When someone builds a deck, they have some clear goal in mind. Maybe they want to build the strongest deck possible that wins the highest percentage of games. Maybe they’ve found a cool card that just screams at them, “Play me!” Maybe they want to differentiate themselves with the most unique deck possible.
Maybe they want to slam ten 4/4 flying vigilance angels on their opponent’s end step and swing for 40 in the air while their opponent is picking their jaw up off the floor.
I think I’m in the latter.
Abzan Angel Arrival (or Abzan “I just want to play Divine Visitation”) is an abzan deck through-and-through. That means we’re midrange, playing efficient cards that out-value our opponent while applying pressure with a swelling army of creatures. And as a midrange deck, hitting our curve is very important for achieving both of those goals. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I want you to forget about those two copies of Divine Visitation for now as we take a step back and look where the curve starts: the one-drops.
Legion’s Landing is always a fine one drop in a tokens deck. It gives us a lifelink creature early, which demands an answer from mono-red aggro. Flower//Flourish is one of the neater cards in the deck, as it can fix our white or green, gives us something to do on turn 1 and makes a 1/1 soldier if Hero of Precinct One is on the field.
Hero of Precinct One is everything this deck wants. It’s a constant stream of 1/1 tokens that we get just for playing our deck normally! Only 3 cards in the maindeck don’t make a 1/1 when we cast them if Hero is on the field.
Oligarch slots in purely based on synergy. She’s a beast against mono-red, forcing them to spend two cards to get rid of her completely, plus she triggers Hero and is a great blocker for most of the aggressive creatures near the bottom of the curve in other decks.
Shana comes at this from a different angle, as she’s our earliest payoff for our token strategy. We only want two or maybe three of her, though, as we can’t have more than one on the field at a time and she does require other creatures to be good.
Mortify is some of the best removal in standard right now. With decks like Gates and Nexus relying so heavily on enchantments, it allows us the interaction we so desperately need to keep our creatures pounding away at their life total. Knight of Autumn slots in here in much the same fashion, but gives us the flexibility to gain life against red or grow if we’re trying to apply pressure.
History of Benalia probably doesn’t require much explanation: it’s a fantastic token generator that can apply pressure well too. It even synergizes in multiples! So… why on earth are there only three copies? For one, it doesn’t trigger Hero. Second, our three-drop slot is a touch contested with Mortify and Knight. Finally, getting double-white on turn 3 in a 3-color deck isn’t always going to happen. It’s still great despite all of this, but I didn’t think it was great enough for four.
I’ll hit up the obvious four-drop next: Seraph of the Scales. Makes tokens on death, four-power flyer, and the combo of vigilance and deathtouch on-demand makes her a great defensive option, too. I can’t tell you how many Gate Colossi, Hydroid Krasises, and 10/10 Gatebreaker Rams I’ve traded with a Seraph.
Now I know what you’re thinking about Basilica Bell-Haunt: he may be a limited all-star, but is he really good enough for constructed? It turns out: yeah, he kinda is. He’s a two-for-one as soon as he comes out, with three power he attacks aggressively enough, and the four toughness makes him an incredible blocker against red and most of green’s attackers. Turn four is around the time we want to force the opponent to discard. If it’s been an even game so far, that’s going to force them to choose between holding onto an answer or holding onto a follow-up.
Vraska is a key component in our strategy. As a deck that relies on ending the game through combat damage, it’s important we find either a source of card draw or an alternate means of ending the game. Vraska provides both.
Trostani is a wonderful card that I’d run more of if this deck had a higher land count and open slots. We can either top-deck a Trostani late game which is great on an empty board or can break a stalemate with her +1/+1, or we can curve into her to apply some serious pressure.
March of the Multitudes is what I’d like to call the “spice” of this deck. Well, at least some kind of seasoning considering Divine Visitation is the real spice. But I can tell you this: never have I ever been disappointed in March in this deck. Either I topdeck it on a stalemate or empty board and end the game, or I play it for 2-4 after Divine Visitation and the opponent scoops. I’ve slammed it for seven before when a red opponent swung in and had me dead-to-rights, only to hand me the win instead. It’s great.
But only as the one copy.
I know, I know, we’re right at the cusp of getting into Divine Visitation, the sweetest card in this deck! But March of the Multitudes (and the fact we’re only running one here) is so interesting to dive into that I want to give it its due.
Back in Guilds of Ravnica standard I submitted another deck here, this one with three copies of DV and four copies of March. That was a true tokens deck that made serious concessions to run Divine Visitation. While it was an incredibly fun deck and had real dominating games, it had a fundamental weakness that ultimately led me to only middling success with it. A true tokens deck is either going to run anthems (like Trostani) or “aristocrats” (ping-on-death abilities like Zulaport Cutthroat or the more recent Vindictive Vampire) for their win conditions.
In Guilds standard, we have cards that can anthem like Benalish Marshall or Venerated Loxodon in addition to Trostani. My earlier DV deck had neither. And without aristocrats in Standard, I didn’t have a good win condition. DV doesn’t come out until turn five and it doesn’t affect the board.
So, to get back to the original point—why only one copy of March of the Multitudes? Because Abzan Angel Arrival is not a traditional tokens deck. It is a midrange deck that plays efficient, powerful cards, most of which happen to use tokens for that value or efficiency. And that’s what I think ultimately makes this deck so much more powerful than the original list from Guilds.
Why is Divine Visitation so good here? I could go on for quite a while, but I’d like to finish this article on the same keyboard I started it, so I’ll keep it to the essentials. And there are two:
When it comes out, it magnifies the power of practically every single play in our deck dramatically - enough to be worth a card and five mana.
It warps how our opponent plays the game.
Remember Legion’s Landing, that puny little one drop? Now we’re making a 4/4 for one white mana. Oh, you flipped to Adanto, the First Fort? Now we’re making a 4/4 for three mana every turn without spending a card on it. Is Hero of District One on the field? We get a 4/4 for playing almost any spell. Got a History of Benalia in hand? That’s two 4/4s. Trade that Oligarch off in combat? Now it’s a 4/4. I cannot emphasize enough how insane it is that we get 4/4s for casting approximately ninety percent of our spells.
By the way, if you have four creatures out, one of them is green and two are white, that means you can convoke March out on the turn you play Visitation.
And you better believe it warps how our opponents play. It is an immediate must-answer. If our opponent doesn’t have green or white, they’ve almost automatically lost. If they didn’t build enchantment hate into their deck, they’ve lost. If they have the answer, they almost have to cast it immediately, regardless of what the board looks like. If we have on-board lethal, they have to deal with the board and let us untap with DV, which is generally all we need to win. They will sideboard in cards to deal with it. They will Duress it away, leaving other important cards in our hand. Remember, it’s still a five-mana do-nothing enchantment. No skin off our backs if we can’t cast it because the rest of our deck is so good. But our opponent can’t let us have it.
That is why Divine Visitation is so strong here.
Given how narrow these cards are, I don’t think there’s much to explain, so I’ll be brief:
Kaya is good against draw-go control and mono-red. She exiles jump-start cards and keeps Azcanta from flipping while providing inevitability. With mono-red, she gives us valuable lifegain and can exile Risk Factors from our opponents’ graveyards.
Duress is the always-needed answer to control, allowing us to pull out key counterspells and boardwipes from our opponent’s hand as well as let us know if we can invest more into the board or not. In the same vein, Unbreakable Formation can save us from boardwipes, though it’s more often brought into games where four copies of duress isn’t as appealing (such as Sultai).
Trostani is great for two things: one, she’s amazing against aggressive decks, giving us a wall of lifelinkers and boosting any number of smaller creatures which turns combat to our advantage. It’s also great in game two against decks that you know will bring in a lot of enchantment hate to stop Divine Visitation from doing its job—just swap out the two DVs for Trostanis and you’ve all but blanked those cards.
Now that you’re all hyped up and are all ready to hop on your favorite online TCG marketplace or head out the door to your LGS, I have to be frank with you; there are weaknesses to this deck. With playtesting, the first one that occurred to me wasn’t really the one I was expecting.
Oligarch, while synergistic and great value against red, just isn’t at the power level of other cards in standard. One toughness means it trades with 1/1s, and two power means it can’t trade up well, either. The vigilance does make it a safe enough attacker, but that’s all it’s really got going outside its synergy. Chainwhirler eats it or its token alive, Wildgrowth Walker and Growth-Chamber Guardian both stonewall it.
The next weakness come from mana. We play twenty-two lands and use Flower//Flourish to act as another four lands to accommodate our high curve, but Flower can’t get us black mana and we only have three basics in the deck. This leads to situations where either we don’t get to five mana when we want, or we don’t have enough black to play our spells how we want.
Lastly, this is a creature-based deck, so it has all the vulnerabilities creature-based victory conditions have. Control decks with plenty of sweepers and lifegain can really slow us down, plus Divine Visitation itself is quite weak to counters. Mortify is as good against us as it is against other decks, making it a single-card answer to our biggest threats. Also, our creatures are pretty small in power/toughness terms, leading to disadvantageous combats.
There are a lot of changes I’ve played with in my head. At first, the deck had fewer Knight of Autumns and Bell-Haunts, but based on their performance I brought more in. History of Benalia always wants to be played as a four-of, as it works so well with more copies of itself, so I may add more. Emmara doesn’t do so well without as much convoke, so I’ll likely drop the one copy of her. Shanna might replace her, as with more copies of her we might be able to pressure our control opponents into wiping the board earlier, giving us more time to rebuild and meaning we don’t have to invest so much into a board state in order to apply pressure.
The sideboard needs another look as well. I think copy three of Bell-Haunt belongs there, as well as a Viven. We can take out the Unbreakable Formations for those, as those two cards would be brought in for the control matchups and we already have the Duresses to deal with boardwipes.