Angels have been a very popular creature type throughout Magic’s history, but we’ve never truly had an Angel tribal deck; people played Angels because they were individually powerful, but there simply was no Angel payoff, so you weren’t more likely to play a creature specifically because it was an Angel. This changes with Kaldheim, as we now have an extremely powerful incentive to care about this creature type.
First, let’s analyze Firja’s Retribution in a vacuum.
A 4/4 flyer with vigilance for four mana isn’t a good deal by any means, but it’s also not a bad one. You’d never play this card on its own, especially as a token, but given that this is the worst-case scenario with this card, I’d say it’s quite good.
The second chapter can be a blank, win the game, or anything in between depending on the game state. Assuming your only Angel is your 4/4 token, it’s not farfetched to believe that’s already enough to kill a creature (while attacking for four, since the Angel has vigilance). Here it’s important to note that it’s only less power, not “less than or equal to,” so you’re not going to kill Bonecrusher Giant, but you can still kill cards like Kazandu Mammoth, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, Tangled Florahedron, Soaring Thought-Thief, etc.
The downside, of course, is that if they deal with your 4/4, which they’re already incentivized to do, then the second chapter does nothing. That said, many decks with creatures to kill have trouble getting rid of a 4/4 (Gruul Adventures, Mono-Green Food, etc.), so there’s definitely a reasonable chance you will untap with it.
Double strike is a very powerful ability, especially considering that basically every Angel is going to have flying. If the third chapter is going off, you only need ten power worth of Angels to kill your opponent in one swing! Assuming you only have the Angel token, then you’re getting an extra four damage, which is nothing to write home about but a decent bonus.
So, by itself, with no extra synergies, Firja’s Retribution has the potential to give you a 4/4, kill an opposing creature, and deal four extra damage. By itself, this is probably good enough to justify four mana, except you don’t get either of the last two chapters if they just kill the 4/4.
All in all, I’d say that Firja’s Retribution is probably not worth playing if you have nothing else. If you have just the slightest bit of extra synergy, however, then the card’s power gets magnified. For example, let’s see what happens if you simply curve Turn 4 Firja’s Retribution into Turn 5 Firja’s Retribution:
- On Turn 4, you make a 4/4.
- On Turn 5, you make another 4/4, you attack for four, and then you can kill a creature.
- On Turn 6, you attack for sixteen damage and can kill two flying blockers that happen to be in the way.
That’s a Turn 6 kill capable of blocking and removing three blockers (and one attacker) along the way. Obviously this requires them to not interact with you in any capacity, but some decks just won’t be able to interact with the 4/4s, and I expect this sequence of plays to win quite a few games if Firja’s Retribution sees Standard play.
So, to me, it’s possible that Firja’s Retribution is good even if the only synergy you have is with other copies of Firja’s Retribution. However, I believe we can do a lot better than that.
Obviously the first place to look is Angels tribal – after all, the card does have two different abilities that work with Angels, both of which can be very powerful. Even if there’s no other Angel-themed card, I believe Chapters 2 and 3 of this Saga might be enough payoff to justify playing more Angels. So, what are the good Angels we have?
These are actually not bad, but the one that will almost certainly be good is Emeria’s Call. It’s a bit pricey to rely on for Angel synergies, but it’s a card that you very likely already want to play, and giving your two Angels double strike from time to time is going to be really good. It seems, however, that the bulk of the Angels are going to have to come from Kaldheim, especially as Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate is going to be quite hard to play since we’re already locked into Orzhov.
Here are the good Kaldheim Angels:
This is a very unassuming card, but if there is an Angel deck that works, this will probably be the card that makes it. The issue with Angels as a tribe is always going to be that every card is expensive and fighting for the same slot high up in the curve, and at two mana Youthful Valkyrie gives you an excellent early play that can turn on your other synergies. If you manage to get even one more Angel, this is already a 2/4 flyer for two mana, which is a very good defensive creature that will quickly outgrow any red-based removal.
By the time the second chapter in Firja’s Retribution goes off, this will have at least two power, and potentially three. This means it can be used to kill creatures like Gilded Goose, Tangled Florahedron, Brushfire Elemental, and Ruin Crab, which is a pretty good deal for a two-drop. Then, the following turn, it attacks for four, six, or even eight.
If we need a three-mana Angel, I suppose we could do worse than Renegade Reaper, but you’re really not getting your money’s worth with this card unless you have several other synergies (though lifegain synergies, Angel synergies, or mill synergies all work).
This is an interesting card, and good against sweepers, but “non-Angel” sort of kills it in an Angel deck. The biggest worry is that Glorious Protector costs four mana, and, as we’ll see, a lot of Angel cards cost four. Therefore, the most interesting part of this card to me is that it could cost three mana – it is a powerful Turn 3 play with foretell, but then it eats your Turn 2 as well.
For Glorious Protector to be worth it, I think you have to play some non-Angels worth exiling, such as Yorion, Sky Nomad.
Another four-mana Angel. A lot of abilities, but the bolster part doesn’t even seem good in an Angels deck and I think that for four mana we can do better. Besides, double black might not be the easiest when we already have double white from Firja’s Retribution.
I have so many questions. Why is Firja a) an uncommon, b) so much worse than her Retribution, that c) plays like an Izzet card?
Rampage of the Valkyries is quite interesting. For five mana, you get the baseline 4/4 vigilance flyer — clearly if we didn’t think that was quite good enough for four mana, then this falls way short, so the second part has to be very good.
Is it very good? Potentially. Grave Pact is a powerful card, but Angels are not the creature type that I think of when I think sacrificing and recurring creatures, and that’s where this sort of effect shines. For this to be good, they basically have to be killing your Angels, but not every deck that can easily kill Angels will even have creatures to sacrifice. Still, I think it’s worth considering, as just casting this with another Angel on the battlefield could be enough to discourage any attacking and potentially take over the game.
A 2/2 for three is simply too weak of a card, especially since some of our Angels don’t even get discounts due to not being literally Angel cards.
My issue with this card is that the baseline of a 4/4 flying vigilance creature for four mana is, as we’ve already established, not quite good enough, which means you’re really relying on foretelling this for it to be any good. Its moment to shine is really Turn 5, where you get a discount Broodmate Dragon. For example, imagine this curve:
- Turn 2: Youthful Valkyrie.
- Turn 3: Foretell Starnheim Unleashed.
- Turn 4: Firja’s Retribution.
- Turn 5: Cast the previously foretold Starnheim Unleashed, which gives you four four-power double strikers for next turn.
This card also scales quite well throughout the game, but is that a consideration for a deck that wants to play four Emeria’s Calls as well as potentially Legion Angel? I’m not so sure. This is certainly worth trying for its Turn 5 potential but it could turn out to be worse than people think.
Now this is the three-drop we were looking for. Reasonable baseline stats, triggers Youthful Valkyrie, works very well with your other expensive creatures, buys time to play your Angels and then ultimately pumps your whole team. What’s not to like?
If we’re looking for a three-drop Angel, I believe this is generally going to be better than Renegade Reaper. The ability is not at its best in an Angel deck, since you have a few big creatures rather than several small ones, but it still could come in handy.
In the end, I think there are a couple of different ways to build an Angels deck. The first is focusing on the lifegain aspect of Righteous Valkyrie, which will end up giving us a Clerics/Angels hybrid deck:
- 2 Giant Killer
- 4 Alseid of Life's Bounty
- 2 Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- 4 Speaker of the Heavens
- 2 Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
- 4 Cleric of Life's Bond
- 4 Skyclave Cleric
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
- 4 Righteous Valkyrie
- 2 Glorious Protector
This deck is really made to maximize Righteous Valkyrie, as it should be very easy to turn on the ability. Imagine, for example, a curve like this:
- Turn 1: Speaker of the Heavens.
- Turn 2: Attack for one (21).
- Turn 3: Attack for one (22), cast Righteous Valkyrie.
- Turn 4: Cast Skyclave Cleric, gain five life (two from the Cleric itself and three from the Valkyrie). This puts you at 27, which is the threshold for both Speaker of the Heavens and Righteous Valkyrie. You can immediately attack for seven, gaining three life in the process, and then tap the Speaker for a 6/6, gaining six more. You pass the turn with 36 life and sixteen power on the battlefield.
Obviously sometimes they will have a blocker or they will kill a creature, but this is with doing nothing on Turn 2 and only playing a two-mana creature on Turn 4; if you have another Cleric in your hand (such as a Cleric of Life’s Bond) then that’s already enough to get to 27 life without ever getting an attack in.
This deck doesn’t have a whole lot of Angels, but I think it still has enough to make Firja’s Retribution good, as you get Righteous Valkyrie, Speaker of the Heavens tokens, and Glorious Protector. I think Glorious Protector can be quite good here, as it protects you from sweepers and you can use it to re-trigger your enter-the-battlefield Clerics.
The biggest question for me here is whether the mythic DFCs are worth it. Obviously you’re interested in Emeria’s Call, and Agadeem’s Awakening looks even better if you can cast it, but you really want to get to 27 life to trigger both Righteous Valkyrie and Speaker of the Heavens, so paying three life is a real cost. It’s possible these lands are still good just as enter-the-battlefield-tapped lands, though.
The next alternative is playing a more Angel-focused deck, without so much focus on the lifegain aspect of it. This will be a more controlling deck by default:
- 2 Yorion, Sky Nomad
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Skyclave Cleric
- 4 Youthful Valkyrie
- 3 Valki, God of Lies
- 1 Resplendent Marshal
- 4 Righteous Valkyrie
This is a more midrange deck that is not as capable of aggressive draws but can exploit Chapters 2 and 3 from Firja’s Retribution a lot more. Valki, God of Lies doesn’t really synergize with anything, but it’s a solid two-drop that you can easily cast as a planeswalker later in the game because of Pathways, which are essentially free in this deck. I suspect that, in the future, there will be many base-black decks that are only playing Pathways to cast Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor.
Another alternative in deckbuilding is going an even more controlling route, not focusing so much on Chapters 2 and 3 but relying more on the fact that Firja’s Retribution isn’t a creature but an enchantment with an enters-the-battlefield trigger. This can most easily be exploited by Yorion, Sky Nomad.
Yorion is already a multi-format staple and it’s only going to get stronger the more Sagas are released. Firja’s Retribution happens to work very well with it, since simply going Turn 4 Retribution, Turn 5 Yorion will give you twelve power worth of flyers. This doesn’t mean you can’t play other Angels to make Firja’s Retribution work — after all, Yorion also works with Youthful Valkyrie, Righteous Valkyrie, and Rampage of the Valkyries — just that you don’t have to, as Yorion by itself is already enough to push Firja’s Retribution into the powerful card territory.
To accommodate the new cards, I think it might be time to say goodbye to Doom Foretold and instead to adopt a more aggressive posture. Here’s a sketch:
I think the blue Gods can be quite good in a Yorion controlling deck and I look forward to playing with them, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also try pairing this shell with another powerful four-mana Saga — Binding the Old Gods.
Between Firja’s Retribution and Binding the Old Gods, you have enough powerful four-mana cards to curve into Yorion, Sky Nomad that it might be best to just play 60 cards and make sure you have one of your powerful four-drops. You’re less likely to have the Yorion itself, of course, but it still might be worth it because it’s not clear that you can simply take Turn 3 off anyway.
This deck is sort of cheating on cheap cards, but I think you might be able to get by because of Doomskar, since that can clear the battlefield nicely before your four-drops can dominate the game. Binding the Old Gods is really the all-star here, as it can ramp you up to Emeria’s Calls or a big Starnheim Unleashed quite easily.
In the end, I’m not sure which style of deck Firja’s Retribution will see play in, but I think making either of its synergies work (either more Angels or Yorion) is enough to make it Standard staple material.