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Budget Magic: $92 (18 tix) Abzan Rally (Modern, Magic Online)


Dobar dan, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! While it's almost time to start exploring our new post-rotation, Throne of Eldraine–infused Standard format, we're heading back to Modern this week to play a deck built around some of my favorite cards in the format: Abzan Rally! With Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Faithless Looting in the format, there was too much graveyard hate floating around to try to play a fair(ish) graveyard deck looking to be tricky and synergistic and win in the mid-game. Now, thanks to the bannings, graveyard hate is on the downswing, which means a deck like Abzan Rally—looking to use Satyr Wayfinder and Stitcher's Supplier to stock the graveyard, Blood Artist, and sacrifice outlets to reanimate with Rally the Ancestors to get an Aristocrats, self-sacrifice-style combo kill—actually has a chance in the format! So today, we're going to see if a slower graveyard-focused plan (with a sweet combo kill) can work on a budget! Do the recent bannings mean it's Satyr Wayfinder time in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we can talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Abzan Rally (Modern)

The Deck

While Abzan Rally might look like an aggro deck based on the fact that it plays a ton of cheap creatures, it's really a combo deck, with the combo being filling our graveyard with cheap creatures so we can get them all back on the same turn (for as little as four mana) with Rally the Ancestors and then sacrifice them all with a few Blood Artists on the battlefield to drain our opponent out of the game. While it is theoretically possible to win by beating down with our motley crew of creatures, in reality, most of our creatures are underpowered as attackers, making the Aristicrats-style self-sacrifice combo kill our primary game plan. One of the biggest upsides of Abzan Rally is that the deck is very redundant, with each combo piece having multiple similar cards filling the role. To understand the deck, the best plan is to simply walk through the pieces of the combo step by step and then talk about the other cards in the deck.

The Finishers

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The primary goal of our deck is to fill our graveyard with cheap creatures and then use Rally the Ancestors (or in a pinch, Return to the Ranks, which is basically a worse backup version of Rally the Ancestors) to reanimate them all at once to win the game. In our deck, apart from a single copy of Eternal Witness, all of our creatures cost just one or two mana, meaning we can cast Rally the Ancestors for just four mana and reanimate our entire graveyard, which is incredibly powerful. In theory, Rally the Ancestors has the downside of exiling all of the creatures we reanimate on our next upkeep, so we never get to attack with the creatures we reanimate, but this doesn't really matter in practice since our combo finish doesn't require attacking. Apart from reanimating a bunch of creatures for a low price, the other big upside of Rally the Ancestors is that it's instant speed, which is especially helpful against control decks, allowing us to cast it whenever our opponent happens to tap out to play around counterspells.

As for Return to the Ranks, it's Rally the Ancestors five and six, although since it is limited by the amount of mana (and number of creatures, for convoke) that we have on the battlefield, it sometimes only reanimates a few creatures, rather than our entire graveyard. That said, even getting back three or four creatures is a big swing, even if it isn't always enough to win us the game immediately like Rally the Ancestors. Plus, with Return to the Ranks, the creatures stick around, making it a fine value play while we wait to set up the Rally the Ancestors kill.

Filling the Graveyard

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When it comes to stocking our graveyard with creatures to Rally back into play, Stitcher's Supplier and Satyr Wayfinder are our two best options since they are creatures themselves, so along with adding cards to our graveyard, they also work as part of our self-sacrifice combo (giving us random bodies to sacrifice and to trigger our Blood Artists) after we Rally the Ancestors. With the help of a sacrifice outlet, Stitcher's Supplier can mill six cards for just one mana, which is pretty insane, while Satyr Wayfinder generally mills three while also making sure we hit our land drops and have enough mana to cast Rally the Ancestors and Return to the Ranks. As for Grisly Salvage, it's just a two-of since it isn't a creature, but it offers another way to dump cards in our graveyard while also helping us find whatever creature-based combo piece we happen to be missing. 

Sacrifice Outlets

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For our combo to work, we need to have at least one sacrifice outlet in our graveyard or on the battlefield when we cast Rally the Ancestors. Filling this role are Carrion Feeder and Viscera Seer. On level one, both of these cards do the same thing: allow us to sacrifice creatures without spending any mana. Beyond that, they work very differently. Carrion Feeder is actually one of our best backup plans, growing into a huge (and potentially lethal) threat as we sacrifice away our board. While winning with combat damage doesn't happen often, when it does happen, Carrion Feeder is usually involved. Meanwhile, Viscera Seer has the upside of allowing us to scry when we sacrifice a creature. Sometimes (like after we Rally the Ancestors and are about to win the game), this isn't very helpful; other times, it is essential to finding a missing combo piece. One of the tricks of Abzan Rally is that if we are about to lose the game, we can sacrifice our entire board to Viscera Seer to scry through our deck to (hopefully) find a lethal Rally the Ancestors to draw on our next turn and steal the win with our combo kill.

Blood Artists

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The final piece of our combo puzzle are our Blood Artists: Cruel Celebrant, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Blood Artist itself. While all of these cards are worded slightly differently, they function basically the same in our deck, by allowing us to drain our opponent for a life whenever one of our creatures die. With 10 total Blood Artists in our deck, we're hoping to get two or three in our graveyard before we Rally the Ancestors, along with a few other creatures (including a sacrifice outlet). Then, we simply Rally the Ancestors back our graveyard, sacrifice our entire board to Viscera Seer or Carrion Feeder, and 20 our opponent with Blood Artist damage! With two Blood Artists, we need around 11 creatures to kill our opponent from 20, while with three, the number drops to around 7, which is fairly easy to hit with a couple of Satyr Wayfinders and Stitcher's Suppliers. While this might sound like magical Christmas land, when you consider we have 29 creatures in our deck, a bunch of ways to fill our graveyard, and 10 Blood Artists, it's very possible that we'll have our combo ready to go by Turn 4, and Turn 5 kills are fairly common with a good hand.

The other upside of our Blood Artists (and really, Abzan Rally in general) is that we actively want our creatures to die and go into the gravyard so we can get them back with Rally the Ancestors. This makes our deck hilariously good against decks looking to beat down with creatures on the ground. We can flood the board with cheap chump blockers, sacrifice them for value (ideally after chump blocking), and trigger our Blood Artists to keep our life total high to buy time while we look for our Rally the Ancestors. As such, even though Turn 4 or 5 kills aren't super fast compared to the quickest decks in Modern, Abzan Rites makes up for this by being really good at slowing down the game with its motley crew of creatures.

Other Stuff

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Eternal Witness and Lingering Souls are just one-ofs, but they work well with the graveyard theme of our deck. The main purpose of Eternal Witness is to get back copies of Rally the Ancestors that we happen to mill as we are filling our graveyard, although we can use it for value as well. Meanwhile, Lingering Souls gives us some free value from the graveyard thanks to flashback, giving us a couple of 1/1 fliers for just two mana, which we can use on chump-blocking duty or to support our sacrifice / Blood Artist combo.

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Sakura-Tribe Elder probably looks weird in the deck, and honestly, it is. Building an Abzan mana base on a budget is weird. While black-white and black-green have good budget dual lands, green-white budget duals are severely lacking (especially in a three-color deck that can make cards like Sunpetal Grove come into play untapped). As such, while I was testing the deck, I had a few games that I lost because I didn't have a second white mana to cast Rally the Ancestors. Sakura-Tribe Elder is an attempt to fix this, giving us a Rampant Growth that also works with both Rally the Ancestors (since it's a cheap creature) and with our Blood Artists (even sacrificing itself in a pinch). While non-budget builds have better options and won't need Sakura-Tribe Elder, it seems necessary to make the mana work in the budget build of Abzan Rally, even if it isn't ideal.

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While our main defense is chump blocking and sacrificing our creatures to buy time while we are setting up our combo, Abrupt Decay gives us a touch of removal that is also flexible enough to kill Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, and most other graveyard hate that our opponent could have in their deck. Graveyard hate is really good against our deck (especially Rest in Peace–type cards, which don't just stop our reanimation but the "dies" triggers from our Blood Artists as well since the creatures go to exile rather than dying). Abrupt Decay gives us a main-deck hedge against graveyard hate than can also take down a Stoneforge Mystic (or a Sword it tutors up), a Death's Shadow, Liliana of the Veil, or many other popular threats in the format.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished 3-2 in our video matches with Abzan Rally but dropped an additional match to control, bringing us to 3-3 overall. While 3-3 is a fine, if unexciting, record for a budget deck, a couple of our losses seem to have come from our budget mana, either by missing colors or—in our last game against Naya Aggro—by taking roughly infinite damage from our pain lands, which is just the cost of playing a budget deck. 

On the other hand, we didn't run into a ton of graveyard hate, and we had some really solid wins, especially against decks looking to win with creatures, like Death's Shadow and Mono-Green Stompy, where our plan of chump blocking until we could set up the combo kill worked to perfection. In a post-Faithless Looting, post-Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis world, it seems like there is room in Modern for a deck like Abzan Rites to grind out value and eventually win with the graveyard.

Cruel Celebrant was also a big get for the deck. Being able to play 10 Blood Artists adds a ton of consistency to the deck. Most of the time, we didn't have a problem stocking our graveyard for the combo kill—the bigger challenge was finding a copy of Rally the Ancestors. It might be worth adding another copy or two of Eternal Witness to get back copies of Rally the Ancestors that we mill. We really need to find one to be able to win the game, so any way to "draw" Rally the Ancestors seems worthwhile.

All in all, Abzan Rally felt solid in budget form and should be even better with some upgrades (especially to the mana base). It has the ability to win games out of nowhere (even at instant speed) thanks to Rally the Ancestors and is really good at grinding through fair creature decks with our cheap creatures and synergies.  If you like Aristocrats-style self-sacrifice decks or graveyard-centric creature combo decks, Abzan Rally seems like a solid budget option for our current Modern format!

The good news is that it's very possible to get Abzan Rally down in the $50 price range. The bad news is that it requires making the mana even worse, and considering that the mana was one of our bigger issues with the budget build of the deck, that's a risky proposition. Apart from trimming the mana as much as possible with Evolving Wilds and more basics over the fast lands, we make some small sideboard changes and, turn the two Blood Artists into more copies of Grisly Salvage and Abrupt Decay into Tragic Slip. In all honesty, I wouldn't want to play the ultra-budget build outside of the kitchen table. The mana base is just too clunky for the deck to really be competitive.

Meanwhile, in the non-budget world, we get a handful of really big upgrades. First, we add the traditional Modern mana base of fetch lands and shock lands, which should solve all of our mana issues. Second, we get Voice of Resurgence, which is perfect for the deck. It gives us multiple bodies to sacrifice during the combo, and the Elemental token it makes joins Carrion Feeder as another potentially huge creature that can allow us to win the game if we don't find our Rally the Ancestors. We also get Collected Company, which offers too much value to pass up in a deck with 30 cheap creatures. Otherwise, we get Thoughtseize (over Duress), Stony Silence, Surgical Extraction, Assassin's Trophy, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in our sideboard, giving us a few more ways to fight through our the unfair combo decks of the format. In sum, the non-budget build is basically the same as the budget build but with better mana, a couple of powerful new payoffs, and a better sideboard for our worst matchups. If you're looking to play Abzan Rally competitively, this is where I'd start.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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