Abzan Houses -

Deep Thoughts on…Khans of Tarkir Prerelease

 by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

So, I’m back and all bleary eyed from my Khans of Tarkir prerelease experience.  Wow…what a time!  Let’s get out in front of this…I didn’t do very well.  I played in the Two-Headed Giant prerelease on the Sunday evening and it was packed! We ended up in the pizza joint next door for deck construction as overflow and it was nuts.  With that many players it was bound to be a tough hill to climb and it was exactly as I expected.  My brother, who is my usual partner, and I had a record of 2 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw.  We ended up way down the standings, but had tons of fun and really didn’t feel like our record was indicative of the strength of our decks.


In the first game we were a little slow off the mark but were starting to make some headway and stabilize the board.  It wasn’t helping matters that I drew land for 6 consecutive turns forcing my partner to handle the load of the work.  However, just as we were turning the corner and getting things set up to really get in the match we got hit with a HUGE Icy Blast that tapped us down for 2 full turns.  Needless to say, we didn’t last long because that sort of tempo play is just backbreaking.  We took it on the chin and were 0-1 to start.


In game two our opponents got out to a quick start and built up some solid board presence.  However, they got tentative and tried to slow roll us as they set up their kill stroke.  However, when both our decks roared to life at the same time, and yet another HUGE Icy Blast later, we had them dead and kicking themselves for playing so slowly.  We moved on in a very respectable 1-1.


Game 3 was a situation where we came out and dictated play reasonably well.  We had strong board presence, had preserved our life total reasonably well, and generally were in good shape…until they hit us with…you guessed it…Icy Blast.  Well, that was the game and we were 1-2.  You may have noticed that we were just getting crushed by Icy Blast and it was doing some work.  Essentially, whoever resolved Icy Blast typically won out and it proved to be a ridiculous bomb.


Game 4 we were on the beatdown plan pretty hard.  We had them on the ropes pretty good and were laying waste to them pretty hard when out of nowhere came End Hostilities clearing the board.  Since they knew it was coming they could follow up with some explosive creatures and very quickly we found ourselves in a hole.  We just never recovered from the Board Wipe and they quickly mopped up the rest of the damage to leave us 1-3 and feeling pretty sorry for ourselves because we felt we deserved a better fate,


Game 5 was one of those games that everything went our way.  We dodged all their big spells, countered or killed all the most relevant threats and generally had the run of things.  However, they scrounged and wouldn’t give up and we ended up going to extra turns.  In the end we drew, but it should have been a win for us…with our life total being at a ridiculous 49 life to their 2 points and all the threats in the world. We just couldn’t quite seal the deal leaving us in a draw. This sort of game leaves a bad taste in your mouth because we had the win…we could see it…we just didn’t quite get it in time. Sweet…everyone loves to be 1-3 and a draw.


It was at this point that we dropped the actual event, but we did sit down with some buddies of ours who came with us to play.  They had fared much the same way we had and were way down in the standings, so they dropped too and we played them in a sort of exhibition game with our Limited decks.  It was pretty fun but we pretty much ran them over quite quickly.  I’ll call this a win for us, even though it doesn’t appear in the standings.  2-3 and a draw…not ideal, but fairly reasonable.


Here’s my deck:


Abzan Limited



Overall, my impression of the format was that it felt very slow.  With so many tapped lands entering play to enable the wide array of colours, early pressure was super important and usually left your opponent reeling.  The good news was that it was easy as pie to meet your mana requirements in terms of colours.  I found that all evening I was able to cast my spells and never in need of looking for double black or double white to cast my spells…I always had it.  The “Refuge” land cycle was hugely important because it was occupying a common slot in just about each booster pack and was readily available to provide the fixing that was needed.  Also, casting costs seemed to be generally pretty high and did not have a ton of easy to cast 1-2 and 3 drops.  The argument on the flip side was that Morph could enable a quicker play, but a 2/2 for 3 is pretty poor considering what else we can get.  I’m not sure I saw Morph get used to its fullest abilities in this first go around, but it definitely looked powerful and could do some very neat things.  I liked the Limited play in general, but deck construction proved very challenging as I had to balance a number of colour requirements, a reasonable curve, and generally manage the demands of straining my mana that little bit further than normal.


Icy Blast- This was a devastating card all night long.  Every time it resolved it pretty assured that a winner was going to be declared soon.  For limited this is a ridiculous bomb and automatic include in your deck.  If you see this in a Draft, grab it, even if you aren’t in blue just to ensure you don’t need to face it down.


End Hostilities- Another disgusting bomb that messed things up. Not as scary as Icy Blast, but still very good and pretty uncool to try and face down.  At least now you have the option of countering it, but it is still pretty crushing if you can hit it.


High Sentinels of Arashin- This is a disgusting bomb.  A 3/4 flier for 4 mana is pretty good, but it is the additional abilities that makes it just busted.  It gets +1/+1 for each creature you control with a counter on it.  Cool…but in Abzan that’s EVERYTHING.  This was routinely a 8/9 creature for me, and with the “Sliver-esque” feel to the Abzan it could get first strike, trample, Lifelink, or anything else really.  It’s pretty crazy to say the least.


Abzan “lords”-  As I said, the “Sliver-esque” ability of the Abzan to grant each other abilities can make for a devastating combination if left unchecked.  It resulted in gross amounts of life gain through the Lifelink granted by Abzan Battle Priest and coupled with the High Sentinels I had a full team of disgusting, Lifelinking monsters to terrorize my opponents.  I liked them and they all synergized well together.



On the whole, I liked the Outlast mechanic, but I found it very slow.  Some of the other abilities, like Prowess or Ferocious ended up being easier to trigger and it was a bit of a challenge about when to spend the mana on the Outlast counter and tap the creature down versus when to keep it up to block.


Funniest card that I ran

Feed the Clan.  Normally I would never run a card like this.  Pure, unadulterated life gain is just not something I like to play, but we kept getting blown out on Icy Blast and such.  So, both my brother and I main decked one of these with the express intent of firing one off to save our bacon and let us buy another turn in order to staff out getting knocked out of the match.  Believe it or not, it worked.  It bought us considerable time in one match and was not a dead card in another game we played.  I could hardly believe it was playable.  I’m still not convinced based on my small sample size, but I will be keeping an eye on it.



My MVP was Armament Corps.  My opponents would always allow this to resolve thinking that it was just a 4/4, but it could target itself and be a nasty 6/6 to cope with it.  However, the real benefit was in dumping the +1/+1 counters on other creatures (without utilizing their Outlast mechanic) to gain the benefits of the Abzan “lord” cards or to trigger the High Sentinels.  It proved to be a terrific barrier to shut out an aggressive ground game and a great way to enable powerful plays through the synergy with other Abzan cards.  This was a quiet star and one I was always glad to see turn up.


Biggest Bust

Honestly, while it was useful a couple of times, Take up Arms largely disappointed.  This is not M15 limited where Triplicate Spirits and the like are defining cards.  This is an expensive card that spews out some counters that could be neat if you are all aboard the Warrior-tribal theme…but I think will usually be an under performing card.  1/1 tokens just aren’t relevant enough because they don’t really trade profitably with much unless you double (or usually triple!) block a creature.  I would have rather played something more powerful at 5 mana than this.


I really enjoyed the Prerelease and wished I could have played a few more over the weekend, but needless to say that wasn’t possible based on my schedule.  It was a ton of fun, but it was just a glimpse of the Limited format that is going to shape up now that Khans is hitting the stores.  This format seems light years more complicated and nuanced than M15 which felt very narrow and stifled, but Khans is crazy diverse and a breath of fresh air.  The next several months are bound to be fun.


Well, there we have it, thanks for reading this week.  I’ll be back to my usual affairs of putting together a crack a pack and I’ve got some other irons in the fire in order to brew up some new decks and some other fun things.  So, stay tuned as we start to ramp up some of the brewing and news now that Khans is here.


Until next time, keep it fun, keep it safe…and most importantly keep it is Casual.


by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter