Abzan Midrange is my pick for the best deck to play in Standard. The list I’m sharing today was originally designed by Steve Rubin, the mind behind Ari Lax’s Pro Tour: Khans of Tarkir-winning decklist.
Steve won a SCG Standard Open in the months following the PT. While the current post-Fate Reforged iteration was first seen in the hands of Dan Musser in the Top 8 of the SCG Open in D.C. the weekend of January 24th, Steve Rubin finished 12th in that event with the same decklist.
Dan Musser then went on to win a PTQ near Pittsburgh the following weekend. My friend KYT, of Manadeprived.com fame, fresh off of his first PT appearance, took note of the deck after I shared it in my TCGplayer article that week, adapted a few changes advocated by Musser, and won his PTQ in Ottawa.
Sylvan Caryatid-less version of Abzan Midrange has started to tick up in popularity online and may be on its way to be becoming the stock build of the archetype.
Here’s the most up-to-date decklist, as it now stands:
First allow me to explain the theory behind the shift away from Sylvan Caryatid.
Sylvan Caryatid has often been considered something of a necessary evil in Abzan Midrange. Early in the season, Patrick Chapin discussed his Abzan deck for PT: KTK heavily on StarCityGames, and he shared his sideboard plan of removing Sylvan Caryatid quite often, especially in grindy matchups and in matchups where he would be bringing in his own End Hostilities and Duneblast.
In grindy matchups, meaning there is a lot of trading and where the battle often boils down to attrition, victory belongs to the player who can cast more relevant spells. In these matchups, Sylvan Caryatid makes the deck too bloated with mana sources, and, furthermore, mana acceleration is weak strategically because ramping into a powerful threat is irrelevant when the opponent is so likely to have an answer.
When answers like Hero's Downfall are cheaper than threats like Siege Rhino, it’s hard for players to actually achieve any reasonable board position and tempo advantage, and the games come down to attrition.
Now consider that Standard itself is quite grindy, given the vast amount of cheap, quality interactive spells. Fate Reforged made the format even more grindy with the inclusion of great removal spells Wild Slash, Valorous Stance, and Crux of Fate. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Outpost Siege, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang have pushed the format even further towards the grind.
The stage is set for an Abzan Midrange deck that is built for the grind. The sweepers have moved maindeck, including Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. A maindeck Liliana of the Veil is a nod towards the attrition-oriented direction of the format . Tasigur, the Golden Fang provides the deck with a powerful tempo play and late-game card advantage tool.
The sideboard allows the deck to shift into a more balanced control deck against specific opponents. Drown in Sorrow is a powerful sweeper against rush aggressive decks, Hordeling Outburst and Goblin Rabblemaster, and it pulls some weight against Hornet Queen as well.
The fourth Bile Blight in the sideboard is a nod to the fact that it’s the most efficient and among the most powerful removal options available against the decks that it’s good against, and it’s crucial here as a cheap play that buys time before the powerful mid-game cards take over. Glare of Heresy is similarly efficient and is among the most powerful sideboard options in all of Standard.
The fourth Hero's Downfall in the sideboard gives the a deck a more robust plan against Stormbreath Dragon and planeswalkers. It’s plain, solid removal against any aggressive deck and Green Devotion variants in particular.
A sideboard Utter End supplements the maindeck copy. It’s fine creature removal against any creature deck, but its inclusion in this build is as a catch-all answer to a variety of permanents, especially enchantments like Whip of Erebos and the increasingly-popular Outpost Siege. A sideboard copy of Erase lightens the strain on Utter End while being a powerful tempo play.
King of the grind, Tasigur, the Golden Fang gets better the more opponents trade cards in the early game, so it’s perfect for attrition mirrors like the mirror and UB Control. In general, decks tend to bring in disruptive cards, making post-sideboard games more grindy in general, so Tasigur, the Golden Fang is great in games two and three of most matchups.
This format really is grindy, and two sideboard copies of Read the Bones bring card advantage to the forefront against control decks. The ability to sideboard into a full eight card drawing spells gives this deck the ability to out-card anybody. Often, card drawing will chain into more card drawing, which allows this deck to generate a hand and board presence out of nothing.
The sideboard includes a small package of planeswalkers, which are among the most threatening cards available in attrition matchups. These planeswalkers immediately create value and demand an answer or will end a game singlehandedly.
Nissa, Worldwaker is a great solution to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, since any 4/4 lands are colorless. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is a powerful card advantage engine with tempo applications because of its ability to produce 3 +1/+1 counters a turn.
The newest addition to this decklist is Garruk, Apex Predator. It serves as a midrange trump for killing creatures and other planeswalkers, but its ability to produce a stream of 3/3 deathtouch tokens makes it a powerful threat.
This deck is tailor-made to fight against other Abzan Midrange opponents. Attempt to trade resources and play for the long game, where this build will be favored with its high action density.
Abzan Midrange is traditionally favored against Abzan Aggro. And, while recent advancements in Abzan Aggro have made it a bit better against Midrange than in the PT: KTK era, with plenty of removal and maindeck End Hostilities, Abzan Midrange is well-positioned to win.
Fight their board position and maintain your life total at all costs. Be mindful of Wingmate Roc, and, if possible, leave their board empty and unable to trigger Raid if faced with the decision between casting removal and advancing your own board position.
Elspeth, Sun' Champion is the trump and late-game plan, so do everything possible to set up an advantageous position for the planeswalker.
RW is the aggressor here, so your focus is to minimize the impact of their creatures. The number one goal in the early game is trying to kill Goblin Rabblemaster before it can make a token, otherwise it’s a normal back-and-forth of deploying creatures and using removal. Stormbreath Dragon is their ultimate threat, so be sure to keep black a removal spell in reserve when possible.
Green Devotion decks are full of must-deal with threats, but the Thoughtseize and black removal plan of Abzan Midrange fares well against their strategy, which is often light on threats and high on acceleration. Maindeck End Hostilities is exceptional here.
If Abzan Midrange falls behind, it will have a hard time catching back up, and its creatures are outclassed here, so having disruption is crucial.
The high threat density of this Abzan Midrange build means UB Control has a hard time dealing with everything. There are some great UB draws that no deck can beat, but Thoughtseize and the multiple card drawing spells go a long in creating opportunities for the Abzan player.
Planeswalkers are at their best here. Unanswered, any one of them will win the game. They are a bit harder for the UB deck to deal with than creatures, so the best lines of play are those that pressure the opponent with discard and creatures, ideally creating a hole for a planeswalker to slip through.
Turn to the comments section with any questions!