Exploring Standard has been a lot of fun while diligently preparing for GP Toronto the past few weeks. Unfortunately, the GP didn’t go well for me, but it
wasn’t for a lack of trying. I started off with two wins before dropping the next three matches, but I still feel that the deck I played has a lot going
for it. That’s what I’d like to share with you today.
The breakout cards from Dragons of Tarkir, Den Protector and Dragonlord Ojutai, have started to become ubiquitous throughout the format. Chances
are if you’re doing a lot of winning in Standard, you’re running a deck playing at least one of these, if not both. Which makes sense since they are
essentially distilled value in the form of cardboard. When it comes down to it, you’re either the type of player that wants to win through value or through
beatdown, and if you’re looking for card advantage, it’s hard to do better than Dragonlord Ojutai or Den Protector.
After playing a little with Esper Dragons and realizing that I liked the deck but wasn’t in love with it, I decided I would try to beat them before giving
in and joining them. The target on control decks in general is still pretty big as well.
Turns out losing to Siege Rhino in the finals of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir made an impression on me since I’ve been tinkering with it ever since. I brought
Abzan Control to Worlds and Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, but I wasn’t impressed with its matchup against Esper Dragons. So I asked myself: What would it
looked like if I built Abzan Control specifically to beat Esper Dragons?
After a bunch of testing and tweaking, this is where I ended up. Maybe it’s not the best thing you can be doing if you want to beat Esper Dragons, but I
was happy with the matchup, and more importantly, was happy with the deck against the field in general.
Spot removal is poorly positioned in the maindeck right now, mostly because it’s bad against Den Protector and Dragonlord Ojutai. This leaves the two-drop
slot pretty empty. Sylvan Caryatid and Fleecemane Lion are both options here. Sylvan Caryatid can provide explosive draws, but it’s also a great card to
have in the lategame since this deck is so mana hungry. It’s an excellent card to hit when manifesting with Mastery of the Unseen since you can turn it up
to gain life and have more mana to keep manifesting. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Den Protector, and sometimes even Deathmist Raptor are also a huge mana
sinks. I actually got a little too enamored with Sylvan Caryatid, and I think I made my largest mistake going into GP Toronto by playing the full four and
only 24 lands, which is the only difference from the list above. This is all well and good enough in theory since 28 mana sources is plenty. The problem
was that I wanted to be siding out Sylvan Caryatid in many matchups, which just left me with 24 lands, which was me just asking for mana screw.
Den Protector + Deathmist Raptor
These are versatile cards. They can be used aggressively or defensively in different matchups and different boardstates. They are solid against every deck
in the format and can fill the roles of removal spells and/or card draw. It gives me great joy to use the Deathmist Raptor defensively since every time it
trades for another card, it will wait patiently in the graveyard to come back.
Mastery of the Unseen + Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Beyond Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector recursion, this is the main lategame plan.
Mastery of the Unseen provides ultimate inevitability, through lifegain and an army. It churns through the deck, randomly manifesting excellent targets
like Courser of Kruphix or Den Protector. It’s also a makeshift tutoring engine with Den Protector, similar to returning manifested cards to hand with
Temur Sabertooth, only you need to let the morphs die first and then return them with Den Protector. Therefore, it’s good to let the high value spells and
removal you’ve manifested die first, or even chump attack them into opponents’ creatures. Priority candidates include Elspeth, Sun’s Champions, Abzan
Charm, Hero’s Downfall, Crux of Fate, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a great answer to Dragonlord Ojutai… sometimes. That is, if you have six mana available and aren’t blowing up too many of your
own Siege Rhinos and they don’t have a counter ready. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is one of the main draws to be playing this deck. The format isn’t always
ideal for her (or Sylvan Caryatid), but right now I think it is.
Even treading water with either card to buy time is great since the deck has so many high impact cards to draw into or manifest or just buy time to hit
The most important cards against U/B Control and Esper Dragons. Thoughtseize is still just plain great and vital to the deck since it’s one of the deck’s
only early drops, which means it virtually never gets sided out.
Just Say No To Fleecemane Lion
Fleecemane Lion is a great card. It is a staple in plenty of decks right now, strong in the earlygame and a hexproof beast in the lategame. This deck is
trying to go over the top of Fleecemane Lion and outclass the Fleecemane Lion decks in general. It isn’t that hard to invalidate a monstrous Lion with
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Mastery of the Unseen or even just Deathmist Raptor.
I know one of these days a bunch of Fleecemane Lions will stick in my sideboard since it is useful in a bunch of different matchups, but I don’t recommend
it for the maindeck.
VS Mono Red
You have a bunch of really excellent cards after sideboard mixed in with some mediocre ones that can be decent in certain situations. Having the option of
casting Den Protector on turn 2 is great in this matchup, and it’s really the only matchup you’re happy to be doing so. It also gives you just a little bit
of insurance if the game happens to go long.
VS Abzan Aggro
This is an interesting matchup since they’re usually sideboarding in more significant threats, and you’ll side in more earlygame answers. You want to limit
their beats and get to a point where your lategame cards take over. Crux of Fate is subpar against their two-drops, but having the potential to snag a
two-for-one or better and clear the board is too important. Dromoka’s Command is annoying, so consider holding onto your Mastery of the Unseens until later
in the game. Playing Mastery of the Unseen early can protect Courser of Kruphix from Dromoka’s Command and vice versa in the lategame. I’m not sure whether
Den Protector or Deathmist Raptor is more important so I decided to shave one of each.
VS Esper Dragons
Against Esper Dragons you want to clear a path early to disrupt their card draw and Dragons. Pressure them when they don’t want to be pressured, especially
when they have the opportunity to otherwise cast Dig Through Time. This isn’t a matchup you can play slow. You are the beatdown. Dig Through Time and
Dragonlord Ojutai demand that you spit dudes out at a steady clip. There are times you can slow down in the earlygame, namely when they’re holding up
countermagic and you have an Abzan Charm that you can wait to use to draw cards with during their end step. No need to go overboard and extend into a Crux
of Fate, especially if you have a way to deal with Dragonlord Ojutai. Solid and steady pressure will get the job done.
Utter End is worth bringing in if you know they’ll have Perilous Vault.
There are plenty of points where you get to play megamorph mini-games. You often want to cast Deathmist Raptors as morphs since your opponent will be more
inclined to counter it since it could be Den Protector. This can set them up for disaster if you follow it up with a real Den Protector the next turn and
return the Deathmist Raptor from the graveyard. Things get really interesting when your opponent expects you to do this and you mix it up by casting Den
Protector first. Your opponent might Thoughtseize you and see you have a Den Protector and then you topdeck a Deathmist Raptor, which makes it almost
impossible for them to guess that they shouldn’t be countering your morph. You get to play these minigames in pretty much every matchup, but it’s more
pronounced when counters are involved since resolving Den Protector is really good and letting Deathmist Raptor soak up counters is a good use for it.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Dragonlord Silumgar are all major threats and considerations after sideboard, so if you see a bunch
of them, consider keeping in some Hero’s Downfalls by shaving an Elspeth or Crux of Fate.
VS U/B Control
Similar to Esper Dragons except for no Dragonlord Ojutai. That significantly reduces the pressure on you and gives you more room to slow down and find good
VS G/R Dragons
The pressure and card advantage of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor go a long way when backed up by Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.
Duress for planeswalkers and burn spells, or Drown in Sorrow for Goblin Rabblemasters and mana Elves can be decent depending on their build postboard.
VS Abzan Control
Your lategame should be superior and overall it should be an easy matchup.
VS G/W Devotion
Against devotion strategies you get to turn into a more classic style Abzan deck and let your removal spells and planeswalkers control the game.
VS Bant Megamorph
Their removal is good against your creatures, and they’re more explosive so you really want to get to a point where Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can dominate
the game. You have similar engines, so just try and keep up and deal with Dragonlord Ojutai until your lategame kicks in.
I actually consider all the above matchups to be very close but slightly favorable, which is a fantastic place to be, all things considered.
Tips and Tricks
First off, Mastery of the Unseen and Courser of Kruphix are excellent together, allowing you to rip through your deck with tremendous
speed. Using Mastery to manifest Den Protector is just like casting it for only one mana more, so it’s usually correct to do.
Secondly, don’t forget to gain life off Mastery of the Unseen and Courser of Kruphix! I also recommend moving “dead” Raptors to the top of your graveyard.
Lastly, use Abzan Charm to put counters on Den Protector to sneak through a field of smaller creatures. This is especially useful for killing Elspeth,
Sun’s Champion (so watch out for it from your opponents).
Standard Going Forward
The range of archetypes in Standard is pretty diverse even though the specific decks are starting to become more universally fleshed out. It’s going to
continue shifting from week to week, but right now, the scary cards for this controlling version of Abzan Megamorph aren’t that common. Whip of Erebos,
Perilous Vault, Outpost Siege, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Silumgar the Drifting Death are all on the list of cards you aren’t too happy seeing when playing
I think this deck is the real deal. I was really happy with how the deck felt during testing and at GP Toronto. I don’t think there are really any bad
matchups, and it has game against most of the field. It’s one of those rare times I felt like I had a great deck for the metagame, quite possibly the best
deck, going into the tournament and coming out of it, even though I didn’t perform well. It was a small sample size. If you like the look of the deck, go
forth and conquer with it!
Let me take a minute to focus on some positives. I know you’ve heard it a million times by now, but I’m really enjoying this Standard format. Might as well
keep saying good things when there are good things to say, especially since Magic players can be critical when there’s something to complain about. Every
deck works in this format; whatever you want to be doing, you can do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go manifest some more Den Protectors.