Welcome back, Dear Azami! I’ve had a nice little vacation from the column, but all good things have endings. My absence has reminded me how much I enjoy
processing* this column, which is equal parts writing exercise and mental puzzler. Processing is an awkward word choice, mind you, but I’m trying to get
into the Battle of Zendikar mindset; weird flourishes here and there are to be expected.
So, bear with me while I get my bearings. I am going to try to use this week’s column as an attempt to write articles of a slightly more manageable length,
but I am skeptical of my ability to be anything but loquacious.
This week’s submission jumped out at me because it came from a person puzzling over the same conundrum I have… From the Vault: Angels was a
gorgeous release (and the Akromae are particularly beautiful), but once it’s in your possession, what do you do with it? This week’s submitter had a pretty
good idea as to where to best display these pieces of pretty. Take it away!
Recently I got a From the Vault: Angels set (my first FTV) and wanted to make a Commander deck that would allow me to get to use all the beautiful
cards. I decided to go all out with the theme and try to make it completely Angel-themed. I needed a five-color general, but since there is no legendary
five-color Angel, I went with Cromat. Basically I want every card to be Angel-oriented. Since most of the really awesome Angels cost a lot, there are a
couple of cards in there to help cheat them out. The deck still feels clunky to me though, and I would appreciate your insights. I want the deck to be as
powerful/competitive as possible while still maintaining the Angel theme. Money isn’t too much of an issue. Thanks for your help.
This is a really solid start! Generally, rainbow decks are the hardest to balance because mana requirements take up precious slots and you have powerful
cards from all the colors to add into the mix. Ramp decks tend to work well in that regard, but the manabase for this deck already seemed like it would do
a lot of the work.
But first, let’s switch up your commander!
While Zac was correct that there isn’t a tribal Angel commander, there is a card that is both thematically appropriate and a powerful force multiplier in
its own right. I am talking about Karona, False God, whose ability is only a drawback if you aren’t killing the table with one, big, hasty swing.
So it’s pretty clear the mechanical reason that Karona, False God would be a better commander for this deck, but the aforementioned appropriate theme is
actually pretty interesting, at least to me. See, back in the day, Akroma was facing off against Kamahl, Fist of Krosa in a free-for-all that also brought
in Phage the Untouchable, who had been Jeska, Warrior Adept before being corrupted, and who was Kamahl, Pit Fighter’s sister.
Side note: Compared to some of the story from the olden-days of Magic, Battle for Zendikar seems incredibly straightforward.
Anyway, Kamahl used a named weapon, “Soul Reaper,” that he had forged with the help of Cabal Patriarch, that inexplicable legend, to try to take down
Akroma (who was angered) and Phage (who was death). It turns out that using the same vessel to capture the soul of Akroma, a magically constructed Angel,
and Phage, a magically corrupted incarnation of death, has negative side effects. The weapon broke, there was a magic explosion, and the next thing you
know, Karona walks out of the wreckage, an avatar of belief. It’s a neat story, if a bit complicated.
The point is, Karona is, to some degree, Akroma! So she’s a perfect commander for a deck like this.
Let’s take a look at what else I changed:
I needed to free up a slot at one point, and Zac was running a fetch manabase with 39 lands. It seemed like it would be fine to cut a land to make room for
more action, so I chose the weakest. Now, a lot of that determination comes down to personal preference. Personally, I hate the drawback that Ancient
Ziggurat shares with new card Beastcaller Savant. If it let you pay for creature abilities as well, a la Smokebraider, I’d be far more inclined to let it
live in a five-color deck like this, but it does not, so I cut it. I would run City of Brass before Ancient Ziggurat, but there’s room for neither!
I also contemplated replacing Vesuva, but I ultimately decided against it. I just tend to prefer Thespian’s Stage in that slot, particularly when you’re
not doubling up or relying on cards like Bojuka Bog with relevant enters-the-battlefield abilities. I ended up not doing that, but it’s something to
consider if you ever upgrade something like that Vivid Meadow.
I have previously expressed my reticence to rely heavily on tutors. As such, Worldly Tutor, which is negative card advantage in a deck that really can’t
support it, and Demonic Tutor, which is off theme, both had to go. Obviously Zac should use his discretion in adopting my suggestions given the wide
variance in playstyle which categorizes Commander, but I think it would be better to have more action in the deck than a one-for-one-or-less tutor.
That having been said, I did keep in Tooth and Nail. You have to have a way to win games, or at least to avoid losing them, and even before my changes
Avacyn, Angel of Hope plus Platinum Angel seemed like a decent package.
There are so many great cards in Magic, and a five-color deck can cast all the legal ones. As such, there’s always a temptation to keep in utility cards
that are powerful but don’t advance the theme of the deck. I am not totally opposed to this, as I added in Utter End and left in Sylvan Library, but in
general, I think it’s better to put your interaction on a creature of the relevant type, if possible. That’s why I brought in Sunblast Angel; while I think
you had one too many Wrath of God effects, and while I kept Wrath in because of its anti-regeneration clause, it’s still a useful effect. That it’s even
more powerful when you’re messing around with indestructibility may have also crossed my mind.
Angel of Finality is in for two purposes, which are somewhat ironically crossed. First, it’s in there because it’s a four-drop Angel, and therefore, it
allows you to get a relevant body on the board early enough to stem some of the incidental aggro that can plague the earlygame. Shields down makes a person
a tempting target, so I tried to bring in some of the Angels that are lower on the curve. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Restoration Angel in that role, but
its anti-infinite-loop drawback is a major concern in a tribal Angels deck.
Secondly, it’s on-theme graveyard hate. While I suspect we’re in for some changes in the value of exiling a player’s graveyard (due to all these processors
and the like), there are still going to be times when you need to get the reanimator to stop their shenanigans, and Angel of Finality can do that. Of
course, that’s most relevant as the game goes on, thus the cross purposes I mentioned above.
Let’s talk Fist of Suns. In general, I like that card. I’m particularly interested in its utility with the new sunburst mechanic, converge. For example,
that black converge draw spell, Painful Truths, will probably top out at three cards in Standard given its 2B mana cost, but with Fist of Suns in
Commander, you can get a draw five. It’s a long way to go for two extra cards, and I haven’t looked closely enough at this set to be sure there’s anything
worth the potential offered by Fist of Suns, but it’s an interesting idea, and I’m predisposed to like Fist of Suns whenever it pops up. That having been
said! This deck is pretty white. While I recognize Zac’s manabase gives him a shot at hitting WUBRG earlier than most, it’s still a very demanding mana
cost that offers at best a three-mana discount on his top Angels. Instead, let’s add in Mana Vault. It gives you the benefit earlier and the drawback is
negligible in a deck with any amount of lifegain…which this deck contains.
I’m so hesitant to play mana creatures in Commander that it might color my view. I tend to restrict them to decks in which they’re directly on theme,
because I’d far rather have an extra land on the battlefield than a creature that dies. In this deck, though, I think Birds of Paradise is particularly
weak. Your first fetch is going to find you a white source. Your second fetch probably wants to find white as well. Having to shoot for Savannah or Temple
Garden to get this thing out… it’s just not in your best interests.
Animar, Soul of Elements is similar. White is your primary color, and having to make a Temur wedge early enough to matter… I don’t think that meshes with
your gameplan, which otherwise can get those colors fairly late. Instead, a tribal Angel deck can get a lot of use off of Herald of War. Not only is it
great with Archangel of Thune, but it’s on theme and it can end a game on its own if needed. Admittedly, Animar can also do both of those things (although
it needs more help to end the game), but it’s not an Angel!
Mana pebbles are an interesting thing. Two mana is a really useful amount to pay for a Time Walk, but your curve really gets going at five mana, not four.
As such, a three-mana mana rock is going to serve you almost as well, and the best mana rock you’re not running is easily Commander’s Sphere. Free cycling
is the real deal, particularly if your opponents tend towards artifact removal or Open the Vaults shenanigans. Anyway, I freed up some slots here to add
more action to the mix. You might come out of the gate a little slower, but you’ll be harder to stop once you build up some momentum.
Finally, let’s talk about cheating things into play. I am generally not a huge fan of dropping things into play, but I recognize that it has its
advantages. I’m more of a reanimator, personally. Anyway, Mayael the Anima, Elvish Piper, and Quicksilver Amulet are all ramp in that they’re discounting
the mana you have to spend to get your creature into play. Of the three of them, I was most likely to leave in Quicksilver Amulet, although my focus on
tribal synergies had me leaning towards Belbe’s Portal instead, given its reduced cost. Instead, I thought, “what’s better than cheap? Free!” That’s why I
added in Cryptic Gateway. I’ve had success with it in the past, and the ability to chain out a couple of Angels really helps. It’s a bit worse when you’re
behind, but being able to throw out some Angels without having to pay mana allows you to flash out some response even when you’re tapped out.
Now, Elvish Piper is cheap, and Mayael the Anima provides you with card advantage. They’re both creatures that have to untap to use their abilities though,
which makes them weaker than an artifact solution. Add in the fact that Mayael is going to be hitting less than you’d think, given the number of Angels
with four power or less, and you’ve just got a recipe for an open slot.
See! Neither of those cards would be a hit from Mayael despite them both being sweet cards. Shattered Angel can gain a tremendous amount of life,
particularly if you can “flash” it onto the battlefield in response to Boundless Realms or another large ramp spell. No matter what, it’s going to gain you
a bunch of life; it’s a weak enough effect that it won’t stop people from laying lands, but as a result, it’s probably going to gain you nine or more life
each turn cycle.
Emeria Angel is a different type of power. While you’ll never be able to drop it in response to a Veteran Explorer trigger (the drawback of running no
basics), you are running a number of fetchlands. Fetchlands and landfall play well together! Then, if you get a flock of Bird tokens, you can bring in
Karona to boost them all.
Another way to cheat things into play is to raise them from the dead. Karmic Guide does this with traditional timing restrictions; Adarkar Valkyrie is good
against Wrath of God effects and can steal opposing creatures if it’s beneficial for you to do so. They both fly, Adarkar Valkyrie is vigilant, and Karmic
Guide has protection from black. In short, they both have value beyond their ability to raise the dead. That’s useful if people in your metagame play Rest
in Peace, and I imagine the processing is going to make that happen more often then before.
See, this section, like the removal section, has several off-theme cards that are there primarily due to their power level. Grand Abolisher and Mother of
Runes are good at what they do, but they don’t particularly advance your gameplan. Also, they’re Humans that can’t get a benefit from Herald of War, which
is the type of rough spot that tends to irk me on an artistic level.
Elesh Norn is somewhat on theme in that it pumps your team and kills the small stuff on the rest of the board. But you’re (mostly) not going broad. As
such, Ellie’s going to draw more aggro than is proportionate with the degree to which it empowers you. Add in the fact it’s a seven-drop that’s not an
Angel, and I decided to cut it.
Incidentally, that was the same logic behind cutting Gaea’s Herald. Unless your meta is very specifically reliant on counterspells, that’s a bit of
overkill, particularly given the inclusion of Cavern of Souls and your tribal purity.
As for the only two Angels I cut… I’m not a fan of preventing other people from playing the game, at least not directly. Angelic Arbiter is an expensive
Angel who will paint you with a target by anyone who wants to have a main phase and an attack phase. Blinding Angel is just a weak body for an effect that
requires hitting an opponent.
You didn’t think I was doing those cuts for no reason, I hope! What I was doing was trying to open the slots up for a type of invincibility that Angels are
so conducive towards. Empyrial Archangel gave me the idea. Getting Empyrial Angel and Avacyn, Angel of Hope is a solidly on-theme Tooth and Nail package.
It puts you way ahead without ending the game, and it means you can attack a bit more recklessly without having to worry about the crackback.
Basically, there were three elements, because I am a fan of redundancy when I am assembling a combo. The first was a way to make a creature indestructible.
There are several ways to do this, and Angels are the best at it. Aegis Angel and Deathless Angel both do it directly, while Nim Deathmantle lets you pay
for it while dodging some of the anti-white hatred that might get lobbed your way. Avacyn, Guardian Angel does it via protection, letting you give the
Empyrial Angel stand-in protection from the color of the damage source. Finally, and the weakest in several ways, is Razia, Boros Archangel. I have a
fondness for her, but she’s also a weird type of removal and a vigilant aerial threat. She’s pretty bad in the combo, but pretty strong otherwise.
I say stand-in because Empyrial Archangel has shroud. It basically requires you to have Avacyn, Angel of Hope or Nim Deathmantle… not that it’s bad on its
own! But, due to that shroud thing, I wanted you to have other ways to redirect damage, ones that would work with the types of immortality being offered by
your angelic host. That’s why I brought in Palisade Giant, which is not an Angel, something I was clearly loathe to include. I also brought in Pariah and
Pariah’s Shield, both of which create the same effect… and putting Pariah’s Shield on an Iridescent Angel seems like a fun thing to do. The final piece of
redundancy is the weirdest: Guardian of the Gateless. You make that thing indestructible or give it protection from the enemy colors and it’s an
impenetrable wall with the side effect of killing most of the things that it tangles with.
Finally, there were the Angels to turn into pariahs. Specifically, I brought in Seraph of the Sword and Voice of All for this purpose. The Voice of All is
only going to be invulnerable against a single color, but the flexibility is incredibly useful, as is the fact that it’s a four-drop Angel. Seraph of the
Sword, though, takes up the Pariah’s Shield quite well.
Together, this combo manages to be on theme in that it’s a defensive invulnerability. You had plenty of aggressive Angels; you were missing the defensive
ones, and they can really clutter up the board for long enough for you to put together a kill. Also, several of these cards are strong against Karona,
False God… which is good, because when she’s in play she takes a turn around the table, and you’ll want to have a solid defense when that happens.
- 1 Exalted Angel
- 1 Platinum Angel
- 1 Iridescent Angel
- 1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
- 1 Lightning Angel
- 1 Karona, False God
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 1 Voice of All
- 1 Razia, Boros Archangel
- 1 Angel of Despair
- 1 Adarkar Valkyrie
- 1 Akroma, Angel of Fury
- 1 Twilight Shepherd
- 1 Empyrial Archangel
- 1 Stoic Angel
- 1 Maelstrom Archangel
- 1 Jenara, Asura of War
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 1 Emeria Angel
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 1 Deathless Angel
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 1 Sunblast Angel
- 1 Shattered Angel
- 1 Kaalia of the Vast
- 1 Tariel, Reckoner of Souls
- 1 Aegis Angel
- 1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
- 1 Avacyn, Angel of Hope
- 1 Angel of Jubilation
- 1 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
- 1 Angel of Serenity
- 1 Palisade Giant
- 1 Aurelia, the Warleader
- 1 Guardian of the Gateless
- 1 Seraph of the Sword
- 1 Archangel of Thune
- 1 Angel of Finality
- 1 Avacyn, Guardian Angel
- 1 Angel of the Dire Hour
- 1 Archangel of Tithes
- 1 Wooded Foothills
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 1 Volcanic Island
- 1 Tundra
- 1 Tropical Island
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Scrubland
- 1 Savannah
- 1 Plateau
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Badlands
- 1 Windswept Heath
- 1 Polluted Delta
- 1 Flooded Strand
- 1 Bloodstained Mire
- 1 Overgrown Tomb
- 1 Sacred Foundry
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Godless Shrine
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Blood Crypt
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Vesuva
- 1 Vivid Meadow
- 1 Sunpetal Grove
- 1 Arid Mesa
- 1 Marsh Flats
- 1 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Scalding Tarn
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Clifftop Retreat
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
- 1 Mana Confluence
- 1 Sandsteppe Citadel
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Urza's Incubator
- 1 Tooth and Nail
- 1 Pariah
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Mirari's Wake
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Cryptic Gateway
- 1 Thran Dynamo
- 1 Pariah's Shield
- 1 Coalition Relic
- 1 Luminarch Ascension
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Entreat the Angels
- 1 Chromatic Lantern
- 1 Council's Judgment
- 1 Utter End
- 1 Commander's Sphere
I hope this works! As I mentioned in my intro, balancing the mix in a rainbow deck can be one of the most difficult things to do, and every Commander deck
will need some tuning. For that you have to play with it, which is alas the one thing that I don’t get to do in my position.
Despite there being no set budget, I kept things below $40. I considered adding in more expensive cards like Sublime Archangel, but I ended up not feeling
that the deck needed it. Down the line, though, you might consider investing in some of the other low-drop Angels. Similarly, Emeria Shepherd seems like
it’s going to be great in a deck like this when Battle for Zendikar drops in the imminent future.
That’s it for this week’s Dear Azami! Tune in next week if you want to see something interesting, and I look forward (hopefully) to settling into a more
usual routine from here on out.
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