Beginners Guide to Drafting: Return to Ravnica Azorius with Chris Boyle
One of the strongest colour combinations in Magic history and one of the most powerful guilds in the Return to Ravnica block. The Justiciars of Justice, the Clerks of Control, it can only be Azorius.
Blue/White has always been about control, and the Azorius guild is no different… only it is. Instead of control coming in the form of counterspell and unsummon it comes in the form of the guilds mechanic, detain.
Detain allows you to lock down your opponents board while increasing the size of your own. It removes a pesky blocker to allow you to get that all important damage through and if you have the right cards, can freeze your opponents bomb creatures on every single turn. So without further adieu, let’s take a look at the uncommon’s you want to be drafting if you plan on playing Azorius!
New Prahv Guildmage – Like every other Guildmage, this guy is just broken. Up until turn five he gives your creatures evasion at will and after turn five he can detain any of your opponents nonland permanents not just creatures! First pickable? In a heartbeat!
Lyev Skynight – In any other format, we’d probably be willing to pay three for a 3/1 flier. This one comes with the added bonus of being able to detain a nonland permanent and definitely justifies the cost, and the first pick of a pack!
Azorius Charm – One of the most (if not the most) versatile charms in the set. The lifelink can help win those races against Rakdos’ early damage, the card draw lets you hit your bombs quicker and the instant speed removal saves your bacon AND slows your opponent down because he has to re-draw and re-play the same creature. First pickable, yes definitely.
Skymarc Roc – This guy is just ugly… for your opponent. A 3/3 flier for four isn’t a bad deal in limited but the ability that triggers when he attacks adds to the guild theme of control perfectly. Bouncing back your opponents early drop dudes slows down his game tremendously. He has to spend precious mana re-casting them, stopping him from playing bigger creatures, or he holds them in his hand lessening the presence he has on the board. Stone cold first pick, hell, this guy is the pick in any pack you are passed!
Fall of the Gavel – This is the only uncommon that Azorius offers that I am not enamoured with. Five mana is a bit steep for a counterspell and the life gain at turn five is going to be marginal at best. Stick it in the sideboard, but don’t first pick this card. There will usually be something stronger.
Azorius Justiciar – Four mana for a 2/2 *grumble* …but wait! His ability more than makes up for his lack of toughness! Detaining a creature is never a bad thing, detaining two only makes it better! First pick, yes.
Arrest – We’ve seen it all before, it hasn’t changed, it’s still a staple for any limited Azorius deck. I recently played this on Jared, Golgari Lich Lord both games my opponent cast him. This card is a justifiable first pick.
Soul Tithe – It’s another static enchantment which in general, I hate. However this one serves its purpose quite well. In a format that is often about tempo, this card will put you ahead. Either it’s a roundabout way of removal, or it’s a VERY expensive upkeep for your opponent, preventing him from playing out his hand. First pickable, probably not, but these will get passed.
Judge’s Familiar – 1/1 dude with evasion and an upside? I can take this first pick if the pack offers nothing else. The counterspell ability isn’t actually as useful as it sounds. Because it is a visual counterspell your opponent knows it’s there and won’t usually play into it unless he has a trick up his sleeve, or the mana available to pay the cost.
Faerie Imposter – Now I’m not going to lie. At first I hated this card. “Isn’t it totally counterproductive to what I am trying to do?” I thought. “Why would I possibly want to diminish my own board?” Then a kindly subscriber on YouTube pointed out just how broken this card can be. In a guild all about control/detain. The imposter lets you ‘bounce’ back your own detainers and re-play them next turn. The card has risen in my estimations, but still does not justify a first pick. A nice combat trick, but these will be passed to you.
Hover Barrier – A 0/6 flying wall. Although it doesn’t do anything else, this is still a pretty highly picked card. It can successfully block most things in the format and slows down your opponent’s early rush, protecting that precious life total until you can play your bigger creatures. First pick? I’d rather not…but I’m not saying I haven’t.
Skyline Predator – I like everything about this card except the mana cost. It is right up at the top of where I want my curve to be. It has a nice ‘surprise’ element but after that, for a six drop it’s not that great. This guy is fine for a filler, but not worth your first pick.
Soulsworn Spirit – I love this card. Not only does he detain, but he can’t be blocked. Slap a Knightly Valor on him next turn and watch your opponent’s face drop. I can first pick this in a heartbeat.
Blustersquall – One of the strongest combat tricks in the game, and somewhat underrated I think. I get passed these often, when I do I scoop them up. Probably not on my first pick list but definitely a card I am looking to run at least one of.
Syncopate – A counter spell that counters for X, I like it. Not much explanation needed, it does what it says on the tin. I have taken this card first, but the pack was poor. I’m looking elsewhere first.
Man that is a tasty bunch of playable cards! What order do we possibly put these in when it comes to picks?
Well, this would be my pick order:
- New Prahv Guildmage
- Skymarc Roc
- Lyev Skynight
- Azorius Charm
- Soulsworn Spirit
- Azorius Justiciar
In terms of cards that are first pickable, that is probably about it in Azorius colours. The rest of the uncommon’s are more likely to be picked up 2nd, 3rd or 4th picks, some of them even later than that.
Something to bear in mind when you move in to packs two and three are the colours you suspect your opponents are playing:
Let’s say you open pack two and are solidly in Azorius, you suspect the guy to your left (who is passing you the pack) to be in Selesnya, which isn’t ideal for us but we are doing ok. You see an Azorius Justiciar and a Soulsworn Spirit, both around about the same value in pick order.
An argument can be made for taking the Justiciar over the Soulsworn because the guy to your left is less likely to pass you another one. He will however most definitely pass a Soulsworn Spirit. Doesn’t happen often, but well worth bearing in mind when you have a tough choice to make between equally powerful cards.
Let’s move on to the commons shall we?
Dramatic Rescue – Better than I originally thought. Another one of those cards that can bounce back your own detainers for recycling, or clear a path to get some damage in. Versatile and cost efficient, what’s not to like?
Hussar Patrol – A 2/4 with vigilance that can be cast at will. This is the card that you will kill those pesky Gore House Chainwalkers with. A card every Azorius deck should not be without.
Vassal Soul – A vanilla 2/2 with evasion. If there’s nothing else, I’m happy to take this.
Search Warrant – No. Just no.
Azorius Arrester – Your staple detainer in the Azorius guild. I rarely play him on turn two if my opponent has no creatures out. If you are going for the ‘bounce’ back strategy this will be your guy, cheap enough to play, bounce and replay all in one turn! Definitely try to pick up some of these.
Armory Guard – Don’t just dismiss this guy, he’s better than he looks. This, and cards like this are going to save you from that Rakdos Onslaught. He successfully stands in the way of Hellhole Flailer and all of your opponents 1, 2 AND 3 drop creatures. Another important thing to note is that his 5 toughness puts him out of [card]Avenging Arrow">Auger Spree[/card} range. You will see these often getting passed round the table, he should be fairly easy to pick up late on in a draft.
[card]Avenging Arrow – This ladies and gents, is bad removal. But it is removal and as such should not have noses turned up at it. No one wants to take a beating from a creature then kill it, but unfortunately in this format most of the upfront removal is limited to black and red, which means if those aren’t our colours we have to take what we can get. I don’t mind running these, they do table on occasion but I wouldn’t count on that happening too often.
Swift Justice – As opposed to having access to strong removal spells, white offers us this. A sneaky combat trick. I’ll be honest, I’ve never picked this card unless it’s been the 14th/15th pick in the pack. It rarely makes it in to my main deck, though I will board it in if my opponent has a lot of weenies. In sealed I reckon this is ok, in draft…there are stronger cards.
Ethereal Armor – Another creature enchantment! This one stacks, which is interesting and I’ll get to it later. These aren’t high up on pick priority and you can expect to see these table.
Knightly Valor – This has more of a Selesnya feel to it, but that being said, I see nothing wrong with running it in Azorius. I’ve won a lot of games by sticking one (or two) of these onto a Soulsworn Spirit. I like this card and will actively try and run at least one, possibly two depending on my curve. Bear in mind that Selesnya will be looking for this card, if you suspect the person you’re passing to is running tokens, don’t expect to see this again.
Trostani’s Judgement – A lot of people like this card, but when asked if they would pick a 4BB destroy creature spell card, they say no. Weird. Its saving grace is the token generation. If you are playing Azorius I would only take this if the Avenging Arrows had missed their mark and your lockdown/control spells had disappeared. In this guild, Judgement is not on my priority list.
Isperia’s Skywatch – Right up there at the top of your curve will sit this guy. I’m probably drafting Azorius Arrester higher than this card more often than not, but if you need a little bit more muscle in the air or are short on detainers then this guy is a reasonable pick.
Runewing – I don’t get why people run this card. A 2/2 for 4 that flies is a pretty bad deal. He gets you a free card when he dies which is ok. But most of the time that means you are playing this guy on turn four in the hope you can block something and draw before turn five. I just don’t understand why you would cast a creature in the hopes that it dies. Maybe it’s just me *shrugs*. I have never run a Runewing outside of sealed.
Stealer of Secrets – Nice if you can get it off, which you should be able to do with the right combination of bounce and detain. Very pickable, very playable.
Tower Drake – Another flier to add to the ranks, nothing wrong with picking one or two of these guys up. The on board ability can be a little steep late game but it definitely has its uses.
Voidwielder – I wasn’t sold on this card originally but you can get quite clever with him. He allows you to bounce back detainers to your hand, or diminishes your opponent’s board. On top of that his four toughness is pretty solid.
Inaction Injunction – This is the Azorius common that I put at the top of my pickable list. Such a powerful spell at any point in the game. Don’t expect these to table. As soon as the uncommon’s are gone this is the card I am looking for.
Frostburn Weird – I’ve spoken about this creature already in my “Drafting Rakdos 101” and like him for the same reasons. A 1/4 on turn 2 is nothing to be sneezed at. If your opponents board is empty on turn three then 4 damage is a gift!
Paralyzing Grasp – Another removal(ish) spell. It will usually mean that your opponent has done some damage already with his creature but more often than not, once this is played the creature stays tapped the rest of the game (Though I did get clever with [card]Cancel">Primal Surge[/card} in one game…but that’s a Selesnya story). Note also that it is an enchantment.
[card]Cancel – What would blue be without Counter spells? Not very good is the answer. This guy will save you from your opponent’s nastiest tricks. The mana cost is a bit irritating at times because it slows down your game (i.e. you skip casting a creature to keep the counter mana up) but if you know your opponent is running some monsters this may be your only way to deal with them.
That is pretty much it for the commons. I’ve left out the more Izzet based combat tricks as I don’t rate them very highly, they are very situational.
Like the Rakdos common list it’s difficult to prioritise the picks. Stick to the B.R.E.A.D acronym and you should be on the right course. Also don’t forget your mana curve. IT. IS. CRUCIAL.
To aid with how you pick your cards however I am going to discuss what ‘type’ of Azorius build you are running as there are multiple ways you can play these colours successfully. Let’s start with the most obvious one, detain.
My second favourite guild mechanic (Populate being the first). Detain decks are pretty ABC. You are trying to draft as many detainers and as many bounce effects as possible to recycle your detainers. It’s not always possible to ‘curve out’ with detain given the fact that a lot of the detain cards are uncommon and there is no guarantee you will have that card on that turn. Multiple arrester’s combined with sufficient bounce effects should see you get to the late game pretty comfortably though then you can start to swing through with when the advantage is yours!
I remember my first draft. A lot of the drafts in between have been forgotten but I will never forget the first. It was Rochester, and it was 7th Edition. I had stayed on after the standard tournament because I had heard Arena Games was going to run another tournament. When I discovered it was draft I panicked because I had never heard of it before. Jarvis, a shop regular and a very experienced MtG player gave me some sage words of advice before we started:
“If you’ve never drafted before, pick things that fly.”
I did, and I won.
Now that is not to say that this is the best way to go, but it is a viable option, especially for blue + white. There are no shortages of fliers in this set and as I’m sure you all know, those pesky 2/1’s with wings can be damn hard to stop if they are swinging in relentlessly. How does this relate to Return to Ravnica?
Well if you’re not getting passed detain, then pick up the fliers. If you find you are having to go for this strategy I would also advise picking up a Mizzium Skin or two. Take my word, there is nothing worse than amassing an army of bird tokens and Skynights only to have your opponent overload an Electrickery. The ‘bad’ blue spell that swings the table protects them from spot removal AND from the 1 toughness board wipe effects from Electrickery and Golgari Charm.
Because the enchantment effects stack on Ethereal Armor[/card[ and [card]Sphere of Safety you can actually build quite a dangerous and powerful deck with cards that are likely to swing the table. Sphere of safety is pretty bad on its own, but when the board is full of Knightly Valor,Ethereal Armor, Paralyzing Grasp, Soul Tithe etc and they all belong to you, it becomes a monster!
Multiple Ethereal Armor can be tough to deal with let alone with all the other enchantments blue and white have available to it.
You’re not going to be picking these enchantments over the Detain guys, or probably even the fliers, but if you find you are getting passed these late in drafts it may be worth picking up a few and seeing what sort of nastiness you can unleash on the board!
Azorius is one of the strongest guilds to draft in the set. I believe this is the case because the mechanic is so strong and if you get passed enough of the cards that can use it then there is not much that can stop you from winning. Even if you don’t though, there are other avenues and options available to Azorius which means even if you don’t end up with a couple of Skymarc’s and a fistful of bounce, you can still win games, which is what it’s all about.
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Thanks for reading!