Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Making Magic in the Arena - Azorius Control

Standard has been broken wide open. With Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time, and Veil of Summer sitting comfortably on the ban list, half of the top tier competitive decks have been obliterated overnight and the field is wide open for new strategies to take over.

My plan was to bite the bullet and play Sultai Food prior to the announcement. Now that the bannings have taken effect, I figured now is the best time to give an old-school Azorius Control deck a shot. It might not seem novel, but when Veil of Summer was legal, counterspells were impossible to run, completely eliminating the strategy.

Let's see how well we do with this decklist from MTGGoldfish.

Like any control deck, our goal is mostly to stall the game long enough for us to take over with high cost bombs and superior card draw, dealing with threats to our plans as they appear.

The easiest way to address problems, of course, is to counter them before they hit the board in the first place. To facilitate that, we have a robust suite of counter-magic. Dovin's Veto exists to neutralize the threat of a counter war, and Absorb can help with incidental lifegain. Mystical Dispute mostly exists as an artifact of the Oko-era, where a deck like this needed a quick single-mana answer to a turn two Oko. Since this video was recorded, I swapped them out for Sinister Sabotage for both the Surveil effect and to have a counter-spell that can still function well into the late game.

In the event that something dangerous does slip our net, we do have ways of dealing with that as well. Brazen Borrower can be played as the instant, Petty Theft, to bounce a piece back to our opponent's hand and make it vulnerable to one of our counterspells once more. And even if we lack a counter, it can disrupt their tempo to buy us some additional time.

For spot-removal, we have Prison Realm to target creatures and, importantly, planeswalkers. On top of that, the Scry 1 allows us to filter our draws ever so slightly. In terms of board clears, we have 4 copies of Time Wipe. Not only does this deal with the threat of an aggressive opponent, it also allows us to return either Brazen Borrower or one of big bombs to our hand to use their enter-the-battlefield abilities one more time.

Teferi, Time Raveler is another key piece is this area, doing everything a control deck could want from a planeswalker short of a win condition. Not only does his passive prevent our opponent from casting any spells at all during our turn, but it shuts down all of their counterspells since they can only be played at instant speed. Even though most of our spells are already instants, his +1 also gives us much more flexibility, letting us wait before we commit to casting key spells like Time Wipe. With his -3, not only can be bounce key threats off the board for tempo, or our own pieces for reuse, but we also accumulate card draw for doing so.

And as far as card draw is concerned, both Gadwick, the Wizened and Chemister's Insight will keep our hands as full as we need them to. Although Gadwick's triggered ability won't come it play too often, the fact that he's a  3/3 body can give us a way to close a game if all other options fail by swinging in turn after turn once we've locked down the board. In the case of Chemister's Insight, we can transform late game land drops we no longer need into playable cards we do. While it isn't card draw in the strict sense, Castle Vantress serves a similar purpose with it's repeatable Scry 2.

In terms of ways we can close the game, we have several options. Our Brazen Borrowers are one such option, but another is our Cavalier of Gales. The ability to manipulate our hand when in enters-the-battlefield is nice, but more importantly it is a 5/5 flyer that can attack for a swift kill in a few turns. If we're feeling more... insidious, we can also use Agent of Treachery and/or Mass Manipulation to rob out opponents of their big win condition and use it against them to close out the game. The agent can also be bounced back to our hand with Time Wipe, Teferi, or our Borrower to use multiple times if we need to. Barring all of that, we can use Castle Ardenvale to create enough 1/1 Humans to end the game once we've established control.

Some players find control boring, but it's one of my favorite playstyles. For that reason, I have a ton of fun playing this deck and I hope you do as well.

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