Sometimes when you sit down to build a deck, it’s a straightforward process. You pick a commander that resonates with you, and the deck just builds itself. It’s smooth like butter, and before you know it, it’s time to take it for a playtest. Indeed, it’s gotten a lot easier to build decks with newer commanders, which tend to be aimed at a specific niche or archetype.
While some people dislike how some new-era commanders “solve” deck archetypes and present a clear best-in-slot option to lead a deck, they also provide a lot of benefits. They help people to brew quickly, especially players who are less invested in Commander as a whole. Much like how “signpost uncommons” are designed to help rookie drafters find a lane, “signpost commanders” offer a straightforward IKEA-style deck building plan. They’ll help you make use of underplayed cards in your collection and assemble something with a little less excruciating heart-and-soul brewing. Sometimes, there just isn’t the time to reinvent the wheel.
While I could write an entire article on signpost commanders – and I just might – I’ll give a brief definition before moving on.
Signpost Commander: 1. A commander that rewards you with mana and/or card advantage for taking game actions you would otherwise take within your strategy; 2. A commander that “solves” an archetype and provides a laser-focused building experience
Saskia Angel Storm
My deck building journey began with Saskia and Bolas’s Citadel. A lot of my friends have been brewing with these cards – often in the same deck – and I was inspired to try making a four-color Angels deck, with Bolas’s Citadel as a way to storm through the deck. When your commander gives you neither card advantage nor mana advantage in the command zone, it can lead to unbalanced pods. Angels as a tribe lack a powerful signpost commander, and it’s one of the things holding them back from jamming with other focused builds, especially as their average mana value is on the high end.
While my solution worked on paper – using Divining Top and other expected effects to filter out lands from the top of the library, and using lifegain synergies to avoid dying to the Citadel – in practice, it just wasn’t v i b i n g with me.
Part of it, I think, was that the deck suffered in similar ways to how mono-white decks suffer in EDH. Jamming so much ramp and card draw into the deck on unitasker creatures outside of the tribe ended up diluting the deck too far. Plus, being in four colors with Saskia at the head of the deck created a dynamic I didn’t enjoy at the table. It was treated like a four-color deck despite not having the usual payoffs – like the best format staples – and the game quickly turned into an archenemy situation; I’d be pressuring the player in the lead and the player behind by default, because that’s what Saskia tends to do.
Follow Your Heart
Part of the reason I love tribal Angel builds is because you get to try and assemble Brisela, Voice of Nightmares. While most of the Angel builds I’ve tried are Boros or Naya – Firja excluded, who I found a little clunky – one of the best ways to get Brisela assembled is to be in black, where you have access to cards like Final Parting.
With Saskia not giving me what I needed, I decided to switch up, and zoned in on the new Liesa, Forgotten Archangel from Midnight Hunt. She gave me an ability similar to Rienne, Angel of Rebirth, but in a color identity that can (arguably) take better advantage of it.
I was still all-in on tribal Angels, with a deck plan that involved reanimating Angels, gaining life, and using Bolas’s Citadel. While that deck could – and should – still work, my heart wasn’t yet satisfied. I was getting warmer, but ultimately still not entirely happy. One of my current deck building goals was to figure out a few more decks that were commander-synergistic: that is, decks built more around the commander. While Liesa doesn’t draw cards, she does provide card advantage (and a little hatebear value). I figured hey, why not lean into it?
Liesa, Forgotten Archangel
I decided to cut the Citadel package completely, which allowed me to cut a bunch of other related cards. I also decided to relax the tribal theme and just play solid synergy cards instead, like Archon of Cruelty, Ashen Rider, and Patron of the Vein. My low curve was made up of creatures that could be sacrificed for value, and in theory, they should end up back in my hand.
It’s interesting – being in Reanimator is a great reason to play eight-mana creatures, but I ended up cutting Avacyn, Angel of Hope in the end. I just don’t think indestructible is that relevant these days, and I wanted my creatures to have an immediate impact when hitting the board. Besides, with Liesa, I favored protection or hexproof, as she can bring my stuff back to hand regardless.
One major deck building decision I made was to avoid building an Aristocrats deck. I have plenty of those, and I’ve played the archetype to death. While Liesa does make cards like Dictate of Erebos super relevant, it wasn’t what I was looking for, and it was also something I knew could make my friends miserable, given Liesa exiles things that die on their side of the field.
One card I’m always excited to run in this kind of deck is Dimir House Guard. A free sacrifice outlet attached to a tutor for your four-mana spells is more than playable in Commander, and in this build, he can fetch me:
- Card draw or value from Erebos, Bleak-Hearted, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, Solemn Simulacrum, Prowling Geistcatcher or Teleportation Circle
- Removal from Eradicator Valkyrie
- Protection or a finisher with Akroma’s Will
- A “combo” piece in Gisela, the Broken Blade
The rest of the deck is pretty straightforward, but I’d like to call to attention how “protect the Queen” is an important part of our strategy. Aside from instant-speed interaction to ensure Liesa survives, Athreos and Kaya are huge roleplayers, allowing us to take out insurance on our commander and providing extra value beyond that.
The deck hums smoothly, and I’m really liking where it’s at. There are probably a few things that may change in the future, so I’ll go over a few maybeboard cards, the first of which is Solitude. It would slot nicely in this deck, especially if we lean into the flicker of Teleportation Circle and add Conjurer’s Closet and/or Sword of Hearth and Home.
Kami of False Hope is meta-dependent for sure, and once I’ve tested the deck more, it’s possible I can gain enough life to the point where it’s no longer necessary. That slot could easily be Reanimate or Solitude.
While this might look like a great Vedalken Orrery deck, I’m not a big fan of the card, and I find that it can often be a wasted play that forces you to Time Walk yourself as people remove it without mercy. Instead, Emergence Zone and/or Winding Canyons could be good shouts in the mana base.
I chose Animate Dead and Necromancy over Reanimate because we have Sun Titan, but if I were to add Sevinne’s Reclamation to the deck, it might well be that Doomed Necromancer, Apprentice Necromancer or Dance of the Dead might pip Reanimate to the post.
Finally, if I owned a copy of Pitiless Plunderer, it’d be in here for sure. I’m debating Benevolent Bodyguard over Kami of False Hope, and Plaguecrafter is still a solid maybe; I’m just not convinced it’s a particularly social include, and if I keep Liesa in play, it’s gonna end up being pretty oppressive. Do I want my deck to feel like that to play against? It’s a good question to ask yourself when building a deck.
Find Your Joy
Ultimately, brewing an EDH deck should be about finding your joy. Screw what’s meta, or what’s a staple, and stop cutting your pet cards. Not having Solitude and Pitiless Plunderer doesn’t make this a bad Liesa deck, just a different one. It has plenty of solid roleplayers, and it’s a joy to play. And that’s what it’s really about, right? Finding something that brings you joy.
I’ve managed to pull some really sweet alternate art frames this year, and Liesa is a home for a bunch of them. The deck brings me joy to pilot, and it brings me joy to look at. I sat down wanting to play with Angels and with Brisela, and my journey took me to a place where I got to achieve one of those things in a way that’s fun, scrappy and exciting. I went from a janky crowbarred-in theme to a commander and deck with a strong synergistic theme much closer to a signpost commander deck. If something isn’t working for you, or you’re not vibing with a commander? Maybe follow your heart and give something else a go. Like I mentioned in my deck building article on the Commander Moodboard, the best ideas can sometimes be found on the cutting room floor.
So, what about Angel tribal? Well, to tell you the truth, that itch isn’t quite scratched. My Aurelia deck has shifted into a more generalized “Boros cards I like,” and my Lyra Dawnbringer mono-white Angels deck is pretty slow and battlecruiser-style, limiting the pods I can play it successfully in. Plus, there’s the small matter of some badass Angel cards released in Kaldheim that I really want to find a home for.
I’m thinking I’ll try a spin on Thalisse and make it an Angel-tokens build, and finally achieve a dream of building around Divine Visitation. I can’t wait to play Ophiomancer and Crested Sunmare and make some Angel tokens. All of the Angel tokens.
Kristen is Card Kingdom’s Head Writer, and member of the Commander Advisory Group. Formerly a competitive Pokémon TCG grinder, she has been playing Magic since Shadows Over Innistrad, which in her opinion, was a great set to start with. When she’s not taking names with Equipment and Aggro strategies in Commander, she loves to play any form of Limited.