Last weekend I won the 2015 MaxPoint Championship with Abzan Aggro. I have received a lot of requests for sideboard plans and questions about making updates to my deck, so today I wanted to take the opportunity to share the decklist I recommend going forward and the sideboard plans I utilize in all of the important Standard matchups.
Abzan Aggro is aggressive, resilient, and consistent. It relies very little on synergy but, instead, on the individually high power level of its cards which are among the best in Standard. Abzan Aggro is a tempo deck that thrives because its cards are more efficient than its opponents, meaning they have a relatively higher impact for relatively less mana. Its ability to play threat after threat is unmatched, and it strains the opponent's ability to control the game. Abzan Aggro contains multiple ways to generate card advantage, so it's very difficult to beat in a war of attrition. With plenty of disruption in the form of creature removal and discard spells, Abzan Aggro is able to constantly interact with its opponents and prevent them from enacting their own strategies. It's the total package. I believe that Abzan Aggro is favored against the field, and data I have seen shows that the deck has a winning record against every other popularly played archetype in the metagame. Abzan Aggro has great sideboard options that provide the tools to Defeat any opponent and, properly utilized, the deck is difficult for anyone to beat.
Moving forward I am cutting one Dromoka's Command for a third Silkwrap. Dromoka's Command is nearly always sideboarded out, and Silkwrap is very often sideboard in. Dromoka's Command is a bit more powerful, but Silkwrap is a more reliable removal spell that deals with the early plays that dodge Abzan Charm and are too quick for Murderous Cut. This move also opens up space in the sideboard. I have filled that space with Dromoka's Command, which is a great card against Atarka Red after sideboard, specifically because they bring in up to four Roast.
Rising Miasma is intended to be an answer to Atarka Red that has some value against token strategies. In practice, it's too slow against Atarka Red, and it's vulnerable to them pumping their creatures. Surge of Righteousness is more efficient, can counter their most powerful plays, and the life gain helps to buy time, so it's a more reliable option
Painful Truths is a fine card, but the deck struggles to find enough bad cards in matchups to bring in Painful Truths. I too often found myself cutting perfectly good cards to fit in Painful Truths, and that's a sign that my sideboard was poorly constructed. My deck was too skewed at beating controlling decks, so going forward I advise cutting Painful Truths for a card that helps a more difficult matchup, specifically a Hallowed Moonlight to help against the recent surge in Four-Color Rally decks.
Here's the updated decklist, followed by a sideboarding guide:
On the play, you want to take on the aggressive role and put the opponent on the back foot as much as possible. Your priority is to develop your board and take advantage of being the proactive player. We are less reliant on creature removal and, because Silkwrap has limited targets and is exploitable by Dromoka' Command, we cut it for a more well-rounded removal spell in Self-Inflicted Wound. When on the play post sideboard be aware of Planar Outburst, which some opponents sideboard two copies of on the draw.
It's easy to fall behind on the draw, so assume a more controlling role with less threats and more disruption. Anafenza, the Foremost, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Wingmate Roc are all best when being the aggressor, so their numbers can be trimmed on the draw. On the draw removal spells are more important, so the risk of Dromoka's Command on Silkwrap is a risk that has to be taken. Matching their creatures with creatures of your own allows them to cast removal and keep attacking, so your priority is to Remove their creatures rather than developing your own board. It's especially important to leave them creatureless before the threat of Wingmate Roc on turn five because the first player to resolve one is likely to win the game. Transgress the Mind makes the control plan more effective against Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Wingmate Roc, and the best way to use Transgress the Mind is as a tempo play that disrupts their ability to efficiently use their mana on a specific turn.
Atarka Red is the only major deck in Standard that's faster and more aggressive than Abzan Aggro, so it's the only matchup where Abzan Aggro assumes the control role on the play and on the draw. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is too slow in establishing a board presence, and its loyalty is constantly at risk, so it's an easy cut. Wingmate Roc is a decent card, but it's too slow and clogs up opening hands. Den Protector is a very poor blocker, and card advantage isn't very important in the matchup, so a pair of them can be cut.
While Abzan assumes the control role, it's important to turn the corner as soon as possible and finish the opponent expediently. Look for any opportunity to safely get in damage, but beware of their dash creatures. Be vigilant at preventing them from winning with Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense, which discard, along with Surge of Righteousness and Ultimate Price, help to contain. Abzan Charm is surprisingly effective as a removal spell, and because their deck doesn't play a lot of burn, it can sometimes be used to draw cards to help beat them in a war of attrition.
Out: -2 Wingmate Roc, -2 Heir of the Wilds, -2 Murderous Cut, -1 Dromoka's Command, -1 Silkwrap, -1 Windswept Heath
In: +3 Duress, + 2 Transgress the Mind, + 2 Ultimate Price, + 2 Self-Inflicted Wound
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is their most important card in the matchup, and that means Silkwrap and Ultimate Price are necessary to contain it. Ultimate Price also stops any Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Monastery Mentor that some players board in the matchup. Discard is of course important, and is often aimed at Dig Through Time and Crux of Fate. A pair of Self-Inflicted Wound punishes them for casting Dragonlord Ojutai.
Wingmate Roc is poor against their Counterspells, sweepers, and dragons, and Heir of the Wilds doesn't hit hard because you won't often have Ferocious enabled. In this matchup I think the best plan is to actually cut a land, which reflects your lowered mana curve without Wingmate Roc, but also helps to make the deck more threat-dense in extended games.
They sideboard in Disdainful Stroke and, combined with Ojutai's Command, it means the third Wingmate Roc is an unnecessary risk. The matchup is fast-paced and tempo-based, so there is little time for drawing cards with Abzan Charm, but it remains a fine removal spell for Mantis Rider and a late-game card advantage tool. Many players have been cutting Tasigur, the Golden Fang, so Abzan Charm is even less important. The discard is critical for disrupting their Counterspells and removal, which clears the way for our threats, especially Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to take over the game. Once the opponent has six lands Dragonmaster Outcast becomes the biggest threat in the matchup, so keeping it off the battlefield is of the utmost importance. Be judicious with your Silkwrap, which are important for keeping creatures out of the graveyard, and thus out of Ojutai's Command's reach.
Mardu decks tend to take on a very controlling role after sideboard, and they cut Hangarback Walker so Silkwrap is of little use. Discard becomes very valuable, especially for containing their planeswalkers and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. They typically board up to four Self-Inflicted Wound, so your first priority is to resolve Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and build a buffer of white Knight Ally Tokens to sacrifice. Be careful not to attack with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar when the opponent has three mana open because of the risk of Crackling Doom. Mardu does have a lot of removal to contain raid, but without Counterspells to punish you for spending five mana, the third Wingmate Roc becomes a great tool for pulling ahead on the battlefield.
Abzan Charm doesn't Remove anything but a pumped Nantuko Husk and, because they have little disruption, there isn't much need for drawing cards. Cut it for the more effective removal spell, Ultimate Price. Duress cuts off their access to Collected Company, and it is important for discarding their Murderous Cut to protect Anafenza, the Foremost. Hallowed Moonlight counters Rally the Ancestors and Collected Company, so it's a great preventative measure that leaves the opponent in a very bad situation whenever you draw it.
|Anafenza, the Foremost||
Your first priority is to keep Jace, Vryn's Prodigy off of the table, and your second priority is to build up your clock as quickly as possible and be extremely aggressive. Otherwise, this matchup is all about Anafenza, the Foremost, which fits right into the aggressive plan. Leaving up Murderous Cut or Ultimate Price to counter the exploit of Sidisi's Faithful is a great play at your disposal.
Wingmate Roc is trumped by their top-end threats and isn't an efficient way to develop the board, so it can be cut. Discard is important for containing their two major threats, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. It is sometimes possible to contain their mana and kill them before they play their big spell, look for opportunities to target cards like Nissa's Pilgrimage and Hedron Archive. It's great having a lot of cheap removal to contain their mana acceleration creatures and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy against the blue versions that play it. Your goal in the matchup is to develop your clock and kill your opponent as fast as possible, so in the early game it's rarely correct to play discard or removal instead of playing a threat. It's definitely possible to win through one of their big plays, and the more damage you deal before they resolve one, the easier this becomes.
They are light on creatures and heavy on spells, especially after sideboard when they assume a more controlling role, so cut removal spells for discard to reflect this. Hallowed Moonlight is a great way to stop Secure the Wastes. If at all possible you want to stop them from triggering Raid for Wingmate Roc, but because this is difficult the best plan is usually to simply overpower Wingmate Roc and beat it in a damage race, or hopefully choose it with Transgress the Mind.
Bring to Light Control
Five-Color Bring to Light is notable because it has a strong game plan against Abzan Aggro. It's not heavily played, but I expect it to grow more popular as the metagame continues to develop. This opponent has plenty of disruption, but also plenty of creatures that are important to kill. Bringing in all of the discard disrupts their plans, but it's important to keep in plenty of creature removal to contain their creatures.
I'm interested in hearing any of your thoughts on specific matchups, and discussing any sideboard plans or tips you may have to share. I'll also answer any questions about something I left off of a matchup, or requests for guides on any archetypes I didn't discuss, so turn to the comments section. Tune back next week, when I'll tell the story of my 2015 MaxPoint Championship victory!