Classic Commander: Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Often many decks built for commander are based on the new cards just released. They are the flavor of the month. They also provide a new play experience and help keep the format fresh. Still, there are many classic commanders that are worth adding to your EDH arsenal. Classic Commander takes a look at some of these decks in depth. Today we look at a commander from the Innistrad Block. Avacyn, Angel of Hope. This deck has a power level in the high eights and is just a card or two shy of a nine on the power scale. You can read about the Commander Clinic Power Scale here. You can also see the full deck on Arkidect here

Avacyn. Angel of Hope 

When this card was created, it was meant to be one of the cornerstone Mythic Rares of the set with Griselbrand. Griselbrand is banned in EDH. Avacyn was not. Avacyn is a value for a creature. She is an 8/8 flyer with vigilance and indestructible for eight mana. However, the card becomes a significant value when you add on the rest of her text box. She grants all your permanents indestructible. 

In spite of this, eight mana is still expensive to cast. Unless built correctly she will come out too late to win you the game. Because of this, speed is going to be critical. The faster you can ramp the faster you can play her allowing you to build board superiority. When building any Avacyn deck that you don’t want to go cheap on investing in the mana ramp. This is what makes the deck run and will help it overcome the deficiencies the deck has. 

The Downfall of White

Avacyn is also a monowhite commander. This limits your card pool. First is white’s inability to mana ramp as quickly as other colors. Most white cards do not ramp but will allow you to pull lands from your deck. Since you are in mono-white, mana fixing is not necessary. White just wants mana ramp. Because white is limited in ramp and will have to methodically play one land per turn. Fetch lands are a disadvantage. The deck needs to play a land per turn and rely on mana rocks so that it can methodically get to eight mana as quickly as possible. Fetch lands remove lands from your deck. This increases the chance of drawing a nonland card. This is normally good. In this case, it reduces the chance of you being able to play a land per turn. Without playing lands consistently this deck loses some speed.

The other downside of white is its lack of options in drawing cards. Again, white is reliant on artifacts in order to draw cards or search up the cards it needs. When it comes to card draw artifacts are normally a little overpriced because of their ability to slot into any deck. As for card draw in white the most common form of card draw is either a cantrip where you can draw one card to replace the card you just cast or cycling which is a discard then draw a card effect costing mana. The rest of the card draw are corner case scenarios that ask to be put in a deck that is tailored for its ability. 

These drawbacks are significant when you are building mono-white as you will have no additional colors to help offset these limitations. The leading commander information group on the web, The Command Zone, spent money to collect data of games played online and compiled a two-part series of gameplay statistics. You can watch that episode on youtube here. White was the only color that when included in a deck reduced its chances to win a game. From experience, I can say Avacyn can overcome these drawbacks. In some cases, it may be an advantage. If opponents know that mono-white is at a disadvantage they may incorrectly threat assess and leave you alone early. 

I have been able to play Avacyn on turn four and proceed to win the game. You will need to invest in certain ramp cards to make it happen. It can get quite expensive. However, once you invest in these cards, you will always own them. Most people do not mind if you are using a placeholder in place of the actual card, especially if it is expensive. This will allow you to play it in multiple decks without constantly having to switch cards in and out from each deck. That is its own right is a value if you can afford it. 

Answering the Monowhite Dilemma

The goal of the deck will actually answer how to overcome the deficiencies in white. 

Goal: Mana Ramp to Avacyn fast. Board wipe play answers and win.

We start with card draw. Since we can not keep up with mana efficient card draw of other decks we will actually cut this category short to create card advantage elsewhere. Instead of increasing the probability of drawing a specific card we will load the deck up with a critical mass of a card effect we want to increase our chances of drawing it on limited draws. This is what we do with mana ramp. We include enough ramp cards so that using the free mulligan our chances of having at least one mana rock in hand is over one. Realistically we will want two mana rocks by turn three so we can cast Avacyn on turn four. With fifteen cards in our ramp category the probability of having two or more ramp cards in our hand by turn three will be 67% or two out of three games. 

If we can not draw cards then we will limit the advantage our opponent gains by drawing additional cards. We do this by playing multiple removal spells in a game. We want to use board wipes. This creates a loss of multiple cards on the board for our deck spending one card. We don’t want to play board wipes until Avacyn comes out. This limits our card loss creating a card advantage. Our permanents are indestructible. Therefore we want to limit our board wipes to destroying permanents only. Cards that exile negates our advantage. We want exile cards, but we want them to be single target removal. We can pinpoint remove troublesome cards unaffected by destroy effects. Blue can steal creatures and copy them. If they have their own copy of Avacyn, then things can go downhill quickly. Pinpoint exile solves this problem. 

 It would be wonderful if we had enough room to include fifteen board wipes plus additional individual removal. Then we would have more access to board wipes. But that would be a little too intensive when we couple it with our mana ramp category. In this build, we limit the removal to fifteen cards as well with eleven of the fifteen cards being board wipes. This brings our odds of drawing two removal spells in the first three turns at 67% like the mana ramp and when we do draw two removal spells the odds of drawing one board wipe at 93% 

Early Defensive… Late Offensive 

Early in the game, we want to mana ramp. If we can’t do that then we want to set up defenses. Players understand once Avacyn hits the battlefield it is difficult to win. We need to stall our opponents from attacking us as their best defense against Avacyn is player removal. The deck asks as many creatures as the deck can reasonably contain as a deterrent to attack. We also need them to have flying because we want to be able to block fliers early. A priority is placed on first strike as an additional deterrent. If we can block and not lose a creature early but our opponent will, then they may look elsewhere to attack or not attack at all. Just like the people of Innistrad we need to be defensive until Avacyn arrives. 

Once Avacyn is on the board, we can board wipe creating a disparity on the battlefield. This opens up our ability to attack with little risk of crackback. This will allow us to take our opponents’ life totals down in chunks. Then when it is not safe we can attack with our commander to help reduce our opponents’ creature total on the board. Vigilance is the third keyword we want. This is primarily for board stalls. There needs to be less of a priority on it. We can always use board wipes as we get them to clear the board for a mass attack all the while building a larger army as we draw cards.

Winning the Game

Using board wipes so we can mass attack is using a swarm tactic. We will be swarming our opponents more than they are able to block. How can they block when they have no creatures on the board. We have plenty of fliers some of them cheap to build our indestructible forces. This is nontraditional swarm but it is effective. Cards that create tokens in mass are not bad choices for the deck as long as we sprinkle them in for taste. Too many and we will lose our flier advantage by diluting our deck. We can still defend the ground but we become vulnerable to the air. 

The Key Three

As with all Commander Clinic Deck Techs, we point out three key cards in the deck that helps make the deck run efficiently. 

Worldslayer

EDHREC has Worldslayer in the top four of high synergy cards. The Commander community got this one correct if not a little low on how efficient it is. It’s in 51% of all Avacyn, Archangel of Hope decks and probably should be in more for what it does. All you need is one player not to have a blocker and this card attached to Avacyn puts you in a commanding position to win the game. With Avacyn your permanents stay on the board. Your opponents’ cards do not. This effect includes lands! Short of an opponent having a Teferi’s Protection your opponents will often concede the game. 

Nev’s Disk

Nevinyrrl’s Disk can fuel infinite board wipe mischievousness with Avacyn. Unlike Oblivion Stone, it does not get sacrificed when you activate it. The disk destroys itself. With Avacyn making it indestructable the disk stays on the battlefield to use again and again. It does not matter that it doesn’t destroy lands. The next turn you wipe the board again clearing away any cards your opponents have played. It does not hit planeswalkers. That is a small disadvantage since you will have Avacyn and company that should be free from blockers to attack them and kill them. Currently the card costs as low as $1.99 at Card Kingdom. There’s no reason this card shouldn’t be included in any Avacyn build.    

Emeria Shepherd

Luckily, Emeria Shepherd does not see enough play in commander decks. It is an undervalued card. There will be times where your opponents are able to wipe your board or you have to use your creatures to block early. Emeria Shepherd along with Sun Titan will help you get your cards back. The deck is almost all plains so whenever you play land you will be able to rebuild your board. It also has flying so in a pinch you can use her to block. It is Magical Christmas Land but you can use Emeria Shepherd to Pull a Sun Titan from your graveyard and then use the Sun Titan’s ability to pull a plains from your graveyard and then trigger Emerial Shepherd’s ability to pull another permanent from your graveyard. This card is great insurance for your opponents’ disruption.  

Card Quality, not Card Draw

As mentioned above white is limited in card draw. Instead of settling for subpar card draw we elected to add more removal and ramp and do those things very well to make up for the lack of card draw. The cards we selected for this deck leaned heavily towards card quality over card draw.

Enlightened Tutor

Enlightened Tutor is actually card disadvantage as it does not replace itself and only puts an artifact or enchantment on top of our deck. If we draw it early we can fetch another mana rock to bring Avacyn out faster. If we are playing against white at the table it can grab Lightning Greaves to protect Avacyn when she comes out to protect against single target exile effects. Midgame it can fetch us Nev’s disk for board wipe mischievousness. If we feel the game is going to be long, then you can fetch True Conviction to buff your creatures for several turns of life gain and first strike. Late Game it is time to go and get a card that will win you the game such as Worldslayer or Whispersilk Cloak.  

Sensei’s Divining Top 

The Top will let you dig three cards deep to help you draw the cards you need when you need it. It also gives you a hand of eight cards instead of seven. While the top is on the field you can always put it on your library to draw a card in this case you are pseudo drawing a card. It may feel like you are gaining card advantage but you are really not as you are drawing a card you already had on the battlefield the following turn. It’s great in that is protects itself. If it gets targeted for removal, then just draw a card and put it on the top of your library to cast again. 

Scroll Rack 

Scroll Rack does not draw cards either. It does let you dig in your library up to seven cards deep. This card is great early game although it does lose some value as the game drags on. There will be cards that you will not always need and after you set them on top of your library. In order to get fresh cards you need to draw through them and the deck does not have any ways to draw cards. So you will have to draw them at some point The deck does have several shuffle effects in Buried Ruin, Enlightened Tutor, Eternal Dragon, Expedition Map, Journeyer’s Kite, Land Tax, Stoneforge Mystic, Wayfarer’s Bauble and Weathered Wayfarer. These give some shuffle opportunities to shuffle away cards we don’t want when we activate them. 

The best of them is Land Tax. Every turn we can put up to three lands in our hand. Often having less land than an opponent is not that difficult to achieve as long as we are not going first in the game.  Then we use the Scroll Rack to draw three cards putting the three cards we fetched on top of the Library. then when we activate Land Tax the following turn we shuffle our library randomizing the top of our deck again. 

Usually, fetch lands are used as well. In this case, we skipped them because it thins our deck of lands. With non-traditional ramp we will rely on playing a land every turn in order to cast Avacyn faster. Despite the synergy with fetch lands, we would be harming the overall effectiveness of the deck by playing them. Fetch lands replace the land that was already played onto the battlefield with another land from our deck reducing the odds of drawing another one. Cards that find lands from our library and put them in hand may reduce the land count in our deck but they also put the card to hand. This gives us another land to assure that we do not miss a land drop. 

Alternate Win Conditions. 

Every deck should have an alternate win condition. This deck utilizes two of them, although they are combat-based. Approach of the Second Sun was an alternate win condition. It was in earlier forms of the deck. It was eventually removed. In a deck that does not draw many cards, Approach is very slow. Once it is played the first time, the game becomes all hands on deck for seven turns to kill the Avacyn player. It turns into a game of archenemy. This is a tactical disadvantage and better to pass on the card.

Whispersilk Cloak makes Avacyn unblockable and gives her shroud. This turns her into a natural Voltron commander with a three-turn clock to take out an opponent. If you can cast an Armored Ascension or soul bond her to Silverblade Paladin before attaching the cloak to her you can reduce the clock to two turns. Then you can keep your creatures back as defenders and swing away with her to take out the opponent that has shut down your swarm strategy. 

Grafted Exoskeleton is another variant of a win condition. This is effective for opponents that have gained a ton of life and it will take a long time to get their life total to zero. Again you will be suiting up Avacyn. This card is almost as devastating as Worldslayer but just for one opponent. The Exoskeleton gives Avacyn +2/+2 and infect making her a 10/10 infect creature. One direct hit and a player is removed from the game. If they have indestructible creatures, then this will take them out. You continually place -1/-1 counters on them. This card breaks parity in your favor.  

The “Pet” Cards

Every deck has a flavor. Every deck builder seasons a deck just a little bit different with the card choices they include in a deck. These cards might not be the strongest cards but they synergize with a deck and bring something unique to the build. These are “pet” cards. In casual commander, pet cards are encouraged. This build includes several different pet cards. 

Armored Ascension

The flying is redundant for most of the cards although the power boost will help buff up a creature and break stalemate if it occurs. There are plenty of cheap fliers in the deck to help defend your life total early game. Armored Ascension makes one of them relevant for the late game. 

The Paladins 

Silverblade Paladin is in the deck because he provides double strike. Fiendslayer Paladin has first strike and can not be removed by red or black spells. These cards add a layer of protection on the ground. They each become devastating when paired with Armored Ascension. Both cost three mana and can help get the deck off to an early defense after mana rocks are cast.

Dowsing Dagger 

The +2/+1 is not all that effective of a boost but Dowsing Dagger is not in the deck to buff your creatures long term. Early game it is not difficult to attach it to a flier and flip the card to generate a Gilded Lotus on a land. At four mana it costs one mana cheaper than The Lotus. Its cost can also be spread over multiple turns which means it can ramp you one or three mana the turn it flips. The plant tokens are negligible as your creatures will fly over them. It is also a hidden way to mana ramp into Avacyn early that some players do not recognize. While not elite if you do not need the mana late game you can choose to not flip the dagger and keep the small buff for one of your creatures.   

Conclusion 

The power level of the Avacyn deck is a high eight. It’s missing a few cards that will upgrade this build. Ancient Tomb is another ramp land although it deals two damage to you whenever you tap it. Lyra Dawnbringer adds lifelink, an angel buff, first strike and flying. While stronger than Serra Angel for five mana, an extra instance of vigilance is acceptable.Odric Master Tactician and Lunarch Marshal are two strong non-flying includes that can replace the Paladins. Master Tactician breaks parity and can kill an opponent. Lunarch Marshal can assure all your creatures have some extra keywords. Akroma’s Memorial may be worth including over Master Tactician to add haste and trample to the deck. All these cards would be upgrades over the “pet” cards used in this build bringing the deck to a nine in power.  As always you can find the deck on Arkidect here. 

As a commander addict, I would love to have a conversation about anything commander. Feel free to email me at commanderclinic@gmail.com and I will get back to you. 

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