My Superpower is Bad Midrange Decks
By this point, it is no secret that I love my bad midrange decks. I’ve already written at length (twice!) about my love of Golgari Rock decks, and on top of that, Orzhov is one of, if not my favorite, two-color combination. So the natural progression here is “Why haven’t you ever tried Abzan?”
The answer to that question is probably that I wasn’t playing Magic when Siege Rhino released, and while I have heard legends of it, for my entire history playing Magic, Siege Rhino has been a relic of the past rather than a pillar of the present. So I simply never saw the appeal to make my mana worse and more painful by adding a third color.
Everyone has their breaking point, and my breaking point was printed in March of the Machine, when Thalia and the Gitrog Monster graced our presence. I knew immediately that I wanted to try playing this card, and obviously with it being Abzan colors, I started by revisiting the shell I had for Golgari, changing the mana, and deciding what White cards I wanted to add.
A Winning Win-Percentage
I spent a lot of time tinkering with this list, trying to find the right pieces. Normally when I write about a deck, I’ll play it for around 20-30 matches. For this one, I put in pretty much double that, ending at 51 matches across every iteration of the deck, good for a record of 27-24, which gives me my normal standard of “positive winning percentage, but just barely.”
Before I talk about the cards in the deck, I’m going to name several cards I tried in this list that I inevitably cut, as well as talking about some cards I never put in the list at all.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
I’m sure the first thing everyone is going to notice here is that Sheoldred isn’t in this list. That is correct. It was never in any iteration of any list. And that, simply put, was an experiment more than anything else. I wanted to see if a Black based midrange deck was playable without Sheoldred, and I also wanted a safety net built in for if I wanted to build this deck in paper, as I only own one copy of Sheoldred physically. I’ll elaborate a bit more later, but Sheoldred is definitely missed in this deck, however not playing it isn’t the complete end of the world.
Like I said earlier, I never played when this card was relevant and have never actually cast it myself. I have no nostalgia for it, therefore I never seriously considered playing it. It probably would have been fine. When I was talking to people about this deck, I got asked a few times if I was playing Siege Rhino. People love Siege Rhino. I am largely Rhino ambivalent.
Skrelv, Defector Mite
Skrelv was in the first version of this list, which initially had a lot more creatures in it. But even in that version, Skrelv was underwhelming. I wanted it to be Giver or Mother of Runes and it just isn’t. So while it is good in aggressive lists, it was not good in something this “durdly.”
Invasion of Gobakhan
For a similar reason to Skrelv, attacking Invasion of Gobakhan was far too difficult and I never found myself able to flip it reliably. Playing this card for the front side is pretty terrible a lot of the time too, often just delaying a card that was going to kill me with me being unable to do anything about it.
The Elesh Norn I’m referring to here is the one from March of the Machine. This is a card I tried briefly in place of Sheoldred, and it’s just not nearly as impactful. While it has a powerful looking effect, it doesn’t simply win the game by merely existing and the effect isn’t impactful enough to compensate for that. It was removed quickly.
Cutting Censor kind of broke me. A good chunk of the games I played with this deck were played with Censor and it was secretly the card I was most excited to try. It’s definitely a pretty solid card, but it’s too situational to go around main decking four of them. It either single handedly hoses opposing strategies or it is literally just Centaur Courser. It’s too polarizing and the restriction being symmetrical is enough of a hindrance that it made the card just not worth it. I really enjoyed playing Censor and there are definitely decks where the card could be much better but this unfortunately wasn’t it, as much as I’d have liked it to be.
Thalia and the Gitrog Monster
Now that all those are out of the way, I want to talk about the card that inspired me to build this deck in Thalia and the Gitrog Monster.
I wish I could tell you that it dominated every board it came down into. I wish I could tell you it was a high impact four drop that made it worth playing three colors. I wish I could tell you that the attack trigger was a “may” ability (it isn’t).
But I regret to inform you that I can’t tell you any of those things. Instead, I have to report that the card is aggressively mediocre. Pretty much everything I wrote about Phyrexian Censor rings true for Thalia and the Gitrog Monster. It’s slow, it’s hard to attack with, especially if you don’t have Wedding Announcement going, and it is simply not impactful enough in enough matchups. While it made it through all 51 matches without getting cut entirely, the only reason that is true is because I didn’t want to cut it. I wanted to believe in this card and part of me still does, against all odds. It’s a fun card to play with and it does have matchups where it’s good, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty much just a worse Glissa, which continued to be solid in this Abzan list.
But not all hope is lost. There is another March of the Machine card that I am going to sing the praises of.
Wrenn and Realmbreaker is an Incredibly Powerful Card
While it requires a bit more building around, the payoff is well worth it. If you include enough permanents in your deck so that the first minus ability never misses, you get a card that Rakdos and Azorius Control struggle severely to beat and a card that is almost never bad in other matchups. I was always happy to cast this card and briefly considered the idea of going up to four copies of it. It pressures the opponent, it fixes your mana, and because it can come down early, hitting the ultimate is something I did a few times in “grindier” games.
To help build around Wrenn and Realmbreaker, I decided to lean a little more into a graveyard strategy, which is why Phyrexian Missionary eventually made its way into the deck, and why I put Serra Paragon in at the same time I did Wrenn and Realmbreaker. While I didn’t get enough of a look at Missionary to get a gauge on it, Paragon was pleasantly surprising as a finisher, effectively serving as a pre-ultimated copy of Wrenn and Realmbreaker, as well as being able to bring back the Planeswalker.
One thing that felt like it was missing was a removal spell that Wrenn and Realmbreaker could draw, which is why Skyclave Apparition came into the sixty, and that, along with Cosmic Rebirth, proved to be a correct line of thinking. The other card that could be tried in this slot is Murderous Rider, though the instant reanimation into removal has proved to be invaluable.
The sideboard has changed a few times as well, but I landed on the fifteen I showed above.
Path of Peril
Path of Peril is a hedge against explorer’s new hottest deck in Boros Convoke, which gets the ball rolling quite quickly. While aggro decks are typically a good matchup for this list, this one proved to be tricky.
Duress is a hedge against Control decks, which are a bad matchup unless you land Wrenn, then it’s great. Thrun is also a good card for this matchup, as well as midrange mirrors.
Destroy Evil is one of the most versatile cards in the format and is a must have sideboard card for any white deck in the format.
Noxious Grasp and Extinction Event are mainly for Mono Green but they’re highly applicable in other matchups, with Event being good for Humans and Rakdos and Grasp being good for Humans as well, along with Azorius Control.
The cards I most often sideboarded out were the copies of Cosmic Rebirth if I expected some kind of grave hate, and Thalia and the Gitrog Monster in the matchups where her text was least relevant.
Wrapping Up & Final Verdict
This isn’t a groundbreaking list by any means, but it is a fun list to play in the same way that all clunky midrange decks are fun to play. This one is a bit more synergistic with the graveyard themes, but at the end of the day, it is a collection of some of the most powerful cards in the format, while also playing Thalia and the Gitrog Monster.
The one takeaway from this, however, should be with Wrenn and Realmbreaker. I think this card is generally underplayed. It generates a ton of pressure, has a high starting loyalty, and can draw cards in a pinch. If you ever ultimate her, you have her for the rest of the game. If you haven’t played this card yet, I highly recommend trying her out.
Just leave Thalia and the Frog in the trade binder if you do.