Giada, Font of Hope Art by Eric Deschamps

Standard Esper Angels Deck Guide: Tribal May Finally Tier One Again

Since Giada, Font of Hope was announced during the Streets of New Capenna spoilers season, we knew that this tribe was going to be part of the metagame. However, many midrange strategies are now crowding every tournament and the ladder, something that makes the popularity of aggro decks fall in high numbers.

In theory:

  • Aggro beats control.
  • Control beats combo.
  • Combo beats aggro.

With the passing of the years, some variants of the color pie star diluting and some colors are now capable of doing things that they can’t do before. Also, the other two main strategies are part of the chart:

  • Aggro beats tempo.
  • Tempo beats control.
  • Control beats combo.
  • Combo beats midrange.
  • Midrange beats aggro.

With tempo and midrange decks being part of the metagame, adaptability became extremely important to survive. Many of us remember how strong Gruul was during the Throne of Eldraine Standard; Raphael Levy was capable of reaching Mythic #1 with the archetype. With the rotation of the sets, this archetype fell in popularity and strength. It’s not surprising why, the deck lost Lovestruck Beast, Embercleave, and many other key cards that make Gruul Adventures one of the best decks in that format.

Now, let me explain what this little Gruul tale has to do with Angels. In the past weeks, some Orzhov Angels lists have been here and there, but then, an Esper variant with Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate and Negate start getting some attention. This weekend, Nick Daimanolis piloted the archetype to top 12 in a 257 people tournament; the Crokeyz Streets of New Capenna Tournament.

Esper Angels by Nick Daimanolis – 12th Crokeyz Tournament
by Bohe
Standard
Aggro
best of 3
4 mythic
41 rare
5 uncommon
10 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (2)
Instants (6)
2
Negate
$0.50
4
Vanishing Verse
$13.96
Sorceries (2)
2
Emeria’s Call
$13.98
Enchantments (4)
Lands (24)
3
Plains
$0.75
1
Swamp
$0.25
4
Deserted Beach
$51.96
60 Cards
$346.88
Sideboard
3
Legion Angel
$2.37
2
Negate
$0.50
1
Test of Talents
$0.49
2
Doomskar
$5.58
15 Cards
$177.65

Looking carefully at this deck we can figure out something that makes it strong in a heavy midrange metagame. Gruul comes back to the map when it transforms into Temur Midrange, packing Negate and one or two more mid/late game cards on the main board. This Esper variant of Angels does the same and now the archetype had a great performance in a big tournament; I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Elspeth Resplendent is a great card in any deck that can utilize it well. This archetype surely is one of the best places for this new planeswalker to shine. It gives us a lot of options to work with from lifelink counters to win any damage race to card advantage with its -3 ability. Surely a very strong first step in making this archetype viable in the current heavy attrition metagame.

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate was printed almost two years ago, and now it looks like it finds the best deck to be in. Almost everyone can remember how good Selfless Savior is in any deck where we want to protect our creatures. Linvala does the same but for all our creatures, making all our board effectively unkillable by almost any kind of sweeper or spot removal. Furthermore, here is where Negate became useful. The Meathook Massacre and Farewell normally can get around Linvala’s ability, but when we’re backed up by Negate, the opponent won’t be able to wrath the board.

Having access to counterspells is great for dealing not only with this kind of removal, but also against any kind of card that could give big advantages to our opponents during a long game. Pesky planeswalkers such as Kaito Shizuki, The Wandering Emperor, or Lolth, Spider Queen or cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker all get tagged by Negate.

If we’re talking further resiliency, Liesa, Forgotten Archangel has to be part of the conversation. Liesa makes it that all your creatures resurrect themselves on death adding yet another grindy element to this strategy.

Without a doubt, Nick’s list is very solid, nevertheless, I made some adjustments aiming for a better performance against Esper Midrange, a deck that makes three appearances in the top 8 + the archetype that defeat Nick a couple of times during the tournament.

Esper Angels v2
by DoggertQBones
Standard
Tribal
best of 3
5 mythic
42 rare
4 uncommon
9 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (1)
Instants (8)
2
Negate
$0.50
4
Vanishing Verse
$13.96
2
Void Rend
$6.98
Sorceries (4)
4
Emeria’s Call
$27.96
Enchantments (4)
Lands (21)
2
Plains
$0.50
1
Swamp
$0.25
4
Deserted Beach
$51.96
60 Cards
$360.22
Sideboard
3
Legion Angel
$2.37
2
Negate
$0.50
1
Void Rend
$3.49
3
Go Blank
$7.47
2
Crippling Fear
$0.50
15 Cards
$21.09

Minimal changes in the main board, but mostly enough to have a better match against Esper Midrange and any other similar deck.

We cut one Elspeth and one land for two Void Rend. Like Paulo said during his latest column; Three mana could be a lot for a removal spell, and many targets during the mid-late game give value even if we get rid of it. Nevertheless, I have one main target for this removal spell that makes it worth playing it: Raffine, Scheming Seer.

This sphinx is without a doubt one of the best 5 cards in the new set. Our Vanishing Verse can’t touch this card. Many of the best removal spells in the format like Strangle or Bloodchief's Thirst are not very effective against it, even very removals like Power Word Kill or Fateful Absence get taxed by one. If you face Raffine and don’t have an immediate answer for it, it’s going to be a struggle, so thinking about the solution for this problem, Void Rend is the best clear and direct answer.

Being an uncountable spell means that this removal bypass ward. Effectively removing Raffine while at the same time having a card that could take care of every other problematic card like their planeswalkers or creatures that come back from the graveyard is something that changes the tide of this matchup.

I tried going for a full set of The Wandering Emperor, just as Zan Syed was doing during the time he was playing Angels in its Orzhov variant, but Raffine made me reconsider the idea. The Wandering Emperor is a powerful card and is very good against basically everything, but being unprepared for Raffine and having bad cards against the leader of Obscura is something that could punish us heavily in this metagame. Needing five mana to exile Raffine is too pricey in my opinion.

Playing Ray of Enfeeblement was also an option. It directly kills Raffine for two mana and it also works perfectly for games against Mono White or mirror matches. However, in our match against Esper, this one black mana removal doesn’t have another good target so I thinkVoid Rend is a better option for our main board.


Potential Inclusions / Notable Exclusions

  • Like I mentioned before, The Wandering Emperor is an amazing card, and playing it in almost any deck with White is probably the right choice. However, in this heavy Esper/Raffine metagame, the best planeswalker in a long time start to fall just a little.
  • I play a for some time with the idea of playing our own Ray of Enfeeblement. Seems like a good idea against Raffine, Scheming Seer. The problem with this is that the card lacks other good targets against Esper and Mono White, even if is still there, is not as popular as before. Also, Vanishing Verse is amazing against mono colored strategies.
  • The Meathook Massacre is good in deck like ours because we have very high thoughtless creatures. However, against other creature decks, Crippling Fear tends to be better (having an extra black source is also something we add for playing this card without many troubles because its double black cost).
  • Shadows' Verdict simply deletes almost everything against Jund, but taking some of our angels with it is something I don’t like.
  • Pithing Needle is amazing against Ob Nixilis or any planeswalker Esper, Mardu or Jund can throw at us. However, simply attacking them down is probably more effective.
  • Duress was in my sideboard for some time until I realize that playing a turn one Duress isdifficult with our land configuration and something that we don’t want to do until turns two or three anyway.

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate Art by Wayne Reynolds
Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate Art by Wayne Reynolds

A 335 players tournament is without a doubt a small Grand Prix. This competitive environment let us know which emerging archetypes are going to continue be part of the metagame, which old acquaintances are still viable and if any new deck is the new kid on the block.

I’m going to tackle the top 4 of Crokeyz Streets of New Capenna Tournament as our base for this guide. This include many of the more prevalent archetypes in the actual ladder ranked games: Esper Midrange, Mardu Midrange, Jeskai Control, Jund Midrange.

Esper Midrange

InOut
+2 Slip Out the Back-4 Inspiring Overseer
+2 Negate-2 Liesa, Forgotten Archangel
+3 Go Blank-2 Firja's Retribution
+1 Void Rend

Vanishing Verse is in a weird spot here. It’s a dead card against Kaito Shizuki, Raffine, Scheming Seer, and Obscura Interceptor (a card that we have to play around for avoiding big tempo swings from our opponent). However, it’s very good against everything else. Try to use this removal for Sanctuary Warden, All-Seeing Arbiter, Tenacious Underdog, The Wandering Emperor, or Lolth, Spider Queen.

Drawing cards is something very good against other midrange decks. Nevertheless, taking out Inspiring Overseer is almost mandatory. It’s our only creature that can’t block Raffine or attack over it, and also very bad attacking if we are facing Lolth’s spider tokens. Even if we curve this creature after Giada, Font of Hope, it’s not enough most of the time.

Instead of drawing we are going to cut our opponent hand using Go Blank. This is also very good against Tenacious Underdog and All-Seeing Arbiter that cares about the graveyard. Going for this 2 for 1 exchange is something that is going to help us a lot for balancing resources.

Slip Out the Back was the best idea against any kind of removal, specially against Ray of Enfeeblement. Do you need a one mana counter spell for a one mana spot removal? Now we have it! We also make our creature bigger. Going for this blue Snakeskin Veil do wonders.

Play carefully. If you could reach 27 life with Righteous Valkyrie is almost game over for our opponents. Using a lifelink counter from Elspeth Resplendent could make a big difference.

Mardu Midrange

InOut
+2 Slip Out the Back-2 Liesa, Forgotten Archangel
+3 Go Blank-2 Firja's Retribution
+2 Crippling Fear-2 Inspiring Overseer
-1 Void Rend

Don’t get me wrong, Void Rend is a decent card overall, but in a match when we’re not facing Raffine, Scheming Overseer, it’s ok if we don’t play with all our three copies.

Instead we prefer Crippling Fear, a sweeper that effectively removes almost every single one of their 18 creatures. Just 1 Legion Angel and 1 Liesa, Forgotten Archangel avoid this card. We could deal with these two cards in other ways so it’s not a problem. Speaking about Liesa, we take out this angel here as we also do the same against Esper. The reason behind it is how heavy is the metagame on Vanishing Verse Yes, this card is immune to Verse, but seeing all our other creatures get exiled while the effect of this card don’t do anything is something we don’t like against this kind of deck.

Slip Out the Back is also amazing here. They play Vanishing Verse, Hagra Mauling, The Wandering Emperor, and Ray of Enfeeblement that are coming from their sideboard. We don’t side in Guardian of Faith because The Meathook Massacre is not very good against us, and even if they manage to cast one for 6 or 7 mana, we still have our Negate. Be careful with their only copy of Doomskar.

Go Blank goes well for cutting into their resources while holding back Tenacious Underdog.

Jeskai Control

InOut
+2 Slip Out the Back-2 Vanishing Verse
+2 Negate-2 Firja's Retribution
+3 Go Blank-4 Inspiring Overseer
+1 Void Rend

Hinata, Dawn-Crowned is back and stronger than ever. With Fable of the Mirror-Breaker now renown as one of the best Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty cards, having a full set of this red enchantment in this shell is very strong.

Nevertheless, we are prepared. We take out two Vanishing Verse because they just have 2 creatures in their deck, Hinata and Goldspan Dragon. Vanishing Verse doesn’t hit Hinata, but having a pair for Goldspan Dragon could be very useful at the right moment. We don’t want to take all our copies out because they also play Hall of Storm Giants.

We’re not facing a lot of removal, but we need some answers against Abrade and/or Valorous Stance and Battle of Frost and Fire so Slip Out the Back is enough.

Two Negate and three Go Blank seal the deal. They play one Orvar, the All-Form against this kind of discard spell, but just one copy of Orvar is not enough for stopping us for playing a turn three Go Blank. Just be careful during the late game; if you have a very powerful permanent that you don’t want to get copied, play around Orvar as possible.

Our last copy of Void Rend is a must here because this card is our only direct answer against Hinata. Our other option is make an angel have 5 power with Giada, Font of Hope, Elspeth Resplendent, or Slip Out the Back and use the second chapter of Firja's Retribution. That’s the reason why we keep two of this enchantments.

Jund Midrange

InOut
+2 Slip Out the Back-4 Firja's Retribution
+2 Negate-2 Vanishing Verse
+3 Go Blank-1 Void Rend
+2 Guardian of Faith-2 Inspiring Overseer

Our best way to deal with them is protecting our board. Slip Out the Back, Negate, and Guardian of Faith are here for accomplish this task. The reason behind Guardian of Faith is because, unlike the other midrange decks, Jund is now playing Shadows' Verdict, against aggro and against mirror matches. Here, our Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate is good because is still stops their good removal spells, but need some help against sweepers that exiles our board.

We keep a pair of Vanishing Verse for having answers against their singleton Titan of Industry and Workshop Warchief.

Go for the full set of Negate just as against Jeskai have a lot of sense. Jund is nowadays playing 10 creatures, basically just 4 copies of Bloodtithe Harvester and 4 copies of Tenacious Underdog just to copy Ob Nixilis, the Adversary.


Tips and Tricks

Liesa, Forgotten [card name=
Liesa, Forgotten Archangel Art by Dmitry Burmak
  • It’s important to remember that Firja's Retribution could end the game if we set the board for it. Having one big enough angel + Firja’s token while holding a protective spell in our hand is most of the time all we need. The double strike that the last chapter gives tends to be very strong in the right situation.
  • The usual “Pathway Advice”. Try to play this lands after all your other possible land drops. Choosing the wrong color because and early pathway tend to make any deck stumble.
  • Guardian of Faith is something we have to side in against any deck with Farewell. Have an eye open for it even if it’s not very popular right now.

Final Notes

I lost count of how many times I said in the last months how much I like Standard. Since Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty and now with Streets of New Capenna, the only thing that is between the next tier 1 and us is our imagination.

I seen in the last days crazy new ideas work, like the Izzet Bombardment deck (also in the top 8 of the Crokeyz and present in high Mythic ladder) or Jund Shigeki, Jukai Visionary, and old acquintances like Goldspan Dragon combos with Lier, Disciple of the Drowned going wild in Mythic.

Angels is now a thing. Making top 12 on this weekend biggest tournament while having some players grinding with it on top 50 in Mythic is something we can’t overlook. Orzhov is definitely playable, but as we discus in this this column. Evolving is a key part of keep an archetype competitive enough. Going for a Blue splash give us amazing results, just like it does for Gruul, making Temur playable again.

Until the next time, dear readers. Thanks for sharing this article with me and reading until this part of it. Let me know what do you think in my social media (links below) and remember; don’t forget to smile when your day starts. It makes a difference. ♥

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Bohe

A full time MTG content creator. Started playing Magic in 99’ with the release of Urza’s Destiny, 3 times Grand Prix attendant (1 as a player ending #78 and 2 as a judge). Mexican, lover of coffee, Korean culture, languages and ex-LoL coach.
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