Azorius Control continues to be the sole survivor for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria fans in Modern.
Many control decks come and go. There’s a possibility that, as I write this, Jeskai Control is taking down a Magic Online event; maybe someone is smashing opponents with Kaya’s Guile from Esper Control. All these decks are similar in practice and gameplay; however, it’s Azorius Control that seems to continue to see success, regardless of the metagame shifts.
It’s rarely the best deck, but it’s a trusted source for control fans to have an effective weapon in Modern. I accept the few-percent deficit I have in certain matchups, as my experience playing the archetype makes up for it. Path to Exile, Supreme Verdict, Cryptic Command, and Snapcaster Mage have been loyal warriors of the archetype, providing Azorius Control the resources necessary to be successful in competitive play. Regardless of how bad it gets in Modern, these cards can pull control players through.
The way Azorius Control has been built in Modern has not varied much, especially considering how different the metagame is with each passing month. Old decks thought to have been long dead are back, stronger than ever, taking down online events with ease.
The Modern world thought that Mono-White Hammer (Lurrus) would run away with the trophy, yet it has been reduced to Humans-level success. Most Top 8s contain one copy of the deck, a much lower success rate than it had just a few weeks ago. Instead, we see a deck like Living End win the whole thing, with multiple other recent successes as well. Temur Crashcade is a fun, new deck that is fueled by Modern Horizons 2, but Living End? This is another reason why Modern is great right now: seeing the decks of old conquer, even if they were barely Tier 2 in their heyday.
The Modern metagame is much more diverse and open than online results would lead you to believe. Players like Kanister, D00mwake, and WaToO (aka Guillaume Wafo-Tapa) are always topping the charts, with mostly blue decks by preference. The latter two players are the guiltiest of this charge, joining me in the worldwide mission of creating a control-minded army for competitive play. D00mwake is a legendary Azorius Control player who has recently dabbled in other forms of Cryptic Command, but WaToO rarely deviates.
I have had the pleasure of chatting with Guillaume Wafo-Tapa on many occasions. Wafo-Tapa is arguably the best control player of all time and someone I have looked up to for a long time. At each live Pro Tour in the most recent years of Organized Play, he and I would discuss our deck and card choices, helping me grow as a player even in my golden years of competitive play.
Our small collaboration always had a third control master, Guillaume Matignon, who would also prove to be one of the greatest players who commanded the control archetype. He and I connected the most, making me wonder if I was a French control player in another life. I would include my buddy Gabriel Nassif in this conversation, an all-time great I had the pleasure of teaming with for a year, but he abandoned Celestial Colonnade too many times at these events to play the perceived best deck (which I completely understand). That left two French masters of control, and one Virginian loyalist, who sought to keep Cryptic Command decks alive even through turbulent times.
Knowing Wafo-Tapa, and seeing his success online, has made me more suspicious of using Magic Online tournament data as a reflection of what wins in Modern. Many of the pros have abandoned competitive play, especially on Magic Online, leaving a select group of powerful mages to dominate the charts. Wafo-Tapa is no exception, making Top 8 after Top 8 with beautiful control concoctions that immediately pique my interest. The same holds true for D00mwake, Kanister, and the handful of other grinders that have remained on the platform.
Although many pro players run through Leagues and playtest on Magic Online, they’re less inclined to spend a day on the Challenges and higher events that run most weekends. There’s a huge difference between the glory that Magic Online can bring and that of live competitive play. For a quick case study, check out the reaction to Star City Games announcing a live tournament in October. The internet blew up, self-included, as I immediately hit my Airbnb app to find a nice place for the weekend.
Magic Online is run by a class of grinders, most of which will win with any deck they choose. This take on Azorius Control by Wafo-Tapa is beautiful for many reasons but has card choices that seem rather unorthodox. The purpose of this article is to analyze those unique card choices and determine whether they’re tools meant for public use, including me, or if they require intricate background knowledge on their effective uses, determined during deckbuilding.
This first list by Wafo-Tapa has a few bangers that took me heavily off-guard. The foundation of the deck, as mentioned before, contains the spells that we all hold near and dear from the Azorius Senate. Where it all breaks down is the absence of one-mana spells, Path to Exile being the most notable, to maximize the two copies of Chalice of the Void.
I have seen some successful builds of Azorius and Esper Control that play four copies of Chalice of the Void and no one-mana spells to combat the top decks of the format. One thing about Modern that has not changed is the pace, which makes stopping all one-drops a huge boost for any deck. This is how Eldrazi Tron has stayed relevant for so long, capitalizing on its high mana curve by having the capability to shut down a deck out of the early-game completely.
Dropping a Chalice of the Void in this build of Azorius Control for one against any aggro deck is lights out, but it even has range against some of the bigger decks of the format. There are very few decks, even a different build of Azorius Control, that are happy to see a Chalice of the Void land on Turn 2. One of the biggest applications is having it on Turn 1 with all zero-costed spells countered, forcing the Cascade players to have answers to an artifact at the ready. The area where I question the decision is the count, with only two copies to complement this gameplan.
Having only two copies of Chalice of the Void is unique to Wafo-Tapa. If we were standing at the rails of a Pro Tour like the olden days, I would ask him about this decision. I love the control builds that follow this line of play and would piggyback on the success that he has had with Azorius Control with it; however, I would find room to maximize my copies. There are immediate spots where I see additional Chalice of the Voids potentially substituting in, but they’re currently occupied by spells I dearly miss playing with.
Wafo-Tapa has a Wall of Omens, a Spreading Seas, and two copies of Fact or Fiction. These are the interesting card choices that bring back the question: genuine card strength, or comfort by a skilled player? Wall of Omens and Fact or Fiction are two phenomenal spells that do not see enough competitive Modern gameplay. I can say that from experience, as well as seeing blips of their success from multiple players over the last few months.
I have been medium on Opt for a while now but played it to enhance the multiple copies of Snapcaster Mage. Since this version of Azorius Control has only one Snapcaster Mage in the entire deck, it frees the user from the obligation to play mediocre cantrips. Instead, Wafo-Tapa pulls card draw from Wall of Omens, Shark Typhoon, and Spreading Seas. I’m not listing the other sources since they have been unanimously voted on as acceptable by the control community already. All but the last option would make my final cut of Azorius Control.
Spreading Seas does not do enough for me as a one-of, but I think I see his logic here. There are no copies of Field of Ruin, which is an interesting gamble that I wish I could make when live play returns. Getting a pulse check of the Magic Online metagame can lead one to have minimal defenses against a Mono-Green Tron sighting, but that isn’t the case at the event hall. There will always be a big-mana lobby that I’m not willing to fold to, especially at a low opportunity cost of an edited manabase. This one Spreading Seas, with a pile of countermagic, is his plan against this deck if he had to face it. He has crafted a masterpiece of lands in this deck in its absence though, including two different lands that produce win conditions, none of which are Celestial Colonnade.
I’m a huge fan of Castle Ardenvale and Hall of Storm Giants. Since Wafo-Tapa dropped Field of Ruin, he has opted to play both, multiples of Castle Vantress, and a diverse set of two-color-producing lands. Every few games I have a throbbing headache, caused by the regret of having colorless lands in my two-color deck. He does not suffer from this and builds a manabase free of those restrictions. Although he’s weaker to big mana decks, the games caused by color issues must be near-zero.
After taking down the Magic Online Challenge, he decided to play a very similar build the next day in the Magic Online Super Qualifier. He fell to a devastating second place in this event with this list.
Thank God, one Celestial Colonnade has returned to the mix!
The other changes he made were minimal, notably a Wall of Omens for a second Spreading Seas. This was likely due to his fear of big mana as discussed, with a nod to creature-lands that are much more difficult to handle with Path to Exile. The one copy of Solitude can assist in that latter scenario, but that’s still scraping by on the bare minimum if push came to shove.
This type of deckbuilding falls under the “intricate knowledge of the archetype and build” category, where Wafo-Tapa breaks it down to a science that works for him. I foresee my readers and I having challenges that are too hard to handle with the tools provided here. There’s plenty of room in the manabase for Field of Ruin to use as a crutch against the difficulties we would face from lands. From Urza’s Tower to Cavern of Souls, lands can cause heartache to control users and the solution is an easy addition. His successes are a learning experience for me though, as my future Azorius Control builds will not stock all four colorless lands with each variation.
Each of these lists has a base that I can completely get behind and I recognize each spell’s powerful interactions with the Modern metagame. The sideboard is also a masterpiece, including Sanctifier en-Vec, a card I have ranted about since its preview, as the catch-all against graveyard and red decks. Fracturing Gust has also become a sideboard staple for control, a necessity when combating artifact-based decks that have become resilient to Stony Silence.
The unique cards are Summary Dismissal and Tempted by the Oriq, but I can see their application. I love some silver bullets to handle uncounterable effects and stealing creatures. Control Magic is not around, so Tempted by the Oriq is a sweet addition to have floating in the 75. The rest of the sideboard contains some usual suspects that we see played in traditional Azorius Control decks, a card pool whose vastness has caused me quite a bit of angst in the past while deckbuilding.
Looking at these two great finishes by Wafo-Tapa with Azorius Control brought me great joy this week. The Modern format continues to have a rich, diverse metagame, especially when considering the decks that remain strong in live play. When the best grinders in the Magic Online world continue to play control, it keeps the archetype alive and well in the viability conversation.
These players do not battle as much (or at all for some) on Magic Arena, so we do not see that same dedication to a playstyle that requires a little more elbow grease to get the job done. This is a huge reason why I yearn for the high-end tournaments to return for live play, an arena where all players, old-school and new-age, will run back with open arms. In the meantime, this is the adapted Azorius Control deck I would play, taking the genius of Wafo-Tapa and providing the support that many of us need to find similar success.
- 2 Solitude