Hey, it’s me Asher again, this time with a new deck guide for what has been the Flavor of the Week since the Guardians of the Ancient expansion release: Azir Irelia. There’s no denying – the deck is very popular on the ladder and has proved its effectiveness. The archetype is being heavily targeted right now but still remains a powerful option.
In this guide, I will dive deeper into Azir Irelia, first by identifying its most important core cards, followed by a few tech options, and finally an analysis of its most relevant matchups.
Many have compared this archetype with Sand Scouts, combining Lucian and Azir. It had a similar surge in both play and win rate in the few days following the release of Empires of the Ascended.
One fact to keep in mind is that aggro archetypes always tend to have inflated win rates at first since they naturally prey on unrefined decks. Sand Scouts followed that trend, seeing a rapid decline after a few days.
Make no mistake, it did not mean Sand Scouts suddenly became a bad deck, in fact, that very deck was fielded in Hipster Waldo’s lineup who won 1st place in the last EU Seasonal Tournament. It just meant that the deck wasn’t as utterly cracked as some made it out to be initally.
Now the question is, does this comparison to Azir Irelia hold any water, and will the archetype hold its high win rate or suddenly drop as the meta gets figured out? I will go on record here and say that if Azir Irelia drops, it will not be as significant as Sand Scouts and the archetype will require a nerf somewhere to be brought down a notch.
And that’s not to say the deck is unbeatable, because it has some clear counters, but it has the power to shape the metagame in an unhealthy way and prevent particular archetypes from being played on the ladder. As a recent example, during patch 2.4 Fizz Twisted Fate had such a good matchup against Ezreal Draven that the latter simply saw no play at all. While I do not think Azir Irelia will be as dominating as Fizz Twisted Fate, I still think the deck is going to be problematic in the long run.
The first thing to understand is that Azir Irelia does not follow the classic aggro patterns, and is somewhat closer to a combo deck. Both Azir and Irelia function as backrow champions, transitioning into actual attacking units later, usually once they’ve leveled. It is important to keep them as safe as possible to milk as much value as we can from them and in preparation for the explosive turn that will close out the game, usually between turns 5 and 7.
Inspiring Marshal is nuts. Paired with Blade Dance effects and Sand Soldiers, Marshal can turn these puny threats into actual game-enders. Dealing with a bunch of 1/1s is manageable, but when they start packing an actual punch, things start to deteriorate. It’s not rare to see a Blade Dance effect threatening upwards of 10 damage, and it’s all thanks to Inspiring Marshal – she gives Blade Dance effects a major boost, especially on defense turns where the opponent is usually safe. Boosting other units’ attack is also beneficial, but less impactful overall.
Elusives are not our primary win condition but they are a good source of chip damage and pack some extra utility. Dancing Droplets works well with Lead and Follow, Retreat, and Navori Conspirator, but is also a decent play on turn 1 followed by
- Going wide
Ionia is supposed to be all about finesse and elegance, but I had them pegged all wrong. This is actually the most brute-force deck I’ve ever seen in the game, I mean even burn is more subtle than this. Using Emperor’s Dais, Azir’s passive, Flawless Duet, Blade Dance, and cheap units, we are all about going as wide as possible and always being on the attack, even on defense turns. And things only get better once Inspiring Marshal hits the board.
- Recall suite
These spells are all included to protect our key units and disrupt the opponent’s plays. Lead and Follow is particularly useful as a way to trigger a free attack and can be extremely punishing. Retreat shares the same primary function but Return can allow some pretty spicy plays from time to time thanks to its Burst speed.
This one is a bit of an odd case. It is strong and many agree that it should be included, though it’s hard to settle how many copies are the right amount. Ancient Preparations is good because of its Predict effect, and given how efficient cards can become in this archetype with proper setup, being able to draw the right card when we need it is an interesting proposition.
A fine inclusion to really drive a win home, or sometimes surprise-kill a priority unit blocking a Blade or Sand Soldier. The one issue is that the deck doesn’t exactly run enough landmarks to make Shaped Stone as consistent as I would like.
I have seen this card being played here and there. While I do not like it, I can see the appeal – but would include it mainly in aggro-heavy metagames.
Both of these are meta-dependent. Currently Nopeify! Is the more popular choice, but both can lead to bricking and becoming a liability. This is an aggro archetype, therefore we want to be as sparse as possible with defensive tools since we want to consistently be able to play proactively, and we already run quite a few reactive spells.
They have not been as popular or effective as I thought they might be within the archetype, though they still have their place. In a slower metagame, they are able to produce a large amount of value with little investment on our part since we want to summon as many units as possible every turn anyway. In the current fast metagame, Field Musicians are just a tiny bit too awkward, and I wouldn’t put more than two copies of them in my deck.
Not much to say about this one yet. Much like Field Musicians, its potential is gated by the early fast aggro meta, but the synergies are clear to see. Keep an eye on it once the meta slows down.
Mulligan: Hard mulligan for Azir and Emperor’s Dais, keep Inspiring Marshal if the rest of your hand curves out.
Tech Cards: -1 Greenglade Duo, +1 Deny.
This is a walk in the park. There were doubts about the nature of this matchup at first because Lissandra Trundle typically runs a lot of fast-speed sweepers such as Ice Shard or Withering Wail that can deal with Sand Soldiers and Blades, but each of those spells will only deal with one wave of our attack, and we have many more in stock.
Specifically, they have no real way to deal with an early Emperor’s Dais and no efficient way to deal with either Azir or Inspiring Marshal short of using Vengeance, which puts them at a tempo disadvantage and opens them up to be punished by Lead and Follow or Retreat. Homecoming can even deal with Blighted Ravine, though it can be used just as well on Trundle.
Of course, we have to be mindful not to overcommit to Avalanche, and it is entirely possible to lose that way. Another annoying roadblock is Lissandra herself who can block Blades and Sand Soldiers efficiently until Azir flips.
Mulligan for: Emperor’s Dais, any 1-drop.
Short of playing a Lee Sin on turn 5 and dealing with one of our champions, Combo Lee Sin will have a tough time dealing with our threats. Eye of the Dragon is barely a problem for us once Inspiring Marshal hits the board.
It mostly comes down to the fact that Lee Sin runs close to no removal, none of it is consistent, and often requires them to be on the attack. This means that it is simply a matter of us playing our value engines (Irelia, Azir, Emperor’s Dais, Inspiring Marshal) and spam Blade Dances until their board collapses and they lose the game.
Another way for Lee Sin to win is by buffing a Sparklefly with Mentor of the Stones right on turn 3 and keep it alive for the rest of the game. There aren’t many ways to prevent the massive amount of healing it brings – barring a Homecoming or recalling the unit Sparklefly is striking.
Mulligan for: Azir, Irelia, Emperor’s Dais, keep any recall effects.
You’d think that because Ashe packs Culling Strike and Reckoning she’d have a solid chance at winning – but that’s not quite so. Ashe has always been vulnerable to aggro, and in this case, if she wants to win she will have to be as proactive as she can and race us. All we have to do is sit tight and milk as much value as we can from Azir and keep a recall spell to protect him from a Culling Strike.
Play around Reckoning as much as possible, but understand that playing nothing can lead to your demise if you let Ashe be in the driving seat and beat you down.
Honorable mentions to Sparring Student and Greenglade Duo who can get totally out of hand.
Mulligan for: 1-drops, keep Azir.
Tech Cards: -2 Retreat, +2 Nopeify!
This matchup is a race, pure and simple. Just gotta kill them before they kill us, and pray they don’t get to duplicate a Chirean Sumpworker too early. For the most part, we have the tools to deal with their early blockers, but we’ll want to be mounting an attack of our own by turn 5. If we can have Azir and Inspiring Marshal on board by turn 5, then things are looking up.
The teched Nopeify! can prevent Glimpse Beyond and protect our key units or our Nexus when the need arises. Be as proactive as you can, and understand that sometimes it is fine to let our Nexus take a bit more damage if it means we can go for lethal on the following turn.
Mulligan for: Sparring Student, Azir, Emperor’s Dais, Lead and Follow, and Retreat.
Tech Cards: -1 Greenglade Duo, +1 Nopeify! -3 Dunekeeper,+1 Ancient Preparatons, +2 Shaped Stone.
The currently popular Ezreal Draven list has been teching hard for this matchup, including three copies of Culling Strike and Statikk Shock. Culling Strike specifically is an absolute nightmare for Azir.
The game often comes down to whether or not they have the relevant removal for your threats, and in turn, whether you have the recall spells to protect them. Shaped Stone is rather powerful in this match-up because of its added reach but mostly because it can put our key units out of the Culling Strike range. Sparring Student can also get out of hand if Draven Ezreal fails to deal with him early.
Mulligan for: any 1-drop, Azir, Irelia, keep Homecoming.
Tech Cards: -1 Greenglade Duo, +1 Nopeify!
The problem with fielding an army of tiny units is that they can be farmed easily, and then we end up facing a King Kong-sized Nasus who levels up and debuffs all our small units, making the whole thing even harder. Of course, Azir’s buff counteracts Nasus’ aura but that is little consolation.
That’s not to say we cannot win – as it is often the case even in bad matchups, an explosive enough draw topped with an Inspiring Marshal is usually enough to break through even the most resilient of boards, and Homecoming specifically is a powerful answer to Thresh and Nasus both.
Mulligan for: Sparring Student, Homecoming, Azir, Irelia, Emperor’s Dais.
The Dragons variant of the classic Demacia Aurelion Sol deck has some powerful tools to deal with our constant onslaught of small units. Dragons just eat our attackers and grow thanks to Fury, and many players have been adding Radiant Guardian to their decks which can completely nullify our attacks, short of a Homecoming on our part.
Eventually, their board grows too wide and big for us to punch through. It means we need to go hard and fast, looking to close out the game by turn 5 or 6 and do our best to play around a potential Radiant Guardian.
Mulligan for: Any 1-drop, Azir, Irelia.
Tech Cards: -1 Retreat, +1 Nopeify!
Azir Darius burn was pioneered by the Brazilian player 4LW to counter Azir Irelia. Their game plan is to ignore us for the most part and destroy our Nexus before we can set up our combo pieces.
Baccai Reaper can become really scary as it naturally feeds on Blades and Sand Soldiers, and the best we can do is try to match their aggression early on and hope the draws follow.
Mulligan for: Any 1-drop, Azir, Irelia.
Tech Cards: -3 Retreat, +1 Nopeify!, +2 Shaped Stone.
This matchup is another race, but Spider Aggro takes advantage of our lack of defensive capabilities and simply goes through us just like Azir Darius burn. Our boards are rarely resilient, and our early units often cannot block Fearsome units, so our only real chance is to kill them before they kill us.
What tends to happen is that they deal 12+ damage by turn 4 and finish us off with burn, or level Elise up and get good trades while chipping at us for the final bits of damage. There really isn’t much to this, we are at the mercy of them having a bad draw – but unless we are also drawing like legends, even then it’s no guarantee of a win.
Would I actually recommend playing this archetype right now to climb? Yes and no. The ladder is extremely hostile to it currently – Nasus Thresh is still a top-tier deck, people are switching to Dragons, or playing counter decks like Spider Aggro or Darius Azir. And yet that doesn’t stop the archetype from tearing on the ladder.
According to the current stats, there are several variants of Azir Irelia, and none of them are below 50% win rate, and quite a few are above 57%, with some even hitting 60% (both for All Ranks and Platinum+). Despite the hostile environment, Azir Irelia is still pulling ridiculously high numbers.
Let’s go back to that Sand Scouts comparison. I don’t expect Azir Irelia to mirror Sand Scouts decline, and there are multiple reasons for that, but the most important one is that Sand Scouts had more easily exploitable weaknesses. Azir Irelia is much more volatile, much more explosive, and much less predictable.
Azir has much more power alongside Irelia than he does alongside Lucian due to the repeated cheap Blade Dance effects. Add cheap protection with Return and Lead and Follow, which can both be extremely punishing if used to counter expensive removal, and we have a winner.
Azir Irelia is a powerful deck that defines the early Guardians of the Ancient meta, and it’s not about to release its chokehold just yet.