Azorius Control Deck Guide

DarthJacen breaks down the more recent 60-card version of Azorius Control, which is better tuned to counter the current meta than its 80-card counterpart.

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Sixty-card Shuffle

Long ago, we had formats dominated by answers, as the threats lagged too far behind and couldn’t provide immediate value. Over time, threats became more resilient and control took a back seat – waiting for a control-slanted threat to outpace these newer, more powerful creature threats. Cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and now The Wandering Emperor have swung the equation back into control’s favor to a degree, even as more powerful threats continue to challenge that dynamic.

We’ve seen the rise of Azorius Control in Pioneer several times as both a Yorion, Sky Nomad deck and now a sixty-card main deck tuned to target the various top decks of the Pioneer metagame. As the de facto best control deck of the Pioneer format, it’s time to dive into this updated sixty-card version that drops some of the card selection and top-end wraths in exchange for more maindeck counterspells and ways to survive the often-aggressive Pioneer metagame.

Let’s get into it!

Deck Breakdown

Planeswalkers and Threats

No matter how long it has been since the printing of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, it always warrants discussion as one of the reasons Azorius Control come back into favor in Pioneer among other formats. One of the recurring issues control decks had been closing out the game from a point of advantage or widening the gap enough once they started to pull ahead. Teferi does that easily by flooding you with extra cards, giving you a mana advantage, dealing with problematic permanents, and has a back-breaking ultimate that takes some special edge-cases to beat.

There are few cards in Pioneer that can induce the same level of groan as a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria coming down on an empty board, drawing a card, and then holding up Dovin's Veto to protect it from any Planeswalker removal. Many a game that felt close suddenly feel unwinnable when trying to navigate against a Teferi. Even as a removal spell that eats some extra damage, Teferi does a great job of warping the game around it – and that’s something control desperately needed.

While Teferi helped to bring control back to the forefront, it still wasn’t performing as a top deck until the addition of The Wandering Emperor in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. That set gave Azorius plenty of tools we will discuss later, but also gave another Planeswalker that can threaten the opponent, exile problematic creatures, or create an army of blockers to ensure your opponent must over-extend into a wrath effect.

Not only does The Wandering Emperor do it all, but she also has flash, enabling a more draw-go style play pattern where you could have an end-step threat, Memory Deluge, a counterspell, removal, or more, making it very difficult for opponents to correctly play around your hand at any given time. This gives you a much better ability to disguise your gameplan, meaning opponents will walk into potentially tough choices without free information. While it is difficult for The Wandering Emperor to close out the game by herself, she is a great set-up threat to delay the game and get you to your final victory conditions.

Azorius Control remains a powerful deck in Pioneer that continues to put up strong results, and the top players of the archetype continue to put up great finishes that illustrate the power of this deck in Pioneer right now.

Next up, we have the first non-Planeswalker threat in Shark Typhoon. This card has been a control finisher since its printing in Ikoria. Being able to cycle to help find lands and more spells while also trading with or eating opposing creatures gives Azorius an easy means to pull ahead of opponents. Once you hit the mid to late game, you can make impressively large sharks to threaten Planeswalkers or the opponent’s life total.

While you can sometimes hard-cast Shark Typhoon, leveraging the versatility of getting a large shark without costing a card generally plays better, but knowing when to hard-cast can win you some games, so always be thinking about how the card plays in each matchup and the opponent’s removal suite.

Finally, we have the classic control threat of a creature land that can take over the game once you’ve dealt with the opponent’s board and left them with few resources to work with. Hall of Storm Giants has quickly risen to all-star status, giving an incredibly fast clock to close out mid to late games and can also threaten opposing Planeswalkers. The ward ability gives Hall some resilience to interaction and especially makes it tough for opponents to maintain development of their gameplan while holding up four-plus mana to interact with your land that you don’t need to animate.

Hall gives the deck a great way to close out the game and allows you to run no creatures in the main deck, while still having a faster closing speed than the old Teferi, Hero of Dominaria decks of old that could feasibly end a match in game one.

Removal

Surprisingly for a control deck, Azorius doesn’t use too much traditional removal, instead opting to leverage counterspells, Planeswalkers, and wrath effects to do much of the heavy lifting. However, you do still need some early interaction, especially against the various elf decks or aggro decks in the format. Leveraging the power of Portable Hole and March of Otherworldly Light, Azorius can deal with troublesome permanents and even do so in the mid to late game, thanks to March scaling into the later parts of the game, with Portable Hole being a convenient card to discard to max out your X costs.

While Portable Hole doesn’t scale as well into the mid to late game, it is an easy side-out against larger decks and can still hit powerful permanents out of midrange decks like the goblin token from Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, opposing Sharks, or various Cats or Ovens that may be causing you issue. It is a versatile card that enables you to survive most early games and is a key factor in Azorius getting to the midgame near enough to parity to survive.

Counterspells

One of the major reasons that Azorius Control leverages some powerful threats to close out the game is because the quality of counterspells in Pioneer is a little lacking. Azorius leverages the best counterspells we have, but in the context of other formats’ control decks, the tools we have are a little underpowered. Absorb will get the job done. Three-mana counter target spell and gain three life helps you to survive against the various Aggro decks and can buy you some time. While obviously we’d like to leverage a two-mana counterspell as the main means of interaction – especially with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria – Absorb is the best tool for the job right now.

Other than Absorb, the counterspell suite changes a little depending on what decks you are trying to deal with at the moment. Dovin's Veto is one of the strongest counterspells in the format, but as creature-centric decks rise in the metagame, you want to split your copies between the main and side to avoid needing interaction and dying with Veto in hand versus an Aggro deck. In matchups where Dovin's Veto is good, it is one of the best cards you can have, so it is an easy four-of inclusion, but most of the time, not all the copies can make it main.

While Absorb and Veto are more powerful counterspells, Azorius leverages the versatility of Censor to punish early decks that can’t delay their sequencing by countering on-curve spells, or you can cycle it to help find more relevant answers or lands. The Yorion version of Azorius leveraged Jwari Disruption in this slot, since it could double as a land, but the ability to churn through your smaller deck makes Censor the better option in this version of Azorius.

Wraths

We recently saw the printing of Supreme Verdict onto Arena through the Explorer Anthologies and it was a big upgrade for that deck. In Pioneer, we’ve always been using Supreme Verdict as the sweeper of choice out of Azorius Control to ensure that when you need a wrath to stabilize the board, there aren’t any conditions to it and that cards like Mystical Dispute can’t disrupt it. While cards like Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit can cause issues, otherwise, there aren’t many things that can prevent your wrath from playing out as intended thanks to the can’t be countered clause of Supreme Verdict – and that is a key reason the deck has continued to use this wrath effect.

But, like most wraths, Supreme Verdict only cares about creatures. So, how does Azorius deal with various other difficult-to-answer permanents? The deck has started playing one to two copies of Farewell to deal with Artifacts, Creatures, Enchantments, and graveyards, all of which are prominent card types or strategies featured in the format. Especially against decks like Rakdos Midrange, being able to answer a variety of threats all at once can be one way to mitigate their catch-up mechanics, like leveraging Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger.

Memory Deluge

In the sixty-card version of Azorius, there aren’t many ways to pull ahead in the midgame through pure card advantage. A lot of your cards trade one-for-one before you try to get value out of your Planeswalkers or Wraths as your forms of card advantage. The only main deck card that gives you a degree of card selection and advantage in this version is Memory Deluge. Since its printing, we have seen Deluge as a powerful resource engine for control decks, allowing you to play at instant speed and get multiple instances of card advantage.

Like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, if your opponent passes the turn on an even board and you play a Memory Deluge or flash it back, it feels like they have instantly lost the game. This card enables other cards like The Wandering Emperor, your counterspells, and removal to hide in plain sight all while not falling behind on tempo.

Castles and Channel Lands

These value lands have been great additions to Azorius Control since their printing. The two Castles, Castle Ardenvale and Castle Vantress, give the deck even more late game power as you have access to powerful Scrying and chump blocking or threat creation for five mana. These powerful effects help again allow you to disguise your hand as you could be playing a Planeswalker, cycling a Shark Typhoon, or Scrying at any time in the mid to late game.

The addition of the Channel lands from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty also allow the deck to have additional spells in your land slots, giving you flexible interaction that means that of your 26 main deck lands, two are removal, two are value engines, two can destroy other lands, four can cycle, and two are threats on their own. This gives you a ton of extra value for having to play above the average land count for a deck, especially with only sixty cards. The addition of more lands with extra value helps to push these control decks even further ahead of decks that can’t fit beneficial lands into their plans.

60 Cards vs 80 Cards

The intricacies of why we have seen sixty-card control rise back up to prominence now versus the eighty-card control that was dominant in previous metagames deserves an entire article to breakdown. The biggest reason (though, an oversimplification) is that the matchup spreads of the two decks line up better against the current metagame for sixty cards instead of eighty.

The eighty-card version is better against the mirror and any midrange deck that can’t go completely over the top of you. Conversely, against decks where you need to reliably find specific answers on time, the sixty-card version excels. In the current metagame, many of the top decks apply linear pressure and just want to play their gameplan, ignoring what you are doing to get under some of the bigger decks of the format. To combat this, control needs to streamline to better ensure they find a consistent mix of counterspells, wraths, and threats, without overindulging on mid to late game effects.

If the metagame shifts back towards more pure control or when Rakdos Midrange is consistently the top deck to fight, then the eighty-card version makes more sense as you have more flexibility in your late-game answers, more card selection, and a better time ensuring you don’t run out of resources. For now though, most the top decks outside of Rakdos Midrange require control to move back towards the sixty-card version that ensures more interaction early and less focus on mid to late game plays outside of your Planeswalkers and Memory Deluge, so that you can close out the game before the opponent can find their footing after your early disruption.

Sideboard Guide

Rakdos Midrange

In: +1 Dream Trawler, +1 Farewell, +1 Hullbreaker Horror, +2 Narset, Parter of Veils

Out: -1 Dovin’s Veto, -4 Censor

Matchup Feel: Very close, but Rakdos favored on sixty-cards

Matchup Approach: This matchup is tough. One of the places where you most miss the tools of the eighty-card deck is against Rakdos Midrange. All their cards are two-for-ones, and it is hard to ever pull ahead, especially if a Planeswalker or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker resolves. For that reason, I prefer to be more of a tap-out control deck, leveraging big threats that are hard to remove, extra Planeswalkers, and Farewell, which is a much better wrath effect in this matchup.

You need to stop early aggression and mid-to-late game powerful plays and without access to ways to smooth your draw and recover from discard effects, it can be especially tricky. The increase in Dreadbore and Invoke Despair also makes sticking Planeswalkers tougher in this matchup, so choose your spots carefully on when to jam your less-evasive threats. Your strongest threat in the matchup is Dream Trawler and I’d even consider a second copy for the sideboard if you are concerned about this matchup, though as mentioned, Invoke Despair can make your big six-mana play look a little silly if you don’t have any extra creatures lying around after you cast Dream Trawler.

Heroic

In: +2 Aether Gust, +1 Farewell

Out: -3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Matchup Feel: Good, but can be tough if you fail to find your wrath effects

Matchup Approach: Targeted removal can be tricky in this matchup, since they have several protection effects, but your best tools are the one-mana pieces of removal in March and Portable Hole alongside the various wraths in your deck. Illuminator Virtuoso can quickly get out of hand, so don’t be afraid to wrath it immediately to ensure they can’t race you early. Save a piece of removal for Adanto Vanguard as well, given that it can survive wraths, you need to try and line up your spot removal with their hard to answer threats and allow your wraths to sweep up everything else.

Mirror

In: +2 Dovin's Veto, +2 Narset's Reversal, +2 Mystical Dispute, +1 Hullbreaker Horror, +2 Narset, Parter of Veils

Out: -4 Portable Hole, -1 March of Otherworldly Light, -3 Supreme Verdict, -1 Farewell

Matchup Feel: It’s a mirror, 50/50. Unfavorable versus the Eighty-card version

Matchup Approach: Counter threats. Be wary of fighting on turns where they can untap and slam a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It is nearly impossible to beat a Hullbreaker Horror in the mirror, so keep that in mind as a ticking clock. Most games go very long and requires maneuvering around counterspells, uncounterable threats, and a creature land that kills in three turns. There’s no secret to the mirror, just lots of reps required to learn when to care about certain threats and when to let things go. Play fast and don’t lose to the timer.

UR Phoenix

In: +2 Rest in Peace, +2 Dovin's Veto, +2 Mystical Dispute, +1 Dream Trawler, +1 Hullbreaker Horror, +2 Narset, Parter of Veils

Out: -1 Farewell, -1 Supreme Verdict, -2 March of Otherworldly Light, -4 Absorb, -2 Fateful Absence

Matchup Feel: Close, but slightly favorable

Matchup Approach:  Rest in Peace is a great tool to stunt the top-end cards out of Phoenix, but the best way to approach this matchup is to understand that the various two-drops like Young Pyromancer, Thing in the Ice, and Ledger Shredder are the main threats here. Portable Hole can answer them all and your Planeswalkers, Rest in Peace, and various other effects can keep the Phoenixes proper under control. The hardest starts for Azorius versus Phoenix are the games where they stick an early threat backed up by card draw and interaction. If you can’t kill off a two-drop immediately, expect they will get some value out of it.

Prioritize cards like Rest in Peace highly, but you still need an element of proactivity, or they will simply bide enough time to filter through their now dead cards.

Mono White Humans

In: +1 Dream Trawler, +1 Farewell

Out:  -2 Dovin’s Veto

Matchup Feel:  Close, but favorable

Matchup Approach: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, the various indestructible creatures, and creature lands can cause issues for this deck, but otherwise you are aiming to trade one-for-one when you can, counter key threats, and wrath the board. All your interactive pieces are good here and if you can stop them from resolving anti-control threats like Wedding Announcement, you can easily handle the creature portion of the deck.

Just be sure to keep hands that can deal with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on curve, especially Portable Hole or March of Otherworldly Light. The Wandering Emperor is also great here, but it can’t answer Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, so keep that card in mind when planning your turns.

Mono Red Aggro

In: +2 Aether Gust, +1 Dream Trawler

Out:  -3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Matchup Feel: Close, but unfavorable. You are happier to play against the cleave version than the Chandra, Dressed to Kill version with more burn.

Matchup Approach: Your various lifegain spells are great as they are worth two cards in this matchup. You just want to answer things one-for-one while getting what little extra value as possible before you can lock up the game with The Wandering Emperor, Dream Trawler, or Shark Typhoon. The burn version is tougher as they can leverage chip damage paired with burn to finish you off, especially post-board with various Planeswalkers. Luckily, the cleave version is more popular right now since it has a better Mono Green matchup, and they are a little slower and have less burn and incidental damage.  

Green Devotion

In: +2 Aether Gust, +2 Dovin’s Veto, +1 Farewell

Out: -4 Censor, -1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Matchup Feel: Rough, but much closer on sixty-cards than eighty.

Matchup Approach:  This is another matchup that benefits from slimming down your library to maximize finding key cards. The way to win this matchup is to counter or disrupt everything you can for the first several turns of the game, then stick a threat once they run out of top end threats, then keep refilling with more counterspells.

If the game goes on long enough, green will always draw more threats than you have interactive pieces, so you need to pair your early game interaction with follow up pressure in the form of Planeswalkers or Sharks, otherwise you will eventually find yourself empty handed facing down large green spells.

Mono-Blue Spirits

In: +2 Mystical Dispute, +1 Dream Trawler, +1 Hullbreaker Horror

Out: -3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, -1 Farewell

Matchup Feel: Do you draw Supreme Verdicts? Then it feels great. If not, it is close and requires

Matchup Approach: You are trying to one-for-one with them until they run out of threats or interaction. Much like against red, you just want to keep trading resources until you can establish a larger threat or Supreme Verdict to restart the board. Mono Blue Spirits can get under you and leave you in an uncomfortable position, but Supreme Verdict can really help to swing this matchup in a way that it doesn’t as much against Azorius or Bant spirits.

Lotus Field

In: +2 Aether Gust, +2 Dovin's Veto, +2 Narset's Reversal, +2 Narset, Parter of Veils, +1 Hullbreaker Horror, +2 Mystical Dispute

Out: -2 March of Otherworldly Light, -4 Portable Hole, -3 Supreme Verdict, -1 Farewell, -1 Fateful Absence

Matchup Feel: Rough

Matchup Approach: This is a real rough matchup. Eventually they will get a massive mana advantage and draw towards Thought Distortion. If you can Reversal the Distortion you have a shot, otherwise it is a tough situation where you need to counter all their key spells, not let Lier resolve, and kill them quickly with a deck that has nearly no way to close the game quickly. When I’ve played a lot of Lotus Field, Azorius is one of my favorite matchups and while the sixty-card version is better into Lotus than the eighty-card version, it is still a tough matchup if your Lotus opponent knows how to play the matchup.

Tips and Tricks

·         Field of Ruin requires the opponent shuffles, even if they don’t fetch a basic. This means you can pair it with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to shuffle away an opposing threat.

·         Farewell resolves in order, so if you choose all modes, any creatures under Portable Hole will also get exiled as the Portable Hole goes first, then the creatures are all exiled. This means that you aren’t in danger of returning threats to the opponent through your wrath.

·         Shark Typhoon cares about the Mana Value of a spell, so if you flashback Memory Deluge, paying seven mana, you will still only get a 4/4 shark. On the other hand, X spells’ mana value scales, so if you eleven mana for a March of Otherworldly Light targeting a two-drop, you will get an 11/11 shark.

·         You can cast The Wandering Emperor in response to discard and wait until they attack to use an ability, giving you more options about if you want to make a 2/2, pump a blocker, or exile a threat. However, this does mean they can attack the Planeswalker directly that turn, unlike if you cast it after attackers are declared.

·         Otawara, Soaring City can hit your own permanents, so you can use it to protect Planeswalkers from removal if needed.

·         Try not to cycle your Irrigated Farmlands unless you specifically need a card or have two spare lands already in hand. Once you have seven plus lands, you can start cycling them, but hitting your land drops is very important in this deck, especially so you can play multiple spells in a turn.

·         Narset’s Reversal allows you to return a copied spell to the opponent’s hand and then give you a copy. Versus decks like Arclight Phoenix, this means you can permanently counter and get your own copies of spells copied with Galvanic Iteration.

Wrapping Up

There you have it, a deep dive into the world of Azorius Control. Hopefully you’ve gained some insight into how the blue mages of the world think about their control deck in Pioneer and how to best interact with the format using the controlling tools of the format. Azorius Control remains a powerful deck in Pioneer that continues to put up strong results, and the top players of the archetype continue to put up great finishes that illustrate the power of this deck in Pioneer right now. Now, get out there and keep people from enjoying their gameplan!

Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!

  • Competitive Guide

    Darthjacen has been playing Magic since Dark Ascension and plays Standard, Modern, Pioneer, and Limited. With a Grand Prix win in 2015 and an SCG Team Top 4 in 2019, he continues to pursue competitive Magic at every turn.

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One comment

  1. Thank you very much, it was a very nice article that helped me to try to get back to play control.
    Best regards from Chile!

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