In Development – Charlotte’s Angels

Less than two weeks to go!

Maybe you’ll be busy attending a New Phyrexia prerelease this weekend – a midnight prerelease, if you’re really hardcore. We’re doing a whole lot of looking forward into the uncertainty that is the Zendikar – New Phyrexia Standard environment.

Shockingly enough, I checked our local schedule and see that there’s a PTQ less than a month out.

In the meantime, however, that’s a week or so of Zendikar – Mirrodin Besieged Standard left to go…or about a month of it, if you’re playing on Magic Online. One week left to pick up your weapon of choice and brave a field of fiery mountains and angry, sword-wielding sparrows.

If that’s the challenge you’re facing, then I have a deck for you…as well as a neat little object lesson in watching and learning from the experiences of others as they pilot your creations.

Updating those angels

A little over a month ago, I suggested a G/W deck featuring Squadron Hawks, Fauna Shamans, Baneslayer Angels, and Gideon Jura – you can read the original article here. It was a solid list centered around a core idea that I wanted to revisit, but in the leadup to a local Nationals Qualifier (that I ended up being unable to attend), I knew it had the potential for much more power.

The original angels

Here was the original list as I wrote about it a month ago:

W/G Slayers (no longer recommended)


The core theme of this build was, in essence, “have the bigger beater.” In doing so, and in reliably tutoring up Fauna Shaman to in turn tutor up Vengevines and Baneslayers, it stomped Caw-Blade builds pretty effectively.

But it could be better.

Resilient but slow

The core problem with that build was that it was resilient but a little bit slow – a natural consequence of devoting four slots in the deck to a tutor that helped grab Fauna Shaman, which in turn helps grab other cards.

In other words, the deck could easily waste a lot of time setting things up instead of just winning. It was trading off a little too much power in exchange for an unnecessary surplus of resilience, with the important caveat that it was a resilience that was limited in scope.

In simpler terms, the Valakut matchup wasn’t so hot. So what to do?

Kill the ones you love

This is a pretty common piece of advice for budding authors, but it applies to deckbuilders as well. Yeah, you love that card. Yeah, you want to keep using it in every deck. It may even be objectively quite powerful or useful…but it might not be the right card for this deck, right now.

After trying to work around it a couple ways, I realized this was the case with Green Sun’s Zenith.

I adore that card. I really do. But it had to go, at least in this deck at this moment in time. What the deck needed to hit the overall optimal blend of power and resilience was not more ways to get at certain cards. Instead, it just needed to be faster and actually run more copies of a bunch of different power cards.

Also, I’d realized just how ridiculously useful Mortarpod is.

Angels without suns

All of this revision led to the following list:

W/G Baneslayer Aggro (not recommended)


So that was the list as I thought I’d play it at a local National Qualifier tournament last weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there.

But just as fortunately, there’s twitter.

Evan is my co-pilot

On Friday afternoon, as I was realizing that I most certainly was not hitting up any National Qualifiers that weekend, this showed up in my twitter feed:

Suddenly, I’m put in mind of Scott Pilgrim:

“This guy at work was like, ‘Steve, you know anybody in a band?’ And I was like, ‘I’m in a band.’ And he was like, ‘You’re in a band?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I am totally in a band.'”

“Great story, man.”

Swap, swap

And here’s the first place where discussion helps – reminding you that certain cards actually exist.

Evan liked the list and played it almost as I’d put it together, with one tiny change:

You know why I didn’t include Thrun in the deck in the first place?

I’d honestly forgotten the card existed.

But as Evan mentioned, Thrun hauling a Sword around is a nearly insurmountable threat for certain decks. Exactly what does a RUG deck do against Thrun wielding either Feast and Famine or Body and Mind?

In fact, a little while ago, as I was using oldschool Ghazi-Glare decks as an example to inspire my current builds, I was complaining about how I wish I had access to Kodama of the North Tree – specifically for the combination of shroud and a form of evasion in trample.

Thrun with a Sword is often quite similar to good old North Three, especially in those matchups, such as RUG, where some of the key blockers won’t be able to touch him once he’s Sworded up.

The tweaked list

So Garruk came out and a single, tutorable Thrun came in, yielding this list:

W/G Baneslayer Aggro, take two


A test drive in Charlotte

Evan Erwin played the list above in Charlotte to what we might call a “virtual” 19th place finish and 7-2 record. In reality, he clocked in with a 6-3 on the decision to scoop to Ali Aintrazi in the last round to put him in at 19th, since Ali needed the Open Series points more.

Given that I’d only handed off a list and some loose sideboarding notes (just cards in and cards out) this was a great chance to check in after the fact and see what worked, what didn’t, and how Evan’s play of the exact same list differed from mine.

The objective record

In eight rounds of play at Charlotte, Evan beat Mono-Blue Architect, two copies of RDW, Valakut, RUG, and Eldrazi Green. He lost to Valakut and to Caw-Blade piloted by Gerry Thompson (and featuring a card that the deck as listed pretty much can’t beat…).

The subjective record

So that was Evan’s play record, which is pretty solid. I was impressed that the deck took down Valakut once, since I know that, as designed above, it’s soft to that matchup. I also wanted to know something more general – how did the deck play out for him?

This may or may not sound like a “real” question to you, but it addresses an assumption that we make as deckbuilders and in playtesting.

We assume everyone plays the way we do.

On the one hand, this explains why players like [card elvish archdruid]Matt Nass[/card] and Alex Bertoncini may achieve victories with a specific archetype in contexts where others don’t – they’re familiar with the deck and may well play it in a way that does not flow intuitively for other players.

On the other hand, this can poison your own deck testing as you over- or underestimate the value or necessity of certain cards.

For example, I was convinced that I need to sideboard a lot of cards in to deal with the Boros/RDW matchups. As it happens, that’s probably not correct.

The interview portion

Evan was nice enough to virtually (there’s that word again) sit down with me and chat about how the deck played out for him, what he’d change, and so forth. I was especially curious about what I’d call the “narrative of the deck” – how the deck actually played out in practice. For example, you could easily imagine a deck that features a smooth curve of one, two, and three drops, but which regularly skips those two drops because all the one drops are mana dorks.

With that in mind, I’m going to check in on some of his comments on the deck and how it played.

That narrative flow thing…so how does it usually run?

So, in Evan’s hands, how did the deck typically play out? Here, as in all cases below, his answers are in italics.

Birds, Shaman.


Laying equipment or busting out Gideon/Baneslayer.

Birds, Lotus Cobra often occurred as well, which of course leads to pretty sick plays.

I noticed he hadn’t mentioned the Vengevines here, so I asked if he’d ended up on the Vengevine plan all that often. I certainly use them all the time when I’m running the deck, but I was wondering if they amounted to dead space between the Mystics and Baneslayers/Gideons.

Yeah, most of the time. Except RDW, when you’re on the Baneslayer plan, of course.

Overall impression

Deck needs some help versus Valakut, not so much help versus RDW. Like, I bring in 11 cards for RDW, which is a pretty good matchup anyway. 4-5 cards would be plenty.

Particularly with another Mystic for the Lifestaff.

Perhaps Leyline, or another Tec Edge.

This shows, more than anything, the case where your biases as a player may skew a deck you’ve designed in a direction that isn’t truly necessary. I kind of hate getting burned out, and probably need more practice against MRA and Boros…so I was overboarding against it while underpreparing for Valakut. Evan felt like he just had more cards than he needed against RDW – and notably, he swept those matchups, meaning that even during game one, the deck was plenty robust enough to deal with little dudes and burn spells.

On that Caw-Blade loss

As for Caw-Blade…first, it was Gerry. Second, this deck can’t beat Emeria Angel, and has issues with Sun Titan.

When Evan first tweeted about losing to Gerry and his Emeria Angel, I thought, “Oh, that would be bad.” This speaks more generally to an issue that hadn’t come up for me because it wasn’t in my testing pool – a stall plan that isn’t in a color covered by your sword suite brings you to a dead halt, giving your opponent time to recover.

The manabase

One thing I ran into twice was that I ran out of basic lands to search for. Twice I was in a situation where my Verdant Catacombs just had no targets.

I had drawn two Forests, searched out one, then looked really awkward when I couldn’t search out another. Happened in two separate games.

You want them for Cobra, but man did those times feel bad. Literally searched with the intent and realized horribly, mid-search, that I just spent a life for nothing one game.

Still won that game, though.

I’d actually been concerned about this in testing, and was not entirely surprised to see it turn up as an issue in Evan’s hands – especially since the Charlotte Standard Open was essentially his first time using the deck, and it’s a little unintuitive to have more of a fetch than lands it can fetch, out least outside of certain faster aggro decks.

Other take-homes

Here are some other useful tidbits I was able to learn from Evan’s experience with the deck in Charlotte:

  • Tajuru Preserver was useless, and Linvala is all you need to lock down Eldrazi Green
  • The deck smashes RDW, and only really needs Lifestaff, Lone Missionary and Firewalkers out of the sideboard
  • He almost never wanted the Sanctifiers
  • The deck really needs a solution to Sun Titan (since Sunblast can’t hit it)
  • Ajani was cute but you’d always rather be casting Vengevines
  • Sunblast was a dead card
  • One more Mystic would be great

And that right there is the value of sharing your lists and having them tested out in action by motivated players – that’s a lot of useful data right there. It led directly to the revised list that I’m recommending for anyone who wants to play this deck in the final week of Zendikar – MBS Standard (which is a month in MTGO years).

Charlotte’s Angels finalized

I’ll cap today’s article off with the final decklist, and some brief comments on where it stands right now and where it might go after New Phyrexia rolls into Standard.

The list

Here’s the list as it stands now, the product of some excellent extramural playtesting and discussion:

Charlotte’s Angels


Play notes for that one last week (month)

Here are a couple final thoughts on this deck, since I’m not going to be revisiting it in its current form.

First, Gideon. Over on twitter, the question was asked about what he’s doing in the deck at all:

It’s tempting, or even simply normal, to think about Gideon as another planeswalker with some abilities. However, in this context, he’s not that at all. Rather:

This deck wants a suite of undercosted beaters, and Gideon is, if nothing else, a 6/6 or 3WW, making him a good adjunct to a flying 5/5 for 3WW. Add in the fact that he is alternately damage-proof and removal proof, and his assassination and siren skills, and you have Baneslayer Angels five through seven, more or less.

Second, yes, that is a Sword of Vengeance in the sideboard, specifically to crack stalemates. It is a clunkier tool than either of the maindeck Swords to be sure, but a Sword of Vengeance on a Vengevine or Baneslayer is a crushing trump over any would-be blocker looking to stall the board state.

Third, and finally, I flipped one Catacombs for a Forest. It reduces your overall Cobra power, but cuts down on those annoying mid-to-late game moments when you’d benefit from being able to fetch a land…but find that you can’t.

Adding that Phyrexian touch

Going forward, if a deck like this is any good it will assuredly run Sword of War and Peace, and will probably run Batterskull as well.

But the truth is that New Phyrexia is bringing big changes – including a true two-card combo deck – to the format. As a result, I’m going to wander all the way back to the drawing board before I simply try to adapt existing decks.

If you can’t play it, someone can

If you’re a deck builder or tweaker, you can so much by sharing your designs and having them tested out by other players. Obviously, we want to retain our top secret tech if we have a critical event coming up…but if not, you’ll find that the reward from watching your design help propel someone else to success is pretty good all on its own, not to mention the bonus of actually getting better as a deck designer and developer as your assumptions are challenged and tested in the field.

So if you aren’t sharing, go and do it. And if you have a week (or Magic Online month) full of events, you could do way worse than to swing with Mystics, Swords, Elementals, and Angels.

magic (at) alexandershearer.com
parakkum on twitter

18 thoughts on “In Development – Charlotte’s Angels”

  1. Platypus Jedi

    Seems like a good list. I think that after New Phyrexia you can cut some of your RDW hate and just run Lifestaff and Batterskull. This leaves more sideboard slots for anti-RUG and Valakut.

    Look forward to watching you run this on the 21st! May the best Vengevines win!

  2. Alex, thanks for yet another thoughtful article.
    With all those fetches, Mortarpod, and resiliency angle, did you ever consider running a couple of Emeria Angels yourself? (yep, that makes 4-drop slot overloaded a bit, but still seems worth considering, i guess). Could supplement Angel theme nicely, too =)

  3. well a good list but please……… why the stoneforge fetish? i dont understand it, suddendly this gal become the new jace and popped up in every deck list.
    the fact that every decklist is so reliant on some card annoy me but at the same time make me happy. its easier to exploit its weaknesses. i understand the power level of those card but the bigger the guy the harder they fall (well i can see anybody who is smart and creative start maindecking those turbo-powered-pest a.k.a phyrexian revoker)

  4. not virtually 7-2, since you didnt say Evan played against Ali and won then scooped. A REAL 6-2 is already fine… and yeah I’m gonna be that guy.

  5. That was one interesting article about deck evelution with a purpose. Loved it, keep up the good work!

  6. so this list literally just scoops to both valakut, and in the future, splinterarch. great.

  7. the kor sanctifiers maindeck should be a sylvok replica. it adds a lot of choice if you need to reanimate a vengevine while losing absolutely nothing. eg no color requirements and it can be stored on table to kill something including annoying walls where youd feel like you lost value if you were forced to sanctify without kicker.
    not to mention the dude is colorless, and that does matter occasionally.

  8. You might try taking out one land (plains?) for a singleton swamp because both of your fetchlands feature black, so it strengthens fetch quality slightly without harming the manabase very much. It also gives you ample excuse to dip into black which is a whole world of possibilities that the deck didn’t have before.

  9. Interesting deck, Valakut is a worry but it does seem to be showing up a lot less than it used to (at least where I’ve been playing).

    The one change i’d recommend is cutting the Kor Sanctifiers for a Acidic Slime. Sanctifiers or the Sylvok Replica sinders suggested aren’t bad but in a deck like this with a decent amount of ramp and as a singleton tutor target i’d prefer the Slime for it’s greater versatility killing off important lands like manlands, valakut’s(if your lucky) etc. as well as it’s ability to make stronger combat trades (with Primeval or Sun Titans for instance).

  10. As always, thanks for all the comments on this, my final deck list for Zendikar – MBS Standard. I hope that this view into the process of how the deck developed will also age well, even as we move into a new Standard format.

    Now, some specific replies:

    @Platypus Jedi – As Evan noted, I tend to run way too much RDW hate anyway. Batterskull certainly is a nifty new option in that matchup, although I think RDW players are going to learn very quickly to burn the Mystic before she can flip out a 4/4 beater.

    @Nix – I gave it a little thought, but I think the overarching question we need to ask there remains “could there be a better card for the deck?” In the case of Emeria Angel, I was tempted in the abstract, but couldn’t think of a matchup where I really wanted Emeria Angel over my other options. I’m not going to end up fighting against other fatty-oriented G/W decks, e.g., so I don’t want the Angel then. So it wasn’t clear to me that it solved problems that my other cards weren’t already addressing.

    @stillmoon – If you review my back catalog, you’ll see that I’ve been Stoneforging (so to speak) ever since she was only grabbing Basilisk Collars and Behemoth Sledges to equip to my Emeria Angels. I don’t think it’s exactly a fetish, though — a two-drop that can grab one of several powerful equipment options /and/ can get it onto the battlefield around countermagic is pretty solid in many matchups. As when I was putting Behemoth Sledges on Emeria-sourced birds, the advantage this offers is that you’re not just playing a 1/2 for two mana. Instead, you’re playing a 3/4 pro-colors + abilities dude for two mana and some longer-term mana costs…and all your other guys get to be that big.

    @Kenseiden – I’ll show my work here — I think Evan would have taken down Ali in that matchup (even though Ali has supernatural skills with U/W control). So I’m crediting him a win I think he would have been able to take down. That said, Evan wasn’t as confident, so I could be safer and stick to the real result. 🙂

    @CML – See what mtr said.

    @Epi – I’m okay with a deck losing to a deck from a completely different format. It loses to CounterTop and ANT, too. That’s not a particularly useful line of thinking, really. It reminds me of the endless debate about how modern counterspells are worse than Counterspell – true and also meaningless.

    @sinders – I go back and forth about this, and have even run a deck with a 1:1 split between the two. My thinking on the choice went like this:

    Sylvok Replica lets you play out a creature and then “store” the ability to kill an artifact or enchantment later. So the plus is I can have my creature now and then cash it in for the kill later.

    Kor Sanctifiers stick around after they kill their artifact/enchantment target, meaning that I can take down a vital piece of equipment (e.g. a Sword in a Boros opponent’s deck) and have a 2/3 body left after the fact. On the minus side, the ability is “use it or lose it,” as noted.

    Overall, I preferred having a 2/3 left over, but I think you can clearly go either way.

    @Jessica – That’s actually a more dramatic change than you might imagine, and it can really alter the flow of the deck, even with the Birds and Cobras around. I made a conscious choice to not go into a third color here because I wanted the mana to be very, very smooth.

    @machius – I’d also considered Slime, for sure, but I think I end up getting concerned about the mana cost — probably far too concerned. As you said, the deck generates a lot of mana, so the extra point to get all that upside is probably worth it. Note that the one Fauna Shaman deck that did well in the last month or so of SCG Opens ran Acidic Slimes (two in the main, I think).

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