Looking at a Random Card: Angel of Mercy
(What am I doing here? Read here!)
Angel of Mercy: A fine choice, Gatherer!
You see, while I’m glad (some of) you like it when my entries get as long as the last one, and while I am fine myself with this if it happens once in a while, this wasn’t really my initial intent when I started this column. So, with this simple, elegant design I hope I can return to the concept of small entries again.
Angel of Mercy is as vanilla as a creature which isn’t actually vanilla (meaning it has no abilities) or even french vanilla (meaning it has only one keyworded ability) can get. It is a medium-sized flyer which gains you some life when it enters the battlefield. That is easy enough to process.
Unfortunately, this excellent design doesn’t lend itself to the constructed arena. I think I remember Staunch Defenders being used as a sideboard card against red decks once, but I’m not actually sure, and even it was, it was probably a mistake, and even if it wasn’t a mistake, these days are long gone now. Anyway, the important difference between the Angel and the Defenders is the toughness here: Everything which survived a Lightning Bolt would likely cost a red player two cards to get rid off, and the lifegain effectively neutralized a third card, since red decks planned (back then as today) to end the game by aiming burn directly at their opponents’ heads. Still, a 5-mana-card against a fast aggro deck typically running 4 Wasteland? There must have been better options!
Well, I surely don’t need to eleborate why Angel of Mercy isn’t even close to being useful in an era where even Baneslayer Angel began to fall out of grace with standard players at the end of its legality in that format. The often-lamented power creep aside: This Angel never was up to snuff in constructed. However, it is just a great limited card!
When it entered the base set with Eighth Edition, the times when creatures were so few and so bad in core set limited, that Sealed deck was often simply about getting at least eight or so creatures with a power of 2 or more into your deck, were over. Still, it made for a good first pick – a creature far enough above average that you would consider to take it above a good removal spell. Since Tenth Edition (that’s already three base sets ago now – can you believe this?) it hasn’t been included anymore, but if it was, its value surely would be significantly lower – while still a fine card, creatures have become good enough that it doesn’t stand out anymore (and thus you should almost always take the good removal instead), and also limited games have become much faster, so that the Angel’s cost of 5 mana is a bit of a liability nowadays. I think in some recent environments it would not even have made the deck every time when it was in one of your main colors, and you would most certainly not splash White for it, like you would have done if that card had existed, for example, in Fifth Edition limited. If the Angel will be reprinted, chances are, it will be as a common – compare Sky-Eel School as an example of a similarly powerful flyer.
Since in my cubes I usually strive to reduce the difference in power level between commons and rares, I already see this creature exclusively as a common, even when I intend to use three rarities (I usually don’t). Angel of Mercy is my generic choice number one for that medium-sized, slightly overcosted evasion creature with a small bonus in White which I tend to use in the 5-mana slot instead of unexciting defensive creatures whose purpose it is to slow the game down to the point where bombs can take over, like Siege Mastodon. The Angel is worth its mana without being an overwhelming threat, a nice card in your secondary color, and helpful when recovering from a slow start – all this while being a perfect fit for White in the color pie and having excellent flavor! Actually, the only itsy-bitsy complain I have with this card in limited is that it is maybe just a tad under the modern curve, which is not at all a problem with regards to gameplay, but somehow clashes with the feeling of an angel which finally comes to your help just in time to turn the tide of battle. White certainly deserves access to a 3/3 flyer for 3W today, and adding a whole mana just for 3 life isn’t completely justified. Powerwise, the Angel would probably be in the perfect place if it costed 2WW. But then again, its small color commitment is part of what defines its role in limited environments, and being slightly overcosted isn’t the worst trait for a medium-sized flyer which is intended to be common.
Being a pure limited design, Angel of Mercy can be a B at best on my grading scale – and that is exactly what it gets!
(Addendum: I just noticed that I already said a few more interesting things about this kind of card in an earlier entry, Tireless Missionaries.)