Commander Spotlight: Vengeful Archon

Every Magic player has a deck archaeology. Whether it’s a deck you slaved over the kitchen table trying to perfect, facing down a memorable friend’s latest concoction, or that very first deck you made by simply throwing all the cards of one color you had together, there is a roadmap of your history with the game. There will be decks that worked well – sometimes too well even – just as there are those that failed spectacularly. There are some that were fine-tuned dueling machines and those that were clearly suited for multiplayer melees. There were decks made from scratched or those you modified from a deck you got at the store. There were decks you adored and those you were glad were inevitably shelved for one reason or another.

Finding synergies, enabling combos, leaning in on theme. Chances are you’ve either seen or had decks that do all of these things at some point. All of which add up to that timeline of your Magic-playing history. The longer you’ve been at it, the more extensive that path becomes, filled with branching stories that encompass dozens if not hundreds of stories to reflect on, to learn from, and to cherish. Magic, for all its hype and fanfare and money pit nature, is still ultimately a game, and games are designed to be social. As the years go by you probably won’t remember who won or lost every time you sat down to play, but you’ll definitely remember the people and the decks on the table between you.

I have innumerable stories to share to that end. About how Crypt Rats represent an entire summer. Why Spiritmonger and Bribery and Leshrac’s Rite all evoke thoughts of different members of my family. And why Plateau has special affinity of all the original dual lands.

Today though, I recall a friend’s deck that focused on the oft-forgotten abilities of prevention and redirection. While far less common now than years back, P&R cards are those that either outright prevent damage entirely (i.e. Fog) or can redirect that damage elsewhere (Veteran Bodyguard, Spirit en-Kor, Honorable Passage). Are they the most powerful card types around? No, generally not. But they were interesting, and if timed right, they could be quite effective at throwing damage around – including back at the person dishing it out.

Thinking about that P&R deck of his, I was reminded about precisely that: how they aren’t as common as they once were. Part of this is their partial or situational efficacy. Part is rules understanding by the player base. Part of it is the belief that too much damage prevention slowed a game down. And part of it is that, if we’re being honest, most of the time they weren’t all that flashy. So it’s somewhat understanding why Wizards may have scaled their usage back in favor of other tools.

But in my history of the game, P&R was svery much a mainstay, and it’s hard to untangle their occasional uses in foggy game memories from 20 years ago with someone who took the idea and made an entire deck around it. They are inextricably linked at this point, another Magic-related notch in my timeline whenever I dig back through my playing years.

In honor of that deck, and that time passed, we have this week’s card.

Today we have: Vengeful Archon

Name: Vengeful Archon

Edition: Magic 2011

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Damage Prevention / Damage Dealing

Highlights: The core set Magic 2010 returned after a multi-year absence, bringing with it a return to an annual release, as well as the first seismic shift in core sets in years. Among the many changes 2010 introduced was the notion of not being entirely comprised of reprints. New cards made up a decent percentage of the cards in that set, and it set the precedent going forward. However, preconceptions are hard to break sometimes, as evidenced by the fact that although it brought with it a number of iconic new cards, it took players time to remember that fact. That mental slip happened again the following year in Magic 2011 (albeit to a lesser extent), resulting in a number of decent cards not really getting the attention they deserved at the time. One of them, at least as far as EDH is concerned, is Vengeful Archon.

Which is weird, considering it simply screams ‘put me in a Commander deck’. And there are some solid reasons you should. Interest in the format was steadily on the rise at this point, culminating the following summer with the release of the first Wizards-produced Commander products (complete with Celestial Force, which may have further helped overshadow this one.)

For starters, Vengeful Archon sits on a massive 7/7 frame, and it flies to boot. Even in White with its access to an army of holy avenging angels, having such a high power is incredibly rare; at the time of its release Vengeful Archon was one of just four White creatures with a power of 7 or higher. (As of today that number has now doubled to eight.) For White decks that sometimes have a hard time going toe-to-toe with other colors in the battlecruiser arena, Vengeful Archon helps even the playing field handily both on offense and defense.

The tradeoff in access to that kind of Flying behemoth, however, does come with a cost. Namely, a 7 CMC casting cost. Although this is along the pretty standard curve for any nongreen creature, in White it can feel more expensive in multiplayer games especially as it’s not traditionally known for ramping as fast as some other colors. Psychological impacts aside, though, the cost is easily justified given its size, baked-in evasion, and the impact that can have in the later stages of the game.

And then there is it’s primary ability: acting as your personal bulwark against attack.

This ability states that by spending X mana, you can prevent the next X damage that would be dealt to you, which adds a shielding mechanism to your strategies, be it from direct damage or unblocked creatures. That alone is a handy trait to have if you have some extra mana lying around. But wait, there’s more! It also states that anytime you prevent damage that way, you get to effectively redirect that damage to another player or planeswalker, allowing you not only the means of funneling away some damage but the ability to direct where it goes instead.

Yes, given its mana-heavy activation, it is unlikely you’ll be able to stop all damage coming your way all the time, and that thinking may have put some people off to Vengeful Archon’s potential. But even preventing just a few damage this way could be enough to take out someone’s vulnerable creature or a pesky planeswalker on the battlefield. From a Commander perspective, this can also open up some table politics options if leveraged correctly.

Oh, and the ability doesn’t require tapping, something which is constantly overlooked both on a screen and on the battlefield. Which means you can attack with it and still have a means of at least partially defending yourself should someone attack in return.

The heyday of P&R focused decks are probably long gone in Magic, and it’s unlikely they’re coming back anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of such cards when they pop up now and then. Or, in the case of Vengeful Archon, swoop in from the sky.

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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