The DMV is open
I’m very glad that the flavor of Magic doesn’t have a lot of impact on the actual gameplay mechanics within the game. There are many instances where when you step back and think about it, the play that you just made makes absolutely no sense from a flavor perspective. From a 1/1 bird being equipped with two swords in each claw and still being able to fly to a toy robot looking over, seeing a gingerbread man run up next to it, and thinking “ah yes, I will grow larger and more powerful now”, the flavor of competitive Magic can definitely be baffling. In today’s article, we’re going to be looking at one of my favorite series of events both in-game and flavorwise. After stumbling upon the corpse of a broken and discarded war machine, one lone mouse on a motorcycle will single-handedly reanimate it to summon an entire heavenly army. Today, we’re looking at Abzan Greasefang, aka Abzan DMV.
Abzan Greasefang is a cross between an explosive combo deck and a grindy midrange pile. It aims to spend the first few turns establishing its graveyard while building mana. From there, it either lands a Greasefang, Okiba Boss to get the reanimation party started, or pivots into the midrange plan with its sticky creatures and efficient removal. The main power of the deck is in its ability to come at an opponent from two very different angles and ask them if they’re prepared to handle both of them.
Abzan Greasefang, first and foremost, is a reanimator deck. Getting Parhelion II and Esika’s Chariot into the graveyard is priority number one, and we look to spend the first two turns playing spells dedicated to doing exactly that. From Stitcher’s Supplier and Grisly Salvage shooting from the hip to the more precise discarding of Blood Fountain and Haunted Dead, the deck has a pretty easy time putting the cards that it wants to into the graveyard. From there, Greasefang is of course the main payoff. Can’t Stay Away and Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord are also used here to buy back Greasefangs should they end up milled or dying. Getting Greasefang into play is almost always the correct line, so we’re packing as many different ways of making that happen as possible. From there, it’s as simple as selecting your Parhelion II or Esika’s Chariot as Greasefang’s target while maintaining priority in the Begin Combat step, crewing up the vehicle with Greasefang, and swinging in. It’s important to note that “the main combo” of one Parhelion attack is a swing for 13 flying damage. Eagle-eyed readers will note that 13 is, in fact, less than 20, so you will need to close out the game with another attack. You do get two 4/4 angel tokens that stick around to close it out, though I’ve found that sometimes alternate routes are required to seal the deal.
On rare occasions, you will be matched up with an opponent who is either good enough at the game or lucky enough to be prepared for your initial Greasefang onslaught. Other times you’re met with an unfortunate Thoughtseize effect, or you just weren’t able to assemble the combo in a timely manner. The remainder of the deck is built to capitalize on this, providing the removal options and alternate threat package you will need to claw your way back into the game. Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, and Rite of Oblivion can slow down an opponent for long enough to buy you those extra turns you may need to draw into your Greasefang, while Haunted Dead and Tasigur are excellent graveyard-based payoff options who either act as a wall for opposing aggression or get the job done themselves. It should be noted that Esika’s Chariot is also an amazing midrange threat, as anyone who’s been grinding standard on Arena for the past year or so would tell you. This army-in-a-can is a perfect reanimation target for Greasefang, while still being cheap enough to cast from hand as well. Blood Fountain and Grapple with the Past, similarly, fill both roles that the deck is looking for with their ability to refill your hand with threats in the later turns.
Abzan, with the rest of the Wedges in general, are in a spot right now in Pioneer where making a budget list is extremely simple because of a very forgiving mana base. With only 9% of the lands entering tapped, most of the typical “budget mana base struggles” are non-existent with this deck, making Wedges highly favorable budget territory. Unlike my last deck, this build has next to no issue with its lands. In all of my test games, the only issue i’ve had so far is that on occasion mulligans have to be made for lack of a turn one black source, which is a similar issue i’ve had in the full non-budget version of the deck as well, and nothing that shouldn’t be expected in a game of variance.
How does it play?
I’ve been playing this archetype almost exclusively for the past two weeks, and I have to say that this is some of the most fun I’ve had while playing Pioneer. The deck comes from an angle that we’re not used to seeing yet in this format, being the first real reanimator deck that looks to swing in with a huge, unexpected, hasty threat. This means that a lot of less-experienced players aren’t going to be prepared to overcome the onslaught that the main plan provides, and i’ve caught a lot of people off guard because they incorrectly assume that i’m playing just another dumb midrange pile. The deck honestly feels a little bit like Splinter Twin did in Modern (for anyone else like me who was around when the rocks were soft). It’s a strong midrange deck that is constantly threatening the combo, while at the same time being fully capable of just beating you down with a 2/2 because you’re too busy trying to keep the combo from happening. The deck is an absolute blast to pilot, quite consistent, and very customizable in its construction. From Abzan to Esper to straight Orzhov, there’s a ton of different paths to take the Greasefang combo in this format, and you can really bend the deck to suit your play style.
Abzan Greasefang is my favorite deck to come out of Kamigawa, and one that I expect to be playing in Pioneer for a long time. If you’re interested in getting into this archetype, right now is the perfect time while the cards are still cheap and the archetype is still relatively under explored. The deck is insanely flexible and pivots on a dime. It’s not often that taking the route of “an established tier one or two deck, but the lands are worse” gets you somewhere when building on a budget, but this archetype has sincerely impressed me. I think that it’s very much worthwhile to at least know how to fight against this deck if not picking it up and trying it for yourself, because the strategy is just the right mix of fun and powerful, and a lot of players are going to be trying it out in the coming months.
That’s all for this one! As always, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment either here on Playing Pioneer, on reddit, or even shoot me a discord message with your thoughts on the deck! I also love to hear what you guys are working on for budget brews, as well as your suggestions for future installations in this series! I hope you enjoyed, and as always, stay safe, stay smart, and thanks for reading.