Is Azorius Control Now The Deck To Beat In Historic?

With the Zendikar Rising Championship in the books, our experts provide their picks for Historic’s best decks!

Absorb, illustrated by Izzy

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the results of the Zendikar Rising Championship in, many are unsure what they’d play in Historic. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Historic event!

Autumn Burchett — Mono-Red Goblins

Did you expect me to answer anything else?

Whilst I could certainly imagine registering a different deck at some later date as the Historic metagame evolves over time, I love Mono-Red Goblins and think it is a pretty great choice right now provided it is built correctly. My build of Goblins was no small part in getting me to the finals of last weekend’s Zendikar Rising Championship, and I happily recommend it.

For those looking to know the exact reasoning behind all these card choices, what I would recommend going forward, and how I like to sideboard with this deck, check out my article here on Friday that will cover all of this!

Ari Lax — Azorius Control

12-0. Can’t argue with results.

Brad Barclay convincingly won the Zendikar Rising Championship without dropping a match along the way. This deck repeats a lot of the trends of successful Azorius Control decks of the last two years: a powerful planeswalker to lean on, a heavier focus on lock pieces like Grafdigger’s Cage over winning on traditional card advantage and attrition metrics, tons of value lands like the Throne of Eldraine Castles, and Shark Typhoon being the best still fair card of 2020.

I know I’ve said I’m with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Thoughtseize forever, but the thing that convinced me to switch decks for this weekend wasn’t even Brad’s results. The metagame data for the Zendikar Rising Championship also shows Dimir Control beating Sultai and Four-Color Midrange. Even if Sultai is a really good deck, this seems like a fundamental flaw in its current configuration and metagame position. The Sultai lists even all loaded up on sideboard Shark Typhoons, which previously have been the solution to matchups like this one. Maybe someone will figure it out before Sunday and I’ll switch back, but for now this is my control deck of choice.

Dom Harvey — Mono-Red Goblins

The more everyone else debates what to call their Four-Colour Midrange deck (MTGMelee won’t let you call it ‘Wet Abzan’ and neither will we!), the more I want to sleeve up some basic Mountains and some truly basic Goblins. I highly recommend reading Autumn’s article tomorrow to understand Goblins’ place in Historic — and likely playing whatever decklist is suggested there or here if you expect a similar metagame to the Zendikar Rising Championship. For the raft of upcoming Historic tournaments — our Kaldheim Championship Qualifier, the Arena Open this weekend, and the Qualifier Weekend nex t weekend — I would expect a wider range of decks and this configuration reflects that.

I’ve been impressed by every part of Chandra, Torch of Defiance in Goblins — it bridges you from your early ramp to Muxus, Goblin Grandee, it’s an ongoing source of card advantage that dodges sweepers, and it’s a versatile way to remove dangerous creatures like Tocatli Honor Guard (an important innovation in Four-Colour Midrange by Daniel Goetschel and Tomos Pokorny that makes that matchup much harder). After watching Autumn’s matches this past weekend, I’m stunned anyone ever registered fewer than four Castle Embereth — it routinely turned a motley crew into a fearsome army at minimal cost. Between Castle, Shatterskull Smashing, and Mind Stone, the deck has excellent flood insurance and can justify enough mana sources to support its somewhat clunky curve. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa — Jund Sacrifice

I think Historic has two decks that are simply better than everything else —Four-Color Midrange (and Sultai Midrange too, though I prefer Four-Color) and Jund Sacrifice. I think they’re both fine choices and Four-Color Midrange is a little favored in the heads-up matchup, but I like Jund Sacrifice more right now because its matchup against Mono-Red Goblins and Azorius/Orzhov Auras is very good, whereas Four-Color Midrange can often struggle against them depending on how its built.

I went into more in detail on this in my article earlier this week, but I like Jund Sacrifice more than straight Rakdos Sacrifice because Collected Company is simply absurd in this deck, and in my mind definitely worth splashing for. The most important card in many matchups — Auras, Goblins, any mirror match — is Mayhem Devil, and you just have access to many more copies of that card with Collected Company, which gives you a big edge in the mirror specifically.

There’s also another Jund Sacrifice deck, more food-based with Trail of Crumbs. I think that deck is better against Four-Color Midrange since it’s not as cold to Yasharn, Implacable Earth, but for the most part I think it’s worse off across the board, as it’s a lot more prone to flooding and I often miss the aggressive element of the Collected Company deck. I’m not sure that the Company version is better but I definitely like it more.

Corey Baumeister — Sultai Paradox Engine

Sultai Paradox Engine is a deck that was created this past weekend by Joel Larsson and it really didn’t get to much camera time and didn’t make it to the Top 8. That leads me to believe that it isn’t going to be very hated out even though it’s quite powerful. These style of combo decks are very good at crushing a metagame that isn’t prepared for it but really struggles if people come with the correct amount of hate. The only hate cards that you really care about are Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace and to be honest, there really isn’t any good decks that actually play those cards.

Now let’s talk about what this deck actually does. You get Emry, Lurker of the Loch onto the battlefield with either Chromatic Sphere or Mind Stone in the graveyard. Then you cast Paradox Engine and begin the loop of casting a Chromatic Sphere, untapping Emry and any mana accelerants you may have on the battlefield. You do that repeatedly until you draw your whole deck and you cast Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and win the game. If you’re looking for some gameplay to see this masterpiece in action I featured this deck on Droppin’ Baums earlier this week!

Todd Anderson — Izzet Goblins

The reason to play Goblins is Muxus, Goblin Grandee. If you’ve played Historic, you know just how powerful it can be and even how devastating some of the weaker spins are. Outside of a complete whiff, Muxus is busted, and often leads to more copies of Muxus in the future thanks to Goblin Matron.

The innovation in this particular list is adding blue for Negate in the sideboard. I have found that some of your tougher matchups are those that attack your Muxus when it’s on the stack as opposed to when it has already entered the battlefield. Negate is perfect for helping win counterspell wars, or just punishing your opponent for tapping out on an essential turn. Negate has been a handy tool for aggressive sideboards for a long time now, but the cost is almost always too high to pay. I’m here to tell you that the cost for playing Negate in Goblins is nothing. It’s free.

Riverglide Pathway and Steam Vents are sources of your splash color that don’t hurt you too badly on any front. They don’t enter the battlefield tapped and Riverglide Pathway doesn’t even deal you damage. In the first game, Riverglide Pathway does its best impression of a Mountain. The only downside is that it doesn’t work with Castle Embereth. After sideboard, you just use it for blue mana when you have Negate and try to play it last unless you’re ready to hold up for that Negate.

One of the tougher matchups for Goblins is Azorius Control. We watched Autumn Burchett lose to it multiple times last weekend at the Zendikar Rising Championship. Having any sort of counterplay would have been phenomenal, both in helping resolve crucial spells and protecting your horde from Wrath of God. Since Supreme Verdict doesn’t exist in Historic just yet, a single Negate on a Wrath of God will often be more than enough to steal it.

Negate also helps out in a number of close matchups, including Sultai Ramp. Having a Negate handy for their Nissa, Who Shakes the World is broken, but protecting your threats from Extinction Event has a similar effect to stopping Wrath of God from Azorius Control. That one sweeper is often the only thing holding back your Goblins from running wild on them. People think Muxus is the only card that matters in Goblins, but a single Krenko, Mob Boss backed by a Negate will end the game quickly. If paired with Goblin Chieftain, the game often ends that turn.

Andrew Elenbogen — Sultai Midrange

An important aspect of winning in Magic is knowing when to play the decks you like, and when to throw in the towel and play good decks. I am not a fan of midrange decks containing exclusively good cards. However, I simply do not believe any other option competes in Historic right now. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is simply on a higher band of power than the rest of the format. The deck adds black for Thoughtsieze and Fatal Push, which are also among the best cards legal in Historic.

I have mostly left the specifics of my list to Corey Burkhart with some assistance from resident good card expert Kyle Boggemes. There are few people who I would rather have constructing a versatile midrange deck than Kyle. Sultai seems to favored in the heads up, and that is important since I expect a lot of people to switch to these decks going forward. The data I have seen suggests that while playing white does help against Jund Sacrifice, the matchup is favorable either way. The mana is also none to smooth in Historic, so I recommend playing the conservative Uro deck right now.

But honestly, that is all minutia. I recommend registering Uro in Historic regardless of what your normal preferences are. It’s likely that I will continue to recommend this for as long as the card remains legal because the card being legal is not ok.

Shaheen Soorani — Azorius Control

In the least surprising announcement ever, I endorse this Zendikar Rising Championship winner’s deck choice.  Azorius Control wins it all from the Historic side, as Barclay’s Dimir Control deck dominated Standard prior.  Both of Barclay’s decks are ones I have rigorously advertised for months, but he was able to claim victory with them at the highest level.  This version of Azorius Control, without the Gideon of the Trials and Pact of Negation pair, was a gamble that paid off.

Both the reactive and proactive Azorius Control versions have their merits, but it’s the former that took home the trophy.  This list banks completely on the power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Shark Typhoon, hoping that the disruption is strong enough to allow the win conditions to get the job done.  This strategy relies heavily on the two maindeck Grafdigger’s Cages and Narset, Parter of Veils, to handle the toughest matchups in the format. 

As I discussed in recent articles, the number of Narset, Parter of Veils had to be four moving forward, in order to defeat the wave of decks summoning Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Hydroid Krasis.  Barclay had four after sideboard, giving him that vital edge he needed to conquer a tough field cluttered with Four-Color Midrange decks.  I love the way this deck was put together and I would not change a thing now.  Thanks to Barclay, Azorius Control has proven its ability to defeat problematic Simic threats, while thwarting an army of Goblins at the same time.

Cedric Phillips — Four-Color Midrange

Brad, Andrea Mengucci, and I played the same Four-Color Midrange list at the Zendikar Rising Championship, with them finishing in sixth and third respectively while I went 2-1 (losing to some dude named Kai Budde playing Sultai Paradox Engine) before bombing out in the Standard portion of Day 1. Historic was the portion of the event I felt unstoppable in and that feeling hasn’t changed since the conclusion of last weekend’s event. There’s a lot of conversation around whether Sultai or Four-Color is the right way to cast Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and my lean continues to be Four-Color not only because of the free wins you get against Sacrifice strategies due to Yasharn, but because the Big Pig™ is also very effective against Goblins, shutting down Skirk Prospector, Wily Goblin’s Treasure tokens, and Phyrexian Tower.

Coming into the Zendikar Rising Championship, none of us prepared to face Azorius Control, knew Goblins was going to be present but didn’t want to overprepare for it, and wanted to get a leg up in the mirror (hence the Doom Whisperer). Coming out of the event, I think Azorius Control needs to be taken more seriously, a bit more help is necessary against Goblins, and the mirror needs to be even more of a priority.

With that in mind, I think now is an ideal time to cut Fatal Push and replace them with the third Eliminate and the first Mythos of Nethroi. Fatal Push isn’t great against any of the above decks (fine vs Goblins, horrible vs Azorius Control, and mediocre/bad vs Sultai/Four-Color Midrange) and a key deck that it’s good against, Azorius/Orzov Auras, is horrible and performed poorly this past weekend. I’ve also cut the additional copies of Yasharn, the Disdainful Stroke, and the Eliminate that was hiding out in the sideboard and have replaced them with additional copies of Witch’s Vengeance to take the Goblins matchup more seriously, the fourth Shark Typhoon to further push on that gameplan against midrange and control, and a fun-of Tale’s End because it continues to overperform.

I think this is a great place to start into ensuring that Uro’s reign over Historic continues for at least the next two weeks.