Sunday, 27 December 2015
Top 10 Angels
This is about as Christmas themed as one can go with a sensible Magic article. I'm not even really sure what the merit of comparing the angels is. Angels is not really a tribe nor a thing you need to fill a slot with. It is not like your deck needs at least one angel so you want to compare the merits of those on offer. In the grand scheme of things this list is about as arbitrary as most of the content here. It is a talking point if nothing else! Merry Christmas one and all.
10. Exalted Angel
Exhalted Angel no longer sees much play at all but for a long time it was king of the top end. Before Titans and basically every other good top end finsher card in the cube Exalted Angel was the thing. Decent stats with flying, lifelink and the capacity to be attacking on turn four with no ramp at all. The life swing and high toughness made it a nightmare for agro decks and the versatile casting options make it safe to play against more control decks. It was a creature that was control in nature but that could reasonably find itself in more aggressive decks too simply because it was so much more powerful than the alternatives on offer. All the way upto Alara block the power creep still hadn't caught up with Exalted Angel. Battlegrace is the most comparable card to have seen print since.
Then came along another Angel around the era of the titans that instantly ended the career of Exalted Angel in the cube. There are many Angels who have been much more prominent in the past in cube that are not on this list but none quite so powerful and certainly none for as long as Exalted. To name a few of those I felt guilt for leaving off the list we have Karmic Guide, Raya Dawnbringer and Blinding Angel. There are also a few newer angels that have yet to shine their light fully int he cube but may well one day creep into such a list. These include Angel of Serenity, Archangel of Tithes and Dawnbreak Reclaimer.
9. Platinum Angel
Another angel who is more a thing of the past than it is prominent in the current cube. The effect is powerful and unique and the card is easily cast or put into play given that it is a 7 drop. The stats are also perfectly acceptable to be doing some work outside of the can't lose condition. What has changed is not the power level of the Platinum Angel but the availability and effectiveness of removal. You simply cannot rely on a 4 toughness artifact creature to stay in play against much of anything even if you have trickery to protect it. It used to be the case you could whack the Angel in a Lightning Greaves and that was good games. Basically no decks could find suitable answers to the things in enough time, a lot of decks simply had no answers. Angel still has its place but it is now incredibly niche. I don't see it winning that many in the future but it has enough wins and saves under its belt for now that it gets a spot on the list.
8. Sigarda, Host of Herons
Now that we are done with the nostalgia angels we can move on to look at the more powerful angels you can still expect to face in the world of cube. Sigarda is one of the hardest to kill cards in the game making old True-Name Nemesis seem rather limp. Sigarda is a rock, lots of stats, lots of control over the board and a whole pile of reliability. She has two fatal weaknesses that greatly limit her cube play. One, she is vulnerable to mass removal which is kind of fine on a three drop but is a lot more uncomfortable on a five drop. You get no value at all from Sigarda when she is wrathed away. The second is that she is Selesnya, an uncommon and narrow colour pairing that is utterly spoiled for choice when it comes for juicy five drops. Sure, a 5/5 flying hexproof is a whole lot of thing on the board but it doesn't do loads of other exciting things. Very powerful but rarely seen despite this. She also feels like she specifically hoses black which is fine for a Selesnya card but a bit more awkward as a merit to base cube performance and inclusion on.
7. Achangel of Thune
This naughty five drop is totally fine on its own, gets decently better with some nice synergies and has insta win combo potential that is reasonably easy to setup in an otherwise midrange deck. For five mana you get a weasly 3/4 lifelink which isn't great. To get the value from the card you need it to stick around a while or setup for doing other useful stuff on the turn that you play her. There are a lot of ways you can gain life without spending mana and you don't need to be giving many +1/+1 counters out for Thune to offer a lot more value than your five mana worth. Even just a couple on herself and the card is looking well worth the mana. In the right situation Archangel of Thune is one of the scariest and most dangerous of the Angels. In a little bit of the same vein as Sigarda, you want a bit more rounded self reliance in your five drops and so Thune is not that much more commonly played than Sigarda. Obviously everyone loves a combo so that Kitchen Finks trickery does get tried a lot. This means that unless you are specifically abusing Thune you will usually end up playing something like a planeswalker instead because it does a couple of useful things.
6. Serra Avenger
The cheapest angel on the list and a surprisingly old creature to still be getting a good amount of play. Two mana is just such a massive bargain for a 3/3 flying vigilance that you don't overly mind having to wait till turn four to play it. It means you can do other powerful things as well on the turn you make is such as playing a Counterspell! You can cheat the card out with things like Aethervial but there isn't much need. It is just fine to have it be dead in hand early on it turns out. It is still far far better to have Serra Avenger dead in hand on turn two or three than a four or five drop. Avenger has huge capacity to recover tempo. The body is not huge compared to what is coming out by turn four however it is a very significant body, 3 is enough damage to get things done, 3 enough health to cope with a lot and flying and vigilance combined make the card very effective at any stage of the game in a wide array of situations. I prefer it as a control and midrange card but will fairly happily play it in white weenie decks too. It is powerful enough to draw out three mana spot removal which always feels like a win. There are only a handful of creatures I can think of that frequently get killed inefficiently with more expensive removal and they include some of the biggest names in magic. Dark Confidant, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Mother of Runes, Tarmogofy, Deathrite Shaman. Being in the company of such cards is only a good thing for the Avenger.
5. Iona, Shield of Emeria
Not a fun card and not a card often cast. Some decks instantly lose to Iona, some have a tenuous out that means they play on but generally still lose and some really don't care that much. In reaminate style decks she is a strong contender to include as part of your package because she can afford so many easy wins. At 7/7 she comes in as the hardest angel on the list which is nice but one of the less relevant aspects of the card. It just comes down to the fact that a 9 mana white card is basically never something that you can hard cast in a half good deck. As such she is a little narrow for my liking. A lot of the other powerful non-hardcastable fatties can be tinkered or Sneak Attacked into play usefully. She lacks synergy with enough of the cheaty cards to be super good but that is probably for the best as she is not a lot of fun to play against.
4. Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Speaking of cards that are not that fun to play against we have this piece of joy. If you were haoping to have fun with cool creatures, perhaps some ramping mana elves to get you there Lin Vala will ruin the party really hard. Green just hates her. Most decks have a few things she gimps. Presently she is the best answer to an Aetherling in the cube. She is also the best counter to a number of elf decks. The stats are not good for the mana but they do hit the sweet spot at 3/4 with the wonderfully useful flying tag we expect on our angels. Because she is a mid level card with a useful and acceptable body you can pretty much throw her in any old deck and she will be fine. Sometimes you will play her and she will be pretty annoying, other times she will utterly wreak your opponent. Because she is never too bad yet has such a strong positive effect for you enough of the time she is quite a commonly seen card. Certainly one to be aware of and keep in mind. I don't much like it as it is just something that can randomly win you games but that has no real synergy or interaction with your own cards. Regardless of how much I like it the card is very powerful, wins a lot of games and is a great card to fill out your deck with.
3. Baneslayer Angel
Exalted Angel mk II. This came, it ruled the board and then it began to fade a little after over a year of being up there with the power. I have literally been passed a Time Walk because they took this instead and it didn't seem awful at the time. It is still a strong card, the go to super body. It wins combat basically. In any creature driven game the impact this card has is immense, it is like when Jitte gets out of hand, you just need to use removal to kill it or you are going to lose. As with so many other cards, the improvement of removal options has made Baneslayer less popular. Just having it killed with something like a Terror puts you quite behind. Expensive cards really want to do something right away in cube. Baneslayer used to reliably stop all attacks then gain you five life a turn either killing planeswalkers or quickly killing your opponent. Now it tends to wind up dead on sight a bit more consistently. It still represents one of the cheapest high impact cards you can use and still gets a lot of play consequently. Previously I have seen lists where it is the principal win condition while now it is just a low end threat that you can afford to have eat removal. I use the card most in control decks but you do see it often in both aggro and midrange just because of those stupid power levels.
2. Sublime Archangel
One of the most underrated cube cards more because it sits under the radar and not because people are wrong about it. On paper it looks fine but not exciting. In practice it is one of the most dangerous aggressive four drops going. Most of the time you have some dorks when you play this and almost all of those times it means you can attack with the most suitable of those more effectively than you could have done with all of them. You will get more or as much damage through or force a chump block instead of trades and chump attacks. Obviously this pump scales with things like doublestrike and lifelink leading to some really quite obnoxious starts. I have gone Champion of the Parish into Gather the Townsfolk into Silverblade Paladin on the now 4/4 Champion. The Sublime is somewhat overkill on that kind of draw but you can see quite how out of hand it gets. Hitting for 18 with your one drop on turn four when you have already done 13 to them is pretty filthy. Should they live through this initial impact they then have a 4/3 flier to deal with else it will hit them in the skies and end the game in short order or on the rare occasions there is something like a Baleful Strix in the way you don't want to trade with you can just send your other guys in before Sublime needs to put herself at risk. With only three toughness she is a little vulnerable and a poor blocker. You typically only see Sublime in aggro lists because she is all about the attacking but despite this narrowness she easily sits at the number two spot.
1. Restoration Angel
There is little to no risk playing Restoration Angel in your deck. Normally four drops need to do an awful lot or something very specific for you to want to play them. Resto is kind of just a good body to have a round with some occasional utility or trickery. It is having flash that makes it so safe and not the usual clunkyness of a four mana dork. In a control deck you can reasonably cast this on turn four in complete safety. Flying makes the card useful throughout the game and 3/4 is again, the sweet spot on cube stats for combat. Resto blocks, attacks, holds equipment, wins games, kills planeswalkers and generally does all the things you want creatures to do fairly effectively and this is all just being a 3/4 flier with flash. The bonus flicker effect that is thrown in does not need to be used for the card to be good but it adds a lot of value and trickery to the card. In midrange decks where Resto is best the effect typically triggers an enter the battlefield trigger for you again or saves something from spot removal. For agro and control to be getting the same level of value as that you need to be building the deck specifically with Resto in mind. This is not awful but it also isn't required for the card to be playable. While perhaps not the most powerful angel Resto is comfortably the most played and has by far the broadest range of where you want to play it. It has not yet taken down as many games as Exalted or Baneslayer but it is catching both fairly quickly now.