Modern Spotlight: Abzan Company

Recently touted as the “best” deck in modern, with 3 top 8 finishes at SCG Open Milwaukee (including the winner). If you’re looking to play modern, this should definitely be a deck you keep on your radar as a strong choice or one to be prepared for.

Below you can find the winner’s deck from SCG Milwaukee, played by Joseph Presnell. For comparison I am going to include links to the other two top 8 versions, played by Andrew Maine and Andrew Tenjum.

Creatures (30)
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Birds of Paradise
Eternal Witness
Fiend Hunter
Kitchen Finks
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Murderous Redcap
Noble Hierarch
Orzhov Pontiff
Scavenging Ooze
Spellskite
Viscera Seer
Voice of Resurgence
Wall of Roots

Spells (8)
Chord of Calling
Collected Company
Lands (23)
Forest
Gavony Township
Godless Shrine
Horizon Canopy
Overgrown Tomb
Plains
Razorverge Thicket
Swamp
Temple Garden
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath

Sideboard (15)
Abrupt Decay
Aven Mindcensor
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Qasali Pridemage
Path to Exile
Scavenging Ooze
Sin Collector
Stony Silence
Tidehollow Sculler

The Combo

The “primary” method that Abzan Company uses to win is assembling their combo. The base is a sacrifice outlet (Viscera Seer / Varolz, the Scar-Striped), a persist creature (Kitchen Finks / Murderous Redcap), and a means to keep the persist creature coming back (Melira, Sylvok Outcast / Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit). With Melira your persist creature returns without the -1/-1 counter on it, and you can sacrifice it an infinite number of times for as much life as you’d like (in the case of Finks) or as much damage as you like (in the case of Redcap). Anafenza works a bit differently, as the persist creature returns to the battlefield and you get to bolster. At this point your Finks would only be a 2/1 or Redcap would be a 1/1, so you can always pick them for the bolster. After the bolster resolves, the -1/-1 counter and +1/+1 counter see each other and cancel out, leaving your creature ready to persist again.

Things get a bit crazy when you have Melira AND Anafenza. At this point you can sacrifice your creature an infinite number of times, doing it while the bolster triggers are on the stack. Then, when they resolve, you end up being able to grow all of your creatures to immense sizes and just slaughter your opponent.

Fighting the Combo

There are a few ways to fight the combo:

  • Remove one piece consistently. The persist creatures are a pain to get rid of in game 1 as they usually will come back, but the others will not. The deck does not combo without putting things on the stack, so you’re going to have windows where you can interact with the combo even if the pieces get dumped into play off of Collected Company, unless things are going very badly for you.
  • Graveyard hate. The combo relies on the graveyard, so Rest in Peace or Grafdigger’s Cage completely hoses the combo. This is more of a game 2 thing, though some decks run Scavenging Ooze in the maindeck, which gives you an edge.
  • Don’t let them get the combo. The most reliable ways for the deck to assemble the necessary creatures is to resolve Collected Company and/or Chord of Calling. If you can shut these aspects of the deck off you will have a much easier time. There are plenty of options for this: counterspells, hand disruption, Gaddock Teeg….
  • Don’t care about infinite life. There are some decks that just don’t really care about the combo, either because they can do infinite damage themself (which trumps infinite life) or because they win past the life total (infect, mill). Even Tron can get past it, by resetting the game using the ultimate of Karn Liberated.

The Backup Plan

The secondary plan for Abzan Company is to simply bury their opponent in card advantage. This primarily happens when you cast Collected Company and hit an Eternal Witness, allowing you to simply return your Company to your hand to do again next turn. When you start chaining this card turn after turn it becomes very difficult to lose, unless your opponent is doing something equally “unfair”.

The other plan is to eventually find one of your copies of Gavony Township and go to town making your creatures bigger than your opponent’s. The ability to attack on multiple angles and threaten an instant speed combo finish makes Abzan Company an extremely potent deck, and one that is a blast to play!

Chris Wendelboe

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