Abzan at GP Utrecht by Kevin Pass

Everyone has their pet decks.  It lures you back in every rotation just to see if maybe this time it will be good.  For some this endeavour involves jamming all the newest planeswalkers together with a dodgy manabase and trying to make ‘Super Friends’ a thing, others look for the best late game win conditions and craft a control plan around them and some just grab 20 mountains and a pile of red men in the hope of ‘getting’ people before the format settles.

My particular indulgence during a rotation generally involves identifying the best black removal and the most efficient green creatures and start grinding folk out with GB rock.  I have been a huge advocate of this strategy ever since Liliana of the Veil teamed up with the value boar himself, Thragtusk. More recently I have also enjoyed a spattering of white in this style of deck since a particular Rhino Lightning Helix’d its way into my heart.

I was playing Traverse-Delirium before Grim Flayer and Emrakul boosted the deck to tier one leading to its eventual banning.  Imagine my surprise when brewing for Aether Revolt standard when Green-Black came back swinging to the top tables. I reveled every moment, relishing the value the new Winding Constrictor shell was able to generate through efficient removal and counters synergy while also providing some near-unbeatable curve outs.  I exclusively played this deck, tuning and testing the various versions, during this PPTQ season in the lead up to GP Utrecht. I thought (and still think) the deck is fantastic and was pretty much locked on playing some version of GB Constrictor at the GP but a week before flying to Holland a thought occurred to me while browsing the Top 8s of recent events;

“For once everyone else also thinks GB is good, will I just end up playing the mirror all day?”

I normally like to try and find an edge in a format, piloting a deck that strikes the meta in an unexpected way.  GB Constrictor was definitely strong but could I adapt the list to prevent me playing a lot of very close mirror matches?  I had to achieve this while maintaining the favourable Mardu Vehicles match up.  How would I achieve this? With a spattering of white of course!

From my six weeks of playing GB I realized that Fumigate was an incredibly difficult card for the deck to recover from so I wanted to be playing the most versatile Fumigate deck I could.  After some tuning I submitted the following list as my deck for the GP

Abzan Snake Poacher – Kevin Pass

Creatures

4 Walking Balista
4 Sylvan Advocate
3 Tireless Tracker
2 Gisela the Broken Blade
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Bruna the Fading Light

Spells

4 Fatal Push
4 Oath of Nissa
3 Grasp of Darkness
1 Ruinous Path
1 Murder
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Fumigate
1 Ob Nixilis, Reignited
1 Sorin, Grim Nemisis

Lands

5 Swamp
4 Forest
1 Plains
3 Shambling Vents
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Blooming Marsh
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Canopy Vista

Sideboard

3 Transgress the Mind
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Consulate Crackdown
2 Natural Obsolescence
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
3 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Ajani Unyeilding
1 Painful Truths
1 Noxious Gearhulk

In play testing the deck was fairing very well against the decks that we expected to show up in overwhelming numbers; Mardu Vehicles and GB Winding Constrictor.  The Saheeli match up wasn’t great but that deck appeared to be waning in popularity recently and it didn’t feel unwinnable post board. The sideboard plan for these three big match up were as follows.

GB Constrictor

The matchup here is already very good as you are essentially pre boarded against them.  All you want to do here is bolster your plan of grinding them out by improving your card advantage engines.

Sorin comes out to make space for Ajani as sometimes he isn’t always able to kill their highest impact threat and Ajani potentially draws multiple cards a turn. Walking Ballista’s aren’t great here as they tend to be fairly low impact and don’t always line up well against the threats presented

OUT

-1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis
-3 Walking Balista
+1 Noxious Gearhulk

IN

+1 Painful Truths
+2 Ajani Unyielding

Mardu Vehicles

Game one can be a little dicey here as Fumigates and big walkers aren’t the best place to be in this match up but post board you adjust your answers to better line up with their threats and the it feels a lot easier. The reason I leave Sorin in here is because he post board the Mardu deck can transform into a planswalker midrange/control style deck and Sorin is good at cleaning up Chandra’s and Gideons that are causing you bother.

-2 Fumigate
-2 Tireless Tracker
-1 Ob Nixilis, Reignited

IN

+2 Natural Obsolescence
+1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
+1 Consulate Crackdown
+1 Liliana, the Last Hope

Consulate Crackdown might seem like a very ‘cute’ choice but when you use it to exile multiple Scrapheap Scroungers, nabbing a couple of vehicles or a combination of the two you will understand why it’s in the list.

Saheeli Decks

I realize that 4 colour Saheeli and Jeskai control Saheeli are completely different deck but I’ve bundled them together here as my side board strategy against both is largely the same here. Game one you are a massive underdog, you are relying on tap out threats and are susceptible to the combo at any moment.  You are playing a lot of dead removal spells and the Fumigates do literally nothing as you win this match up by commanding a strong board presence.  Game two I have been side boarding into a more proactive gameplan presenting my opponent with more early pressure and using the card advantage generated from Scrapheap Scrounger, Tireless Tracker, Ob Nixilis and Painful Truths to hopefully grind out a win.

OUT

-4 Fatal Push
-2 Fumiagte
-1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis

IN

+3 Scrapheap Scrounger
+3 Transgress the Mind
+1 Painful Truths

The plan seemed solid, my teammates agreed, crush GB and vehicles and hope to dodge Saheeli.  I ended 5-4 at the GP missing a Day 2 on a win and in on the mull to 5 against Mardu vehicles. The deck performed well for me but to my surprise this standard format seems a lot more open than most people appear to think; I played against 6 different archetypes over Day 1 of GP Utrecht (GB Snake, Mardu Vehicles, 4 Colour Saheeli, Esper Control, and Temur Energy).  This is a very positive sign for the format, but not very positive for the survival of this style of Abzan deck as control decks tend to flourish in a format with only a few decks to beat.

Moving forward I would likely cut the white completely from this deck as Fumigate was only really good against GB Constrictor decks and the angels aren’t really worth a whole colour alone.  I would then try and just become a big GB deck probably playing Gonti’s and Gifted Aetherborn to give the deck more consistency against such an open field.  And now we have gone full circle, like the loyal hounds from Homeward Bound GB Rock has returned to my side.

I cannot recommend this deck enough if your local metagame consists solely of GB and Mardu Vehicles. The deck performed very well at its intended purpose defeating my two GB opponents and two out of three of my Mardu vehicle opponents but changes will I have to made if this deck is to survive in a more varied landscape.  It’s going to take a lot to put me off this type of strategy and I will likely revisit at some point in the next month.

If you have any questions about the deck or for me in general feel free to leave a comment below.

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