How to Beat: UW Control
Swancin goes deep into not only the makeup of Azorius Control, but how to attack it at its heart.
What is Azorious Control?
Azorious Control, like most control decks, takes advantage of cards that deny their opponent the ability to do much of anything. A counterspell here, a bounce spell there, and a removal spell just for good measure. The whole point of a control deck is to tell their opponent no as much as they possibly can.
What Makes Up the Azorious Control Deck?
The vast majority of the Azorious Control deck is counterspells and removal, and in Pioneer there is no shortage of these cards. Being in White grants them access to removal spells such as Portable Hole for early game threats such as Monastery Swiftspear or Ledger Shredder, as well as Fateful Absence and March of Otherworldly Light for bigger threats that come in later in the game. Also, having white grants these decks the powerful modal boardwipe Farewell. Farewell allows the caster to decide exactly what needs to go, be it creatures, enchantments, artifacts, or even graveyards. Having only one board wipe is not quite enough, these decks also run a number of Supreme Verdict: an uncounterable board wipe just for creatures.
Beyond the removal that white grants, blue gives access to a plethora of counterspells. Absorb, Censor, and Dovin’s Veto come in strong here. The life gain Absorb grants can be more than useful in the aggro matchups. Censor may have a limitation of only making the spell it is trying to counter cost one more, but it also comes with cycling for when it becomes superfluous. Dovin’s Veto is in a league of its own, being an uncounterable answer for any non-creature spell makes this wildly powerful in the mirror match as well as many other matchups in the Pioneer format.
The control variants do not currently run many creatures in the traditional sense, they instead run a pair of planeswalkers that allow them to dominate the battlefield. First off being the Wandering Emperor, a wildly powerful planeswalker with flash and the ability to activate at instant speed the turn you play it. This is notable as one of its abilities is to exile a tapped creature, allowing the control player to stop an attacking creature before taking damage. Once the Emperor performs the disappearing act with a creature, it can then create one of its own or even pump up a creature already in play. The Wandering Emperor has a partner in crime with the ever-powerful Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. This five mana planeswalker does just about everything but wash windows. Drawing cards while untapping lands, bouncing nonland permanents, and god forbid an emblem that can exile anything the controller wants whenever they draw a card.
In the event a control deck gains the upper hand and their opponent does not play spells during their turn, the control player will take this opportunity to play spells like Memory Deluge or cycle away extra copies of Censor and Shark Typhoon to keep their hand full of control cards to further ensure a decisive victory.
How to Recognize the Deck?
The early game for this deck will depend on who goes first, but you will likely see a blue/white land hit the field whether it be Hallowed Fountain, Hengegate Pathway, or even a tapland. Now this does not guarantee you are up against Azorious Control, but it is a good indicator as many of the other decks running these lands in their mana base are likely to be playing black as well. Meaning they are more than likely going to be playing a black land on turn one to Thoughtseize you. The next giveaway this deck has is a control style deck, countering and removing things left and right.
How to Take Control From the Control Deck?
This can be quite difficult with the abundance of early game removal they have access to, but the best way to deal with a control deck is to get underneath them. A tide of lightning-fast early threats and being kept on the defensive is a control deck’s worst nightmare. Players want to establish a quick clock against the control deck and not let up. Some sort of big wrath insurance also comes in hand. Once their emergency wrath butting gets neutered, the control deck will start to fall apart at the seams.
Not every deck has access to a card like Selfless Spirit, but there’s generally an option or two available to every color. For instance, in recent times the prevalence of Azorius Control and its usage of board wipes has brought back a demigod from a mono-red build of years past: Anax, Hardened in the Forge. This legendary red creature gives any deck a way to protect themselves from board wipes. If Anax is on the field when a board wipe occurs you get 1/1 satyr tokens for each nontoken creature you control and you get more if you had stronger creatures. Retaining a board presence after a boardwipe will keep the control deck on the back foot while you are still moving forward with your plan. Some aggro decks additionally have access to spells that phase out your creatures (Slip Out the Back) or even give them indestructible(Tamiyo’s safekeeping), this too will send the control player reeling. Uncounterable and hexproof creatures are also your friends, making sure your creatures resolve and blanking control’s spot removal.
An alternative option to control the control deck is resource denial. Many of the deck in the format are running balck and black gives access to powerful dicard spells such as Thoutseize, Duress, and Go Blank. If you are able to keep the control player’s hand empty, you will have more control than them.
Azorious Control has been a mainstay in Pioneer for some time now and does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. You will likely see this deck at your local FNM and you will certainly see it at the Regional Qualifiers and at the Pro Tour. Making it one of those decks players will need to be prepared for no matter what deck they plan on sleeving up for an event.