Sunday, 8 June 2014

Top 10 Azorius Cards

Meddling MageBlue is very much the runt when it comes to gold cards which seems reasonable given they trump the mono cards with ease. While all the UX gold cards are a bit less exciting than the non blue gold cards the UW ones are the weakest of the blue options leaving Azorius the underdog of the gold world. I had to really resist the urge to give a slot to Meddling Mage, while it has not been in my cube for a good while now I am very fond of the card and thought it added a lot to cube even if it wasn't optimal. When combo was rife it was a surprisingly good card and remained fairly effective disruption if played well as the meta slowly shifted away from combo. It is still one of the best Azorius cards of all time but loses a bit too much value in the singleton format as well as being a weak body by today's standard of dork.

Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

10. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
9.   Judge's Familiar
8.   Swans of Brynn Argol
7.   Azorious Charm
6.   Absorb
5.   Venser the Sojorner
4.   Detention Sphere
3.   Sphinx's Revelation
2.   Supreme Verdict
1.   Geist of Saint Traft

Judge's Familiar
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV is a very cool card that I have played in all sorts of decks that I probably shouldn't have. I have had it in the same UW agro deck as Judge's Familiar, I have had it in full on control build and even in a few storm/Heartbeat of Spring style combo decks. The problem with Augustin is that he is also a bit all over the place, it is hard to abuse either of the effects, and while you always get some value out of them it is usually not enough to make up for him being a 4 mana gribbly with pap stats. When you do get sufficient value out of him to make up for that it is because you have built to abuse one aspect and so you would have been better off with a cheaper card that only did one half of the package such as a Helm of Awakening, Medallion, Sphere of Resistance etc. Very playable and will grind out most games for you if he lives long enough, the feel of having him about in a relatively even game is that of drawing an extra card every turn, you just wind up ahead after a while. Overall too narrow and too disjointed to be a cube mainstay but still a powerful, fun and cool card.

Swans of Bryn Argoll
Judges Familiar does not see much play despite being vastly better than Cursecatcher. It only really has one home, the blue white agro disruption deck, and that has so many suitable cards and directions it can go in that familiar is not a mainstay, although few cards are. You really need something to take advantage of a flying body like a few good bits of equipment. Without the capacity to turn it into a threat it just doesn't do enough. A 1/1 has basically no effect on the board even with flying and the disruption catches few things and is beyond easy to play around. While it can go in white weenie decks as they tend to have either equipment or global pump enchantments, it is so ineffective without the support it tends not to be played. You would much rather have a greater than one poweer one drop or one with powerful utility like Mother of Runes or a tapper. That all said you get a lot of different things for your one mana and so I am sure a firmer home will eventually show up for this guy.

Swans of Bryn Argol are highly unusual and crop up mostly as a way to draw cards rather than as a threat however it ends up winning a reasonable number of games simply by being a fairly big evasive monster that is hard to stop. Most frequently paired with Seismic Assault but it also finds some decent synergy with a wide range of other red cards to offer a really efficient card draw tool. Being a hybrid card also makes it a more diverse combo piece. A narrow card that is hard to abuse yet incredibly powerful. Chain of Plasma, Chain Lightning and some of the Chandra planeswalkers are among the other best abuses for Swans. A combo piece that can double up as a threat or a card draw tool is always going to be an interesting card. As with most such cards, despite being great fun and different it is hard to include and draft them in cube due to needing the synergy support cards.

Azorius Charm
I hate Azorius Charm yet am obliged to give it a place on this list. It is a terrible cycling card and god awful removal compared to what you can get in cube however those are pretty much the two most important things to have early in a control card as it consistently helps you get to the late game. It will never excite, except on the odd occasion the lifelink happens to help you win, but it will do exactly what you need almost all the time, certainly in the dicey early game. It will stem the bleeding against an agro deck and buy you that important tempo or it will cycle away in the slower games affording you more reliable land drops and higher card quality.  It has seen a lot of play since its release and has never been bad. It is a great example of a card that does enough useful things acceptably well that it is playable despite doing those things so poorly compared to what you could have do any one of them. 

Absorb is a bit like Meddling Mage in that time has not been kind to it. It was never an overly powerful card with things like Forbid and even Dissipate getting more done more conveniently for the same cost. Although many more cheap and powerful counter based disruption cards have been printed since Absorb there have been no hard counters printed for less. People still struggle to resist a hard counter with added value. I will say this for Absorb, it is less of a downgrade on Actual Counterspell than Lightning Helix is on a Lightning Bolt. It is doing two things control are very eager to do and unlike the Charm will do them both at once. It is also significantly better than Undermine because of the synergy with life gain and control strategies. Life gain is fairly weak in magic but the value of it changes a lot based on your decks strategies. The longer you want the game to go the more value each point of your life, or more accurately the rate of change of life, has. Counter magic is inherently a control effect and thus paring it with life gain makes it more suitable and rounded in that regard.

Venser, the Sojourner
Venser the Sojourner is very hard to fit in to things, he is a bit pricey for his starting loyalty and has effects that are a bit at odds with each other and tend to require you to build around them to make them at all useful. The unblockable part is a tempo or agro ability while the exile effect is far better suited to control strategies. Both also require you to already have something out on the board to use them effectively on and as a result he seems to be best suited to the mid range decks. Certainly untapping a land is fine but really not worth the mana or card invested in doing so, you need Venser to do more than just that, even with his ultimate potential, to be viable in a deck. Having a very powerful and easily reachable ultimate because of the +2 works more in his favour more than I have thus far found the -1 ability to do, although this could easily be down to me not having found the right kind of tempo deck for him to shine in. Indeed his ultimate is generally one of the more powerful and attainable of all planeswalkers. The best I have seen him be is with lots of persist and comes into play effect creatures, most notably Thragtusk and Glen-Elandra Archmage. He also has good synergy with various mass removal effects as you can save something of yours, even Venser himself, from the effect. Really Venser is a B cube card through being narrow, he is just high on this list as Azoris is shallow and weak.

Detention Sphere
Detention Sphere is Maelstrom Pulse meeting Oblivion Ring and gets the job done. In cube more so than other formats the upside on Detention Sphere is minimal when compared with Oblivion Ring and the newer Banishing Light. Overall I would say that simply being blue adds more than the multiple targets potential does for the card as per the previously mentioned Force of Will, Chrome Mox etc uses. The end result is a slightly more powerful but slightly narrower card than your Oblivion Rings. Perfectly fine in cube but not at all exciting. With the rise of enchantments thanks to Theros block there has been a rise of enchantment removal spells being played and this makes Detention Sphere and company less sound removal than it had been previously enjoying. They also have some bad interactions with certain spells you might want to play yourself such as Upheaval or Akroma's Vengeance. Detention Sphere despite being so unexciting is a big step up from the previous cards in this list and represents the first of the more mainstay Azorius cards.

Sphinx's Revelation
I hate Sphinx's Revalation and refused to put it in the cube for a long time. It is very late game pricey card draw and god awful lifegain. To my mind the mono coloured Stroke of Genius was just superior, the only decks that really wanted it were artifact ramp decks or infinite mana decks both of which usually didn't play white or need the life. This however was not how to analyse the card or its role. Revalation is a different sort of card it turns out, almost best seen as really high quality filler in control decks. Being able to fulfil two rolls at once, both of which highly desirable in control, scaling well into the late game and being instant make it a versatile all rounder not unlike Absorb or Azirious Charm. It is what control decks want, it allows them more choices and allows them to condense the slots in the deck. By having a bit of life gain stuck onto other things you already wanted then you don't need to use a slot on a card purely for its life gaining potential. Sphinx's Revelation is about a bit of incremental advantage in a versatile yet powerful package with the capacity to really blow out both control or agro with huge card or life influxes in the super late game. It is not the end of the world to cycle it for one life and one card if you have things you want to dig for and nothing else to spend the mana on and this is pretty much the worst case scenario. While Stroke was all about being able to get a huge number of cards Revelation is more about filling in the cracks and it does this very well. Stroke is far more a combo card while Revelation is firmly a control card. Although Fact or Fiction is the more powerful draw spell it can be dangerous in a 40 card threat light control deck and is also a spell you can't do anything with before you hit four mana. On top of this it has no tempo gain at all which makes it a big risk against many archetypes. I recently cheesed a mate of mine who was running a burn deck by playing a Sejiri Steppe as one of my lands and it won me a game. Those kinds of matchup are very tight, a lot of cards are basically dead and one life can make all the difference. Even if I could only ever play the Revelation for 1 I would still always prefer it to Fact or Fiction in that match up.

Supreme Verdict
Supreme Verdict is fine, there is little to chose between it and Day of Judgement. Wraths are not all that often countered. Having a bit of blue in the cost will naturally make the card narrower but far less so than with most gold cards simply because of where it is used. The blue also adds utility to the card for Chrome Mox, Force of Will and the like. Indeed, this added aspect of the Wrath is what makes it the most commonly played four mana Wrath and not the uncounterable aspect. So often in magic the supposed drawback of the card becomes its main strength. You can't go too far wrong with a 4 mana Wrath but then you also can't get too excited about this compared to the other 4 mana Wraths. It is to Wrath of God what Arbour Elf is to Llanowar Elf. A bit narrower and less reliable but with the potential to be a bit more useful.

Geist of Saint Traft
Geist of Sant Traft is basically the only Azorius card that is well above the curve. You get a great deal of monster for your mana with the Geist. Should you find yourself without blockers then Geist will end you in short order. He is one of the best things you can equip in the cube not just because he is cheap and hexproof but also because it allows you to get much more use out of the attacking proc. Often Geist will find himself suicided into something that will obviously kill or trade with him so as to snipe down a planeswalker with the evasive angel token. Blue and white are not the best colours at fighting planeswalkers and so having a fairly safe Seal of "kill a planeswalker" you can make is great as well. Geist is well designed and despite his high power in terms of a 3 drop that can smack for 6 a turn with some obvious perks and few downsides he will not always be strong. Most creatures in the cube can kill him in combat and so any deck that has a high creature count will quickly get you to a position where you are just sitting there with Geist doing very little at all. It is not really hard to see why this is the top Azorius card though when all the rest of the top four are pretty much Oblivion Ring, Stroke of Genius and Day of Judgement with a very minor perk bolted on.

Here is a list of the other Azorius cards I have in my various piles of cube cards, many of which I have never actually played. I don't know what it is exactly about Azorius cards but even the more interesting ones I tend to find uninspiring. Also, the more powerful ones tend to be the most tedious such as Terefi's Moat. Another final way to demonstrate the low power of Azorius gold cards compared to other guilds would be to see how long a list of top gold cards I would need to do before I got one and then two blue white cards into. I suspect the former would be around the top 25 mark and the latter might not even get a look in at the top 50!

Court Hussar
Meddling Mage
Azorious Guildmage
Augury Adept
Deputy of Acquittals
Drogskol Captain
Godhead of Awe
Hanna, Ships Navigator
Hindering Light
Ith, High Arcanist
Lyev Skyknight
Render Silent
Sanctum Plowbeast
Sky Hussar
Soverigns of Lost Alara
Lavinia, the Tenth
Sygg, River Guide
Teferi's Moat
Wall of Denial


  1. What about Reflector Mage? In my cube he plays about as well as he was in standard, so amazing. Probably better than Revelation but worse than Verdict.

    1. Yeah, this is 3 years old and predates Reflector Mage and some other juicy cards that should be on here. Will get to updating them at some point!