Playmat Icons: Angels

When they're not announcing immaculate conceptions or decorating festive trees, Angels are the bringers of swift, evasive judgment in all combinations of white. Ethereal beings made of pure mana, these exquisite creatures have graced many Magic decks throughout the years — with no rest and no mercy, no matter what.

As of Commander Legends, there are 173 different black-bordered Angels in the game (plus Brisela). Let's see how the iconic creature type representing white can be built around in a series of increasingly wider formats, from Standard to Legacy.

Standard Angels

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate

During the Standard season that ended last September, Sephara, Sky's Blade was the most popular Angel in activity, the centerpiece of a "flying matters" deck that even enjoyed a modicum of competitive success. Then rotation happened, leaving us with a Standard meta containing only six Angels — and it's doubtful that the Norse mythology-inspired Kaldheim will change much in this regard. Two of these are mythic, one being the reprint of classic finisher Baneslayer Angel, and the other the more novel Angel of Destiny. Life gain lists centered on the latter have been attempted, but they tend to be very dependent on the winged Cleric, which is very easy to tackle down right on the finishing line.

On the other hand, the main innovation brought about by the Angels from Zendikar Rising is the addition of class types to better support the party mechanic, a pattern epitomized by the latest incarnation of Linvala. That gives us one possible direction for an Angel deck that feels different from anything the tribe has done in the past — one that's probably not very efficient, but hey, not every deck that gets built needs to be able to qualify for the Players Tour. Some of them accomplish their chosen goals by just doing reasonably well on our kitchen table! Which is probably the main aspiration of this concoction.

Appropriately enough, Cleric composes the majority among the party types here, with ten representatives. (Speaker of the Heavens could be another strongly thematic inclusion for the class, but there aren't many consistent ways to gain life in the deck.) Each of the other three types still reaches a solid six-card count. Aside from Linvala, I tried to work in a copy of each Angel that's legal in Standard — Baneslayer ended up in the sideboard, since this is no party gal, while the self-replacing Legion Angel is arguably the highlight amidst the non-legendary Angels. The minor ones still have party synergies to contribute, so they're not too harmful as singletons, despite being added mainly for flavor.

legion angel emeria captain shepherd of heroes

Speaking of which, most of the non-Angel creatures also fit the theme. Archpriest of Iona is a follower of the namesake, scary archangel. The individually powerful Luminarch Aspirant is a callback to Luminarch Ascension — I can't exactly tell what a "luminarch" is supposed to be, but it seems clearly linked to the angelic side of things. And Seasoned Hallowblade is a self-defined man of faith. Now, when it comes to Rogues, the thematic texture tends to falter a little. Nimble Trapfinder is in the main deck just because it's a good party payoff; and Glasspool Mimic at least looks like a soulful kunoichi — one might even think the creature is praying on that solitary shore.

Land-wise, Azorius is currently hindered by the lack of a Pathway, which is expected to show up in Kaldheim. And Base Camp is, bafflingly, a tapped land, so not really worth the awkwardness in a two-color deck that already runs a few slow lands between Temples and modal double-faced cards, yet still tries to play a two-drop on curve. But if you want to party with Angels, call some of those Emeria girls over, and maybe ascend your duplicate types along the way, this list is a good starting point.

Pioneer Angels

Lyra Dawnbringer

The passage from Standard to Pioneer adds 58 more options to our angelic deck building. Boros has a strong presence, with both Aurelias in the pool, as well as the build-around Feather, the Redeemed. So that already presents one possible route to take when pioneering Angels. An alternative one is based on something Angels are typically very proficient at: gaining life.

The main interaction here descends directly from last year's Standard and involves Angel of Vitality enhancing Bishop of Wings's life gain to satisfy Resplendent Angel's token-making clause, which triggers the Bishop again, ultimately also boosting Angel of Vitality's own body. Another way to gain five simultaneous points of life as early as turn three is by having Ajani's Welcome out on turn one and then following it up with a Bishop on two, so that Resplendent Angel will self-enable when dropping on three.

bishop of wings angel of vitality resplendent angel

Moving up along the curve we find five large Angels with native lifelink: three copies of the invaluable tribal lord Lyra Dawnbringer as well as singleton copies of both Gisela, the Broken Blade — accompanied by her melding sister Bruna to produce the occasional angelic eldritch monstrosity — and Baneslayer Angel. Another payoff for all the life gain is the playset of Speaker of the Heavens, creating even more Angel tokens.

Meanwwhile the lone Divine Visitation is there to upgrade the little Spirits from the Bishop into, guess what, yet another host of Angels. With that combo online, if we added a free sacrifice outlet, we could keep triggering the Bishop's life gain an infinite amount of times — sacrificing an Angel, which becomes a Spirit, which becomes an Angel again, netting us four life. But the inclusion of a five-mana "does nothing" enchantment like Visitation felt janky enough already, even for casual purposes.

baneslayer angel speaker of the heavens divine visitation

The deck isn't really Selesnya per se, but the moment we include Shalai, Voice of Plenty for a bit of protection against removal, it feels bad not to be able to activate the card, even at the cost of a slightly more unstable mana base. (I wouldn't fault anyone for just going monowhite and call it a day, though.) A similar version of this build was played by Luca Van Deun here — and believe it or not, some cards that are perfectly legal in Historic, like Soul Warden, the original Linvala, and even the flavorful synergy of Scroll of Avacyn, fall out of the reach of Pioneer.

Modern Angels

Archangel of Thune

Once we advance to Modern, another 57 distinct Angels are ready to be of service. One that was allowed in Pioneer as well, and in fact could have fitted the battle plan of the previous deck, is Archangel of Thune. I left this magnificent redhead out of the life gain build because Pioneer couldn't perform the infinite combo with Spike Feeder — but Modern can. Sadly, the days of fetching that combo via Birthing Pod are long over, and other kind of tutoring networks like Prime Speaker Vannifar would take us too far off theme. So what about trying to survive long enough for the combo to incidentally assemble itself?

In broad terms, this shell takes its cue from Modern Hatebears lists, using early Deafening Silence and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to slow down the opponent, while our Aether Vials circumvent the symmetrical limitations we ourselves have set. Skyclave Apparition cleans up problematic permanents, and the great thing about this little ghost is that flickering it doesn't return the original target to the battlefield. So Flickerwisp can do what it does best and essentially functions as Apparition number five and number six.

skyclave apparition sublime archangel

And then the Angels come. Even without the Feeder combo, Archangel of Thune is able to strengthen the team, and the deck plays the beatdown in several other ways as well. For instance, all the small utility creatures get weaponized by Sublime Archangel, whose role is in turn facilitated by the Spirits from Emeria Angel, while the inexorable Sigarda can go to town on its own.

The angelic theme takes a bit of a second seat here, but there are still plenty of them, plus a reference to Linvala's silence, and hey, Thalia's backstory was full of all sorts of dealings with the Innistrad Angels. One could even add a copy of Sigarda, Heron's Grace to re-enact that time when the green Angel saved the loyal Soldier from the Angel's own mad sisters.

Legacy Angels

Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Finally we land on Legacy, and the remaining 52 Angels are unlocked too. So now that we have access to every single Angel in the game, what do we do? Well, Legacy is a cutthroat format, so the gloves must come off. How about bringing out the biggest and baddest of them on turn two?

The game plan here is pretty straightforward. We don't have any way to hardcast our Angels, but what we do have are cheap ways to park them in the graveyard by either surgically pulling them from the library or just discarding them from our hand. Then, once they're in the graveyard, we have similarly cheap ways to bring them out onto the battlefield in all of their glory.

entomb cathartic reunion exhume

These are the most fearsome Angels you'll ever see. Many of them are able to kill something right away, Angel of Despair being the most versatile at that, hence the full set. Others are meant as silver bullets to Entomb: Angel of Serenity and Magister of Worth are sweepers of sort; Angel of Finality takes care of enemy graveyards; Linvala stops a few creature combo archetypes like Elves; Avacyn and Empyrial Archangel protect from removal and aggression, respectively.

angel of despair iona, shield of emeria

The other Angel that appears in four copies is Iona, Shield of Emeria, which can cut a monocolored opponent out of the game, or at the very least severely hinder their arsenal, especially if reanimated on turn two. Karmic Guide is a reanimator effect grafted onto an Angel, and even if we won't be able to pay the echo cost with our minimal mana base, it'll stay around and block for a full turn before going back to the graveyard. It can even stop an opposing Griselbrand from gaining life. Lastly, Reya Dawnbringer keeps the reanimation business going, though it's definitely a win-more effect to be pursued exclusively during less challenging games.

And that's a declination of Angels throughout the four major 60-card formats. In order to go even further from here, we could now repackage all of the above (well, most of the above) within a Commander deck, probably under the aegis of Angel lover Kaalia of the Vast. "But wait," I can hear you saying. "Where is Restoration Angel in all of this?" Unfortunately, one of the most renowned Angels in the game, and arguably one the most powerful, comes plagued by a crucial issue — it doesn't like to be surrounded by other Angels. (Of course it's worded that way to prevent it from infinitely triggering itself.) But don't fret, we might still find a way to include its benedictory likeness in this article.

happy holidays

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CyberDevil(17.12.2020 12:01)

Nice article!
It seems like you might have been wrong about Kaldheim, though. Lots of Angles already :)

Kumagoro(20.12.2020 13:59)

Oh yeah, I didn't consider the Valkyries could be interpreted as Angels, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

luismiayalad(17.12.2020 09:07)

Muy bueno el articulo.

Pyrocrastinator(17.12.2020 01:11)

Great read! Thanks for writing this divine article, mister Aicardi!

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