Dissension: Azorius Ascendant Review (Part 2 of 2)
Sam decided to operate a little out of her element and pilot Rakdos Bloodsport, the hyper-aggressive Red/Black deck against my Azorius Ascendant. Azorius was something of a trip through nostalgia-land for me, not because I was active in the game during Dissension (I wasn’t), but because my first decks at the dawn of the game tended to be White/Blue. Not so much the White/Blue Control archetype that we know today, but one that sought to enclose itself in an impregnable defense: Blessing, Moat, Circles of Protection, Farmstead and Ivory Tower were mainstays from White, paired with mainstays like Ancestral Recall, Counterspell, and Mana Short. Decks shamelessly ran past 100 cards, and constructing the perfect defense from which to hide behind and mess with my enemies was the crowning achievement of any game I was involved in.
Times have changed, and the closest I get to the Control archetype was with a Grixis/Cruel Ultimatum build. These days I’m most fond of Red and Black aggro builds. But from our analysis, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was about to step back through time, after a fashion. Here are our notes.
On the play, I begin with a Plains while Sam trots out a Mountain and a Torpid Moloch. Our next turn we hit our specialty lands- Azorius Chancery and Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace, with Sam adding a Rakdos Signet to boot. Creatures come down the turn following, as I lay a Beacon Hawk and Sam reponds with a Rakdos Ickspitter.
I draw first blood on turn 4 with the Hawk, after which I play a Stoic Ephemera, the 5/5 flying defender that dies once it’s discharged its duty. For her part, Sam brings Lyzolda, the Blood Witch into play. Back to me, I fly in again with the Hawk for 1. Sam tries to snipe it with the Ickspitter, but I have a free Plains and pump it to keep it alive. Still, I’m down to 19 in the exchange. I follow up with an Azorius Guildmage, and pass. In a delightful bit of symmetry, the Rakdos Guildmage then hits the table.
Turn 6 sees me in again with the Hawk, the only reliable attacker on either side, and again Sam forces me to use a Plains to keep it alive with the Ickspitter, damaging me for 1. On her turn, desperate for an attacker, Sam triggers her Guildmage to produce a 2/1 hasty Goblin token, but I counter this with my own Guildmage, and we settle back to a nice, languid detente.
On turn 7, figuring I need options more than I need life, I tap both my critters to Forecast a Sky Hussar, drawing an extra card. Nothing playable, I pass back to Sam, who makes me repeat our little dance with the Guildmages from the turn before. I Forecast the next turn as well, then cast Faith’s Fetters on Lyzolda. I’ve a few critters in my hand I’d have loved to play, but her presence on the board kept them in abeyance. Sam gets down to brass tacks with a Gobhobbler Rats, a mere nuisance now but far more so once she’s managed Hellbent.
On turn 9 I continue to Forecast, as if looking to defeat Sam on card advantage alone. I then decide to take care of her other pest, placing the Ickspitter under Plumes of Peace. Tapped out, my Hawk dies as she pings it in response, but it’s a fair enough sacrifice to make. I discard a Plains (eight cards in hand), and pass. We’re at 17 life each. Sam gets down to business, with a Seal of Fire, a Taste for Mayhem onto her Rats, then an Ignorant Bliss on the way in to attack. The enchanted Rats are huge, and I reluctantly push the Stoic Ephemera in front of them to die (she regenerates the Rats). She then gets her hand back and draws an extra card, ending her turn.
I continue to Forecast each turn, drawing two for her one, then play a Minister of Impediments and another Stoic Ephemera, rebuilding my defenses. Sam manages only another Seal of Fire, making two on the board.
Forecasting again on turn 11, I play a Tidewater Minion and pass, but at the last moment Sam pops one of her Seals and opportunistically kills off my Guildmage. Over to her, she lays down a Sadistic Augermage and passes. Thus far my defenses are holding, but they’ll be overtaxed before long. I simply need to start finding answers.
One arrives the next turn after Forecasting, in the form of a Sinstriker’s Will which I place on my Stoic Ephemera. I then send in my Tidewater Minion after paying its mana cost to lose defender for the turn, and Sam looks to block with her Moloch. Knowing she’s setting the Minion up for lethal from the second Seal, I instead blast it with the enchanted Ephemera.
Back to Sam, she decides the time is right for attack as I seem to have overextended my defenses (especially the thorny Ephemera). She charges in with the Augermage, Rats, and Guildmage, but my defenders jump back into position with To Arms! The Ephemera sinstrikes the Rats, the Minion clains the Rakdos Guildmage, and the Augermage gets in for 3 (taking me to 14). She follows up with a Ragamuffyn.
It is the last bit of bother I’ll have from the Rakdos. Over the final few turns, my defneses hold until finally I begin my attacks. Forecasting Steeling Stance onto my freshly-cast Paladin of Prahv alongside a replacement Tidewater Minion, I Forecast Plumes of Peace to keep Sam’s Slaughterhouse Bouncer unavailable for defense. I finally get in for lethal with a hardcast Steeling Stance.
A turn 1 Seal of Fire starts us off for the second clash, with Sam eager for revenge. Having learned that giving Azorius too much time and space creates a hurdle she cannot hope to surpass, she pitches a Mountain to land a turn 2 Drekavac. Bravo!
I’m still laying land as Sam begins to whittle me away, with a turn 3 Soulsworn Jury buying me the luxury of a little breathing room. I put it in front of the Drekavac on turn 4, and predictably Sam pops the Seal to finish off my defender. Following up with a Demon’s Jester, I find myself in the unenviable position of having nothing but land in play. Sam passes to me, and I land a Benevolent Ancestor– not great, but something.
Turn 5, and Sam’s laid out a second Seal of Fire before swinging in for 5. I take it, and am now down to 12. I play a Mistral Charger, figuring at worst I would draw one of her Seals with it if I tried to block the Jester. Sam instead decides to wait, swinging in next turn with only the Drekavac. I let it pass, then prevent 1 of the damage with the Ancestor. I’m at 10 life. She follows up with Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, then passes.
Although I have a long way to go, it is here that the fortunes of the Azorious begin to change. I draw a Plumes of Peace, which settles nicely on that Drekavac. Back to Sam, she lays down a Rakdos Guildmage, then passes. I land the dreadful Zephyr Spirit– again, it’s at least something.
Sam gets clever on turn 8, swinging in with the Jester. I block with the Charger, but instead of using a Seal to kill it, she instead burns the last card in her hand: Wrecking Ball. She kills my Ancestor, triggers Hellbent and the Jester chews up the Charger all on its own. Looking to stabilise, I play my Paladin of Prahv, and pass.
Sam swings in again with the Hellbent Jester, taking me down to 6. Over to me, I Forecast my Sky Hussar (tapping both remaining defenders) for an extra card, then hardcast him, untapping my critters. I add a Beacon Hawk, and turn it back over to Sam.
Not wanting to deal with the bird again, Sam pitches a card to the Rakdos Guildmage to kill it, retriggering Hellbent. She sends in the Jester, and I accept the trade with the Hussar. On my turn, I go on the offensive for the first time, hitting her for 3 with the Paladin and putting my life total back up to a safer 9.
Sam sends in a Goblin token on turn 11, which I absorb with my Jury. She pauses and thinks about using a Seal, but decides against it. For my part, it’s another Stoic Ephemera and Mistral Charger as my defenses begin to mount. Next turn, Sam plays a Scorched Rusalka and passes. I lay down a Benevolent Ancestor, then pass. As I do so, Sam uses her Guildmage and the Seal of Fire to one-two my Paladin, killing it. I swing in for 2 with the Charger, then play an Azorius Guildmage.
On turn 13, Sam finally sees something that’s been in front of her face plain as day, and sacs the useless Drekavac to Lyzolda for a free card (admittedly, a mixed blessing in her deck). She draws Gobhobbler Rats and casts them, but I sac the Soulsworn Jury to counter. Shrugging, she passes.
The game state is now pleasantly frozen, with little Sam can do to stop me as I grind her down in the air. I keep mana open every turn in case she tries some shenanigans with Lyzolda, ready to use the Azorius Guildmage to counter. In fact, I begin to blunt most anything she tries to get away with. Hit me with a Hellbent Cackling Flames? I trigger Prahv, Spires of Order. Try and Douse in Gloom my precious Guildmage? Benevolent Ancestor prevents one of the damage. Try to pitch a land card to kill the Guildmage? Nope, that’s countered by the Guildmage herself. Sam’s virtually on tilt as I tap out nine mana, tapping her three defenders, and march in with my creatures for the kill. I hit her for just enough.
Sam leads off with a solid start- a turn 1 Slithering Shade and turn 2 Drekavac (pitching a Seal of Fire- an aggressive start!). Unfortunately, it doesn’t pay off as she only manages one swing with the Drekavac before I Plumes of Peace the poor thing, my first play of the game.
Turn 4 sees Sam deploy her second Seal of Fire, and I respond with a Benevolent Ancestor. Next turn matches Sam’s Torpid Moloch with my Stroic Ephemera. This time, it looks like I’m comfortably ahead in the arms race, especially after Sam blanks on turn 6. For my part, I play the Zephyr Spirit.
A turn 7 Demon’s Jester gives Sam a bit more punch, while I then begin my Forecasting again with a Sky Hussar netting me the accustomed extra card. I play the Paladin of Prahv, and pass.
Sam casts Ignorant Bliss before her attack on turn 8, which lets her swing in with the Shade as well as pump the Jester, and though my Ancestor prevents one I elect to take the damage on the chin, not willing to lose any one of the four creatures I have before me. Sam sees why once I untap, as I Forecast two Sky Hussars, drawing two extra cards. I then cast one of them to reset my board and pass. I have the makings of a win condition in hand now, no need to take unnecessary risks out of greed.
Sam swings in with the Jester again on turn 9, but I only take 1 after triggering my Benevolent Ancestor. Back to me, I Forecast the Hussar, play a Wakestone Gargoyle and tap out to trigger the Gargoyle’s activated ability. My Sky Hussar and Stoic Ephemera catch Sam completely off guard for 9 damage, pulling us about even. Naturally, she holds back the Jester next turn for defense (a turn she blanks), a defense I circumvent by Forecasting Plumes of Peace to tap it. Swinging in for lethal after activating my Gargoyle, Sam cheats death with a Twinstrike, killng the Sky Hussar (after adding her Seal of Fire to the damage) and wounding the poor Ephemera. Still, there’s more than enough on the board to kill her, and next turn she scoops.
Thoughts & Analysis
Like Rakdos Bloodsport, Azorius Ascendant is a very well-made preconstructed deck that strikes a fantastic balance between flavour and mechanics. In the lore, the Azorious thrive on inertia and the status quo, making sure things stay as they are, and this deck felt every bit of that. Solid defenders, damage prevention, countering activated abilities- at its best it felt that despite the lack of countermagic in my hand, I was playing a permission deck.
The weakness of the Rakdos deck was in some rather poor card choices, and the Azorius have their share (Zephyr Spirit, anyone?). Still, the discordant notes here feel somewhat less jarring, nowhere near as counterproductive as defender creatures in an aggro deck (Torpid Moloch, Slithering Shade).
The Forecast mechanic was a lot of fun to play, and the tension between playing a card and retaining it for Forecasting was perfectly struck. This isn’t likely a deck to be enjoyed by most players, particularly those who don’t like slow, intricate ones. But for those who enjoy locking a game down, this one can be the best of the lot.
Hits: Fantastic mix of mechanics and flavour; some very strong card choices overall; defensive set-up works without feeling boring or noninteractive
Misses: Isperia the Inscrutable rather poorly positioned as the deck’s “champion rare”; some suboptimal card choices; lack of offensive options might be difficult for some players; removal suite somewhat lacking
FINAL GRADE: 4.5/5.0