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The Good, The Bad, and Those That Are Better Than Good

For the past week I was attempting to write a thorough article on how to effectively beat Abzan Midrange by changing current main-board or sideboard options for all decks, but I quickly realized that each of my conclusions could be summed up with: "Become more linear in your strategy." Abzan is simply effective. It plays much like previous standard's mono-black in which it plays hard to deal with threats (Desecration Demon meet Siege Rhino) and the same oppressive removal package of Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall. This go-around they even get to play Courser of Kruphix instead of Underworld Connections because Gray Merchant of Asphodel is no longer enticing enough to build around. 

Anyway, I digress . . . 

Just kidding, I'm going to rant some more. 

My assertion was even more cemented once I learned of the Grand Prix Los Angeles top sixteen results. For all intents and purposes I am going to group Abzan Aggro and Abzan Midrange, which made up half of the entire top sixteen. The other half of the top sixteen were either Mardu decks that competed on similar levels, aggressive decks that outpaced removal, or R/G Monsters which eventually went on to win the event. The point I am trying to make by highlighting the decks that competed with Abzan is this: to beat a deck that rules the midgame, you cannot play their midgame. It looks like this is a deck that doesn't have a terrible matchup, which means that one can safely assume that this deck is here to stay and you need to be prepared for this new standard . .  .

So, you may be asking: "what makes these other decks so viable?" And the answer to that lies in these decks' ability to blank or worsen Abzan's one-for-one removal. As a former UWx control player, I firmly believe in any strategy that makes my opponent's removal worse. Now I'm sure you have another question: "Well Stephen, how does one do this in current standard?" Well let me show you! 

***Side Note: I will only be using data from Grand Prix Los Angeles due to the suspected cheating during SCG Worchester***

Let us start with example A, the deck that actually took down GP L.A.

I don't actually think that similar archetypes are very favored in the matchup but there are a couple cards that seem very effective against the metagame right now. Stormbreath Dragon and Ashcloud Phoenix dodge most of Abzan's removal spells. This deck also does a great job of putting a clock on their opponent and finishing off games. I haven't actually played the deck, against it, or even watched it, but one has to imagine that a Crater's Claws with six mana ends the game if the deck has been doing any sort of damage. The strategy employed in this archetype can also be carried over to decks such as Mardu midrange or Jeskai aggro. Threats such as Brimaz, King of Oreskos or Goblin Rabblemaster could be switched out for more evasive threats that combat Abzan's efficiency in locking up the ground. 

Speaking of ground pounders, I think that one of the only other ways to win through these Courser/Caryatid decks is by "going wide." "Going wide" refers to spreading little creatures out amongst the board instead of attacking with one threat at a time. An effective way to do this is by using token generators such as Hordeling Outburst or Raise the Alarm conjugate with cheap removal spells or other ways to punch through for damage. 

Above is a Boss Sligh list similar to the two red decks in the Grand Prix Los Angeles top eight. Due to the absence of flexible removal spells in the two drop slot I think red is the proper way to go if one plans to become aggressive in response to Abzan. The deck offers you cheap ways to attack with the team via Hammerhand and Frenzied Goblin. One of the greatest fall backs to the deck is that it is very susceptible to sideboard hate due to its linear nature, but it does have all of the aforementioned benefits as well as winning a majority of game ones. 

Now, onto the strategy that I love the most. 

Remember how I was talking about making your opponent's removal less efficient? Well, I have just the strategy to do so. 

I actually think this deck is perfectly poised to take over whatever next week holds. In my case it will be the TCG Player Maxpoint Championships. There are a large number of people at these events that auto play whatever won the previous week, and in case you haven't noticed, that would be Abzan and mono red. While its mono-red matchup is nothing to smile about, the sideboard hate is more than enough to slow down the red menace to combo-off. Other than that glaring flaw, the deck has a great matchup against almost any green deck running Courser of Kruphix.

On a quick note, I would like to go over a couple of my card choices. For one, Altar of the Brood is much more efficient at comboing than its alternatives: Nissa, Worldwaker and Burning Anger. It allows for turn three kills which is obviously desirable. The list also forgoes the cantrips Dragon Mantle and Tormenting Voice. The cantrips certainly help to combo off earlier, but in the limited testing I performed as well as the theory I went over, they were much worse than Taigam's Scheming and the additional Treasure Cruises when missing the centerpiece Jeskai Ascendancy

That is all I have to say for now. I would love to hear from you in the comments. This is my first piece of MTG related writing not intended for my teammates so constructive criticism is appreciated. I look forward to telling you all about how I did this past weekend and my new thoughts on standard. Stay safe, beware of cheaters, and good luck in whatever endeavors you uptake this weekend, friends!

Follow Stephen on twitter @apex_simplex

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