Modern Spotlight: Abzan Aristocrats

One of the first times we’ve really featured a deck that is primarily a port directly from an old Standard deck!

The original stated goal of Modern was to give players a place to play their Standard decks when they rotate out. For the most part, this has not been something that has happened OR those decks required such a huge investment to be viable that it, in my opinion, didn’t meet the goal. If we take a deck that rotates out and have to add Tarmogoyf to it, the fact you started with most of a deck is fairly irrelevant as you’ve just dropped $600 or so to play….

Abzan Aristocrats was a deck from a few years ago and if people still have the cards lying around it seems a viable option in Modern. Daniel Hernandez took the following list to a top 8 finish at the SCG Classic in Atlanta:

Creatures (30)
Blood Artist
Cartel Aristocrat
Doomed Traveler
Dryad Arbor
Satyr Wayfinder
Tidehollow Sculler
Viscera Seer
Voice of Resurgence
Zulaport Cutthroat

Spells (10)
Abzan Ascendancy
Collected Company
Rally the Ancestors
Return to the Ranks
Lands (20)
Canopy Vista
Godless Shrine
Isolated Chapel
Overgrown Tomb
Sunpetal Grove
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Woodland Cemetery

Sideboard (15)
Chord of Calling
Kitchen Finks
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Path to Exile
Qasali Pridemage
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

One of the really nice things about this deck is that, with the exception of Voice of Resurgence, the deck is very cheap for players who picked up recent Standard staples (Collected Company mainly). Even the mana base looks pretty cheap, with only 3 fetchlands total….

The Combo

While not a real combo deck, the idea behind Aristocrats is to put a bunch of creatures on the battlefield with multiple copies of Blood Arist/Zulaport Cutthroat and a sacrifice outlet, Viscera Seer/Cartel Aristocrat. Creatures dying at this point rapidly tilts the life totals in your favor, and makes it very difficult for many of the fair decks to beat you. With the addition of Return to the Ranks and Rally the Ancestors allow you to keep going after sacrificing most/all of your creatures to finish off your opponent.

The Good

The deck is very good against the fair decks that you may come across. If you’re allowed to keep an Artist or Cutthroat it becomes very hard for them to take you down, and given enough time you’ll be able to cast a Rally or Return to get back enough stuff to make beating you almost impossible. Abzan Ascendancy makes it even better in these cases as well, as the ability to get another creature when a non-token dies is very good here, allowing you to double your triggers (this is why the deck plays Doomed Traveler, and partly Voice of Resurgence other than just being great against control). The other nice thing is that since you don’t actually mind your creatures going to the graveyard, you don’t have to worry about chump blocking to get to the point where you can set up a lethal Return or Rally.

The Bad

The deck has very little interaction, meaning that combo decks will have a field day with you. Tidehollow Sculler has to do most of your lifting in these matches, as your only discard outlet. It also requires some setup, so really explosive decks that can get past your chump blockers (mostly Affinity) will be problematic. Lastly it struggles against graveyard hate, especially replacement effects that make it so you get no Artist/Cutthroat triggers at all (Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet all see Modern play).


While I don’t think this is the best deck in Modern, it certainly lines up with the stated goals of the format. It’s also a great example of a deck that can perform well, depending on the matchups you get, at a very reasonable budget. If the idea of buying 4 Voice of Resurgence appalls you, there are certainly alternatives that replace themselves when they die….

Chris Wendelboe

Chris is a level 2 judge from Ashland, New Hampshire. He enjoys Scapeshift, modern, and putting on the best events possible.