Smashing the Mirror

Posted in Perilous Research on May 7, 2015

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. A few months ago, the best players in the world descended upon Washington, D.C. to compete in Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Abzan strategies proved themselves to be among the most popular and successful strategies over the course of the weekend. Some teams were lucky enough to discover the secret to winning the Abzan mirror match and were rewarded handsomely as a result. Today's preview card was an instrumental tool in what was possibly the most successful strategy at the last Modern Pro Tour.

Modern Abzan strategies present an interesting puzzle to players looking to attack the Modern metagame. The combination of the format's best threats, disruption, and removal let the deck have at least a close matchup against virtually every opponent. By playing Abzan, a player declares that he or she has winning intentions.

So, Abzan's versatility ensures that we'll have a fighting chance against every opponent, but what about the Abzan mirror match? Surely the player that draws a better mix of spells and lands will almost always emerge victorious if both players are of similar skill levels. Fortunately, this isn't the case, though; Winning the mirror requires a correct identification of the most important cards in the matchup and a thoughtful inquiry into how those strategies can be trumped.

Splinter Twin | Art by Goran Josic

Most Abzan players would agree that Lingering Souls is the most important card in the mirror. The deck's high density of spot removal and discard effects aren't well suited to deal with the sea of bodies presented by Lingering Souls. Liliana of the Veil, traditionally the most powerful card in the Abzan deck, finds herself looking awkward and unexciting in the face of the powerful flashback sorcery. There are many ways to win the Lingering Souls mirror, but some of these strategies have proven to be more effective than others.

Gavony Township seems to be the most accepted strategy to win the Lingering Souls war, but that card has become ubiquitous in Abzan lists and a lot of people want more in the way of Anthem effects. Actual anthems are narrow and make our deck worse at taking mulligans and much worse against removal. What we need is an anthem effect that demands an answer while applying pressure on the opponent.

And this is the perfect card for the job at hand!

Let's take a quick look at the most successful strategy from Pro Tour Fate Reforged.

Wilt-Leaf Liege may seem like it's little more than a bit of cuteness on the top end of Abzan and Green-White strategies, but there's a reason that some of the best players in the game brought it to battle at Pro Tour Fate Reforged.

Jacob Wilson's Abzan — Pro Tour Fate Reforged Top 8

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Jacob Wilson and a number of other high profile players brought this teched-out version of Abzan to battle at the Modern Pro Tour and enjoyed tremendous success. This version of Abzan enjoys the versatility of traditional Abzan strategies, but it manages to absolutely demolish the mirror match with cards like Voice of Resurgence and Wilt-Leaf Liege.

Why is Wilt-Leaf Liege so good in the Abzan mirror?

Earlier, we identified Lingering Souls as the most important card in the Abzan mirror. Having the ability to make our Spirit Tokens into 2/2s when the opponent is only making 1/1s means that our most powerful card will be working twice as hard as theirs. Bigger spirits means that we can close games quickly, and it forces our opponent to use their turn on Gavony Township activations instead of casting their spells. We can slowroll our own Gavony Township and absolutely demolish an unsuspecting opponent.

Much like Lingering Souls, Wilt-Leaf Liege punishes opponents' Liliana of the Veil. When the opponent ticks up their Planeswalker, we can simply drop our four-mana creature into play for free. In most mirror situations, we should hold Wilt-Leaf Liege in our hand as long as possible. This forces our opponent to use their Liliana of the Veil as a weak edict effect, which is especially embarrassing when we're playing creatures that we don't mind sacrificing, such as Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence.

Wilt-Leaf Liege is surprisingly difficult to kill. In Modern, Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay seem to be the most obvious choices in the removal department. Presenting a 4-toughness body with a converted mana cost of 4 that's often coming down very early can be a real problem for opponents.

Modern is a format where we want to be closing games as fast as possible. A deck like Abzan has a lot of ways to disrupt combo opponents, especially after sideboarding. Unfortunately, discard spells aren't very strong against the top of an opponent's deck. Picking apart a quick combo finish is easy, but maneuvering our way through the later stages of the game against a combo strategy can be precarious. Luckily, Wilt-Leaf Liege combines with Siege Rhino, Voice of Resurgence, Qasali Pridemage, Kitchen Finks, and additional copies of Wilt-Leaf Liege to provide a huge +2/+2 boost that closes the game in record time. Siege Rhino even has trample, meaning that the follow-up Wilt-Leaf Liege will usually be good enough to deal with any opposing Planeswalker.

Wilt-Leaf Liege's ability to race makes it a worthwhile draw step, even when we're not playing against the mirror. A lot of decks are packing Liliana of the Veil and we'll obviously be happy to have it there, but its general strength as a Magic card make it a great inclusion, especially if we're playing Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence in our deck.

The end of this month (May 28–31) promises to bring us the biggest weekend of competitive Magic in history, as thousands of players descend upon Las Vegas, Chiba, and Utrecht to be among the first to battle with cards from Modern Masters 2015. Don't miss your opportunity to be a part of the action. Each of these events already have thousands of Planeswalkers that plan on attending. There's a very realistic chance that the events will reach their entry cap and preregistration is very important.

Next week, we'll reexamine the Standard format in the wake of Grand Prix São Paulo and Toronto. Standard Abzan strategies already seem to be mirroring the list of Lucas Siow, the Grand Prix Toronto Champion, and it should be interesting to see how other strategies evolve in an attempt to better their chances against the new versions of Abzan and Esper Dragons.

Knowledge is power!

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