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Understanding Azorius In Ikoria Limited

Ryan Saxe lays out the principles of Azorius decks in Ikoria Draft and guides you through four intriguing picks!

Dreamtail Heron, illustrated by Caio Monteiro

The main color-pairs in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited are:

  1. Orzhov (Humans)
  2. Boros (Cycling)
  3. Izzet (Spells, though actually the best version is not Spells, and I outline it in a previous article)
  4. Simic (Mutate)
  5. Golgari (Graveyard/Reanimation)

However, Ikoria is a very deep Limited format. The only two-color pair that I believe you should basically never draft is Selesnya. Rakdos is one of the best decks, as it can play aggressive, midrange, and controlling roles. Sometimes Rakdos even can capitalize on menace and sacrifice synergies. Dimir can be a great control deck with a flash theme. Gruul facilitates a strong beatdown plan that can often reanimate Greater Sandwurm as discussed in my article earlier this week.

But what is Azorius? Flyers? Not exactly…

The archetype is not “flyers,” but it uses Vulpikeet and Dreamtail Heron to bring other creatures to the sky. In the deck I draft below, Jubilant Skybonder is in the sideboard of my deck. Wind Drake just isn’t a good Limited card anymore. Helica Glider is fine, but I would rather have my three-drop slot be Thieving Otter, Frost Lynx, and Snare Tactician.

In general, since Jeskai is where the cycling synergies are, I end up in Azorius when I start red but it isn’t open. Starting red lets me toe the line between Izzet and Boros because of overlapping synergies. It’s common for me to start with a couple of red cards and follow up with blue and white cards as I figure whether or not Izzet or Boros is the place to be. But when no red cards wheel, and good blue and white cards are there, Azorius is the place to be! This is also why I find Snare Tactician to be such a great card in the archetype: I end up here when I start with cycling synergies.

Finding the marriage between lanes of a Draft format is one of the most important avenues for success once a format has solidified. All the archetypes are well-defined now, but discerning the patterns that lead down different archetypal paths is a great way to increase the quality of your Draft decks!

I started Boros Cycling in this draft. Will I be able to hold onto the best archetype or will I get pushed into Azorius?

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Springjaw Trap is only an option because I have seen people discuss taking it early in confusing spots because “it’s colorless removal.” Springjaw Trap is so inefficient that it’s more like a gold card because it makes my deck less than 10% of the time. Colorless is a boost in pick order because such cards have a higher probability of being castable in any given deck, but that you’re not excited to cast remain unexciting. Obosh, the Preypiercer and Lurrus of the Dream-Den both have great synergy with the card, so I’ll take it highly if either of those are my companion. Outside of that, please pass on Springjaw Trap. It’s just not good enough.

Ram Through is a solid removal spell, but this format isn’t lacking in that department. It’s a great card in my green decks, but I prioritize both Migratory Greathorn and Essence Symbiote over it because this format is all about maximizing synergy. With that in mind, this pick boils down to Sanctuary Lockdown for potential Human synergies or Lava Serpent for cycling synergies.

While this start has a much higher probability of yielding a cycling deck than a Humans deck, Sanctuary Lockdown opens up the door to capitalize on Humans, while Lava Serpent is not much better than filler in any cycling deck. I think it’s important to speculate on synergistic potential and so I took Sanctuary Lockdown.

Pack 1, Pick 4

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
I’m not a fan of taking lands that enter the battlefield tapped this highly; however, Wind-Scarred Crag is the best card in this pack for the Boros cycling deck.

Farfinder has gone significantly down in my pick order. Don’t get me wrong, the card is great in any deck trying to mutate, but this basically means it rarely makes the cut in white decks. While I would take Farfinder in this pack over Wind-Scarred Crag, I think Essence Scatter is the better pick.

Essence Scatter has impressed me. Thanks to mutate, there are a lot of value creatures and creatures that interact like Chittering Harvester. Cycling mitigates the downside of holding up a counterspell — not having a legal target and hence wasting mana. Even though both Wind-Scarred Crag and Farfinder look like they would make my Boros deck, I think both of them are unlikely to make the cut. That’s right: I’m only playing tap-lands or Farfinder in my cycling decks if I am splashing, and I would like to avoid that if possible. Essence Scatter is the best card in this pack, and even though I can’t play it with my white cards, I believe it’s the correct pick.

Pack 1, Pick 6

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Do Essence Scatter and Thieving Otter in my pool make Farfinder more enticing? A little bit, but not enough to take it here. Two good blue cards increase the probability I want to splash by a significant margin; however, I still would rather have a normal, linearized, two-color deck.

Avian Oddity has not impressed me. I originally thought the card would be great, but it’s just too clunky. I think this pick is closer than normal because the Oddity is a great follow-up to Thieving Otter, but I’m taking Sanctuary Smasher. While I’m not a huge fan of Smasher, it can be a really impactful combat trick. No matter which way you slice it, both modes of Smasher are more impactful than Oddity.

Pack 1, Pick 7

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
While the cycling deck does often play uncastable two-mana cyclers, I don’t want to waste a pick on one. If you’re taking Monstrous Step here, I think you’re holding on for dear life to a deck that doesn’t appear open. Sometimes it can be correct to continue pushing, but there are better ways to do that here. For example, Cathartic Reunion is great in most cycling decks as flood protection, and it also plays a fine role in Izzet, especially with access to Ominous Seas.

Between Cathartic Reunion and Facet Reader, I’d lean Reunion. Facet Reader can be a great card for Of One Mind and Ominous Seas decks, but so is Cathartic Reunion. I think my red cards in my pool are stronger pulls than my blue cards, really giving Reunion the edge here.

That brings this pick down to Vulpikeet, Cathartic Reunion, and Swiftwater Cliffs. I took Cliffs because it opens the door for splashing (even if I’m not so enthusiastic about it). While Cathartic Reunion and Vulpikeet are solid cards, they are still mostly filler. And I take lands over filler.

This deck was a blast! The games were fascinating and the finals match was one of the most enjoyable matches I have had in this format. Figuring out how to maximize battlefield presence was quite difficult, but it felt like I could always eventually jockey my position to an advantage. You can see the deck and draft log below, and I’m looking forward to drafting more Azorius decks!

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