A Fistful of Counters

Posted in Reconstructed on September 30, 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 the first in the line of what will be five eventual DailyMTG.com theme weeks: Abzan Week!

As a devoted Abzan member, I'm excited we get to kick off these theme weeks with something that feels so close to home. Each of my theme-week articles will stick pretty close to what the clan wants to do—and today is no exception!

Abzan cards feature outlast, but perhaps even more interesting in conjunction with that are the creatures that grant bonuses to all of your countered-up creatures, such as Abzan Falconer. This lets a dedicated Abzan counter deck really work together and "Sliver up" by sharing abilities with everybody.

But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. It's time to take a look at the decklist we'll be featuring today:

Zachary's Abzan's Counters

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Plan

Abzan is unique in that it is a deck that excels at dominating the midgame—which this deck demonstrates nicely.

While it doesn't curve out as quickly as some other decks, its creatures continually growing in size ensures you will win most board stalls. Additionally, sharing all of your abilities makes things very difficult for your opponent. Creatures that shouldn't normally be able to fly over suddenly can!

This deck plays like a midrange deck with plenty of creatures. It has a ton of ways to spend mana, so keeping the overall mana cost down is important: even if the individual mana costs are cheap, between outlast and other activated abilities you'll have plenty to do with it!

The other key is making sure your deck is fine at both ends. Making sure you have things to do early so aggressive decks don't run you over and that you're also full of options later on so control decks don't punish you is important. In tweaking this deck, I'll be looking to shore up both ends of the spectrum, since the midgame is already in our favor.

Deck Breakdown

What cards can endure this round of cuts? Let's go through the deck card by card and see what's worth keeping and what can be replaced!

Fleecemane Lion

While this is an Abzan deck, it's important to keep our eyes open to cards outside of Khans of Tarkir for options. Fleecemane Lion is a great example: it's a very efficient creature that can also get counters on it. The Lion is also a great card to play against beatdown decks early, and causes control decks headaches in the long game. I'm definitely happy with all four here.

Abzan Falconer

To me, this is one of the flagship cards for the "Sliv-zan" style of deck. Granting most (if not all) of your creatures flying breaks wide open any ground stall. You're happy to get into any kind of ground stall knowing this is in your deck. Abzan Falconer can even help you outrace some opponents, letting your larger creatures crunch through in the air while you block on the ground. Plus, Falconer only costs one mana to outlast! I'm keeping the full four copies here.

Additionally, a card that plays incredibly well with outlast and the entire theme of the deck is Hardened Scales. For only a single mana, this increases the power of most of your cards significantly. Outlast not only gives you two counters, but suddenly Abzan Charm adds two counters to two creatures, Ajani distributes two counters to each creature instead of one, and so on. This deck doesn't have a ton of one-mana plays, and I want to bring the overall mana cost down—making Hardened Scales exactly what I want. I'll take the full four!

Ivorytusk Fortress

This card looks plenty exciting at face value. A 5/7 for five mana that also untaps all of your creatures? Awesome!

However, remember earlier when I mentioned this deck is mana-hungry and has plenty to do with its mana? I would rather play a bunch of cheaper-to-cast cards that I can run out early and then feed mana into as I have excess than draw a swath of cards like this. While Ivorytusk Fortress is cool, it's not what I want for such a mana-hungry deck.

Mer-Ek Nightblade

Every creature in this vein is interesting to evaluate and look at for this kind of strategy. The rate is a little worse than Abzan Falconer at being a full extra mana for a 2/3, but that's not a deal breaker.

The big question to me is what is Mer-Ek Nightblade trying to accomplish? It ensures you creatures win creature combat if they have counters, but if you've countered them up you're already probably advantaged in creature combat anyway. While there are certainly situations where this creature is what you're looking for, there aren't enough of them for me to want to play with this Nightblade.

High Sentinels of Arashin

These sentinels promise a ton of power. In the long game, this activation can get entirely out of hand. It turns on all of your +1/+1 counter abilities and provides a gigantic flying creature to boot!

With all of that said, this deck already has a lot of components that are good when you're already winning. To be in a situation where High Sentinels of Arashin are what you want, you need to already have multiple other creatures with counters on them. Like Ivorytusk Fortress, I want to be careful to not play too many cards that are only just good when you're already in the part of the game that you're good at.

While he's a bit more old hat than the High Sentinels, Polukranos, World Eater is actually a pretty good fit for this deck. The Hydra is huge for his cost, gumming up the ground (which plays to reaching your midgame strategy), and being a large threat against control...plus he also gets +1/+1 counters from monstrosity! That lets him take to the air with Abzan Falconer. Fly, Hydra, fly!

Even as just a four-mana 5/5, Polukranos still does a lot of good things for this strategy. I'll take four.

Abzan Battle Priest

Lifelinking all of your creatures can be completely brutal in the right matchups. However, it's very situational. And at four mana, Abzan Battle Priest isn't going to be effective often enough to take up main deck spots. However, I would definitely look at putting the Priest in the sideboard of a deck like this. In a grinding creature matchup or against a quick red deck, this is the kind of card that can take over the game.

Ainok Bond-Kin

Now this is the kind of outlast card I'm talking about! It only costs two mana, so it isn't sitting on top of too much else, and it gives you a major upper hand in combat. After Abzan Falconer, it's one of the more desirable abilities I could want. You can cast it early, and then sink a single mana into it as it fits your curve. I'm definitely happy playing this and want to up the numbers to four copies.

Fabled Hero

Fabled Hero is a nice card for living the dream. If you slam him down with a Hardened Scales on the battlefield and then target him with, say, an Abzan Charm, he can grow to a 5/5 and crunch in for 10 on turn four! Pow!

However, what I'm really looking for in this deck is, once again, consistency. This deck isn't going to be playing that many targeting spells. And although it doesn't have as much super-powered potential as Fabled Hero, a card which is going to be consistent from game to game is Anafenza, the Foremost. She is the enduring leader of Team Not-Dead, after all. As the khan of the Abzan, she is huge for her cost, and she puts counters on your other creatures as well. I'd like to play all four copies of her.

Tuskguard Captain

Tuskguard Captain's ability can vary wildly depending on which decks you fight against. If token strategies are popular, for example, then it can come in quite handy.

However, in general, I find it just under the line of what I want to play here. At three mana, I have other things I would rather cast—Falconer, Anafenza, outlasting Ainok Bond-Kin and playing another two-drop—and if my creatures are that much larger than my opponent's I feel like I'm already dominating with this deck. It's a bit of a nonbo in this deck, with Abzan Falconer granting evasion as well. While it's a good card to keep in mind, I'm going to cut it from the team this time around.

Abzan Charm

If this card seems custom made for this kind of deck, it's probably because, well...it was! It is a flexible way to add +1/+1 counters—and, oh my, the blowouts this card can cause are huge with Hardened Scales—and it both serves as a removal spell to push creatures out of the way and even helps your card flow when you need it. Excellent!

The only thing I'll say is that this deck could use a bit more removal other than just Abzan Charm. The card I'd like to compliment Abzan Charm with is a single Banishing Light. The other good option is Murderous Cut (seeing how Stormbreath Dragon can be a big problem for this deck), but Banishing Light's ability to take down Planeswalkers is well worth it in this format.

Reap What Is Sown

Reap What Is Sown is a neat card from Theros that serves as an instant-speed brutal trick with Hardened Scales. And while I love the instant-speed nature of it, I'm willing to give that up for what a card in a very similar vein has to offer: Abzan Ascendancy.

The Ascendancy not only puts counters on all of your creatures for three mana, but it also gives you some much-needed resiliency. If your opponent is looking to End Hostilities, the Ascendancy will ensure you still have an army left afterwards to build back up from and push through with. I'd like to swap those out straight across.

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

While certainly at the top end of mana costs of what I'm looking for, Ajani is an excellent fit in this deck. He gives you both a source of card advantage in the late game if you need it, and also allows you to majorly punch through by putting counters everywhere—an ability that can get extremely out of hand with Hardened Scales on the battlefield. Two is exactly the number I would want, since he does cost five, but I'm certainly glad he's in the deck.

With all of those changes made, that takes the deck to look something like this:

Gavin Verhey's Team Not-Dead

Download Arena Decklist

There are many different ways to build an Abzan deck—and the counter-focused way is certainly one of my favorites. Making Hardened Scales work overtime is exciting and can lead to some incredible draws, plus just having a board full of glass beads and dice on everything just makes you feel awesome and accomplished.

This is a good example that you don't need every linear card in a theme to still make that theme work. This deck only has Ainok Bond-Kin and Abzan Falconer among the creature options that give all of your countered-up creatures abilities, and that's okay: you don't have to play all of them, just the ones that give the deck what it most wants.

This sort of a deck is a blast to play with. Build it up and have fun with it!

Honorable Mentions

What were some of the other exciting decks that were sent in for new Khans of Tarkir Standard this week? Let's take a look!

Bubbaasan's Abzan Warriors

Download Arena Decklist

Joe Lam's Simic Infinite Constellation

Download Arena Decklist

Travis Miyashiro's Zurgo Control

Download Arena Decklist

Joe Gorman's World War Walkers

Download Arena Decklist

Jose Vargas's Mono-Black Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

Qoarl's Whole Lot of Mystery

Download Arena Decklist

Curtiss Royster's Mardu Walkers

Download Arena Decklist

Itou Kazunari's Doomsday of Mardu

Download Arena Decklist

Geoff Basore's 4-Color Jeskai Tokenstorm

Download Arena Decklist

Miyagawa Shintaro's Mardu Warriors

Download Arena Decklist

Manfredi's Ascendant Combo

Download Arena Decklist

Sean Brickley's Mardu Tokens

Download Arena Decklist

Nekomata-sensei's Keranos's Regular Prowess

Download Arena Decklist

Tony Youssef's Nykthos Wealth

Download Arena Decklist


In two weeks from now, it's Multiplayer Week! For this week, I'm going to try asking for something I've never looked at before: your multiplayer Magic decks. This could mean Commander, certainly, and if you want to send in your Commander decks, feel free to do so. But you can also send in your 60-card chaos multiplayer decks and whatever else you so choose. Go ahead!

Format: None?!?!?
Restrictions: Your deck should be a deck you would play in multiplayer (Commander, casual multiplayer, chaos multiplayer, etc.
Deadline: Monday, October 6, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by emailing me at reconstructeddecks@gmail.com.

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 reconstructeddecks@gmail.com. There is currently a bug that is causing difficulty with me seeing your decklists sent to my Wizards address.

What's going to happen that week? I'm excited to see! People have asked me to do an "anything-goes multiplayer" week ever since this column began, and I can't wait to see what I receive!

I hope you enjoyed this take on Abzan! May you outwit, outlast, and outplay your opponents. If you have any thoughts or comments, please go ahead and send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to see them!

I'll be back next week with a hyper-competitive look at Standard for the week of the Pro Tour. Talk with you again then!


Latest Reconstructed Articles


January 4, 2016

Kozilek's Return by, Gavin Verhey

Kozilek had quite an explosive reappearance. Everything on Zendikar was starting to go all right. And then, in one earth-rumbling swoop, the beast below awoke: Kozilek surged up and reap...

Learn More


December 28, 2015

Jumping for Jori by, Gavin Verhey

Welcome to Oath of the Gatewatch previews! This set has a lot of awesome elements going for it. Support. Surge. And—oh yeah—that colorless mana symbol, just to name a few. I was on the d...

Learn More



Reconstructed Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All