There seems to have been a real push as of late to make lifegain payoffs more appealing. Speaker of the Heavens is quietly great, threatening to completely take over games if you can get your life total high enough, but it just hasn’t had the right home or support since being printed into Standard. Fortunately for Speaker of the Heavens, it seems like the release of Kaldheim will help us make a huge jump towards finding it a perfect home.
Righteous Valkyrie is not only the next great lifegain payoff, it also can be really effective at helping you gain life in the first place in the right strategy. Cards that can simultaneously act as both enablers and payoffs are generally deserving of some attention due to the redundancy they thus offer to the strategies they fit into.
The big draw to Righteous Valkyrie is the payoff it provides, providing +2/+2 to your whole team including itself. This means that, even if all your other creatures die by the time you get to that life total, the Valkyrie itself will still be a 4/6 flyer by its lonesome, which is quite potent. Things quickly scale out of control, though; even with just three creatures on the battlefield, the Valkyrie’s pump effect means you’re getting eight power and ten toughness from this three-mana investment, which is ludicrous. If you have two of these Angels on the battlefield at the same time and an adequately high life total, then the buffs stack in a similarly silly manner too.
To put it into more direct terms, Glorious Anthem briefly saw Standard play several months ago. The ceiling on Righteous Valkyrie is far beyond what Glorious Anthem offers, so clearly the payoff that Valkyrie provides is something we’re happy to put some work into obtaining.
The thing is, the payoff isn’t all that Righteous Valkyrie offers. Its lifegain can help enable other lifegain payoffs, like the aforementioned Speaker of the Heavens, and provides a nice bonus for any Cleric or Angel tribal synergies you want to build towards.
Whilst a 2/4 flyer for three mana doesn’t line up amazingly in Standard – it can’t block Brushfire Elemental, Bonecrusher Giant, or Lovestruck Beast – there are still a fair few creatures it can block, including many of the creatures in Dimir Rogues, the lifegain it offers offsets the damage caused by the creatures it doesn’t block, and at four toughness Righteous Valkyrie passes the all-important Stomp test (and even survives Fire Prophecy too).
I think Righteous Valkyrie is good enough on rate to deserve further attention, and it’s just a question of whether the appropriate tools exist to support this card and whether it’s suitable for how Standard looks once Kaldheim enters the fray. To this latter point, Righteous Valkyrie asks you to go wide and commit to the battlefield, and the lifegain it offers will mean a lot more in games where your life total matters.
I suspect decks incorporating the card typically will struggle a little against control decks with their sweepers but would ideally be pretty good against other creature decks. As for the question of whether the right tools will exist to support this card, let’s take a look at the Angels and Clerics of this new Standard format:
Some of these cards are a bit of a stretch, but others are very clearly powerful cards that I’m excited to try to play. So a part of the question here is whether these powerful cards, and the synergies they help enable, are enough to make up for some of the filler we have to play to hold things together.
- 1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den
- 2 Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
- 3 Archfiend's Vessel
- 4 Speaker of the Heavens
- 4 Orah, Skyclave Hierophant
- 3 Cleric of Life's Bond
- 2 Taborax, Hope's Demise
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
- 4 Nullpriest of Oblivion
- 4 Righteous Valkyrie
One thing you can do with Righteous Valkyrie is focus in really hard on it as support for a tribal deck. Here’s a take on Orzhov Clerics, where the potential +2/+2 to your team from Valkyrie acts as a powerful payoff for gumming up the battlefield with small lifelinkers. Rally the Ranks seems great here, making your lifelinkers and Valkyrie triggers gain you more life and pushing some of your cards out of range of common removal spells. Taborax, Hope’s Demise is a sweet card that has struggled against Stomp, and having Rally the Ranks as a way to help prevent said Stomping goes a long way towards making Taborax playable.
I’m not really sure what three-drops you want to be playing here. Taborax and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose are both Clerics that offer different synergies for what you’re doing. Taborax helps grind out the game whilst Vito threatens to just instantly kill your opponent if the battlefield has become cluttered.
Whilst Lurrus of the Dream-Den isn’t a Cleric, it seems quite appealing for helping extract a bit more from your copies of Archfiend’s Vessel, especially since it’s hard to justify including Agadeem’s Awakening in a deck that can rarely justify paying three life for an untapped land.
This all said, Clerics are only one of the tribes that Righteous Valkyrie supports.
This Orzhov Angels deck is much slower, bigger, and more midrangey than the Orzhov Clerics deck is. Whilst the Clerics deck has a lot of interest in attacking, the gameplan here is to use early discard and removal to keep your opponent’s creatures in check, and then proceed to make a lot of 4/4 flyers with Starnheim Unleashed, Firja’s Retribution, and Rampage of the Valkyries.
I’ve been a huge fan of Emeria’s Call in Esper Doom Foretold (Yorion), so I’m quite excited to try out Starnheim Unleashed. Getting a single 4/4 Angel token is fine here, but if you can set up a big foretell turn, then you stand to take over the battlefield. The second ability on Rampage of the Valkyries makes trying to grind through these Angel tokens very hard for your opponent, as every time an Angel dies you’ll chip away at their battlefield, whilst Firja’s Retribution can help you control the battlefield a bit more when you need it or set up for an explosive game-ending attack.
I’m skeptical of how good Resplendent Marshal will be here since it’s fairly hard to end up with Angels in the graveyard to exile when so many of our creatures come in as tokens, but it’s possible you just need to play the card to keep your Angel count high.
The remaining options are all awkward. Glorious Protector doesn’t have much synergy here outside of re-using Skyclave Apparition. Eradicator Valkyrie would be appealing, especially with Selfless Savior to protect it, but the double black in the mana cost is a hard price to pay. With these other options both costing four mana anyway, the three-mana option in Marshal ends up winning out even if the ability it offers is not amazing.
- 3 Doom Foretold
- 2 Glass Casket
- 3 Omen of the Sun
- 3 Agonizing Remorse
- 3 Elspeth Conquers Death
- 3 Elspeth's Nightmare
- 2 Heartless Act
- 2 Eliminate
- 4 Emeria's Call
- 4 Lithoform Blight
- 3 Rampage of the Valkyries
- 3 Starnheim Unleashed
- 4 Firja's Retribution
Partway through making the previous Orzhov Angels list, I got far too excited about making a Yorion, Sky Nomad version, so here we are. Seriously though, Yorion is so cool in this shell, letting you blink Firja’s Retribution and Rampage of the Valkyries to make an army of Angels, or even letting you blink Righteous Valkyries when you have multiple copies of that card. Flickering two Righteous Valkyries at the same time already gains you eight life, and if you happen to get a bonus 4/4 token at the same time, then you’re likely going to get that much desired +2/+2 to your team also.
Of note, Firja’s Retribution is also really cool for directly curving into your Turn 5 Yorion; a lot of other Sagas force you to cast them off-curve if you want to maximise the value you get from them in Yorion decks, whereas Retribution sits perfectly on your curve for blinking purposes.
- 4 Soul Warden
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 4 Angel of Vitality
- 4 Bishop of Wings
- 4 Speaker of the Heavens
- 2 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Righteous Valkyrie
The chance that Righteous Valkyrie sees play in Historic feels markedly lower than it seeing play in Standard, but there are some really potent lifegain effects in the format that can work alongside it. Soul Warden, Angel of Vitality, and especially Bishop of Wings all stand to let your life total shoot upwards, especially with Collected Company digging for these enablers when needed. Authority of the Consuls is one of the better sideboard cards in Historic, and having a good excuse to maindeck a couple of copies here will help a lot against decks like Mono-Red Goblins and Gruul Aggro.
The other big addition we get from the Historic card pool is Resplendent Angel, which gains you a decent amount of life by triggering Righteous Valkyrie whilst also threatening to be a great payoff if enough lifegain triggers accrue at once. Pumping out Angel tokens for free like that is no joke and helps push you towards a critical mass of powerful payoffs.
Going forward, keep an eye out for more Angels or Clerics being released throughout the year. I’d be surprised if we see many more great Angels, but the continued support for the party mechanic means we should see another promising Cleric or two before long.
Even if Righteous Valkyrie doesn’t end up making it quite yet, it might not be long before the pieces are available to push this card even further.