Abzan Traverse for GPs Copenhagen and Kobe

Last weekend I’ve played the Modern Challenge on MTGO, finishing in the top4 with a total record of 7-2. I’ve definitely punted one of my losses to the new Vizier/Devoted Druid deck (more on this later), and my other loss was to Storm, which I consider a good matchup, but sometimes you just lose. My weapon of choice was the Abzan Traverse I wrote about a couple weeks ago, changing only three cards:

4 Marsh Flats

4 Verdant Catacombs

2 Overgrown Tomb

1 Temple Garden

1 Godless Shrine

1 Plains

1 Forest

1 Swamp

2 Blooming Marsh

1 Treetop Village

1 Bojuka Bog

4 Mishra’s Bauble

4 Traverse the Ulvenwald

3 Thoughtseize

3 Inquisition of Kozilek

1 Collective Brutality

2 Liliana of the Veil

2 Liliana, the Last Hope

3 Path to Exile

3 Fatal Push

2 Abrupt Decay

4 Tarmogoyf

4 Grim Flayer

3 Lingering Souls

1 Shriekmaw

1 Scavenging Ooze

1 Siege Rhino

SIDEBOARD

2 Collective Brutality

2 Fulminator Mage

2 Surgical Extraction

1 Reclamation Sage

1 Kataki, War’s Wage

1 Ghost Quarter

1 Maelstrom Pulse

1 Lingering Souls

2 Flaying Tendrils

2 Damnation

The deck is a great choice for seasoned BGx players, and I will go even further saying it is one of the top three Modern decks right now (alongside Jund Death’s Shadow and the new Vizier deck). The three cards I changed, taking out 1x Rhino and 2x Explosives for 1x Brutality and 2x Tendrils, were made to fight exactly the new deck in town. Taking out one Rhino was pretty easy, as it is bad versus Death’s Shadow and the only matchup where I really wanted it was Burn. I wanted to improve a bit the mirror match and other grindy matchups, so I replaced it main deck for a Liliana, the Last Hope. The only reason I had her in the sideboard before is because I didn’t wanna have too many “expensive” cards main, so after I cut Rhino, I snapped her in. I used the new sideboard slot for another Collective Brutality, so we have a powerful card to fight Burn to compensate one less Rhino, but at the same time we have a great card to fight the vizier deck.

It is probably not super obvious, but Brutality is the best possible sideboard card if you wanna fight creature decks that rely on spells. Do you remember when Brutality became a Modern staple? It was when Infect was the best deck, and the effect is similar against Company/Chord decks as well. These are usually a pile of mana producers, combo creatures and spells to find them, so any time you kill a creature and get a spell at the same time you are in good shape.
The Flaying Tendrils are also great. It is probably the best sweeper to fight a deck full of Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, and it is ok versus affinity, merfolk, elves and other decks. Being able to exile bloodghasts is a nice added bonus. I believe the card is really good now. Taking out explosives was really hard to me because it is just nuts, but already having death’s shadow as a good matchup and not a lot of Lantern in the metagame, I decided it was fine to give it a try to accommodate the new cards I wanted to test. I did miss it a lot against Merfolk, though, where Tendrils doesn’t do much.

Overall, I loved the list and how it performed, but I believe it can be improved. I believe that it is correct now to play 4 Fatal Pushes and 2 Path to Exile. The main uses of Path were to fight Wurmcoils, Eldrazi and Tasigur. It is also better versus dredge, but that’s all. Tron is on its all time low and they are not even running a lot of Wurmcoils nowadays. To fight Tasigur is important, but your Tarmogoyfs are usually bigger than them and you have some extra removal in the sideboard. They are really necessary versus eldrazi, but you can’t have it all – while it is a popular deck, I believe that beating Vizier is more important. The main problem of Path is that it costs white; fetching Godless Shrine usually leads to taking more damage than necessary, and fetching an early Plains is a complete disaster if you wanna cast Grim Flayers and Lilianas. Being able to fetch a basic swamp on turn one and cast both removal and discard spells off it is awesome.
The other card besides Path that I felt was underperforming is Damnation. I’ve usually liked it, but now with Tendrils as your most important sweeper, Damnation is only really necessary versus Eldrazi. I believe it can go down to only one and having something else that is good against them but also more versatile. Another maelstrom pulse maybe or just more powerful hate cards such as grafdigger’s cage and Eidolon of Rhetoric.

An aside about the Devoted vizier deck: this deck is real. It was pretty clear that the best Amonkhet card for modern was Vizier of the Remedies. Everyone got the infinite mana interaction with Devoted Druid; the question was what to do with it? The easiest answer was Walking Ballista (some people also use Rhonas) and Duskwatch Recruiter to find it with your infinite mana. Add to the mix collective company and chord of calling, and you have something. I’ve seen versions with black, with blue, with the melira combo, and straight GW. I honestly don’t know what is the best version but I’m sure we will know this weekend at the Modern GPs when the professional players will turn their attention to the format. And you may also ask, why is this deck better than old Melira combo since they are both 3 cards combos? There are several reasons but I believe that killing in the same turn and not relying on the graveyard is a big advantage. Make sure to be prepared for it.

Another aside, about Cast out: I was pretty high on that card since it is a very good catchall answer, an enchantment for delirium, and worst case scenario it could cycle. Well, I tested it and got disappointed. Four mana is A LOT, and the cycling wasn’t reliable. We are basicly a green deck splashing path to exile (Lingering Souls is a black card of course) so it is very rare that you have white mana to cycle it in the early turns (exactly when cycling is supposed to be done). If we had a more white mana base or if it cycled for a colorless, it would be much better, but as it is, I believe it is unplayable in this deck.

Enough asides. Now, the $10k question: What list should I play in the upcoming Modern GPs? The first thing I want to say is that to play midrange/reactive decks you must know the opposing decks really well, what to play around, when to go aggressive, etc. I’m not saying Abzan is super hard to play, but it requires some reps with it, not to get used to the deck itself but to know how to play against the others. If you feel comfortable, I highly recommend it. So, how about we build this list together?

First, the manabase. These 17 lands are mandatory.

4 Marsh Flats

4 Verdant Catacombs

2 Blooming Marsh

2 Overgrown Tomb

1 Temple Garden

1 Godless Shrine

1 Plains

1 Forest

1 Swamp

I believe you need 19 lands in this deck, so we have 2 flex slots. I like 15 black and green sources, so the easiest way to finalize it is adding a Hissing Quagmire. If you do it, you are free to play a utility colorless land; which one depends of what decks you want to beat, but the best ones are Gavony Township (for grindy matchups) and Ghost Quarter (for big mana decks, creature lands, etc). Between these two, I would stay with the Quarter. It is game changing in the matchups it is supposed to be good and it’s free to activate while you need a lot of mana to use gavony – remember we have no mana creatures and only 19 lands.
Another option is to run a shambling vent, which is a better creatureland than mire, and as the utility land to use pendelhaven. It is obviously great with lingering souls, but we don’t even have four of them main, so it might be just too cute.

The last option is to run the best possible creatureland (Treetop Village) and preboard the Bojuka Bog. Bojuka is the best possible graveyard hate you can tutor with traverse – remember you can tutor nonbasic lands and not only creature on delirium. Some people play Jailer in this the “dredge hate” slot but I think it is really bad. Dredge players usually bring abrupt decays and sometimes lightning axe against us making Jailer to look really bad. They also have several conflagrates, making Jailer totally unplayable.

Now, the removal suite. I believe it is the mandatory core:

6 Path to Exile + Fatal Push

2 Abrupt Decay

I like something like 9 removals, counting also Lilianas as removal spells. The mix between the single mana ones is up to you, but I would not use more than 3 path to exile. Two decays are the minimum I would go. I would love to run three, but right now I don’t see where. Also, running more than 6 one mana removal is ok, especially if you decide to cut the Brutality or the Shriekmaw..

As a rule of thumb: Run more Paths if you expect more eldrazi than normal, run more Decays if you expect more affinity/lantern, run more Brutalities main if you expect more Company/Burn.

The discards:

6 One mana spells.

Six is the bare minimum of discards you need in a deck like this. Sure, brutality is sometimes a discard spell, but it can’t hit everything and two mana is A LOT MORE than one. If you don’t expect a lot of aggressive decks, play more thoughseizes otherwise more IoK. In a balanced metagame, three of each is completely fine.

On the planeswalkers:

4 Lilianas (respecting a total of 8 or less cards that cost three or more).

Both Lilis are great. I firmly believe you should play four now. They are so powerful and complement each other pretty well, whenever one is terrible, the other is usually great. I don’t have enough words to praise them. I believe that their strengths and weaknesses are pretty clear, so feel free to adjust the Lili mix according to the meta you expect. Taking in account the MTGO field, a 2/2 split is correct.

The mandatory creatures:

4 Tarmogoyf

4 Grim Flayer

1 Scavenging Ooze

3 Lingering Souls

Lingering souls counts as a creature and I believe three is the right number main (while 4 in the correct number total). All the other creatures have their merits. Some to consider: Tasigur, Ooze, Finks, Rhino, Anafenza, Pridemage, Voice, Shriekmaw, Bone Picker, Reclamation Sage, kalitas, etc. It is good to take into account if you wanna preboard versus a specific deck since you have the traverse package. All in all, I believe Scavenging Ooze is the best option for the main deck. It randomly hoses the graveyard, has some lifegain and completely dominates the mirror. I believe it needs to be main.

I didn’t list noble hierarch because I believe that is belongs to a different style of build, which I addressed in my last article.

The other spells:

4 Mishra’s Bauble

4 Traverse the Ulvenwald

If you don’t want to play a playset of both, you are playing the wrong deck. In my last article I talked about them.

The mandatory sideboard slots (as of May 22):

1 Maelstrom Pulse

1 Lingering Souls

2 Fulminator Mage

1 Reclamation Sage

1 Kataki, War’s Wage

2 Collective Brutality

2 Flaying Tendrils

2 Surgical Extraction

Maelstrom Pulse solves everything, and I will never play modern without at least one in my 75. I already talked about the fourth Lingering Souls and right now is 100% correct to have a playset between deck and sideboard. Reclamation Sage and Kataki are just great silver bullets to have. Kataki is obvious for affinity/lantern and the Sage for white Leyline, but it comes in versus a lot of decks, from affinity to Eldrazi Tron. It is worth noting that it kills blood moon, and between itself and traverse, this deck is a lot better versus blood moon than stock abzan.

I believe tendrils is a must now with so many applications and so is brutality, I just love its versatility. Brutality serves as lifegain versus burn, discard versus combo, removal versus creature decks and sometimes two/three of these at the same time. A great card.

Two fulminators look strange but there’s a reasoning behind it. I like 1-2 versus affinity/infect but no more than that. I also like a couple to fight colonnade decks and I even sometimes board in one if I suspect my opponent has gavony township. Even against the eldrazi decks, I feel two are usually enough and sometimes I even board in zero. The only decks I want more are tron and scapeshift. Tron will be bad regardless and if you have a good draw with one, you usually can tutor the second one and seal the deal. I’m not saying it is easy and simple, but to beat tron a lot of things can go in your way so if you need to be lucky to win it doesn’t make sense to devote 4 slots in the sideboard for it. Scapeshift is very beatable (although a bad matchup still if they are running the Titan version) with all the discards and pressure you have. Usually a single fulminator to have an extra turn is enough – and they have like 50 mana sources, so keep casting stone rain with no pressure is a losing proposition anyway.
Modern is a pretty wild format and, as a midrange deck, you need to cover all your bases so some graveyard hate is necessary. Bojuka is a very good card to have since you can traverse for it, but it is far from enough. At the same time, having so many slots devoted to graveyard hate isn’t good so we need versatile cards. Enter surgical extraction. You have so many discard spells and versus combo decks a discard into surgical is usually game over. It also costs zero and it is instant which makes it great versus snapcaster decks. And, possibly the best use, you can exile a pesky urza’s piece or valakut that you destroyed. With all this upside, I believe it is a mandatory card.

With all these, we have the following decklist with the mandatory cards:

4 Marsh Flats

4 Verdant Catacombs

2 Blooming Marsh

2 Overgrown Tomb

1 Temple Garden

1 Godless Shrine

1 Plains

1 Forest

1 Swamp

2 Liliana of the Veil

2 Liliana, the Last Hope

4 Mishra’s Bauble

4 Traverse the Ulvenwald

3 Thoughtseize

3 Inquisition of Kozilek

2 Path to Exile

4 Fatal Push

2 Abrupt Decay

4 Tarmogoyf

4 Grim Flayer

1 Scavenging Ooze

3 Lingering Souls

Sideboard:

1 Maelstrom Pulse

1 Lingering Souls

2 Fulminator Mage

1 Reclamation Sage

1 Kataki, War’s Wage

2 Collective Brutality

2 Flaying Tendrils

2 Surgical Extraction

We have 55 cards in the main deck and 12 in the sideboard, so there’s not a lot of room to customize here.

The first two cards to finish up the main have to be the lands. Right now I don’t believe big mana are showing up and I haven’t played a versus lot of midrange decks. At the same time, I’m seeing a lot of dredge which makes me wanna have main the treetop+bojuka duo. It is a tough decision between is and the hissing+quarter couple and to be honest what pushes the first one to the top to me is how much better treetop is comparing to hissing. HOWEVER, if you are fearless and not super picky about mana bases, the most powerful combination is Treetop+Ghost Quarter and some extra graveyard hate in the sideboard.

For the other three cards main, I’d definitely run one collective brutality. For the other two cards, we want two creatures that can work as silver bullets. Shriekmaw is great if you expect to face a lot of Eldrazi and Goyfs. Rhino versus Burn. Kalitas is super reasonable especially if you have 4 fatal pushes. Bringing one fulminator Mage main is a good idea specially if you don’t have the ghost quarter main. Keep in mind that bringing some of the sideboard cards main is an option if you have a good read of the metagame. I mean, having an extra brutality in a meta full of burn is a good idea.

For the sideboard, my frontrunners are two versatile sweepers and a “pure hate” card. I feel one damnation is enough and I want to have one explosive back. My first choice for pure hate card is Eidolon of Rhetoric. Storm is super popular on MTGO right now and it even has some cool other uses such as versus cascade cards and Ad nauseam.

So, right now, I would complete the deck with the following:

Main deck: Treetop Village, Bojuka Bog, 2x Collective Brutality (moving one main) and Kalitas.

Sideboard: Shriekmaw, Damnation, Explosives, Eidolon of Rhetoric (we have an extra slot since we moved a brutality main).

Well, these were a lot of words to just change a couple cards of the original list, but I believe that what is important here is the thought process so you can adjust the cards the way you want for your expected field.

I said the last time that I would give some in depth sideboard strategy. Sorry, the last weeks were totally hectic and I wouldn’t have this ready on time for the Modern GPs’ weekend so I’m just writing a very basic sideboard guide for the top10 decks that you should as reference only since it changes a lot depending of the cards your opponents run and play/draw.

Storm:

In: 1x Eidolon, 2x Extraction, 1x Brutality, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive

Out: 1x Kalitas, 3x Lingering, 2x New Lili

You need some mass removal for their Empty the warrens plan. Mulligan any hand that can’t deal with a turn 2 creature. If they untap with one, they win.

Affinity:

In: 1x Kataki, 1x Lingering, 1x Brutality, 2x Tendrils, 1x Damnation, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive, 1x Fulminator, 1x Rec Sage

Out: 1x Kalitas, 2x Old Lili, 6x Discards, 1x Ooze

Sometimes on the draw I leave some discards and take out brutalities. The brutalities goes in because you can’t let them untap with an overseer but the cards isn’t great.

Eldrazi Tron:

In: 1x Damnation, 1x Shriekmaw, 1x Fulminator, 1x Pulse, 1x Rec Sage

Out: 3x IoK, 2x Brutality

Reclamation sage has a lot of decent targets.

Death’s Shadow:

In: 1x Lingering, 1x Shriekmaw, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive, 1x Damnation

Out: 2x Brutality, 3x Thoughtseize

Burn:

In: 1x Brutality, 1x Shriekmaw, 1x Rec Sage, 2x Fulminator, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive

Out: 3x Thoughtseize, 2x New Lili, 2x Lingering

Souls are pretty lackluster here and fulminator can randomly hose some of their colors.

Vizier Company:

In: 1x Brutality, 2x tendrils, 1x Shriekmaw, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive

Out: 3x IoK, 2x Old Lili, 1x Thoughtseize

Not sure here, some early discards are surely good but they are terrible topdecks but without Liliana’s to pitch them late, I prefer to only keep 2 seizes alongside brutalities.

Dredge:

In: 1x Lingering, 2x Extraction, 1x Damnation, 2x Tendrils, 1x Pulse

Out: 2x Decay, 2x Old Lili, 3x Seize

Mirror:

In: 1x Lingering, 1x Brutality, 1x Damnation, 1x Shriekmaw, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive

Out: 6x Discards

If they have gavony, bring one Fulminator for a brutality.

Ad Nauseum

In: 1x Eidolon, 2x Extraction, 1x Brutality, 1x Rec Sage, 2x Fulminator, 1x Pulse, 1x Explosive

Out: 4x Fatal Push, 1x Kalitas, 2x New Lili, 2x Path

Scapeshift

In: 2x Surgical, 1x Brutality, 1x Shriekmaw, 2x Fulminator, 1x Pulse

Out: 4x Fatal Push, 2x Decay, 1x Path

So, that’s it for today, good luck in your next modern event!

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