Somewhere deep down in my heart of hearts, tucked away and hidden in a place I didn’t know even existed, all a little part of me ever wanted to do is hit two Elvish Visionaries off of a Collected Company.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Flashback to a week before the Pro Tour.
Black and white noir. A worried Shaun McLaren paces in his office wondering what to play to the Pro Tour. A dame walks in… Liliana enters and color floods the world.
The Actual Scene:
I’m trying to decide what to play at the Pro Tour. The first decks I tried were versions of Jeskai with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It was difficult to out-value everything else in the format and a little clunky as a burn deck, which left me wondering “Why not just play Mono-Red?”
The next deck I tried to perfect was U/B Control with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. This deck was even more of a grind. It was possible to win a lot of close games, but I really didn’t want to go to time every round.
Abzan Control was fine but nothing special, and felt like it would be a little bit below 50% against an unknown field. G/R Devotion was still a good solid choice. Powerful and essentially unstoppable, sometimes it just wins games no matter what.
Then Ray Tautic won the SCG Open in Richmond with Abzan Rally.
The deck looked great, better than previous versions of any Rally deck I’d seen, but I still felt there was plenty of room for improvement.
After finishing up GP Dallas, I knew I’d have to work fast to learn to play the deck and build a version I was happy with. I immediately made some changes and it felt like they worked well. I ran with it and ended up with:
- 3 Nantuko Husk
- 3 Fleshbag Marauder
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 2 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Mogis's Marauder
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Grim Haruspex
- 2 Merciless Executioner
- 4 Liliana, Heretical Healer
The deck has three main plans:
Plan A: Cast Rally the Ancestors.
Return a bunch of creatures to the battlefield, draw a bunch of cards and make your opponent sacrifice a bunch of creatures. If you happen to have them, Mogis’s Marauder will give Nantuko Husk haste and intimidate and you can kill your opponent in one big turn. Rally the Ancestors gives the deck inevitability. If you’re just casting cards, making trades and not dying, you’re probably winning.
Plan B: Cast Collected Company
Collected Company is one of the most powerful cards you can cast for four mana in Standard. It’s one of the main draws for this strategy. I want to be doing potentially ridiculous things, even at the cost of sometimes whiffing.
Plan C: Being a mediocre Abzan deck
If you aren’t executing Plan A or Plan B, you also have a chance of just winning by beating down with mediocre black and green creatures.
I had less than a week to tune the deck. Fortunately for me, my first ideas for which direction to take the deck worked out. Take out the Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor package; add Elvish Visionaries, Sylvan Caryatids, and Temples to improve consistency. The deck was super powerful already, so I wanted to make sure it was able to cast all of its spells.
About those Elvish Visionaries. Elvish Visionary really is the card I think the deck was missing. It has synergy with nearly every single card in the deck, helps you make land drops on time and find your combo pieces, and gets returned with Rally the Ancestors.
Elvish Visionaries and Collected Company is comparable to blinking Wall of Omens with Restoration Angel on the Scale of Value. This is what creatures in Magic are supposed to do.
I think the deck is just a blast to play. It’s just plain fun to reanimate such a motley crew of creatures and draw so many cards with Rally the Ancestors.
…Went fairly well. There were a few key moment I messed up and a few key moment where things just didn’t break my way.
I was feeling confident going into Day One. I had a good idea of what I wanted to be doing in draft – getting as low and aggressive as possible – and was pleased and, perhaps just as importantly, excited to battle with my Standard deck.
My first draft started great with a first-pick Gideon’s Phalanx and a second-pick Outland Colossus that I don’t know what anyone would take over it. G/W Renown Beats is one of my favorite archetypes to begin with, and I ended up with a nice green card-draw version of the deck featuring two Elvish Visionaries, three Llanowar Empaths, and two Sylvan Messengers. After three fairly one-sided matches, the last of which I lost to Matej Zatlkaj, I was headed into Constructed at 2-1. My first rounds went great, 2-0ing my opponents like a hot knife matched up against a cheese platter. I finally fell the last round of the day to Joel Larsson and his burn deck and ended the day at 6-2.
Despite losing the last one, I was once again feeling confident going into Day Two. After another 2-1 with G/W Renown beats, again losing the last round of the draft, I headed into the final stretch at 8-3.
Unfortunately the deck didn’t quite deliver the goods and/or services necessary, mostly in the form of mulligans and not finding Rally the Ancestors on time, and I ended up falling short of the Top Eight with a 10-5-1 record.
Abzan Rally Going Forward
Abzan Rally decks are in a bit of a weird spot. The format naturally shifted to beat them thanks to the rise of Burn and U/R Thopters, which are both pretty miserable matchups. It’s possible that the next shift in the metagame, people turning their focus towards beating Burn and U/R Thopters, will be favorable for Rally decks, especially if they are still under the radar.
The deck has some room for variation or even rebuilding with Chord of Calling and Nyx Weaver for slower consistency, Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor for midrange inevitability, adding blue for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or adding red for Purphoros, God of the Forge, or just a shifting of numbers in the sideboard and maindeck.
The deck is powerful and an absolute blast to play when it gets humming. You churn through cards and do something very unique. The deck’s viability will vary based on how much hate the format is packing for it. It isn’t that hard to beat Abzan Rally if you really want to, so it is more of a tactical-strike choice of deck, best picked up when the format least expects its return.
How you sideboard often depends on how much hate you expect from your opponent. I generally like to err on the side of caution, assuming my opponents will have hate, and act accordingly.
VS G/R Devotion
This matchup is all about speed: who can reach their critical mass first? After sideboarding, you can actually target their Dragonlord Atarkas and gum up the ground long enough to Rally back a gigantic unblockable Nantuko Husk.
VS Mono-Red Aggro
Survive and try to kill the enemy as fast as possible. If you want to beat Mono-Red Aggro, pack plenty of Arashin Clerics since you can hit it off Collected Company and return it to the battlefield with Liliana, Heretical Healer.
VS Abzan Control
Abzan Midrange doesn’t interact with you particularly well, so just cast your cards and hope you draw Rally the Ancestors.
VS U/R Thopters
This is a deck that essentially come pre packed with hate for you, since it’s hard to attack through artifacts and you have trouble with fliers. Hangarback Walker is a scary card for your Fleshbag Marauders/Merciless Executioners and this deck really abuses it. After sideboard, you turn into more of a control deck and just want to disrupt their key plays.
VS Abzan Rally
The mirror is first and ahem foremost about Anafenza. If one player has Anafenza on the battlefield and the other doesn’t, the player with Anafenza will win. Beware casting Rally the Ancestors into an opponent who has an Anafenza, the Foremost in their graveyard, as they can potentially Rally the Ancestors back and all of your creatures will end up in exile if you don’t have removal. If neither player has Anafenza things can become a lot messier. It will often get to the point where you’re both casting Rally the Ancestors each turn and crashing creatures into each other, and the person with the most stuff will win. Decking and milling your Rally the Ancestors is also a bit of a concern, so consider letting your Satyr Wayfinders exile themselves with Rally the Ancestors’s upkeep trigger at a certain point.
Tips And Tricks
How to use Liliana, Heretical Healer: return key cards like Nantuko Husk and Mogis’s Marauder or act as another Fleshbag Marauder immediately after flipping. Liliana allows you play a slow, grindy value game as well. Returning Elvish Visionary is great.
Know what to sacrifice: you often want a Fleshbag Marauder in the graveyard over a Satyr Wayfinder to return with Liliana, Heretical Healer or Rally the Ancestors.
Stacking your triggers: this is a deck that’s best practiced online first in order to get a visual feel for the triggers and interactions. When you’ve played around with it some in an environment that automagically includes all of the triggers, then it will be much easier to follow the rules with live and not draw extra cards or miss triggers.
Know when to cast Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors: when in doubt, cast them during your turn. They’re instant-speed cards but you have plenty of creatures and creature/planeswalkers that work best during your main phase.
Boot And Rally
What a way to end another great season of Magic! I had a blast of a time casting Rally the Ancestors at Pro Tour Magic Origins and would recommend the deck for anyone looking for a challenge with plenty of reward to those who are willing to master the deck.
I am once again the Canadian Captain for the World Magic Cup and qualified for the 2015 World Championship at PAX at the end of the month. I’m looking forward to building and tuning new decks and crushing those tournaments and next year’s Pro Tours as well. Here’s to another great year of Magic to come!