The Pioneer Regional Championship in Atlanta has come to a conclusion, and there are a lot of interesting takeaways from the event. The metagame, at large, was dominated by four specific decks. Rakdos midrange, Abzan Amalia Benavides Aguirre combo, Izzet Phoenix, and Azorius control were the most played decks at the event, and all performed reasonably well. The top eight of the event featured two of each of the decks above, further showcasing their dominance above the rest of the field.
The deck that emerged victorious ended up being Azorius control which, despite having a smaller representation than Rakdos midrange and Izzet Phoenix in the tournament, had a noticeably higher win rate. Further, the Azorius control decks that seemed to perform the best specifically utilized Yorion, Sky Nomad as a Companion. The winning decklist played 80 cards in the maindeck, as did the 9th place and 12th place lists. Azorius control is certainly on the rise, and for good reason.
Temporary Lockdown in the Current Metagame
One of the more notable card choices that remained consistent between the three Yorion control players in the top 12 was the inclusion of a full playset of Temporary Lockdown in the maindeck. Temporary Lockdown is exceptionally well-positioned right now and has a ton of utility in this style of deck. Of the top five decks most played decks in Atlanta, Temporary Lockdown is incredibly strong again two decks specifically: Abzan Amalia combo and Boros Convoke.
Against Abzan Amalia, Temporary Lockdown is significantly more effective than Supreme Verdict for a number of reasons. First, Temporary Lockdown is more efficient, which is vital against the speed of Boros Convoke, too. Being able to meaningfully interact early is extremely important, especially on the draw. Second, the Creatures your opponent controls get exiled, diminishing the effect of Return to the Ranks, Extraction Specialist, and even Voice of Resurgence out of the sideboard.
Knowing the important role that Temporary Lockdown plays in these matchups, using Yorion as a Companion makes a lot of sense. Getting to blink Temporary Lockdown at will is an amazing option to have. This means that you can slam Lockdown early in the game without having to worry about the threat of your opponent rebuilding. While you do lose a bit of consistency by playing an 80 card deck, the synergy between Yorion and Temporary Lockdown is undeniable.
There are also some shenanigans to be had with Lockdown and Omen of the Sea. For instance, if you play Omen before Lockdown, Omen will get exiled. Then, if you ever blink Lockdown or your opponent removes it, you get Omen to trigger once again.
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Strong Top Tier Matchups
Temporary Lockdown truly is a great insurance policy against Amalia combo and Boros Convoke that can help win games that no other card would. The concern with Temporary Lockdown, though, is that it can be a bit narrow. After all, the card is relatively weak against Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos midrange. That being said, part of the reason Azorius control is super well positioned is that it has a decent matchup against both of these archetypes, especially with Yorion in the mix.
Izzet Phoenix presents a rather slow clock, relying on removal, card draw, and recursive threats to cross the finish line. The issue against Azorius control is that removal spells like Fiery Impulse are relatively useless, while Arclight Phoenix can simply get exiled via The Wandering Emperor. With counter magic at the ready for Treasure Cruise, it can be difficult for Izzet Phoenix players to pull ahead.
With regards to Rakdos midrange, once again the clock the deck presents is pretty slow, and removal like Fatal Push is ineffective. There are quick draws backed up by Thoughtseize that certainly have game against Azorius control, but without early pressure and disruption, it can be tough. Azorius control has a lot of built-in card advantage, especially with Yorion at the ready, so the deck is prepared to play a longer game.
The Effects of the Bans
A huge part of the reason for Azorius control’s rise in popularity and why it has a solid position in the metagame has to do with the recent ban announcement. One of the decks that had a reasonably decent Azorius control matchup was mono-green Devotion. Mono-green Devotion played so many haymakers that could be devastating when they hit the board. Cards like Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns matched up well against Supreme Verdict.
Ever since the banning of Karn, the Great Creator, though, this deck has fallen out of favor immensely. That, in part, contributed to the massive rise of Rakdos midrange. Not to mention, the unbanning of Smuggler’s Copter further pushed players towards Rakdos midrange and decks with lots of small Creatures.
Some Rakdos players have chosen to adopt Inti, Seneschal of the Sun into their arsenal to maximize cards like Copter and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. As good as these cards are, this only furthers the effectiveness of Temporary Lockdown.
Ways to Fight Against Control
As strong as Azorius control has become, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to fight against it. While Lotus Field combo didn’t have the strongest showing in Atlanta, the deck certainly has game against some of the top decks in the format. Azorius control’s lack of pressure can be exploited by the massive mana advantage the Lotus Field deck can achieve. From there, cards like Sphinx of the Final Word out of the sideboard can help you resolve your game-breaking spells.
If Azorius control continues to grow in popularity, strategies like Azorius Spirits and mono-white Humans are definitely worth considering. Spell Queller and Thalia, Guardian of the Thraben are excellent against board wipes and can help keep the control player off-balance. These decks were quite underrepresented in a field full ok Rakdos midrange and Izzet Phoenix, though, which only further helps cement Azorius control as a top strategy. Further metagame evolutions are worth monitoring, but if you are a fan of piloting control decks, Pioneer is the perfect place to do so.
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