Drafting Azorius in RGD

With Regionals now behind us, it’s time to turn to our Limited game. Qualifiers for Pro Tour Kobe are looming large, and the RGD Draft format is still a confusing miasma of ideas and themes. Today, Nick attempts to shine a torch through the fog, and shows us the strengths – and weaknesses – of basing your drafts in the traditionally control-crazy Blue White Azorius guild. Can the White guys live up to the crushing R/U/G archetype? Nick reveals all…

The initial plan was to talk about Rakdos this week, but I ended up drafting a ton of interesting Azorius based decks over the past seven days and I decided I’d rather cover Azorius first and maybe pick up some new Rakdos stuff for next week. Before I jump in, however, I drafted a deck last Tuesday that was both humorous and insane… and I wanted to share it with you guys.

Not laughing yet? Then I suggest you read back over the deck and see if you can figure out exactly what the combo is.

In all of the triple-Ravnica and RRG drafts I’ve done, I’ve not once come upon or heard anyone mention the combo of Sunforger and Junktroller. Hopefully the wheels are now turning in your head, and you realize that this deck is capable of casting the same Cackling Flames every turn for the low price of five mana. Or did you realize that you can completely lock someone out with Master Warcraft? The only thing this deck is really lacking is some way to search for the Sunforger, such as Transmute. Of course, you could just go the more traditional route to victory, which is playing some dork fliers and then clogging the ground with 0/6s. Did I mention that Guardian of the Guildpact plus Sunforger is one of the most unfair things ever?

Getting back to the actual topic, let’s take a look at some tips for drafting Azorius in RGD.

General Strategy
Let me just make one thing completely obvious; if you’re playing some type of Azorius based deck, your game-plan is probably going to be to win with fliers. Dissension has brought some excellent evasion commons to compliment the already excellent Snapping Drake, Conclave Equenaut, and friends. As usual, I also want to take the microscope to some cards in particular from the first two sets, as well as Dissension.

Wee Dragonauts
I’ll get to this one more specifically in a minute, but for now you should know that this guy is a very good reason to draft UWR and has gone up tremendously in value because of the existence of Psychotic Fury.

Screeching Griffin
Back in triple-Ravnica this guy was awesome in the Boros deck. The only problem with this statement is that the Boros deck wasn’t very good at all, and therefore it didn’t matter how good the Griffin was. Now that the UWR archetype has come full circle, the fact that this guy is unblockable is a big deal for getting through the final few points. It’s worth noting that in the past Sabertooth Alley Cat filled this role in Boros, but is simply too hard to cast in UWR unless you are only playing a small splash of White.

Snapping Drake
There was a pretty heated debate in the forums back in RRG when I wrote that I almost always picked Drift of Phantasms over this guy. The reason of course was that I was drafting UBW or UBR control, and wanted the defensive card much more than I wanted a random flier. Now that the Dimir strategy has been crushed with the loss of another Ravnica booster, the control archetype has also lost some of its power, and I will now almost always take Snapping Drake over Drift! It’s very odd that card values can shift this much with the introduction of just one expansion, but I kid you not, this card went from good to amazing with the inclusion of Dissension.

Lore Broker
I used to play this in most of my mill decks, to some degree of success, and I even believed at one time that it was hugely underrated. For the same reasons that Drift of Phantasms has gone down in value, this guy has suffered even more. Giving your opponent extra cards in this new, aggressive format is an all around bad idea, and I wouldn’t plan on milling anyone out.

Halcyon Glaze
I’ve never liked this card.

Now I find myself first picking it quite often. Noticing a trend?


The format has gone through a complete shift from control being top dog in Ravnica, and now mid-range aggro dominates in the full block. Don’t take my generalizations the wrong way and start playing awful things like Skarrgan Pit-Skulk just because I said aggro is the way to go. Anyway, as far as Glaze goes, I would pick Compulsive Research over it, or any of the top removal spells, but I would probably take Glaze over Brainspoil or something else in that range.

Benevolent Ancestor
I’ve always been a huge fan of this one, and it only gets better when your plan is to win with evasion. This guy stops everything on the ground as well as making combat difficult for your opponent, and I’d never be unhappy to play multiples.

I feel like that is enough of the older cards to get you in the right mindset for drafting Azorius based decks in RGD, though there are plenty of others who’s values have also shifted based on the same concepts.

Plumes of Peace
Many players and writers alike claim to be drafting much more than usual in this block due to the fact that the guilds make it very skill testing and interesting. Despite this, I still see plenty of people underrating this card, when the truth is that it is simply amazing.

Remember how I said that your goal in Azorius is to win through fliers? If you just use the Forecast on this card you will be able to stop opposing fliers that get in the way of your plans. The bonus is that you also get to shut down annoying utility creatures like Viashino Fangtail and Rakdos Ickspitter. This card serves multiple roles in a deck planning to win through evasion.

Withstand has become much more playable now in the full block since the stranglehold of Dimir/Izzet has been lifted a great deal. While I like Withstand in most of my UW decks, I like Carom even more because it’s one mana cheaper and much more versatile. Again, you can shoot down an opposing Ickspitter with this, as well as completely wreck someone in combat, all for two mana. These also tend to come around late, so don’t worry if you have to pass one as you’ll usually get another chance at it and I wouldn’t run more than two copies anyway.

Flying Crossbow of Dooooooooom!

Freewind Equenaut
This guy is perfectly fine as a 2/2 flyer for three. When you’re in Azorius though, you have some powerful Auras as options to abuse his ability. The first of these is the generally mediocre Guardian’s Magemark which you can use as an effective ambush if you are in a situation where it would make sense for your Equenaut to have held back. If you just randomly decide to hold back, you still may get someone who is unaware of what is happening, but the better players will see right through this. The second important Aura here is Ocular Halo, as you can give the Equenaut Vigilance and then either get to shoot down a guy or more likely draw a card on your opponent’s end step after they realize they can’t attack into your Flying Heavy Ballista.

Soulsworn Jury
I don’t really know what to say about this guy, except that I felt like I should mention him because he is so good at everything he does and is never a useless draw. As is usually the case in Magic, the threat is better than the actual execution, and you can really throw someone’s game off track by having this guy out and not countering anything that you can already handle. This will force them to hold back their better guys, or figure another way to get around the Jury.

Stoic Ephemera
This is strictly worse than Fog Elemental (which we just may get to play with again if Wizards releases Weatherlight on MTGO, which I imagine they plan to do), but it is still very good in this format. It is clearly more suited to something like UWB control, but you can also run it in the aggro deck as a way of dealing with big monsters that try to race you while your fliers are doing their job. Don’t even get me started on what happens if you manage to get this guy out with Wakestone Gargoyle and start going on the beatdown with a 5/5 Flyer for three mana.

I also want to note that I’m trying to avoid mentioning obvious cards here, and you should already know that Minister of Impediments is a bomb and Helium Squirter, Guardian of the Guildpact, Azorius First-Wing, and more, are all top picks and excellent cards.

UWR (a.k.a. Weeeeeeeeeee!)
I mentioned Wee Dragonauts above in my list of cards that improved with the inclusion of Dissension, and it has the special characteristic that it not only improved, but also created an entire archetype around itself! If Boros cards are circling around the table late in pack 1, and you have a chance to get into this deck, I would recommend you give it a shot. The idea is to pick up late Rally the Righteous because nobody else wants them anymore, and other random instants, and then pick Wee Dragonauts over virtually everything in Guildpact. Call me crazy, but I’ve won a few drafts using this strategy and never done worse than 2-1 after taking a Dragonauts over Steamcore Weird or Ogre Savant. You would love to have those cards in this archetype as well, but Wee Dragonauts can be easily maximized with the large number of cheap instants in these colors and the printing of Psychotic Fury in Dissension. Dealing eighteen with one Dragonauts on turn 6 or so is a surprising regularity with this deck, if it is drafted correctly. Take a look at a sample list…

Psychotic Fury
This is key that makes Wee Dragonauts so good now. The nice thing about this card is that nobody takes it unless they are in GRB with lots of Golgari Rotwurms/Streetbreaker Wurms/Bloodscales. This leaves it coming to you late, though you should consider taking it higher if there isn’t anything else for you, as you really need it in this archetype. Another thing to keep in mind is that you should be picking up as many creatures to use it on as possible. Azorius First-Wing is fine here, as is the less obvious Centaur Safeguard from Ravnica, who is a house at 3/1 Double Strike. The point is that you may need to cycle it early on and you want to have plenty of targets to do so. On the surface this card is slightly worse than Wildsize, but you can actually draft in such a way to make it much better than the Green Instant.

It’s very true that you can still draft UWR without playing the Wee Dragonauts plan (either you didn’t see any, or took other things over them), I’d rather be able to kill my opponent very quickly with it than let the game go long and lose to his better cards. At any rate, this is certainly one of my favorite archetypes to get into and once I decide to do so I will pick some of the lesser Instants and Sorceries aggressively.

I talked about this archetype last time from a Simic point of view, though you can also end up in a deck that is more based in UW and has a splash for Green. The basic flaw in this idea is that if you’re splashing into your UW deck, you’ll usually want to splash Red or Black so that you can take some removal. The best Green options are probably Wildsize or some type of bomb that you happened to open.

Another way to end up in this deck is to be based in UW in such a way that you have multiple Azorius First-Wings, Plumes of Peace, and Soulsworn Jury and then the higher end of your creature curve is Green guys. All in all I don’t have a whole lot else to say here except that this isn’t one of my favorite archetypes to be in, because the mana costs on the cards tend to clash and the guilds seem to be going in different directions rather than coming together for a greater cause. This one is better avoided if possible, with the only real benefit being that you get to double up on guilds in pack three where the cards are outstanding.

Ah, the control archetype.

The mana was pretty rough on this deck since I didn’t see a single bounceland that I could reasonably take. The other problem is that there are double White spells as well as double Blue costs on Transmute, so I had to just go ahead and run the even split which is something I’m never happy about. This should be a good example of what you are looking for in a UWB deck, though they do tend to be a tad bit more controlling than this one.

Of course the Stoic Ephemera is great here, as well as Vedalken Entrancer and other mill cards (though this could be the only deck they still really shine in). You can either amass an army of fliers quickly for the win, or slowly bleed your opponent to death via milling or something like Pillory of the Sleepless. Transmute is also amazing in the full block, with so many possible things to search for.

If you want more information on how to draft a good UWB control deck, may I refer you to an article I did back in RRG where I covered URB and UWB control in that format, as not much has changed in what you are looking for and I went over most of the good Dissension cards there. All that remains then is for you to implement the Dissension elements into the existing strategy.

Finally, I played in Pittsburgh Regionals this past Saturday, and managed to go undefeated with a rogue deck featuring a ton of Dissension cards. You can expect a report from me in the next couple of days, as well as complete analysis of the deck and sideboarding strategy for the new metagame.

Nick Eisel
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