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Guardian of Faith Art by Brian Valeza

Standard Azorius Tempo Deck Guide: The Secret Highest Win Rate Deck in Standard

Azorius Tempo
by thenerdysteve
Buy on TCGplayer $228.78
best of 3
6 mythic
36 rare
6 uncommon
12 common
Planeswalkers (3)
Instants (5)
Spell Pierce
Fading Hope
60 Cards
15 Cards

Some aggressive strategies rely on piling threat on top of threat quickly to overwhelm your opponent early and consistently. 

This Azorius Tempo deck has a similar play style. However, where aggro decks tend to be more about deciding how to deploy your creatures to deal the most damage, this deck relies on playing your creatures and using interaction to deal with your opponents spells most efficiently.

If you’ve ever felt that your aggressive deck could use a little more agency and wish your cards could interact in more meaningful ways with your opponent’s, this is the deck for you.

In general, your game plan should be like this: get something on the board and then use your counter magic (Spell Pierce) and your phasing creatures (Spectral Adversary + Guardian of Faith) to add more pressure to the board while protecting your own creatures. 

Over several turns, you should have a board presence that can overwhelm your opponent. Additionally, with many cards of yours having flash, you can sometimes wait until their end step to get the most value of your spells.

This deck has a lot of room for bluffing, tons of different lines, and many ways to outplay your opponent. Deciding to play a creature at sorcery speed versus saving one of your instant speed interactive spells to counter an opponent’s spell is often a important decision that can lead to pivotal turning points in a game.

Deck Choices

Usher of the Fallen / Hopeful Initiate / Intrepid Adversary / Luminarch Aspirant / Adeline, Resplendent Cathar

This deck really needs to have pressure early for you to have early threats for your tempo plan to work. If you don’t have aggressive threats on the first couple turns to pressure, it makes your reactive spells much worse because there’s nothing to protect! If your opponent isn’t forced into acting quickly because of your first couple of plays, they can play the game on their own terms. You don’t want that.

I’ve found that both Usher and Initiate are important one drops for this deck, and I haven’t found any others that work. The deck really needs the early pressure reliably to perform, and I don’t think you can cut down on them.

The same with Luminarch Aspirant. Aspirant is just a much scarier threat that if not immediately dealt with, you can protect consistently and just win on its own.

Adeline and Adversary are cards that I’ve gone up and down on throughout different versions. They’re both very incredible and increase your clock significantly, however, I’ve often found that I really wanted more interactive cards in these slots instead of increasing my offensive capabilities.

From the third turn forward, you want to either be removing your opponent’s threats, tax their cards with your hateful three drops, or keep the mana up to protect your board. And these cards don’t really fit into that plan. But if you can’t do those things, there are worse things to do with your mana!

Brutal Cathar / Skyclave Apparition

These cards are important because they do two things: they’re versatile in what they can remove while adding a threat to the battlefield. Given time, these creatures are somewhat of a liability because usually your opponent can draw a spell that will remove them from the battlefield which will let your opponent get a threat back. However, this deck is uniquely prepared for that because you can very easily counter those threats or phase out your creature in response to removal.

While both are better in certain matchups than others, you can definitely use whatever you have if the wildcards are an issue.

Elite Spellbinder / Archon of Emeria / Reidane, God of the Worthy

All of these cards function in similar space: they put an evasive threat on the board while making your opponent act on a much slower pace than you. Elite Spellbinder targets a very specific card and gives you information on how you should play your countermagic and reactive spells.

Archon can also put certain decks to a stop and make it so many can’t interact with you favorably. The tapped nonbasic land clause can make board wipes like Farewell not be cast before you kill your opponent which is huge. The one spell per turn effect is something you’re able to take advantage of because you’re able to cast spells during each player’s turn which is another huge advantage. This allows you to cast a threat during your turn while making sure the only spell your opponent gets to play can be countered by your many options. (Though, be careful about phasing out Archon of Emeria in response to a removal spell because your opponent will then be able to cast more things!)

The lack of current Snow deck have made Reidane, God of the Worthy slightly less popular, but there are decks where it is still very potent. For example, The Meathook Massacre is a card that Reidane is incredible against because it make the card cost 6+ mana before it can wipe your board, and that gives you time to plan for a big Guardian of Faith or March of Swirling Mist in response.

March of Swirling Mist / Spectral Adversary / Guardian of Faith

These are truly the tempo part of the deck. These are all spells that can protect your entire board from opposing board wipes or allows you to protect several creatures that would otherwise die in combat. March of Swirling Mist and Spectral Adversary can be used offensively to phase out opponent’s creature. Finally, Guardian of Faith and Spectral Adversary are cheap flash creatures that can be cast at the end of an opponent’s turn if nothing else was done and you want to add another attacking creature. 

Spell Pierce / Fading Hope

These are more cheap interaction. They are nothing particularly special, but it is useful to note that depending on what you’ve been facing, you can always add more Spell Pierces or Fading Hopes to help counter it. These one mana spells might seem very innocuous, but the ability to leave up one mana to save a creature, bounce a lethal threat, or stop an opponent’s spell is integral to this deck’s plan and function.

The Wandering Emperor

This card does a lot of subtle work in the deck. Having flash on a planeswalker is really important when a lot of your game plan is to be reactive. She is one of your only forms of removal that gets rid of the creature forever. Her +1/+1 counters can help your creatures win in combat out of nowhere and her Samurai quickly become lethal threats.


I’ve been on the fence about adding this card to the main deck. Like a lot of the choices in this deck, it’s impact changes drastically from match to match. If I saw more graveyard oriented decks (like Invoke Calamity combo), I’d probably want to find room for this.

NOTABLE EXCEPTION: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia is not here because you have lots of spells you’re casting for very cheap. In a deck like this, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben would just hurt you more than it would hurt your opponent.

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Archon of Emeria Art by Ryan Pancoast
Archon of Emeria Art by Ryan Pancoast

Naya Runes

+1 Archon of Emeria-3 Elite Spellbinder
+1 Brutal Cathar-2 Guardian of Faith
+1 Skyclave Apparition-1 Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
+1 Portable Hole
+2 Valorous Stance

Playing against Naya Runes can be intimidating because there’s always potential for them to just go off out of nowhere and go from an empty board to attacking you with a 10/10 trample, haste, and lifelink creature. And while that can happen you have tools to stop it.

Archon of Emeria stops them from going off and is your most powerful card against them. Their deck’s strength comes from the power of casting many Runes in a turn, and once you’re able to stop that, you can play a much slower and controlling game where your creatures will outpace theirs and win.

Brutal Cathar wants to target the Generous Visitor or Kami of Transcience when possible because if the Cathar is later removed, the creatures will return with zero counters and ideally, later in the game when your opponent has less enchantments to cast will keep it small. Brutal Cathar on something like Runeforge Champion can be a liability because of the Brutal Cathar dies, they’ll get to get another Rune.

Skyclave Apparition is very fantastic here because it can be used to remove pieces of the combo (Jukai Naturalist or Runeforge Champion) or the bigger problematic enchantments like Hallowed Haunting or Showdown of the Skalds.

Mono White / Mono Red Aggro

+1 Brutal Cathar-3 Archon of Emeria
+1 Skyclave Apparition-2 Spell Pierce
+2 Reidane, God of the Worthy
+1 Portable Hole

There isn’t really one flavor of aggro out there. There are many versions of each of them, however, your plan to combat them is, for the most part, very similar:

The aggressive decks can pretty easily out aggro you, so you want to try and take a more control route. 

You want to maneuver the game in a way where you can find ways to make combat never a favorable thing for your opponent. Using your Spectral Adversary or March of Swirling Mists or Guardian of Faith when declaring blocks to save your creatures that would die but still kill your opponent’s is absolutely backbreaking and how you get ahead in these games.

Orzhov Midrange

+2 Reidane, God of the Worthy-3 Archon of Emeria
+2 Malevolent Hermit-4 Usher of the Fallen
+2 Negate
+1 Skyclave Apparition

This is one of the more difficult matchups for this deck, but it’s definitely not unwinnable.

In general, this is kind of the sideboard I’d play against a lot of the more controlling decks with The Meathook Massacre. That card resolving greatly impacts your ability to win even if it doesn’t wipe your board and the incremental life gain is very very relevant. Reidane, God of the Worthy, Malevolent Hermit, and Negate are ways to help ensure it never happens.

I’ve found Usher to be not ideal against decks with Shambling Ghast or Wedding Announcement, as they just die way too easily so they are an easy cut and Archon of Emeria simply doesn’t do enough.

Hinata Control

+3 Malevolent Hermit-1 Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
+2 Negate-1 Fading Hope
+2 Valorous Stance-1 Intrepid Adversary
+2 Test of Talents-1 March of Swirling Mist
-3 Archon of Emeria

This matchup, much more than others, really depends on your counter magic to really interact in a meaningful way with the opponent.

For these more controlling matchups, Malevolent Hermit is really key because it’s an early beater that taxes their mana and is a recurring threat.

While Adeline, Resplendent Cathar and Archon of Emeria are good creatures, I’ve found them be mostly too slow and irrelevant in these matchups. Though, sometimes the Archon of Emeria does feel good on the play as it can really slow them down (so you might want to experiment with that) I mostly would rather have a counterspell up or play Elite Spellbinder to target a specific card.

Tips and Tricks

Luminarch Aspirant Art by Mads Ahm
Luminarch Aspirant Art by Mads Ahm

With Brutal Cathar / Skyclave Apparition it’s sometimes might feel bad to play them on an empty board without getting value. However, since you’re an aggressive deck, often the clock they provide is far more beneficial than the removal they might have down the line. 

Also, really be aware of the day/night cycle with Brutal Cathar. Your deck can oftentimes not cast anything during your turn to transform into Moonrage Brute and allow you to potentially threaten more creatures. I’ve exiled five creatures with one Brutal Cathar this way!

It’s really important to keep track of Archon of Emeria – it’s sometimes easy to forget that its ability to only cast one spell will affect you as well as your opponent, and that can lead to some very easy mistakes. Learning to play with Archon well takes many games to learn.

Hopeful Initiate‘s activated ability is very useful. You can kill a The Meathook Massacre that would wipe your board in response to its trigger to stop your opponent from gaining life. Sometimes it’s correct to use up counters to destroy a treasure token even! I’ve found the more I’m playing this deck, the more aggressive I am with using the Initiate to destroy artifacts and enchantments. The ability can be activated at instant speed, so waiting until your opponent’s end step is a way to use your mana if you keep it up for countermagic.

Luminarch Aspirant is powerful because of its immediate impact on the board and versatility. Sometimes you have to decide if you want to pile counters on one creature (that you can easily protect) or to make various creatures more powerful. When making these decisions, you should consider how you’re killing your opponent (do you have a flier) and what cards you have in hand (do you have ways to protect multiple creatures?). Finally, Luminarch Aspirant interacts very well with the Hopeful Initiate training ability because you can buff another creature to trigger it, so that is something to be mindful of and help guide your triggers.

Usher of the Fallen is possibly one of the hardest cards in this deck to use correctly as it always gives you something to do with your mana. However, you have to weigh the benefits of the 1/1 versus the opportunity to cast one of your reactive spells. Deciding to tap out to make another creature or hold up Spell Pierce mana can decide the game. Sometimes you’ll not activate it and then not use your mana, which feels bad. Sometimes you’ll activate it and then die to a board wipe which also feels bad. These types of minute decisions really add up over time, and part of why the deck is so enjoyable.

The Wandering Emperor is such a powerful and versatile card. It’s very easy to forget that you can cast her during your turn to give a creature a +1/+1 counter to win combat while attacking or deal lethal to an opponent. Just because a card has flash doesn’t mean you need to cast it during your opponent’s turn! The Wandering Emperor holds a lot of the power in this deck, and that’s because all of her abilities and the timing of hem give you so many options; often, I can look back at a game and see many different ways I could have used The Wandering Emperor more effectively.

Thanks for reading!

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TheNerdySteve is a Magic streamer who finished Mythic #1 on the constructed ladder in February and #2 in January. Steve loves Magic almost as much as ice coffee, theatre, and anything horror.

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