Pattern Recognition #178 - Sing to Rest, Chose the Slain
7 January 2021
7 January 2021
Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.
I hope you enjoyed your vacation. I... I uh worked. In retail. You may now pity me. Or at least save your pity for the comments at the bottom of the article. But, regardless, today's subject is exactly what it says on the header, and it is something that came about with the pre-previews for Kaldheim that came in the middle of December.
We saw, and not for the first time, Angels! And that got me thinking. Angels are supposed to be the Iconic Creature for , the one that Wizards has decided that in the grander scheme of Magic, should a creature with this type be printed, it will be in that colour. Much like Sphinxes are for or Demons for . Big, huge creatures that change the game simply by existing, and should be the top of the deck, rather than the chaff. So, if this is true, what gives?
Well, let's start by doing a history of the creature type in the game, then backtrack through the Vorthos of them - and I do come to a rather odd conclusion here - then finally an answer as to why we're getting Angels like this.
Angels (and I keep spelling that as angles) first appeared in the game back in Limited Edition Alpha, with the printing of the Uncommon Serra Angel. This was, believe it or not, one of the power-houses of the early game, and something that could win just by itself. I should know, I've done it. The combination of Vigilance (sorry, "This creature doesn't tap to attack" because Vigilance wasn't keyworded until after Kamigawa at some point) and Flying made for a very powerful combatant, able to attack and block at the same time. And frankly, in those days, a 4/4 was big.
And in the end, it is Serra's Angels that will define what we know and expect from Angels in Magic, but that will have to come later.
The next angles printed were in Legends, and here we see that Gabriel Angelfire was... you know what? Let's just pretend he doesn't exist. He'd bad in ways I can't begin to imagine, and that starts with his casting cost and goes up from there. No, the more interesting one, the one that I really chuckle at when people go "Angels are White!" is Fallen Angel.
This mono- Angel represented the opposite of Serra's Angels, and kept to the theme of early magic of drawing from real-world myths, legends and religions. That being, the Angel that has succumbed to darkness and evil. This one, while the same cost, was slightly smaller than the purely origin, but could sacrifice a creature to get better, a mechanic that was early enough in Magic's history that it wasn't yet 's norm, but helped define it going forward. Of course, how she flies without wings is a mystery for the ages.
And this creature was so iconic and built into the mythos of the player base at the time, that it got a reference in Time Spiral with Fallen Ideal.
After that, we got Seraph in Ice Age, Sustaining Spirit in Alliances, then Melesse Spirit in Mirage. Angelic Protector was secretly a counter to Lightning Bolt, and Guiding Spirit from Visions let you recur creatures on the cheap.
But the real standout among early Angels, was Selenia, Dark Angel. This massively Vorthos character was the first Legendary Angel, and is currently on the Reserved List. I would have purchased From the Vault: Angels had she been in it, except, well, Reserved List. She is, however, on the short list for a new version of her in some future product according to Mark Rosewater.
But at the same time, Angels started to become more common. There were 8 printings of Angels with Portal, 5th Edition and Tempest providing the most. Seven of the Eight were White (two were multi-coloured), and Fallen Angel got a reprint, the only one before Masters 25.
But Angels really hit their stride with Urza's Saga. This set was set mostly in Serra's Realm, the artificial plane created by Serra the Benevolent, Serra's Sanctum. Now, Serra herself is an article in of herself, but for now, what brings her to this point is that she creates angels. She created every angel in her realm from the lowliest Angelic Page to the mighty Radiant, Archangel.
OK, not so mighty. Radiant was stronger in story, but that's story and gameplay segregation, a whole barrel of issues I don't even want to touch.
But the important thing I want you all to draw from this is that every angel you've seen so far is not a natural creation. They were all made by Serra, or in the image of her work.
Prophecy, the set, gives us our first Artifact Angel, Copper-Leaf Angel. This curious creature directly called out Serra in the flavor text, and it's ability is something I can see of utility in decks that care about lands that go into the graveyard, or come out. Then we also get our second angel, Crypt Angel, a card that lets you bring back a creature of an allied colour from the graveyard to your hand when it enters the battlefield. Something that does a lot, but in this case it's on an [i]Angel[/i] and not a Zombie or anything else.
Apocalypse gave us our first Orzhov () Angel in Desolation Angel, a land-hate angel that was balanced out in existence by Desolation Giant. We also got the Jeskai colored Lightning Angel, one of the relatively early examples of multi-coloured keyword soup. Not the first, and most certainly not the last when it comes to showing how each colour grants something to a creature.
Iridescent Angel is a ridiculously overcosted creature, but when you're a 4/4 Flyer with protection from dang near everything (and this in a time when didn't have the ability to delete something from play), you should cost like a game ender.
2002 didn't see a lot of Angels as the focus of the game shifted and realigned with the moving of the story away from Urza and Gerrard. Torment, Onslaught and Judgement each only had a single Angel in them, at rare. And of them, the only one I ever saw play was Exalted Angel, as part of the Morph mechanic. Silver Seraph is good, don't get me wrong, but as a super-anthem, she tended to be very expensive to put out.
And no we come to the one Angel that makes headlines, who defined power for the longest time, even as she fell by the wayside to other, more efficient creatures. Akroma, Angel of Wrath, this case of massive Keyword Soup - 7 distinct abilities - was more of a problem for than a solution in the long run. It told Wizards that can buy into Keywords for their creatures as a substitute for good abilities at higher rarities, and have it 'popular'.
I'm looking at you Zetalpa, Primal Dawn.
But after that set, and as the game transitioned through 8th Edition and Mirrorden into what is known as the 'Modern' era, for the format that has its start point at the same time, we got our second Angel - Platinum Angel, a creature that, as long as it's on the battlefield, you can't lose and your oppnents can't win.
Of course, being both a creature and an Artifat, made removing this creature pretty easy, so it's easy-come, easy go.
2004 saw only one Angel. Yes, you read that right. I was surprised too when I realized that as I thought I missed something. Pristine Angel of the set Darksteel. Well, artifacts and angels don't always go hand in hand, so it's nor surprising on a different level.
Ravnica. Oh boy, Ravnica. Not because there were many Angels, but in the first set, we had Boros, and their angels. Firemane Angel and Razia, Boros Archangel. I'm not going to break them down here and now, but I want to say, partly out of my love and loyalty to those colours, and because, well, it's true, but it was here that multi-colored angels became acceptable, rather than exceptional.
Time Spiral, or rather, Planar Chaos, gives us two angels and an honorary mention. Malach of the Dawn is our second male Angel, and colour-shift of Ghost Ship, bringing Regeneration out of . In addition, we get Akroma, Angel of Fury, the first mono- Angel in a colour that would rather have Dragons as their creature of choice at this casting cost. And who lacks her version's haste, making her much less valuable.
Lorwyn and Shadowmoor didn't have angels as one of their tribes, so seeing Twilight Angel as an excpetion was nice. On the other hand, Shards of Alara brought us two new mutli-colored Angels, Empyrial Archangel, and Stoic Angel, both of which see and saw play. The latter in control decks while the former was just too expensive in the long run as you should be winning, not trying to avoid losing.
2009 was a busy year for angels thanks to the Duel Decks released that year - Divine versus Demonic. But on a more practical scale, there were a few new angels this year that deserve note. First, Baneslayer Angel which, again, Keyword Soup.
Wizards. Seriously. Keyword Soup is not a substitute for a good meal of effective and creative abilities. It's creatively sterile. STOP IT!
Zendikar block saw more angels, but looking over everything printed in 2010, nothing really stands out that I haven't already talked about.
2011 saw the first dedicated Commander Precons - and has it really been that long already? Yeesh? Well, we had Tariel, Reckoner of Souls as the best in-colour Commander for Angel Tribal, covering everything except the three Bant coloured Angels from the Alara Block.
I am also informed that there was an Angel called Chancellor of the Annex, but as that is from a set called New Phyrexia, I have to say - FCK YOU NEW PHYREXIA, YOU BLIGHT ON GOOD GAME DESIGN!
Anyway, Innistrad Block started to embrace Angels as defenders of the weak and oppressed in this block and plane, something that I think was sorely needed after the past few years of the Bad Guys Winning, to see some legitimate Good Angels doing Good Things.
And Avacyn Restored, the set, didn't disappoint. Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Bruna, Light of Alabaster, Gisela, Blade of Goldnight and Sigarda, Host of Herons led the way, laying waste to all that opposed them. It was nice to have a legit win for once for the good guys.
Return to Ravnica brought back Angels affiliated with the Guilds, and this time the Boros and the Orzhov shared a set, meaning that we had cards like Aurelia, the Warleader sharing space in the set with Deathpact Angel.
Oh? And Angelic Skirmisher? Not Helping.
From the Vault: Angels came in 2015, and that skews perceptions as it featured 12 Angel reprints, some with new art, and some without. No Selenia, Dark Angel, who instead got a virtual reprint in Tempest Remastered.
Coming into Kaladesh, we get Angel of Invention, who exceeds Keyword Soup by being a Glorious Anthem on a body, with Fabricate, making her a 4/3 or bringing two friends along that are 2/2's - along with everything else on the board.
Man, Fabricare was a good mechanic. But I digress.
We went back to Innistrad with Shadows over Innistrad and Eldrich moon, and the four Angels that we celebrated years earlier...? Well, three of them didn't make it out so well. Archangel Avacyn Flip doesn't take loss too well, going into Avacyn, the Purifier as she decides to burn the house down. Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light get corrupted into Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. Have fun sleeping tonight! Meanwhile, Sigarda, Heron's Grace held the line, even as dipped into mono-colored angels again with Goldnight Castigator and Flameblade Angel.
Curiously, for an Egypt themed set, there were a few Angels in Amonkhet and Hour of Revelation, from the pretty basic Draft focused Angel of the God-Pharaoh to the much more powerful Angel of Condemnation. And a reminder that just because Angels are in the vast majority, doesn't make then inherently good, especially when they are created to serve Nichol Bolas.
There were about 13 bazillion reprints in 2018, but we did get Lyra Dawnbringer, the intended 'Angel' Tribal leader in Dominaria, as well as Light of the Legion from our third visit to Ravnica. Shalai, Voice of Plenty saw quite a bit of play though, as she was extremely cheap for what she did, and her activated ability couldn't go wrong. Tiana, Ship's Caretaker has a unique Creature type, and saw the first step in the formal shift to the current theme of Boros being Voltron. Not that I blame her, she's still fun. And who expects an Angel in overalls with a wrench?
2019 was good for Angels, from us finally getting Feather, the Redeemed since we wanted her forever, to Segovian Angel, just the perfect start to an Angel deck in any format, to Sunblade Angel.... NO. Seraph of the Scales is a good card all-round, thanks to her activated abilities being useful on the offense and defense.
Last year saw a bunch of reprints thatnks in part to Jumpstart and the "Angel" theme pack, as well as Commander Legends, but the real standouts were Liesa, Shroud of Dark, the final Innistrad Angel, Angel of Destiny for being an interesting alternate win-condition by playing to 's strength of life-gain, and Wizards, can you stop it? We don't need Baneslayer Angel as she makes Serra Angel cry.
And now, 2021. Where the Valkyries fly. These Norse angels are the chosers of the slain, and the fact that they are willing to finish the job? Well, that means that they have returned to . And Valkyrie Harbinger is an excellent segue into what I want to talk about next.
Here's the thing. Yes, there are Token creatures out there, and yes, and go for them most of all, with and following behind and not really caring at all unless it's a Token Copy of a preexisting creature. But the difference is in the typical tokens put out.
is pretty easy. They Zombie tokens. have a few options, but they tend to Saporlings, or Wolves. Of course by pure eyballing, they are all over the place, so take my comment here with a grain of salt.
makes creature tokens that are either Goblins, or more rarely, Dragons. And making Dragon tokens is pretty rare, but not unheard of. It's been picking up speed lately, and I can see one card in each set, at rare or Mythic, going for that aspect of summoning. Like the various Sarkhans, of which Sarkhan the Masterless was a victory condition in my mono- Standard deck two years ago.
But ? They make 1/1 Soldiers, sure. But you know what else they make lots of? They will Entreat the Angels for a Decree of Justice. A Divine Visitation for an Angelic Accord, a Resplendend Angel that leads to a Finale of Glory.
makes 4/4 Flying Angel Tokens at the drop of the hat. They have their champion creature type, iconic to the last, and they make it work.
Mechanically speaking, Angels are a reliable creature type for . They exist across the spectrum of casting costs, with a variety of effects, though as my eyes glaze over, they either tend toward Keyword Soup, lifegain of some style, or Protection/Flickering effects. The idea of a 4/4 for Flying that is easy to make for is an appealing one as it's actually pretty solid for a mass-produced beatstick. It's large enough to defend, and can attack en-mass to win the game.
But what about the Vorthos? What is it about these creatures that I wanted to specifically point out that changes how they are looked at in the game?
Well, the answer lies in Serra the Benevolent and her mark on the game. I've said before, and it should be proven by now, that Serra made the angels.
Let me be clear. She didn't make them what they are today.
Serra made the Angels.
There are no 'natural' Angels. Every last one you see in the game is a creature of pure mana. Pure- Mana for the most part. Yes, exceptions exist, but that doesn't change the fact that at their core, Angels are .
And in this, if you dig into the lore of Innistrad for the most obvious aspect, but it also a note in other planes, you see that Demons are creatures of pure mana, a twisted reflection and creation, how a Serra Angel becomes a Fallen Angel as well.
But you know what else are aspects of pure mana?
This is the conclusion that I have come to when writing this article, is that Angels are the Elementals in the game, just as Demons are the Elementals. Aside from older cards, like Dawn Elemental, or multi-coloured cards like the recent Yasharn, Implacable Earth, Elementals are the realm of the more 'natural' colours, , and even .
Angels are Elementals, but distinct enough to be their own creature type, and that's something I can get behind.
I just wish that Innistrad's lore had the gumption to have Sorin mention that he learned how to make Angels - such as Avacyn - from Serra. It would have been a nice touch of continuity for someone old enough to have met her before her untimely demise.
But back to Angels, the Valkyrie of Kaldheim. I like them. It's space that exists and definitely fits the theme of the set as well as the real-world cultures and mythologies it draws on. I just wonder who the Legendary Vaklyrie will be, and who she will draw the majority of her inspiration from. Brynhildr? Sigrún? Róta, companion of Skuld and Gunnr?
Show me the future, Wizards, and make sure that flights of Angels are always there.
Join me next week when I talk about something. What, I don't know yet.
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