Dragon’s Maze: Azorius Authority Review (Part 1 of 2)
Although the game that is at the heart of this website is intended for recreation and hobby, there exists a series of games that have a much more clinical application. Known academically as game theory, this field looks to study the strategy of decision making. As you might imagine, there’s quite a bit of overlap across the spectrum, and indeed in 2007 Frank Karsten wrote his Introduction to Game Theory on the mothership.
One of the most well-known examples of game theory is the prisoner’s dilemma, which is frequently invoked when talking about Magic. Serious Fun author Anthony Alongi discussed it in the context of multiplayer Magic, while Mark Rosewater has woven it into his State of Design series. Although one of the most common, it’s far from the only standardised “game” of its type.
Another frequent example is the “ultimatum game.” No, not the rare cycle of sorceries from Shards of Alara, this refers to a hypothetical scenario where you have two players and a pot of cash. Player A divides the cash into two piles- one for himself/herself, and the other for Player B. Player B then has a choice to make- accept the division, or reject it. It’s that simple in concept, but the real nuance comes into it when observing the results. Obviously, a split of 100% for A, 0% for B will be rejected out of hand. Similarly, a 50/50 split is the standard of acceptability.
Where things start to get interesting is seeing the tipping point where unbalanced offers that favour Player A will still be accepted a majority of the time, versus when they won’t. In other words, where is that line where greed triggers a negative reaction in the decider (Player B) sufficient to jeoparise the entire endeavour for A? This brings into play the notion of fairness. Logically speaking, Player B should rationally be expected to accept any nonzero offer. After all, that would leave them richer than they were at the start of the game. But the idea that Player A could be rewarded for an excessively imbalanced division of spoils strikes a deeply resonant chord with human beings, and can induce Player B to reject the opportunity for personal enrichment if it allows them to ‘punish’ Player A for breaking an unspoken social contract. Put another way, this game measures a sense of fairness.
Fairness. The parents amongst us can attest to this being a concept evident at a very young age. That’s not fair, Dad! But as an advanced concept, it provides the motive force for a sense of justice which contributes to everything from a legal system to ethical and even religious structures. It was perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Magic community started to roil a little bit when the time came to begin anticipating the release of the Dragon’s Maze Intro Packs.
You couldn’t have asked for a greater test of fairness than Return to Ravnica block. Ten guilds broken up over two sets lined up perfectly with the traditional quantity of Intro Packs, a formula that has been in place for every set since the format’s inception with Shards of Alara with the sole exception of Mirrodin Besieged. Even that was a study in fairness, as Wizards wanted to avoid the imbalance between its Mirran and Phyrexian factions, and cut out an entire Intro Pack just to “keep things square.”
Of course, that left a big question looming for the Intro Pack distribution for Dragon’s Maze. How would Wizards divide five slots amongst ten different guilds? One of the most common speculations in the community was that they wouldn’t. Instead, there would be ten different Intro Packs, one for each. The fact that the “guild champions” served as the premium rare for each was the wind that filled this train of thought’s sails. Others indicated that there would be only five decks, sure, but that the Rakdos, Simic, Boros, Golgari, and Selesnya would likely be disqualified since these guilds were given an “extra” precon in the form of Event Decks. Of course, this further complicated the issue of fairness, because that would leave a colour imbalance amongst the remaining five guilds- Blue would be shared by the Azorius, Dimir, and Izzet.
In the end, though, it would seem that all is not fair in love, war, and equitable distribution. Fans of the Rakdos and Simic guilds have their time to shine, with each getting a trio of precons where other guilds (the Dimir and Izzet) have had only one. One wonders if there was perhaps an opportunity missed here, but the Ravnican globe continues to turn. We’ll end here on a final note of unfairness, as fans of the Duels of the Planeswalkers must sadly take a back-seat as we pause our reviews of that set, and jump into Dragon’s Maze.With that said, bring on the Azorius!
Make the District Safer
With Azorius Authority, we return to the familiar ground initially trodden by Azorius Advance, finding little has changed. We still have a high creature content, and an average converted mana cost of creatures in the low 3’s (3.09 for the first deck, 3.32 for this latest). The occurrences of the guild’s signature mechanic, detain, has increased, but only by one card. There’s plenty of tempo plays on the ground, while a substantial air force gives the deck tremendous reach later in the game.
Why mess with a winning formula, right?
Of course, it might be a stretch to call the formula “winning,” as the deck was given a very middle-of-the-road rating last time around thanks to a poor supporting suite. How does it fare with a deeper card pool?
The deck leads off, fittingly enough, with a pair of Azorius Arresters. We saw these the last time, and they do the same job here. Although the 2/1 they leave behind isn’t the most robust of bodies, the effect is well worth the extra mana the card costs in comparison to Elite Vanguard. The low cost of the card also makes it viable later in the game, when you’ll be laying it more for the detain effect than you will for the creep. The deck gives you a pair. For added muscle, you also get a trio of Silvercoat Lions, vanilla 2/2’s.
Moving on to the deck’s three-drops, we find a pair of Stealers of Secrets. A holdover from the original Return to Ravnica deck, these offer card advantage whenever they manage to connect with an opponent. Since the aim of detain is to clear the way for your attackers, this should reliably happen if you manage to get the deck doing what it’s supposed to be doing. To help in that regard, we also have a pair of Haazda Snare Squads. These new 1/4’s from Dragon’s Maze don’t pack much of an offensive punch, but make up for that with the ability to act as a tapper (a la Master Decoy or Gideon’s Lawkeeper) without sacrificing the ability to contribute on the attack. Of course, the offset here is that they can only tap on offense, since they have to be attacking to trigger the ability.
Next we find a trio of Wind Drakes. Originally printed in Tempest, these are fairly standard- 2/2 bodies with flying for three mana. The deck gives us a trio of them, lending significant strength to our air force. There’s also a single copy of the Lyev Skyknight, another flier with detain that we saw in Azorius Advance. Weighted in favour of power over toughness, these can pack quite a punch when left unchecked.
Moving up to the four-drops, we see a couple of familiar faces in the Azorius Justiciar and Soulsworn Spirit. Each were represented in singleton form in the first Azorius deck, a level of representation sustained here. Each offers detain attached to a body, with the Spirit being unblockable while the Justiciar- lacking no such tricks- detains double the quantity of targets. New cards here include the Ascended Lawmage, an evasive 3/2 with hexproof, and the Sunspire Gatekeepers. The Gatekeepers are part of a cycle that reward you for investing heavily in Guildgates. Should you have two more mor in play when these are summoned, you get a free 2/2 Knight token to go along with the 2/4.
The top of the curve is ushered in with a pair of Jelenn Sphinxes. These are initially unassuming, being a mere 1/5- albeit one with flying and vigilance. That said, the Sphinx only gets better when it leads an attack. With an ability that would be equally welcome amongst the ranks of the Boros (and might well have been designed for cross-guild synergy), the Sphinx grants all those who attack alongside it a +1/+1 bonus.
Finally, there’s the guild champion, Lavinia of the Tenth. In addition to being a sizable body with a reasonably useful protection ability, Lavinia mass detains your opponent. Any artifacts or creatures with a converted mana cost of 4 or less are within her sights, and it can open up your opponent’s defenses for a brutal alpha strike.
Ruin a Party
The noncreature support suite makes up for its rather diminished size by being unusually consistent, divided largely between removal and combat tricks. To keep your opponent’s creatures under control, there’s a single copy of Arrest as well as a pair of Avenging Arrows. The Arrows are a bit reactive, and don’t entirely synergise with a guild that wants to remove creatures from the combat calculus before combat, but the removal is removal.
The deck further punishes creatures that dealt damage with a copy of Restore the Peace. Rather than destroying a single creature a la the Arrows, this spell returns all offending creatures to their owners hands to sit and think about what they’ve done. This can be a bit counterproductive when facing creatures that have enters-the-battlefield abilities, but it can be brutal against decks that rely heavily on +1/+1 counters like the Simic and Golgari. In a pinch, you can also use it on your own creatures, reloading the barrel with more detain.
One interesting development in Dragon’s Maze is the addition of cards that contain nothing more than a single instance of the guild’s mechanic. Wake the Reflections, for instance, is a Selesnya card that simply reads populate. Similarly, Lyev Decree is a sorcery that detains up to two creatures- and that’s it. Still, this is a tempo-based deck, happy to trade away long-term permanence for a more immediate utility. If permanence is what you’re after, though, the deck’s second rare doesn’t disappoint. Martial Law, from Return to Ravnica, simply detains a creature every turn. This can harry your opponent’s defenses, or simply keep their worst offensive threat under control for the remainder of the game.
The combat tricks take up a bit less real estate in the deck. A pair of Righteous Charges aren’t heavy on the “trick” part of the equation since it’s a sorcery (a legacy from its original printing in Portal Second Age), but a +2/+2 bonus is fairly robust. To keep your opponent on their toes, though, you also have a copy of Protect // Serve, one of the new split cards from Dragon’s Maze with the fuse keyword. Protect offers a solid +2/+4 pump to a single creature, while Serve shrinks one down -6/-0. Taken together, this can help set up a two-for-one in the red zone, though at the added cost of creature attacks.
Finally, there’s a pair of Azorius Cluestones here. They seem a bit superfluous in a deck already packing in 26 lands, but on the upside they can at least be traded in for a card when they’ve outlived their usefulness.
We’ll next be taking Azoius Authority for a test drive against some Dragon’s Maze competition. We’ll be back in two days to let you know how it holds up!