The Road to Regionals – Investigating Azorius: U/W Beatdown

Magic the Gathering Regionals!

In the fourth of today’s Regionals articles, Steve investigates the intricacies of the Blue/White Azorius guild, with particular reference to their beatdown ability. We all know Rakdos offers the aggressive mage an outlet for violence… can the Azorius offer similar power by taking to the air?

Regionals is in the immediate future, and it’s going to be chock-full of Dissension. Below is my first stab at building a U/W beatdown deck. It has a number of mistakes, which I will get into in time.

4 Suntail Hawk
4 Lantern Kami
4 Pride of the Clouds
4 Mistral Charger
4 Azorius First-Wing
4 Leonin Skyhunter
4 Spell Snare
4 Remand
4 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Tendo Ice Bridge
6 Plains
5 Island

4 Kami of Ancient Law
4 Shining Shoal
4 Pithing Needle
3 Celestial Kirin

I thought that this version of the deck would be quite effective. However, it had an extreme lack of resilience to specialized cards. It was very difficult to overcome staple cards from the most popular decks; Orzhov Pontiff is a very difficult to beat, Glare of Subdual is similarly challenging, as is Pyroclasm and Wildfire. Perhaps the most disheartening thing about this version was its matchup against Heartbeat (keep in mind that Heartbeat was the most successful deck of the Team Standard season). The matchup was basically unwinnable with this version, as the deck’s main strength is that it has literally nothing but evasion creatures. This feature is completely irrelevant against Heartbeat. The matchup gets somewhat better when you bring in Pithing Needles and Kami of Ancient Laws, but it’s still very difficult to take a single game, let alone two.

The other noticeable problem with this deck is that it can’t afford to run any double lands (or, if you prefer, Karoos or bounce lands). I don’t care what you want to call them, just so long as you play them (they’re really really good).

Many of the cards that were in my initial sideboard wound up being considerably more effective than cards that I was starting; namely, Shining Shoal. Shining Shoal might be the most important card in the deck, as it not only gives you a non-Jitte play that can single handedly turn an insurmountable position into something winnable, but it also provides the deck with an answer to Pyroclasm and Wildfire.

I briefly toyed with adding Disrupting Shoals, but I quickly abandoned that idea. If I were to do so, the deck would require considerably more Blue spells than I wanted to run.

Celestial Kirin and Shining Shoal were to be the lynchpins of my next attempts, as they were by far the most effective cards to come out of my first version. The other cards that I knew I wanted were: Kami of Ancient Law, Mana Leak, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Pride of the Clouds.

4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Lantern Kami
4 Kami of Ancient Law
4 Pride of the Clouds
4 Azorius First-Wing
4 Mana Leak
4 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Azorius Heralds
4 Celestial Kirin
4 Shining Shoal
22 Lands

By far the most painful cut that I had to make was Remand. While Remand is an incredibly powerful spell, I found that many of my games I would have preferred Mana Leak to give me a permanent answer to cards like Wrath of God and Orzhov Pontiff.

This deck was far more effective than my first version, but after a couple of games I noticed some serious fundamental flaws. I had been too committed to Pride of the Clouds, and too committed to the spirit engine while still trying to run as many good cards. The end effect? My deck would sometimes get a good WW/u draw, it would sometimes get a good Spirit draw and it would sometimes get a good flying draw. But more often than not, I got a mishmash of decent creatures that had basically no synergy.

Onto the WW/u build:

Finally I hit something with good game against good decks. With this version, I was able to remedy a lot of my initial concerns… I had zero cards that would be killed by a naked Pontiff; Glorious Anthem and Shining Shoal provided me with proactive answers to Pyroclasm; while Mana Leak and 8.5 Tails gave me reactive solutions. Even without one of those fourteen cards, I have eight creatures that can survive a Pyroclasm (Paladin En-Vec and Celestial Kirin). The Heartbeat matchup is still rough, but the inclusion of maindeck Kami of Ancient Laws makes it slightly better.

A Paladin holding a Jitte is much better than anything in my initial versions of the deck, and the ability to create dynamite turns with Celestial Kirin are quite exciting attributes for a deck to have.

Here’s how I would sideboard against known archetypes. (If there are post-Dissension decks that you have a list for, be it a skeleton list or a complete list, I’d be more than happy to tell you what I would do in the message boards.)

-2 Glorious Anthem, -4 Umezawa’s Jitte, +4 Pithing Needle, +2 Remand.
Obviously it’s tempting to board out the Shining Shoals, but it’s important to keep in mind that they will probably be boarding into a number of Savage Twisters and/or Pyroclasms.

-4 Celestial Kirin, -2 Glorious Anthem +2 Remand, +4 Descendant of Kiyomaro.
This matchup can get a little hairy. It’s important to have a counter (or three mana up) to protect your Shining Shoal in the late game, as they usually set up for Wildfire with counter backup.

U/R Wafo-Tapa style control:
-2 Hand of Honor or Celestial Kirin, +2 Remand.

U/W control:
-4 Glorious Anthem, +2 Remand, +2 Faith’s Fetters.

B/W aggro:
As is.

R/G and Zoo:
-4 Glorious Anthem, -4 Mana Leak, -1 Eight-and-a-half-Tails, +4 Faith’s Fetters, +4 Descendant of Kiyomaro, +1 Azorius Chancery.

U/W aggro:
-2 Mana Leak, -4 Glorious Anthem, -1 Plains, +4 Descendant of Kiyomaro, +2 Faith’s Fetters, +1 Azorius Chancery.

I understand that this type of deck is going to be a tough sell to most of the people reading this article. If you don’t think you’d feel comfortable playing this type of deck in a bajillion round tournament such as Regionals, then you probably shouldn’t. This style of deck is noticeably underpowered, and is often quite vulnerable to your opponent’s best draws. The main strength that this type of deck has to offer is that it has a higher average quality of draw than many of the decks in the format (see redundancy). However, no amount of small statistical edge can justify playing a deck that you are uncomfortable with. The only time I would recommend playing a deck that you are uncomfortable with is if it’s miles beyond anything else available (see Ichorid from the last Extended season, or Affinity from MBC). The biggest problem with playing a deck that you don’t like, even if you know how to play it exceptionally well, is that you are far more likely to make critical mistakes in games that you are losing, justifying your play because “this deck stinks” or somesuch.

I know that if I had to play in Regionals I would almost certainly bring some sort of U/R deck with me. (I’ll be looking into what U/R decks are good this weekend, and I should have an article ready to read sometime early in the week.) Not because I think it’s the best deck in the format, but instead because I think it’s the best deck for me.

Good luck at Regionals,
Steve Sadin

Bonus: How not to build you U/W/r deck
This one’s a goodie… below is how I was going to start my article when, at some absurdly late hour, I thought I had built the perfect U/W/r deck. I’ll still stand by my comments on Muddle: it’s just that the deck I built was about two bucks short of a ride on the subway…

The NBA Playoffs have made a significant dent in my sleep, but fortunately the games have been very exciting. While I’m on the topic of things that are exciting, Muddle the Mixture is very exciting. While Muddle has already seen substantial use as one of the key elements of Heartbeat – providing the deck with both protection and the ability to pick up a key combo piece in Weird Harvest – its other applications have yet to be exercised.

Recently I’ve taken some time to explore Muddle’s possibilities in non-combo archetypes, and it seems pretty promising. The card’s potency against control needs no explanation; however, Muddle’s capabilities against aggressive strategies deserve further attention.

4 Remand
4 Muddle the Mixture
4 Lightning Helix
4 Wrath of God
4 Compulsive Research
4 Firemane Angel
2 Zur’s Weirding
2 Faith’s Fetters
2 Gifts Ungiven
2 Signets
1 Train of Thought
1 Pyroclasm
1 Azorius Guildmage
1 Circle of Protection: Red
24 Lands

1 Sacred Ground
2 Pyroclasm

I didn’t have nearly enough threats or enough answers, just a bunch of powerful unspecialized cards. Oh, and I didn’t have enough mana sources, so basically this deck could do nothing right. The “improvements” that I had made to Kamiel’s Honolulu deck that he piloted to a top 16 finish were little more than sabotage of titanic proportions.

Bonus Bonus:

I did try building a W/U deck with a dedicated spirit engine… the skeleton that I started with was:

4 Lantern Kami
4 Kami of Ancient Law
4 Tallowisp
4 Celestial Kirin
4 Shining Shoal

The other cards that are probably needed are:

3 Plumes of Peace
1 Cage of Hands
4 Waxmane Baku
4 Mana Leak
4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda

Leaving me with what is basically a strictly inferior version of Ghost Dad… darn.