Last updated on July 29, 2021
Hallowed Fountain | Illustration by Jedd Chevrier
Here I was thinking that lurking in the shadows was a Dimir thing, and yet Brad Barclay came out of nowhere with Azorius Control, snatching first place in the Zendikar Rising Championship. And you know what that means; oh yes, the ladders are full of imitators. So why don’t we join them?
While I personally despise facing Azorius Control as a deck, Brad pulled off some fantastic games! It was Sun Tzu that said:
“Know yourself, and you will win every battle.”Sun Tzu
So I guess it’s time to learn about Azorius Control, learn its flaws, patterns, etc., or just become a full-on time mage ourselves. Playing it is a lot more fun than being on the receiving end, after all!
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria | Illustration by Chris Rallis
Wrath of God x4
The strategy is simple: control your opponent until you bore them to death with your Teferi using its ultimate or, alternatively, you swarm the board with flying sharks. The deck is filled with very efficient control cards. Being in blue and white does mean we don’t have reliable 1-mana removal like Esper does.
Still, we have plenty of interactive spells that help us curve towards our end game. Not having Teferi, Time Raveler in Historic is a bit of a downside. It’s likely one of the reasons the deck hasn’t been played much, but forutnately Narset, Parter of Veils is a reliable alternative. Generally, when playing this type of deck, you need to keep in mind that games will likely last a long time. Especially in BO3. Sometimes up to an hour.
The deck may not be suitable for grinding your way to mythic because of this, but once you’re in a top 1200 spot, it’s a solid option to stay there. Some spells are quite flexible in this deck. For example, Cast Out doubles up as card draw or removal. When evaluating your starting hand, sometimes it pays off keeping a 2-lander and trying to cycle your way to a third land.
The 1-Mana Slot
Only one card in the 1-drop slot, Grafdigger’s Cage. It says “nope” to pretty much half of the top tier decks in the format that like to fetch things from the deck, so it’s becoming an auto-include in the mainboard more and more.
Cast Out is a 1-mana slot card thanks to its cheap cycling, though not officially.
The 2-Mana Slots
Usually, I cover these by permanent and non-permanent separately. Since this deck is chock full of control spells, let’s do both at once. Take a deep breath. We’re about to cover the list of concentrated hatred for MTG.
First of all, we have a single copy of Aether Gust. It hits both green and red decks. Guess which decks are trendy right now? That’s right: green- and red-aligned decks. Gruul, Sultai, and goblins players, watch out! This deck will jank you out whenever it can!
Four copies of Censor give us another flexible slot that can counter or cycle.
Finally, a single copy of Search for Azcanta. This is kind of a win condition on its own if it lands on the field. It’ll allow you to keep pulling more and more control mages out of your deck once it flips.
The 3-Mana Slots
Oh, you thought we were done being so controlling after the 2-mana slot? Nope. Not at all. Here’s one more: Absorb. Not only does this hard counter pretty much anything, but it also gains us life against pesky burn decks.
Two copies of Narset, Parter of Veils. A very underplayed card, in my opinion, given how many Azorius aura decks there are in the ladder along with other decks that heavily rely on drawing. It also sort of cantrips itself by giving you a non-creature and non-land card off the top of your deck, which conveniently is most of our deck.
The 4-and-Up-Mana Slots
Cast Out, usually cast as a draw spell, but can double as hard removal at instant speed for four mana for any non-land permanent.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, the most busted Teferi ever printed and likely ever to be printed. Drawing, untapping, removing, this card does it all. If it gets to ultimate, well, good luck, opponents, all your resources are going to get exiled.
And finally, we have Shark Typhoon. A somewhat expensive card to cast, but you can usually cycle early copies to create a flying shark. Once you’re in the 8-mana territory, you can cast this plus hold up a counterspell to protect it. Once the typhoon is down, it’s pretty much game-over for the opponent since you’ll just produce more flying sharks.
Since this deck is grindy, it has a ton of utility lands. Castle Ardenvale to push out chump blockers. Castle Vantress to scry in case you didn’t flip Search for Azcanta. And Irrigated Farmland that can be cycled for an extra draw in case you really need an answer for something.
Mulliganing with this deck is somewhat complicated and requires a bit of a learning curve. Still, generally, you’re good to go with the following:
- Have three lands, at least one of each color;
- Have two counterspells and/or removal;
- Have a clear path to either a planeswalker or a sweeper.
Thanks to the various cycling effects, you can even cycle some of your spells if your opponent is playing something your interaction doesn’t line up well against. Given the state of the meta, your spells should be able to hit pretty much anything.
Other than the occasional whiff on your Aether Gust, your deck will match up favorably with most decks. If you do happen to face that one player that doesn’t run red or green, it’s just one dead card in the deck.
The sideboard is full of goodies to strengthen your strategy even further. There are some clear cards in the deck that can be swapped out, like Aether Gust against non-red-or-green decks. Baffling End and Wrath of God if the opponent runs no creatures, Grafdigger’s Cage if they don’t fetch stuff directly from the graveyard or deck.
What cards do we swap in? It depends on the deck, but you’ve got some choices.
We’ve got Baffling End, Seal Away, Essence Scatter, and Shatter the Sky if you’re up against a creature deck. Timely Reinforcements is a fun little tech as well, gaining you life and giving you blockers.
Tips and Tricks
If you flipped Search for Azcanta, consider activating it and then untapping it at the end of the turn with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria‘s plus ability. If you have enough mana available, you’ll be able to double-up in the search and fetch yourself a second card. The same goes for the utility lands like Castle Ardenvale and Castle Vantress.
Always try to keep at least two mana open with one blue. Even if you have no castable cards in hand, hold priority and have your opponent think you have an answer. The goal is to get to the 5- or 6-mana territory, so fake it till you make it.
If you have the option when you’re up against decks that heavily rely on drawing, you may not even want to minus your Narset, Parter of Veils. Her passive effect may be valuable enough to slow your opponent down significantly.
I mentioned it earlier, but it’s okay to cycle your Shark Typhoon early on. It’s a fine card, don’t get me wrong, but there are four copies in the mainboard. You should be able to draw another once you reach the 6- to 8-mana territory. Cycle it wisely so you can even block something with a flying shark.
If you have Search for Azcanta on the field, it sometimes pays off by cycling a bunch of cards right before the draw step to fill the graveyard enough to flip it. Also, sometimes it’s worth considering dropping a good card into the graveyard to flip this early. Once Azcanta has flipped, it’s tough for your opponent to deal with unless they run land destruction, which is rare. This card wins games. Never underestimate it.
Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
There are a bunch of cards I would personally include in a deck like this. One of these is Settle the Wreckage, a mighty card that can count as a board wipe in some situations.
Dream Trawler is another card I’m fond of that can serve as an additional win condition in the deck that Brad Barclay didn’t use.
And finally, I’m a big fan of Narset in general, so I’d even consider running four copies instead of two. The cantrip and passive anti-draw are very good. This effect will likely only get better with all the Sultai decks floating around.
So what do I think about Azorius Control? This is one of those decks that does great in a meta with few other Azorius decks. It can destroy most decks with its oppressive control spells but becomes less and less effective if more of its kind are in the same format. After all, a mirror match is technically a 50% win rate, and we want to sit around 60% or so.
With Brad Barclay winning, I’ve seen quite a rise in Azorius decks in the ladder, so it depends slightly if this trend continues. Still, if not, this deck has very favorable matchups against most other decks in the meta. We saw decks like Esper control come and go. They never really kept up with the Historic meta, but here we are. Brad Barclay showed some fantastic skill piloting this deck to the very top.
The deck has a bit of a steep learning curve initially, so it might not be new-player-friendly. It isn’t as easy as “counter all the things,” after all. Once you know what your opponent’s deck’s valuable targets are, you can really exploit your knowledge. At that point, you just make sure none of their win conditions resolve or stay on the field. Against creature decks, Wrath of God or Cast Out can take over the game.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I despise Azorius Control. To clarify, it’s not that I functionally dislike this deck at all. I just find that each game drags on forever before it’s clear who will win. Some people may enjoy that, but I personally like my games to be decided around turn 4 to 6. So heading into turn 7, 8, or 9 territory like this deck does, our games take a lot longer than I’m personally comfortable with when grinding to mythic.
Each grind requires a significant amount (hundreds) of games to reach the top, after all. There are plenty of players out there that feel control matchups are the pinnacle of MTG gameplay. While I really enjoy playing control decks in events and in paper MTG like Dimir, Grixis, or even Esper, I’ll continue enjoying them there.
In paper Magic, it’s much more fun since a sizeable social aspect comes into play to bluff your opponent. Of course, it’s somewhat possible in MTGA by holding priority.
Aether Gust | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
This deck is excellent. Personally, I feel that Esper control might become better in the long term. Still, as it stands right now, Azorius is impressive. I’d love to splash some red and turn it into some sort of Jeskai build, but that’s a deck for a different time. I know many of you may hate Azorius Control or control decks in general. Still, they’re a necessary evil to keep decks like goblins or auras in check.
Lately, there haven’t been a whole lot of control decks, and these decks have had free reign. It’s nice to see that now we have a deck that doesn’t rely on just Ugin to take over the game. If you’re a control player yourself, feel free to share the variations of this deck down in the comments. I’m sure there’ll be more people that would love to see your take on this!
With that said, I’ve had fun covering this deck and hope you did too! If there’s a particular deck you want me to cover next, please let me know down below. Hit up our Twitter or Discord for some more in-depth conversations. Finally, be sure to download our app Arena Tutor to track your wins and get extra stats for MTGA. It’s awesome!