Where Modern Azorius Control Goes From Here

Success can be a setup for failure. Shaheen Soorani warns about not letting success in one event sabotage preparation for the next and reveals the adjustments he should’ve made to Azorius Control in Modern!

Hoisting the Team Constructed Open trophy a couple of weeks ago at SCG Philadelphia was an epic moment for me. Team events are easily my favorite type of competition. The preparation in deckbuilding, the collaboration during the event, the comradery from sitting side by side in battle, and the support that arrives when you inevitably drop a match are the reasons behind my team format love.

I teamed with Pete Ingram and Corey Baumeister in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Pete and I are teaming at every opportunity this year, but Corey was a special guest of ours. Not only is he fun to be around, but the guy can sling spells like the best of them. Both Corey and Pete had a stellar Day 1, while I fumbled my way through with four losses.

Modern was my choice, as I wanted to test my Mythic Championship IV deck out prior to Barcelona. To no surprise for you all, it was Azorius Control. I felt that it had a strong graveyard matchup, as well as the general strength to thwart off the fair decks of the format. This turned out to not be the case after Round 9, with the losses coming from every fair deck out there. I was bummed with my record, but the team came through in the clutch.

The bright side of this performance was my ability to toss Celestial Colonnade aside for the Mythic Championship. I confidently told my team, friends, and family that I was cured of my desire to play the Tier 1.5 deck that had stolen my heart. Later that day, I sent a message to my best bud back at home and asked if he could start building Izzet Phoenix for me to borrow. Magic Online was updated, Izzet Phoenix available online and in person, and I was ready to make the change.

That was until the second day of competition started.

Day 2 turned out to be a bit different from the control seat. With those nine rounds, I recorded no losses officially. There was a match against Eldrazi Tron where I was down a game, but the others fell one by one to Jace, the Mind Sculptor and company. Even in the Top 8, I didn’t drop a single game. This powerful performance doomed my upcoming professional event. Not because Azorius Control is unplayable in a Hogaak world, but because I got lazy in the preparation process.

With working some long hours and ensuring everything was good to go at school before my trip, I decided to make no changes to my list from the Team Constructed Open in Philly. I did this knowing about Hogaak, Mono-Green Tron, and Eldrazi Tron being popular options for some of the best players in the world. Normally Azorius Control can handle the decks on this list, but not with the configuration I had. The sick part of all this is I didn’t play against those decks once in Barcelona.

There’s another huge con that comes with playing the traditional Azorius Control decks that isn’t discussed enough. With the move to Force of Negation, Supreme Verdict has been the only battlefield sweeper that is acceptable to play maindeck. I followed the herd mentality on this, understanding the consensus that having a blue mass removal spell to pitch to Force outweighs the percentage loss against Humans. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

As a stats guy, I try not to let results-oriented conclusions cloud my deckbuilding judgment. With that in mind, I had one loss in Philly and two in Barcelona to Humans. Each defeat came on the back of a Game 1 fiasco versus a Meddling Mage and would not have occurred with my previous incarnations of Azorius Control. At Mythic Championship II in London, I went 7-3 with a diverse suite of mass removal that would make any control mage proud. One copy each of Day of Judgment and Wrath of God joined two Supreme Verdicts to make the maindeck rock-solid against any aggressive strategy. This was especially true against Humans, which I ran over in the hands of John Rolf in that tournament.

This Supreme Verdict dilemma prompts three easy questions:

1. Do you play against Humans at least once per tournament? The answer for me is yes, without exception.

2. How often do you pitch a Supreme Verdict to Force of Negation? The answer to this question is a bit more complicated. In my last two live tournaments, the answer is zero. While testing online, I found myself doing it roughly once every ten matches. This only came up against the control mirror or a strange combo situation, making the Humans scenario more likely.

3. If you had Wrath of God / Day of Judgment instead of Supreme Verdict, would that cost you the game against control/combo? This is another trackable data point that I unfortunately didn’t keep track of. It would have required me to test with both versions, but I wasn’t aware of this issue until it was too late.

I wish I’d actively tracked this, but it didn’t dawn upon me until I had my clock cleaned by a matchup I used to consider one of my best. Shaving one of those effects and changing another was enough to make me get swept easily on multiple occasions. This consensus has likely cost many of our brethren match wins, as it becomes clear which option is best overall. Not only does a control mirror showdown with Force of Negation and Wrath of God / Day of Judgment have to come up Game 1, but it also must be unwinnable due to not having the blue card option there.

The disastrous removal package wasn’t the only issue that my Azorius Control deck had as I copied it for the Mythic Championship. There were cards in my list that had no business being there for the expected metagame cluttered with Hogaak and Urzatron variants. Spell Snare, the savior of Azorius Control in the fair world, was an embarrassment.

The respect I have for Spell Snare goes way back. Back when I galloped to a 13-2 record at GP Richmond years ago with Azorius Control, I was packing four copies of it maindeck. It was a simpler time with every round having a Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, or Arcbound Ravager trying to enter the battlefield. Matter of fact, I ended up playing Affinity seven times in that event, which made my decision look like a genius play. But not only is Spell Snare not that good anymore, it can’t dance with decks that have all free spells or spells that cost seven-plus.

Spell Snare was amazing for me at Team Constructed Open in Philly, but I wouldn’t touch the card moving forward with the upcoming SCG Tour events. It’s a liability, and you’re better off jamming an additional Surgical Extraction and Force of Negation in its place. Force of Negation has proven to be a contender against Hogaak, exiling Faithless Looting on the opponent’s Turn 1. The card disadvantage against this deck is irrelevant, as you just must stop their burst attack in the early turns. Chopping those two Spell Snares for two zero-mana options is where you want to be with Azorius Control in this metagame.

To make room for the fourth mass removal spell, the one Timely Reinforcements swaps with the Wrath of God in the sideboard. In the matchups that count, Wrath of God is a more powerful spell most of the time. Burn will become nearly impossible to beat Game 1, but that’s acceptable. It was already very tough and drawing the one copy of Timely Reinforcements was usually your only shot. Fortunately for us, Burn is a terrible deck in Modern. It loses to nearly all the top decks and has a large percentage of self-implosion on top. Until this graveyard situation is under control, that second Surgical Extraction is a more important inclusion than hedging against an already tough matchup.

The rest of the maindeck is equipped to deal with the challenges of the format; however, the sideboard needs a little work. I must get past my love for Geist of Saint Traft, as Monastery Mentor is a stronger option against the decks that are most popular. I’m high on both cards, as I was employing Monastery Mentor a few years back when I teamed with Brian Braun-Duin at a Unified Modern GP. It was strong then and is stronger now. Even with opponents being aware of its presence in the Azorius Control sideboard, it can take over a game with Force of Negation backup.

One of the larger blunders of deck preparation was the amount of Rest in Peace used for the Mythic Championship. The only number acceptable is four, making us one card over in the sideboard. With having an additional Force of Negation in the maindeck, one Dovin’s Veto is the easiest cut. It always pains me to remove a counterspell from the 75, but we really do not have much of a choice. Many decks we have issues with contain threats that aren’t easily answered by a Negate, making us narrow the sideboard to combat the biggest threats that await.

In an article I wrote prior to the bannings, I called for the removal of Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings to improve the format’s health. I knew that only one card was going to get the axe, but I was hoping I would be wrong. There’s no way that management doesn’t act on Modern’s graveyard situation in the next Banned and Restricted Announcement. Even though the Mythic Championship Top 8 only housed one copy of Hogaak, it has warped the format drastically. Every aggressive deck is a joke in comparison. Players have resorted to multiple graveyard pieces in their maindeck as well as a full complement in the sideboard.

My fear is the emergency banning of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis isn’t going to get the job done. Faithless Looting must go if the plan is to revive creativity in Modern. Modern Horizons was a slam dunk outside of that one graveyard creature; however, we may never get the chance to explore it to the fullest. If Faithless Looting crafts armies on Turn 2, it cuts off the high level of exploration the format deserves.

With the eventual removal of Faithless Looting, my argument in that article was Ancient Stirrings would have to go to. When the dust settles, a new version of Azorius Control would exist, aggro decks would crawl back out of the hell where they dwell, the wackier combo decks like Living End and Ad Nauseam would be resurrected into competitive play, and all of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 decks created by Modern Horizons would have the opportunity to rise to the top.

In the meantime, make these changes to Azorius Control to fight back against this warped Modern field. The next time we adapt control in Modern, I hope we are joined by the world’s favorite Kor Artificer and her favorite living weapon, Batterskull.