The Top Shelf
No More Ms. Nice Azorius (Commander)
23 Jul 2020 - 15 min read
Dear readers, I would like to begin by clarifying that this is not written under duress, the Azorius Senate has not taken me captive, and I am perfectly happy to be writing this article on the glorious color combination of blue and white. I would additionally discourage any of you from committing crimes such as mana cheating, ramping without a permit, or attempting to win a game against an Azorious deck. Here to help me speak to this is our honored guest of the week, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade .
Lavinia’s high impact passive effect and low casting cost make her a threat right out of the gate. Regardless of the level your table typically plays at there are great options for Lavinia, which makes her perfect for this series. Our budget deck will be up first today, focusing on a combination between group hug and pillow fort strategies. With this we’re hoping to win a resource battle against the last player left. Until then we’ll be encouraging our opponents to bring each other down, while we slowly turtle up. The second deck today will be our high power deck and will focus on locking our opponents out with Omen Machine and Knowledge Pool . Then ends the game by exiling our opponent’s library, or just beating face.
Hunker Down and Cuddle Up:
As usual, the budget version of the deck should cost you under $200. I know the tapped out says it will be more, but it’s pricing Islands at $2.50. Don’t buy islands for that much, and please report anyone selling them to you at this rate to the Azorius Senate. Anyway, our plan will be to discourage our opponents from attacking us, while giving them the resources to kill each other. When asked for a quote about her commander style Lavinia, Azorius Renegade had the following to say:
“I will personally stop those who seek to cheat or gain unfair advantages. I will root them out and crush them under the boot of justice! Their crimes-”
Yeah, you get the point. With an attitude like that, we’ll want to see her on the field early and often to stop our opponents from pulling too far ahead of us. We aren’t stopping them from playing cards (yet), we just want to make sure they have all their paperwork in order first. We’ll end the game with cards like Approach of the Second Sun or Tidespout Tyrant . If the need arises we can even borrow some of our opponent’s cards to win the game a la Diluvian Primordial .
But in order to get this far in the first place, we’re going to need to get the shields up and stay safe till we feel comfortable entering the fray. Our opponents are going to see Azorius and just immediately put us at target number one. It’s okay, they don’t understand the full glory of blue white. Anyway, when they start to get the lead out, it’s time to pillow up or shut up.
Settle in for a Long One:
The goal of the pillow fort strategy is to defend yourself by seeming like the worst target possible. If your opponents want to attack you, they’ll have to deal with cards like Propaganda and Ghostly Prison , as well as their big brother Sphere of Safety . If they want to mess with your game plan they’ll need to take it up with Tithe Taker and Unsettled Mariner . Another great defensive card, Illusionist’s Gambit emphasizes the Azorius Senate policy ”Don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin’”.
We can also more actively try to lockdown the game with some cards that pump the breaks on our opponents for whole turns. Lavinia of the Tenth slots into this category well and will allow us to stop opponents from attacking with any of their smaller creatures for a turn. This version of Lavinia’s Detain effect even prevents mana abilities from being activated. One turn lockdowns aren’t going to be enough though, let’s look at some continuous effects that really shut our opponents down. Fatespinner and Angelic Arbiter both force our opponents to decide if they want to cast spells or attack each turn and can be massively disruptive if played correctly. As a bonus if these somehow prevent other players from winning or making big tempo plays, the other folks at the table may even appreciate these cards (don’t count on it though). Lockdown doesn’t always send a strong enough message though, sometimes we need destruction. Karmic Justice answers this call perfectly and reassures our opponents that the Azorius Senate knows how to smash just as well as Gruul, we just have more restraint.
Eventually, things will inevitably get out of hand with one of our opponents, so we’ll need to be able to reset them to a position where our taxes and fees will keep us safe. Terminus and Single Combat can help us clear off the board without completely losing everything. Either everything ends up back in people’s decks, ours included, or we get to keep a key creature, like Lavinia, on the board. Tragic Arrogance is a great card to sub in if either of these don’t fit your style. Not every problem requires the nuclear option though, sometimes we can pinpoint a key permanent that is offsetting the balance of things. For that, targeted removal will be our best friend. Winds of Abandon is a great middle ground here, allowing us to either shut it all down, or nail a key target. For our dedicated single target removal, we still like that idea of keeping the balance. Generous Gift lets someone keep a blocker, but can remove any permanent that we believe is problematic for us. Fractured Identity leans in the other direction. If someone pulls out way ahead by dropping a game ending creature, just teach them that sharing is caring and spread that wealth around the table. One last card I want to highlight is Oblation which is still great removal, but also hints toward the other archetype we’re mixing into this deck, Group Hug.
EDH Politics 101:
Group hug is another strategy that tries to push the aggression off of you. But this time it does so by giving the other players resources and playing symmetrical effects. You can usually negotiate your way out of any early aggression using these effects. Later, you might be able to exchange some of that goodwill for help on cards like Fact or Fiction and Truth or Tale . If you really trust another player, you could even pull off a big Epiphany at the Drownyard . Some great creatures that fit into this game plan are Kami of the Crescent Moon , Orzhov Advokist , and even Jace’s Archivist . These cards initially appear weak because you’re spending a card, but everyone gets the same benefit as you. The key here comes with finding ways to break this parity. For Jace’s Archivist this can come from causing your opponent’s to discard key cards while giving you a free reload. While with Kami of the Crescent Moon we are hoping to spend less cards getting to the late game than our opponents, so we’ll be profiting more from each draw.
There are a lot of different ways to manipulate or control the group’s opinion of you. You can play cards that buff their creatures specifically but ensure you aren’t at risk, like Martial Impetus or Vow of Flight . Alternatively you can let them decide how your cards play out, even though it usually just does what you wanted, using Will of the council cards. Two perfect examples of this are Split Decision and Council’s Judgment . Sometimes you just want to give out resources to remind people you’re everyone’s best friend. Minds Aglow , Otherworld Atlas , and Temple Bell will help you keep people’s hands full and keep them happy with you. It doesn’t hurt to ensure that your Recurring Insight will always net you a full hand either. At its heart this is still a control deck that will take some good thinking to pilot well. So, make sure to keep an eye on players’ resources and know when to be giving out handouts versus when to lay down the law.
Starting Your Political Career:
This is a new section I’ll be adding to each of these articles, where I give a brief rundown on how to identify a good starting hand and how to make use of it. For this deck we don’t really have any ramp outside of a few artifacts and our average CMC is a bit high. So, we’ll be looking for three to four mana sources in our starting hand. This will ensure that even if we don’t see lands for a little while we can keep playing on curve. After that, make sure that you have one or two cards that can help keep you safe in the short term. These could come from the Pillow Fort or the Group Hug category, we just want a way to put the shields up early. After that we will be looking for either draw or a long term plan. If we can find a consistent draw engine we’ll be well stocked with resources into the midgame. If we have one of our win cons or another high value spell we can try to politic our way into making that as high impact as possible. Take a look below for the full decklist with a small sideboard of other cards you may want to include.
The True Glory of Azorius
Now that I’ve served half my sentence.. Uh I mean, now that I’m halfway done with my volunteer work, onto the second deck of this article! This second deck isn’t meant to lock down the first time mana-cheating offenders, this deck is meant to lay down the law against the serious rule breakers. We won’t be doing any hugging and there certainly won’t be any pillows, this is going to be full blown Lavinia, Azorius Renegade cruel control with a lockout win condition. Based on her effect, if we land Omen Machine or Knowledge Pool and have Lavinia on the board we will either prevent our opponents from ever casting another spell or prevent them from ever drawing another card. This is a relatively hard lock, but can still be picked if we don’t have some counter magic or removal ready for a few of the cheeky work arounds.
Once we have our opponents shut out we can clean up the table in a few different ways if our opponents don’t concede. Jace, the Mind Sculptor should be able to safely get off his ultimate at this point, which will easily secure us the win as we go around the table removing everyone from the game. Helm of Obedience and Rest in Peace will allow us to do the same thing, again one player at a time. As a bonus, Rest in Peace is just a good stax card that we can play out as we feel necessary. Finally, we could always just slowly beat them to death with our creatures, regardless of how small they may be.
Throw the Book at Them:
Given that we are trying to win the game by playing our commander, a six mana artifact, and we want to keep some mana open for counter magic, we will not be the quickest deck at the table. So, we need to control the flow of the game until then. Mana Breach , Damping Sphere , and Winter Orb should help us prevent our opponents from ramping too hard or getting out in front of us from a resource perspective. Juntu Stakes will also help us keep our opponents mana dorks down without hurting our game plan. We’ll be running some cool planeswalkers to help keep our opponents from winning as well. Gideon of the Trials literally says that they can’t win the game while he or another beefcake is around. This is perfect for stopping a Thassa’s Oracle or Laboratory Maniac win. On top of these other cards, Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can do a lot to slow down our opponents.
We also have plenty of creatures that we can use to help lock down our opponents. Alms Collector offers you a slightly worse Notion Thief without needing access to black mana. Card draw in white is hard to come by, so I’m always happy to borrow some from the other players at the table. Drannith Magistrate is a relatively new card that will do great work for us. It works similar to our commander for either of our locks, or can function as an early stax piece. Linvala, Keeper of Silence and Hushbringer both help us lock out creature abilities and win conditions, which can be very important depending on the metagame at your table. Finally, Nimble Obstructionist is an uncounterable Stifle that draws us a card.
As a control deck, we are obviously going to be running a healthy amount of counterspells and removal. Baral, Chief of Compliance will help us get these spells out and reward us for successfully countering any of our opponent’s nasty ideas. Fierce Guardianship will help us prevent anyone from messing up the lock, ideally for free if Lavinia is already on the board. Pact of Negation won’t punish us too badly because in theory we are free to waste five mana the turn after our lockdown goes into place. Delay and Ertai’s Meddling allow us to delay a spell, then counter it with Lavinia, Azorius Renegade or Drannith Magistrate . Chain of Vapor will help encourage our opponents to hurt each other and themselves while still being functional removal. Even if this gets turned back on us, we’ll end up getting more benefit out of it because we suffer less when removing our lands. Speaking of removing lands, Armageddon and Cataclysm will both make appearances in this deck. You may wonder if I’m running Ravages of War ; I’m not. In my opinion there are good ways to spend $150 improving your deck and bad ways to do it. Including that card over another one of our spells wouldn’t dramatically change our win rate and could even reduce it depending on the meta. It’s not worth it.
The Keys to the Kingdom:
The final element of this deck I want to highlight is the cards that help us in the resource battle. As a control deck we are often trading down, going one for one with different opponents. Our stax pieces will help slow down the other players at the table, but that’s still not enough. Smothering Tithe and Land Tax will help us stay in the game from a mana perspective. As other players ramp or draw, we will naturally generate resources off their cards. Shoutout to Tithe which can also help snag us some lands. Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora fall into the same category, but instead help us keep our hand full of spells that can impact the game. Mangara the Diplomat also keeps our hand full, but instead comes on a reasonable body for a similar cost. Windfall can also be used to reset our hand after we’re low on resources and cause our opponents to discard some of their high value cards. This move is particularly effective if anyone else at the table has been tutoring a lot or you suspect they may go for the win next turn.
Speaking of tutors, we can’t just rely on draw to find our lock cards. Treasure Mage happens to hit both Omen Machine and Knowledge Pool , which works perfectly for us. Enlightened Tutor is a classic for strategies like ours. As a nice cherry on top it also works as a way to find key stax pieces or other important cards before we’re ready to win. Mystical Tutor can’t grab either of our artifacts, but can hit any of our other tutors as well as removal or counter magic. Finally, Whir of Invention works very well with all the artifacts we’re running and allows us to tutor either of our lock cards straight to the field.
I AM THE SENATE:
In this version of the deck we have a lower CMC and a lot of artifact ramp. I would still look for three mana sources or fetch lands, but place a stronger emphasis on having some amount of artifact ramp in the hand. Once you’re comfortable with that, we need to have some early counter magic. Other players are going to start looking for the win as soon as their first turn, so we need to be ready to stop them. In the same vein we’ll need one or two of our early stax pieces to deny our opponents the ability to look for that early win. Finally, resource generation is still important. Once we’ve blown through our opening hand, which will be very fast, we need to be able to reload and keep up the pressure. In conclusion, you’re priorities in order are:
The full deck list is given below. Well, now that I am done with my volunteer work I think I’m gonna hop off this plane for a bit. Maybe take a tour of Eldraine. I heard Syr something or other was hosting a party and those are always a fun time. See you next week!
More Entries in The Top Shelf:
- 06 Sep 2020: Chulane Steals the Show! (Commander)
- 09 Aug 2020: Syr Carah, and why bolt is playable in every format (Commander)
- 16 Jul 2020: On the Hunt for Combos (Commander)
- 06 Jul 2020: An Eggcelent Start (Commander)