The Return Of Westvale Abbey

Chris Lansdell is #SCGINVI-bound, and that means it’s time for him to brew up something special for the Standard portion! Today he explores a card whose time may have come again: Westvale Abbey!

Good cards don’t just stop being good cards.

Sure, metagame shifts and rotations and new sets can always shake formats up so that those good cards no longer work as well in the current metagame, but that doesn’t make them suddenly bad cards. They’re just waiting for their moment in the sun to return.

Some of these cards are waiting for their first moment. Cards like Drana, Liberator of Malakir have undeniably powerful text boxes but, for one reason or another, have not been able to convert their power into actual presence at the top of any metagame.

For our purposes as brewers looking to have fun, that can be just fine most of the time.

But what if we want to play one of those cards that used to shine? One that nowadays sees far less play than it perhaps should?

Although some versions of W/U Flash are making use of Westvale Abbey, we’re a long way from the days of seeing it in Rally the Ancestors, G/W Tokens, and U/B Aristocrats decks. Having recently played against a deck at FNM that smacked me in the head with Ormendahl. Profane Prince long before I was able to deal with it, I wanted to look at other ways we could bring this card back.

Why the Abbey?

We have reached a point in Standard where I am loath to even discuss the two decks that we all know sit atop the current metagame. The removal in those decks, with the exception of Stasis Snare, cannot prevent Ormendahl from getting at least one hit in. A twenty-point life swing is no laughing matter, and if they don’t immediately have something to bounce or exile it, they are probably dead. That’s without even talking about the ability to both make creatures and make Ormendahl without worrying about countermagic.

Westvale Abbey provides a way to break ground stalls; a way to keep applying pressure after having your battlefield decimated; a way to block Emrakul, the Promised End indefinitely; and a way to go big suddenly that doesn’t take up a spell slot in your deck. It’s not without drawbacks: Reflector Mage is a nasty trick (though far less so without the ability to have it enter the battlefield at instant speed) and sometimes that life cost can be steep. Stasis Snare is also a real kick in the teeth, but one around which you can play if you know they are running it.

Master of Puppets

One thing all of these decks will have in common is the ability to go very wide very quickly. Westvale Abbey needs creatures and a decent amount of mana available. While this first deck isn’t doing anything special with the latter, it does give us the option to go big instead of wide if needed.

The goal here is pretty obvious: make Servos, try to win by going wide with our two Anthem effects, and get the last few points in by sacrificing Clues or Servos (if you have Syndicate Trafficker). Against decks where that strategy is not a great idea, you have a post-sideboard approach that lets you load up on larger creatures instead of using fabricate to make Servos.

There’s an argument to play Chief of the Foundry in this deck as an additional Anthem, but I would be hard-pressed to cut something for it. Bygone Bishop making Clue tokens is the thing that attracted me to the deck in the first place, as sacrificing them for a card will trigger Marionette Master. I could also see a home for green, which would give us Tireless Tracker, but the Tracker may show up later.

One thing that worries me is the prevalence of removal that does not care if Syndicate Trafficker is huge or indestructible or both. Fortunately we can still wreak havoc by just attacking our Servos into whatever blockers the opponent is able to muster. W/U Flash has a lot of exile removal, no question, but it also does not look like it could keep up with the swarm strategy we can provide.

Does Eldrazi Displacer belong here? Aside from the offensive applications to make more Servos, it also does a fine defensive job against the likes of Spell Queller, Spider tokens, and even Emrakul, the Promised End. I was close to including it, but again, the cut was the issue.

Old Powerful Card, Old Powerful Deck

Think back to a previous Standard, back beyond the oppressive Bant Company dominance, to this little number:

The archetype that brought Westvale Abbey to prominence while winning Pro Tours and Grand Prix has since faded into nothing. What happened? W/U Flash being able to take out the planeswalker base of the deck without much effort was the first gap in the crate, and Smuggler’s Copter was the crowbar that pried it open. Losing Hangarback Walker, Evolutionary Leap, and Dromoka’s Command also hurt a lot, but there are surmountable. Observe:

What we lost in raw power, we gain in an additional (selective) Anthem effect and some defense against all the flying creatures in the W/U decks. Gideon and Nissa stick around to create a large and not-very-imposing ground force, with the ability to buff that force at will. Now we have Nissa, Vital Force to provide us with some recursion later in the game as well as a constant stream of cards once she is able to ultimate. The addition of Oath of Gideon to sit alongside Oath of Nissa helps ensure that we get to that ultimate, as well as the tricks it could always do with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Our removal suite really misses Dromoka’s Command, but without an obvious replacement I just went with more offense in the form of Ishkanah, Grafwidow. With the Oaths going to the graveyard relatively easily, Gideon able to put himself there with similar ease, and Noose Constrictor helping us fill the graveyard, delirium should not be hard to obtain. Those Spider tokens are even better when they are sitting under a Gideon emblem with a +1/+1 counter on them!

Can you tell I am a huge fan of Master Trinketeer? I have always been drawn to “army-in-a-can” creatures that make control decks have to cast a sweeper in order to deal with the leftovers, and this one does the job admirably. That it makes its creations bigger is just gravy. Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter is in a similar vein, albeit with the ability to go much bigger later in the game. She is so good in Draft that I really want to take her for a spin in Standard, and a deck that can hold her until late and then make great use of the second ability seems to be the perfect place for her. Remember that the size of the Construct is locked in when the ability resolves, so something like a Radiant Flames won’t kill a 4/4 or bigger Construct token. We may want more of Oviya (Mrs. Pashiri if yo’ nasty) in the sideboard, as I think her real power is against decks like B/G Delirium that have no real way to break a ground stall and are low on removal.

The biggest new addition though is probably Angel of Invention. An additional Anthem effect is something the deck always wanted anyway, but one that can also provide a beefy body or more tokens as necessary? That’s like asking for a car for Christmas and getting a Ferrari. Okay, maybe a Lexus. Either way, it’s still pretty sweet. Although the three toughness (if we choose the counters) is normally a drawback, we have the ability to make the Angel bigger even before it enters the battlefield with Gideon emblems. It matches up well with most of the W/U Flash deck, and with just one counter or Gideon emblem it can attack through Ishkanah.

The sideboard is heavy on Angels, but they all have a role in the deck. Making Brisela, Voice of Nightmares spells the end for most decks, and even without Gisela, the Broken Blade in the picture, we have plenty of utility for Bruna, the Fading Light. Sigarda, Heron’s Grace protects us from Dynavolt Towers and Emrakul triggers while also protecting Gideon when he’s a creature. Oh, and Sigarda makes tokens and blocks Avacyn. The weird choice is Emeria Shepherd, and it’s very possible that I like the card too much, but the recursion value in this deck is off the charts. Finally, Thalia’s Lancers in the sideboard lets us turn in to a Legends deck if we want to, adding the extra Plains to help us hit seven mana.

No Dromoka’s Command, You Say?

One thing we haven’t done nearly enough is take advantage of the absence of Dromoka’s Command from Standard, and not only that, but the absence of any real enchantment removal (at least in the maindeck) in Standard. Without that ubiquitous spell ruining our day, why is nobody playing a Cryptolith Rite deck?

Like G/W Tokens, this deck lost a key piece in Nantuko Husk. That said, the engine is still potent and the addition of Night Market Lookout has some really nice synergy with both Loam Dryad and Cryptolith Rite. We may have a few too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped, considering the importance of a smooth curve to start with this deck, but that needs more testing than I have been able to do so far.

I considered cutting the Lilianas altogether to add more copies of Voldaren Pariah, but I think having the ability to recur dead Zulaport Cutthroats will be important. In a pinch Liliana can also kill one of our own creatures for a trigger. Out of the sideboard, we can also bring in Nissa to give us more mana production on our way to a ludicrously early Ulamog.

The one-ofs in the deck are there to search up with Duskwatch Recruiter (and Catacomb Sifter scrying) as needed. Brood Butcher is a card I have tried in a few different decks and have found to be excellent, picking off several annoying creatures. The mana investment is not small, but that is somewhat mitigated by the way we are building our deck. We can easily kill a Selfless Spirit, and with a little more effort we can remove an Avacyn as well. Even an animated Gideon is in range if we can triple activate. Smothering Abomination joins forces with Catacomb Sifter and Liliana, the Last Hope to provide some much-needed card draw and selection, while Voldaren Pariah is a big ol’ beatstick that can clear up some annoying creatures from the other side of the table.

The really fun addition here is Ulvenwald Mysteries, which has great synergy with the whole deck and can provide us with a way to recover from an otherwise-devastating Radiant Flames. It may belong in the sideboard instead, but I like having it maindeck just to give us some insurance. Mana is unlikely to be the sticking point for the deck, so we should be able to churn through the Clues we get in fairly short order.

That’s all we have this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB, where Lansdell’s Always Brewing. I will hopefully see some of you in Atlanta this weekend as I attempt to either make Day 2 or get on camera somehow. I have my decks all but decided and I am excited to get to the games. Until next time, my friends…Brew On!