“Muthafuckin’ Siege Rhino.” – Li Xu, 2014

What with PPTQ’s I have lined up due to an easy scheduling season with work, I have to be thinking quite a lot about Standard this month and next. Until Battle For Zendikar drops on our heads and flips the metagame utterly upside down, we are flush with Standard legal sets, a lot of high-level Pro data from recent tournaments a la World Champtionships, and a desire to work out this whole PPTQ thing I haven’t had time — or made time, to be more frank — to quit waiting for GP’s and starting grinding those competitive tournaments more frequently.

But wait, Standard? But Standard sucks! Just like school sucks. And getting old. That sucks. I’d rather be casting Snapcaster Mages and Fetching real, actual, honest to goodness dual lands than play me some standard.


Yeah. That’s right. Standard.

It’s time to get back on the horse. Because while Modern and Legacy are awesome formats, and Modern being especially close to my heart as I have poured a fair bit of time into learning it, the way to Q these days is through Standard and Limited. The way you play with the big boys is by knowing it. So that’s right. I’m letting it all hang out now for you to see.

Not only are we discussing Standard, but we are going to play with Siege Rhino. That’s right: Siege-Muthafuckin’-Rhino. Say what you want about this Hungry Hippo, this is still one of the best cards in the entire format and once I admitted this to myself I haven’t put down my playset when entering the format. And after this past weekends Abzana-banana Top 4 Worlds Sunday, well… it’s pretty clear to me that, while I haven’t played Standard since Grand Prix Miami, the deck I played is still one of the best decks.

The best deck, and it just got a whole lot better with Magic Origins. Thanks to these two bastards.



Languish. This card. Right here. Comes down a turn earlier than End Hostilities AND keeps your Rhino / Tasigur alive in the late game. Sweeps those pesky Devotion mana dorks away. It does everything this deck needed to do when I played it at Miami. Is this card better than Mutilate? Kinda. It’s certainly more consistent, which is something a control deck likes to rely on. Most importantly, or more to the point here, Languish is a catch-up card for those games you are hopelessly behind.

The other card I didn’t know I could love is Nissa, Vastwood Seer.


Borderland Ranger in a deck that wants to hit land drops 7, 8, and 9? Early blocker? Buy it back with Den Protector and flip her late game into a powerhouse of card advantage? All of the above, please. Sometimes, Nissa is your fifth and sixth Courser of Kruphix in that she gets you that land drop at the 3 slot. Other times, she’s a freakin Planeswalker. Other times, she dies to Magma Spray, or to Ugin -0. I accept all of these things, because the upside is freakishly high.

So other than these, Abzan runs at it’s lovely pace, mostly thanks to Courser of Kruphix, for this is the ultimate Courser deck.

When watching the finals of Worlds, I was hooked to the deck again. It felt so strong if you could navigate the games correctly. IF I could, and that’s a big If. Abzan has been criticized as one of the harder decks to play in the format, as it’s 50% at best against the entire field and has to rely on sideboarding to bend that percentage into its favor. But moreso, Abzan is the deck a lot of people play incorrectly because there are a myriad of decision points that have big consequences if you misstep.

I have my work cut out for me, I guess.

It starts with a warm up at an LGS last week, where I threw together Andrea Mengucci’s Hangarback Abzan deck he’s been scribing about over on ChannelFireball. I figured it’d be a good deck to get back into the swing of things, as I could just attack more often than with a control deck, and it had just swept Grand Prix London. I also assumed i’d be playing against the same deck, the mirror, each of the four rounds. I mean, if it just took down, in convincing fashion, a very high profile tournament, why wouldn’t everyone simply be playing it?


It should actually say ‘Everything is Abzan’


Turns out barely anyone was playing it, or Abzan decks in any form. Now, granted, this was an FNM during the Invitational in New Jersey, and I was ready for a softer group, but the group was chock full of bizarro control decks and only a few ‘tier 1’ contenders. Maybe that makes my Spike skin glow in the dark, but I always want to be playing a top deck in Standard. My matches were easy, my cards were powerful, and I found myself shrugging my way through the night until the finals.

The Dragons-matters matchup I found difficult. Or, rather, my opponent was on a Jeff Hoogland Grixis Dragons deck that had me at every land drop. I gotta hand it to ya Jeff, you certainly know how to put together a list that smashes the deck that just won. I had to board out my Hangarback Walkers and tried to shred his hand apart, but his Dragons were too much for me to contain. We drew so we could split prizes, but I still wanted to sweep for my own sake.

I think the dragons matchup led me to believe there would be more on Esper Dragons so long as that is a deck, and I feel better playing with Abzan Control against Dragons-matters decks. Main deck Thoughtseize, Languish, and Elspeth all have a lot of game against that strategy.

I’ll be starting with a mix between the two Worlds Finalist decklists for my Abzan starting point. There are merits to both, but I have personal preferences from each deck I’ll be slanting towards. Then the practice begins. Tune in next week when I disuss a few more prep sessions, the metagame as it stands before a tournament, and what I should be thinking about with Standard going forward.

Until then, may your Coursers and Nissas be well!

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

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