I’m a longtime naysayer of Azorius Control. If I’m backing it, you know it’s a good deck.
Azorius Control needs two things to be successful:
1. A traditional Azorius Control deck would contain ways to stay alive (like countermagic, spot removal, sweepers, and lifegain); some card advantage; and some win conditions. Modern is flush with some of those and lacking in others, but Azorius Control seems to get more and more tools with each set.
Okay, that’s technically many things, but it speaks more to what the deck must have in order to be functional. “Be functional” doesn’t convey quite as clean of a picture.
2. Closing games is typically one of the weakest points for control decks in Modern. Without hard countermagic and an engine, it’s difficult to take full control of a game. You’re decent at stopping yourself from dying, but then have to spend five turns killing your opponent with Celestial Colonnade and hoping they don’t find a way to kill you.
This has gotten easier with the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and the printing of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, since a card drawing engine will allow you to keep control as long as you find enough counterspells. However, it’s still something to be concerned about.
There are two big reasons why I’m suddenly a believer in Azorius.
Teferi, Time Raveler stops cascade and suspend, is insane in mirror matchups, and allows you to tap out at the end of your opponent’s turn with impunity. It also gives you an out to problematic permanents, lessening the need for Detention Sphere. You can even use it to cast sweepers on your opponent’s turn, preventing them from flashing in a creature via Aether Vial and immediately presenting another clock.
There are basically a million things Teferi, Time Raveler can do in the context of Modern, including many interactions I probably haven’t seen yet. One fancy interaction that seems gimmicky, but that I actually happen to be a fan of, is the one with Knowledge Pool.
With Teferi, Time Raveler and Knowledge Pool on the battlefield, your opponent can no longer resolve spells. As far as win conditions go, this one is pretty damn good. It might seem like a meme, but you want Teferi, Time Raveler in your deck anyway. Magic Online player InspectorGadget was the first person I saw use the Knowledge Pool combo, so shout-outs to them.
Then there’s multi-format all-star Narset, Parter of Veils. Plenty has been said about this card already and we’re not doing anything really crazy with it. If your opponent can’t remove it, it’s Dig Through Time with a good static ability. She also has the bonus of occasionally making your opponent’s deck non-functional.
Given all that, here’s my decklist.
Azorius Control decks started playing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria because it allowed you to cast a threat and still hold open a counterspell on Turn 5. Given that the new planeswalkers accomplish roughly the same thing, Teferi is less important. Also, with access to the ultimate prison, there’s less necessity for Teferi in general. Granted, neither of the three-mana planeswalkers is as strong as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but they’re also castable for three mana.
With a pile of planeswalkers, you don’t need to kill every single threat your opponent casts. You should be focused on protecting your planeswalkers because eventually they will carry you to victory. Given that, we should be playing Timely Reinforcements. I used this strategy to good effect when Nahiri, the Harbinger was released in Modern.
Similarly, Wall of Omens is a fine choice in a deck with three-mana planeswalkers. It also turns Path to Exile into a playable card against creatureless decks. Plus, it gives you some early velocity, helping to ensure you have three land and a planeswalker on Turn 3.
You obviously want some sweepers, and I’m in the camp of the traditional four-mana sweepers, split between Wrath of God and Supreme Verdict because of Meddling Mage. Terminus is fine and all but doesn’t have much synergy with cards that draw cards on your turn, such as either Teferi or Narset. Clearly you can swap Serum Visions for Opt and use Jace, the Mind Sculptor to potentially set up a miracle, but that’s not worth it.
If the format dictates that you need Terminus to handle early aggression, it probably means you shouldn’t be playing Azorius in the first place. The four-mana sweepers are consistent and do the trick, so there’s little reason to play the high-variance Terminus. Obviously there’s upside when you manage to miracle Terminus early, but again, it’s not worth it.
Search for Azcanta is likely outmoded at this point. I don’t see a reason to return to a more traditional control deck while these planeswalkers are legal, so Search for Azcanta might be done in Modern. Many people are playing Opt instead of Serum Visions because of Narset. That’s a reasonable concern, but Teferi, Time Raveler can help you play around it by allowing you to cast Serum Visions on your opponent’s turn.
I’d be more than fine with shaving another copy of Cryptic Command. When you’re tapping out nearly every turn, a four-mana counterspell loses much of its usefulness. Of course, Cryptic Command is much more than just a counterspell, but it’s still a clunky card in a deck that should otherwise be lean.
While mostly an upgrade to Negate, Dovin’s Veto doesn’t necessarily have to take all the slots Negate would otherwise occupy. There is a real opportunity cost when your deck contains copies of Field of Ruin. Since Dovin’s Veto has enough upside, I’m willing to make sacrifices to the manabase in order to feel comfortable with multiple copies in my deck. Playing a Ghost Quarter or a Blast Zone would be nice, but the upside of Dovin’s Veto over Negate seems worth that sacrifice.
Not only do you get an incredible turnaround in the Ad Nauseam matchup, but you also get to do things like tap low for a planeswalker, knowing you can stop your opponent’s planeswalker, regardless of whether they have countermagic of their own.
Azorius Control currently wants some one-mana countermagic, especially since you’d like to cast a three-mana planeswalker on Turn 4 and be able to protect it to some degree. To that end, Spell Pierce wins out over Spell Snare, especially once you consider the Tron matchup. Spell Pierce is also stronger in mirror matches.
A couple of copies of Logic Knot are normal at this point and I have some extra fetchlands to support them. Given the plethora of planeswalkers, and therefore a lack of cards going to the graveyard, Logic Knot could use the help.
The plethora of planeswalkers also means there are few spells for Snapcaster Mage. Any deck with Serum Visions, Path to Exile, and counterspells can afford to play a couple of copies, but there’s no reason to overdo it with four copies.
The Teferi, Time Raveler / Knowledge Pool combo doesn’t seem good enough to maindeck both copies at the moment, but it seems worth having access to. You can bring in the second Knowledge Pool against decks that can’t deal with Teferi, Time Raveler, making for an easy win. You also want it against decks that you need to lock out as soon as possible, such as Tron. Knowledge Pool is a dead card until you’re ready to win the game, but it’s a game-changer.
My sideboard contains extra copies of some of the maindeck tools, such as Timely Reinforcements, Knowledge Pool, and Dovin’s Veto. The rest of it contains an anti-aggro tool in Lyra Dawnbringer; a sweeper that isn’t affected by Gaddock Teeg or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in Cataclysmic Gearhulk; and some much-needed graveyard hate.
Vendilion Clique is a potentially maindeckable card. It attacks planeswalkers, protects yours, and helps force them through. That said, there’s already a reasonable win condition in the maindeck, and while the synergy with Narset is adorable, it’s not something you need. The three-drop slot is crowded and Vendilion Clique is the weakest of the bunch. That said, you absolutely want it in many matchups.
My Tron hate consists of Ceremonious Rejection, but that might be too narrow. Again, having one-mana countermagic to go with planeswalkers is awesome. Tron is a huge portion of the metagame and a scary matchup, and thanks to Karn, the Great Creator, there might be more decks where Ceremonious Rejection is relevant.
Finally, we have some Celestial Purges. A catch-all for difficult-to-remove permanents is nice, and some of the scariest cards happen to be black or red. It’s basically a metagame call, but so is everything else.
If you’re looking for something a little wilder, this is something I’ve been working on that might be the future.
Mishra’s Bauble is a nice Terminus enabler, which Marc Tobiasch used to good effect alongside Monastery Mentor. With Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, a Mishra’s Bauble build might make sense again. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have anything worth using Saheeli’s -2 ability on, but I’m sure there’s something I’m overlooking. For now, cashing in Servos for cards by copying a Mishra’s Bauble will have to be enough.
Any excuse for cutting the clunky cards like Celestial Colonnade or Cryptic Command makes me happy. While I’d go with a more traditional build for this weekend, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the more distinctive builds of Azorius Control that pop up. There’s something here.
Will Azorius Control take down #SCGKY? Honestly, I’m guessing not, mostly because it takes a while for new cards to make their way into Modern. If the Azorius Control decks that see play this weekend are of the more traditional variety, I wouldn’t be surprised, but I cannot recommend a version with the new planeswalkers enough, regardless of whether you want to lean on Knowledge Pool.
Either way, we’ll find out soon.