Pioneer Azorius Control Guide
20/01/2024 · 13 min read
Control has been a mainstay in Pioneer for as long as the format exists. I myself started my Pioneer journey with Thirst for Meaning, a control shell that is enchantment-centric.
A lot of people proclaimed the death of control with the printing of Cavern of Souls, but actually they could not have been more wrong! For one, control can be tuned to beat creature cavern decks with the plethora of tools at its disposal such as Temporary Lockdown or Supreme Verdict. On top of that, control sided out countermagic against such decks anyways so it is not such a big hit. Last but not least, there just aren’t many Cavern decks floating around.
Not only was control alive, but it also went into a renaissance stage of its life - all thanks to Amalia Combo. Amalia was a breakout card that took the format by storm and immediately started a ban conversation. Azorius Control happily entered an Amalia-infested meta and crushed it. This new menace is the best thing that happened to UW in a long time!
|3 Make Disappear
|4 March of Otherworldly Light
|4 Memory Deluge
|3 Dovin's Veto
|4 Get Lost
|2 Supreme Verdict
|3 Temporary Lockdown
|3 Shark Typhoon
|2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
|3 The Wandering Emperor
|1 Otawara, Soaring City
|1 Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
|4 Hengegate Pathway
|4 Deserted Beach
|1 Castle Ardenvale
|1 Castle Vantress
|1 Hall of Storm Giants
|2 Restless Anchorage
|4 Hallowed Fountain
|3 Field of Ruin
|2 Regal Caracal
|2 Chrome Host Seedshark
|2 Narset, Parter of Veils
|2 Narset's Reversal
|2 Mystical Dispute
|1 Hullbreaker Horror
|2 Rest in Peace
|2 Portable Hole
Players are still unsure whether to play Yorion, Sky Nomad or not. Let me break down a couple of reasons to go either way.
The first key reason is the 8th card argument. Whenever you start a game of Magic, you literally have one more card at your disposal than your opponent. It comes up against grindy decks like Rakdos but also when games are about low resources, i.e. against discard or when you’ve mulliganed. For that reason, players added Jegantha, the Wellspring to their sideboards simply because they could.
The second reason is that it can synergise somewhat with what we’re doing. It can reuse planeswalkers thanks to the blink, re-enable Temporary Lockdown, or change the target of Portable Hole. While it’s not super huge, it does allow you to downtick Teferi and then bring it back with full loyalty. In Yorion versions, players also include Omen of the Sea for even more value.
Maths. The biggest issue with Yorion is mathematics and how it affects the broader construction. Just to list off a few examples.
If you play a four-of like Get Lost, the chance to have it in your opening seven is around 40%. With Yorion it goes down to 31.2%. Drawing one of two copies of a sideboard card (22%) is close to the same percentage as when you play three copies in a Yorion deck (24%).
It all means that you have to either access more variance when you draw your best cards or increase the number of each. Instead of a 2-of sideboard, play 3-ofs. There are two issues with it though.
For one, if you change all the cards to 3-ofs, it means you’ll need to cut some cards entirely, decreasing your flexibility and the overall size of tools available. It might not be a big deal in some metagames that are homogenous, but it can really backfire in diverse metagames.
Another problem is that there is no Yorion equivalent to playing a playset in 60 cards. You cannot up the number to 5-6 copies of a card to maintain the probability. What you can do is add other worse cards but then you’re comparing the same likelihood of a good card to good card and something worse. It would be like adding Quench as a Make Disappear 5-6 or Depopulate in addition to Supreme Verdict.
All in all, it might come down to player preference or very specific metagames. I would jam Yorion all day if I expect half the room to be Rakdos Midrange, for instance. Hopefully, with the information above you’re well equipped to make that choice for yourself!
This is the deck’s bread and butter. The vast majority of the cards here are meant to interact in some form with whatever the opponent is doing. This type of strategy is purely reactive which means that you want to align your answers with the opposing threats. It also means that the deck, in a weird way, does nothing if the opponent likewise does nothing - as there is nothing to respond to or remove. That said, let’s dive into the tools.
This type of deck really likes fighting on the stack. It has multiple different counterspells at its disposal, each better at a different task.
Make Disappear is our Mana Leak impersonator. In the early game, it gets the job done as nobody can afford to pay two extra mana for their three drop - that’d set the opponent back immensely. In the later stages, you can sacrifice a Samurai or a Shark token to enable casualty 1 and force the opponent (not) to pay four.
Dovin’s Veto is the ultimate ‘no’ response as it cannot be countered back. It cannot tag creatures which is a huge blind spot but it makes it up by being a hard stop against planeswalkers, random enchantments, burn spells, and combo pieces.
Absorb is the currently most popular Cancel variant, with Sinister Sabotage and Neutralize being arguably next in line. The 3 life it provides is a nice stabilisation mechanic that ensures that you stay alive for longer. When chained, you can easily offset the first few combat steps, putting you in a favourable position. Against burn decks, it’s essentially a 2-for-1.
You can’t fight on the stack only. Sometimes a threat will slip through the cracks…and then what?
We’re very well prepared for such an occurrence!
March of Otherworldly Light
March of Otherworldly Light is an excellent catch-all the deck has access to. It removes a permanent, regardless of whether it’s an artifact, creature, or an enchantment. Not only that, it also exiles and does it instant speed. We do not need to worry about Reckoner Bankbuster, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. You can x=0 remove any token for a single mana. While the card is always tempo negative, as you pay one more than the opposing permanent’s cost, you gain the advantage of flexibility. On top of that, you can pitch cards to increase efficiency, converting card advantage into tempo. While it might seem like not a big upside, control is known for dying with cards in hand - so might as well pitch them to remove an opposing threat.
Get Lost covers one blind spot of March, namely planeswalkers. With this addition, the deck has almost every base covered. Azorius used to play Fateful Absence but giving an opponent Maps is much better for us than a Clue - especially as we tend to sweep the board pretty often so there might not be any creatures to map onto.
Supreme Verdict and Temporary Lockdown are our mass removal spells. We might fall behind due to the number of tap lands and a relatively high curve, so we need to have a way to catch back up. Mass removal is exactly that and not rarely is it a complete blow-out, winning the game on the spot.
While control is not known to close games very fast, it does have to play some win conditions in order to finish games in the allotted tournament time. The best control shells play win conditions that are not just threats - they usually act as card advantage, interaction, or both.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria checks all the boxes as a card-drawing, interaction-capable win condition. The most powerful sequence is Teferi untapping two, hold up Dovin’s Veto or Make Disappear. If you untap with Teferi on the battlefield, you’re a firm favourite to win the game.
The Wandering Emperor is one of the most aggressive draw-go control win cons in the last couple of years. It does not even look like a control card at first. However, the fact that it can exile attacking creatures regardless of their size, create blockers, and pressure back is all huge. The most common play patterns are either end step play Emperor and make a token or deploy it in combat and exile an attacker.
Shark Typhoon is our highest ceiling threat as you never have to commit to anything. There will be spots where you just cycle it for 1U to draw into your deck. However, the opponent is the one who always has to take Typhoon into consideration. Afterall, if you end step put an 8/8 flying Shark onto the field, they might be in trouble.
In order to gas up we play a full playset of Memory Deluge. The rate of 2 cards for 4 mana is not particularly efficient, but the real upside is the fact that you can find two interaction pieces with it, stay alive, and at some point you can flash it back to properly take control of the game.
When you face skilled opponents, they will play key spells on turn four to present you with a dilemma of whether to interact or play Deluge. You need to be mentally ready to tackle such timing inconveniences.
Tips & Tricks
1. Wandering Combats
While it does not come up a lot when playing control, The Wandering Emperor can grant +1/+1 counters instant speed which might allow you to win combat or deal that last point of lethal damage
You can exile your own creature in super-extreme scenarios to gain life.
3. Feed the Shark
If you have all your mana open and are about to go to your end step with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria untap trigger, you can float mana, untap the lands, and sink it all into a huge Shark Typhoon. This essentially makes the Shark bigger by 2 points of power and toughness.
4. Castle & Castle
With Teferi’s ability you can activate the same Castle twice. Activate it once, then untap it with Teferi, and you can use it again.
5. Recycling Teferi
You can minus Teferi, Hero of Dominaria targeting itself so that you redraw it later. It is a useful trick in scenarios where you might deck out.
You can overpay for March of Otherworldly Light. As an example, you can pay x=3 to exile Eidolon of the Great Evel (mana value = 2) so that you avoid the damage trigger.
7. Going Big
With Shark Typhoon on the board, you can sink all your mana into March of Otherworldly Light to make as big a Shark as you possibly can.
8. Countering Veto
You can play a counterspell targeting opposing Dovin’s Veto even though it won’t work. It makes sense when you have Chrome Host Seedshark and you just want to trigger it.
9. Lockdown Wisely
Remember that Temporary Lockdown is not downside-less in the deck. It tags your own Samurai and Shark tokens, Incubates, Portable Hole, or Rest in Peace.
10. Extra Cards
When you cast Memory Deluge but the opponent has a taxing effect like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, you’ll look at more cards thanks to the wording of Deluge, caring about the actual mana spent.
A pretty grindy matchup. You need to be wary of the fact that they can have aggressive draws of Bloodtithe Harvester into Fable or Graveyard Trespasser so you cannot keep super slow hands that just have card advantage.
While I don’t discourage it fully, you need to be careful when you want to mulligan too much, as you can get heavily punished by Thoughtseize.
Tricky matchup. Phoenix depending on the game can play as if it was a control deck, tempo deck, or even combo. You will never fully know how the opponent boards but you have to expect some of the following: Fable, Crackling Drake, Young Pyromancer, Saheeli, Sublime Artificer.
While the deck is called Phoenix, you need to remember that it’s still a deck with card advantage, interaction, and different threats. You won’t auto-win a game with Rest in Peace.
If you’d like to learn how the deck operates, check out my guide here.
This matchup is so good, it’s a reason for Azorius to be a good deck. We have all the tools we’d need to disrupt their combo but also contain the fair beatdown plan. While traditionally Negate effects have not been too good against creature decks, you really want a way to disrupt Return to the Ranks or Collected Company.
I trim the top-end a bit, as we won’t trade resources that much. A single Teferi or Deluge should be enough to give us that bit of a nudge forward.
This can be a very tough matchup if played against a skilled opponent. It’s tricky, as our removal is nigh-dead but we can’t even side all out because of Lier or a potential Baral.
They will try to set up a situation where they play Thought Distortion and rid us of all of our counterspells. You need to be on the lookout for it. Thankfully, we run Narset’s Reversal that answers this spell pretty cleanly.
Another really good matchup. When they go wide very early, Temporary Lockdown punishes them hard, especially if you Make Disappear the convoker on the way. Without Lockdown though it gets much tougher - even more so if you are on the draw.
Get Lost is an important part of the puzzle to make sure that you can get rid of a convoker when it’s on the battlefield.
Another vicious line is March targeting a permanent that they’re trying to Gleeful Demolition.
Azorius Control’s rebirth is happening in front of our eyes. If you are a control mage, there won’t be a better time to sleeve it up. Remember to hold my hand and let’s pass the turn together. Cheers!