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Budget(ish) Commander: Archangel Avacyn ($80)


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Hey, folks! It's been a while, but I'm back with more Budget Commander goodness. To kick off the series return, I wanted to talk about a card I'm very excited about, Archangel Avacyn. She's so cool that I couldn't wait until her official release before coming up with brews and game plans. I've always had a soft spot for the Boros guild, which has always been the weakest color combination in the Commander format. While not single-handedly fixing all the issues with the color combination, Avacyn brings a truckload of value to the table and lets us play Boros in a way that has never been previously supported.

Boros Control

We've finally got a strong Boros commander that for once isn't preoccupied with being hyper-aggressive in combat. In my review of Kalemne when she was first spoiled, I vented my frustrations about Wizards only providing a single style of play for Boros decks — dumping your hand on the board and turning all your creatures sideways — which suffers from being an unoptimal method of playing multiplayer. Not only does Boros not get a variety of strategies to choose from that the other guilds enjoy, but their only strategy is a weak one. Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas was a cautious step in the right direction, encouraging decks led by her to go Tall instead of going Wide, but the commander herself is on the weak side, and she does not provide enough incentive for the playstyle she promotes.

Archangel Avacyn changes things up for us. She's loaded with interesting abilities on both sides that support multiple themes, including Blink, Sacrifice, and Burn. Her abilities on both sides are very potent in Commander, maintaining your established board presence while clearing away your opponents'. Best of all, none of her abilities care about being aggressive in combat. With Avacyn 3.0 at the helm, we can finally try something outside of Boros Aggro, like Boros Control. I'm so excited!

Indestructible and Blink

Making all your creatures indestructible at instant speed is a highly potent ability in Commander, where boards are routinely swept away with cards like Wrath of God every few turns. I've had tremendous success with Boros Charm and Rootborn Defenses in past decks, turning board wipes into one-sided blowouts in my favor. Having the ability in your command zone does remove the element of surprise since your opponents are aware of Avacyn's potential arrival, but it's still powerful and useful. Forcing your opponents to play around Archangel Avacyn whenever you have the mana available to cast her is a huge win.

Once Avacyn is on the field, however, we can add the element of surprise to our indestructibility trick by pairing Archangel Avacyn with instant-speed Blink effects. Cloudshift is a prime example, turning into a half-priced Boros Charm when Avacyn is on the board. Unfortunately, most other blink effects that return Avacyn back to the battlefield in time to respond to removal are Blue, but the next best option is Eldrazi Displacer. We also have plenty of abilities that either return the creatures to the battlefield at the end of turn, like Ghostway, or return it to your hand, like Erratic Portal.

If you plan on running cards to bounce / blink Archangel Avacyn, other creatures with powerful enter the battlefield (ETB) triggers also become more valuable. Karmic Guide, Sun Titan, and Solemn Simulacrum are just some of the many creatures that benefit greatly from bounce / blink. Special mention goes to Relic Seeker, the poor man's Stoneforge Mystic, for being especially good with this strategy since he will re-enter the battlefield losing renown and can therefore tutor up another equipment. He's very good with haste, which thankfully is what Red does best!

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Threaten and Sacrifice

When flipped over, Archangel Avacyn acts as a board wipe. Without support, however, you're at the mercy of your opponents on when she does flip, since they get to decide when to kill your creatures in combat or with their removal spells.

To avoid having Avacyn flip when we don't want her to, we can run the aforementioned blink cards on the Angel to give our creatures indestructibility, bounce Avacyn to either replay her immediately, or run other creature protection like Boros Charm.

To force Avacyn to flip when we want her to, we must have methods of killing our creatures on demand. The best way to accomplish this act is with sacrifice outlets. As a rule of thumb, the best sacrifice outlets are 1) repeatable 2) instant-speed 3) free to activate so we don't have to keep mana up to do so. Some of the best options include Ashnod's Altar and Goblin Bombardment. Quirky niche options, Martyr's Cause and Fanatical Devotion, have a home here as well since they offer some protection from board wipes, including your own (see "Earthquakes and Protection" below). These sac outlets let us flip Avacyn whenever we want her to.

You know what's better than sacrificing our creatures for value? Sacrificing our opponent's creatures for value! Yep, since we're in Red, we have access to the best Threaten effects, "borrowing" our opponent's creatures and then sacrificing them before we need to hand them back. If you thought Insurrection was a disgusting card before, imagine casting it, attacking for lethal against one opponent, and then sacrificing the rest of the creatures after combat! The blowout potential is insane. More examples: Zealous Conscripts and Molten Primordial are great ETB Threatens that also happen to play very nicely with Blink / Bounce cards. Pretty sweet synergies eh?

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Earthquakes and Protection

When Archangel Avacyn fully succumbs to her madness, she flips out and goes on a murderous rampage, dealing 3 damage to all creatures and opponents. Three damage is enough to take out most utility creatures in Commander, from mana dorks like Llanowar Elves to card drawers like Grim Haruspex. Avacyn's transformation is a great mini board wipe in our command zone all on its own, but it also offers the potential to build upon a "Red Wrath" theme for our deck as well.

While a mini board wipe is good, a full-sized board wipe is even better: Furnace of Rath and Dictate of the Twin Gods let Avacyn burn the board for 6 damage instead of 3, which is enough to kill most creatures. If you run those cards, then other Red Wraths (which Red has tons of) become even more powerful options: Earthquake, Crater Hellion, Pyrohemia. Oh, and did I mention Caldera Hellion, Crater Hellion, and Ryusei, the Falling Star not only benefit from damage doubling, but they also play nicely with Blink / Bounce / Sacrifice themes outlined earlier? Layers of synergies, friend!

The one downside of these Red Wraths is that they end up killing your creatures too. Fanatical Devotion and Martyr's Cause help alleviate that problem, while acting as sac outlets to flip Avacyn. We also have some spicier options. Mark of Asylum allows our creatures to remain on the board unscathed by our own Red Wraths and our opponent's damaging spells as well. Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant does the same if we have over 30 life (easy considering we start at 40!) and Light of Sanction saves us from our own spells. With any of these in play, our board wipes become one-sided blowouts in our favor!

When we're dealing so much damage to our creatures, while our own creatures are unscathed, running Repercussion is an insanely fun prospect that can burn away our opponent's life totals in a hurry.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the most powerful Red Wraths available to us, the trio of Wildfire, Burning of Xinye, and Destructive Force. These not only burn away the board, but they also blow up lands, which severely hinder our opponent's abilities to recover. While they are the strongest options, many casual groups frown upon Mass Land Destruction. Always check with your group first before you run these cards. They are absolutely not necessary in more casual metas. In high-powered metas these are the cards that give Boros a fighting chance.

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Winning

This deck is usually going to win by dropping your opponent's life total to 0 in a straightforward manner: burn out your opponents with a lethal Earthquake, beat their faces with a hasted Inferno Titan or other random fattie, or kill 'em with their own creatures with Insurrection. Nothing fancy here, just efficient Red ways to end things.

I always have a combo or two in my decks, and we have a couple here too, but they're unlikely to happen often since they require 3+ cards, and we lack tutors in our available colors.

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Deck List

This article's deck list is more expensive than my usual $50-$60 budgets. The reason is largely due to Archangel Avacyn's whopping $24 presale price tag. The deck won't be cheap, but my list is still significantly cheaper than most ($80 at the time of writing) while not sacrificing too much power.

 

Upgrades and Fiddly Bits

The first card I'd splurge for is Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. She does exactly what this deck wants to do, making our Red Wraths more effective, while simultaneously protecting ourselves from our own burn spells. She even plays politics nicely by encouraging our opponents to attack elsewhere! Seriously, Gisela is perfect, and with her recent reprint in Commander 2015 now is the cheapest she'll ever be for a long, long time. Get her now!

After Gisela, I'd pick up Solemn Simulacrum not only because he's great in most non-Green decks, but he synergizes with our themes of Bounce / Blink / Sacrifice. Chandra, Flamecaller is more expensive but does stuff we love, specifically drawing cards and burning the board. Swords to Plowshares and Boros Charm are the best two cards at what they do while also going well with our Sunforger

Keeping mana open to flash in Archangel Avacyn can be clunky. The deck benefits greatly from ways to flash in your stuff, so Vedalken Orrery and Winding Canyons do a great job.

Something I advocate for all White decks, but is specifically a godsend in Boros decks since they lack good card advantage, is something I call the White Value Package. The two core cards that make up this package are Land Tax and Scroll Rack. These cards are amazing individually, but together they're absolutely brilliant: draw 3 lands with your Tax, then trade them in for non-land cards with Rack. You're basically drawing 3 extra cards for 1 mana each turn!

The next inclusion in your package should be all the fetch lands that get Mountains and/or Plains, Crucible of Worlds, Rings of Brighthearth, and Sensei's Divining Top. Fetchlands provide shuffle effects, making your Scroll Rack and Sensei's Divining Top far more effective. A single fetchland combined with Crucible of Worlds means you'll never miss a land drop again because you can keep replaying / sacrificing the same fetchland over and over. Rings of Brighthearth lets you copy the activated ability of fetchlands, adding a Rampant Growth to each of them. It's a super efficient card advantage and ramp engine.

The White Value Package ain't cheap to buy, but they are worth the investment if you want to take Boros to its highest level and help shore up the guild's weakness.

Beyond those suggestions, it really depends on what you think the deck is lacking the most:

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I don't often do this, but here's my take on a blinged out Archangel Avacyn, where money isn't an obstacle:

We've got the White Value Package for card advantage / ramp / library manipulation, a Sunforger Package that can be re-used with Mistveil Plains, Mass Land Destruction once we're ahead on the board, and numerous combo combinations involving Adarkar Valkyrie, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and Ashnod's Altar. Good stuff, I think!

 

That's All, Folks!

Hope you guys enjoyed this preview of Archangel Avacyn and some ways to build her. I'm not going to run a poll this time since I have a back log of Budget Commander brews that I want to write about, but it will be back eventually. 

Follow me on Twitter @BudgetCommander for notifications on when the next article is up, updates on future decks, and input for what to work on next. Thanks for reading!


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