Food For Thought: Azorius Aggro

I’m back after a period of Dissension goodness, and I’m sure you’re no stranger to its ilk. As I write this, the site is mired in set reviews and predictions. I figure I’ll give you less of the former and more of the latter because, as we well know, “but it’s good in Limited” is one of the worst sins a Magic writer can ever make. Today I’m going to lay down a great deck from the same guild that seems geared for anything but. Do you know who’s the beatdown in Azorius?

Hello again everyone. I’m back after a period of Dissension goodness, and I’m sure you’re no stranger to its ilk. As I write this, the site is mired in set reviews and predictions. I figure I’ll give you less of the former and more of the latter because, as we well know, “but it’s good in Limited” is one of the worst sins a Magic writer can ever make.

Today I’m going to lay down a great deck from the same guild that seems geared for anything but. Do you know who’s the beatdown in Azorius? Allow me to demonstrate.

The Beatdown — U/W Aggro

This deck is pure tempo. That’s Tempo with a capital T. This is a deck that runs on a mass of efficient creatures, a few excellent counterspells, and a lot of technology that was provided by the latest set. Before I talk about how it works and what makes it so good, let’s see that list:

The beauty is in its simplicity. Many times I’ll look at a deck with a dozen one-ofs and wonder exactly how the pieces fit together. Beatdown decks are rarely (if ever) close to complexity. They create clocks, and the faster that clock ticks the better. This one works by resetting the other player’s clock again and again with counters (Spell Snare, Remand), removal (Umezawa’s Jitte), or tempo-oriented creatures that excel over time (Azorius Guildmage, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Ninja of the Deep Hours).

Creature Feature

I’ll begin with the new creatures, as they are the most interesting.

First let me say that Azorius First-Wing is about 1,000 better than Leonin Skyhunter right now, because it has Protection from Seal of Fire. Nothing more, nothing less. While the mana requirements may be “tougher,” when Wizards decides to reprint the dual lands and the pain lands from Apocalypse then you have no room to complain.

Next up we have the best Guildmage, period, in Azorius. She is incredible. I was owning Reanimator (Thought Courier? Three mana, no thanks), I was wrecking Jitte (equip? Try again!), I was rocking Greater Good. This little lady is simply one of the most versatile creatures I’ve ever seen. Not only does she shut down a huge majority of popular decks and styles, she happily clears blockers for an alpha strike.

The Azorius Guildmage is great in both control decks and aggressive decks, which makes her a winner all around. Get used to her ugly mug – you’ll be seeing it a lot in Constructed decks for years to come.

Pride of the Clouds is an incredible card. I’ll admit I wasn’t very impressed with it at first. Who pays four mana for a 1/1 flier? (I do.) Who pays two off-color mana for a 1/1 flier? (I do.) And who has won many games because this Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree on crack kept making guys who can pick up an Umezawa’s Jitte and after 3-4 activations keeps Pride of the Clouds big enough to deal with dragons? (I do.)

To play with him is to love him. While he may seem to favor a control deck, trust me: he does not. What Pride of the Clouds excels at is aggressiveness, and, better yet, he provides the reach necessary (via its Forecast ability) to keep you trucking.

Azorius Herald is just as good as he is touted. Hell, I thought he was four mana for a long time, and even at that price he’s a steal. Not only does he swipe wins away from that pesky Rakdos player hoping to burn you out, he’s a ten-turn clock that must be dealt with or they will lose.

You may laugh, but it’s true: Sometimes it’s hard to get around a 2/1 unblockable. Just note how many players enjoyed winning blue envelopes via Nezumi Cutthroat. Many control decks may use him as a pseudo-Faith’s Fetters (in terms of lifegain), and the fact that he’s also a worthwhile beatstick is just gravy.

Oh, and if you didn’t catch it already, Azorius Herald’s synergy with Ninja of the Deep Hours borders on legendary.

The last addition from Dissension is the meta-breaking Spell Snare. I didn’t think much of this card when it debuted, even though Flores extolled its virtues with wanton abandon. Nevertheless, there are times when it’s straight up terrible, but those times are few and far between. Remember – in a deck that is built on tempo and who can get swings in, the winner is the guy who sticks the important early drops.

I’ll never forget when I Spell Snared my first Umezawa’s Jitte, and neither will you. Good times, good times.

In a deck that is used to pushing its mana to the max, a one-mana counterspell that can trump – in many situations – your only other counterspell, which is more expensive… that’s a card I want to play, and it’s a card you’ll want to play too. Any less than four in this deck would be uncivilized.

As for the stuff we’re used to seeing across the table from us, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails seems to surprise the most players. While I think Rakdos will be a very popular choice (much like Gruul was upon the release of Guildpact), Azorius will most likely be sitting around the top tables as pros just love their control decks, and I’m not excluded from that opinion.

The best part about the Legendary Fox is how well he counterparts the Azorius Guildmage. Most of the time 8.5 is busy turning spells White and countering their effects. But in combat, things are slightly different.

Take, for instance, the ability to get by a single attacker with Ninja of the Deep Hours. If you’re turning Ninja of the Deep Hours White, then turning the opposing attacker White, then giving Ninja protection from White, that’s a total of four mana. Azorius pays three mana and simply taps the creature. If the creature you want to protect is already White (Isamaru, Hound of Konda for instance) then you’ll use the same amount of mana to protect that creature from being blocked as you would tapping a blocker.

Of course, Azorius Herald doesn’t have this problem. Which is why she looks all the more sexy carrying a Jitte. But I digress.

As for how to play this deck, let me give you a few scenarios:

Role Assignment

Let’s do a little exercise. For this exercise, think of a new game that has just begun. You did not win the roll, and they chose to play.

Your hand consists of: Four cards, Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Spell Snare, and Hallowed Fountain. It does not matter what the other four cards are.

Scenario #1

They lay down a Temple Garden, take two, and play Llanowar Elves. What do you do?

Option A — Play Hallowed Fountain untapped and Isamaru, Hound of Konda

This is not, necessarily, the worst play. Your opponent is screaming Greater Good/Ghazi-Glare/Ghazi-Chord, but at the same time they could be ramping up to a second turn Wood Elves. You’re not sure.

The trouble here is them resolving Selesnya Guildmage (which will create hordes of chump blockers) and/or Umezawa’s Jitte, which ends games as we all know.

At the same time, you want to get on the aggressive early so they don’t get a stranglehold on the game with Legendary Dragon Spirits and Loxodon Hierarchs.

The question is why is this better than Option B?

Option B — Play Hallowed Fountain untapped, Say Go

This puts you directly into the control role. Since they don’t know you’re playing weenie aggro, they don’t know whether or not you are foreshadowing a Spell Snare or simply bluffing so you can get Mana Leak online. This (should) cause them to play more cautiously, particularly with two-mana spells as they may be countered.

The problem with foreshadowing Spell Snare with this play is that they will then play around it, which meant you Shocked yourself for no good reason. Matter of fact, you Lighting Bolted yourself, since they can swing for 1 with the Llanowar Elves.

So is this really a lose-lose situation? Would your answer depend on how good the player is, or your perception of them? Feel free to chime in on the forums.

My Pick — Option A

Originally I thought that Option B was the smarter of the two, but I also wasn’t thinking clearly about the upcoming metagame and how important Spell Snare is going to be in it.

When I see a player choose Option B, game 1, when I have seen nothing in their deck, I’m going to try and tempt out that Spell Snare or I’m just going to have to play around it. If that means they’re stuck under an invisible Sphere of Resistance for the rest of the game, that’s fine with me, as again this gives me nothing but tempo.

Scenario #2

They drop a Shivan Reef, take one, and play Sleight of Hand. This is the tell-tale feature of a Magnivore/Wildfire deck.

Option A — Play Hallowed Fountain untapped and Isamaru, Hound of Konda

This is not a bad option because you’re pretty sure of them having a second turn bounce spell. This leaves them with the choice of taking damage in the short term from Isamaru and bouncing Hallowed Fountain, or bouncing the dog and trying to maintain their own combat tempo by removing your own.

Another danger of this option is that they will let you walk right into a deadly Pyroclasm if you’re not careful. But again, Spell Snare would be a champ in that situation.

Option B — Play Hallowed Fountain untapped and say Go

Again, this is assuming the control role. Are you willing to give up your first turn creature for a countered Eye of Nowhere? Because at least 75% of the time, that is what is going to happen.

The benefits of going this route are actually better for your mana development, but not so good for what I’ll dub “Damage Development.” This regards getting threats on the board and keeping up that pressure until they are dead.

The question is: Is their loss of tempo your gain?

My Pick — Option A

This looks like the right play to me. You’re working for quick beats in a timely fashion. While you may have to replay the Isamaru next turn, that is a much better target for you and your mana strapped deck than stopping their bounce spell and then trying to get some sort of clock going for them.

They choose mana advantage or creature tempo, but they can’t choose both. I’m not a Vore player so I can’t detail the right play from that side of the table, but using this deck I know I would drop the threat ASAP and let them make the decision (wisely or otherwise) about how to stop it.

How would you deal with these scenarios, and what is the best course of action when faced with the same hand/options against B/W Aggro, or Rakdos, or Greater Good? Remember: Magic is more fun when there’s a good debate raging. So feel free to chime in.

Special Section — Champs and Chumps You May Have Missed

You know what’s really exciting? Being first. The first guy who noticed that Plagued Rusalka was much better than anyone thought (and, yes, Flores caught it) or that guy who invented Heartbeat as we know it. As for me? I won’t give you a huge diatribe, but I will detail my current underrated gems.

Coiling Oracle — Fantastic, and may just find himself in a Constructed deck. He puts you up on mana (flipping a Karoo is similar to flipping an Ace high straight on the river… or something [/obligatory_poker_reference]) or he simply replaces himself. Meanwhile he can still carry a Jitte, he can still chump block, he can still be underestimated. Fun times in Limited, I think he can make the jump to Constructed with little or no recourse.

Forecast Superstars Steeling Stance and Paladin of Prahv

Most people have put together the idea that Pride of the Clouds and Govern the Guildless are incredible, so I won’t mention those. Remember these are underrated gems, and gems these certainly are. The ability to Spirit Link your best creature, or pump a weenie creature, and then play the same card for an alpha strike is powerful stuff.

Think of this setup:

You have three 1/1s on the field. You Forecast on your upkeep on your weenie (oh, stop sniggering). You then swing with all three and play Steeling Stance. That’s seven damage right there.

This isn’t taking into account evasion, or flying creatures, or anything else that can easily slip past defenses turn after turn. A single point of mana for a single point of damage each turn is not a bad trade, particularly when an alpha strike can be paired on the same card.

The Paladin is a great choice for a control deck, one that I’m working on now. However, since the card the Forecast ability is stuck on is so unimpressive, it is hard to include him a deck without saying that Yosei, the Morning Star wouldn’t be outright better. This is a guy who will excel in Block play long before he ever makes an impact on Standard.

Either way, the more I use Forecast the more I like it.

Until next time players, keep on keeping on.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com