Abzan Midrange in Pioneer

Parker Ackerman
December 31, 2019

Siege Rhino will always hold a special place in my heart. Although I never played him during his time in Standard, I’ve brewed a lot of decks with him at this point, and he ends up being so much fun every time. So last week, when it occurred to me that I still hadn’t looked at a Pioneer list running Siege Rhino, I corrected that immediately.


Now, of course, the deck can’t run only Siege Rhinos . So we have to start with the basics: mana dorks. Given the limited selection available in the format, we have 4 Llanowar Elves and 3 Elvish Mystic to ramp us. 


A pair of Voice of Resurgence gives us a ton of potential value and anti-counterspell action, and the two copies of Anafenza, the Foremost give us some extra attacking power, along with some graveyard hate. Lovestruck Beast gives us a turn one play when we don’t have a mana dork, and gives us a cheap 5/5 beater either way, since both Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves allow him to attack.


Tireless Tracker is here to help us dig through our deck for card advantage while searching for exactly the card we need. Tracker’s clues also let us use up mana meaningfully when there’s nothing better to spend it on. Questing Beast is a huge threat, being difficult to block, good at killing planeswalkers, and good at blocking. All in all, the card is ridiculously good for its cost. Archangel Avacyn is protects our board in a pinch, and can wipe the board if our opponent isn’t careful. Finally, we have the main course: Siege Rhino. It’s an efficient threat that gets past blockers thanks to trample, while also having Lightning Helix stapled to it.

Vraska, Golgari Queen draw us cards when we need them, can take out problematic permanents, and has the potential to just end the game thanks to her ultimate. She is an obvious inclusion in a value-packed deck such as Abzan Midrange.


Most of our non-creature spells come in the form of hyper-efficient disruption. Thoughtseize is a huge card. For one mana it allows us to easily assess exactly what our opponent is playing, and take the best card from them while crafting how we should move forward. Abrupt Decay is no stranger to this kind of grindy midrange deck, letting us take out permanents without needing to worry about potential counterspells, and Dromoka's Command gives the deck a ton of versatility it otherwise wouldn’t have packed into a potent two-mana spell. Finally, Abzan Charm gives us the pick of removal, card draw, and +1/+1 counters, allowing us to have or find whatever we need for a given situation.


For lands, we’re going all-in on color fixing since it can be hard to work in utility lands in a three-color deck. We have all three shocklands, both fastlands legal in the format, two Mana Confluence, and some forests to make sure we get our mana dorks out turn one where they’re best. 


In the sideboard, we have Duress to help against less creature-focused decks, Fatal Push for low-to-the-ground creature decks, and Despark to take care of just about any high-cost permanent our opponent might have. Noxious Grasp catches permanents like Teferi or Lovestruck Beast and Kambal punishes spell-based decks. Knight of Autumn gives us lots of options, working either as a beater, a source of lifegain, or a Reclamation Sage. Leyline of the Void gives us yet another way to deal with graveyard decks, which Kaya can also help with. Lastly, Nissa, Vital Force gives us a little bit of ramp, some extra damage, and a way to recur permanents in especially grindy matchups.


  • If you’re trying to force an Avacyn flip, you can try to put multiple +1/+1 counters on an accompanying creature, since they’ll want to remove that creature to stop all the damage, and they can’t do that without triggering Avacyn’s temper unless they get rid of Avacyn first.
  • Another way to draw out Aavcyn’s rage, if you’re really desperate, is just to point a removal spell at one of your creatures (or use Vraska’s +1). It won’t usually be the best play, but there are scenarios (Despark in hand, an army of small creatures on your opponent’s board) where it could help.
  • If you’re dumping +1/+1 counters on a creature, go for Siege Rhino if you’ve got a Questing Beast on board. Generally, Questing Beast is probably the bigger target, so putting counters on Rhino diversifies your threats, especially since Rhino has trample.
  • Avacyn can be flashed in in a pinch for a surprise boost to a Voice of Resurgence token.

Extra Spice

  • Heroic Intervention can be a good way to protect your board for relatively little mana investment if you need it.
  • Rishkar's Expertise is an expensive, yet potentially effective way to get some extra card draw. Drawing 3+ and casting a Siege Rhino or Questing Beast to back it up is a good deal, although making it to that stage of the game does get harder when you swap out your cheaper cards with a six mana spell.
  • Assassin's Trophy is fantastic removal, and can get rid of just about anything our opponent throws at us for just two mana.
  • For graveyard hate, Scavenging Ooze is a classic. It empties the opponent’s graveyard, gains us life, and makes itself bigger for just a single green mana each time.

Siege Rhino (and by extension Abzan) is a ton of fun, and every time I get to play it I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t get back to using it sooner. This deck gets to use a ton of efficient spells, play some of the best beaters in Magic, and does so ahead of the curve thanks to its mana dorks. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned midrange deck to play around with, this just might be the deck for you.