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The Greatest Azorius 1.0

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The letter T!he last time we had one of these Guild Theme Week things I focused on the Selesnya Guild's trademark deck, Ghazi-Glare. Many readers appreciated the one-deck walk down memory lane so I would love to do the same thing for Azorius... but that is hard, seeing as Azorius never had any kind of Ghazi-Glare.

Which is not to say there haven't been good, impressive, important, all-important, and flat-out groundbreakingly great white-blue decks. In fact, the dawn of Magic strategy came thanks to Brian Weissman's essentially white-blue "The Deck" (which taught us most everything we know about card advantage and even creature-poor and creatureless strategies)...

Aside: The Deck


The Deck created a "permanents hostile" environment with its Swords to Plowshares, Disenchants, etc. It could take on all comers via permission. Built in an era when most people pretty much just attacked, Moat held off many cards while Weissman did something else with his time and mana.


The long-term plan of The Deck was to lock down the opponent's hand with Amnesia and Disrupting Scepter. Only after knocking out all the opponent's cards in hand would Brian commit Serra Angel... and then it was five turns to victory.


Flying creatures that might fly over Moat were to be eliminated anyway... so ideally the path would be clear for the Angel. Weissman always considered it important to play some kind of a creature-based attack, in part because that would encourage opponents to keep creature elimination in their decks (which would make for clunkier opening turns).

All-in-all, more or less the strategically most important deck in the history of Magic: The Gathering.

End aside.

...but The Deck predated Azorius as a guild and concept by more than a decade.

There are no shortage of performing white-blue decks... but still, no icons on the order of an Azorius Ghazi-Glare. Spoiler! Azorius has done some good damage, just not in the same kind of obvious, bow-tied-on way that Selesnya did. In the alternative we can look back on some of Dissension's blue-and-white contributors in search of the greatest Azorius.

Æthermage's Touch

Æthermage's Touch took kind of a long time to catch on, but ultimately ended up a pretty good contributor to the white-blue cause (if a better one to white-blue-black and red-white-blue ones).


The cool thing on Æthermage's Touch was that it "only" cost four mana and was an instant. So you could get the value of a large (and ideally expensive) enters-the-battlefield creature for just four... and then reload the creature card.

Now, a fair number of things could go wrong with Æthermage's Touch... like you might miss entirely. Or you might get a terrible value (no one is impressed when you flip up a Birds of Paradise for four, using a card, that you have to re-cast if it lives); but we don't pick our tools based on their worst-case scenarios, do we?

A well-placed Æthermage's Touch could give you, say, an Angel of Despair during combat; which would take out the opponent's best permanent (often a creature) and present a 5/5 to squash a smaller attacker... before the pick-up, future re-play, incremental enters-the-battlefield, etc.

Here is Thomas Drake's Æthermage's Touch deck from the 2007 US National Team:


Drake played a fair number of other Azorius contenders we will talk about elsewhere in this article (Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, Court Hussar) but the big game and big goal for his deck was all expensive enters-the-battlefield creatures.

Bogardan Hellkite costs eight mana in most situations, but Æthermage's Touch slashes that in half. Venser, Shaper Savant and Riftwing Cloudskate shake up the battlefield when they hit play... but let's be honest, they are no 5/5 fliers.

Azorius Guildmage

Unlike its obviously powerful counterpart in Ghazi-Glare, the AzoriusGuildmage did most of its damage as a sideboard card. Azorius Guildmage looks a bit innocuous but it did a couple of things well.


For one, it allowed slower white-blue decks to up-shift into aggro-control decks. They could play a two-drop like a beatdown deck and put the opponent on a clock. Now, with the beatdown, these white-blue decks could lean on their counterspells and play Counter-Sliver instead of Weissman.

And while it isn't 100% sound to think you can lean on a 2/2 creature (quite fragile) paying three or more mana per turn to semi-contain an opponent's creature... the ability to "counter" an activated ability might just be worth the cost on Azorius Guildmage.

While trying to stop Glare of Subdual (or even a competing Guildmage) this way would be an exercise in futility, what about transmute?


Transmute was an important ability circa Ravnica 1.0 for some decks to get key cards. For instance, Drift of Phantasms could find both Heartbeat of Spring—the center of the then-Standard format's most important combo deck—or Invoke the Firemind (its kill card).


On the other hand, Muddle the Mixture could find Weird Harvest (which, if it resolved, could fill a Heartbeat player's hand with sufficient copies of Drift of Phantasms and Maga, Traitor to Mortals to win the game), or the simple Sakura-Tribe Elder required to find the one Swamp to cast Maga (or the one Mountain to cast Invoke the Firemind).

Sticking an Azorius Guildmage on turn two was desirable just to put Heartbeat on a clock. But tack on the ability to answer them three-for-three on transmute activations? Over and over?

Azorius Guildmage may not have been the greatest Azorius... but it was a fine role player.

Court Hussar

Probably the greatest catch-all creature in the Azorius retinue, Court Hussar was an important contributor to a number of three-color decks.


In Solar Flare/Solar Pox, Court Hussar was an important early-game blocker in the midrange control decks that we would, today, call Esper. Nothing super strategic here... other than it got them what they needed and kept them alive long enough to use that gas.


While not a great combination with Æthermage's Touch itself (the Court Hussar would not be long for this world), it could serve much the same purpose as in Esper decks... Court Hussar on three finds Æthermage's Touch for turn four, and so on.

"Bant" Block Ghazi-Glare

The most important Block Constructed event of the Ravnica era was a Team Pro Tour, meaning that three players had to divvy up a single pile of possible Ravnica Block cards. Some teams went with green-white-blue Ghazi-Glare decks (often dedicating their Civic Wayfinders elsewhere)... and subbed in Court Hussar for essentially the same purpose.


Dovescape

Dovescape has been played—even off-Azorius—in Enduring Ideal combo decks to lock out endgames. Here is one example from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Valencia 2007:


Dovescape, here, is as much a proactive counterspell (protecting Form of the Dragon or some other on-battlefield endgame advantage) as anything else.

Interestingly, Dovescape was potentially a dual-edged sword. You don't really want to know what happens when the opponent plays a big spell using Boseiju, Who Shelters All, for instance.


Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

The greatest Azorius? Probably not... but still quite a productive Azorius.

More than just a main deck threat in Thomas Drake's US Nationals deck, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV was an important sideboard card against Standard Dragonstorm decks once Time Spiral came online.


Dragonstorm typically worked by playing lots and lots of red Dark Ritual-esque cards (Rite of Flame, Seething Song) that both gave Dragonstorm players a big handful of mana and ramped up storm for Dragonstorm itself.


Dragonstorm is an expensive spell—unless you have a ton of mana, you can't cast it at all, let alone cast it in dramatic and devastating fashion.

Grand Arbiter made that annoying or hard to do. While it would not stop a red "Dark Ritual" that produced net two mana or more (Seething Song jumps from three to five, for instance), Grand Arbiter Augustin IV did more than a little to spells netting only one mana.

But no... great role player; fine sideboard option, sure... but not the greatest Azorius in our estimation.

But what about forecast?

Yes, forecast!

Forecast—like detain today—was the Azorius keyword mechanic the first time the white-blue color combination got its own guild play back in 2006. There are several cards with forecast written on them, but only two are of truly legendary status. I would posit that one is pretty fantastic but the other is the greatest Azorius.

Proclamation of Rebirth

Proclamation of Rebirth is a legitimate contender for the title. One half of a two-card combo that has spawned an entire deck archetype, Proclamation of Rebirth is both powerful and capable of playing around blue counterspells... even when going big.


When you use Proclamation of Rebirth "right" you are forecasting it, not actually casting it. Your job is to go and get a Martyr of Sands while collecting a ton of white spells in hand. Hilarity ensues. When you really have it going, you have seven mana in play and seven white cards in hand. So you can forecast while leaving up one mana... and gain 21 life per turn!

Leaving one mana up is important so you can sacrifice your Martyr of Sands before next turn (you need it in the graveyard to be doing much mischief).

There have been a couple of different Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth decks over the years (including Conley Woods's Sorin Markov deck), but for this writer's money, it is Gabriel Nassif's near-miss that makes for the most Azorius attempt:


He liked Martyr of Sands so much, he was willing to Dizzy Spell for it!


I would be close to calling Proclamation of Rebirth the greatest Azorius but for one thing—no blue! Forecast, yes... but being mono-white? What kind of message would we be sending to our Azorius kids?

Sky Hussar

Sky Hussar is an odd bird; well, an odd Human Knight riding what looks like a bird, at least.

Is it the greatest Azorius?

Sky Hussar certainly has flown the furthest from the law and order roots of the Azorius. And forecast? I doubt the average mage who has won with Sky Hussar has done much forecasting.


This card has been a major contributor—generally with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker—in a variety of performing decks from Tooth and Nail to Cephalid Breakfast. Check out this PTQ Top 8 deck from 2007:


In this build, you play Tooth and Nail with entwine to find Sky Hussar and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Kiki-Jiki has haste, so can immediately copy Sky Hussar; the Sky Hussar copy untaps Kiki-Jiki, so you can run it back again over and over as many times as you like.


Then, you attack for some arbitrarily huge number.

Kiki-Jiki + Sky Hussar was great! For one thing, you could attack for as big a number as you wanted, regardless of the opponent's life gain. For another, it could often strike out of nowhere... Görtzen's deck had only one copy of each and could easily have won either a more straightforward (Phantom Nishoba) or fair (Loxodon Hierarch) route. The idea it could combo-kill immediately upon hitting Tooth and Nail was probably pretty jarring for at least some opponents.

Although Görtzen didn't win that PTQ he did go on to win Pro Tour San Diego some three years later!

Here is a different implementation of the same combo:

Joe Lossett's Cephalid Breakfast
Legacy – Top 8, StarCityGames Open, Los Angeles 2011


Similar endgame... quite a different path to get there.

Joe Lossett scored second in a StarCityGames Legacy Open with a much faster route to getting an infinite number of Sky Hussars in play.

In Cephalid Breakfast, you can play a first-turn Nomads en-Kor , then a second-turn Cephalid Illusionist. Then your opponent is in a lot of trouble. You repeatedly target the Cephalid Illusionist with the Nomads en-Kor, eventually exhausting your library. In the meantime you flip over all these Narcomoebas and put several flashback spells in your graveyard (Dread Return and Cabal Therapy). Your now-spent Nomads and Cephalids can team up with your Narcomoebas to rip up the opponent's hand with Cabal Therapies, so long as you have three creatures left to Dread Return for free.



We all know what happens next!

Today, we have Deceiver Exarchs, Restoration Angels, and even Zealous Conscripts that can accomplish much the same thing as Sky Hussar in various decks with and without Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. I myself won my last big tournament with Deceiver Exarch armored up with Splinter Twin about a year ago.


But paving the way for those infinite combinations was Sky Hussar. And Sky Hussar did it in lots of different places.... that weren't Azorius or even base-white-blue Control decks. You can certainly run tickertape parades for the various sideboard heroes of the Azorius—the Azorius Guildmage and especially Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. Surely props go to Proclamation of Rebirth, which uses forecast in a much more "Azorius way," I think you will agree.

But for the proudest color combination, maybe, in the history of the game (that, yet, lacks an iconic "Azorius" deck)... my vote goes to the five-drop flier that never played by the rules... despite being from the guild all about the rules!

Firestarter: Who or what do you think is the greatest Azorius?


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