Angels have been a huge part of Magic since its inception. As white’s iconic tribe, Angels have maintained a steady presence throughout Magic’s history, and at times have been amongst the most powerful cards in their respective formats. Today, we’re going to get across some of the mightiest and most iconic Angel cards from Magic’s history – let’s get underway!
How the mighty have fallen. Baneslayer Angel was once the queen of Standard, in years past – when printed in M10 and M11, it was such a powerful and sought-after card that a single copy would set you back around $50, and as high as $90 in some instances. Some people considered it the best five-mana creature ever printed, and so when it was brought back in M21, its pedigree suggested it might have something to say for itself.
Turns out… it didn’t. Baneslayer Angel has remained on the fringes of Standard this time around, occasionally brought in as a sideboard one-of in certain matchups. Times have changed, and the Standard we play today just isn’t hospitable to a five-mana creature that dies to removal with no enter-the-battlefield ability. Sure, it’s a huge roadblock for aggressive decks, but a lot of the time you’re dead before you can cast it.
All the same, Baneslayer Angel remains an iconic card in Magic’s history, if only for the dominance it enjoyed a decade ago. As something of a side note, while the flying, first strike and of course lifelink are all huge parts of what makes this card good, I’ve never seen the protection from Demons and Dragons be relevant, not even once.
This turbocharged Ajani’s Pridemate was a big part of Standard when it was first printed in M14, and helped Ivan Floch win a Pro Tour alongside the mighty Nyx-Fleece Ram. Its ability is bananas, and is of course enabled by it also having lifelink. With any kind of a board, Archangel of Thune is nigh-unbeatable, and even by itself, it gets a lot of work done, resulting in big life total swings.
It’s not just a beater, however – it’s actually also a combo piece! People quickly realized that Archangel of Thune could be combined with Spike Feeder in Modern for infinite life and infinite counters on other creatures. Remove a counter, gain life, trigger, Archangel, put a counter on all your creatures, remove that counter from Spike Feeder, repeat ad infinitum.
Unfortunately, playing slow, clunky creatures like Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune is a big ask in a format like Modern, and now there are things like Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista (which, at the moment at least, aren’t enough to dominate the format). Archangel of Thune’s peak is probably behind it, but it was an excellent card while it lasted.
Atraxa is one of the most popular commanders of all time – according to EDHRec, it comes in at number three. This won’t come as a surprise to many, I know, considering that Atraxa is the perfect commander in so many different types of popular decks – particularly, decks that are looking to do ridiculous things with +1/+1 counters or superfriends decks that use the proliferate to put extra loyalty counters on their planeswalkers.
The fact that Atraxa is an Angel is kind of incidental to the main ways in which it’s played. Atraxa isn’t usually at the helm of a tribal Angel deck (which makes sense, as there’s only a single mono-blue Angel and zero mono-green Angels), but it’s still a massive card in Commander. Odds are if you’ve played the format even a little bit you’ve come across an Atraxa deck, and once you saw it you were tempted to build one yourself – until you saw the price of Doubling Season and thought better of it.
Platinum Angel has one of the most situationally powerful abilities you can imagine – if your opponent doesn’t have a way to remove it, they just can’t win the game. In Historic, it often lurks in the sideboards of Karn, the Great Creator decks, waiting for its chance to leap out and punish uninteractive decks that didn’t think playing removal would be worth it.
A lot of people deride Platinum Angel as being the sort of card that naïve new players like to hide behind, only to have it die to Doom Blade after a hefty seven mana investment. The fact remains, however, that Platinum Angel has won countless games that its controller had no business winning, and even today continues to make fools of players who didn’t pack enough interaction.
Besides, there’s also the legendary tale, Standoff in Honolulu, that has to be one of the funniest pieces of Magic literature ever written – and its centerpiece of this masterful work is none other than big ol’ Plats.
This one is for all the Magic Boomers out there – I know I never would have heard the end of it if I hadn’t put Serra Angel at the top of the list. Today, we look at a card like Serra Angel and think, “sure, I’d pick that pretty early in a draft.” We’d expect Marshall and LSV to give it a good grade, happily play it in our Limited decks, and then chuck it with all the other draft chaff and forget about it.
Well, the story goes that there was a time where this card wasn’t only good, it was busted. In the early days of Magic, Serra Angel was a finisher for slow, controlling decks. After all, “attacking does not cause Serra Angel to tap” – how could they possibly beat a creature that didn’t tap when it attacked? Serra Angel predates keyworded vigilance by over a decade, and only a handful of vigilance creatures were printed in the years after Serra Angel (some of them red, weirdly enough), so its ability remained quite special for longer than you might have thought.
Today, we might not think much of Serra Angel. Today, we might dismiss her as a Limited card and even look at five-mana 5/5 flying first strike lifelinkers as underpowered, but there was a time, young one, when these cards were amongst the best in the game. Kids these days, with their two-mana 6/6s…
Angels have been home to some of Magic’s most powerful and iconic cards throughout its history, even if they’re not as dominant today as they once were. Historic Angels is still flying the flag, but the days of five-mana Angels dominating competitive Magic seems to be behind us – for now, at least.