Last updated on October 18, 2022
Narset, Parter of Veils | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Azorius () Control has been a powerful archetype for longer than I’ve been playing Magic. In recent years we’ve seen powerful planeswalkers replace difficult-to-answer creatures as the main win condition of their decks.
With the printing of Neon Dynasty Azorius Control has rocketed to the top tiers of Pioneer on the back of efficient catch-all removal and a new planeswalker that puts pressure on your opponents in the same way Settle the Wreckage did in Standards past. Plus a wrath that manages to effectively answer sticky permanents and creatures all in one go.
So, let’s slow things down and take a deep dive into Azorius Control and how it works in Pioneer.
Intro to Azorius Control
Azorius Control is the premier control deck of Pioneer. While other control decks exist, like Dimir () Control and Izzet () Magma Opus Control, I think Azorius stands clear as the control deck to learn right now. Before Neon Dynasty I’d still say that Azorius was the control deck to beat, but with the printing of some excellent cards in white and other control decks not getting many equivalent tools that gap has only widened.
Like any control deck, Azorius’ place in the metagame depends on the decks around it. When the format moves towards all-out aggression, previously in the form of Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks, it can be difficult for Azorius since the direct burn alongside fast starts can get underneath your game plan. When the format slows down even a little towards larger aggro decks and midrange is when Azorius really shines. These decks can’t normally get under it, nor can they go over top.
Azorius is still strong when the meta fully shifts towards other control decks or combo decks like Lotus Field Combo or Jeskai Ascendancy to attack the midrange decks, but it has to adjust the number of answers for spell-based combo cards. While there are a few other fringe decks that can truly go over the top of Azorius, like Mono Green Eldrazi, your main concern with this deck is knowing when you need more reactive answers vs. when you need to maximize on early creature interaction.
One major benefit to this build is that you can effectively attack both ends of the meta without having to change your main deck configuration much at all with Neon Dynasty. This makes Azorius Control a solid contender against any current meta decks when played well.
As expected of modern control decks, there aren’t any creatures in the main deck. Instead there’s a heavy reliance on instant-speed removal, wrath effects, and planeswalkers.
Your early turns involve developing your mana and interacting with cheap pieces of counterspells or removal. After that you leverage wraths and planeswalkers to take over the midgame and transition towards the late game where your card quality far exceeds your opponent’s. While far from revolutionary, this strategy works well thanks to the efficiency of your tools and the difficulty that decks have answering your threats.
Post-board you’re able to swap out ineffective tools for even cheaper and more targeted answers. If you’re unable to find your footing early against these control decks then you’ll never find that footing since the overwhelming inevitability of Azorius takes over. More on those concepts can be found in this course.
While the cards in Azorius Control have leveled up over the years, the general idea of the deck stays the same. You want to interact on your opponent’s turn, draw answers to their threats, and dominate the mid-to-late game with hard-to-answer threats that bury your opponent in resources or card advantage.
A new addition from Neon Dynasty helps round out the planeswalker package of Azorius. While some versions play fewer planeswalkers, I think these 10-planeswalker builds help to close the game quickly and can put your opponent in difficult positions from turn 4 onwards.
An all-star of every format it’s been in, Narset, Parter of Veils not only soaks damage and finds relevant threats, it also prevents your opponent from drawing too many cards. One of the main ways to pull ahead in Magic is to gain continual card advantage, and Narset shuts that down by itself.
While not amazing in aggressive matchups, this planeswalker’s ability to dig for wraths or removal can still help steal game 1s against the fiercest of aggro decks.
What more can be said about Teferi, Hero of Dominaria? This card sparked a resurgence of “No Win Condition” Control in Standard and has seen various play in Standard, Modern, and Pioneer since. One of the most individually powerful card advantage engines in Magic that can also remove any threat and end the game by itself, Teferi is the card that ends most games in Azorius’ favor, even if it isn’t the one dealing lethal damage.
The latest and greatest from Neon Dynasty, The Wandering Emperor. This is your newest threat generator to both pressure your opponent and their planeswalkers while trading with creatures or exiling attacking creatures. Having a flash planeswalker fits into Azorius Control beautifully.
Every time this card has resolved it’s improved in my rankings of cards in Pioneer. At this point The Wandering Emperor can fight Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice and Greasefang, Okiba Boss as the most impactful card from Kamigawa for Pioneer.
The difficulty opponents will have playing around four open mana in the mid-to-late game will only increase as the game progresses. The Emperor is especially good against decks like Izzet Phoenix since you can exile Arclight Phoenixes or tapped Awoken Horrors after they flip and try to kill you. It can also hit tapped creature lands the turn it enters, cleaning up a type of card that’s historically been a problem for control decks.
The Wandering Emperor really is an all-around upgrade for Azorius and a big reason the deck continues to perform right now.
A key component of control decks is disallowing problematic cards before they ever hit the battlefield. These counterspells are a major source of frustration for players that are newer at dealing with control decks. The looming threat of counterspells can feel like an insurmountable hurdle to winning matches against control when you’re behind.
While these cards are less effective when behind they can act as removal, allowing you to divvy up your resources however they best suit your hand and the game state.
When you’re trying to extend the game, having a counterspell that hits any spell and has incidental life gain can undo some of the work of aggro decks. Absorb is an ideal game 1 card since having interaction and ways to keep the game going helps Azorius Control stabilize early and closes the door on any comeback potential later in the game.
While you often side out some number of Absorbs for more efficient interaction, the variety of situations where it plays well means most Azorius Control decks run the full four.
Dovin’s Veto is the best counterspell in Pioneer. Most decks in the format play impactful noncreature spells, and being able to counter the most important spells for two mana with no recourse from the opponent is a major reason Azorius can contend against the spell-based combo decks in the format.
Countering Boros Charm or Shrapnel Blast can steal games, even against aggressive decks. Depending on the meta you can run anywhere from zero to four copies in main, but having access to four copies of Veto post-board is a must for any control deck that can reasonably cast it.
Control decks maintain their control of the board through counterspells, planeswalkers, and targeted removal. While some decks, like Izzet or Dimir Control, lean more heavily on this 1-for-1 style of removal, Azorius leverages wrath effects to deal with wide boards while having specialized removal for threats that can otherwise be difficult to wrath or that need interaction on turns 1 through 3.
A good catch-all for creatures or planeswalkers that slip past your defenses, Fateful Absence‘s downside is heavily mitigated when it’s paired with Narset, Parter of Veils. Along with the idea that the card quality of other decks pales in comparison to your deck in the late game, answering a pertinent threat in exchange for a random card favors you. Especially if it buys you enough time to take control through other means.
March of Otherworldly Light is the newest removal spell from Kamigawa that’s changed the landscape of Pioneer. While it doesn’t quite live up to the multi-format-warping Prismatic Ending, Otherworldly Light does a great job of killing problematic creatures or enchantments at instant speed.
In dire situations you can 2-for-1 yourself to answer cards like Greasefang, Okiba Boss to prevent an untimely reanimation. With the cost of threats likely moving up a little with Lurrus’ banning this card might lose a little luster, but it can be a catch-all answer for threats at two to three mana at instant speed if the mana curves stay low, and that’s a great tool for any control deck.
This instant not hitting planeswalkers will take you at least a few times to remember. The card is good, but it isn’t quite a true catch-all!
A stock staple of white decks in Pioneer, Portable Hole allows you to tackle the myriad of 1- and 2-drops in Pioneer. An easy card to sideboard out in matchups that aren’t centered around low-drops, it’s an example of a card that might shine or look lackluster game 1 but helps you elongate the game until you can take over in the right matchups.
A hallmark of Azorius Control decks, wraths take their name from Wrath of God and have long surpassed the namesake card with uncounterable wraths and a new wrath that exiles various other card types.
An impressive addition from Neon Dynasty, Farewell allows you to chose to exile one or more of all artifacts, all creatures, all enchantments, and/or all graveyards. This flexible card can deal with indestructible creatures, permanents that you otherwise couldn’t remove with targeted removal, and the graveyard to contain decks like Greasefang or Phoenix.
While this wrath costs six mana it’s a backbreaking effect that few decks can adequately play around or rebuild from, especially if multiple modes hit cards in their deck. Farewell is especially good against some of the decks that could otherwise prove difficult for Azorius to out grind, like Rakdos () Oni-Cult Anvil, Jund () Sacrifice, or Izzet Phoenix.
4-mana destroy all creatures is an effect that almost all creature decks fear. The ever-present question of how many creatures to deploy into potential wraths and how to maintain a strong board presence even afterwards can plague inexperienced aggro opponents. In your case you just get to use your targeted removal and planeswalkers to create situations where Supreme Verdict is a game-ender.
In a format where Mystical Dispute is a massively represented sideboard card, being able to ensure your catch-up card always resolves is a major reason Azorius can deal with blue tempo decks. Dealing with decks like Spirits would be even tougher without the uncounterable clause. Granted they can always Spell Queller you, but that’s much more the exception than the rule in the format.
Lands are the backbone of any control deck. You play some of the most lands of any deck in Pioneer given the lack of cards like Primeval Titan and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. These lands aim to almost always come in untapped to give access to your spells in a timely fashion along with providing extra value in your land slots through activated abilities, cycling, extra removal, and even as threats to close out the game.
A spectacular tool at handling single-threat decks that don’t have fliers or tramplers to push through your blockers. You can also leverage Castle Ardenvale to create a small army and overwhelm other control decks, forcing them to answer your insignificant creatures and force through more important cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
And don’t underestimate the value of chipping away at planeswalkers with these 1/1s. That can stop your opponent from ult-ing their planeswalkers or using certain minus abilities.
Another member of the Castle cycle, Castle Vantress was a staple of Standard, especially in Fires of Invention decks. Having repeatable card selection helps when you have extra mana Azorius take full control of the late game by filtering out bad draws or excess lands that don’t help end the game.
An end step Vantress activation alongside an upkeep activation can let you see up to five cards looking for a specific answer like Supreme Verdict. Leveraging Vantress is a huge part of what helps protect you and establish control in the mid-to-late game.
Another new card from Neon Dynasty, Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire gives Azorius access to a removal spell in the land slot. Lands that double as pseudo-spells are great in general but especially in control decks that have to run an abundance of lands to work.
Now those excess lands can uncounterably kill an opposing threat. A great upgrade to a mana base already filled with value lands.
A staple since its original printing, Field of Ruin is an important tool at containing the Forgotten Realms creature lands that are near omnipresent in Pioneer right now. Along with potentially containing Thespian’s Stage‘s ability to create extra hexproof Lotus Fields, Field of Ruin is a necessary tool for any deck that can afford the colorless land.
While the colorless nature of Field can hurt your ability to cast Absorb it rarely comes up as an issue otherwise. Just make sure you hold your Fields for cards like Mutavault in matchups with The Book of Exalted Deeds.
The premier Forgotten Realms land of Pioneer for blue decks, Hall of Storm Giants lets you close the game much faster than ever before. Once you’ve established full control it’s very easy to close out a game with a 7/7.
Just be careful of running Hall out into removal where they can pay for ward, since the cost to activate will likely tap most of your mana and Azorius Control never wants to lose access to mana on its own main phase.
Another new land from Kamigawa. Otawara, Soaring City lets you bounce problematic permanents and potentially counter them on the way back down, especially against creatures with indestructible or that are too large to kill with Eiganjo.
Otawara is especially strong against decks like Orzhov () Auras where they can protect from destroy effects or targeted removal. This card can reset their largest creature and there isn’t any strong counter play to the channel lands.
These are your dual lands. Even though Pathways aren’t quite dual lands, they fill the role of whichever color you need most at the time. While Irrigated Farmland has cycling, I’m always hesitant to cycle it unless I have 6+ lands in play and a few in hand. You want access to as much mana as possible in these style of decks.
And while you don’t play any large X spells like Sphinx’s Revelation, you have plenty of mana sinks in your lands along with casting multiple spells per turn. Or cards like Memory Deluge that you can cast from the graveyard in the late game.
Glacial Fortress | Illustration by James Paick
- It doesn’t look like it at first glance, but Portable Hole and Farewell play extremely well together. You resolve the steps in order when resolving Farewell. So if you chose to exile all artifacts and creatures, you exile your Portable Holes, the creature enters the battlefield, and since Portable Hole doesn’t use the stack when returning creatures to the battlefield you then exile all creatures, including those that were previously under the Portable Hole. This is a major part of the why the deck is built as-is and is something you need to understand to play this deck to its fullest potential.
- Against Izzet Phoenix, consider if your opponent could bring back or hard cast a Phoenix into your Narset, Parter of Veils. If they can and you don’t need to search for any specific card, you can just leave Narset at 5. The Phoenix can put it to 2, but it’ll still limit your opponent’s ability to draw cards with its static ability. Untapping with Narset in play can give you the time to maneuver the Izzet matchup in your favor while your opponent wastes resources to remove it.
- Unless you already have several spells in hand and can identify that your opponent has spot removal, it’s almost always correct to cycle Shark Typhoon rather than hard cast it. If you cast Typhoon it’s the same mana cost as making a 4/4 shark and drawing a card. If you’re relying on the top of your deck to generate spells to make an army of sharks then a big shark and an extra draw will win your more games than hoping not to draw two lands as you die to a creature you could have blocked.
- With the addition of Hall of Storm Giants and The Wandering Emperor, closing games takes much less time. While you still want to practice playing at a quick pace and making timely decisions these new threats keep you from timing out on Magic Online or drawing in paper Magic.
- If you’re worried your opponent has answers for your Halls you can usually wait and threaten to eat their lands with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria’s ultimate, making it impossible to answer the Hall and pay for ward. It takes some extra time but you’re a deck that thrives on that late game.
- Conversely, don’t be afraid to use Hall to quickly close out the game if your opponent doesn’t respect it. It only takes three hits to kill someone, less if you got in any chip damage or if they ran any self-damage effects. Racing with Azorius might feel out of place, but mastering when to turn the corner will win you a lot of close games that could otherwise slip away.
- Mapping out how your mana lines up, especially for color pips, is an important skill to develop with this deck. Given most of your counterspells and interactive spells are color-intensive you need to maintain the right colors to maximize what you could be representing. If you tap out of white mana then you can’t cast Absorb or Dovin’s Veto. If you only have one white source, opponents can play around your wraths. Learning the push and pull of your mana and what that means for your ability to cast one, two, or three spells in a turn is a major aspect of playing this deck well.
Even with Lurrus’ ban you can predict what range of decks your opponent is playing depending on their companion (or lack thereof) if you understand the decks in the format. Knowing what type of cards matter in specific matchups is a huge level up point for all control players.
Prioritize answers and lands over threats in your opening hands, especially when considering what to put back on mulligans. You’ll find threats as the game progresses, but jamming early threats before you have the board completely controlled just leads to more difficult games.
There’s a joke from Limited that lands and spells are a good enough reason to keep. While it doesn’t go quite that far here, you’re more than likely going to keep that hand if you have any form of reasonable interaction and lands to cast your spells. Given enough time you’ll always find what you need, so if you can cast your spells then you can elongate the game.
Azorius Control’s sideboard changes a lot since how you build a control deck relies heavily on using all 75 slots. Unlike other styles of decks where you can have a more definitive game 1 and game 2 plan, this build tends to craft a similar game plan in all games, just varying the tools it uses to reach that outcome.
You can shift cards into the main deck depending on the meta, or shift cards out to the sideboard to better target specific matchups. If you know that there are a lot of midrange decks floating around then you can stack your deck with more appropriate game 1 answers and shift your heavy control or heavy aggro cards to the sideboard.
Conversely, if the meta is heavily Lurrus-based (or whatever the new post-ban flavor of aggro looks like), you may want to shift your cards around to maximize your card quality against aggro in game 1.
If this seems like a bit much to you, you can take an in-depth course on sideboarding here.
Aether Gust is specifically for decks that have important red or green spells. Gust is especially effective against decks like Niv to Light where a wide range of their threats get hit at all stages of the game. Don’t bring this card in against decks where the cards you care most about aren’t red or green.
For example, if the card you need to deal with out of Izzet Phoenix is Temporal Trespass or Treasure Cruise, bringing in multiple copies of Gust can clog up your hand. If you think you need extra answers to Crackling Drake, Gust is a solid card to consider.
Damping Sphere is really only for Lotus Field and potentially Jeskai Ascendancy, though I think the card plays much worse into Ascendancy than players expect. Really this is just to shut off Lotus Field and can potentially slow decks like Phoenix down, but not by enough to consider it a hammer in that matchup.
The best counterspell in Pioneer, having access to the full four copies of Dovin’s Veto post-board is how Azorius dominates spell-reliant decks, especially decks like Lotus Field that need specific cards to resolve to win. While players can overwhelm you with early aggression there really isn’t any tool in Pioneer quite as effective as Veto in matchups where you need to protect against specific noncreature spells.
Depending on the meta you can run all four copies in main, all four copies in the sideboard, or a split like you see here. This is a place where keeping up with the metagame pays off dearly.
Having a haymaker that can’t be countered and you can protect with any spell in mirrors and other matchups where the game is going at slow pace, usually thanks to an abundance of counterspells and interaction, will win you games. A throwback to cards like Nezahal, Primal Tide or Aetherling, this hard-to-interact-with creature will punish decks that cut all their removal or are overly reliant on cards like Dovin’s Veto to stop your planeswalkers.
Mystical Dispute is the best answer to blue cards in the format. Dispute’s stock only rises with Lurrus gone. This comes in against a vast portion of the metagame, especially against decks that want to fight over your planeswalkers with counterspells. While you have access to Dovin’s Veto, Dispute often prevents early plays like Narset, Parter of Veils from dominating the board before you can get your mana developed and your other counterspells online.
Rest in Peace
One of the strongest sideboard cards in Pioneer, Rest in Peace can dismantle the main strategy of a lot of decks present in the meta right now. The Greasefang decks struggle to answer this card, though the Abzan () version less so than the Esper () one. Izzet Phoenix relies on the graveyard for Arclight Phoenix and delve spells. Without those tools the matchup becomes lopsided in your favor. Various other fringe decks that leverage the power of the graveyard are all set behind by Rest in Peace.
While there are plenty of answers in the format most decks can only afford to run two to four copies in their deck. Paired with counterspells or just buying enough time you can establish dominance in the game while your opponent struggles to even get off the ground.
Shark Typhoon is an odd inclusion in sideboards, but I think it’s a luxury you can afford to lean on in specific matchups now that you have access to The Wandering Emperor. While you used to leverage a 2/2 or 3/3 Shark to trade off with aggressive creatures you don’t need to do that anymore since your planeswalker can handle the board by itself.
In matchups where you need to attack other planeswalkers or threaten life totals without exposing yourself to counterspells, that’s where Shark Typhoon shines and where you can leverage the card’s greatest strengths. Consider how difficult it is for you as Azorius Control to answer a large shark made on end step and then you understand exactly what kind of matchups you want to bring this additional threat to.
How to Beat Azorius Control
Stubborn Denial | Illustration by James Ryman
Decks that can establish one threat and demand an answer to it can force Azorius to use valuable resources at inopportune times.
Dedicated combo decks can run Azorius out of important cards before sticking a combo piece with counter backup thanks to Dovin’s Veto that can sometimes be harder than it first appears but once a key piece resolves that sign of weakness usually indicates that you’re clear to go for the kill.
Other Cards to Try
Dig Through Time sees play when you have more cheap spells that end up in the graveyard like Azorius Charm, that sees more play when decks like Orzhov Auras are around. Once you’ve built up a graveyard you can quickly find whatever answers or threats will close out the game.
Sunset Revelry can see play in main or the sideboard depending on the meta. Like Modern Azorius Control running Timely Reinforcements, Sunset can tempo out aggressive decks and can be worth two to three cards of value at only two mana.
Consider and Opt are best when you want to lean on cards like Dig Through Time, and when you expect that you’ll have time to better filter to whatever answers you need. These cards are weaker when your life total is under pressure so they see less play when aggro is prevalent.
Narset’s Reversal is one of the only cards that can answer Thought Distortion out of decks like Dimir Control or Lotus Field Combo. As a value card you can sometimes protect your hand while weakening your opponent’s by sending discard back at them. Few things are as enjoyable as casting an opponent’s Go Blank to hit their Go Blank and the threat they were trying to protect with it.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion has dominated many Standards as the control finisher of its era. Nowadays a 6-mana planeswalker can leave you unable to counter important spells, but Elspeth will single-handedly win the game against most midrange deck. We saw one copy in the top 8 of the Pioneer challenge on March 6th.
Supreme Verdict | Illustration by Sam Burley
Azorius was the premier control deck of the format before the Lurrus ban, and I imagine it’ll only get stronger now that the cat is back inside the kennel.
Your understanding of the Pioneer format and what cards matter for both you and your opponent’s strategies are a major part of the learning curve for this style of deck. Don’t be discouraged if you end up losing quite a few games to countering the wrong spell or killing the wrong threat or tapping out at the wrong time. These are all lessons taught at a cost, and over time you’ll be able to leverage those lessons to win at an even higher rate.
While control isn’t always a top deck in Pioneer, it always ends up as a player in the meta as we shift rapidly between aggressive and more midrange metagames. Learning how to play with and against Azorius Control will greatly help your ability to win in Pioneer and is a major reason I advocate for playing the deck, even if it’s outside of your traditional comfort zone.
One last comment — if you’re really serious about learning how to play control, check out Corey Burkhart’s masterclass on the topic here.
Do you have any experience with Azorius Control, either piloting it or facing it? Maybe you had an epic showdown that you just have to share? Let us know in the comments down below or over on Draftsim’s official Twitter.
That’s all from me for today. Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: