At some point in their early Magic-playing lives, most people will learn about some of the game’s most basic creature abilities. These are the ones which largely showed up in the first few sets and have continued to make an appearance ever since. They are the most fundamental creature abilities in the game, transcending format and plane alike. They are so ubiquitous that experienced players either take their presence for granted, or as is more common, simply don’t even notice the tiny bylines they exist on as they move further down the card text to the more unique features the card may offer.
And that’s the thing: a dangerous creature need not have secondary abilities. With the right casting cost and size, most creatures can be formidable with even just one basic trait. Just ask something like Terra Stomper, Goliath Sphinx, or Rakeclaw Gargantuan. Evergreen abilities can do quite a bit of damage on their own, even if more complex cards have a tendency of tacking them on seemingly almost as an afterthought.
Still, the more abilities that get plied on to a creature, the more exponentially problematic it becomes. Why rely solely on Haste when you can have Haste AND Trample? First Strike And Deathtouch? Flash AND Hexproof?
In fact, one of the most problematic creatures of the early Magic days was good ol’ Serra Angel, a creature that blends Flying and Vigilance. Plenty of other creatures at the time were larger and more intimidating, even solely among its fellow aviators, but Serra Angel was the card you often didn’t want to stare down if you could help it. Compared to the other heavy hitting fliers, Serra was cheaper to cast, had a tendency to show up in greater frequency, and was an absolute pain to deal with unless you had some form of spot removal. By today’s standards Serra Angel is somewhat humble in terms of power level – still decent but easily overshadowed by newer shinies the game puts out with regularity. But in those days, the combination of Flying and Vigilance was a one-two punch that was really annoying to contend with on a regular basis.
Most of the time the focus was on the Flying ability largely, as that alone could be a problem to a lot of decks. Even if that was able to be addressed, however, it was the inclusion of Vigilance that was what so many found frustrating about it. After all, having an aggressive midsized creature with evasion was bad enough. The fact that it also could attack and then subsequently be used as a blocker was insult atop injury. It proved to a young and impressionable me that Vigilance (even in its pre-keyworded days), was an overlooked and underappreciated ability to focus on. It was specifically because of Serra Angel that I developed an affinity for Vigilance, and similar effects that keep my creatures untapped on both sides of the battlefield, ever since. Because in multiplayer Magic, you’re fighting on multiple fronts, and you need all the help you can get.
As it happens, the ‘Serra combo’ went on to become a fairly common motif among larger flying creatures. It’s especially poignant among the flight of the game’s angels. This ability pairing has been repeated nearly 100 times over the game’s tenure on creatures large and small and across at least two different colors. And it’s almost always a welcomed sight… if they’re under your command.
It is with that appreciation in mind that we turn now and celebrate this week’s card pick, another example in the long procession of Serra-like descendants.
Today we have: Stoic Angel
Name: Stoic Angel
Edition: Shards of Alara / Modern Masters 2017
Focus: Board Control
Highlights: It’s nearly lost to some as we continually move farther away from the era of the Alara block, but Stoic Angel was first and foremost a paragon representation of the Bant shard. It’s tricolor purpose focused on combat control, namely by trying to maximize the effectiveness of its ‘creature attacks alone’ Exalted triggers. For block-centric players, this card fed into that perfectly and was seen as an advantageous tool to that end. And they would not be wrong. However, for us old-timers, this was principally seen another evolution of the Serra Angel we had known so well over the years. It too was a pleasant card to see – even if it did nudge the original a little closer towards obsolescence.
Stats-wise, Stoic Angel is neither aggressively nor prohibitively costed, putting it in that sweet spot of casting precisely what it should be. On the one hand, it is only four mana (one cheaper than a Serra), but it also requires three different colors of mana to be cast. This effectively balances those factors out, and though some may see the three color casting cost as a deterrent, given the card’s overall effects it’s not likely to be the one you’ll drop down in the early game.
The endemic ability pairing of Flying and Vigilance are on point on this card, which makes it a useful battlefield creature both on attack and defense, as numerous players over the years have come to experience. However, Stoic Angel trades one point of power in this case for the addition of its second and more impacting ability, which adds a soft stasis lock effect to the game. Specifically, it moves the effect of the old apocryphal Red enchantment Smoke out of that color and into a more appropriate color setting. This ability states that players are limited to untapping just one creature on their turn, which is a huge dampening effect to anyone with a creature-based Commander deck that likes to attack with frequency.
However, because Stoic Angel has the potential to either lock down or significantly curtail everyone’s creature readiness, the one true down side to the card is that it has a tendency of becoming a removal target by those who don’t wish to be handcuffed in this fashion – even taking into account the fact that this card affects everyone equally. As such, you’ll want to be mindful of when to drop it if you’d like to keep it alive in the long term. Casting it during a point when everything is untapped can lead to a period of detente, for instance, in which no one will attack for fear of letting their guard down, whereas casting it after someone has made a heavy creature commitment can leave them especially vulnerable to attack from other players. Both approaches have their advantages, and it’s all a matter of whether you’d prefer to be buying time or leveraging table politics. Through the careful tactical timing of its use, Stoic Angel can singlehandedly shift both the pacing of the game and the power state of the board in a hurry, fostering a sense of admiration or consternation, depending on which side of things you’re on.
You know, just like it’s predecessor. Albeit on a tad larger stage.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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