Magic, but Cheaper: Angels

ServoToken breaks down Pioneer's premier life gain deck that raises your life total without raising the price.

Seasons Greetings

“Hark!” The herald angels sing. “Glory to Kenrith, the Returned King!”

Sounds more like an Easter sort of thing if you ask me…

Hello everyone and Happy Holidays! Just to be upfront, I can get away with that opening heresy because I went to Bible College. So the Christmas Season is upon us, and as a certified cleric myself, I feel as though it’s pertinent to do something special. I could have done something expected this Holiday season and covered an Elves deck like everyone else, but seeing as we have an actual tiered deck in this format that has a different thematic tie-in to the end of December, I figured that it might be a better use of everyone’s time to cover a real deck. Fortunately, Magic decks don’t discriminate based on protected classes, so even if you don’t do the whole “Angels on Christmas” thing – this deck still slaps. Let’s get into some Mono-White Angels… on a budget. 

Budget Angels
Buy on TCGplayer $82.56
2 mythic
50 rare
8 uncommon
0 common
Sorceries (8)
Lay Down Arms
Artifacts (2)
Enchantments (1)
Angelic Accord
Lands (23)
Faceless Haven
60 Cards
15 Cards

There were about eight versions of that intro that went completely off the rails, by the way. 

The Deck

Angels in Pioneer operates as sort of a two-axis deck, straddling the line between anti-aggro flying beatdown and a combo/prison deck that literally cannot lose the game. It looks to pivot from one to the other, loading up on life gain in the early turns to power out some huge heavenly armies in the mid game to fly over and take the opponent out. Failing that, the deck also leans back on The Book of Exalted Deeds as a means to press the issue, buying literally unlimited time in order to secure the win. The deck has picked up many tools in the last few sets and has since evolved from a clunky fan-favorite tribal-pile to a legitimate contender. 

Ohh Lawd they Comin’

Like many tribal creature strategies, this deck utilizes a number of inherent synergies in order to multiply the power output of each of its cards, creating a snowball-like effect over the course of a game. Righteous Valkyrie is the epitome of this, acting as both an enabler and a payoff for the life-gain side of the deck. 27 life is a real sweet spot to be, as that number turns on both the Righteous Valkyrie and Speaker of the Heavens, who can repeatedly pump out Angel tokens to create some form of card advantage and push through a stalled board. Bishop of Wings works similarly to the Valkyrie, pushing the life gain upon creatures entering play. Stacked with the huge buff granted by the Valkyrie (an effect that coincidentally stacks in multiples as well), this deck is capable of putting tremendous amounts of power into play in relatively short order. The token producers, here being The Book of Exalted Deeds and Angelic Accord, ensure a swift rebuilding of an army even through the face of mass creature removal. 

The Book of Exalted Deeds also creates a pseudo-combo when used in combination with Faceless Haven. For those that weren’t paying attention to the previous standard rotation, it goes a little something like this:

Faceless Haven becomes all creature types when activated. So with six lands in play, you can activate the Haven (tapping itself for mana if need be). You then activate the book, putting the counter on the Haven. So long as Haven survives the turn, it will stop being a creature at the end of turn. You are now impervious to losing the game in most capacities, as land destruction isn’t a popular option a vast majority of the time. You don’t activate the Haven and it will remain a land with a counter on it, and the counter makes it so that you can’t lose and your opponent can’t win. 

While lifegain is an important aspect to this deck, as the old adage goes “you can’t win a game by gaining life”. So this deck also includes a fair package of creatures whose primary focus is to get the opponent dead. Giada, Font of Hope is excellent with this, providing a buff to each consecutive Angel that comes into play under her watch. On top of being able to provide some mana to power more of the things out, Giada is an excellent addition to this deck for her ability to ramp things up to eleven. All of the tokens working in tandem with the pump effects from Giada and Righteous Valkyrie can create an absolutely dominating board presence as you swing in the air and attack over most other opposing forces. 

Disruption and Removal

Most tribal strategies can’t get away without running some disruption though, which is where this next package comes into play. Anointed Peacekeeperis excellent for slowing opponents down by a turn or two, removing their key pieces from consideration. Reidane, God of the Worthy, while being coincidentally devastating in the Mono-Blue Spirits matchup in specific, is a flexible tool that covers a wide range of bases. From completely shutting down decks like Rakdos Sacrifice to severely crippling Humans off of the backside, to keeping Bring to Lights and Supreme Verdicts at bay on the front, this God can really do it all. Lastly, is Skyclave Apparition, an honorary Angel who can remove essentially any threat in play. Sheoldred to Enigmatic Incarnation, Karn to Portable Hole, Apparition can cleanly answer it all. While it doesn’t interact with the rest of the deck in a meaningful capacity, it’s essentially the ultimate role player that you shouldn’t leave home without.

Is it all Three-Drops?

One of the biggest downsides to playing a deck that’s so heavily leaning toward the three-drop slot is the fact that mana efficiency and card velocity aren’t going to be key factors in the deck’s success. In other words, the deck is really flippin’ slow. So to mitigate that downside, the list packs a set of Kayla’s Reconstruction, which acts as a budget Collected Company to dig through the deck and play out a fair number of creatures, generating both mana and card advantage. This is absolutely crucial when facing down an opponent such as Rakdos Midrange, who wants to trade their cards one-for-one through the entire game.

How does it play? 

Angels is an interesting deck in the fact that it doesn’t have anything terribly interesting going on at any specific point. The deck wants to run its curve and slow down the opponent like most White decks do, all while avoiding battlefield confrontation by flying over opposing forces. That’s not to say that it doesn’t take a reasonable amount of skill to pilot though, as low resource decks like this can heavily punish or reward any correct or incorrect play. Understanding matchups in order to know how and when to best disrupt the opponent’s gameplan, and being observant to the board to know when to all out attack or when to hold back are classic Aggro-deck lines that must be executed to perfection when playing a deck like this to success. The gameplay can be very rewarding when the pilot has a firm grasp on what’s going on at all times, and the deck itself can be a hit out to right field in specific and unsuspecting meta-games. The real clutch maneuver comes with Book, as essentially every opponent aside from Azorius Control and the rogue Doom Foretold players of the world will be lacking in their ability to Field of Ruin away the Haven. Having access to an emergency “I win” button is huge for the slower decks like this one.

Potential Upgrades

Buy on TCGplayer $402.45
5 mythic
46 rare
4 uncommon
5 common
Instants (4)
Sorceries (4)
Artifacts (1)
Lands (24)
Temple Garden
60 Cards
Ajani, Sleeper Agent
Dusk // Dawn
Portable Hole
Pithing Needle
Rest in Peace
15 Cards

As this deck becomes more fleshed out, aside from the mana base as always, there are two key-cards to focus on; Collected Company and Youthful Valkyrie. Resplendent Angel is also pricy, but it offers something that can be found elsewhere and in other cards. Company is a crucial engine to this deck, and the reason that it sees any legitimate competitive viability whatsoever. While Kayla’s is a good card for the list, maximizing the number of this effect that the deck has access to is very much key to consistent performance. Youthful on the other hand helps to lower the deck’s curve significantly. When an aggro-deck like this can curve out successfully, it can get to that snowball state where things just get too out of hand for the opponent too quickly. Lowering the mana curve helps to ensure that this is a regular possibility.

Wrapping Up

That’s all for this one. Angels is a sweet deck that can absolutely blast a hole in many unsuspecting meta-games. I hope that you all have an excellent holiday season, and as we move into the new year we take a moment to self-reflect and see what we really need to better ourselves. Until next time, remember to stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading. 

  • Darren "ServoToken"


    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

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