My name is Koen Mommersteeg and I am a modern player from the Netherlands and proud member of ‘Goblin Bowling Team’. I am also one of the moderators on the Facebook Creature Toolbox Community.
Today, we’re going to dig into Modern Abzan Counters Company, the most commonly played of the Modern Creature Toolbox Decks.
- What is Abzan Counters Company?
- Deck Function
- Color Choices
- Card Choices
- Tips and Tricks
- How to build your sideboard
- How to approach different matchups
- Other Content
1. What is Abzan Counters Company?
Back in my early days as a modern player, I lost my heart to Birthing Pod. The card suits my way of thinking and planning a couple of turns ahead. The deck was based on a combination of cards that assembled to create an infinite loop: Kitchen Finks, Murderous Redcap, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Viscera Seer. With this combination you can gain ‘infinite’ life or shoot ‘infinite’ damage to your opponent. With the printing of Siege Rhino in the Khans block, the deck became much more value-based.
It was too good in the modern metagame, so the hammer fell. R.I.P.
Conveniently, the card Collected Company was printed shortly after the banning of Birthing Pod bringing all of the scattered Pod players back together once again. Two months after the card’s release, this deck took second place in the Magic Online Championship.
With the release of Amonkhet and the printing of Vizier of Remedies, the deck adapted a new creature combo and evolved into his current form, now known as “Counters Company”.
If you combine Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies, you can tap and untap the druid repeatedly to make infinite mana. With this mana, you can make an arbitrarily large Walking Ballista or (less frequently used) attack and pump with infinite activations from Rhonas the Indomitable.
Abzan Counters Company is a creature-based combo deck that aims to win on turn three or four. This deck uses cards like Collected Company and Chord of Calling to find combo pieces that are not in your hand, making it both consistent and resilient. If that plan does not work properly or is disrupted, the deck can play a midrange strategy with value creatures as well as Gavony Township. Two-for-one your opponent with Kitchen Finks while Eternal Witness and Duskwatch Recruiter create a load of card advantage, makes midrange value a solid “plan B”.
Sample Decklist for Abzan Counters Company
2. Deck Function
The deck contains multiple creature combos. I will walk you through two of the combos this deck plays; the infinite mana combo and the infinite life combo.
Devoted Druid’s ability says you may put a -1/-1 counter on the Druid to untap him. Vizier of Remedies’ ability says: “If one or more -1/-1 counters would be put on a creature you control, that many -1/-1 counters minus one are put on it instead.” If you combine these two, you can keep untapping and tapping the Devoted Druid for mana. After creating a ridiculously large amount of mana, you can either use it to cast a Walking Ballista or activate Rhonas the Indomitable‘s ability repeatedly. If you don’t have either, you may use the mana to activate Duskwatch Recruiter until you find any of the creatures mentioned. When both creatures are in play and the Druid is no longer summoning sick, you will have the ability to activate this ability as many times as you want without interruption. If one of the two creatures is targeted with a removal spell, you can just put another instance of the Druid’s ability on the stack and continue on.
Kitchen Finks combined with Vizier of Remedies (Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit have been used in previous iterations of this deck) along with Viscera Seer create a loop for infinite life gain paired with infinite instances of Scry 1. Melira and Anafenza are not played in this build because they do not work with the Devoted Druid combo. With Vizier of Remedies in play, Kitchen Finks will persist with no -1/-1 counter, allowing for repeatable Persist triggers.
If you combine Kitchen Finks and Vizier of Remedies with Viscera Seer, you will have the option to sacrifice the Finks for infinite life from its ETB trigger. In addition, it allows you to scry through your deck and put the card that finishes the game on top.
Against some decks, infinite life will not win you the game. Jace, the Mind Sculptor‘s ultimate can still deck you out and Karn restarting a game will negate your arbitrarily large life total. Therefore, you need to progress your board or go for a different kill. That being said, most opponents will scoop for you when you gain infinite life with a decent board state. In case they don’t, we have other options…
The deck can function pretty well as a midrange value deck. Chaining Collected Companys into Eternal Witness is a feeling I cannot describe in words. You will out-grind your opponent fast. Sometimes, you are not so lucky and Collected Company can brick or find just one measly Birds of Paradise. This variance is something you need to accept when playing this deck.
Besides its apparent function in finding your combo pieces, Duskwatch Recruiter has other options in the deck. When flipped, Krallenhorde Howler is a sizeable creature that conveniently reduces the cost of your other creature spells. On his front side he searches your deck for creatures providing useful card advantage in long games and control or attrition match-ups.
Additionally, Gavony Township makes this strategy valid too. It makes Birds, Nobles, and other small creatures big beaters in just two to three turns.
The math behind Collected Company
The general conclusion is that the ideal number of creatures in the deck should be no less than 28. With this number, Collected Company has over a 90% chance to hit at least one creature when cast. This also provides an 86% chance of hitting two creatures. Obviously, two creatures would be the ideal scenario, but your opening seven and anything you draw before casting the first Collected Company will reduce these numbers. These graphs, created by MTGSalvation user Kleronomas, should help give a better idea of the general creature counts to run in your deck in order to get the most out of Collected Company.
3. Color Choices
The “Abzan” Collected Company strategy can be played with different color builds. This primer focuses on the Abzan build, but I will shortly explain what other colors might provide and how they compare to the traditional Abzan.
Blue (in place of black) provides countermagic; specifically, the following:
The Bant builds always play four copies of Spell Queller mainboard. The card gives you a reactive game plan and a tempo play when ‘countering’ a spell. It is a decent creature with 2/3 body and Flying evasion to boot. In the current meta it is vulnerable to Lightning Bolt and, unfortunately for Queller, Bolt sees play a lot. In addition, Vendilion Clique is a card that is usually played by this colour.
This build can be right for you if you like a more reactive approach to the deck or are finding few copies of Bolt in your meta. Here’s a recent top eight list included a Retreat to Coralhelm and Knight of the Reliquary combo.
Red gives you some mainboard addition in the form of Kessig Wolf Run. The card can function as a mana sink when using the infinite mana combo. The deck usually play Knight of the Reliquary to find cards like the Wolf Run as well as Ghost Quarter, Horizon Canopy, or Gavony Township. You can also play Murderous Redcap or Magus of the Moon.
This is the new kid on the block. Here’s a recent list:
Not only is it getting some online result, Gerry Thompson (Pro Tour Nashville 2017 Champion), wrote about the deck in an article on SCG Premium:
“My main issue with the Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies combo has always been how awful the enablers were. You would very rarely see the combo in a normal deck because the combo pieces themselves are rather weak. That doesn’t change in these decks, but the rest of the deck actually has some powerful cards.
Knight of the Reliquary and Tireless Tracker are incredible and more than make up for the weakness of playing a 1W 2/1 in your deck. Collected Company and Chord of Calling pull it all together, but the real thing that caught my eye is the land destruction package in the deck. You can disrupt your opponent with Ghost Quarters and Field of Ruins, which gives these G/W creature decks a great Tron matchup.
Typically, you see some mopey beat down plan in these decks, and while these decks have that, it also has that land destruction angle. You don’t typically see that sort of plan in a creature combo deck, but it’s clever and I love it, regardless of how good it is.”
I like the approach Gerry makes on this subject. It gives the deck a good midrange strategy with four Knight of the Reliquary and four Tireless Tracker in the mainboard. Those cards give the deck a possibility for a ‘Land’ strategy with Field of Ruin, Ghost Quarter and a Bojuka Bog from your sideboard.
4. Card Choices
I will go over mainboard and sideboard cards that are proven in lists with results. Explaining some choices and why this card is good in a certain metagame.
The difference between the two is that Noble Hierarch only provides two of the three colors the deck needs. This is the reason why Noble is not played as a four-of over Birds of Paradise. The positive side of Noble is his exalted trigger. This can make an attacking Kitchen Finks (or similar) an even bigger beater. I would recommend playing four Birds of Paradise and two/three Noble Hierarch.
Both cards are the core and the blood of the deck. Without those cards, this deck cannot function and will lose his consistency. Chord is your best card in the deck as it can search up a specific sideboard creature in game two and three and, in any game, it can find a missing combo piece. It can be cast for ‘free’ when you have at least three Green creatures in play that can tapped to satisfy its Convoke cost. I will always play four of both.
Infinite Mana Package
Those cards have to be played to include the infinite mana combo. You can choose between Walking Ballista and Rhonas the Indomitable or play both. Both creature are good, so when choosing you cannot go wrong. There are minor differences between the two. Ballista is never a dead draw as it can function as a machine gun when creature removal is needed. Rhonas can be played for value but is weak to Path to Exile, whereas Walking Ballista can put itself into a graveyard when removal is pointed at it. When going for the combo and the opponent has no answers, there is little difference in the choice.
I would play always play four Devoted Druid, it is a mana dork and an enabler for the mana combo. When I play the infinite life combo, I would play four Vizier of Remedies, if I play with Knight (Value Build) I would play three of the Vizier. Duskwatch Recruiter is a two-four off, depends how deep you want to go for the combo. I would never go below the two. For the finisher I would play Walking Ballista in the Abzan build as a one-of.
Infinite Life Package
Those cards need to be included to play with the infinite life combo. Viscera Seer will never be exiled in play. This is why it is a good choice to just play one. If it dies, your Eternal Witness can get it back. If you plan to include the infinite life combo, I would recommend playing four Kitchen Finks and one Viscera Seer.
Next, I will go over cards that are played in the mainboard of Abzan Counter Company, explaining why they are played and against what strategies you can put them in you mainboard.
A 2/1 creature with Regrowth on itself. This card gives the deck its redundancy it needs in match-ups where you need to grind. Flipping over an Eternal Witness when casting a Collected Company is absurd value. It pressures decks like Jund that tend to go one for one’s on our creatures and cards. With some Chord, you can put a ‘free’ Eternal Witness into play at the end of your opponents turn.
I always run four of this card. She generates value and consistency. You can choose to play three in a metagame where there is less removal. Nevertheless, with the current infested meta with Jund, you’ll likely need the full four.
This card is mostly found in Bant or Naya build where she can fetch up utility lands that are needed. It provides a good blocker that can outgrow a Tarmogoyf quit easily. In the Bant version of the deck, it is combined with Retreat to Coralhelm for another two-card combo that involves tutoring up a fetchland for two more untap triggers targeting the Knight to repeat the process. Typically, I would play zero Knights in an Abzan build but if you choose for a different colour build, you can play the full four copies.
Mister value 2.0, Tireless Tracker can take over a game quit easily. He generates value on his own by creating Clue Tokens for each land drop. The Clue Tokens can draw you cards that can find an answer or even a missing combo piece. Tips with Tireless Tracker: never play him against removal decks unless you still have a land to play for the turn. For instance if you play a Tracker and he resolves, you have priority again. Drop your land and get a Clue Token. Try not to crack fetch-lands too early, if you do not need to mana. A fetch-land can provide another Clue Token when Tireless Tracker is in play but cracking your fetch unnecessarily may prompt a removal spell from your opponent to prevent the second Clue Token. I would recommend running two copies somewhere in your 75. Looking to the current meta, you may consider running Tracker in the mainboard if you expect to see more grindy decks.
Your mainboard choice for graveyard hate stuck on a creature. Decks like Grisselshoal, UR Gifts Storm and Snapcaster-based Control decks aim to abuse the graveyard. Those decks tend to go fast; Grisselshoal and Storm can win on turn three. If you can disrupt them even once with an Ooze activation, you can usually stay alive. The card also gains life and gets out of hand when there is no response on it. A good choice for a mainboard card when you expect grindy match-ups and other graveyard-based combo decks. Side-note: remember not to eat too much from your own graveyard as you play Eternal Witness. Next to Eternal Witness, I will include this card to the mainboard at least for one copy. If there is only one in your mainboard, be sure you have the second one in your sideboard.
Pridemage is a good choice when you expect a lot of Affinity, Boggles or Lantern in your metagame. Next to the removal for artifacts and enchantments, it is a sizeable creature with Exalted that can be readily paired with Noble Hierarch‘s Exalted trigger to provide a large solo attacker when it is appropriate. Fine choice as a mainboard card otherwise an auto include for the sideboard.
Selfless Spirit is a card that serves as both insurance to Wrath spells and an aggressively costed flier. It can also be used to save a creature from a one-for-one removal spell when you hope to assemble your combo. However, if you need to Chord the Selfless Spirit against a removal spell, you could typically just Chord the targeted combo piece as well that you hope to save as well. So in this matter, the card is primarily used against UWx Control with mainboard Supreme Verdicts or Anger of the Gods in decks like Titan Shift and Scapeshift.
The manabase of the Abzan Counter Company build is straightforward.
These decks typically plays eight copies, most commonly, Windswept Heath and Verdant Catacombs. Budget-wise you can choose to play Wooded Foothills (or similar as long as it can fetch a Forest), but, with it, you will be unable to find Godless Shrine. Therefore, for a smoothed out manabase you need those eight.
Usually, you find four or five of those in this deck. The configuration would typically be two Temple Garden, one Godless Shrine, and one or two Overgrown Tomb. Depends on how many black sources you have in the sideboard.
Most of the lists play two copies of Razorverge Thicket. It provides the main colors for the deck without giving you the shock or fetch damage and tends to be the ideal way to cast a turn one mana dork.
The deck plays two Horizon Canopy that can cycle itself for a new card or when in need of a combo piece can find a card from the top of your deck. For the plan B of the deck, the midrange strategy, the deck also plays two Gavony Township. That card makes harmless 2/1s into big beaters on the board and can allow you to go wide with an army of mana dorks.
There are some number of cards that seem to have become staples of this deck’s sideboard. Let’s take a look the most commonly played pieces and what they provide…
Next to that, it is good against Bolts (and similar effects), blocking duty versus Burn and stopping Ad Nauseam’s win condition (Lightning Storm). It is easy to fetch up with Chord of Calling because its converted mana cost is just one.
This card shuts down Storm on its own as Storm typically only plays Lightning Bolt to deal with creatures. Since this restricts your opponent to one spell per turn, they will not be able to cast two copies in order to deal with this four-toughness creature. It is good against Snapcaster Mage decks as well, allowing them to cast the Snap with no option of casting a Flashback spell. It has additional use against Living End Combo. The first spell goes on the stack, but the Cascade will not be cast. Alternatively, decks that aim to combo with loads of cards like KCI can be dramatically slowed by this card.
Pontiff functions as both a combat trick and removal piece for the mirror. It can clean up Young Pyromancer plus babies as well as Lingering Souls tokens. This card is a one-of-a-kind and provides fantastic utility. With Viscera Seer and Haunt, you can even get rid of an Etched Champion. By trigger its ability twice in one turn.
Affinity, Lantern and other artifact-based strategies crumble to this card. No other information needed. It is a better choice over Stony Silence in this deck because you can fetch this card out of your deck with Chord of Calling. Be aware: your Clue Tokens (provided by Tracker) are artifacts.
Removal is needed for this deck. Facing off an Izzet Staticaster is backbreaking for us. Board this in versus decks that apply pressure with disruption like Jund of Shadow decks (you just eventually lose to a Death’s Shadow that sticks on the board). You have to commit at least two slots in the board for Path to Exile.
I already spoke about the card. I you are playing two of them in the main, you do not need a third but many decks opt for a second copy in their sideboard. It provides important graveyard hate versus many strategies. Varying from Grisselshoal, Snapcaster, mirror match, Storm, Lingering Souls etc. etc. The card needs to be included to this deck.
Sculler can be used in your combo match-ups to buy time. Remember, is not a solution to those match-ups and will simply let you live a little longer to hope to do something else. Titan Shift has Lightning Bolt to get their Scapeshift back. Storm plays Lightning Bolt to get their Past in Flames back.
Sin Collector is also quite useful for your combo match-ups for obvious reasons. This card similarly gets rid of a problem, but unlike Sculler, exiles it permanently. Nonetheless, it costs one additional mana. This may seem insignificant, but in Modern, it could mean staying alive or die. If your meta contains more control than combo, this card may be a better choice over the Tidehollow Sculler.
Catch-all removal spell. Good versus Jace and Lilis (Last Hope and Veil).
Reclamation Sage provides another catch-all artifact/enchantment hate card. Can be brought in for Leyline of Sanctity and Grafdigger’s Cage, too. It is similar, in function, to Pridemage, but Disenchants when it enters the battlefield so it can be used as an attacker after its effect is used rather than needing to be sacrificed.
Catch-all removal spell that conveniently deals with creatures and non-creatures alike (at instant speed, too). Good versus Grixis Shadow, because Stubborn Denial is a blank in this situation.
Can be brought in for Titan Shift/Scapeshift, Storm, Tron and in the mirror match. If well-timed, this is a game-winning card (ie. when a Titan Shift player casts a Scapeshift and expects to win on the back of it). This can also be used to slow Storm when the pilot is casting a Gifts Ungiven to set up its combo turn.
Voice is one of your best options against blue-based strategies and decks stacked with removal like Jund and Mardu Pyromancer. This card creates two-for-ones and has potential to make tokens that grow very quickly as you flood the board with creatures.
Though I’ve never played Gideon in Counters Company myself, I think it is a good option if you are expecting a lot of control and Jund/Abzan like decks that prey on creatures. Gideon gives value and can protect itself well by making a 2/2 creature token. I’m excited to test this guy out.
Canonist functions similarly to Eidolon of Rhetoric, only its body is more susceptible to Lightning Bolt (which is the choice removal spell in Storm). Canonist is, notably, one mana cheaper than Rhetoric.
6. Tips and Tricks
Remember that Chord of Calling says X OR LESS mana cost. Once you pay the cost you can search for something with a converted mana cost less than X. This is useful if the opponent responds to it by killing your Druid and you change what you are searching for.
2. If you get Eternal Witness with Collected Company or Chord of Calling, you can return the either one to your hand as it will be put into the graveyard before Witness’ ETB trigger asks you what you’d like to return to your hand. If you have nothing to do, you can Chord out an Eternal Witness to add power and Convoke mana to the board before returning the same Chord to your hand.
3. Besides providing a repeatable ability to find valuable creatures or combo creatures off the top of your deck, Duskwatch Recruiter can stack your deck a way you want with infinite mana and a non-divisible by three number of cards in the deck with its “put the rest on the bottom of your library clause”. Sometimes your combo piece becomes exiled and you’ve got to find a non-creature to dig out of a rut.
4. Devoted Druid, Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch can all attack under an Ensnaring Bridge and then be pumped by Rhonas the Indomitable for lethal (or will acquire an Exalted trigger after they are already able to attack).
5. Sacrifice Tidehollow Sculler or Fiend Hunter in response to their trigger to make the exile effect permanent (the ‘leaves the battlefield’ trigger would resolve first in that case with nothing to return to hand or to play).
8. Knight of the Reliquary ramps if you tap the land for mana before sacrificing it. Also, finding a fetch land with KoTR can allow you to put two lands in the graveyard with a single activation-making it that much bigger.
9. Make sure you exile the opponent’s flashback spell before they go to cast it with Scavenging Ooze. This is a common new player mistake. Also, if Snapcaster Mage enters the battlefield, you can exile the card it is targeting to prevent its recast.
6. How to build your sideboard
A sideboard in a creature-based toolbox deck is never, ever, a walk in the park.
With Abzan Counters Company, this is especially true. That being said, I would recommend the following tips for building your sideboard.
I will never leave my house without these cards:
2-3 Path to Exile
1 Scavenging Ooze (only if there is just one in the mainboard)
This is based on a Grand Prix preparation. If you are expecting a wide format, as Modern happens to be, these cards are just a catch-all metagame call. After those slots are filled, it becomes a bit more difficult and you will need to make some choices based on what you expect to see most in any given weekend.
Right now we have eight to nine slots filled, leaving us six to seven openings.
The choice you need to make is simple…but complex. Think: what decks do you want to beat and where do you accept your losses? Cards that I discussed in the card choice selection of this primer are all valid options. However, what card is good against which strategy?
While even the most minor differences in deck builds can require different answers, here is a generalized recommendation for which cards to bring in in each specific match-up:
Aggro decks (Burn, Affinity, Hollow One, Elves)
Abrupt Decay – Voice of Resurgence – Kitchen Finks
Midrange decks (Jund-Abzan-Mardu Pyromancer)
Voice of Resurgence – Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – Tireless Tracker – Abrupt Decay – Phyrexian Revoker
Combo decks (Mirror, Storm, Grisselshoal, and Ad Nauseum)
Tidehollow Sculler – Ethersworn Canonist – Aven Mindcensor – Sin Collector – Scavenging Ooze
Control decks (UW Control, Jeskai Control, and Grixis Control)
Sin Collector – Voice of Resurgence – Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – Eternal Witness – Kitchen Finks
Big Mana decks (Tron, Titan Shift)
Aven Mindcensor – Phyrexian Revoker – Tidehollow Sculler
In the current state of Modern (April 2018), I would build my sideboard like this:
7. How to approach different match-ups
While having a board plan from another player that knows the deck is nice, I will advise against it. Back in my early day of Modern, I would have done a lot to obtain a sideboard from a Pro player that played this deck. Nonetheless, that is not the way to become a better player. This deck and its pilot functions best when you know what to do in certain match-ups based on experience and preference.
The questions you need to be asking yourself are:
- What do I need in this matchup?
- Which of my two plans are going to work post board and what role do I take upon me?
- What do they do against my strategy?
- How am I going to beat that with the cards I have in my 75?
How to cut cards after making those decisions:
This is usually the most difficult thing to do. Some rules you can follow here:
- How good is the combo in this match? Do you need all the Viziers?
- How good are the Birds of Paradise? Usually you board them out versus Jund-like decks.
- Are your silver bullets any good in this matchup?
- How many non-creature spells are you boarding in? So can you board out a Chord or even a Collected Company? Most of the time two Chords is correct.
This may be debatable, but in my opinion, the toughest match-up is Tron.
What do I need in this matchup?
Which of my two plans are going to work post board?
What do they do against my strategy?
Not so much, maybe they have a Grafdigger’s Cage lying around, but their match-up is so good that they do not have to commit any sideboard cards to Abzan Counters Company. Keep in mind that some decks also play the red splash for Pyroclasm, but it is currently, rather underplayed in Tron.
How am I going to beat that with the cards I have in my 75?
8. Other Content
Some other useful sites you can visit to obtain knowledge about the deck:
MTGSalvation: GWx Vizier Company
Useful primer and discussion forum with some new ideas.
Facebook Group: Modern Creature Toolbox Community