By Duncan Martin

This past weekend, my local shop hosted a StarCityGames Invitational Qualifier. Seeing as how the new Khans of Tarkir Standard format has been nothing short of awesome, I was more than happy to brew for the event. I played in the Indianapolis Open with a Rabble Red deck that was tuned to face the aggro mirrors (courtesy of my friend Matt Guido) and it had a fairly solid run. That being said, the local meta had abruptly shifted away from the red and black aggro decks toward Jeskai Tempo/Burn, which is not a favorable matchup.

So Rabble Red was out and I needed to come up with something sweet enough to play without a lot of time to test. Playing at Indy had shown me that the aggro decks have a hard time dealing with solid single threats, and the one-for-one midrange decks preferred that you lost to Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods. This knowledge in hand, I started to look for the cards that I found interesting that dodged the major threats and answers in the current meta.

To no surprise of my friends who know my love of the white weenie archetype (my favorite card of all time being Isamaru, Hound of Konda), I found Anafenza, the Foremost.

A new mythic rare from KTK, the Khan of the Abzan Houses has a lot of factors that interest me. Firstly, a 4/4 for 3 mana is worth being in many decks by itself. Just look at how much play Loxodon Smiter got last format. Add to the aggressive body the ability to add a +1/+1 counter to another tapped creature and you’ve got something more. It’s hard for some decks to swing into a 1/4 Sylvan Caryatid, much less fend off a 5/6 Siege Rhino, not to mention she’s free graveyard hate against the reanimator decks. She’s a pretty solid hate-bear.

The Build

I’d settled on an Abzan deck, but I wanted it to be a little more aggressive than the lists I’d been seeing. I wanted to go under the durdly decks and still drop threats that needed to be dealt with by themselves. Luckily for me, Fleecemane Lion is still in the format. As for other two-drops, I knew I wanted at least two other beefsticks to frighten the one-for-one players, so another KTK card came to my attention: Rakshasa Deathdealer. Some call him the new Putrid Leech, but I’ll just stick with a 2-mana Spiritmonger. He dodges boardwipes and spot removal, and has the ability to pump himself to close out games.

Aggressive three-drops are easy in this format. Anafenza was my whole reason for making the deck, so I just needed to fill in some other slots. Brimaz, King of Oreskos does a nice job of dodging Anger of the Gods, and adds to the incidental cat tribal theme (with the Deathdealer being a demon cat). To round it out I tossed in Courser of Kruphix, hoping that the 2/4 can attack as well as it blocks.

The four-drops were the easiest fill of all—the KTK rare Siege Rhino has proven itself all over the place.

I wanted some bigger, midrange threats to give me a better grind game, so I looked to the planeswalkers. The queen of the ‘walkers, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was an obvious inclusion. Moving down the ladder, Nissa, Worldwaker has the ability to present a solid threat the turn she comes out as well as giving your opponent’s Hero’s Downfall a tough decision to make. Any value against one-for-one removal was high on my list of importance.

A friend suggested another new mythic for the deck in Sorin, Solemn Visitor. While I liked the card, I wasn’t prepared for how well he performed. Close to MVP.

This left me with only a few slots for removal. Since I was hyped on KTK, I knew I wanted Abzan Charm, and it turned out to be fairly versatile. I ended up a heavy green/white deck, so Hero’s Downfall sadly couldn’t make the cut, and I decided on Banishing Light instead. Its ability to hit Keranos, God of Storms was a nice touch, too.

The deck ended up looking like this:

Abzan Beatdown

Creatures (23)
Fleecemane Lion
Sylvan Caryatid
Rakshasa Deathdealer
Courser of Kruphix
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Anafenza, the Foremost
Siege Rhino

Planeswalkers (6)
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Nissa, Worldwaker
Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Spells (7)
Abzan Charm
Banishing Light
Suspension Field
Lands (24)
Temple of Plenty
Windswept Heath
Caves of Koilos
Llanowar Wastes
Temple of Malady
Sandsteppe Citadel

Sideboard (15)
Whip of Erebos
Reclamation Sage
Drown in Sorrow
Setessan Tactics

Sideboard Thoughts

Thoughtseize – Essentially brought in to decks that are fragile and require specific cards to smooth out their draws, such as green decks or control decks.

Whip of Erebos – It’s hard for the hyper-aggressive decks to attack into a Courser or Rhino with lifelink.

Reclamation SageHerald of Torment is a problem, and adding the body means you usually get to 2-for-1 the black aggro deck with a blocker, as well as giving a well-rounded card for some other matchups.

Drown in Sorrow – Duh! Note that my only creature that dies to it is an un-pumped Rakshasa Deathdealer.

Plummet – This deck cannot beat Stormbreath Dragon…at all.

Setessan Tactics – The all-star in the beefy mirrors.

How’d It Do?

My record was less than desirable due to some mulligans (or lack thereof), as well as some tremendously bad punts on my part, ending at 2-3. The deck, however, was awesome. Every game I played with it (including a mull to four against my “bad luck opponent”) was extremely fun and surprisingly winnable. Siege Rhino was the all-star, as many people expect from any Abzan deck these days, but my theory turned out solid, as well.

I set out to build a more aggressive version of the generic Abzan Midrange, and it turned out better than I could have hoped. Fleecemane Lion did all kinds of work, Rakshasa Deathdealer proved its worth by dodging a whopping four End Hostilities during the swiss, and Anafenza? Well, she made some Coursers big.

I’ll keep tweaking the deck, but I’m going to try to move away from green for the next week or so and see what catches my eye. Maybe I’ll get to cast more one-drops this time!

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