Since this was the final Standard Grand Prix with Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged, we figured it might be a good idea to take one last look at two of the major powers that had dominated the format during the past year.
Playing one of the older favorites was perennial Grand Prix warrior Martin Jůza. Looking to maybe add a 24th Grand Prix Top 8 to his résumé, Jůza had chosen to take Abzan for one last spin. So far things had worked out well for him, as evidenced by his pristine 6-0 record.
His opponent, Englishman Sean Thompson, was on the same record, however, and he had brought Four-Color Rally, a much more recent innovation but without a doubt the current number one in Standard. Also, it was not exactly a coincidence that its rise had coincided with Abzan falling out of favor for the most part.
Jůza didn't agree with the conventional assessment that Abzan was a bad choice in a room full of Rally though. "I think it's a reasonable matchup," he said. "For both sides to be fair, since it always depends on what they hit with Collected Company."
It had come as quite a shock to Abzan players at last year's Grand Prix Brussels, which had been the breakout event for Rally, to find that Anafenza, the Foremost alone wasn't enough to beat the deck. "But between Anafenza, Kalitas, and sideboard cards, you definitely have game against Rally," Jůza argued. "Also, nowadays people play all sorts of conditional removal spells like Fiery Impulse. Which is great against Rally's creatures, especially against Jace of course. But if you play a real creature like Siege Rhino against them, then Fiery Impulse starts to look much worse."
The first game was interesting for a couple of things: Despite Anafenza, the Foremost having what can only be described as an on-again-off-again-on-again relationship with the battlefield, Jůza was able to time his removal spells exactly so that no creatures ever entered Thompson's graveyard. So no big Rally the Ancestors for him.
Then, close to the end of the game, Thompson was able to collect a critical mass of creatures including three Zulaport Cutthroats and one Nantuko Husk. At this point, any Reflector Mage or Sidisi's Faithful could have spelled doom for Jůza. However, Jůza was able to get rid of Husk through the combined efforts of Dromoka's Command and Abzan Charm.
Eventually, Jůza's larger creatures overwhelmed Thompson, in particular an oversized Den Protector which proved very much unblockable.
Sean Thompson 0-1 Martin Jůza
Over the next couple of turns, the players' armies grew in size, some damage was dealt, some trades happened. Interestingly enough, though, this time it was Thompson who won the war of attrition, largely thanks to a pair of Murderous Cuts, recast with the help of Jace, Telepath Unbound.
It also didn't help that the final four cards Jůza drew this game were two lands and two copies of Duress. "I probably should have attacked Jace when I still had the chance," Jůza lamented afterward. "I figured his second ability wouldn't even do that much with Collected Company, but I didn't realize how bad Murderous Cut would get me."
Sean Thompson 1-1 Martin Jůza
For the third game, Jůza kept a hand with Warden of the First Tree and a pair of Dromoka's Commands. Thompson had the perfect foil in the form Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, but Jůza had Murderous Cut to take out the deathtouch blocker.
Thompson's own Murderous Cut cut down Warden of the First Tree eventually, but by that time it had already taken a huge chunk out of Thompson's life total. Siege Rhino did some additional work and in the end it again was Den Protector with counters from its own ability as well as from Dromoka's Command which sealed the deal.
Sean Thompson 1-2 Martin Jůza
So yes, Abzan can in fact beat Four-Color Rally and Jůza moved to 7-0. "Though those were some hard games," Jůza told me. "He really knew what he was doing."