The Abzan Counterattack

Posted in Reconstructed on September 2, 2014

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome to Tarkir! You can call me Captain Abzan.

You see, inside R&D, I was the person continually fighting for the Abzan cards. When many others wanted to harness the graveyard might of the Sultai or the tempting raw strength of the Temur, I took up the Abzan banner and continually championed its cards.

Like a true Abzan warrior, I endured the many changes made to the cards I was playing with and kept pushing to make the Abzan cards better and better. At one point, as I brought yet another Abzan deck to the table, Adam Prosak called me Captain Abzan—and for the weeks of that Future Future League season, the title stuck.

So today, I'm overwhelmingly excited to present you with perhaps the most Abzan card in the entire set.

I hope to welcome you into the Abzan ranks, because it's time to take a look at Abzan Ascendancy.

Each clan has its own Ascendancy. They each cost "CDE" to cast (that's R&D slang for three mana of three different colors—such as WBG) and are enchantments that play particularly well with that clan's mechanic and theme. (The Temur one was already revealed at the PAX Party—you can check it out in the Card Image Gallery.)

So, what's going on with the Abzan one?

Well, the Abzan's mechanic is outlast. So, naturally, you might expect that it has some juicy cards that interact with +1/+1 counters. (You can check out Brian David-Marshall's The Week That Was article this Friday for an particularly exciting one!) You might have also noticed this creature in the "Mechanics of Khans of Tarkir" article:

This ainok grants first strike to every creature you control with a +1/+1 counter on it. I can't reveal any other cards today, but this is far from the only creature in the set that grants abilities to all of your creatures with a +1/+1 counter. It's not too difficult to make your Abzan deck start to operate in a very Sliver-esque way, with abilities bouncing around all of your creatures—and Abzan Ascendancy turns on those abilities to all of your creatures.

Don't want to spend time outlasting your guys to get shared abilities? Have creatures that can't get +1/+1 counters normally? Just cast Abzan Ascendancy.

Oh, and hey, you can always "just" use it as a Glorious Anthem to pump up your entire team.

And that's all before looking at the awesome second ability!

Abzan is all about outlasting—and this definitely helps you do that. Your opponents trying to fight any kind of creature battle when all of your nontoken creatures die into Spirits is extremely difficult. You can chump block for ages or trade off your creatures to your advantage. (And don't even get me started on how hard it becomes for your opponent if you also have Dictate of Erebos!)

Another traditional problem with decks like this is how vulnerable they are to creature sweepers. What if you spend a bunch of time building up your board only to run into an End Hostilities? Abzan Ascendancy ensures your creatures will still rise to the skies and hit hard. (Plus, multiple Ascendancys stack really well—sometimes your opponent blowing up a board of creatures when you have two Ascendancys on the battlefield can result in you having a better army than when you started!)

Whether you want to play with the Abzan themes or just play a strong deck with this as a Glorious Anthem that also protects all of your creatures, Abzan Ascendancy has you covered. Today, let's take a look at one example of each of those kinds of decks.

Abzan-Size Me

Green and white are the two colors that generally get the best creatures, and certainly the most efficient ones. When you put them all together and mix it with a tad of black disruption, you end up with a deck that plays some gigantic threats quickly and forces your opponent to deal with them—and if they do, Abzan Ascendancy ensures all of your creatures spawn into more creatures. Check it out:

Gavin Verhey's Oversized Abzan

Download Arena Decklist

This deck can deploy a ton of power quickly. This deck can kill surprisingly fast—don't blink or you might just miss it.

Kicking off with a turn-one Elvish Mystic can lead right into a powerful three-drop. Even if you don't have Mystic on the first turn, you can still present a Fleecemane Lion or Heir of the Wilds on the second turn to start kicking up the damage output—or just rely on good 'ol Sylvan Caryatid to ramp into a Polukranos or Nissa.

Abzan Ascendancy here not only allows your creatures to hit harder, but dying into Spirits can make a huge difference. Not only does it protect you from sweepers or help out in creature wars, but it gives your deck an extra push to get over the finish line. Sometimes with decks like these, you have no way to break through in the air to peck away for that final bit of damage...and Abzan Ascendancy can give you the Spirits you need to do just that.

By the way, there are a few new cards that slot right into this deck. I have to keep some secrets under my wonderful Abzan hat for now, but keep your eyes open for a certain rhino to appear in previews next week...

Of course, maybe you want to take advantage of some of Abzan's +1/+1 counter themes. In which case, let's take a look at something else.

Abzan Ascendancy | Art by Mark Winters


Abzan Ascendancy was built to work with Abzan's themes, and as previously mentioned the +1/+1 counter theme is one that runs throughout the Abzan clan.

Theros block seeded a few nice support cards for this deck, and trust me when I say Khans of Tarkir has some nice tools to build this.

I would start by trying something like this:

Gavin Verhey's Counterattack

Download Arena Decklist

With the +1/+1 counters-matters cards revealed so far, this is where I would start. Both Ajanis work well in this kind of deck, and Chronicler of Heroes is a nice Theros plant.

One thing to remember about decks with many outlast cards is that the decks tend to be very mana hungry. If you get into a creature stall and want to outlast plus do something else every turn, you're going to want as many mana sources as possible. It's easy to accidentally hamstring yourself by not putting enough lands into a deck like this, and with the Theros-block Temples also at your disposal, playing some extra lands is a completely reasonable thing to do.

Stay tuned to the next couple of weeks, as more +1/+1 counters-matter cards come out. There will definitely be some that smoothly slide right into this deck.

Tarkir in Standard

A new block entering Standard is one of the most exciting parts of the Magic year. I can't wait to see what everybody comes up with after an entire block of cards rotates out. What new cards will be the all-stars—and what older cards will finally have their chance to shine? I can't wait to see!

So, for this week's challenge, send me your most exciting new Standard decks!

Format: Khans of Tarkir Standard
Restrictions: None!
Deadline: September 9, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time

Submit all decklists by emailing me at

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Ash Zealot
4 Lightning Bolt

...and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. (If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!)

Also, take note that, for this week, please send your decks to There is currently a bug that is causing difficulty with me seeing your decklists sent to my Wizards address.

I can't wait to see what you all send in! Note that I extended the deadline to next Tuesday so you have as much time to see new preview cards as I can give you. If nothing from Khans of Tarkir strikes your fancy yet, give it a few days and see what new shining gems fall from the skies!

If you have any thoughts on this card, these decks, this article, how awesome Abzan is, or anything of the sort, feel free to send me your feedback! Send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to take a look!

I'll be back next week with another exciting Khans of Tarkir preview card—this time hailing from the Mardu clan. I look forward to showing it off then.

Enjoy Khans of Tarkir preview season!




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