The Azorius, Ravnica’s blue-and-white guild, are nothing if not orderly.
Stable. Upstanding. Consistent in the values they represent.
For deckbuilders across all of Magic’s many formats, their colours are the colours of hard control. Slow and judicious reactive play is the favourite style of many mages, and having brought forth cards such as Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation the Azorius Senate have kept their fans well supplied for the draw-go game.
While not strictly a member of their Guild, the Hero of Dominaria has singlehandedly maintained the power of UWx control in current Standard, and with Absorb arriving in Ravnica Allegiance it can be assumed the deck will feature as a pillar of standard from now on. It’s worth stopping to mention Addendum, the new Azorius mechanic for RNA, which adds a very cool level of choice to various effects which are traditionally instant speed. Giving an incentive for players to put their shields down instead of holding up mana to hedge their bets adds an extra layer of skill and bluff to both sides of control matchups, and I’m excited to see a few more of these cards work their way into the constructed meta.
Having said all that in praise of control, we already built those types of decks for the Orzhov and Rakdos articles in this series, so I was once again planning to go against the grain and harness some of the more tempo-tastic Azorius cards from Ravnica Allegiance in an aggressive build, particularly new 3-mana-planeswalker Dovin, Grand Arbiter. Looking at the existing aggro decks in those colours, my testing in the Arena prerelease leaned towards Blue Skies splashing white, or maybe White Weenie splashing blue. The latter deck did fantastic – maybe good enough to even see a bit of competitive play, I smiled to myself…
Drat. Since the whole point of these articles has been to avoid retreading ground already covered by the professionals, my prep work on an article explaining how to put Deputy of Detention in your Benalish Marshal deck now seems to have been wasted! In fact, the entire Esper shard has been explored remarkably quickly thanks to luminaries like Brian Bran-Duin and Wyatt Darby publishing their labwork.
Worse still, my team in the freshly-begun Arena Content Creator Cup were set to build non-meta Esper decks as our Round 1 challenge, further scraping viable concepts from the barrel bottom! But I will dig deeper, brew more deviously, stretch further to find a fresh, spicy concept to show off. After all, you can’t spell brew without B(r)UW!
It’s pretty obvious what the best cards in these colours are by now; pretty much any Esper list worth building is going to be mostly filled with these staples. The best way to make a deck stand out is a dramatic, unique win condition, and today’s list most definitely has that. Lumbering Battlement has been lost in the shuffle of ultra powerful, splashy bombs Ravnica Allegiance unleashed on the format. The design could be said to lack direction; not evasive or resilient enough to be worth exiling your board to pump, too costly and large for you to feel good instantly sacrificing as a one-off “flicker” for your ETB value creatures.
So it’s a beefy Beast with a funky effect, but it doesn’t cut the mustard in Standard as either beatstick or value creature. But what about combo piece? Just like the “Three Oblivion Rings” loop discussed for fun in many an old forum thread, playing a series of Battlements back to back can lead to them endlessly exiling eachother to generate Enters-the-Battlefield and Leaves-the-Battlefield triggers. Throw in any other creature with such a triggered ability and you’re close to winning the game on the spot. It’s theoretically a 2 card combo – albeit one where we need to draw and cast 3 copies of one of those cards.
As absurdly durdly as this sounds (and is), there’s a few arguments in favour of using Battlement this way. One, the Battlement is beefy enough that it really only dies to black removal, which helps the first two live long enough to see a third.
Second, there are 2 different “Clone” creatures in standard which can enter the battlefield as a copy of a Battlement and help us count to 3 copies faster. While playing red for Protean Raider might be more trouble than its worth, Mirror Image goes a long way to making our combo plausible and at its worst leverages some extra value off our other ETB creatures. Because yes, we are packing this bad boy out with those cards, leading me to our third point:
…All the best Esper cards I mentioned earlier (apart from honorary shard buddies Hero of Precinct One and Lyra Dawnbringer) are creatures with powerful ETB triggers. By providing a deep and versatile removal suite cards like Ravenous Chupacabra, Hostage Taker and Deputy are helping us to drag the game long, buying more time to assemble the pieces we need. There’s no real game to be had in “racing” for our combo like the Wilderness Reclamation/Nexus of Fate decks, so instead we’re going to spend our cards with the austerity of a hard control player until we eventually assemble the pieces without extra effort or risk.
Building around a solid core of these cards ensures us good trades throughout the game and helps to justify the shakier inclusions, such as Battlement itself. The biggest worry with a 5 mana card like this is that it dies without achieving anything, but unless they respond to it entering the battlefield you can put any existing creatures under the beast so a kill spell buys you a second round of value triggers.
Finally, having this many good triggers lets us include options like Justiciar’s Portal, Release to the Wind or Siren’s Ruse. These generally fill the same defensive purpose as the powerful Dive Down does in Blue Tempo, blanking a removal spell in response, but getting to destroy or exile additional permanents is the cherry on top.
The other trigger-bearing creatures in our deck are more strictly relevant to our combo. Skymarch Bloodletter is simply the most accessible way to end the match in these colours. Dusk Legion Zealot gives us an option to chump block while drawing through our deck; Sailor of Means, if we play it, also helps us set up the combo faster with extra mana.
In the scenario where we assemble the loop part of the combo but don’t have a Bloodletter, these cards help us lock up a kill; drawing as many cards as we can pay life for and generating as much mana as we need to play those. It’s worth noting Battlement always lets us choose which of the available creatures go “under” it, so once we have the cards and Treasure we need we can just stop the loop by choosing nothing, play them out, and restart the loop for lethal with a flicker spell or 4th Battlement.
Our remaining slots are just further consolidating our position as a heavy controlling deck, giving ourselves the best chance of neutering our opponent’s plan and slowing them down to our own Lumbering pace. Cast Down over the format-defining Mortify is strictly a concession to curve; one it pains me to make, but looking at our crowded 3- and 4-drop slots we need some earlier interaction. Speaking of, Thought Erasure is one of the best game 1 cards on Arena, turning good hands from our opponents into mediocre ones and mediocre hands to awful.
So that’s the deck! It would take more gumption than even I possess to argue this archetype will be top 8-ing tournaments anytime soon, but it’s full of real cards and is far from the wackiest thing I’ve seen steal games on Arena. So if you happened to have opened a playset of Lumbering Battlements, you may as well suit them up – and enjoy the bomb-defusing challenge that is correctly clicking through a long series of optional, targeted ability triggers before the turn timer runs out.
BONUS BUILD: LAVINIA’S LEGACY
As usual for this series I want to talk a little bit about the impact of RNA cards on the older, deeper constructed formats of paper Magic. For the Azorius, that means focusing on the impact of Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, one of the most blatant attempts in recent times to print spanners to be thrown in the works of these venerable metagames.
Lavinia punishes “free” spells (Force of Will, Gurmag Angler), 0-mana spells (Black Lotus, Moxen), lands that tap for multiple mana (Ancient Tomb and Eldrazi Temple) and non-land mana sources (Simian Spirit Guide, Dark Ritual). The cards I put in brackets are gigantic names for the format, but are also just the tip of the iceberg. It’s hard to think of a deck which ISN’T punished in some way by this new hatebear – and the hate is all one-sided. Lavinia only has eyes for your opponents lawbreaking, so you can toss her out and cast as many smuggled Moxen as you like!
Because this card is so obviously impactful, and the players who master these formats have such a firm grasp of their rich, historical metagames, Lavinia has already found her home in eternal decks everywhere, and there is little to add beyond “playing her is nearly always good if you have room for a hatebear-type creature”. So I particularly wanted to draw attention to how she fits in a less obvious Legacy option; that being Soldier Stompy.
Death & Taxes is regarded as a controlling, almost prisonlike creature deck and the first possible home for any new Wx hatebear. But it is more control than prison, wielding soft disruption which buys time for the efficient low-cost bears to beat down. Despite the recent move by many D&T players towards multiple Chalice of the Void in the sideboard (and one or more Ancient Tomb to support them), Stompy decks are still far more proficient in the prison plan, where the aim is to stop the opponent playing almost entirely and then winning with more oddball, self-sufficient threats.
These lists are often mono-red, but Soldier Stompy, being white, gets to abuse surprise powerhouse Supression Field as well as Chalice main and a host of more targeted prison cards in the side. It also has Daru Warchief and Preeminent Captain to speed out otherwise clunky creatures like Captain of the Watch and Palace Jailer. Since Lavinia is a Soldier, she can benefit from these tribal buffs and triggers, AND Cavern of Souls can help bear the burden of making blue mana to cast her.
By having the combination of Lavinia + Chalice out (which can happen as soon as T2 thanks to Ancient Tomb and Chrome Mox) you threaten to paralyze your enemy more effectively than the extra “tax” effects the deck had played before. And being a creature spell she isn’t even penalised by our Thalia!
Despite being a fun (subjectively) budget (relatively) deck, the Lavinia/Chalice/Thalia tag team can definitely surprise even the big boys of Legacy. It’s hard to fit the other new Azorius cards in the maindeck due to unusual curve and creature type requirements, but we can still savour the power of Ravnica Allegiance through our new favourite Renegade, and that’s what this column is all about! Plus, we can arguably replace Leonin Relic Warder with Deputy of Detention in the SB – neither are soldiers, and seem mostly there to try and counteract Show and Tell, which Deputy is better at. Tocatli Honor Guard isn’t from RNA, but it is a Soldier and a pretty good hatebear for some decks, so it can get in there too. One of the best parts of fringe strategies like this is tinkering with unusual options, so I hope some of you get the chance to try your own ideas out for this unusual white deck!
NEXT WEEK… It’s the End-Raze for our Guild Builds article as the GRUUL CLANS enter the Arena!
Tune in to find out how to smash the small things in style…