Five months ago, I wrote an article focusing on Mardu Greasefang, a dominating Pioneer deck with all of its relevant pieces available in the new Explorer format. The Mardu builds utilized powerful rummaging effects like Bloodtithe Harvester and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki to put drawn copies of Parhelion II into the graveyard. Eventually, the player would find the titular Greasefang, Okiba Boss to bring back and crew the vehicle, swinging in the air for 13 damage, leaving behind two 4/4 angels to finish the job.
Since then, several variants have come about—notably Esper builds with Ledger Shredder and Tainted Indulgence which offered a tempo approach, and now a self-mill Abzan combo build that focuses on Grisly Salvage-style effects.
The core concept behind these decks hasn't changed, but the methods of facilitating the combo and creating a "plan B" has gone through some very creative iterations.
What I Like
The Abzan version of the Greasefang deck has two main areas that help it excel compared to previous builds. The first of which is access to Esika's Chariot. Chariot is a powerful midrange threat that's much easier to cast than Parhelion II or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, while still working well with Greasefang's reanimating ability.
In fact, Chariot benefits from the otherwise detrimental "return to hand" clause from Greasefang. By bouncing back to the player's hand, the player gets to cast Chariot for another enters-the-battlefield trigger, creating an ever-growing army of 2/2 cat tokens. As it puts three permanents on the board, opponents will struggle to answer Chariot cleanly. These sequences create opportunities for card advantage as the opponent will need to waste multiple removal spells to clear out a single copy of Chariot.
The second benefit of the Abzan build is how quickly it can churn through the deck with cards like Grisly Salvage, Stitcher's Supplier, and Corpse Churn. These effects, combined with Can't Stay Away can ensure access to Greasefang and a well-stocked graveyard full of vehicles.
Finally, Liliana of the Veil is a new addition to Explorer that's found an excellent home in this deck. She is a recursive discard outlet that dumps vehicles into the graveyard after they've been drawn or returned to the player's hand from Greasefang. As the combo necessitates the opponent keep up removal, Liliana penalizes them for holding cards in their hand. Her edict ability also helps to clear out creatures on an underdeveloped board. Often, she's a must-answer threat that diverts attention away from the player's combo, creating opportunities to win out of nowhere.
What I Don't Like
While Abzan Greasefang is great at digging through the deck, it's also at the deck's mercy. If the key pieces are in the bottom third, there isn't a great backup plan. So much of the deck is moving parts with low card quality that struggle to hold up on their own. A Stitcher's Supplier that whiffs on relevant spells is a dinky 1/1. Parhelion II without Greasefang is a dead draw. I'd love to see more individually powerful cards support the deck (like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker) for when the combo draws don't quite line up. I'm sure there's also something that can be done to better utilize the fluff filling the graveyard, be it Escape, Delve, or some other way of using this resource.
This build is much more reliant on the graveyard to facilitate its card draw and card selection compared to Mardu or Esper. Unlicensed Hearse can sidestep Witherbloom Command by crewing, making it a very difficult to remove lock piece. Leyline of the Void is similarly a sideboard card that Greasefang will struggle to deal with. Without Consider and Tainted Indulgence, finding answers to these cards like Tear Asunder can be a challenge.
What's Under the Hood?
Another one down! Abzan Greasefang is certainly a powerful contender in the Explorer metagame, but I can't help feeling like there's something missing. As I mentioned above, the deck has a lot of moving pieces that are greater than the sum of their parts, though I'd love for some individually powerful cards to find their way into the deck. I haven't found anything that fits what I'm looking for, but maybe there will be something in a future set that will push the deck over the edge.