Right now, the Core Set 2021 Standard metagame seems to be split between the Growth Spiral decks (Temur Reclamation and Bant Control) and the aggro decks (Mono-Green Aggro and various flavors of Rakdos-based Sacrifice). In my attempts to find out if anything else was actually playable, I stumbled upon Gabriel Nassif’s Azorius Control deck based around Yorion, Sky Nomad, which put two people in the Top 8 of its Regional Players Tour. After a couple of changes, I ended up with a list I liked, and with which I’ve had relative success on ladder and the Arena Challenges:
The core of the lists are the same — they are Azorius Control decks that play a lot of enters-the-battlefield effects and maindeck Yorions — but the big difference is that I actually have a Yorion in the companion slot. I found out I wanted access to at least some Dovin’s Vetos for the blue matchups, and once I got to that, my deck was all two- and three-ofs, at which point just increasing it to 80 cards felt worth it.
This list is tuned completely towards beating aggressive decks, which it does very well with four copies of Glass Casket, four copies of The Birth of Meletis, and four copies of Shatter the Sky. Against aggressive decks, you usually play the tap-out game and only use your counterspells much later in the game. Against the non-aggressive decks, you still have four copies of Dovin’s Veto and all the planeswalkers, so you can definitely win, but you have a lot of dead cards Game 1 so you have to draw the right half of your deck.
Now, the looming question — why Azorius? I feel that anyone who is playing Azorius Control at any given tournament needs to answer the question as to why they aren’t playing Bant Control instead — after all, Bant Control is a tried-and-true deck that operates on a similar axis. For some people this answer can be as simple as “I like Azorius Control more,” but for me this isn’t the case.
For me, the reason to play Azorius Control over Bant Control is that you can choose a type of deck for it to be better against. Bant Control is the default — good versus everything — but your Azorius deck can better be customized to be great against aggro or great against control. Bant Control can do this as well, but not nearly to the same extent, as it has a lot more “fixed” slots (and, most of the time, twenty fewer cards).
For example, the Azorius deck that I’ve been playing is highly customized to beat aggressive decks, which follows the big rise of Mono-Green Aggro. Not only is it a two-color deck, which means it has a less painful manabase with fewer chances of something going wrong, but you can dedicate a lot of slots to anti-aggressive cards. The way my Azorius deck is constructed, I feel very favored versus all the aggressive decks — Mono-Green Aggro, Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Red Aggro, and so on — regardless of how they’re built.
As is usually the case, however, every time you tune your control deck to beat one side of the spectrum, you sacrifice against the other. In my case, this means I believe I am weak to both Temur Reclamation and Bant Control.
“But PV, then if you’re weak to the top two decks, isn’t your deck just bad?”
Not necessarily, because you could be so good against the other decks that you make up for it. For example, imagine a simplified metagame where 50% of the field is Bant Control and Temur Reclamation — a generous portion. The other 50% is aggro decks. If I’m 45% versus both Bant Control and Temur Reclamation and 65% versus the aggressive decks, my overall win-rate is 55%, even though I am weak against both of the top decks.
It could also be that your expected metagame doesn’t have that much Temur Reclamation or Bant Control, in which case the choice becomes even better. Imagine a field in which only 30% of the decks are Temur Reclamation or Bant Control — in this case, you’d have a 59% expected win rate. I believe this is what happens in tournaments like the Arena Challenges, for example; people simply play more random aggro decks than Temur Reclamation or Bant Control. In my case, I played two Challenges with Azorius Control and my record was 14-0, because I got paired mostly against aggressive decks, and when I didn’t, I hit my 45%er.
All of this is to say that, if you believe the metagame is going to be more slanted towards aggression, it could make sense to play Azorius Control over Bant Control, even though it’s not as powerful of a deck. If you expect the metagame to be mostly Temur Reclamation and other control decks, or if the metagame is wildly unpredictable, you should just play the more powerful choice (or slant your deck towards beating control, but that comes with its own risks as well). I believe that, right now, if I were to play an Arena Challenge, I would choose Azorius Control over Bant, but if I were to play an Online Players Tour, I would choose Bant over Azorius Control.
VS Temur Reclamation
Matches against Temur Reclamation are usually very swingy; either you land one or two planeswalkers and then amass enough counterspells to win the game easily, or they land a Wilderness Reclamation and quickly overpower you.
The good part is that if you have Narset and Teferi out you can often ignore Wilderness Reclamation, so your plan “trumps” theirs, but the bad part is that you have a million dead cards and they have Blast Zone. Your Mystical Disputes are best used at stopping a Turn 2 Growth Spiral or forcing down an early Teferi or Narset, and your Dovin’s Vetos should be saved for Reclamation or Expansion // Explosion.
We’re bringing in ten cards versus Temur Reclamation, but we still have some bad cards in our deck — such are the issues of playing an 80-card deck. Still, our matchup improves tremendously after sideboarding. Disdainful Stroke doesn’t help forcing through a planeswalker but it’s still quite good as a card that can counter both Nightpack Ambusher and Wilderness Reclamation.
A lot here will depend on their list, if you know what it is. For example, against the list with Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse and Llanowar Visionary, I don’t mind having all four Glass Caskets in my deck, and even a couple of copies of Shatter the Sky. I never mind having The Birth of Meletis in my deck on the play (so if Glass Casket is bad versus them you could have more on the play), but on the draw it can be a liability as it’s dangerous to tap out on Turn 2 (since they could hit you with Growth Spiral + Wilderness Reclamation).
VS Bant Control
This is another matchup where you have a plethora of dead cards, but how dead they are again depends on which version they’re playing. The more Jolraels, Nissas and Scavenging Oozes they have, the more live your cards are (but something like Omen of the Sun will not be great regardless of their list).
The biggest issue in this matchup is Teferi, Time Raveler. It’s very hard to play an arms race versus Bant Control, since they out-mana you so much, so you need to have a way of dealing with their powerful cards, and that’s usually counterspells, which means you walk right into Teferi. The best way of dealing with Teferi is countering it, which brings us to even more counterspells, but that just makes the problem worse if it somehow resolves. The counterpart is that their deck is very weak to Narset, Parter of Veils, so if you can get that to resolve and survive you’ll be in very good shape.
As a general rule, you need to be more conservative with your Mystical Disputes. If you Dispute a Turn 2 Growth Spiral, Temur Reclamation cannot punish you, but Bant can — you cannot risk them resolving a Teferi. However, if you wait too much and let them resolve all their Growth Spirals, they will soon be able to play Teferi with three mana up, so it’s a delicate situation that you have to judge each time.
Out (on the play):
In (on the play):
Out (on the draw):
In (on the draw):
I like taking out an extra copy of The Birth of Meletis on the draw since you cannot cast it on Turn 2 due to needing to answer Teferi.
This matchup does not improve nearly as much as Temur Reclamation after sideboarding. Disdainful Stroke is good against some of their cards, but I don’t think it’s acceptable to have a counterspell that doesn’t deal with Teferi in your deck. Aether Gust has a bit of a similar problem, but it can at least be cast main phase if you’re under Teferi, so I think it’s good enough.
The composition of their list also radically changes your plans, as Shatter the Sky and Glass Casket can range from very bad to actively good depending on what they have. In the dark, I’d keep all my Glass Caskets — between Jolrael; Shark Typhoon; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; Hydroid Krasis; and Nissa lands, they usually have enough targets.
VS Mono-Green Aggro
Mono-Green Aggro is a good matchup. They certainly can win, and they have some problematic cards (the swingy Gemrazer for example), but I’d say that overall you’re definitely favored because you just stabilize and go over the top of them.
Unlike with other control decks, you don’t actually need to draw Shatter the Sky to win — it’s entirely possible to win just by curving cards like The Birth of Meletis; Glass Casket; Omen of the Sun; Elspeth Conquers Death; and Yorion, Sky Nomad, which is why your matchup is good. Glass Casket can be a liability to Gemrazer, but overall it’s very strong, and you often target a Stonecoil Serpent or Lovestruck Beast token only to blink it back and exile something else.
After sideboarding, you get to take out all your bad cards and bring in even more interaction. Brazen Borrower isn’t excellent by any means, but it’s something to do early on that can potentially reset a Pelt Collector, strand a Lovestruck Beast by bouncing the token, stop the Gemrazer mutate, or counter a fight spell.
Archon of Sun’s Grace is a pretty good card here, and one that also allows you to win games without drawing Shatter the Sky. They will often leave in some removal, so you can’t count on it to win the game singlehandedly (though sometimes it will do that), but you have enough cheap cards to play before the Archon that you don’t need it to win the game singlehandedly. Don’t forget that if you blink an enchantment with Yorion it will trigger Archon as well.
VS Any Black or Red Aggressive Deck (Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Red Aggro…)
The matchup versus all the Rakdos decks is also good, and the same principle applies as against Mono-Green — Shatter the Sky is very good but you have the tools to win without it. Unlike the Bant lists, you’re actually relatively immune to Claim the Firstborn, which is good.
The sideboarding strategy is not that different here either. Brazen Borrower is worse here than against Mono-Green, but I still feel you should have it because of Rotting Regisaur, and sometimes it’s nice to reset Knight of the Ebon Legion. If they’re playing Mono-Black, it also blocks Rankle, Master of Pranks, which is a huge bonus.
Overall, I’ve found that Azorius Control is a bit of a breath of fresh air from the Growth Spiral VS Aggro dynamic of Core Set 2021 Standard. Obviously the play style is not for everyone, but this deck is much faster than many of its predecessors because of Yorion, and if you predict a very aggressive field, I think it’s a good choice.