Historic Abzan Humans Deck Guide: The Best Humans Variant

General Kudro of Drannith Art by Ryan Pancoast
General Kudro of Drannith Art by Ryan Pancoast

Ever since Wizards decided to more heavily support the Humans subtype, the deck has been picking up in popularity. One of its first major appearances was in the Modern Format, where there were countless variants, such as the five color versions that were really powerful.

While in Historic, the eternal format at our disposal in Magic Arena, we certainly do not have cards like Mantis Rider, Noble Hierarch, or Aether Vial, but thanks to Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, some old acquaintances of the archetype arrive and without a doubt they make humans a very powerful choice.

Esper Sentinel is undoubtedly one of the cards that caused the most stir by the time Modern Horizons 2 hit the Shelves. It’s a kind of walking Rhystic Study (Commander players will understand how powerful this comparison is), something that, for a deck that wants to be aggressive like ours is undoubtedly a valuable source of gas, allowing us to keep pressing if our opponents try to destroy our first creatures or slow them a lot while trying to establish their game plan.

Whether it gives us additional cards or forces our opponents to pay additional mana, this card is amazing at putting midrange or control opponents in a lot of trouble.

Thalia’s Lieutenant arrived long before Esper Sentinel. It was back on our second visit to the Innistrad plane, during Shadows over Innistrad set. Since then, the card is a staple in the archetype whenever it’s possible to play it.

Historic is no exception. Not only does it have built-in the effect of a Champion of the Parish, but also has the ability of Gavony Township for Humans while entering the battlefield. Few cards are as well rounded in a deck as Thalia’s Lieutenant is for this archetype. Without a doubt, playing 4 is the correct option.

Some other cards in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons like Ranger-Captain of Eos, are amazing for the archetype, however this time I have left them aside. After testing the deck a lot, I came to interesting conclusions regarding its assembly. Before explaining them, let me introduce you to a couple of lists.

First, the list that originated the idea of working on the archetype. Joo Hyun’s Abzan Humans – #9 Mythic during September:

Abzan Humans by Joohyun – #9 Mythic September
by Bohe
Historic
Tribal
best of 3
7 mythic
43 rare
6 uncommon
4 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Instants (6)
2
Dire Tactics
$0.50
Lands (23)
1
Swamp
$3.99
2
Blooming Marsh
$14.98
4
Temple Garden
$55.96
4
Godless Shrine
$71.96
60 Cards
$509.42
15 Cards
$117.63

Prior to the release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Abzan Humans was shaping up to be one of the strongest options in Historic. It was due to the rise of the new Standard that the deck probably went unnoticed.

Now, with the return of the tournaments and Historic’s competitive environment, it’s clearly seen that Humans are a great option. Mostly people are going for the Selesnya variant, and it certainly is very powerful thanks to cards like Katilda, Dawnhart Prime, and Sigarda, Champion of Light, which undoubtedly made people start brewing with the archetype again. However, there are great reasons to go for the Abzan variant.

I will present to you the list I worked with, the changes compared to Joo Hyun’s and why you should consider Abzan as a great choice over Selesnya or Mono White.

Abzan Humans
by Bohe
Historic
Tribal
best of 3
4 mythic
46 rare
6 uncommon
4 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Instants (4)
Lands (23)
4
Temple Garden
$55.96
4
Godless Shrine
$71.96
1
Indatha Triome
$11.99
2
Overgrown Tomb
$37.98
60 Cards
$483.26
15 Cards
$39.53

As you can see, there are some slight changes:

InOut
+1 Dauntless Bodyguard-1 Giant Killer
+1 Thraben Inspector-4 Ranger-Captain of Eos
+1 Kitesail Freebooter-2 Dire Tactics
+3 Brutal Cathar
+1 General Kudro of Drannith

There are two main reasons for the changes. Firstly, I’m aware of the power of Ranger-Captain of Eos. Without a doubt it’s a great card; however, it seems to me that in our current deck we can’t get the most out of it.

In other archetypes like Death’s Shadow, we can look for our win condition. In other cases we can search for incredibly relevant creatures at the right time like Serra Ascendant in a deck focused on gaining lives. In our case, we only have three potential targets, and although they might seem sufficient, in all cases they seem to be too situational.

It’s true that the effect that prevents our opponent from playing non creature spells for a turn can be crucial, but in a metagame as varied as it is now, putting this creature on the battlefield in turn three may not be what we are looking for in our main deck.

In exchange, I decide to use those spaces to maximize the efficiency of the deck, increasing the number of relevant creatures such as Thraben Inspector, Kitesail Freebooter and General Kudro of Drannith to 4, something that certainly lets me have them in my opening hand or draw them in the first turns of the game.

Without Ranger-Captain of Eos, the single copy of Giant Killer could be taken out. Thinking about what could we do with that slot took me to my testing of the mono white variant. While playing with that version of the deck, I was testing Standard cards like Brutal Cathar, Intrepid Adversary and Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, all of them with incredible results. After playing this month in the Historic ladder, and taking in consideration results of big Historic tournaments, I realized control decks like Jeskai fell off in popularity. The rise of creatures as win conditions made me decide to use three Brutal Cathar in the remaining slots, something that perfectly replaced the two Dire Tactics and the single Giant Killer letting us keep pressure at the same time.

The last change was the inclusion of the second Dauntless Bodyguard, something that lets us cover relevant creatures often (like the newly included Cathars) and solidify our plan of playing a creature on turn 1, something that is in my opinion incredibly relevant nowadays (even if we have to use Dauntless Bodyguard as a Savannah Lion).

Why Abzan?

The reason for playing green is not the aforementioned cards Katilda, Dawnhart Prime or Sigarda, Champion of Light, key cards in the Selesnya variant. Collected Company is the reason for almost every single creature based strategy play or at least for the splash to green. With the changes we make plus having access to black creatures like Kitesail Freebooter and General Kudro of Drannith, we maximize our entering the battlefield effects, letting us have incredible CoCo hits.

Another big reason for playing green is Yasharn, Implacable Earth. One of the best decks in this post MID Historic metagame is Jund. A lot of players are now trusting again in Cauldron Familiar + Witch’s Oven combo, because like we said before, a creature-matters based metagame is on the rise, and every iteration of Jund (Food, Sacrifice, Citadel) is favored in this scenario. Yasharn, our trusty boar shuts down a lot of interactions Jund relies on, so, even if it’s not a Human, playing Yasharn in your 75 if you have access to green and white is mandatory.

That said, and despite the fact that Jeskai is not as popular as before, it’s still a deck that can surely be seen on the ladder or in tournaments. Even without Brainstorm or Memory Lapse, blue based decks are still there. No matter if its control variant or Indomitable Creativity one, our Abzan configuration makes us stronger than any other aggro deck against the possible interaction they can have. A Esper Sentinel, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Kitesail Freebooter, Elite Spellbinder, and Collected Company make it really hard for Control to keep up, something that’s only possible due to being Abzan specifically.

Having access to General Kudro of Drannith is really good nowadays. Trust me, Arclight Phoenix is returning, even after the bans, and is as strong as ever. Many other decks now play with the graveyard too so this Legendary Creature combined with our possibility of playing Dire Tactics + Rest in Peace lets us cover grindy graveyard interactions without too many problems. Speaking of legendary creatures, Kambal, Consul of Allocation is just the cherry on the cake. Izzet Phoenix, Jeskai, Rakdos Arcanist or even Enchantress are heavily taxed by Kambal.

With an incredible mana base for our three colored combination, having the opportunity to play all of these great cards and interactions is something we can’t miss.


Sideboard Guide

Containment Priest Art by John Stanko
Containment Priest Art by John Stanko

With last Friday’s Red Bull Untapped in the books, we have a really good idea of what the future of the metagame is going to be. Let’s cover the top 8 archetypes, shall we?

Izzet Phoenix

InOut
+2 Portable Hole-2 Thraben Inspector
+2 Containment Priest-4 Elite Spellbinder
+2 Dire Tactics-2 Collected Company
+2 Rest in Peace-1 Brutal Cathar
+1 Kambal, Consul of Allocation

With 4 General Kudro of Drannith + 2 Rest in Peace, the opponent’s graveyard should be empty most of the time. If something goes wrong, a pair of Containment Priest should stop Arclight Phoenix power plays. Portable Hole could look weird against a non-aggro deck, but having the possibility of answering 8 crucial potential targets likr Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Smoldering Egg for just one white mana is amazing. Dire Tactics do wonders exiling phoenixes and Kambal taxes our opponent’s life giving them a hard time when trying to interact with us.

Have in mind that they are low in removal. A well positioned Dauntless Bodyguard could mean “Game”. They play just 4 Unholy Heat in their mainboard and 2 Anger of the Gods + 1 Abrade in their sideboard (just one artifact removal spell makes Portable Hole a great card in this match up).

Golgari Stompy

InOut
+2 Portable Hole-4 Esper Sentinel
+1 Pithing Needle-4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+2 Containment Priest
+2 Dire Tactics
+1 Brutal Cathar

We take out all our spell taxing creatures because most of the time they play 8 or less non-creature spells. In exchange we pack 5 more removal in the form of 2 Portable Hole (at least 16+ targets), Dire Tactics (that should aim at Old-Growth Troll or Scrapheap Scrounger) and one Brutal Cathar. Pithing Needle has a lot of targets: Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, Old-Growth Troll (naming Forest), Werewolf Pack Leader, Scrapheap Scrounger and Scavenging Ooze.

Containment Priest is for holding their CoCo attemps back. Be careful, try to remove creatures from the graveyard first with Kudro activations to prevent Ooze from growing. Witch’s Vengeance could destroy us if we are not careful enough; play with tempo and try to get it with Kitesail Freebooter or Elite Spellbinder.

Rakdos Arcanist

InOut
+2 Portable Hole-4 Elite Spellbinder
+2 Dire Tactics-2 Collected Company
+2 Rest in Peace-1 Brutal Cathar
+1 Kambal, Consul of Allocation

It’s incredible how Portable Hole can check all their creatures: Dreadhorde Arcanist, Stitcher’s Supplier, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Dragon’s Rage Channeler (just one Lurrus of the Dream-Den escapes our one mana removal).

Dire Tactics is great at exiling Kroxa and Stitcher’s Supplier while having General Kudro of Drannith + Rest in Peace vanish all their graveyard interaction attemps. Kambal, just like against Izzet, makes our opponent’s have a hard time trying to interact with us while at the same time they try to contain our aggresion. They also side in Witch’s Vengeance just like Golgary; be careful, playing Kitesail Freebooter or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on turn 2 is something we have to aim for most of the time.

Selesnya Humans

InOut
+2 Portable Hole-4 Esper Sentinel
+2 Containment Priest-3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+2 Dire Tactics
+1 Brutal Cathar

There are two variants of Selesnya Humans: the one with Katilda, Dawnhart Prime and Sigarda, Champion of Light + Collected Company and the one that is basically the Mono White splashing CoCo. Identifying this on game 1 is useful for combat math involving the global +1/+1 of the aforementioned Selesnya creatures.

Remember “Who is the Beatdown” depending if we are on the draw or on the play + the first two or three turns. Playing accordingly to our role in the game increases our win rate in this almost mirror match.

Jund Food

InOut
+2 Portable Hole-4 Esper Sentinel
+1 Pithing Needle-2 Collected Company
+2 Containment Priest-2 Elite Spellbinder
+2 Dire Tactics-4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+2 Rest in Peace
+3 Yasharn, Implacable Earth

One of our harder matchups. Playing carefully with Portable Hole is key; remember, it can exile any nonland permanent such as Witch’s Oven. Pithing Needle and Yasharn, Implacable Earth are great here as well for the same reason. Use Dire Tactics surgically and don’t forget this is a heavy attrition match. Using our resources carefully is key for achieving victory.

Rest in Peace could sound like over-sideboarding as their only graveyard interaction is the Cauldron Familiar + Witch’s Oven combo, but this is their sacrifice engine, so stopping it is our main goal post sideboard and something that, when done leaves all their plans torn apart most of the time. We attack their plan with different approaches in the form of artifacts, creatures and enchantments, making them have a hard time trying to deal with all our tools.

Simic Merfolk

InOut
+2 Portable Hole-4 Esper Sentinel
+2 Containment Priest-2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+2 Dire Tactics-1 Collected Company
+1 Brutal Cathar

The reason behind keeping 2 Thalia is because the First Strike tends to be relevant + it helps us by delaying Savage Swipe, their post sideboard removal of preference. If you prefer removing 3 Thalia keeping the full CoCo set is not a bad move.

They don’t have many interactions against us and they rely on their brute force while attacking. They have just 2-3 Savage Swipe + 2-3 Fading Hope. We match this with our side-ins, while also a good way of dealing with their CoCo attempts at instant speed, matching their attempts of swarming the board. Trading aggressively is key; in the long run, the school of fishes could get out of control.


Tips and Tricks

Esper Sentinel Art by Eric Deschamps
Esper Sentinel Art by Eric Deschamps
  • Don’t be afraid of playing a turn 1 Dauntless Bodyguard if you are in a match where pressuring asap is key.
  • While deciding if you are going to keep or mulligan a hand, remember, curving is the key to our victory.
  • Identifying your opponent’s archetype as early as turn 1 is amazingly good for letting us decide between our creatures. Putting in the extra effort for this skyrockets your win rate. It’s not the same playing a turn one Esper Sentinel as a Thraben Inspector.
  • Sometimes, saving a one drop for playing two spells in one turn, making night became day and letting you remove another creature with Brutal Cathar, gives you the upper hand against other aggro decks.
  • General Kudro of Drannith not only gives +1/+1 to all our team and removes our opponent’s graveyard. He has a rarely used ability that lets us chop down big creatures (like Giant Killer does). Don’t forget that could save your life in many situations.
  • If you have multiple Brutal Cathar during a game, be mindful if it’s Day or Night when you play one. You may expect to exile a creature only to get a 3/3!
  • If you don’t want to play a tapped land, taking out Indatha Triome for a Plain is doable.

Final Notes

I had an amazing time playing Humans in Historic. From Mono White to Abzan, we surely are going to keep facing this tribe for a long time. Playing it your self could be the best way of learning how it works; That’s something important not only if you decide to take the deck into the ladder or a tournament, but also knowing how to tackle it if you find yourself against it, which like I mentioned, is going to happen a lot.

Abzan has many advantages over other variants, but who knows, with cards like Katilda, Dawnhart Prime, starting to brew a 5 color version like the old Modern one looks tempting… If that happens I surely will let you know, but until then, let me know in the comments section what you thought about this archetype.

Until next time, don’t forget that you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. Ah, and don’t forget to smile!

Bohe

A full time MTG content creator. Started playing Magic in 99’ with the release of Urza’s Destiny, 3 times Grand Prix attendant (1 as a player ending #78 and 2 as a judge). Mexican, lover of coffee, Korean culture, languages and ex-LoL coach. Follow me on Instagram, Twitch, or Twitter.

3 Responses

  1. KardFett says:

    I’m not sure if I totally agree with the lack of Ranger-Captain, but I also don’t think your reasoning is wrong, either. The only card that I really don’t understand and that you don’t touch on is Cleansing Nova. Is that for the artifact/enchantment sweep vs. jund or weird tempered steel decks, or does this deck really need a one-of sweeper?

    • aeonstasis says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s because against Selesnya Enchantress it instantly wins an otherwise unwinnable game if they land Solemnity and Nine Lives together. It’s definitely not for “regular” matchups, since you’d otherwise want something like a one-of Settle the Wreckage vs. Elves or Angels.

      • Bohe says:

        Hi, KardFett and aeonstasis. Like both said, is because Selesnya Enchantress matchup, that time to time cross path with us and have many game situations that are unwinnable for us. Having that silver bullet is (when we draw it) a instant win.

        Other Human decks tend to use Knight of Autumn, and its an amazing card, but I prefer to optimize the sideboard plan and just have 1 silver bullet for Enchantress (that also works for Tempered Steel, etc).

        Ty for your comments!