Posted in GRAND PRIX MILAN 2015 on December 14, 2014

By Tobi Henke

Florian Koch, among other things champion of Grand Prix Lyon 2010, had built an innovative version of Abzan for this event and was currently 4-1 on the day with it when I spoke to him. Always one to downplay stuff, Koch was quick to point out that, "It's not a brand-new deck or anything. But there are a couple of interesting card choices here."

First and foremost is his selection of creatures which includes Noble Hierarch, Loxodon Smiter, and Restoration Angel. "The idea at first was not to play any creature that's susceptible to Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is the easiest way to fall behind against all the blue-red tempo decks. Another reason for Loxodon Smiter was that, with traditional Abzan decks, one just couldn't help but play one's threats right into Remand or Mana Leak," Koch explained. "Now, between Loxodon Smiter, Abrupt Decay, and also Restoration Angel, you can time your spells much better. When your opponent taps out, you cast Siege Rhino, otherwise you cast Smiter or just pass yourself and run Restoration Angel during your opponent's turn."

Originally, there were no Noble Hierarchs in the deck, but, as Koch explained, the Lightning Bolt problem doesn't pertain to a one-mana creature. "Unlike losing for example Scavenging Ooze to Lightning Bolt, having your Hierarch shot down still is fair. Tempo-wise that's just parity. And there are so many cards that are simply insane when cast on turn two, like Choke or Loxodon Smiter."

Florian Koch – Grand Prix Milan 2015

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Further interesting choices include the selection of lands as well as the lack of Liliana of the Veil. "Liliana isn't positioned very well in the current metagame anyway—not good against aggressive decks, not good against Young Pyromancer, and not even good against Scapeshift players who commonly sideboard Obstinate Baloth nowadays," Koch said. "It takes a lot of strain from the mana base too. This list can easily run on one basic Plains, one basic Swamp, and one basic Forest, which most Abzan deck's can't."

Koch made particular note of Vault of the Archangel. "There are often games where you're close to stabilizing but still in danger of being burned out. Vault of the Archangel turns those games around quickly and for good," Koch said. "Similarly, in matches against other Abzan players you'll often find yourself in a situation where lots of 4/5s—Siege Rhinos, Tarmogoyfs—simply stare at each other. Then, Vault of the Archangel just wins the game."

Koch considered the matchup against everyone's favorite deck to beat, Blue-Red Delver, very favorable. "Counting matches on Magic Online, I'm currently 12-2 against the deck." He called Affinity and Jeskai Ascendancy fair matchups and opined that the changes made the deck better against Scapeshift when compared to a stock version of Abzan Midrange. "The deck is faster, more aggressive, but retains about the same amount of disruption," Koch said.

But of course the usual caveat regarding Rock-style decks, which are famous for their 50/50 matchups, applies, doesn't it? "Well, the deck isn't that close to Rock actually," Koch objected. "It's more like Big Zoo; it's what I'd imagine Brian Kibler would come up with if he were to build an Abzan deck."