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Meddling Azorius Advance

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Minister of Impediments
Looking at famous dates in history, some days are more momentous than others. History.com tells us that on the fifth of March, 1770 the Boston Massacre occurred, in which five American colonists were killed by British troops. On that same date in 1953, Soviet hard man Josef Stalin passed away. A decade later, the hula hoop was patented. Pretty slim pickings.

Unnoticed by History.com, however, was another occurrence: the release of the second issue of the weekly illustrated science-fiction anthology 2000 A.D. in 1977. And while it's true that seconds are not usually quite as memorable as firsts, this issue had a first all its own: the introduction of a character named Judge Dredd. Some thirty-five years, hundreds of comics, and two major motion pictures later, Dredd has ensconced himself firmly as the poster boy for absolute law and order.

Happily, Wizards has taken a page out of Dredd's playbook in reimagining this week's guild, the Azorius Senate. When the W/U guild of law and order first appeared in Dissension, the primary emphasis seemed to be on bureaucracy and the concept of tying things up in red tape. Cards such as the Minister of Impediments and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV gave the guild a controlling theme, with the objective of stalling and stymieing opponents at every turn before winning with evasive creatures such as Azorius First-Wing and Pride of the Clouds. This strategy was supported by the forecast mechanic, which according to Aaron Forsythe, "really fits the Azorius model of 'action through inaction.'"

Pride of the Clouds
The whole package came together well enough, but in terms of flavor and excitement, you could be forgiven for feeling as though you were in for another session of DMV: The RPG. Who becomes excited by bureaucracy? Bureaucrats and process managers, that's who. No, the incarnation of Azorius 2.0 would not only be mechanical, it would be thematic as well. Time to come out from behind the desk, put down the gavel and pick up the hammer, and start practicing shouting, "You there, citizen!" in a deep and commanding voice. This time around, it's the law enforcement that gets to be front and center, and the new guild mechanic of detain does a great job in announcing your new role as law and order in the streets of Ravnica.

To help you on that quest, today's Meddling looks to upgrade your standard-issue kit, Azorius Advance. A deck with heavy tempo undertones thanks to detain, the deck's write-up proudly proclaims the new focus in the guild's priorities: "The Azorius aren't the usual tedious, droning bureaucrats. They take a more ‘activist’ approach." Vive la différence! In keeping with the Meddling custom, there are two rules we'll be adhering to as we look to tune up the deck. First, we won't be adding any mythics or rares. The rares it has are the rares it gets, which keeps the deck affordable for all but the most austere of budgets. Second, to make sure that players have the best chance of building the deck with cards readily at hand, we'll only be using sets already found in the Intro Pack: Return to Ravnica and Magic 2013.

With those constraints out of the way, let's tear open the box and see what we're working with!

Cards We Cut

Archon of the Triumvirate
Looking at the stock decklist above, it's clear that Azorius Advance wants to field a lot of creatures. It likes evasion, and it looks to secure an early avenue of attack and use the tempo tricks of detain to gain a momentum advantage over the opponent. That means that the main threats to this strategy are cards that don't directly support its core tactic and expensive cards that might slow down the rush while they sit in your hand. That leads us to the first, and unkindest, cut of all: Archon of the Triumvirate. Cutting the premium rare is something almost never done in a Meddling—who doesn't like to play with their bombs? But saints and begorrah, the thing costs 7 mana, and then it doesn't even help your tempo strategy until it attacks the turn after casting.

Assuming a land drop every turn (not a safe assumption, but for some numbers on this, I'd definitely recommend Chris Mascioli's recent column, The Opening Hand), that means you play this guy on turn seven. By then, you should already have matters firmly in hand. If you count the number of games in which the Archon makes the difference against the number of games you'd have done better with another, cheaper option to help cement your advantage, it's clear that the Archon fares poorly. Sorry, buddy, we'll catch up with you back at barracks and swap stories.

For similar reasons, we're getting rid of the Battleflight Eagle. The Eagle staples together a Mighty Leap and a 2/2 flyer, but the 5-mana price tag also sees it off in our downsizing, cost-cutting initiative. Joining it in the bread lines are the Bazaar Krovod and Skyline Predator.

Next up are cards that don't directly contribute to the war effort. Intro Packs always contain these fillers, designed to smooth out a deck into a comfortable level of mediocrity. That's not a knock—they serve a purpose just as bad cards do. In this case, that's giving the new or aspiring deck-builder clear upgrade paths, ones which we'll be taking full advantage of. That means the Concordia Pegasus, Silvercoat Lion, Stealer of Secrets, Trained Caracal, and Vassal Soul are picking up their coats and quietly making for the exit. The Soulsworn Spirit is going with them—unblockable or no, we just have better options at the 4-drop slot.

Tablet of the Guilds
That takes care of the creature suite, but what about spells? As luck has it, some of these virtually self-select themselves out of the card pool straightaway. Although a number of readers made the case last time for the efficient Centaur Healer as an example of incidental life-gain, not a soul took up the cause of the more dedicated options. Thus, Angel's Mercy and Tablet of the Guilds are out. Dramatic Rescue, while falling into the “incidental” bucket, is also cut—there are better options available.

Combat tricks are useful in combat decks since they have the versatility to mimic both removal (you pump your creature to kill an opponent’s) and direct damage (you pump your unblocked creature). This is offset by the inherent risk of dedicating two cards to one effect, meaning that you can be two-for-oned if someone has instant-speed removal at his disposal (creature Auras such as Righteous Authority have the same problem). There's also the hidden cost of the removal aspect because every attack that runs into a defender is one fewer attack that hits your opponent. Therefore, we'll be dedicating our support-suite slots to cards that remove the obstruction before your attack, directing damage to where it's most needed: your opponent's life total.

Oh, and as for the aforementioned Righteous Authority? We hate to kick out the deck's other rare, but a 5-mana Aura just doesn't fit into the plan. Rareless? You bet! It can take Arrest with it. We packed in a full set of these for the Selesnya deck, but while it's a strong card and ordinarily something worth holding on to, we have other ideas for creature backup this time around.

The last cuts are the Azorius Keyrunes. The Keyrune cycle is a lot of fun and a great addition to the set, but it's out of place here. Most of the deck's cards are going to be cheap and fast, so we don't need the ramping power. Although the added creature is similarly useful, it's just not worth the 2 mana each turn to activate it.

Cards We Keep

New Prahv Guildmage
Given the variety of cards in Azorius Advance, we're not left with much, but what we do have is the foundation of a tempo shell for the rebuilt deck. We begin with the Azorius Arrester, a bread-and-butter card for the deck. A 2-mana 2/1 isn't setting any land-speed records, but we're going to want as much detain as we can have at each stage of the mana curve. For that reason, the Azorius Justiciar also makes the grade alongside the Lyev Skyknight.

We'll also want to retain the services of the New Prahv Guildmage. We'll be upping our count to three here since the crucial ability we're looking for (detain) costs 5 mana to use. Since the added cost of the Guildmage's detain costs 5 mana anyway, we can leave one out of the main deck, as we'll have the luxury of a little more time to find it before we need it. If the Guildmage's detain ability cost only 2 mana (broken, but just for the sake of example), we'd be jamming in that fourth copy since it's usable almost right away.

As for the noncreature support, we're left with Inaction Injunction from the stock list, and this is an automatic four-of. Not only is it a cheap and useful way to detain something, but it replaces itself in your hand. This lets us run a touch leaner on creatures than the out-of-the-box list because our average cards-drawn-per-game ticks up a touch.

Cards We Add

Faerie Impostor
Now comes the fun part! We've hinted throughout that we have a greater plan in mind for the deck with some of its choices, and now we are able to execute on that strategy. It's worth reiterating here that what we're after is a lean, agile, tempo-based deck that plays some early creatures and then bedevils the opponent's efforts to do the same. Detain is crucial to that effort, and evasive creatures also play a key role since you don't have to expend a detain on your opponent's blocker if your attacker is already in the air.

Our first addition here is a full play set of Faerie Impostors. A 1-mana 2/1 with flying, the Impostor fills a vital role here. Not only is it a source of evasive damage, but it also comes with a drawback that's a hidden benefit in the right context. Pulling an Azorius Arrester back to hand means you have a second use out of its detain.

With our middle ranks filled with Azorius Arresters, New Prahv Guildmages, and Lyev Skyknights, all in increased quantities from what the Intro Pack gave us to work with, we next add a couple of 4-drops to the mix. We don't want to go overboard here and risk diminishing the deck's quickness, but Skymark Roc is another card that does everything we want from a card in the deck. First, it's a 3-power flyer. Second, it bounces a creature back to the opponent's hand as a trigger on the attack, so that's one fewer defender to obstruct your path. We'll be wanting a pair of these.

Unsummon
That's half the deck sorted out right there, leaving the other half for direct support. Although it's a bit leaner than a swarm deck might like to run, the strategy is that your opponent will be falling behind in his development and won't have the resources to impede you. Take, for example, our next add: a play set of Unsummon. Potentially devastating to our Selesnyan friends, this is a natural and obvious fit for the deck. The 1-mana cost gives us a lot more flexibility in casting it, which is why we cut Dramatic Rescue despite its extra effect. If your opponent plays a troublesome creature for 3 mana and you bounce it for 1, you've set him back 2 mana and potentially an entire turn. Naturally, there's nothing stopping him from recasting it next turn, but that's the difference between card advantage and tempo. Card advantage wants to put you up on cards overall, while tempo looks to stall and outrace your opponent, happy to let him die with a hand full of cards.

We cut Arrest because removal is a little less effective here than in other decks, since we'll be bouncing and detaining what our opponent plays. Still, we'll want the ability to stick longer-term solutions on the occasional threats, and that's where a play set of Oblivion Rings come in. We don't want to waste time diverting precious resources toward dealing with a planeswalker or having to learn to live with an opponent's artifact or enchantment. The O-Rings take care of all those problems, and creatures to boot.

Sleep
The next addition is another tempo-based card from Magic 2013: Downpour. Checking in at only 2 mana, Downpour can easily tap your opponent's side and let you get in with everything. You can also play it before your opponent's attack and stall his offensive against you, though you do risk him playing something inconvenient in his second main phase. Although we'll want to see this often, it's less useful in the earliest turns of the game in which you might not be able to wring full value out of it (e.g. your opponent has fewer than three creatures in play), but your mentality here has to be similar to that of a red mage, often prioritizing short-turn gain over long-term.

The final spell is a natural fit for the deck, and we'll be adding in just a pair of them since we need to be mindful of cost. Sleep is a natural finisher for blue-based creature decks, as it provides both a wonderful window of opportunity for attacks as well as a way to silence your enemy for a bit. It can be just the tonic needed to wrap up a close game, as you are free to swing with the side for at least one, and often two consecutive turns.

A final note about the deck's mana base: Like all of the Intro Packs from the set, Azorius Advance runs a slightly bloated mixture of lands with twenty-five, while we can get by just fine with twenty-four, the magic 40%. With so many cheap effects, we can even go one land leaner, opening the way to add one extra creature. Options are a bit limited since we're maxing out our cheaper options and don't want to add any more 4-drops, but for our “joker” card, let's add one that some might have overlooked: Arctic Aven. It's almost always going to be an efficient 3-power flyer for 3 mana, and this is a case when some incidental life-gain couldn't hurt. We'll also be keeping in the singleton Azorius Guildgate for just a smidgen of mana fixing. We don't have much in the way of first-turn plays anyway.

Here, then, is the final decklist:

Naturally, your mileage may vary, and I'd again enjoy hearing your experiences with the deck. What might you have kept in? What might you have done differently?

Jay Kirkman

@ErtaisLament on Twitter