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Azorius Control in Theros Standard
Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
9/3/2013 10:00:00 AM
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It is now September, so the release of Theros is just a few short weeks away. When Theros becomes Standard legal on the 27th the format is in for a serious shakeup. I have focused my attention forward towards the future Standard format in preparation. More important than the arrival of the new is the departure of the old. While 249 cards will enter the Standard format, some 1000 or so cards will leave. This has a massive impact upon the metagame, clearing the slate and leaving it clean for a new crop of decks. However that does not mean players have to start from scratch. While there are many new cards to digest, the vast majority of Standard legal cards are known entities; Return to Ravnica has been in print for almost a year now, and even M14 has been around for a couple months. Past experiences with the old cards will shape the initial archetypes and metagame. There are plenty of familiar faces.

In my article two weeks ago I shared the top cards from Return to Ravnica block and M14, the sets that will compose the majority of new Standard, and what they mean for the new format. Using this as a guide, along with what we already know about Theros, to come up with a pretty strong idea of what Standard is going to look like come October.

The UW/Azorius Control shell looks to be a clear player in the new metagame. The shell contains some of the most powerful cards available in the format, headlined by Sphinx's Revelation. The UW shell also has access to the premier mass removal in the format, Supreme Verdict. A slew of quality mass removal is leaving the format, including Terminus, Bonfire of the Damned, Mutilate, Rolling Temblor, and even Barter in Blood. Supreme Verdict is going to do a lot of heavy lifting, but it requires a heavy commitment to blue and white. UW also has strong role playing cards, including the Counterspells Essence Scatter and Syncopate, along with Azorius Charm as a flexible Workhorse.

Azorius also gets access to some powerful planeswalkers. Jace, Architect of Thought is a great source of card advantage and a way to contain aggressive decks and Jace, Memory Adept is a hardened control killer that dominates deck incapable of attacking it effectively.

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As if it could not get any better, one of the most exciting Theros cards yet spoiled, a planeswalker, fits right into the control archetype. Elspeth, Sun's Champion impacts the battlefield in a variety of ways, which is something the UW Control deck is very interested in. At six mana, Elspeth needs to have a huge impact and ideally win the game. Its counterpart Garruk, Caller of Beasts has been extremely impressive from across the table, and it certainly passes the “win the game” test.” Digging for a few creatures creates insurmountable card advantage, while the -3 generates massive tempo. Elspeth, Sun's Champion has a similarly impressive effect. The +1 creates three 1/1 tokens: a sizable force. These tokens are ideal for protecting the planeswalkers, and in this role having three separate tokens is an advantage compared to something like the singular 3/3 token created by Garruk, Primal Hunter. Like the +1 on Garruk, Caller of Beasts, activating the +1 on Elspeth, Sun's Champion repeatedly over the course of a few turns will swarm the opponent in creatures and board presence. Elspeth Tirel saw a decent amount of play in its day, but it was only capable of creating two waves of tokens before expiring. Elspeth, Sun's Champion provides a massive upgrade and should prove much more powerful overall.

The -3 on Elspeth, Sun's Champion is capable of massive impact on the board. The ability is situational, but destroying each creature with power four or greater is a massive effect capable of destroying some of the largest and most threatening creatures around. This planeswalker will be best paired with small creatures, if any at all, to ensure the ability is one-sided. Most importantly it clears out anything large, allowing the 1/1 Soldier Tokens it creates to deal with anything else. If Elspeth, Sun's Champion proves to be popular and widespread, the metagame will have to adapt by focusing on playing smaller creatures. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

I do not normally pay too much attention to the ultimate of a planeswalker beyond how cheap it is relative to the loyalty, and the question of “does it win the game?” The -7 of Elspeth, Sun's Champion is pretty cheap relative to the four starting loyalty and +1 ability. It will go off on the fourth turn of being in play, and as Elspeth is particularly good at defending itself with Soldier Tokens, the three attack steps Elspeth must weather will be made easier. The emblem, “creatures you control get +2/+2 and gain flying” is not hugely dominant compared to the wordy ultimates of some planeswalkers, but it should be just as effective at winning the game. The kicker is that this ability works so well when paired with the +1 ability. The nine tokens Elspeth, Sun's Champion has created by the time it ultimates should be enough to take care of business. Alternatively Elspeth, Sun's Champion can wait a turn to ultimate, leaving itself in play as a three 3/3 flying soldier creating machine.

As a six drop, Elspeth, Sun's Titan fills the role of finisher. While it has a strong case for being in UW Control, it does have some stiff competition. The current finisher of choice for Azorius control is the illustrious AEtherling. The creature is unparalleled in its inevitability. It dodges every piece of removal, and it dances past any possible blockers. AEtherling also wins the game quickly, and is capable of blackjacking an opponent in three swings. AEtherling has seen a smattering in play in Standard, usually as a one-of, but it is omnipresent in RTR block constructed blue decks. Standard decks come October will commonly play two or three AEtherling.

The UW Control shell provides plenty of good cards without straying from Azorius. With the buddy lands leaving along with Innistrad and M13, mana in new Standard is going to be significantly tougher and more painful than before. Keeping a manabase streamlined and consistent provides plenty of advantages. If staying UW is good enough to win, then there is no reason to stray farther. Until it is proven otherwise, UW is great place to start when preparing for the new Standard format.

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One of the strongest incentives to stay heavy white is a forgotten gem, Angel of Serenity. During the peak of Junk Rites' dominance, Angel of Serenity defined the format. Angel of Serenity is a massive board wipe that leaves a huge flyer on your side in place of opposing creatures. The removal of Angel of Serenity is even more threatening against token creatures, a sure thing in October given the strength of Selesnya. Angel of Serenity is even more dominant when paired with other creatures, which unlocks the card advantage creating potential of Angel of Serenity when it is used to recur one's own creatures from the graveyard.

One glaring thing I've noticed is that the coming rotation is going to remove the great cheap card selection from the deck. Think Twice is just a memory, and Augur of Bolas is bye-bye. Thought Scour and distant cousin Snapcaster Mage have also hit the road. Consistency is going to be an issue for the UW deck, but there is a solution. I believe a new Theros card may have a place in the deck, where it serves as source of card selection. Omenspeaker is a 1/3 for 1U, with the ability of scry two. The body is great board presence for the early game that matches up well against opposing one and two drops. Just how useful the 1/3 is will depend on the actual metagame, but it looks to be quite useful. The scry two ability is not as powerful as the Peer Through Depths of Augur of Bolas or as the Impulse of Court Hussar, and in fact it does not create any sort of card advantage. Instead, Omenspeaker creates some card selection, digging for whatever is necessary. Scry is quite flexible, and it will dig for anything from a basic land to a removal spell. For a deck that requires early game consistency, Omenspeaker looks quite appealing. Omenspeaker also provides a great way to defend Jace, Architect of Thought. The inclusion of Omenspeaker in a deck also creates some much needed fodder for Angel of Serenity.

Another new blue card is also exciting to me, Thassa, God of the Sea. As a 2U enchantment, it allows for a scry 1 every upkeep. This is reminiscent of the card Think Tank. This was never really a popular competitive Standard card, but playing a game with one in play was quite a fun experience, comparable to something like Sensei's Divining Top but slower and surer. Standard now has some powerful cards, and wasting a card and tempo on something like Think Tank seems more appealing when backed up by Supreme Verdict and Sphinx's Revelation. For the scry alone I think Thassa, God of the Sea may have a home in future Standard. Of course Thassa, God of the Sea is just that, a God, and comes with a devotion ability. The UW control deck will not often hit the five devotion necessary, but games go long, and both Jace, Architect of Thought and AEtherling put two towards devotion. Omenspeaker also does its part. When devotion is reached, an indestructible, unblockable 5/5 will be the reward, much like a miniature AEtherling. I'm going to give Thassa, God of the Sea a try. I would play two, but as a legend I'll stick with one.

Planeswalkers are going to be important this fall. Craig Wescoe already has built a white deck featuring no less than eight, and if block is any indication, Jace, Architect of Thought will be in every blue deck. This is a world of planeswalkers, much like the Standard of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Gideon Jura. Removing planeswalkers is essential, so a healthy portion of Detention Sphere in the maindeck is a great answer. Detention Sphere is also a flexible solution to any number of potential threats.

Taken all that I know about UW control, and after analyzing new spoilers to get an idea of what the future Standard will look like, here is my initial list for UW control:

Azorius Control by Adam Yurchick
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 AEtherling
1 Angel of Serenity
2 Omenspeaker
Creatures [5]
1 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
Planeswalkers [5]
4 Azorius Charm
3 Detention Sphere
4 Essence Scatter
3 Sphinx's Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Syncopate
Spells [22]
4 Azorius Guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
10 Island (237)
9 Plains (233)
Lands [27]
Deck Total [59]


2 Angel of Serenity
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Dispel
4 Precinct Captain
3 Render Silent
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


The sideboard plan of Precinct Captain and Boros Reckoner has been proven in block. In addition to being a transformational plan against control decks, the creatures can prove quite troublesome for aggressive opponents caught without removal. Precinct Captain is more for aggression against control, while Boros Reckoner is ideal against aggro, but they are both capable of doing work in a variety of matchups. How to use the duo comes down to a particular opponent. Angel of Serenity works particularly well with the plan, where it either clears out blockers or Recycles creatures from the graveyard. Rather than fill my sideboard with a random collection of cards, I am going with the proven plan. Sideboards in particular are generally weak and poorly tuned at the beginning of a format, so going into it with a well-thought out sideboard is a big advantage.

Five Counterspells in the sideboard provide a critical mass of disruption against control opponents.

UW control is where I have started my Exploration of the new Theros Standard format. It is a proven entity that pairs some of the most powerful cards in the format with some of the most efficient. This power and consistency paired with the proven nature of the build make it a great initial choice for the format. TCGplayer.com Fall State Championships are being held on October 12th and 13th and Azorius Control is my current frontrunner. Let me and your fellow readers know your thoughts and opinions on the deck, my list, and the format in general in the forums.

-Adam



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