Abzan and Eldritch Moon with Ben Stark and (14) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Posted in Event Coverage on August 27, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

Unless your name is Willy Edel, you'd be forgiven for not always playing Abzan in Modern. The deck, though extremely consistent and powerful, often seems a half-step behind all the wacky Modern spectacle. It doesn't dump its hand of artifacts on the first turn; it doesn't draw its entire deck; it doesn't cast turn-three Karn Liberated; it doesn't reanimate Griselbrand.

But it offers a pile of strong cards, that also allow for variability as new cards come out. Multiple Eldritch Moon cards have wormed their way into Abzan lists already, and are looking to make big splashes.

I caught up with two Pro Tour Hall of Fame legends, Ben Stark and No. 14 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa to talk about why they are on this relatively fair deck, and what changes Eldritch Moon has brought the perennial deck.

Damo da Rosa started, “To play the unfair deck, you need to get the metagame right. And not even really, ‘the metagame,' but you need to dodge people who are playing good sideboard cards against you.”

No matter the power of the deck, he said, there's always Rest in Peace for Dredge, Stony Silence for Affinity, and even Melira, Sylvok Outcast or Night of Souls' Betrayal for Infect.

But this is where Stark discussed the 53%/47% Modern problem. “No matter how unfair your deck is, after sideboard it can just get so bad.” Based on that Stark said it's hard to get a better match percentage of something like 53%. But contrasting to that are the fair decks that can't get hated out so easily. Though they are disadvantaged to the unfair ones, it's hard to get them below 47%, especially as you can hate out most of the cheat-y decks.

“It's kind of like hedging.” Damo da Rosa said. Though the two players were interviewed at separate times, their answers tracked each other well. “I don't like losing to hate out of the sideboard. I want to have some outs.”

When I asked Stark why he would ever play the 47% deck when 53% ones are available, he said simply, “‘Cause it's more fun.”

But it's not exactly that easy. Damo da Rosa explained, “Normally this deck is not that great, but [right now] most of the degenerate decks are still playing creatures.” So his answers are more universal than they usually are in Modern. Though you'll run into the odd Storm deck, for example, your discard is still good against them.

“It's a reactive deck, but not that much ... it's nothing like a control deck,” Damo da Rosa said. “If your opponent has a bad draw, you can still win with a Thoughtseize and Grim Flayer.”

Here, Damo da Rosa referenced some of them changes he, Stark, and others have been making to the deck. The newer cards that have been slipping their way into the deck are Grim Flayer, Collective Brutality, and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

Grim Flayer has already made its presence known in Standard at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. The ability to have a conditional 4/4 for two mana, while also sculpting your draws and graveyard is just the sort of value that Abzan wants.

It's a Putrid Leech from the days of yore that also helps in other areas. “And hitting Lingering Souls off Grim Flayer feels so good,” Stark said.

But Stark admitted that currently, they are more speculation that purely researched. “I don't know if they are good. I mean, I know they're good, but maybe not Modern good. We'll see.”

Damo da Rosa's newer card is Traverse the Ulvenwald. Damo da Rosa didn't speak with authority about the card, but he was clearly enjoying it so far. He compared it to the creature lands. “In the early game it's a slightly worse land; in the late game, it's slightly better creature.”

Since the deck doesn't worry about hitting delirium, because it eventually will, Traverse the Ulvenwald can become either a windmill finisher, or a silver bullet. Though Damo da Rosa didn't bend his deck too far targets, there are some good ones he's added.

“I'm playing a Shriekmaw and I don't mind playing that,” he continued, “and in the sideboard I'm playing Yixlid Jailer over Nihil Spellbomb.” The Jailer is a card we haven't heard much from since Modern, as we know it, actually began. But with a sentence like “Cards in graveyards lose all abilities.” right there on it, it's a final word that can be worth fetching for.

Though both Grim Flayer and Traverse the Ulvenwald have potential, they might not be in future iterations of the deck. However, an easy slam dunk is the sideboard Collective Brutality. Against Burn, this card is just, well, brutal.

“It beats the [poo] out of Shahar,” is how Stark put it. “Look, no one wants to lose to Sharhar; you just can't ... So that's why I'm playing Collective Brutality.”

The two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar is a well-known enjoyer of Burn in Modern, and Stark outlined just why it's so impactful against decks like his. “Gain life; take a three-damage burn spell from their hand; and usually kill a creature. It's fantastic.” He also added that being able to escalate the spell by discarding a card like Thoughtseize, which is terrible in the match up, just sweetens the deal.

Though Abzan might be disadvantaged against a field of unfairness, these pros have figured out ways to turn that into flexibility. Though they all see potential for more committed delirium strategies for the deck, the whole point they are playing the deck is to less susceptible to the sideboard swingers—while packing a veritable ton of their own.

So when you're sick of being unfair, take a trip to Abzan country.

Ben Stark's Abzan – GP Indy

(14) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's Abzan – GP Indy

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