played, made a few modifications, and was pretty much set on the 75 I wanted to play.

In classic fashion, I played zero games with the deck and was still assembling it at the tournament site 20 minutes before the player’s meeting Saturday morning:

Creatures (16)
Elvish Mystic
Sylvan Caryatid
Courser of Kruphix
Wingmate Roc
Siege Rhino

Spells (20)
Abzan Charm
Hero’s Downfall
Utter End
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Lands (24)
Windswept Heath
Temple of Malady
Sandsteppe Citadel
Llanowar Wastes
Caves of Koilos
Mana Confluence
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Temple of Silence
Sideboard (15)
Bile Blight
Drown in Sorrow
Garruk, Apex Predator
Wingmate Roc
Unravel the Aether
Reclamation Sage
Utter End
Temple of Silence
Nissa Worldwaker

For those who aren’t familiar with the deck, it is the epitome of midrange in the current standard format. The maindeck is a confluence of the most efficient threats and removal spells in three colors, tied together with a few mana creatures and 4 copies of Thoughtseize. As a midrange deck, you can take the aggressive role against control strategies, presenting a continuous stream of efficient threats, or the control role against aggressive strategies, using your removal spells and life-gain creatures to prolong the game. Being able to identify which role you should be adopting is vital in playing any deck, but midrange decks are particularly punishing for mistakes in this area. Thoughtseize is one of the most powerful cards in standard for a real reason, and in this deck it is perfect for giving you the information you need to correctly determine your role in the game.

I have traditionally avoided midrange decks, as they are not particularly good at doing any one thing, as a natural consequence of trying to do many things adequately. They are susceptible to combo decks or ‘all-in’ strategies that attack on an axis the midrange deck is not prepared to interact with. As a result, I felt disadvantaged against Jeskai Ascendancy combo and Monored Aggro strategies. However, I believed Abzan and Jeskai would be the most played decks, and I was reasonably confident in my ability to win the mirror and the matchup against Jeskai seemed favorable. Besides, rogue decks are always present at GP’s, and having a pile of good cards is never a bad place to start when playing an unexpected opponent. So with a couple of solid hours of playtesting in my head, a strong sideboard  based on a last-minute scramble to acquire cards, and a healthy dose of hoping everything would turn out ok, I turned in my decklist and prepared to for the long siege ahead.

I will provide a followup articles that discusses the matches at the GP and some adventures in LA if this article is there is sufficient interest. As always, I welcome all feedback.

Thank you for reading.