Finding The Best Archangel Avacyn Deck

Archangel Avacyn may be the most powerful card in Shadows over Innistrad, but she doesn’t fit naturally into any existing deck. Patrick Chapin has been testing and sketching using the set’s icon, and he has a few ideas for #SCGBALT next weekend!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!

Sometimes, you just can’t improve on a classic.

Of course, sometimes you can…

Archangel Avacyn is a slight upgrade to Serra Angel. In addition to being a 4/4 flying creature with vigilance, Archangel Avacyn:

● Has flash, so she doesn’t need you to tap out on your turn. This alone is already Serra Angel’s dream.

● Protects your creatures from kill spells, even some sweepers, like Planar Outburst.

● Lets you annihilate opponents in combat that attack you, when you have creatures on defense.

● Functions like an instant-speed removal spell, since she comes down indestructible and takes out an attacker.

● Protects herself from sorcery-speed removal like Ruinous Path after she eats an attacker.

● Is awesome at surprise-killing planeswalkers, particularly Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Arlinn Kord.

And as if all this weren’t enough, she even flips into a 6/5 flier that can sweep the battlefield and deal extra damage to your opponent’s face!

How good is Archangel Avacyn? Well, the card is extremely powerful for the amount of mana it costs. The real question is how well can anyone utilize her. After all, the real limiting factor for Avacyn is that her power is a bit unwieldy, all over the place, and doesn’t just naturally slot right into existing major archetypes.

However, as one of the most powerful cards in the set, she demands several new decks spring up, built around her.

To start with, let’s take a look at a very basic use of Archangel Avacyn:

This is an Archangel Avacyn deck?

Well, I’m not sure I’d put her name on the front page, but yeah, she’s great. She can be used in a variety of places, even with almost no sacrifice outlets and a low land count. That said, we do have both Kytheon (forcing attacks) and Westvale Abbey for triggering our Avacyn’s flip, although this is one deck that is generally going to want to be careful about when she flips. Her player damage may only go to the opponent, but her creature damage hits both sides.

A deck like this can be very vulnerable to Chandra, Flamecaller; Planar Outburst; or Radiant Flames. Archangel Avacyn provides some great defense against such plays, though she isn’t at her best against Languish (we need an Always Watching for that).

Always Watching is a great Anthem effect for capitalizing on how many one- and two-drops we have instead of token-makers. There are a lot of 2/3s and 3/3s in the format, so it’s important to have plenty of ways to get our creatures big enough to brawl.

Being able to attack and block at the same time is nice (a trick we pull off with Kytheon, too, when we flip him), but there are also cute interactions like the sideboard Archangel of Tithes getting their attack trigger while also making it hard for people to attack into us. It’s also fun that Town Gossipmonger’s flip condition is largely “free” when you have Vigilance.

I’m not sold on Town Gossipmonger yet but I could imagine it actually being kind of sweet. After all, if you play it turn 1, you can just tap whatever you play on turn 2, missing just a one-drop’s worth of attacking. This leaves you with a 2/3 Firebreathing creature, albeit one that must attack. Assuming we can keep the pressure on with Always Watching or Thalia’s Lieutenant, that’s a pretty respectable body.

Of course, we can also drop a 2/1 on turn 1, followed by Town Gossipmonger and another one-drop on turn 2. That way, when we drop Always Watching on turn 3, we can make the play from above and attack with our Gossipmonger and the creature we’re going to tap.

It probably won’t come up too often, but the Gossipmonger can tap another one that already flipped into Incited Rabble, in case we want to avoid attacking for a turn. It’s also important to note that Incited Rabble is still a Human, so we can drop Thalia’s Lieutenant in order to force the Rabble through an opposing Bounding Krasis.

Thalia’s Lieutenant is obviously a Champion of the Parish that gives all your Humans on the battlefield a +1/+1 counter for just one more mana. That’s a really good deal. While it has less degenerate openings, it’s an awesome topdeck later, whereas Champion of the Parish was often quite bad late.

It’s also really nice that the counters go to the right places, at the right times. Namely, by sharing counters on the way in, it’s like Thalia’s Lieutenant has “haste,” since it adds to the damage you are dealing this turn. That each new creature puts a counter on the Lieutenant is like those new creatures have a little “haste,” adding damage the turn you cast them.

Eerie Interlude is an answer to cards like Languish and Thing in the Ice, getting around most of the sweepers that Avacyn doesn’t already beat. It’s also a mondo-combo with Thalia’s Lieutenant and Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. Once in a while, we might even re-trigger a Knight of the White Orchid or reset our Avacyn (wanting vigilance, or perhaps just a chance to get her flip trigger again).

While this mono-white deck uses Avacyn largely for her indestructible ability (and absurd rate), she’s a fantastic payoff for sacrifice decks and may be the key to a return of Aristocrat decks (which need a new lynchpin now that Rally the Ancestors is gone).

Zulaport Cutthroat has always been a mondo-combo with Nantuko Husk, but now we’ve got Westvale Abbey as an additional way to surprise people with five sacrifices at the same time (not to mention attacking for nine).

Hangarback Walker and Secure the Wastes are also nice ways to get a large number of bodies for either the Cutthroat or the Abbey. Fleshbag Marauder is sweet with the Hangarback, of course, but it’s also a Zombie. Yeah, eight Zombies besides Relentless Dead is extremely bare-bones, but Relentless Dead might be that good.

A 2/2 menance for two is pretty solid, so we’re not paying much for this ability. Nantuko Husk and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim make it easy to sacrifice the Relentless Dead at instant speed (getting our Fleshbag Marauder or Nantuko Husk straight onto the battlefield). Of course, we also get to pay B to return the Relentless Dead to our hand, which ensures it’s great, even if we don’t draw another Zombie (and another Restless Dead would work, too). And if we draw one of each of our Zombies, we can actually lock our opponent out of creatures, Fleshbag Maraudering every turn (which takes just six lands).

Zulaport Cutthroat and Ayli mean we are making a profit, even if we’re just sacrificing Relentless Dead every turn without getting anything else back. That we have a never-ending supply of bodies means getting up to 30 life is very doable, turning on Ayli’s bonus ability.

If we want even more Zulaport Cutthroat action, we can use Pious Evangel, which flips from a one-sided Soul Warden that gains one life on the way in into a bigger Cutthroat.

Notice those extra points of toughness he picked up? Now he can live through Avacyn’s “purification.”

Pious Evangel is also a sacrifice outlet, but rather than just sacrificing creatures, it can also sacrifice any other type of permanent we might want to get rid of, most notably:

Shadows over Innistrad actually has a lot of ways for us to get out of our Pact (after drawing some extra cards, Mind Twisting our opponent, and draining something for four). In addition to the Pious Evangel, we’ve got a variety of removal spells that interact with Demonic Pact in various ways.

Bound by Moonsilver is a modest Pacifism variant that, for a mana more, stops transformation, can move around to a better target, and gives us a sacrifice outlet that can kill a Demonic Pact whenever we need (not to mention Hangarback Walker or a random body so that Avacyn flips out).

Angelic Purge lets us sacrifice Demonic Pact as part of its cost, getting past counterspells. It’s kind of a mediocre card, but it does let us use the Demonic Pact for something more productive than “You lose the game.”

Anguished Unmaking is primarily a removal spell here, but it’s nice to have the option to go after our Pact when things get hairy. Just be careful not to try to cash in a Hangarback Walker with it, as it exiles.

We might not want to get so fancy, instead just using Avacyn as a “raw power” card:

Here we’re not really maximizing Archangel Avacyn, but it’s still a great card, and this way we get to put it alongside a bunch of other great cards. For instance, Sorin, Grim Nemesis.

We’ve talked about Sorin a lot over the past couple of weeks, but in short, it’s a great planeswalker. It has a big impact on the battlefield, draws cards, puts people on a short clock, gains a ton of life, has an excellent ultimate, and absolutely dominates other planeswalkers like Chandra, Flamecaller.

Declaration in Stone is an important addition to the format that will change the way we’re supposed to play. While it’s easy to use Declaration in Stone poorly (since it gives them card advantage), it’s going to have a big impact on our desire to play multiple copies of the same creature at the same time. Even though we’d get a Clue for each, that’s a massive tempo loss. However, it’s important to remember that Declaration in Stone exiles tokens without leaving Clues behind.

Finding the right balance of To the Slaughter, Ruinous Path, and Anguished Unmaking is really going to come down to better understanding which decks emerge as Tier 1. One thing I like about B/W, though, is just how easily we can get delirium.

Mindwrack Demon is mostly just a 4/5 flying creature for four here, but that’s pretty good for just four mana. That said, it is a nice way to finish getting all the way to delirium (potentially powering up our To the Slaughter, Descend upon the Sinful, and Pick the Brain).

Descend is a sweeper that gets through opposing Avacyns and stuff like Zombies built for recursion (sometimes, since they could have a sacrifice outlet). More importantly, though, it’s a sweeper that leaves us with a 4/4 flier. That’s a lot of value for the one mana it costs more than Planar Outburst.

I’m a big fan of this card. It’s a versatile piece of interaction for fighting control of planeswalker-centric decks; but it’s also potentially backbreaking against World Breakers when used as a tool against G/R Ramp. Even when they don’t have one in-hand, it’s better than Duress, taking Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or whatever other big threat they may be ramping toward (not to mention any other copies in their deck if you have delirium, which you often will).

Jace just seems so absurd in the format, I wouldn’t be surprised if he appears in the majority of decks. Even decks without him often feature Hedron Crawler or Zurgo Bellstriker. Dead Weight is looking better and better, and helps race us towards delirium.

You know what really ticks Avacyn off? Hangarback Walker for zero on turn 5…

It’s not new, but that it goes to the graveyard so easily takes on new meaning because of delirium. It’s also a nice source of colorless mana. Caves of Koilos and Evolving Wilds (with a Wastes) is already nine sources of colorless. It really doesn’t take that much more to support Thought-Knot Seer.

You’re really just gonna straight-faced that Mindwrack Demon?

Look, it’ll probably get cut without more synergies, but it’s worth finding out if it might actually just be a staple that goes everywhere. Even if it’s not good here, it might get good quickly if we played more stuff like Nearhearth Chaplain.

I think Nearhearth Chaplain is one of the most underrated cards in the set. When you discard it, it does a pretty mean Lingering Souls impression. It does cost three, but it’s also uncounterable. Besides, a 3/1 lifelink creature can be better than two 1/1 fliers, and that’s to say nothing of how unreasonable of a bar Lingering Spirits is. That’s a Legacy-staple-level of card.

While it might be worth playing Nearhearth Chaplain for value, the card becomes actively great with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.

I don’t know if we can actually get away with playing Confirm Suspicions, but I love how well it plays with Archangel Avacyn, making life really tough for people when we have five up.

It’s risky playing something like this, a super-slow, reactive card that pays us with super-slow card draw; however, from another perspective, it’s a Cancel that for two mana more draws us a card… and that card is Dragonlord’s Prerogative.

Dragonlord’s Prerogative is +3 cards for six mana, or two mana a card. Of course, cracking Clues is much, much better than that, though. We get to break up the payments into nice, easy installments with zero percent interest. It is because of just how easy it is to crack Clues at our leisure that I could imagine Confirm Suspicions being good enough.

Hopefully a little playtesting will…

I’m really excited about this card. A thorough breakdown can be found here; but the short version is that it’s kind of a Sphinx’s Revelation. It generates a huge advantage going long, but can be cycled early for a little value. It doesn’t have nearly as big a best case as Sphinx’s Revelation, but its backup plan is often better.

If we had just a little more looting, maybe Oath of Jace or something, it sure would be nice to play more Chaplains, since revealing one to Epiphany is a major mise.

Evolving Wilds just to power up that one Descend upon the Sinful?

Nah. It’s mainly to untap our Prairie Streams. Enemy-color combinations are going to go to tapped two-color more often (unless they need delirium), since they don’t have Battle lands.

Here’s a much more exotic U/W deck:

This list is a bit too ambitious, in my opinion, but it aspires to set up the Topplegeist + Rattlechains + Spectral Shepherd combo.

Topplegeist is a great one-drop flier in its own right, but the Shepherd lets us bounce it at will. Rattlechains then lets us cast it with flash. Since it has an enters-the-battlefield trigger, we can pay three mana to tap a creature as many times as we want.

Rattlechains and Topplegeist are both nice targets for Ojutai’s Command, by the way. Plus, we’ve got Essence Flux to protect our various combo pieces (with value), while also abusing our awesome removal triggers like Reflector Mage.

Being able to pay one to save our Jace from a removal spell is a big deal, particularly when Jace can then flash back the Flux, which then re-triggers our Reflector Mage to just stone-tilt our opponents. By the time they can try to replay their creature, we might just Silumgar Sorcerer it (and then Essence Flux our Sorcerer…)

Exploit with Essence Flux is cool, and it’s obviously great with Hangarback Walker, but I’m intrigued by the prospect of using it to trigger Avacyn.

What if we streamlined the deck a bit, focused on the tempo aspects instead of the Spirit thing?

Here, we’ve replaced the Spirit soft-lock with more tempo and Bygone Bishop to try to capitalize on it.

Now all of our cheap creatures are cantrips (eventually). That card advantage can keep us going long enough for Avacyn to take over or for us to amass an army of fliers.

Okay, I’m out for this week. I’ll see you Monday, when I dive into my Shadows over Innistrad set review. Let me know what you want to see covered, and maybe we can make sure that works out…

See you then!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease April 2-3!