Heart's Aflutter

Posted in Serious Fun on April 17, 2012

I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy: a slab of perfectly cooked animal meat paired with an appropriate amount of vegetables is an idyllic sort of meal for me. And while I share a similar appreciation for dining quality and epicurean refinement as Pro Tour Historian and The Week That Was writer Brian David-Marshall, there's still something primal and satisfying about just the basics roughly prepared. (Trust me, this metaphor is going somewhere.)

Cloudshift | Art by Howard Lyon

With more than a week of Avacyn Restored previews already unleashed, it's clear that the set has refinement written all over it. The soulbond mechanic featured on Nightshade Peddler and Tandem Lookout—is accompanied well by the abundance of "flicker" effects—as seen on Cloudshift and Restoration Angel. If you want something a little more traditional, undying is back—as seen on Howlgeist and Demonlord of Ashmouth—and works as well as soulbond with flickers. There are even a few exotic ingredients available—like last week's Craterhoof Behemoth—for those with just such a discerning taste.

These core ingredients are just the start; the complex-yet-intriguing flavor of miracles was added. If you haven't heard about "Time Walk returns" yet, Mark Rosewater's preview last week will bring you up to speed on Temporal Mastery. The soft, gentle, broad base of Angels and Demons, infused with soulbond and undying, is refreshingly brightened by the spiciness of every first draw of a turn.

However, all the miracles so far have been very easy to digest. Thunderous Wrath is, for merely a moment, a spell far more powerful than Lightning Bolt. Banishing Stroke, within just a flash of a trigger, can do things no other removal spell alone can.

The preview I have to share today is a bit different from the miracles seen so far. It isn't simply a clever trick we're pleased to see when it pops up, but a powerful tool we need to plan to use.

And oh how we are entreated to use it! This is Entreat the Angels:

Entreat the Angels | Art by Todd Lockwood

Are you ready to eat this yet?

    Prep Time: 7+ Turns

Entreat the Angels isn't a complicated affair. It's a decadent slab of steak, a deep tranche de tarte délicieuse, or even a rich cup of cà phê với sữa đặc—Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. It's awesome, ubiquitous, and deceptively complex. And proper preparation makes all the difference in the world.

Armillary Sphere | Art by Franz Vohwinkel

The most similar card that comes to mind is Decree of Justice, trading a for a marginally different in its casting cost. Just like Decree of Justice, Entreat the Angels really wants to see a lot of mana. You have to work hard and know the right steps to making it work. While there are obvious answers in green—Cultivate, Rampant Growth, and everything similar—I think a pearly approach can be wonderful as well.

Armillary Sphere, Braidwood Sextant, Expedition Map, Horizon Spellbomb, Journeyer's Kite, Land Tax, Mycosynth Wellspring, Pilgrim's Eye, Traveler's Amulet, Wanderer's TwigFetches more lands for us to put into play
Eternal Dragon, Gleam of Resistance, Noble Templar, Pale Recluse, Sanctum PlowbeastCycles away to find lands
Knight of the White Orchid, Oath of Lieges, Solemn Simulacrum, Terrain Generator, Thawing Glaciers, Wayfarer's BaubleRamps lands for us onto the battlefield
Caged Sun, Gauntlet of PowerSelf-directed Mana Flares are usually a strong play

Why go for strictly white cards? Two other previews from Avacyn Restored have struck my fancy: Angel of Jubilation and Cathars' Crusade.

An angelic "Anthem-on-a-stick" rewards us for avoiding black—so if green or blue is your thing, too, feel free to diverge—and gets us some early board action. But it's Cathars' Crusade that should be firing the alarm bells. As the aforementioned Brian David-Marshall shared when he previewed it last week:

As my token preamble indicates, I am thinking about what happens when you put a handful of creatures into play at the same time. If you played three creatures one at a time with this card in play, you would have one creature with three counters, one creature with two, and the last one would get a counter when it came into play as well. If those three creatures came into play at the same time—say off of a small Spider Spawning—they would all see each other as they entered the battlefield and each token would get a hefty +3/+3 bonus.

You know one thing that's better than a bucket of 4/4 flying white Angel tokens? A bucket of much larger flying white Angel tokens! While five mana might throw a wrench into competitive deck plans, it's a paltry sum to pay when we're working hard to make our mana flow.

And there are more reasons to stay out of other colors:

Balefire Liege; Call to Arms; Celestial Crusader; Crovax, Ascendant Hero; Crusade; Deathbringer Liege; Divine Sacrament; Glorious Anthem; Honor of the Pure; Kabira Vindicator; Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon"; Leyline of the Meek; Marshal's Anthem; Serra Aviary; Thistledown Liege; Wilt-Leaf LiegeThe album of Anthems for white decks
Hero of Bladehold; Leonin Sun Standard; Pianna, Nomad Captain; Selesnya Guildmage; Soltari ChampionSlightly more esoteric ways to pump up an army—combat tricks excluded
Caged Sun, Coat of Arms, Eldrazi Monument, Gauntlet of Power, Konda's BannerThe standard colorless ways to make the most of tokens

Without looking at all of the tricky ways to boost our troops—that is, the Glorious Charge-type spells—it's clear that making lots of dudes huge is a straightforward task. The only task left is to fill in the frame with bodies, but I'll spare you the trouble of listing chunks of token-makers again. Last week's article featured just such a list!

Entreat Treat

Download Arena Decklist

It's a simplified preparation, but I think you'll like how this tastes. Cathars' Crusade wants to see multiple creatures enter play simultaneously, so most of our ways of putting creatures onto the battlefield do just that. This presents two awesome features:

Cathar's Crusade | Art by Karl Kopinski

  • Any Day of Judgment an opponent floats is fairly moot when a simple Gather the Townsfolk provides a stunning 6 total power. Other spells scale up faster than that!
  • If an opponent is producing Dragons or other fatties, we can easily keep up with just a few token makers of our own.

There's some complexity too. The abundance of Land Tax should let us see one fairly early, and therefore rip Plains to our hand with abandon. We can keep up with the opposing players, but we're always packing ways to turn extra lands into something useful. After all, we don't want to play more lands than opponents!

While many of you enjoy spending effort and deck space actively thwarting opponents, I generally find it's more useful to make sure my deck gets its job done first. With the abundance of mana a late-game Gauntlet of Power creates, Banishing Stroke provides all the answers we likely need: creature, artifact, or enchantment gets shipped away, and we can afford to pay the regular price. Miracle is just a bonus!

And the namesake of the deck is, of course, our miracle of today. Entreat the Angels isn't like Banishing Stroke; drawing it early won't put you in a position to make the most of it. While one 4/4 flying white Angel for feels good, and two of them for just is just great, making a massive army at the end of the game—that is, when your enemies have exhausted their usual resources—is where the real miracle is at.

    Yes Chef!

That was just scratching the surface. Like Cathars' Crusade, Entreat the Angels feels quite at home in Commander. When you have such a big deck, and usually bring along or otherwise encounter ways to draw cards on opponent's turns, lucking into a miracle is much more straightforward. Let me explain.

Fiend Hunter | Art by Wayne Reynolds

It's very common to see some effects in Commander. It'd argue the most frequent effect is "drawing additional cards." Howling Mine, Font of Mythos, Temple Bell, and many more similar cards across the colors pump extra juice into players' hands. But it comes at a price. I don't know about your play group, but in almost every game of Commander, when someone draws a boatload of cards above the others, all the cannons on deck get turned to that player. What happens afterward is usually ugly: either that player blows up the battlefield and takes a dominating control of the game or gets blown away by the temporary alliance of other players.

Miracle offers a tantalizing taste of something different. I've included it as an aspect of most of my decks recently, but spelling it out clearly should make sense of things: incremental development is vastly superior in games. You can call it all sorts of strategic names: threat management, playing 'possum, staying in second, and many more. I call it "being easy-going" because that's exactly how it feels. Instead of racing to stop opponents, or keep pace with every bit of advantage they create, I just keep trucking along, doing my own thing. Sometimes I'm behind, other times I'm clearly leading, but generally I'm just keeping or setting the pace of the game.

Miracles are just what this type of play loves to see. Because I'm not actively drawing every card in my deck as often as possible, I'm passively maximizing my chances for a miraculous event. You know what deck could benefit from a few miracles tossed into it?

Grand Arbiter of the Helvault

Download Arena Decklist

Remember the Helvault deck from two weeks ago? I do, and I've been able to give it a swing on Magic Online. As my fantastic editor Trick Jarrett can attest, it's surprisingly resilient and makes the most of its abundance of triggers and flickers. And Avacyn Restored is laden with both.

Next week, we'll revisit the Helvault Commander, and see exactly how serendipitous the new set's themes play into 99-card piles!

Of course, there's still a little business to attend to here today. Last week's poll was to gauge the initial response:

What do you think of Avacyn Restored so far?
By Urza's beard this is awesome!337541.4%
I certainly like some of the things I've seen so far!284634.9%
I'm still waiting to see more!193723.7%

Every time there are new things in Magic, a few folks grumble about it. Change does that. But the dominating response was positive. If you're still waiting to see more this week, I hope something grabs you soon because time is running out!

This week, I'd like to ask something more discrete:

Which of the following cards from Avacyn Restored do you think belong in the Helvault deck?CloudshiftBanishing StrokeEmancipation AngelRestoration AngelSilverblade PaladinGhostly FlickerTandem LookoutTemporal MasterySomething else—odds are good it wasn't revealed in time for writing!

Check back next week when the full gallery of cards is unsealed, and our deck of flickers gets a whole host of change! See you then!

While miracle is a mechanic planned in Avacyn Restored long ago, the timing for its debut couldn't have been more serendipitous for my family. Last Monday, my wife brought our daughter, Kate, into the world.

My Newborn Daughter, Kate

Just like everything in the world, all of our planning and preparation was rendered moot in the last moments. And, in a fortunate twist, she has been healthier beyond our wildest expectations. Sometimes the miracle you weren't expecting is far more rewarding than the one you wanted.

And, yes, I'm looking forward to teaching Magic in a few years. We'll start with some other knowledge first.

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