Dear Azami – The Angels Of Asymmetrical Warfare

Sean McKeown builds two Angel-themed Commander decks with two legendary creatures from Avacyn Restored: Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. Which one will you try out first?

With Avacyn finally Restored, we get some new toys to play with, and what does a Commander aficionado like more than new toys? Legendary new toys! Avacyn Restored brings us five new commanders: one badass Demon and four new Angels to play around with. Considering the joy and enthusiasm I have for playing around with the new cards, legendary and otherwise, I decided that building two new Commander decks would be an excellent way to spend the week.

Sure, “getting over jetlag” after a weeklong trip to Japan to visit my girlfriend might have been a necessary evil, and there’s this whole Occupy Wall Street thing that’s super-important to me too… But the May 1st General Strike we’ve been building for is tomorrow, not this week, so I got to revel in building decks with new cards I haven’t even gotten to touch yet. I’m hoping I get to open some of them at the Prerelease this weekend so I can turn these new dreams into cold, hard reality.

I could’ve built a Griselbrand deck. Of course, I then realized I already have and took my much-hated “proof of concept” Maralen deck Ad Nauseam Tendrils deck out of the box, swapped out the crappy Commander that basically never actually gets you a Tutored-for Ad Nauseam, and swapped in Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Since I got some more expensive cards since then, I added in Lion’s Eye Diamond over Winding Canyons (I know! Sacrilege! I cut Winding Canyons from a deck of mine!) and Grim Tutor over Snow-Covered Swamp, and called it a ridiculous, ridiculous day.

I wanted to add LED to the deck even before swapping commanders because it’s yet another way to profit with Ad Nauseam and that’s what we’re all about here, but realizing that you can actually use it to cast Griselbrand made me want to vomit all over myself rather messily as I envisioned hands with a Dark Ritual and a Lion’s Eye Diamond that let me cast Griselbrand on turn 3, draw 35 cards, semi “go off” with a small Tendrils or Exsanguinate, then draw the rest of my deck and murder everyone to death.

I’m a terrible human being, I know. But I’ll put it this way—it’s not Griselbrand’s fault he’s broken, and I wouldn’t even say Griselbrand is the broken card here. (Anticipate Griselbrand nonetheless being “too good” to be a Commander—Yawgmoth’s Bargain probably neatly fits the definition of “too good to be a Commander”—but acknowledge if you will the real unfair / unfun card is Ad Nauseam and ban accordingly.)

I wanted to have fun and stay on the light side of the Force instead of playing with the dark side of the Force. Thankfully, the other four new commanders are all Angels. I picked two based on my desire to build Angel decks around the concept of asymmetrical warfare to see where these pursuits take me.

Let’s look at our two selections for today:

Avacyn’s job is simple: with your commander online your permanents can no longer be destroyed, which as we know from Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] based decks is a damnably annoying trap to work your way out of for most decks. She’s also an 8/8 for eight, which is an awful lot of size to go with an efficient Commander, but the concept of “asymmetrical warfare” here is clearly “play Avacyn and play a bunch of destroy effects; cackle as they leave your board untouched.”

I can think of a lot of ways to do this, so it’s time to brew away with a nice Mono-White Control deck full of sweepers, confident in the knowledge that about halfway through the game those sweeper effects are suddenly going to be Falter effects, too, while we’re at it.

Gisela is the one that got my creative juices really flowing. A 5/5 for seven doesn’t sound as attractive until you realize that Gisela has effectively started with double strike, making her a whopping ten-power Commander for seven mana. She passes this double-damage bonus around to everything that hits any opponent ever, which would be good enough to get me running off in her general direction with a box of Godiva chocolates in hand trying to think up some really crappy poetry on the fly; but wait, there’s more!

In addition to making sure your opponents take twice as much damage as they would, you also only ever take half as much damage as you would, meaning that on a level playing field your opponents will be taking four times as much damage as you. Unsurprisingly, this is bonkers enough to inspire me to pursue a new deck to explore this theme, and this has me committed right away to emptying out a deck box and buying new cards I’ve never played in Commander before just because they fit the theme.

Enough teasing; let’s get to the decks!

Avacyn, Angel Of Don’t Touch My Stuff

Mana bases are easy for mono-colored decks, but what flavor of technology to pursue was the first question I wanted to ask. There’s built-in redundancy in mono-white thanks to Emeria, the Sky Ruin, but it comes at a price: you’re strongly limited in the number of fancy bonus lands you can squeeze into a deck because most of your mana base has to either be a Plains or put a Plains directly into play.

Ultimately, Avacyn costing eight mana convinced me that I wanted some help getting to those higher mana costs in an affordable way, which saw me dragging out my old Ob-Nixilis technology and putting a pile of fetchlands into a monochromatic deck just to get the free card a turn out of Crucible of Worlds. With that decision made, most of the rest of the blanks filled themselves in:


Fourteen extended art Zendikar plains (I like this one, for the record…), Mistveil Plains, Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, Naya Panorama, Bant Panorama, Esper Panorama, Marsh Flats, Arid Mesa, Windswept Heath, Flooded Strand, Thawing Glaciers


Emeria, the Sky Ruin — Every Commander deck that tries to take advantage of a unique effect or property of their commander would be well-served trying to also figure out ways to replicate this effect as best as they are able, because the fact of the matter is that commanders get tucked or taken out of commission at awkward moments. Having a Plan B that is planned for during design is an absolute necessity. Emeria lets you rebuild from board wipes—your own and the opponents’—and thus is a pretty darn good way to recoup some advantage when Plan A doesn’t work.

Winding Canyons, Dust Bowl — Readers already know why I’m addicted to putting these two in every deck. I’ll save you the “analysis” and instead just say this: to me these two cards are more cowbell.

Karoo — The Karoo that named them all and a decent small way to get ahead in the mana count without investing another card to do so. Tiny things like this matter in Commander more than you’d think, so I like to remember them whenever I can because it’s not always the big, splashy stuff that wins you the game. Humble effects that let you cast your spells in the first place are literally invisible, but the number of times that little bit of extra mana with no card investment pushes you ahead shouldn’t be.

Temple of the False God — The “better” Karoo for mono-colored decks in this format, it’s also quite good when you want to get to eight but don’t necessarily have a lot of easy ways to get that much mana.

Forbidding Watchtower — I never include this card in any deck, or at least not unless there’s a Doran involved, but this deck looked like it wanted a little bit of extra defense in the middle of the game and this is, in fact, a Turtle on a Plains. When a Horned Turtle is the card you want, getting it for free ain’t bad, though usually I claim Forbidding Watchtower is bad.

Secluded Steppe, Drifting Meadow, Blasted Landscape, New Benalia — Mana self-regulation is important in decks without a lot of card advantage, and frankly that’s something we can anticipate running up against in a mono-white deck. While there will be a few ways to get card advantage, they’re going to be thinner on the ground than they would have been if we’d started with a blue commander, and between Cycling and that wee itty bitty bit of scrying on New Benalia, there’s benefits of midgame draw regulation that come from including these. The small things matter. A lot.

And last but certainly not least, as it was the card that drew me hardest to a tribal Angels theme: Cavern of Souls! Uncounterable commanders are a good thing to have, especially when you’re clearly going to be reliant upon the ability they provide as hard as this “destroy all the things!” strategy will be. Having a way to play around Hinder and Spell Crumple when you’re reliant on Avacyn, Angel of Hope is certainly worth following through on.

Having every creature granted this uncounterability—apparently Platinum Angel is now an Angel—is a massive benefit and one that I think we’ll see turning up in Commander a lot soon, especially since this uncounterability benefit fits on a card that’s basically Command Tower but with upsides.

With 36 lands committed and some planned-for help in the other sections of the deck, I wanted to move on to the creatures next. I usually build up the spells in the deck and leave the help to sort itself out since usually creatures just come into play and then die and stuff, but since we’re planning on things not dying I wanted to figure out what this Angel tribe could do before building the rest of the deck’s capabilities around that fact.

Unsurprisingly, I just went down the list of Angels that turned up on Gatherer (especially useful because it includes errataed creature types—I didn’t know Karmic Guide was now an Angel Spirit, after all) and clicked the ones that fit where we wanted to be. Not every Angel got to be included, and stuff like Adaptive Automaton and Mirror Entity that could be an Angel but didn’t specifically show up in this pass were smiled at and left by the roadside. This bus is for ladies (and gentlemen) with wings only. Yes, I know, Avian Changeling: stop being obnoxious and get out of the deck.

Little Angels:

Serra Avenger – A solid addition on the cost-to-benefit side of things as a low-cost flying body. Mostly, I just wanted an excuse to play Serra Avenger again, and I’m totally okay with that fact as well.

Malach of the DawnGhost Ship is a white card now, and also not all Angels are ladies.

Emeria Angel — We already have as many fetchlands as we can cram into the deck, and Emeria Angel helps turn this into additional forward progress even if we don’t have any equipment or Anthems to make use of the additional tokens.

Exalted Angel — When figuring out the “size” of an Angel, I started with cost…anything that was a four-drop or less was a little angel, fives and sixes medium-sized, and anything more than that big. Mostly this was to avoid too much glut at the top-end, and Exalted Angel is a cheater since you can totally be attacking with it on turn 4, making it “little” despite the six-mana casting cost.

Guardian Seraph — Solid body plus an additional damage-prevention clause that’s surprisingly useful in this format. Token creatures without massive pump effects will have a hard time hitting you, and a little bit of extra savings even on the big hits is still worthwhile as a free addition.

Angel of Jubilation — A bit of an Anthem for that Emeria Angel, and part hoser with its restriction on weird life- and creature-sac costs. Griselbrand is saddened by the Angels that tell him he cannot do this thing that he really likes to do, after all, and anything that makes Griselbrand sad makes Avacyn happy.

Lightkeeper of Emeria — Remember how much I hate life gain? I sure talk about it a lot. Even hating life gain, I’m perfectly down with cards that gain life incidentally; lifelink is one of my favorite abilities in Commander, and the multikicker option on Lightkeeper of Emeria keeps this four-drop relevant when you have fourteen mana instead of four.

Restoration Angel — This actually doesn’t do all that much, seeing as there are no non-Angel creatures in the deck (unless you want to blink a Forbidding Watchtower). It’s still a flying Simian Grunt, and even without any additional text to be taken advantage of, you trade the vigilance on Herald of Seraph for flash and ditch the echo cost.

Linvala, Keeper of Silence — It’s astounding how many good cards Linvala keeps down in this format. Plenty of commanders have activated abilities that are relied upon, like Ezuri, Tariel, Rubinia, or even card draw queen Azami herself. Hosers that limit what one side of the table can do but not the other always get my attention. Here we get a powerful tool on an Angel whose size we’d be willing to run almost without a text box, so you get a lot of bonus disruption effectively for free.

Medium Angels:

Baneslayer Angel, Battlegrace Angel, Victory’s Herald, and Shattered Angel all have a similar role: we’ve included them for strategic life gain purposes. (Way better than strategic sheep purposes!) Some are more efficient than others—I find it hard to argue with a Baneslayer Angel—but they give “life buffers” as a potential benefit for later in the game, which is especially relevant since Avacyn covers the “not having stuff die” side of things. Other than that you mostly just have to worry about yourself dying instead of them, which life gain can help avoid.

Adarkar Valkyrie, Deathless Angel, Twilight Shepherd — These three cover some of Avacyn’s skillset as well in that they can help ensure your entire board isn’t wiped in one fell swoop leaving you with nothing.

Blinding Angel — An interesting way to lock down individual armies, since any number of Saproling tokens still can’t attack unless they figure out how to fly (and thus block). A little low in the offensive power department for a five-drop, but the defensive side of things is nice enough to make us forget about whether we need to be aggressive for a moment.

Karmic Guide — Apparently this awesome white Commander staple is also an Angel, according to the Grand Creature Type Update. That or someone sneaky at Wizards savored the flavor of Angel decks to come, knowing Avacyn Restored was going to jam the Angel theme as hard as possible…

Radiant, Archangel — I was going to say “just another beater” until I realized it got the bonus for all fliers in play, not just fliers you control, so Radiant can get surprisingly large surprisingly quickly. Not the flashiest or most interesting card out there, but it can do something special once in a while and that’s what keeps games of Commander memorable.

Herald of War — An interesting “Angel tribal” card in that it tries to play an Animar like role in casting Avacyn faster. Animar being something I approve of and consider quite bonkers, even a slow-motion version of the card is worthwhile since Herald of War on turn 5 will lead to Avacyn on turn 7 if you make just one more land drop.

Sunblast Angel — Part Wrath, part beater, all awesome. More than once, I’ve made an entire table of people sad when I played this particular Angel; people seem fine with all the creatures dying because that’ what board sweepers do, but when none of your own creatures are on the casualties list it’s less fun for them apparently.

Admonition Angel — Another beneficial card that goes with the decision to play as many fetchlands as possible, Admonition Angel plays the Oblivion Ring game multiple times and can be quite nasty when left unchallenged for a few turns.

Big Angels:

Platinum Angel — I don’t play Platy often in Commander; the charm wore off when it stopped working easily, and now games with Darksteel Plate and Swiftfoot Boots equipped to a Platinum Angel just run afoul of things like Capsize or Terminus at awkward moments. On-theme, however, Platinum Angel fits just fine and is considerably harder than average to deal with when the indestructibility comes built in automatically.

Angel of Salvation — Part combat trick and part counterspell for damage based removal, Angel of Salvation is a card I keep trying to find a home for and being disappointed when I fail. The convoke ability makes it surprisingly affordable and big fliers with flash always catch my interest, so there’s enough meaty bits here to really compel me. I’m hoping this is the deck that makes it gel finally.

Angelic Arbiter — Another card I often find myself cutting; in this case since we’re on-tribe and on-theme (“big fliers matter!”), the little bit of a tax the Arbiter enforces should keep people on their toes and force them to make tough decisions about what’s more important to them.

Iona, Shield of Emeria — Big mean Angel of doom. Mono-colored commander deck? Hope you have colorless spells. One side of your deck clearly more relevant to disrupt than another (I’m talking about you, three-color blue decks…) and vulnerable to some pointed disruption? Iona is a high-power disruptive effect in a color that actually doesn’t get that much disruption to work with, so this will fill a crucial role: spell control.

Reya Dawnbringer — And the last big fatty to make the deck is the one that best supplements Avacyn’s abilities. After all, if you don’t have your commander to work with but do still find yourself blowing stuff up a lot, Reya can help you by recurring all of the creatures that had previously found their way into your graveyard slowly but surely. An awesome format staple that’s even more awesome in this particular home because it both supplements the commander’s ability and complements it—this card’s hard enough to beat when it isn’t indestructible, after all.

With the creature base settled on, it’s time to work on the spells. We want lots of destroy effects and can probably benefit from some mana acceleration to get our heavy hitters deployed; we lack card advantage and could probably benefit from additional disruption where possible. Essentially, since this deck is slow and grindy without Avacyn and completely asymmetrical once she’s online, we want to build a solid control shell and wipe the board early and often.


Thran Dynamo, Sol Ring, Expedition Map, Caged Sun, Gauntlet of Power — Bonus mana to supplement the fact that we intentionally play a little bit light on lands. Caged Sun and Gauntlet of Power give minor power boosts (though significant ones, as far as Emeria Angel is concerned—I found a way to sneak in a few Anthem effects after all!) and massive mana bonuses to help with the fact that the commander and all the best spells were in the loftily expensive range.

Sensei’s Divining Top, Scroll Rack, Mind’s Eye, Seer’s Sundial — Three out of four of these take advantage of the fetchlands, either for extra cards (Sundial) or just to see new ones (Top and Rack). The other is a concentrated dose of new cards in your hand because Mind’s Eye is stupidly powerful in a multiplayer format where even without anything weird going on it can give you three additional cards a turn. Seer’s Sundial is one of my pet cards I keep trying to work out, and since I liked it in this role in my Godo deck I’m porting it over here and am just going to run with it.

Oblivion Stone, Nevinyrral’s Disk — Board sweepers that catch every relevant permanent. Okay, almost so: Nev’s Disk misses planeswalkers, but those can always be attacked, and especially so if Avacyn turns your sweeper effects into Falter effects that get them through unblocked for damage.

Crucible of Worlds — Alongside all these fetchlands, the Crucible makes sure you hit every land drop for the next ten or so turns, more than enough to cast everything you might desire on a reasonable timetable. Getting your mana for free is especially important when you aren’t the best at drawing cards, and the more ways we have to ensure the land drops are accounted for the happier we are.

Loxodon Warhammer — I despise life gain but am happy with lifelink, so this being the equipment I let sneak into the deck shouldn’t be contradictory to what we’re trying to accomplish. The actually very important side of this is the trample; getting life back is already surprisingly well covered, and the power bonus without trample wouldn’t really be worth investing in the card. Avacyn needs to be able to attack past flying token creatures and stuff like Fog Bank, however, so handing her a hammer will make sure those pesky nails get out of your way.

This section was pretty straightforward, but the interesting utility will all be coming in the spell section. Artifacts are boring. Who knew?


Rout, Akroma’s Vengeance, Austere Command, Planar Cleansing, Mass Calcify, CatastropheRout gets the nod for being able to play instant speed Wrath, while Austere Command, Akroma’s Vengeance, and to a lesser degree Planar Cleansing are pretty standard Commander sweepers; they take out multiple types of threats instead of just creatures and fill the role of board control effects that the controlling white deck desires.

Mass Calcify is interesting in that it’s a Wrath that tends to leave your stuff alone, which is part of Avacyn’s forte and something that can help do what you’re trying to do even if your commander is handled at an inopportune moment. Catastrophe is just an over-costed Wrath that sometimes, just sometimes, will play the role of Armageddon when your lands are indestructible. It’s a dirty trick, sure, but once in a while having a dirty trick up your sleeve will keep people honest.

Oblation, Swords to Plowshares — Solid board control pinpoint effects, neither one cares if the opposing permanent is indestructible or otherwise supposed to be hard to handle. So long as you can target it, the darn thing’s going to die.

Decree of Justice, Entreat the Angels, Luminarch Ascension — We’re a tribal Angel deck, and these all happen to make Angel token creatures at a price that’s not to be turned down. Decree and Entreat follow the same mana curve for making a passel of 4/4 fliers with other special tricks: Decree can cycle to make 1/1 critters at instant speed, while sometimes (just sometimes!) Entreat the Angels will do the same at an impressively competitive rate thanks to Mind’s Eye, Sensei’s Divining Top, and even Seer’s Sundial.

Scroll Rack is weird and doesn’t draw cards so you can’t play it as an instant that way, but you can set it up on top of your deck to get a second chance at the miracle cost so that’s not bad either. Luminarch Ascension is just so absurdly powerful that I usually don’t include it under the “don’t play anything that makes me a giant target” principle, but hey, it makes Angels, so mise.

Marshal’s Anthem — Another case where I lied about not playing Anthem effects; in this case it was included because it can supplement Avacyn’s ability to shrug off mass sweepers by returning a pile of dead creatures to play again. Everything besides the multikicker ability is just gravy, but the random power bonus with Emeria Angel’s tokens can add up significantly.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant — Another way to potentially get indestructibility on your side via Elspeth’s emblem. That and Elspeth’s just awesome to begin with.

Curse of Exhaustion — Combo player getting you down? Curse of Exhaustion targets just that one player, so you don’t have to worry about tripping your possible allies with something like Rule of Law, finding those awkward moments where your erstwhile companions are forbidden from interacting with that problem over there because of your stupid “hoser” that was supposed to prevent problems from cropping up uncontrollably.

Abeyance — A solid response to problematic things that crop up unintentionally, Abeyance is just a decent way to break up troublesome turns. Sure, you don’t really have a lot of ways to interact with things on the stack since white isn’t the best “counterspell” color. Abeyance can help play volleyball however: set up the combo breaker that prevents a combo player from continuing their infinite chain, then deal with the troublesome permanents (if you can) or let a blue mage win the war over problems still on the stack.

Angel’s Grace — Another way to break up combos is to simply outlive them. Infinite damage combo got you down? End up at one. Going to lose to getting milled out? Survive the turn and stab the opponent in the eyes. Weird things happen, like Scroll Rack letting you put cards from your hand back on top of the deck without drawing any thus preventing you from losing. The easiest and most practical way to deal with a board of your indestructible Angels is to cut off your head; Angel’s Grace prevents decapitation maneuvers.

Not Of This World — A free counterspell to protect your commander with. It’s as simple as that.

Cho-Manno’s Blessing — A not free counterspell (sort of) to protect your commander with. Cho-Manno’s Blessing prevents those pesky Plows and Submerges or whatever pinpoint removal your opponent may be trying to use that sidesteps the “destroy” question and sticks around to make life more difficult going forward for similar attempts.

Land Tax — Great just for getting your mana; no further explanation is required for that. However, alongside Seer’s Sundial or Scroll Rack, it’s a bunch of free cards while you’re at it so the already awesome can get actually more awesome while we’re at it.

Aura Fracture — Enchantments are notoriously the most troublesome permanents in Commander, and Aura Fracture lets you handle an arbitrarily large number of them without spending additional mana or even really being locked down to the main phase as you otherwise would be.

Nevermore — Name a troublesome commander. Draw a card. You can’t interact with a lot of spells on the stack, but sometimes you can simply prevent them from being played in the first place.

Null Chamber — This one’s a harder one in that it totally requires you to conspire with one opponent as an ally of sorts. It doesn’t scale up for multiplayer games—two people get to name stuff, and only two people. So if, for example, you with Avacyn and a pretty innocuous-looking commander like Adun Oakenshield are giving harsh looks to two opponents showing Skitheryx and Jhoira, you can both make the corrupt decision to agree to name those two cards as your choices rather than, say, you name one of the two commanders and your friend Adun over there returns the favor with a knife in your back by naming Avacyn, Angel of Hope, ending your hopes for a while.

And as the last card, I have another goodie for you… Null Chamber isn’t the only odd white enchantment I dredged up from Mirage Block to include in this deck: I found another. After all, back in the dark days of Magic I wasted many a moon trying to make a Sands of Time / Equipoise deck to work and have been looking for a possible home for Equipoise ever since. Equipoise in this case can phase out annoying permanents like Maze of Ith or Ensnaring Bridge to allow you to attack or repeatedly handle token creatures by banishing them from existence forever at no cost turn after turn.

It can even help you win friends and influence people; knowing you’re about to play a sweeper but don’t want to make all the players at the table into your enemies, you can phase out some of the nicest and fanciest permanents an opponent controls that they might want to keep, then sweep the board while those are temporarily held safe in limbo. You can do a lot of interesting things with this weird little enchantment, and I think a white control deck can benefit from its inclusion in a whole variety of ways, some of which will reveal themselves interestingly in-context over the course of a game. Phasing out untapped blue lands that would otherwise cast a counterspell, for example, or clearing a blocker or two so another player can get an attack in edgewise.

Putting this all together, we get the following deck:

Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 04-29-2012
Magic Card Back

Gisela, Angel Of Death From Above

Moving on to more Mountainous pastures, we look Gisela’s way to see what “death from above” would look like. The mana base can be a little more interesting; there are two colors of utility lands we can access, after all, and without the hope of getting Emeria online we have greater flexibility to play with other non-basic lands. Starting to block it out, we’ll pull first the colored lands that will enable us to cast our spells:

5x Plains, 5x Mountain

Dual Lands: Ancient Amphitheater, Boros Garrison, Clifftop Retreat, Command Tower, Plateau, Rugged Prairie, Sacred Foundry

Fetchlands: Arid Mesa, Marsh Flats, Scalding Tarn, Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, Naya Panorama, Thawing Glaciers

Building in some extra utility, we have home for a few colorless lands:

Dust Bowl, Winding Canyons, Temple of the False God, Kor Haven — All obvious and well-worn paths.

Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion; Slayers’ Stronghold — Red/white utility lands, both particularly nasty with Gisela’s habit of doubling damage in a way that does not, actually, count as double strike. Sunhome, then, can quadruple the damage output, while Slayers’ Stronghold both grants haste on a land—something I for one have been waiting for for some time now out of a land that comes into play untapped—and a +4 bonus to an attack.

Inkmoth NexusEeeeeeeew. But if damage is doubled by Gisela any other way of “doubling damage” is worth paying attention to, and Gisela lets the Nexus swing for two poison at a time. It’s icky and feels wrong, but for a non-dedicated poison theme (and non-Blightsteel Colossus way to do it), I’m comfortable with its inclusion.

Then we just have the colored lands that provide some benefit or utility:

Mistveil Plains– Potentially able to recur cards by pushing them out of your graveyard and back into your deck, there will be at least one way (Sunforger) in which this is very important.

Eiganjo Castle — Damage prevention as a free ability strapped to a legendary Plains. Totally free for a little bit of extra utility, so sure.

Forgotten Cave, Secluded Steppe — Land balance correction in the middle of the game by dint of cycling when you want a spell but counting as a land when that’s what you need. There’s a danger of too many lands coming into play tapped here, so we aren’t going to reach further to the Urza’s Saga cycle of the same lands, and we have heavy color requirements and can’t afford too many colorless lands so Blasted Landscape stays out.

Spinerock Knoll, Windbrisk Heights — Lands that can potentially provide you with free spells later in the game. Both are awesome and the next best in the cycle after the ridiculous Mosswort Bridge (aka the first land Primeval Titan gets in 90% of the games you cast Primeval Titan).

With 37 lands we still want a bit of mana to help out and will find a few ways to get it without reaching too far. Unlike the previous build, we don’t need to see what creatures we’re going to be using to fill out the rest of the theme of the deck; Gisela suggests pretty strongly a few cards we should be playing, and we aren’t going to stick to a single tribe or anything so we can explore the deck’s capabilities and pick from the wide variety of available creatures to fill the missing holes.


Swiftfoot Boots, Lightning Greaves — Gisela doesn’t protect herself quite the same way Avacyn does, so these shroud-givers will help keep your commander alive and your warfare asymmetrical.

Sunforger — While we’re on the subject of equipment, Sunforger is one of my favorite cards in the entire format, though it’s a troublingly difficult card to squeeze in thanks to all of its different requirements. I’m also saddened to know that my most favorite trick from my old Numot, the Devastator deck doesn’t work; Master Warcraft lets you declare who is attacking but not whom, which makes it just a funny-looking Fog or maybe a Falter.

Bonehoard — The final equipment added to the deck, Bonehoard adds a ridiculously large damage bonus to any Commander deck—four graveyards worth of creatures can be a ridiculous number—and effectively doubles it since Gisela makes everything you swing with hit for double. Double an arbitrarily large number is a nauseatingly large number, or so I learned in advanced calculus back in college.

Boros Signet, Expedition Map, Sol Ring, Coalition Relic — The obligatory mana helpers section, we get a few mana rocks and the excellent Expedition Map made all the better by the wide variety of interesting and dangerous targets we have to choose from. Two tries for Sunhome, Thawing Glaciers, Boros Garrison, Kor Haven, Dust Bowl, or—gasp!— Inkmoth Nexus (eeeeeeeew!). I tend to avoid Signets as a whole, but in this case the colored mana needs compelled me to select it instead of my default first choice for such a slot, Mind Stone.

Sensei’s Divining Top, Mind’s Eye — Excellent card draw and filtering; obvious cards are obvious.

Mimic Vat — Gisela has the ability to do double damage, and Mimic Vat, cleverly used, has the ability to provide double attackers in a single turn if that’s something you plan for. I like doubling my doubling, of course, so Mimic Vat can help get an explosive amount of damage across…or work with a neat utility creature of which there will be plenty.

Moving next to the spells, we’re going to add a few I’ve never seen used in Commander before simply because they augment Gisela’s “asymmetrical warfare” aspect, exacting a much larger toll against the opponent than they do yourself and thus being huge problems for those other guys while you don’t even notice a breeze.

Alpha Brawl, Martial Coup, Austere Command, Brightflame — Mass removal effects to leaven the deck with a fair bit of removal; we’ll be supplementing this mostly with pinpoint removal, but a little bit of mass kill goes a long way when you plan for it. Each of these is, again, asymmetrical—you will, by definition, come out ahead when you use these cards.

Burnout, Lapse of Certainty, Wild Ricochet, Dawn CharmSunforger targets that also function as potential countermagic for a variety of purposes. R/W decks are not usually what you think of as “control decks” in the classical sense, since they lack the ability to interact with a spell on the stack, but in this deck running with Mistveil Plains online you can potentially run a Lapse of Certainty every turn against the opponent’s one spell or otherwise reacquire these less certain countermagic cards for future leveraging just when the time is right. Dawn Charm, especially, is interesting in this setup since in addition to being able to counter massively painful things pointed your way you can also control the combat phase with Sunforger online, saving yourself from rough attacks.

Chaos Warp, Oblation, Wing Shards, Orim’s Thunder, Grab the Reins — More Sunforger targets that also happen to be very useful instant speed removal for what ails ye, these handle a variety of difficult scenarios. Board control in this deck is going to be based more on killing individual problems and leaving your board intact, and each of these cards has an interesting side benefit or corner case use: Wing Shards still functions as a removal spell even when you’re not the one being attacked, for example, while Oblation in a pinch can be used to turn a land in for two fresh cards. This is an especially relevant ability when you have Sunforger / Mistveil Plains recursion going because it can provide you with supplemental card draw at a very reasonable clip. Grab the Reins is kind of a blunt object here, but hey, it works.

Fight to the Death — Another Sunforger target and especially interesting in that you don’t have to be involved in the fight at all. Player A fighting Player C over there in a big old nasty mess of a fight? Kill everyone in the room and leave both of them crying.

Debt of Loyalty — Theoretically able to be used just to regenerate your own creatures so it’s kind of sort of (not really) a counterspell. We’re discussing it here as a target of interest mostly because it allows you to permanently gain control of something mean and nasty when that’s not something either of these colors is intended to be particularly good at. Sometimes Primeval Titans eat a Doom Blade; for those times, Debt of Loyalty can shine.

Price of Progress — Yeah, I’ll take one damage for each of my non-basics; why don’t you take four? Set this up with Sunforger recursion and the entire board will wither away damn quickly under this barrage of ridiculous burn.

Insurrection, Comet Storm, Molten Disaster — Big splashy red cards that should end the game when cast. Comet Storm targeting all of the opponents and dealing double damage should solve pretty much an entire table later in the game, while Molten Disaster being able to kill an entire table of opponents with split second and no interaction is one of the strategic choke points of Commander that I like to remind people about every once in a while. That in this deck it deals four damage to your opponent for each one damage dealt to you makes it all the worse because you can kill an entire table of undamaged opponents with this “Earthquake” so long as you’re at or above a mere eleven life at the time. And Insurrection is as Insurrection does; no explanation needed.

Savage Beating, True Conviction — Double your doubling, or as is the case with a well-timed Savage Beating, quadruple it. True Conviction gains you four life per point of power committed, which is a fairly ridiculous exchange rate, while Savage Beating, properly used, deals eight damage per point of power available. People don’t live very long with these sorts of cards around, you know.

Spellshock — This is something of a “lockdown” card in that it potentially erodes the opponents’ ability to play spells still while you walk away hunky-dory. With your commander online, this deals four damage to each opponent wanting to play a spell but only hits you for one life per spell you pay. You lose a trifling amount to keep interacting; they hemorrhage 10% of their starting life total just to cast a Brainstorm. Not fair, but that’s the magic of the context Gisela brings to this game.

Word of Seizing — Included mostly because of its ability to break up combos and such, even if only temporarily, in a non-interactive fashion that will always get to do what you’re trying to do. Just a “good card” inclusion, but so good I had to.

Pyrohemia — You take none. Your creatures take none. Each opponent and each creature your opponent controls takes two. Fair? I think not. But an awesome deal for one red mana; thank you whomever it is that decided that red decks needed Pestilence if they wanted it.

This leaves us room for 27 creatures, and some of them are going to be the obvious inclusions: good-stuff creatures and Commander staples (things we’d put in every deck of this color combination without thinking too hard about it). Let’s get them out of the way first and get to the interesting stuff.

Yosei, the Morning Star, Taurean Mauler, Duplicant, Solemn Simulacrum, Brion Stoutarm, Eternal Dragon — Solid red/white inclusions that fit the needs of a creature based deck and are just the best there is at what they do. (And what they do ain’t nice.)

Ranger of Eos — Card advantage plus Tutoring all at the right price of not-very-many mana. You can do a disproportionately large variety of things depending on which one-drops you pick, but in this deck I had to settle for just four of them:

Weathered Wayfarer — Finds the right land for the job and thus is able to Tutor up utility lands like Dust Bowl, answers to problematic attackers, or messy damage multipliers like Sunhome.

Serra Ascendant — Even less fair when it deals twelve damage and gains twelve life.

Figure of Destiny — Solid early and scales up nicely late in that it’s a little inefficient to build into a Dragon but totally still builds into a Dragon if that’s the phase of the game you’re in.

Martyr of Ashes — The “cute” card of the bunch in that I usually wouldn’t include this even in your average Mono Red deck, but the ability to halve the damage done to your side and double the damage done to the opposing side of the board makes me very, very happy.

Stoneforge Mystic, Stonehewer Giant, Godo, Bandit Warlord — Messing around with equipment is important when it’s Sunforger you’re most interested in getting online. Godo even conveniently doubles your damage for having that equipment online, which is doubled again by Gisela; quite a fun little theme we have working consistently throughout our cards. A little goes a long way here.

Subterranean Spirit — Tap to cast Rough on the opposing side of the board only. Normally I’d just play Scourge of Kher Ridges for this effect, but I was starting to get worried that there were going to be too many expensive cards in the deck what with all those cost-heavy spells, so I picked the cheaper option that does it without spending mana at all.

Living Inferno — Yeah, that’s “fair” with the ability to double the damage dealt and halve the damage received. Tap to be vicious and disgusting, so noted. (Also quite ridiculous with Mimic Vat even without the commander online—Plan B considerations are, after all, still quite important.)

Boros Guildmage, Duergar Hedge-Mage — Cheap, efficient problem-solvers: one handles awkward permanents and the other passes around combat tricksiness. My favorite part of the Guildmage is not that it passes around haste and first strike so your opponents have to prepare themselves for a rough volley heading their way or always being on the wrong side of a combat phase. No, my favorite part is that it can pass these around to the opponents as well if you want to so you can conspire to make life difficult by giving a newly summoned creature haste out of nowhere or play favorites in a fight by handing out first strike on a whim.

Crater Hellion — Double the damage for you, halve it for me; the uses and implications seem pretty obvious.

Crovax Ascendant Hero, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite — Both amplify your damage-dealing capability while eroding the opponents’ in kind, mimicking the abilities of your commander and in fact assisting in a pleasant overlap alongside her, making it difficult indeed to get damage dealt to you. That you double these bonuses is a drum I’ve beaten a lot but still makes me happy; we’re building for a theme and adding layer after layer on top of it so that just a few small cards can deal an extraordinary amount of damage seemingly out of nowhere.

Deathforge Shaman — Two damage per time you kick it times two because of Gisela, this can add up to “dead opponent” pretty quickly.

Heartless Hidetsugu — A little bit of an insidious combo, I guess, but it does say “tap to kill your guys but not me” just as a general rule. Dirty pool, I suppose, but it’s not like your opponents can’t interact with a combo that requires two different creatures to not suddenly eat a Doom Blade.

Stonecloaker — Able to reuse enters-the-battlefield abilities or play the under-appreciated role of graveyard control in a deck that otherwise kind of stinks at interacting with that zone. Included mostly for the latter, but it’s pretty efficient at what it does no matter which of those two modes you keep it around for.

Twilight Shepherd, Sun Titan — Insurance policies for permanents you control; Twilight Shepherd protects your team from mass removal, while Sun Titan can recur Sunforger, Mistveil Plains, or whatever ails you at the moment, or even just a fetchland if that’s what seems right at the time.

The last slot goes to a big dumb Dragon, but it’s a damnably efficient big dumb dragon. It fits the role the deck is seeking so very well I wanted to leave on a bright note with it and visions of triple Flame Waves heading my opponents’ way:

Balefire Dragon — Sneak it across just once and it should wipe out every creature on that side of the board even without Gisela active. Connect with Gisela too and an entire crash of Wurms will go die in a fire, meaning that when there are problems that need solving and no other card will do the job, sneaking across a Dragon can clear an entire battlefield no matter how tough it looked at the time so long as you can sneak him by unblocked.

Putting it all together and noting it’s actually the nastier of the two decks (the red burn spells dealing doubled damage really is dirty pool, and that was even before I reached for the “combo” with Heartless Hidetsugu…), our second Angelically-themed deck designed to fight asymmetrical warfare in the Commander format is as follows:

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 04-29-2012
Magic Card Back

Sean McKeown

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