Lights Out - Azindel Mask
Hello Eternal players! Does aggro have you down? Are you sick of dying to Champion of Fury backed up by Permafrost? Does the thought of one more Haunting Scream for lethal sicken you? I may have a cure for what ails you:
4 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
2 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Dreamsnatcher (Set3 #212)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
2 Vara's Choice (Set2 #206)
4 Vara's Favor (Set0 #35)
2 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
4 Auralian Merchant (Set4 #70)
4 Ayan, the Abductor (Set2 #204)
4 Banish (Set2 #207)
3 Beckoning Lumen (Set2 #59)
2 Devoted Theurge (Set1002 #6)
1 In Cold Blood (Set1003 #15)
3 Mask of Torment (Set2 #212)
4 Vara, Vengeance-Seeker (Set1004 #19)
3 Azindel, Revealed (Set1004 #21)
4 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Amber Waystone (Set3 #51)
5 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Crest of Mystery (Set4 #266)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
4 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
1 Disjunction (Set3 #63)
1 Vara's Choice (Set2 #206)
1 Devoted Theurge (Set1002 #6)
1 Mask of Torment (Set2 #212)
1 Azindel, Revealed (Set1004 #21)
Azindel Mask is a midrange ramp deck that aims to play more and faster Azindels than anyone else. If you think the meta is about Azindel, this is the logical endpoint. The meta isn’t really centralized on Azindel, as Cookbook is dominating all of the midrange and control matchups right now, but Azindel Mask has a fighting chance against FJS. That’s what I like about the deck – it has some very good matchups, and the unfavorable matchups are close and winnable.
The main selling point is that nearly every card gains life, so it absolutely demolishes aggro outside of their great draws on the play (in the Feastcalling top 64, I beat a triple Champion of Fury, triple Torch, double Permafrost draw out of Skycrag), and it plays a lot of Azindels, so it goes way over the top of any midrange or control deck not running Harsh Rules. Even Cookbook decks without sweepers like FTS legendary pile get completely buried by the big bad.
Mask of Torment serves a couple roles here – it ramps you to fast Azindels (turn 3 Merchant, turn 4 Mask + Amber Waystone, turn 5 Azindel is possible), it lets you play Azindel off fewer than eight power sources, and it makes all of your early-game anti-aggro cards great in the late game. Ayan’s Ultimate creates a very real threat, and Dreamsnatcher’s Ultimate is often fatal to control decks after being Dark Returned a couple times. The Tormentor himself doesn’t come out too often, but it’s nice to have the option in really long, grindy games where a few Azindels aren’t enough.
A few more quick hits on card choices:
Banish is maxed out because it’s good in the two main matchups – it kills Charge units from Haunted Highway and Cookbooks from FJS. Getting buried by Cookbook is the main way to lose to FJS, and drawing with Azindel from a deck full of Firebombs is risky.
Beckoning Lumen has been trimmed to three because she is very weak against aggro. It is also sometimes awkward to trigger Lifeforce for her when your only health gain sources are Lifesteal units and your opponent has bigger blockers. Those cuts made room for more Devoted Theurge, who is a great anti-aggro roadblock and frequently a power source with Mask of Torment. More Theurges also takes the Haunted Highway matchup from slightly unfavorable to even in my opinion.
In Cold Blood is hanging out so that the deck isn’t so weak to expensive multifaction units like Tavrod and Rizahn. Vara’s Choice can’t solve ALL of your problems, though it is the best answer if you time it right. Be sure to play Choice the turn before the unit you’re scared of can come down, unless it messes up your curve too much to do so. You can throw it out on turn 2 and not be unhappy in most cases, as you can get a Merchant at worst, and frequently a Merchant is what you want to hit anyways. Other key targets are Tavrod against Argenport, Azindel against anything with Time and Shadow, Rizahn, and Bandit Queen.
There are no cards between four and eight power since all of the options line up pretty poorly against a field of Slays, Permafrosts, and Madnesses. There will always be cries about Time units being too good, but I am not a believer in Worldbearer Behemoth, Shadowlands Tyrant, or Champion of Mystery and company. Even Sandstorm Titan doesn’t make the cut here, though he is better than Devoted Theurge if the field becomes slanted towards Skycrag and Hooru or TJP Fliers decks instead of decks with Annihilate.
Azindel and Mask in the Market are non-negotiable, as those two together are a combo of sorts and being able to pull either half with Aurelian Merchant is very valuable. Disjunction is serving the ‘relic removal’ role, and is the card I favor for the function against Cookbook, but if Azindel mirrors are common Passage of Eons may be superior since it shuts down the Helici and Dark Returns in one go. Devoted Theurge is pulling double duty as an anti-aggro Market card and generic threat (he gets scary with Mask and double-digit power), but could easily be replaced by any number of things if you don’t feel like those roles are as necessary. Vara’s Choice is my preferred removal spell since it always answers everything, but Xenan Initiation may be correct, especially if sweepers are less prevalent since you can get double value out of it by Dark Returning the Killer unit.
There are a lot of decks that I’m seeing on ladder right now, but they generally fall into a few basic categories with variations on that gameplan – Scream, 1-drop aggro, Cookbook, and Aegis.
Against Scream, you want to deploy units that gain health to stabilize the board, hold up Banish for Scream or Charge on key turns, and race. You can’t hold back and block forever against Haunted Highway, as they can Scream a Berserk unit or Madness + Combust you and destroy you from a healthy health total behind fat Lifestealers. Lifesteal means you gain health on offense, not just from blocking, so get in there! I attack with my Varas and Ayans more often than not against HH – they can be pressured down, and attacking makes Madness less devastating against you. Don’t be a coward! Be careful when deploying Azindel against possible Madness, as you don’t want your opponent to draw a bunch of cards from your deck and play their own Azindel from your deck! Leave back some extra blockers on your Azindel turn just in case.
Against 1-drop aggro, you just want to play your cards. Mask of Torment does close to nothing here, so market it away for Disjunction or Devoted Theurge and only play it if you have literally nothing else to do. Every single card in your deck besides Beckoning Lumen, Mask, and Azindel is good-to-completely-devastating against them, so if you are able to play your cards you will generally win. There are a few three-units-into-double Permafrost/Vanquish + Torch draws on the play that get you, but in general these matchups are massively favored.
Cookbook spans a wide range of decks, and you have slightly different gameplans against each. If they don’t have Harsh Rule, all you care about is Azindel. Maybe they can 2- or 3-for-1 themselves to kill the first, maybe if they have Cookbook they can beat the second, but the third and fourth almost surely will get them. Azindel > midrange. If they DO have Harsh Rule, you no longer have inevitability, as they can 1-for-1 Azindel and outdraw you. In these cases you need to be the aggressor, hopefully ramping out Azindel with Mask and then following up with Ultimates on Dreamsnatchers and Ayans to try to tax their power so that they can’t remove your threats and draw at the same time. It seems like with four Banish and Disjunction in the Market you could just blow up their Cookbooks, but they always seem to have another one in my experience. An interesting line to take when you know they have Harsh Rule and you have an Azindel coming in a couple turns is to NOT play any threatening units so your early Temple Scribes and Dreamsnatchers can draw cards the turn Azindel comes down instead of getting swept up along with your Beckoning Lumen or Vara that would have demanded an answer anyways.
‘Aegis decks’ is the name I’m giving to a wide range of unit-based decks that aim to be resistant to Haunted Highway’s Madness combos and FJS’s Slays and Harsh Rules. This is stuff like Combrei Aggro, various Rakano and Hooru decks with Sheriff Marley, and Feln. These decks are mostly solid matchups, with varying degrees of “dead on the spot to Azindel.” Combrei aggro has a tough time with Vara and Azindel, and is a good matchup. Fliers are impossible to block, so if Hooru or Rakano decks draw more Fliers than you draw removal and Lifesteal units that can race them, you can have a bad time. Feln is probably the worst of these matchups because Black Sky Harbinger cleans up Azindel’s Helici for free and Champion of Cunning is tough to deal with with the current removal suite. If Feln gets more popular, some more Vara’s Choice to pre-emptively take of them and Xenan Initiation to deal with them once they are in play would be in order. You aren’t particularly vulnerable to Hailstorm, so you can usually beat Feln by getting off to an early lead. If you draw a card or two the turn Azindel comes down (in any matchup), it’s pretty hard to lose form there.
Azindel Mask is a solid deck with an excellent aggro and midrange matchup. It is underplayed compared to how good it is, and has a solid chance against anything. As Flash2351 would say, get this deck on the tier list!
Until next time, may you always draw your opponent’s best cards.