Does Azorius have a chance in the current meta? Let's break this deck down and see!
I get tired of "the meta" pretty quickly. Especially once nearly every game I play is against an opponent who is playing a deck I can reliably predict. When you play as many brews as I do, you can find yourself losing a lot of games - it's not disheartening, it's part of the "process." Bant Krasis: Broken Snooze Fest. Mono-White Weenie: boring since 1996. Experimental Red: enough Red already. So, when we begin to enter the doldrums, how do we keep things fun and interesting? Switch formats? Perhaps - probably not. Find a new hobby? Definitely not. No, no, it's about diligence and persistence. We can still find deck lists that are fun and competitive, right?
Yes, I think so. I have been working on this brew for the better part of a week. I have played close to 40 matches with it, and I have around a 72% win ratio. I still think it needs tuning; our mainboard answers to control are not all that great, but our sideboard swings that match up in our favor. This deck is highly resilient, can start explosively, and has a strong mid-game. Most of all, I need your feedback. Please help.
I had challenged DBoe to build a deck around Azor, the Lawbringer in The Sideboard last week. I've basically beaten him to the punch. You're off the hook, DBoe. Azor is a very powerful legendary creature; he is a 6/6 for 6 mana that locks your opponent from removal for their next turn guaranteeing you a swing, and use of his ability to Sphinx's Revelation. Being able to gain life and refill our hand is of critical importance to the resiliency of this deck. Azor is not a "combo piece" in this deck, rather he is our top end and a reliable finisher. I chose to name the deck after him due to his ability to help us stabilize and pull ahead time and again. There is not a creature or Planeswalker that is not susceptible to Vraska's Contempt, but Azor does and will win.
Aim High, Fly-Fight-Win...
Healer's Hawk may be the most useful (best) one drop in Standard at the moment. I have elected to include four copies in this deck; it helps us recoup life from a turn one untapped Hallowed Fountain, it is the perfect target for Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants' +1 and -2 loyalty abilities, and it represents early and often flying (evasive) damage to our opponents. I have even hypothesized about the possibilities of using Healer's Hawk as an anchor in an equipment and auras deck. Just a great creature - glad it's a common:
Siren Stormtamer is an obvious choice for our early flying aggro strategy. This card is a highly-played uncommon; it has the ability to counter spells and abilities that target us and creatures we control for the low-low cost of one blue mana (and sacrificing it). This ability answers a number of circumstances: Settle the Wreckage, Duress, Divest, Thought-Erasure, Unmoored Ego, and a pile of removal and direct damage spells. Ajani can help us recur this effect - perfect for our deck. I am not 100% sold on Silverbeak Griffin; I include three copies in this list because it is a 2/2 flyer for 2 mana, can be brought back by Ajani, and helps us start off the aggro plan. I would love suggestions for a better two drop. Maybe, Remorseful Cleric seems good?
Azorius Is Glorious
It has taken repetition, match up variance, and mistakes with Deputy of Detention to understand its finite strategy. Putting a permanent under detention early can be just as important as timing the exile trigger with counterspell backup later in the game. I went back and forth in testing because of how frail this creature is against removal heavy decks. Granted, we are achieving one for one interactions, which is what we want at times, but it never feels good to exile one or more permanents and then lose that progress to a Lightning Strike when we are behind. Deputy of Detention would be an outstanding card as a 1/4, but its not. It's a 1/3, that needs to be tactically deployed to give yourself an edge. A deep understanding of the meta helps.
Starting the game with a trigger to scry 3 cards is better than it may initially seem - you are opening the game with access to 10 cards to your opponents 7. Each time I have had the opportunity to use this ability I have felt as if I have had a decided advantage in smoothing my curve and fixing my mana. A 4/4 flyer for 4 mana is nothing to scoff at, and a persistent scry trigger during our upkeep replaces the Search for Azcanta mechanic Standard Azorius decks really crave. The nature of blue and white decks is to answer threats while producing your own. To deliberately time your plays to lock out or stagnate your opponents progress and game plan. In keeping with a tempo game plan I feel that Sphinx of Foresight is perfect for this list. One of Azor's trusted foot soldiers.
Lyra Dawnbringer is in the running for "the most well-rounded and capable" creature in Standard. Our deck gains us life in passive ways as the game unfolds, and when our opponents are focused on trying to trade with us in combat or remove our early flying threats, an on curve Lyra can be a Godsend. She can pull you from the depths and bring you back from the brink. More than anything else she is the best defensive measure our deck has for our Planeswalkers. If you need to, go ahead and flip her sideways and punish your opponent a little. A ten point life total swing on each combat will surely demand that your opponent answer Lyra expediently or suffer unwanted destruction. Best part is, when the stars align, she is on curve to Azor.
The Tempo, The Trickery, & The Toilet Bowl
We are running 10 one and two drop flying creatures, 26 lands, and 4 copies of Chart a Course. This is not a new strategy, Chart a Course has been played in tens of competitive lists since it was printed in Ixalan. It is an absolute necessity for us to be drawing cards in this deck - we have to draw because the meta tells us that there are answers in control for a deck like ours, and we need to be able to stand up to fast aggro. Thankfully, Chart a Course feels perfectly at home here. Keep your hand full of cards - cast this spell as often as you possible can, with the exception of needing to time a counterspell:
Tempo moves into Trickery for us with Depose//Deploy. The simple act of tapping a creature at the right moment during a game can spell doom for your opponent; if you need to buy some time or gain some life with an Ajani pumped Healer's Hawk then a copy of Depose can be indispensable. As I mentioned before we have the ability to stabilize well with this deck; Deploy generates two flying blockers (or attackers on endstep) and gains us a life for each creature we control. Deploy gives us options in the utility department. As for Absorb, well, we need a mainboard counterspell (to toilet our opponents spells), and this one is at the very least, useful. I like the life gain and hard counter, but I'm not sure, even after extensive testing, that we shouldn't be running Syncopate mainboard and move these 3 copies of Absorb to the sideboard. Your feedback would help. Play this list and help me out.
A White-Maned Lion & A Vedalken Wizard Walk Into A Bar...
I like decks that unfold in front of my opponents, and this is a deck that has an original game plan that doesn't directly foretell the end result. Our one and two drop flyers quickly become a formidable air force with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants boosting their power and toughness on his +1 loyalty ability. His -2 ability is dynamic in that we get to recur a Healer's Hawk or a Silverbeak Griffin, but more importantly we get multiple uses out of the Siren Stormtamer; we can counter an ability or spell that targets us or a creature we control, and then bring it right back to replace the defensive layer. Deputy of Detention needs a buddy like Siren Stormtamer - think about it. It's a cyclical synergy that works very well for us. Ajani's ultimate is okay too - ;).
A list like mine is not likely the best or smartest use of Dovin, Grand Arbiter. No, at this point, we probably don't have all of the material we need to truly make him spectacular, but we can sure try. Our approach with Dovin in this list is two fold: firstly, we are chasing his ultimate. It is back-breaking, destructive and designed explicitly to win you the game. Secondly, he provides us in times of stability with easier ways to get to the -7, and also gives us a defensive measure in a Thopter and an uptick on the life total. I have had scenarios where I was able to ultimate Dovin as early as turn 5, and boy does it feel great to refill my hand with exactly those cards I need to take over a game. He fits in our deck, adds layers of options and defense, but I don't know if he's A+.
"What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes." - Harry Houdini
In almost every bad match up we have our opponent is playing control. Esper Control, Bant Control, Stuff with Teferi and mainboard counterspells. Bringing the Law is designed to chew up and spit out aggro decks - Gruul, Rakdos, RDW, and BR Burn all have a very tough time winning against this list, and frankly that's the nature of Azorius. It wins (or should win) against aggro strategies. Azorius Tempo has always been that way, and hopefully the design teams remain faithful in future sets.
On To Our Sideboard Options:
We have to swing into a purpose built control methodology to effectively win certain games. Which means we are protecting our top end and stripping out some of the aggro strategy. We can also, keep in the early game creature/Ajani engine, and strip out our top end to bring in control and one sided board wipes. Ixalan's Binding and Settle the Wreckage are standards best answers in white.
Shortly after Ixalan's printing, Tocatli Honor Guard was sitting in bulk in the $0.25 bin at your local game store. Now, with the abundance of ETB triggers creatures are bringing to Standard, the card is beginning to see a fair amount of play. Mostly in the sideboard. Any Sultai or Golgari deck should be met on the battlefield by the Honor Guard. Swap out your Silverbeaks and pop in this creature to effectively eliminate abilities from Ravenous Chupacabra, Wildgrowth Walker, Jadelight Ranger, Merfolk Branchwalker, Knight of Autumn, etc. Ajani, helps us keep this creature alive, and the effect in place, by further buffing an already healthy toughness. I am a big fan of this card, and it is interesting that it has taken 18 months for it to be effective.
How do we respond to control? By becoming the "control." 6 additional counterspells in our sideboard to solidify our tempo strategy. I have dropped the creatures in this deck in favor of counters; I have dropped the spells down in favor of counters. Syncopate and Negate get the job done. We add some "No." You need to be aware of your opponent's list and potential answers before adjusting.
I look forward to our next meeting...
I'll be back with a new brew next Wednesday, Matt's first podcast is tomorrow, and DBoe will dropping a brand new brew this Friday!
I hope you enjoy this deck, take it to Arena or FNM and give a go. You won't be disappointed. I haven't felt behind once while playing it, even when I was losing.
Until next time, play a Hallowed Fountain turn one, take 2 damage, drop a Healer's Hawk, and say go!