As I write this deck, I’ve discovered that Andrew Healy has done an article on a similar concept a couple of weeks ago. Now, seeing as the basics are a very valuable thing indeed, I think we should go into that really quickly, particularly for the newer players.
Let’s get back to basics, shall we?
Here’s a simple deck to build, something not too complicated. If you’ve got the rares, use ’em, but there are cheap and simple substitutes you can use for certain cards. For now, let’s assume that you had all the cards and played them as follows:
Angels Phase One
4 Wall of Hope
4 Voice of All
4 Serra Angel
3 Blinding Angel
3 Exalted Angel
2 Windborn Muse
2 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Glorious Anthem
2 Divine Sacrament
2 Shared Triumph
1 Land Tax
1 Sol Ring
1 Kor Haven
1 Strip Mine
4 Secluded Steppe
Let’s use this deck as a starter for a little exercise in deckbuilding. Since casual games don’t have that much of a restriction on the number of cards in a”sideboard,” one often isn’t considered – but for the sake of this exercise, I want you to consider what cards could be brought in to handle problems. We have two tasks here: Identify weaknesses and the conditions where that weakness would be most evident, and identify the strengths of this deck, and how those can be best taken advantage of. So look it over, think about it, and come back. This is by no means a tournament deck – so Spikes, just turn around and walk away.
There are two concepts we should be thinking about before we start to tweak this. Firstly, where will this deck be played? It will be played in casual multiplayer, and casual dueling. This deck won’t last a second against true tournament level type 1 decks, so get that out of your head right now. The second concept is how the deck will be played. Is it beatdown? Control? Combo?
This deck is a mid-to-early late game beatdown deck. The strategy of this deck is to survive the first few turns, laying down a few creature-improving enchantments and playing the angels. Pumped, non-tapping angels combined with the nifty effects of Exalted and Blinding Angels will let you attack with less fear of retribution. Early creatures and defense against relatively early creatures involve Walls of Hope, Windborn Muses, and Swords to Plowshares, which also double as creature removal. Kor Haven also acts as the”fixed” Maze of Ith.
What are the strengths of this deck? Obviously, white has some of the best creature pumping enchantments, and because this is almost a theme deck, Divine Sacrament, Shared Triumph, and Glorious Anthem all make your creatures stronger for a low price.
Now, because of the simple mana requirements (one color), mana screw from the wrong color is not an issue. Moreover, there is abundant mana to do what must be done, and even in the later game, you get Secluded Steppe, which cuts through extra land and draws cards to thin the deck out.
Also, the finishers in this deck are some of the best white has to offer. Akroma, Blinding Angel, and Exalted Angel usually spell the end for an opponent or two. Serra Angel, though not what she used to be, still delivers the beatings and defense for a great cost.
Given this decklist, what are some weaknesses of this deck? You’ll note that there are no cards that handle enchantments or artifacts. No Aura Blast, no Disenchant, no Aura Fracture… What happens if someone slaps down Worship?
Additionally, the early game defense is a little weak. There’s mana acceleration in the form of Sol Ring, limited land control in the Strip Mine, and some creature control in Kor Haven. Beyond that, you have four Swords to Plowshares, the best creature elimination spell there is, and four Walls of Hope, which provide early defense against weenies. And if you’re desperate or have the mana for it, you can play Exalted Angel face down, which may not be the best way to do it if you’re land light, or lots of people are playing burn.
There’s a little bit of each of the previous elements, but it just isn’t enough. A heavy weenie rush leaves you searching your deck for Swords, overextending your walls, and forcing you to throw away morphed Exalted Angels as chump blockers.
A minor problem is that Blinding Angel and Windborne Muse serve slightly redundant purposes – that is, to stop your opponent from attacking you. Blinding Angel comes out a turn later and does her thing another turn after that, but that effect is absolute, barring Relentless Assault, Aggravated Assault, Seize the Day or other similar effects. However, Blinding angel can only stop one opponent at a time, assuming they don’t have a blocker. Windborne Muse comes out on turn 4, and works immediately. The problem is that an opponent will gladly pay the mana necessary to attack you with a creature that would cause you major disruptions, something like say, Phage, the Untouchable. Also, the Muse can be removed at the most inopportune times.
Something else to consider is the mana investment you’re making in these creatures. When you sit down with this deck in hand, look around you. How many people are playing creature kill? How many people are playing Counterspell-based decks? Even though large creatures are the key – and in fact, they are this deck’s only method of victory – be ready to lose a spell or two to Terror or Counterspells. Don’t overextend.
Aside from the early defense problem, let’s look at what the deck is, instead of what your opponents might bring to the table. That Shared Triumph set to Angel is a cheap turn 2 play, that pretty much blows any subtlety or stealth your deck has. In Magic, Creature Type: Angel means something. Not in the way that creature type: Wall or Legend does, but much like creature type: Dragon, the creature type Angel brings with it an image: A solid flyer with a painful ability.* People will realize that if they let you live, you’ll have strong creatures with which to bother them, and as a result, may not let you live after all.
Let’s refer to the Ferrett’s old article of questions to consider, and this deck’s situation in regard to those questions. That article is classic reading, and I may have to try and update it as a quick reference in the future.
Q: Can it handle the early creature rush?
A: Yes, if it draws Walls of Hope, Voices of All, Swords to Plowshares, and Windborne Muses. The Swords are best used as an answer to opponents questions (Can you deal with creature X? Yes; in fact, I’ll even give it a new job.) That’s fourteen cards that can help keep you alive against a creature rush of anything but suicide Hatreds. Not too bad, but not spectacular either.
Q: Can it handle a reset button?
A: Yes… In a sense. It won’t be able to handle several reset buttons, but if one plays simply enough creatures to defend and mount a hefty assault, all is not lost. Armageddon is bad, but as long as you didn’t get greedy, then you should be okay.
Q: Can it handle one creature?
A: See Swords to Plowshares, quite possibly the best removal spell ever.
Q: Can it handle a creature with protection?
A: Ah, crap. From White? Nope.
Q: Can you handle ninety to his head?
A: Akroma = 6 points of damage a turn before pumping. So long as the life stays in the triple digits, I would think so.
Q: Can you handle Enchantments/Artifacts?
A: After the first game, yes. Some spells come out for Disenchant effects.
Q: Can you handle graveyard recursion?
A: As long as the recursion is not infinite or almost infinite, yes. There is enough pressure from the creatures in this deck that this puts a combo player on a clock if what they’re doing isn’t arbitrarily large** in nature.
Q: Can you handle losing your graveyard?
A: The biggest dependency is on Glory in the ‘yard. Otherwise, you’re well and good.
Q: Can you handle bounce effects?
A: Do you have a Glory in the graveyard?
Q: Can you handle tappers?
A: See Glory. There are also many creatures in this deck.
The first thing you should have noticed is the dependence on Swords to Plowshares for so many things. Swords to Plowshares is an excellent card, and almost essential to white. But sadly, with only four to go around, there is only so much one can do with them. It’s rare to see too many counterspellers in a game, so while you have to be prepared for the eventuality of a spell getting countered, by and large we’re all good. So firstly, creature control needs to be improved.
Second, if someone plays a problem enchantment or artifact, can you deal with it? In the first game, no. You can always take out certain cards to replace with Disenchant, but if you can accept that sometimes, people just catch you unawares, and then you’re fine once you switch out for the next game.
Third, Glory is a key to protecting your creatures. This is more important if you’re in a field with a lot of creature removal. Protection from Black means less than it ever has with the resurgence of Edict-style effects and Mutilate/Bane of the Living, but the ability to protect your creatures from targeted removal is wonderful.
Taking all of the above into consideration, what can we conclude? My personal rule is in effect here – kill the combo player first. Kill the control player next. Make sure you can survive the beatdown from the other players.
How often will this deck achieve threshold? Let’s look at the spell count. Four Swords to Plowshares, a Strip Mine, and four Secluded Steppes are the only cards that can be easily moved to the graveyard. This deck’s creatures should best be left alive, though Walls of Hope would most likely die very quickly. Bottom line is this: The Divine Sacraments won’t be providing +2/+2 anytime soon. Perhaps Crusades might work better?
One thing that Crusade and Divine Sacrament do is pump all white creatures. What happens if your opponent is playing White Weenie, and you’re getting your walls out? That’s right. Those weenies beat down on you. Without substitutions, Divine Sacrament seems sub-optimal as is. With threshold not arriving quickly enough, the extra mana is not justified. The other consideration is that, do we really need seven creature pumpers?
We have three options here:
- Change the Sacraments to a different creature pumper.
- Remove the Sacraments for a different card altogether.
- Adjust the numbers of Divine Sacraments and add in different cards.
Shared Triumph has already been discussed.
Glorious Anthem… Despite the three mana cost, this seems to be the ideal card if we’re going to keep the creature pumpers, this would be the one to keep. Three mana is more expensive, but it means that you’re secure, not helping anyone else. It helps all your creatures, not just angels. Sounds like a winner!
So if we’re going to change out Divine Sacraments, then at most, we can change one out to go to four Glorious Anthems. Can we add another Shared Triumph? Yes, we could, but for now, let’s leave that new slot open.
Land Tax is a one-of, which won’t help you in a tangible manner on a reliable basis… So let’s take it out. Shared Triumph, though cheaper to obtain, also exposes our deck at possible times where we don’t want that to happen. Those might have to go as well. I feel that the threat density of this deck needs to be kept high, so I’m very hesitant to remove any of the creatures. Land is pretty good as is as well.
That’s just barely scratching the surface of deck analysis. How many creature pumpers do we need? Do we even need creature pumpers? What about threats? We have some pretty large creatures. We have some creature elimination. It’s obvious that we certainly need more creature defense of some sort. Will Reya, Dawnbringer provide a good answer to non-Armageddon reset buttons? Can Chastise, Exile, Reprisal, Vengeance, or even Vengeful Dreams assist Swords to Plowshares? Are artifacts the answer?
After all this analyzing, see how you did. Did you catch the same weaknesses? The same assets? From there, let’s make it all worth it. Everyone’s environment is different, and as such, the final changes are for you to decide.
Personally, by cutting the Land Tax and cutting one Divine Sacrament (and changing the other one to one last Glorious Anthem), that gives me two slots to work with. Candidates for those two slots include the following possibilities:
These cards all fill a void in this deck. In the end, I chose to take out the Land Tax, keep disenchants in the side, and put in another Glorious Anthem and a Breath of Life or an Allay. These one-ofs are not consistently drawable, but at least the answer is there. That Breath of Life could also be a nasty surprise for the discard decks that pop up every now and then.
Particularly for the newer players, I hope that this exercise has been somewhat useful in looking over your deck with a critical eye to improve the way your decks could run. This deck’s creature base still needs to be worked on – but in the games that I’ve playtested with, the density seems just right, drawing a Wall of Hope very soon and a mid-range angel as well. Each component of this deck is a good card in and of itself, but how well do the cards work together? That’s the question that must be asked before running around and trying to bash heads with it.
In summary, what have we picked up from this?
There are a variety of factors to consider when playing a deck, the most important question being”what can this deck handle?”
Powerful components do not solve problems in themselves. A deck needs to have its cards work together well. For example, Thought Devourer, a 4/4 flyer for four mana is not a horrible card, despite its two-card drawback, and Ensnaring Bridge is a great artifact to keep attackers at bay… But these two cards do not work well together*** and should not be used together without other, sufficient justification.
A deck should be tight, in both numbers and purpose. Backup plans are all well and good, but only if they don’t dilute the power of your deck. Sometimes, however, those safeguards just have to be there and have to be worked on.
However, the most important thing is to enjoy what you play. Weak attack plan or not, an Angel-themed deck is something I’ve always wanted to try out. Now that there are a good number of high-caliber angels, I can put something together that doesn’t have to wait until turn 10 to play something only to watch it get countered or killed right off.
But, as they say, just because something is casual, doesn’t excuse lax or lazy deckbuilding! Hopefully this exercise was helpful, especially for the beginners/newer players.
John Alcantara Liu
“Can someone please tell all the magic players online who post that a LYRICIST write lyrics for elf songs and a LYRIST plays the lyre? An Elvish LYRICIST writes elf songs. An Elvish Lyrist plays the Lyre. The Lyrist disenchants. The Lyricist sings along with the Lyrist.”
* – Note that there are, of course, exceptions. Angel of Mercy is decent but nothing special, Archangel is nice but expensive. Copper Leaf Angel is nice, but too vulnerable to removal. Avenging Angel is average. Selenia, Dark Angel is also nothing special. The Voices (except Voice of All) are too narrow, ditto Melesse Spirit. Seraph is too expensive to cast. Guiding Spirit is too color intensive.
** – See, in Magic, there’s no such thing as infinite. Even if you have a way to endlessly repeat a loop, you have to choose a number of times to repeat that loop.
*** – Because with two cards in hand, your Thought Devourer cannot attack. It blocks just fine, though…