Dear Azami: Avacyn Scared Straight

Join Cassidy as he turns Levi’s Avacyn, Angel of Hope Commander deck from mono-white oppression to Angel tribal!

Dear Azami

I’ve been playing Commander since it was still EDH, and I’ve had something like twenty decks in that time. This week I’m writing for help with my Avacyn, Angel of Hope deck. I’ve had the deck for a long time, but there’s a big problem with it that I’m not sure how to solve. It’s way too oppressive.

Here’s the list:


Avacyn, Angel of Hope


Mother of Runes
Loyal Sentry
Knight of the White Orchid
Grand Abolisher
Gideon’s Avenger
Palace Guard
Mirran Crusader
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Sublime Archangel
Odric, Master Tactician
Hundred-Handed One
Pentarch Paladin
Herald of War
Archon of Justice
Guardian of the Gateless
Baneslayer Angel
Mageta the Lion
Angelic Skirmisher
Weathered Bodyguards
Palisade Giant
Adarkar Valkyrie
Sunblast Angel
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Angel of Serenity
Luminate Primordial
Myojin of Cleansing Fire
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Reya Dawnbringer
Blazing Archon


Runed Halo
True Conviction
Lightmine Field
Marshal’s Anthem
Light from Within
Oblivion Ring
Endless Horizons
Temporal Isolation
Oath of Lieges
Spirit Mantle


Caged Sun
Gauntlet of Power
Akroma’s Memorial
Dead-Iron Sledge
Sol Ring
Pariah’s Shield


Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Debt of Loyalty
Defy Death
Planar Cleansing
Entreat the Angels
Day of Judgment
Breath of Life


Elspeth, Knight-Errant


35 Plains
Rogue’s Passage
Temple of the False God
Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Windbrisk Heights

When I first built this deck, it was Akroma beatdown and ran 24 Pacifism variants. A lot has changed since then, but I’ve been playing it less and less. It’s a miserable deck to play both with and against. Avacyn / Blazing Archon, Avacyn / any Pariah variant, and worst of all Avacyn / Mageta create locks that people just can’t deal with, and once I have control of the board there’s still at least five turns left in the game while I smash the Angel of Hope through for the general kill.

My current playgroup is fairly casual, but this deck is far too much like my first playgroup (I learned to play EDH in a group where Jhoira, Zur, Sharuum, and Erayo were popular and people were still lamenting the loss of Rofellos as a fifth option.) Given that my current group includes Phelddagrif and Reaper King, I really don’t want to be the guy forcing everyone to run five exile effects in every deck just to deal with me.

On top of that, lockdown/control is my least favorite archetype to play. My favorite decks tend to be glass cannons that fall apart at the drop of a hat but make my opponents say “wait, you did what?”

My favorite part of this deck is the silly reanimator subtheme, but other than that I’m up for changing everything as long as it’s still mono-white in the end.


Levi Byrne

Hello Levi! Thanks for writing in. I’m pretty excited about this one; near and dear and all that. I love me some Mono-White Angels.

What? Oh, right. We haven’t gotten there yet. (Is it too late to go back and insert “spoiler” tags?) 

Before we get going, I have to thank my co-writer Sean for stepping in to help me out last week. It turns out that there’s a thing called “real life” that steps in once in a while, and it had me chasing my tail all over the Northeast last week. I was prepared to put all of the crazy business on hold until my wife pointed out that “jobs” are important because they help “pay bills” and “avoid foreclosure” or something like that.

(To be honest, I zoned out until she mentioned that “Magic” is hard to play without “money” to buy “cards.” And yes, she did the finger-quotations while explaining that one.)

In any case, my thanks to Sean for stepping up to fill in. He did a killer job on a really cool Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper list last week, and if you missed it the week before, he helped to dig me out of a hole with my own Prime Speaker Zegana list.

I think I ought to send him a fruit basket or something . . .

Anyway, I also want to let you all know that we’ve got something special on tap for next week. After having our good friend Sheldon Menery over for dinner (and a guest slot on Dear Azami), Sean and I decided to make it a point to invite some guests over more often. Stay tuned for next week, when Sean and I take a vacation are proud to feature a special guest writer. For those of you Commander fans who are enjoying the increased attention to our format here on StarCityGames.com, you’ll really enjoy it.

Now then, back to Mono-White Angels. Er, I mean Levi’s Avacyn deck . . .

Tribal Angels?

Levi, here it is. We’re going Angel tribal on this one. Now, before everyone heads over to read #GPDC coverage instead of hearing me out, I want to be upfront about Angels as a tribal deck. Apparently, they’re the real deal (so stick around!)

I say “apparently” for two reasons.

1) I have my own Mono-White Angels deck.
2) Try as I might, it wins. Every time.

I’m not kidding. I initially had a build centered on Radiant, Archangel, which was torn apart a few years back when I sold a large portion of my collection to “pay bills” (finger-quotes!).  I got rid of some decks that I never played to fund some other ones, and Radiant got the axe. Not long after I decided to build a monocolor deck with a decidedly lower power level to have a “fun” deck kicking around. I decided to rebuild tribal Angels and just complete the trifecta, and my current Akroma, Angel of Wrath deck was born.

Now, I tend not to play down-powered decks or down-powered games, so she sat in her deck box for a while, only coming out to do battle with The Horde or in a game of Emperor Commander from time to time. The thing is that she seemed to crush the games nearly without fail. Confused, I swapped a few cards around and picked her up a few more times in some normal games, mostly with the same results.

I was as confounded as some of the other players at the shop. One in particular noted that I realistically couldn’t call it a “low-power” deck anymore. (He also suggested a place that I could “realistically” stick the deck after it crushed a serious table on the back of playing literally two cards all game. Of course, the two cards were Luminarch Ascension and Cathars’ Crusade . . . )

What cemented the deck as a true competitor occurred just a few weeks back. One of the regulars borrowed the deck to fill out a five-player game with us, and she proceeded to absolutely demolish the table while only paying half attention due to trying to manage a term paper for one of her classes at the same time.

Long story short, Angels are a thing.

Beyond Scared Straight

Levi, submissions like this are awesome because you’ve spelled out a very clear problem to overcome, a desired level of power to achieve, and a line of play you want to aim for. That’s great because I’d really like to watch some Sunday afternoon football at the moment it really helps me to nail down an angle to take and easily identify some things that can be improved upon. And since it turns out the Patriots play Monday night this week I have a bit of a personal stake in the decklist this week as well, it truly becomes something I can spend some serious time and energy on and appreciate the full return.

It seems like you’re in a place where you’ve transitioned from a hardcore playgroup into one more like my own: a group of players who build decks to enjoy the game itself and not just how fast it can be ended. That’s great, and I’m all for working towards that goal here.

It also looks like you’ve tested the waters with the old-school build a few times too many. “Oppression” is a great way to describe it. People who want to enjoy the game usually have an easier time doing so if they can actually, you know, play the game. I don’t think I need to pull the literary equivalent of dragging you into a jail cell to let some grizzled criminal explain how Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker into Pestermite was just a gateway drug, opening him up to a life of hard-locking people down under Armageddon and Kaalia of the Vast triggers and turn 2 Hermit Druid infinite combos.

I think you know where you went wrong and where you want to be. Let’s focus on getting there.

The Problems

First off, there’s a big one:

Avacyn, Angel of Hope is your commander.

Avacyn is arguably the most potent Angel ever printed. She doesn’t necessarily blow open an offense the way Archangel of Thune can, nor is she a part of a broken recursion loop like her cousin Karmic Guide, but nothing throws up red flags to a casual playgroup like the words “permanents you control have indestructible.”

Without changing her out, you’re going to draw some hate. It’s not going to be table-flipping drag-you-into-the-alley-and-slap-you-to-death-with-rolled-up-playmats-because-you-revealed-Sharuum the Hegemon hate, but it’s going to be significant; this is especially true after you pull Pariah shenanigans a few times, but the drudgery of playing a game with someone who will have access to making their board impossible to remove as soon as they hit commander mana (and then again and again in two-mana increments) is absolutely palpable.

However, in staying true to the theme this week, I’m going to let you decide if you want to redeem yourself after letting you deal with the fallout from your co-players a few times, even if I am going to help you with the rest of your deck problems. Avacyn stays in command for now, but if you find yourself in a room getting threatened by someone for being “that guy” enough, at least consider putting another Angel back at the helm and demoting Avacyn to “one of the 99” status.

(Good lord . . . if this “article” doesn’t manage to “set a record” for use of “quotations,” I don’t want to read the one that does.)

The good news is you’re big on the existing recursion theme already in the deck. That’s great. Playing from the graveyard is a natural Commander strategy—and for good reason. If playing with your cards once is good, playing with them a second time is better. Also, people don’t tend to dislike you nearly as much as if you’re playing prison components, so that’s a bonus.

You’ve got a good balance of lands and ways to accelerate and fix your mana, and you’ve got a solid cast of Angels in place already. We’re going to do what we can to remove the oppressive cards and combinations, bolster the recursion, smooth things out a bit all around, and most of all go all in with the Angel angle. (Say that ten times fast.)

Let’s get to it!

The Lands

This should be quick and mostly painless. There are a few utility inclusions that while arguably low-hanging nonetheless deserve slots in the deck. I’m not cutting the count, but I am repurposing some basic lands.

OUT: 5 Plains

No complaints with any of the other lands you have already. Emeria, the Sky Ruin is spot on theme-wise, and the acceleration of Temple of the False God and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is solid and welcome. Also, my love affair with Rogue’s Passage is well-documented.

IN: Winding Canyons, Kor Haven, Mistveil Plains, High Market, Strip Mine

For all of the fun I poke at Sean for including Winding Canyons in most of the decks he works on, the fact of the matter is that it has a solid place in a creatures-matter deck. Dropping a late-turn Baneslayer Angel before you untap to gain pseudo-haste or being able to flash in Sunblast Angel to Wrath a fleet of attacking creatures is too good to pass up.

On the same front, a little protection from the all-in Voltron attack is pretty good to have as well, so Kor Haven is a solid include.

When your commander is Avacyn, people usually are drooling over steal effects, and you don’t want to have the tables turned on you, so a good sacrifice outlet in High Market is an important addition.

To add to your recursion theme, Mistveil Plains is a nice way to make use of your dearly departed toys again and also to dodge graveyard hate. Remember that it has the “Plains” type, so things like Endless Horizons play nicely with it.

And Strip Mine, because there may be some people in your playgroup that read Dear Azami.

The Planeswalker

Ex-planeswalker anyway.

OUT: Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Because her plus abilities are pretty inconsequential in this deck and her ultimate isn’t happening (if we’re totally honest with ourselves.)

IN: Staff of Domination

One Swiss Army knife deserves another. Staff plays quite a few roles in this deck, and while all are welcome, we all know how hard card draw is to come by in mono-white. This will provide you value all across the spectrum.

The Spells

This section would be more accurate retitled “Fixing Your Removal.”

OUT: Path to Exile, Planar Cleansing, Day of Judgment

I appreciate Path as much as the next . . . er . . . Path appreciator, but there are a few truths to be realized here. One is that you already have Swords to Plowshares and too much of a one-to-one removal spell can indeed be a good thing. The other is that the champ is the champ for a reason, so the close reasonable facsimile takes a hike to find room for a bigger boom.

Planar Cleansing is a card I can never come to terms with. The fact of the matter is you run it for damage control but it hurts you as badly as it hurts everyone else. At least Akroma’s Vengeance cycles, and I won’t run that card either.

And speaking of close facsimiles, Day of Judgment is missing a rather important clause that makes it an inferior option to another twenty-year-old gold standard . . .

IN: Austere Command, Rout, Wrath of God

Instead of duplicating farming efforts, Rout is going in. Instant-speed Wrath of God is pretty good, I hear.

And speaking of Wrath of God . . . Wrath of God. (Who has two thumbs and a grossly inflated appreciation for his own puns?)  Something for nothing is great, and Wrath is Day of Judgment that doesn’t care your opponent just played Asceticism.

And lastly, I know I’m beating a dead horse on Austere Command in this column, but seriously, folks, flexibility is the key to Commander. Build your own board wipe is too good not to have on tap, and it’s certainly better in most cases than “hey . . . toss it all in the bin!” You’re a deck that thrives on permanents; don’t set yourself back unnecessarily when you can pick and choose the perfect combination of sweeper effects.

The Artifacts

Easy enough here.

OUT: Dead-Iron Sledge, Pariah’s Shield

Two artifacts that interact favorably with your commander but probably don’t promote friendly relations with your fellow gamers. Sledge is arguably a cute removal trick with Avacyn, but I’d be happier letting the damage step occur to gain the benefit of lifegain with Basilisk Collar for the same price.

And Pariah’s Shield . . . we discussed Pariah above, and this is the hardware version. Commence with the repurposing of these slots.

IN: Staff of Nin, Urza’s Incubator

Once again white has a heck of a time finding decent card draw, and if one thing plagues my Angels deck, it’s running out of gas and not finding a way to develop card advantage to get back in the game. Staff of Nin—it’s like Prodigal Sorcerer and Howling Mine had a love child! (Pardon the mental image.)

Urza’s Incubator is a must when building tribal and looking for good acceleration. Well, unless you’re playing Goblins. Or Elves. Or Merfolk for the most part.

Okay, Urza’s Incubator is pure garbage unless you’re building tribal and the creatures you’re going to play are damn expensive. Then it’s pretty good. (Who has two thumbs and is the worst pitchman of all time?)

The Enchantments

Otherwise known as “Cleaning House for Fun and Profit.”

OUT: Runed Halo, Lightmine Field, Oblivion Ring, Nevermore, Temporal Isolation, Worship, Pariah

*cracks knuckles and takes big breath*

First off, we’re parting ways with oppression, so Runed Halo and Nevermore are gone. The latter is because we’re trying to aim for the casual “let people play with the cards in their deck” theme, and the former is because it’s pretty lousy. (By that I mean that it never really does anything other than take up deck space while challenging opponents to remove it as a twisted little subgame before beating you in the face with the thing you named to begin with.)

While we’re on the topic of underperforming enchantments, Oblivion Ring and Temporal Isolation have to go as well. While I head just outside to take a baseball bat to the dead horse in my driveway, just take a few moments to consider what happens after someone wipes the board after you’ve played this card on a reasonable threat.

Temporal Isolation . . . no clue. Am I missing a combo or something here? I know it’s pretty funny with Auratog, but to my knowledge that’s about it. There are far better ways to deal with an opposing creature.

Lightmine Field is one I’d be willing to let go usually, but I remember in that game where I loaned my deck to the other player she had a heck of a time trying to attack with her team of Angels until the Lightmine Field I played was removed. You know what they say about symmetrical effects, right?

(They’re symmetrical?)

*cymbal crash*

Finally, Worship and Pariah. If you’ve read this far, you’ve read the intro section where I complain about Pariah and Avacyn together, and then you’ve read the last section where I take out Pariah’s Shield by mentioning the intro section where I complain about Pariah and Avacyn together. That’s two good reasons not to play Pariah—your playgroup will appreciate it, and everyone who reads Dear Azami will appreciate not having to read terrible justifications hidden within terrible sentence structure.

Worship . . . right. Again, plays nice with your commander. Until it goes away and you realize that the card you really wanted for this effect was actually Platinum Emperion because you’re now at one life.

IN: Coat of Arms, Pearl Medallion, Return To Dust, Luminarch Ascension, Faith’s Reward, Sigil of the New Dawn, Cathars’ Crusade

Let’s compartmentalize this section, shall we?

-The “Make Your Creatures Awesomely Big” section – Coat of Arms, Cathars’ Crusade.

-The “Win The Game On Turn 2” section – Luminarch Ascension. (And my goodness does this play well with Cathars’ Crusade. I was very fortunate in that game where I resolved these two back to back that one of the other players at the table was a terminal dice hoarder.)

-The “Less Crappy In A Vacuum Than Urza’s Incubator But Serves A Similar Purpose In This Deck” section – Pearl Medallion.

-The Obligatory “I Heard You Like Recursion, Dawg, So I Put Some Recursion In Your Recursion” section – Faith’s Reward, Sigil of the New Dawn. (In all honesty, I just added Sigil recently, and it’s one of those cards that no one thinks to answer until suddenly everyone realizes that you’ve essentially blanked seven attacks and four different board wipes. So good.)

-The “I Play An Indestructible Commander And I Know How Annoying It Is To Deal With The Keyword” section – Return to Dust.

The Creatures

There’s a lot happening in here. You seem to be fixated on finding ways that you can redirect all incoming damage to a creature, which is always great when you have Avacyn out and is great one time when you don’t. That will open up plenty of space for some better Angels to take up residence among other changes.

OUT: Gideon’s Avenger, Grand Abolisher, Guardian of the Gateless, Hundred-Handed One, Iona, Shield of Emeria, Loyal Sentry, Luminate Primordial, Mirran Crusader, Palace Guard, Palisade Giant, Weathered Bodyguards

Let’s start off with the elephant in the room: Iona. If you’re playing competitively, that’s one thing. If you’re not, nothing feels worse than locking a monocolor player out of the game with this thing. I did this once in a game that started with four players and ended up with just myself and a Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed player. Up until that point it was a great game. Then Iona came down, and he looked dejectedly at his hand and simply said, “Yup . . . you’ve got it.” Just like that—two hours of a great game ruined by one boring play.

While we’re here, Grand Abolisher is going to go too. Remember the mantra—down with oppression! It’s not terrible protection to be fair, but I’m most concerned with the double whammy of being a huge target and being pretty fragile. We can do better with this slot.

Luminate Primordial is by all accounts the fairest of the Primordial cycle. Everyone knows the joy of Sylvan Primordial (why does this hit lands?!?!?), and everyone has a horror story revolving around Sepulchral Primordial. Diluvian and Molten Primordial seem pretty easygoing as well, I suppose. Still, due strictly to reanimation shenanigans, I’m against making it easy for opponents to exile my creatures.

Plus, not an Angel.

Next up is a pair of marginal beaters in Mirran Crusader and Gideon’s Avenger. Both decent in the right deck; this ain’t it.

And finally, a whole pile of creatures that gang block or redirect damage. I know that Hundred-Handed One has great flavor, that Palisade Giant is a great example of art not matching ability (by my count, there is at least one extra goblin being knocked off his feet than her native power would suggest is possible), and that Loyal Sentry is good at being Dead-Iron Sledge with legs, but you know what this all suggests?

Attack me. All day long. Which is great, but the other half of the equation is important too. How does this all actually help you win?

I like to think of this in terms of “The Three Nots.”

-Not Losing . . .

-Not Winning . . .

Not Mutually Exclusive

IN: Archangel of Thune, Angel of Finality, Blinding Angel, Battlegrace Angel, Restoration Angel, Guardian Seraph, Stonecloaker, Twilight Shepherd, Angel of Jubliation, Karmic Guide, Angelic Arbiter

The overarching theme is pretty clear, but I’ll break down the bits and pieces so you can see what’s going on.

Angel of Finality is one of the standout new toys from the Commander 2013 product. It’s pretty simple: an Angel with a Bojuka Bog stapled to its back. One of the important strategies overlooked by your initial list was graveyard hate, so this is a needed addition.

Piggybacking that (unfortunately not in Angel guise) is Stonecloaker. Part instant-speed combat trick, part creature protection, part graveyard hate. Multiple utility options wrapped in one tidy package.

Angelic Arbiter and Guardian Seraph act as protectors. Arbiter appears oppressive at face value, but the symmetrical effect combined with only a partial shutdown on any one turn serves to make it a strong preventative effect.

Guardian Seraph covers another aspect of things that Arbiter doesn’t. Most unbuffed tokens are now useless against you, and there are plenty of other effects out there—Underworld Dreams type effects for example—that are simply shut off by this Angel. It’s too good not to include.

Blinding Angel is like the aggressive little sister of Angelic Arbiter: far less partial but far more effective when dealing with an aggressive red-zone deck. Against many red-white token-based strategies, this is a must-remove card. Paired with Rogue’s Passage, it’s a surgical strike.

In a deck that features an 8/8 vigilant Angel as the commander, Battlegrace Angel is an excellent shot of life gain—something that many players overlook. One single swing effectively increases your starting life total by 25%, which is not a small margin. I like to have something like this as an option in most every deck I play.

Getting back to the recursion theme, we have Karmic Guide and Twilight Shepherd. Karmic Guide is a nice little Reincarnation with wings (and don’t sleep on the protection from black!), while Twilight Shepherd is a great sweeper insurance policy or a nice surprise follow up to your own if you have the mana. Remember, she returns all cards, not just creatures. You can get extra value from fetch lands if you run them, for example, and that’s just the start of it.

Angel of Jubilation is another tidy package: one part buff for your team and a decent little preventative effect to boot. No more giant Kresh the Bloodbraided getting Flinged at your head, and no more Goblin Bombardment token machineguns; even High Market shuts off. (Important to remember if you’re trying to protect yourself from control effects.) There are tons of things that interact with Angel of Jubilation, so enjoy the joy of discovery.

Angel of Restoration is another nice little protective package in this deck. You can get ahead on lands by blinking your Knight of the White Orchid or reset your Pentarch Paladin to a better color, but more than likely you’ll be dodging removal aimed at your Blazing Archon or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Either way, the non-Angel clause still makes for a solid addition to the deck.

Last but not least, Archangel of Thune is another shot of lifelink with a potential tremendous upside. Table True Conviction and watch how fast your life total shoots up and your creatures explode in size. This is a joy to have around to pair with Luminarch Ascension for your very own expanding Angel army.    

The Deck

All changes made, this is where we finally end up today:

Not bad, eh? A little more utility, a little less hiding behind strange defensive effects, some more recursion, and a bunch of extra Angels. And good times were had by all . . .

Let’s get down to the money. Here are the price tags involved:

Okay . . . turns out Angels are an expensive tribe. Who knew?

Levi, you’re looking at a total cost of about $130 for this overhaul. The good news is that you’re getting a $20 credit to StarCityGames.com for participating in Dear Azamithis week, so that’s something.

Looking past the dollar amounts, though, I think you’ll enjoy this new list. It’s a win-win really; you get to show up claiming tribal Angels instead of mono-white oppression, which should go a long way towards garnering positive karma from your playgroup.

In addition, I kid you not—Angel tribal has some serious fuel in the tank. I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised, which means you’re not going from a powerhouse to a cute-but-crappy theme deck. This thing will stand up and give you some decent games without ending up being oppressive, boring, and making everyone want to beat you to death with your trade binder.

Give it a spin; I hope you enjoy it because I certainly have.

I’ll see you all in two . . .


Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Reggie’s Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper deck or Brian’s Sydri, Galvanic Genius deck . Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email us a deck submission using this link here!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here! Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook; sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week’s column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here or check out his Commander blog GeneralDamageControl.com!