It was bound to happen.
They made an Angel-themed set. Angels are among the absolute most popular of creature types (even surpassing Dragons in market research). Can we really be surprised that they would follow this up with another high tier 1 constructed Angel?
Let's cut straight to the chase. Angel of Serenity is what's going on. This seven-drop mythic Angel does a better Titan impression than just about anything else that will still be in the format post-rotation. It isn't just that the rate on this one is crazy (and it is) it is that this ability has none of the usual safety precautions that prevent loops and recursive game states. It's not clear why they let this through like this but as power gamers trying to break formats it is our duty to exploit it.
Let's start by looking at Angel of Serenity "fair." These days a 5/6 flier wouldn't impress us at four mana so for seven we better be getting a heck of an ability. Fortunately this text box is actually completely unreasonable. Butcher three creatures? Even if we could only butcher three creatures in play that would already be interesting. Look at how much we are willing to pay on a Fiend Hunter and that only hits one and leaves you with a 1/3 (a far cry from a 5/6 flier) plus when the creature comes back they don't have to cast it again.
Angel of Serenity does a lot more however. The ability to also butcher creatures in graveyards (usually yours) is very nearly "draw a card when this dies." Raise Dead is right around a card's worth of value (when you don't have to pay the mana) though it is worse to have to wait until the Angel leaves the battlefield than to just straight up Mulldrifter.
How good is a 5/6 flier that draws three cards when it dies? It is definitely exciting to be sure. It would already have my interest particularly if people end up wanting a lot of removal. The thing is you don't have to choose between a 5/6 flier that butchers three creatures and a 5/6 flier that draws three cards when it dies. You actually get a 5/6 flier that draws three cards immediately. Those three cards are all:
A zero-mana option between butchering a creature (that eventually gets Unsummoned) and having a Raise Dead on layaway is certainly worth a card. Getting three of these makes it relatively easy to get more than three cards worth of value on average. Remember so often it is just going to be unbeatable to sweep their board or give yourself insurance against removal.
You think I wouldn't play a 5/6 flier that draws me three great cards? That sounds so hot. It doesn't stop there though. See shockingly Angel of Serenity doesn't exile itself. Why? That makes so little sense. Why would this card possibly need to also have the abusable loops open to it? It is already totally off any reasonable curve short of Titans.
So picture when you hit seven mana. You drop an Angel of Serenity and sweep your opponent's entire board. This alone can win it for you. Let's just say they get out of it though. Now their guys come back to their hand and you are in trouble right? Just drop another Angel of Serenity. Exile two of their creatures and the Angel in your graveyard. Now even if they kill your Angel again you will just get your first Angel back! That's right with zero other work just having two Angels insures a never-ending stream of massive fliers that exile multiple creatures. And that is with zero other work. Imagine if you actually tried?!
See Angel of Serenity is so good that you can just play it with a relatively minimalist approach and still get unmatched value. However if you put it in a deck that has other creatures now you can start doing things like Strangling your opponent's best creature and two of your own (in the bin). Now if they kill the Angel you are actually making even more forward progress.
That isn't the half of it however. See the Angel doesn't actually have to die to work its magic. It just has to leave play. If only there was a way to make it leave play without dying...
... Like itself.
For absolutely no apparent reason Angel of Serenity doesn't have the no-Angel clause that Restoration Angel has designed to thwart such shenanigans. Why? After so much trouble to keep things from spiraling out of control with recursive comes into play triggers a second Angel of Serenity just throws it all out the window in one fell swoop.
"Wait" you might be saying "don't you have to cast the creatures coming back from the yard with Angel of Serenity? That should limit the abuse right?"
Sure but you don't have to loop an infinite number of times in one turn to completely lock up the game with a game state that doesn't allow the opponent counterplay. Besides it's not like you can't loop infinite if you want. For instance here is a G/W midrange deck that can go over the top of people with a backdoor infinite life combo.
- 4 Angel of Serenity
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
Here we start with a sort of G/W tokens strategy. A lot of acceleration and a lot of card advantage creatures combine to form a proactive baseline attack that is going to be quite durable against removal. Then going long Angel of Serenity gives us a very realistic way of going over the top of creature matchups. If you have a board presence it can just dominate with the butchering. If you don't the graveyard recursion can get you back in it. It is going to be especially important to have graveyard removal for Angel of Serenity decks that's for sure.
An interesting twist to G/W Serenity is the ability to go infinite with Fiend Hunters and Restoration Angels. If you get two Fiend Hunters and a Restoration Angel you can actually just loop the three of them to get as much life as you want from Seraph Sanctuary. You do need exactly this mix as a second Angel can't Blink the first Angel and if you have no Angels you gain no life from the loop.
This may sound like a lot of work to set up but you don't actually need to set it up at all. Just play your Fiend Hunters and Restoration Angels like you normally would. Eventually you drop Angel of Serenity and exile all three. Now if the Angel dies you have the entire combo. Opponent won't kill your Angel? Fortunately you can play another Angel of Serenity a Fiend Hunter or a Cloudshift to get the loop started.
Cloudshift has so many awesome combos in here that it is probably a crime to not play more. In fact you can Cloudshift your Angel of Serenity with its comes into play trigger on the stack to exile three of your opponent's creatures for good plus get three more normal Angel targets. It could also be totally right to play a couple Oblivion Rings as well for back-up utility if nothing else.
Even when you don't have the full-on combo set up you still have tons of value combos. For instance Fiend Huntering your Angel of Serenity can get let you get back a Restoration Angel and Unsummon some of your opponent's creatures. When they replay them you can just Restoration Angel your Fiend Hunter then immediately exile your Restoration Angel and both of your opponent's creatures again.
When you Restoration Angel leaves play your Fiend Hunter will return. Target your Angel of Serenity again and your Restoration Angel will return to your hand and both of your opponent's creatures will be bounced again (or if you have any dead creatures you could be bringing one or two of them back each loop). Now that you have Restoration Angel in your hand again you are free to loop again each time you have four mana available to spend. Remember you need a Fiend Hunter for this sort of loop as Restoration Angel can't Blink Angels (even of Serenity).
Restoration Angel plus Thragtusk is nothing new but Angel of Serenity absolutely loves hitting Thragtusk. You exile him and get a 3/3 immediately. Now your Angel leaving play means you will get another five life (plus a couple more bodies) when you replay your Thragtusk.
Elvish Visionary Borderland Ranger Fiend Hunter Restoration Angel and Thragtusk add up to ensure that Angel of Serenity is actually drawing you real cards rather than just bodies. The mana is really good in G/W decks but if we wanted we could easily add a color or two. Cutting back on colorless lands is an easy place to start. We could also move towards more of a Farseek plan rather than Arbor Elf (to go along with Borderland Ranger).
Red is the most obvious color to add as Huntmaster of the Fells would fit into this whole game plan perfectly. Bonfire of the Damned doesn't really have anything to do with anything but it has historically been very strong in these sorts of decks and is particularly potent given how little removal we play.
Black could give us access to some removal like Abrupt Decay Ultimate Price and Vraska not to mention Vault of the Archangel (if we are into that sort of thing). If we have black and red we could even potentially hybridize this sort of strategy with the Falkenrath Aristocrat + Angel of Glory's Rise Human decks. Those two plus a Fiend Hunter is GG.
The infinite life combo might be too cute given how strong Gavony Township and Grove of the Guardian are. Perhaps we should just play more of those? One of the biggest strengths of G/W in the months to come is going to be its incredible mana base. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some G/W decks with four Gavony Townships and four Grove of the Guardians! With Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elf (untapping Temple Garden among other Forests) we are talking about an incredible shell.
If we wanted we could dedicate even more to the life gain combos. Healer of the Pride is another Soul Warden variant (albeit at four cost) that would let us loop all Fiend Hunters and provide redundancy. Additionally Healer of the Pride gains infinite life with Fiend Hunter and Angel of Glory's Rise with a sacrifice outlet (like Falkenrath Aristocrat). Of course Huntmaster of the Fells is already infinite life and tokens so this is probably overkill.
Collective Blessing may seem kind of random in the G/W Serenity deck above but that card is just awesome and I want to try it. I think it's sure to be at the core of new G/W Tokens decks (which may or may not want to be the same deck as this Serenity deck). It is not just that it is Overrun from now on. You can play it proactively even when opponents have been killing your guys. Now every single creature you play is a lethal threat. The card is kind of expensive but with so many insane action lands I wouldn't be surprised if future G/W Tokens decks play 27 or more land not to mention 8-12 mana creatures (or more).
Grove of the Guardian is going to be particularly important for G/W Tokens decks that seek to break populate. After all Rootborn Defense isn't just a great anti-Supreme Verdict card; it is also a backbreaking threat when combined with Grove of the Guardian's 8/8 token.
What is the best way to populate? Eyes in the Skies Wayfaring Temple Trostani Selesnya's Voice or some other unrevealed populate card? That remains to be seen
Thragtusk and Garruk Relentless are likely to be core elements of most dedicated populate strategies. That they incidentally give you reasonable-sized tokens is a great way to add redundancy to your deck while keep your card quality high.
Jumping back to the infinite loops again I am not sure what to do with it yet but I have my eye on Detention Sphere as another card to look to break.
Isn't this just an Oblivion Ring that has Maelstrom Pulse like properties? Well yes and that alone is good (particularly against tokens) but when I am talking about breaking it I am talking about how you can Oblivion Ring Detention Sphere and you can Detention Sphere Oblivion Ring. You could already loop three Oblivion Rings to create infinite triggers. Now you can set this up much easier with a Detention Sphere filling in for one of the three Rings (though you can't loop two Spheres as they can't hit themselves).
Why would you want to do this? As I said I haven't got that part figured out just yet but I will be keeping my eyes open for ways to profit from this loop. If we can gain a life or get +1/+1 when an enchantment comes into play that is game over. Playing with eight O-Rings is actually a totally reasonable thing to want to do so if you can combine it with another card to combo someone out that is quite exciting (even if it ends up being a somewhat janky and clunky combo).
Going back to Angel of Serenity it is just so crazy that WotC has left the door open to the open-ended loops. I am not sure this is going to be healthy for the game. It will be all fun and games at first if we are ahead of the curve and are looping when others aren't. However if this becomes a mainstream part of the format it looks like we won't have to mourn the loss of Primeval Titan for long before combo warps things again.
Like Primeval Titan Angel of Serenity is just so powerful that you don't always need to combo people out to bury them in its card advantage. What if we put it in a deck with Snapcaster Mages Restoration Angels and maybe Augur of Bolas or Archaeomancer? You don't exactly have to play that many creatures to create an end game that goes over the top of most non-Serenity decks.
Even though Vapor Snag is gone Unsummon is still here and is sure to rise in popularity much the same way Ponder did once Preordain rotated out. If you Angel of Serenity three of the above mentioned U/W creatures Unsummon becomes Ancestral Recall that also gives you an Angel of Serenity in your hand. That is a really good spot to be in particularly when Snapcaster or Archaeomancer can let you recur your Unsummon to keep it going (and with an Angel of Serenity in your hand it just keeps going and going). Saving Grasp is also a totally reasonable option somewhat similar to Cloudshift albeit bigger and slower.
What's more you don't need to just Unsummon. Play whichever spells you want. Thought Scour is fun since it can help stock your yard for your Angel not to mention your blue graveyard recursion creatures. Supreme Verdict is a great sweeper for buying you time and you don't mind your guys dying since Angel of Serenity will just return them later.
It is going to be very interesting to see the impact Angel of Serenity has on deckbuilding theory. Often control decks want a diverse selection of victory conditions to win with and maybe just a couple. As good as the first Angel of Serenity is the second one is actually much better. This strongly pushes us to want to play four which is kind of a new thing with seven-drops.
Angel of Serenity has such a powerful impact on the board that I could actually see it in more dedicated Reanimator decks. Perhaps this doubles back to the Angel of Glory's Rise space with Faithless Looting and Unburial Rites to help set it up. However it is also possible we go a non-Human route perhaps with Izzet Charm to help fill our graveyard. Griselbrand is obviously a fantastic fatty to support any Unburial Rites deck hitting from a different angle than Angel of Serenity.
Giselle Blade of Goldnight is also a fine option but we do have to be careful of Zealous Conscripts. Personally I'd prefer to make Angel of Serenity work which probably means finding a few good creatures to recur such as the above listed Snapcaster Augur and maybe even Archaeomancer. Often we'll just be sweeping the opponent's board but having the ability to draw more gas to keep going is quite valuable.
As a note Mizzium Mortars is particularly valuable in a deck like this providing much needed early removal that doubles as a sweeper when you go medium or long.
There is still so much to understand about Angel of Serenity; particularly what R&D could possibly have been thinking. This card is so dangerous not to mention powerful and it's even an Angel! If you guys have any suggestions to help break it or how to just use it has a "fair" victory condition please chime in. My Spidey sense is tingling on this one and I can't help but feel that understanding what it does to Magic is going to be crucial to the next two years of Standard.
A number of people seemed to be on the same page about Jace's potential; however like Jace 2.0 Jace Architect of Thought is not without controversy. There remain a lot of skeptics to which I would suggest they look at Jace the following way.
We can all surely agree that Fact or Fiction is crazy good (even if it is not as good as Jace the Mind Sculptor). Jace Architect of Thought is like a sorcery speed Fact or Fiction. Wait don't you only draw one or two cards? Well no. You draw two or three.
If you take the pile of one you also get a Jace that is in play.
If you take the pile of two you also get a Jace that is in play.
Being a sorcery is a major cost as is being double blue. Jace 4.0 does have more abilities though...
Look the sky isn't falling or anything but the greatest trick Jace ever pulled was fooling the world again.
See you next week!