Life can be hectic sometimes. Last week marked my final class for an administrative endorsement, to add to my master’s in Education. This means I will likely move from my current position to an assistant principal in the near future, which is an exciting prospect for most folks in my field. Regardless of what I do in my profession, my passion for Magic does not waiver. This is the greatest game ever made and I continue to experience high levels of enjoyment when shuffling cardboard across an opponent. This weekend, I will be attending my first RCQ of the season that is right down the street from my house.
The format for this RCQ is Pioneer, currently my second favorite competitive format. It is no secret that Modern has my heart, as I have had a hard time losing in recent large events with Azorius Control (Kaheera). I was prepared to beg Corey Baumeister, an act that he would never let me forget, to be the Modern seat for upcoming team event at SCG CON Baltimore. Before I had the chance, he mentioned he would not mind playing Pioneer and I could not agree to the terms fast enough. I will be playing Azorius Control (Kaheera) in that event, hoping to continue the strong performance streak just a little bit longer. With Modern figured out, my full attention has been on perfecting a control deck for Pioneer.
I have seen recent success in some smaller scale tournaments with Esper Control (Yorion) in the Midwest. Each time I see the same players post strong performances with that archetype, I immediately begin desleeving the Azorius components and reach for the other two Raffine’s Towers. I end up playing a few games with Esper Control (Yorion), which leaves me regularly underwhelmed by the black splash in the deck. Zach posted an Esper Control (Yorion) list he did well with recently and it follows my thought process in this iteration a bit more. The main deck Thoughtseize, in a deck nearly incapable of producing black mana on Turn 1, always felt off to me. I did not have many games with the deck under my belt, so I adopted the list as it originally was in my testing. The newest version feels much smoother, with black only added to enhance removal.
Just like in Modern of old, Azorius Control (Yorion) has an embarrassing removal suite compared to its three-color counterpart. All the removal spells that Azorius Control (Yorion) plays comes from recent sets, replacing the standalone Azorius Charm as the savior of the early-game. Due to that prior weakness, I often sought other decks to play in Pioneer, avoiding that awkward removal scenario that popped up way too often. With the upgraded, white-based removal now available in Pioneer, the argument for splashing black continues to weaken. If there was a broken planeswalker, win condition, or counterspell that the third color could bring it would be a different story. For now, I believe Azorius Control (Yorion) is the superior option to play in any competitive tournament.
The newest versions of Azorius Control (Yorion) in Pioneer have been masterpieces. Outside of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Supreme Verdict, most of the broken cards are recent additions to Magic and has made the deck exponentially more powerful. The removal, win conditions, card draw, and mana base have all improved, making Azorius Control (Yorion) my choice for this weekend’s RCQ. The only area the deck is lacking is in the counterspell department, a weakness that recent sets have not repaired.
The best we have to offer is Absorb, which is not ideal. Three-mana counterspells rarely pay the bills and leave the heavy lifting to the other elements in the deck. Absorb is a necessary evil, with red-based decks being very prevalent and the general need for hard counterspells. Luckily for fans of cheaper options, Dovin’s Veto and Censor do just enough to protect the control user on Turn 2.
Censor is a card that has fallen out of favor in Pioneer. Most players have turned to Jwari’s Disruption, and I understand the logic behind it. Lands that can be spells are great and this Force Spike is no exception. It is close between the two, but Censor has put forth a stronger performance, especially as a late-game draw. Jwari’s Disruption is a fantastic option to hold on Turn 2, coming down as a land if not used to send a threatening spell to the grave. Censor acts in a similar fashion on Turn 2, cycling if no target was acquired. Cycling cards is a great way to hit land drops, even if it is not as guaranteed like Jwari’s Disruption. That small negative is worth it, especially when drawing a Censor in the mid to late-game is much more preferred. Another negative of Jwari’s Disruption is the land it becomes. The number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped is daunting in a Pioneer control deck, making my Censor preference more palatable to sleeve up.
Dovin’s Veto is a counterspell that is included across each format. The only difference is in Pioneer, it carries the burden of guaranteed disruption on Turn 2 against aggro and midrange decks. Its application against control and big mana decks is obvious, but we do not have that luxury here. Azorius Control (Yorion) has a much higher win percentage when the early-game disruption lines up, making us hope for a non-creature threat to materialize while we anxiously hold our Dovin’s Veto. There are other mediocre counterspells that can be used it its place; however, they do not come close to the power level of Dovin’s Veto. Every deck in the format has some non-creature spells to target and there is not enough sideboard space to move additional copies to the bench. Dovin’s Veto is rarely a dead card and every deck playing it main must gamble a little, to disrupt on curve.
With the painful counterspells out of the way, I can finally talk about the good stuff. Azorius Control (Yorion) is packed with the finest removal spells that white has to offer. The addition of Portable Hole has revolutionized the play pattern of this deck and removed its reliance on Azorius Charm. Portable Hole hits more than just creatures, as it contains any cheap threat the opponent can dish out. I was not aware of its impact on older formats until I played with it earlier this year. Having that answer-all on Turn 1 and Turn 2 is huge, as well as the ability to play two spells in one turn later in the game with it. I am a huge fan of Portable Hole, and it is one of the reasons why the black splash is unnecessary.
The other removal spells operate at instant-speed, fitting Azorius Control (Yorion) well. Fateful Absence handles creatures and planeswalkers, for the low cost of a clue for the opponent. This spell is not played enough, and people are generally afraid of providing their opponent with any sort of advantage. As a dedicated Path to Exile player for ten years, I can confidently tell you that it is a small price to pay. Azorius Control (Yorion) produces so much card advantage that the additional card the opponent receives is typically meaningless. This does not mean with stack four of them in the main deck and fire one off every turn. Playing two copies has been a wonderful way to supplement the best removal spell in the deck.
March of Otherworldly Light is the champion removal spell of white-based control decks in Pioneer. It is a Modern staple, where it assists Prismatic Ending. In Pioneer, it is the flagship spell, receiving assistance from Portable Hole and Fateful Absence. This instant-speed removal spell handles most threats outside of planeswalkers, leaving that responsibility to Fateful Absence, Elspeth Conquers Death, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The versatility is what makes this card so strong. It has an option to have its cost reduced, while exiling artifacts, enchantments, and creatures. These removal spells all work together to make a safe battlefield for Azorius Control (Yorion) in Pioneer.
The removal spells are assisted by the best sweeper in Magic, Supreme Verdict. I moved away from the shy model of playing three copies and maxed it out with confidence. I added one copy of Farewell, a more definitive kill-all, making this version of Azorius Control (Yorion) have five outs in the main deck. The Omen of the Sea, Narset, Parter of Veils, Memory Deluge, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Shark Typhoon, and Yorion, Sky Nomad all provide outlets for card advantage to dig to those sweepers. Although Portable Hole, Fateful Absence, and March of Otherworldly Light are strong, Supreme Verdict or Farewell is needed to eliminate the multiple resolved threats that we face.
The strongest elements of Azorius Control (Yorion) are the win conditions. The Wandering Emperor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are Legacy-strong finishers that run away with the game when left unchecked. The Wandering Emperor is a more balanced threat that can be dispatched with moderate effort; however, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is no slouch. This bad boy is still a high-loyalty planeswalker that draws cards and untaps lands, while having the ability to remove a threat if needed. These two planeswalkers are the reason to play control in Pioneer, with the other spells just fighting to keep a clean battlefield for them.
Shark Typhoon is another win condition that sees play in older formats. I cannot put it down in Modern, therefore it earns a permanent spot in my Pioneer control decks. Two has been the perfect number in Modern; however, four is a must in Pioneer. The reduction in overall power level leads to the spike in Shark Typhoon’s stock. It draws a card, kills a creature as a blocker, attacks well, and acts as an unstoppable win condition if played as an enchantment. It is one of the most versatile win conditions that control has had in many years, making me easily forget my old love, Decree of Justice. In addition to the planeswalkers and Shark Typhoon, there are additional win conditions in the sideboard that dominate upon resolution.
Yorion, Sky Nomad is the first one to mention, as it is available as a companion in all games. It works well with Omen of the Sea, planeswalkers, and Elspeth Conquers Death. Control decks have not yet adopted Elspeth Conquers Death, but they will. It is a momentum swinging card, by exiling threats in the midrange, control, and big-mana matchups, taxing the opponent the turn after, then bringing back one of the dominant win conditions that fell earlier. In the meantime, we can enjoy the benefits, especially after sideboarded games with Dream Trawler and Hullbreaker Horror.
Dream Trawler is still a nightmare to play against for any aggro deck. I also bring it in against control, taking advantage of the lack of sweepers in the sideboarded games. The hexproof, life gain, and card advantage of Dream Trawler allows it to steal games with one attack. I often reminisce of Baneslayer Angel, until this thing connects. The power level of some cards has exploded through the roof in recent years, and we must take advantage. That is apparently true after reading Hullbreaker Horror.
Hullbreaker Horror is the king of the mirror match. If Azorius Control (Yorion) becomes more popular, it would warrant a second copy in the board. For now, it, Dream Trawler, Elspeth Conquers Death, Mystical Dispute, and Dovin’s Veto will help level the playing field in the sideboarded games against control. That may sound excessive, but it is all about the numbers lining up. There are a ton of cards that must be removed, mainly the white removal spells, leaving a sideboard requirement. For those entrepreneurs in the deck building field, make sure your numbers work out. It is a pretty bad feeling when eight cards need to be removed, but only three can be added in.
The rest of the sideboard is full of hate cards that keep us safe in these dark times. Aether Gust is still one of the top sideboard cards in Modern and Pioneer control decks. It is versatile and powerful, a deadly combination for any control staple. Sunset Revelry is not versatile in the slightest; however, it does knock out a red-based aggro deck upon resolution. It is a requirement in Pioneer, but not needed in the older formats at this time. The last must-play is Rest in Peace, a card that I almost included four copies of. The decks in Pioneer that beat you utilize their graveyard and aggressively come after your hand. For Azorius Control (Yorion) to be successful, Rest in Peace must hit the battlefield in a timely manner. It is part of the foundation of control in all formats where it is legal, keeping us safe from returning threats and combo decks. With this current setup, I am confident in my chances this weekend.