hen I was at the Prerelease, I was fortunate enough to get to play with the new "Exalted Angel," Battlegrace Angel. I had been keeping up with the cards that were being spoiled on magicthegathering.com, so I was already familiar with the 4/4 and I knew that it would be awesome. What I hadn't done was give much thought to the exalted mechanic. At least not yet.
That all changed the first time I got to play my Battlegrace Angel. Not only did the card threaten to take over the game very quickly if left on the board (lifelinked fliers that attack for 5+ tend to do that), but it allowed me to get a critical attack in the turn I played it. Even though my opponent was able to kill my Angel on his next turn, that extra attack allowed me to win a race that would have otherwise been pretty hopeless.
Utility creatures like Ghost Warden are quite good because they change the way the game is played. Exalted acts in a very similar way to Ghost Warden in that it changes the math in almost every combat situation, but unlike more traditional utility creatures, there are enough cards with exalted that you can reasonably draft a deck around them as I did in my first draft in the format.
Shards of Alara Draft
I wrote about this deck a bit last week, but there were some important points that I didn't get a chance to address.
The most glaring problem with this deck, as I see it, is that it has a lot of trouble coming back when it's behind. If it gets off to a good start and plays a bunch of exalted creatures, then it will have a lot of trouble losing unless the opponent does something very special. If the deck had had more removal, or more good defensive creatures, then my draft likely would have played out completely differently (as it was I went 1-2).
The best thing that comes to mind to support my point are the deck's 3 Excommunicates. While Excommunicate is a very, very good card, it doesn't do a great job of helping me catch up from behind. The same could be said for most of the cards in my deck.
I don't want to get off on too much of a tangent, but there is a valuable lesson to be learnt from this draft, and that is: one of the most important things to keep in mind when you are drafting a deck is that you make sure that you draft the cards your deck needs to win.
While I did a good job of picking up some of the right core components for this deck, I did not do a very good job of picking up the cards that I needed to be able to play my game if things did not go according to plan.
Alright, to get back on the exalted track let's take a look at all the cards in Shards with exalted and see what types of applications they have.
Akrasan Squire is one of the best aggressive white creatures in recent memory. Unassisted, it attacks for 2 on turn two which is just awesome, putting the "1/1" in the same league as cards like Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Goldmeadow Stalwart.
Now a 2-power one-drop is more than enough to make a card good, but if you follow Squire up with a two-casting cost exalted creature, such as Sigiled Paladin, then your Akrasan Squire will attack for 3 on turn two, allow your Sigiled Paladin to attack for at least 4 on turn three and continue to have significant value as the game goes on.
You see, Akrasan Squire is exactly the type of card that I want to start my game with, and it's a card that I would be quite happy drawing later in the game. A little while ago I wrote about what makes a one-drop good. The Squire is going to be my new poster child for what I look for in a one-drop.
Sighted-Caste Sorcerer is a pretty classic utility creature. It does a nice job of making the cards around it better, but it frequently won't have much of an impact on its own. Don't feel bad spending an early draft pick on Sighted-Caste Sorcerer, as it is quite important to get a critical mass of exalted creatures. Even if you don't get a lot of cards with exalted, this little critter is a welcome addition to any deck.
Just a few lines ago I mentioned that Sighted-Caste Sorcerer often won't have much of an impact on its own, but that isn't entirely true. On turn three (or on any turn for that matter), it will have exactly as much offensive capabilities as a Grizzly Bear would. And later on, it's likely to have a greater impact than a generic 2/2 would in the same spot.
This card is obviously awesome. A 2/2 first striker for two is a formidable card on its own, and once you take the fact that it has exalted into account it becomes a seriously top-notch card. I would be happy to use one of my first picks in a pack on Sigiled Paladin.
Attacking for 3 on turn three with a single creature is always awesome, be it with a Watchwolf or a Goblin Deathraiders; 3 damage is a lot. While Deathraiders is quite good, it's also very easy to kill. Pretty much any creature that blocks it will at least trade with it, so the fact that Goblin Deathraiders is as good as it is, is a testament to how absurd Sigiled Paladin is.
This is the creature to play on turn two. It would still be a very good card for three mana, and it would even be ok if you had to pay four mana for it. At two mana, you're getting a serious bargain. If you are going second and your opponent plays, let's say a Goblin Deathraider, on turn two and you follow-up with a Sigiled Paladin, the swing in the game state is enormous. Suddenly you've gone from noticeably behind to noticeably ahead.
If you play a turn two Sigiled Paladin and your opponent doesn't have a turn two play of their own, then it probably won't be too hard for you to bury them quickly, especially if you have a card like Excommunicate or Oblivion Ring to deal with potential game breakers.
Now it might not be immediately obvious (or maybe it is to you), but first strike is one of the best abilities that you can have in an exalted deck. Not only does it make a creature tough to kill when attacking, it does a really good job of disincentivising what would otherwise be good attacks for your opponent.
Guardians of Akrasa
I'll admit, at first glance I didn't think this card was very good. Then I did a double take and it suddenly dawned on me just how good this card really is. Guardians of Akrasa is actually the ideal creature for a deck that's heavy on exalted.
When you have a card(s) with exalted, you want to attack with exactly one creature in order to get the exalted benefit. If you have a bunch of little threats you're going to feel kind of silly that you're attacking with one creature, with the rest of your pint-sized tykes on defensive. But, unlike say, Sighted-Caste Sorcerer, Guardians of Akrasa does a great deal more than pump up its friends while it sits on the sidelines. It blocks, and it does a really good job of it.
This card is particularly relevant as it is one of the only cheap, top-notch defensive creatures in the set. I see Guardians of Akrasa as being one of the cornerstones of the exalted archetype and slow decks in general.
Outrider of Jhess
Exalted cards tend to work best when they are paired with other exalted cards, but that just isn't the case with Outrider of Jhess. Yes each additional exalted card has utility, but in an exalted deck you are going to need to play cards that have significant defensive capabilities as the game goes on. If you spend turn four playing yet another exalted creature that cannot block, then you put yourself in serious danger of getting overrun.
Outrider of Jhess is always going to be decent, but I don't see it ever being the type of card that I go out of my way to play, especially in an exalted deck. If anything, I see Outrider of Jhess being at its best when it's included in a deck that is good at slowing down the game with a lot of good blockers and removal, but needs some help being able to punch through damage.
I think that I might be overvaluing this card because I really like what it does. It's a utility creature that is always on, and it can further throw a wrench in your opponent's plans when you are on offense or on defense.
At three mana it isn't quite worthy of an early draft pick, but if you are able to pick it up a little bit later than I would see it as a welcome inclusion to any deck with blue and white mana. Once I've gotten the chance to play with the card more I'll be sure to let you know how good it actually is.
Court Archers has a lot in common with Guardians of Akrasa, but it has different applications. Both appear to be key defensive cards, but while Guardians of Akrasa is a great answer to plentiful ground pounders, Court Archers is here to take care of fliers like Kathari Screecher, Windwright Mage, Scavenger Drake (sometimes), and Tidehollow Strix (sort of) and... Well, actually, that's it. Every other flier in the set has at least 3 power and 2 toughness.
Court Archers is OK, but it certainly isn't anything special.
Yowza, now this is an awesome card to have in an exalted deck! Four mana for a creature that attacks for 4 is quite good. Then factor in the fact that it will often be attacking for 5 or 6 with trample and you've got yourself a real winner.
There aren't too many interesting things to say about Waveskimmer Aven. It's impressive on defense and on offense and it's a very good way to top out your curve. It doesn't matter what your other cards are, if you have Bant mana available, this is the type of card you are going to want to play.
Now I'll admit that I'm not entirely sure how to weigh in on this card, but I don't really see any good applications for it. If Guardians of Akrasa was a good example of a card that is full of built-in synergies, then Angelic Benediction is a good example of a card that is full of built-in tensions.
If you are attacking with exactly one creature in an exalted heavy deck, then your creature is likely to be larger than any single blocker that your opponent can muster up anyway. Or the blocker that they would offer would be noticeably better than the creature which you are attacking with, in which case the trade is more than welcome.
In either case, it is unlikely that you would gain much from having Angelic Benediction in play, and four mana is a lot to pay for a card that will often have very little effect.
I could be wrong, but I don't think Angelic Benediction will make it into many decks during the next year.
I know it doesn't actually have exalted, but Topan Ascetic works so well with exalted that I can't help but mention the 2/2.
It's great on defense, as you are going to have a lot of untapped creatures with only one attacking each turn. And the Ascetic is great on offense for the exact same reason.
I think that Topan Ascetic is going to be a very early pick as it will often be nearly impossible to attack past and has a lot of offensive capabilities. Just keep in mind that it's going to be better on the defensive most of the time.
I'm going to end my analysis of the exalted cards on a high note. Not only is Battlegrace Angel the best exalted card in Shards of Alara, it's also one of the best cards in the set. If you get to play with a Battlegrace Angel in Limited, that is more than enough reason to do a little dance.
There are a handful of removal spells in the format that are capable of killing a Battlegrace Angel, but if your opponent doesn't have one then the game will be over in a matter of turns. Not only does Battlegrace Angel hit really hard (5+ damage a turn is a lot) but when you are gaining 5+ life a turn, your opponent is going to have to do something pretty extraordinary to win.
Battlegrace Angel is definitely the type of card that is good enough to change colors for.
The $64,000 question
When you have a card(s) with exalted, you're going to have to ask yourself every turn "How many creatures should I attack with?" The most common answers are going to be either attack with one creature in order to get your exalted bonuses, or attack with all of your creatures to deal as much damage as possible. That said, there are still going to be plenty of times when it will be correct to attack with two or three creatures.
Instead of using exalted as a crutch to allow you to go on autopilot with your attacks, I believe that you should think just as much, if not more, about your attacks as you would if you didn't have anything with exalted. Yes the ability encourages you to attack with only one creature, but there are plenty of other factors that might offer you greater incentives to attack with, say, two creatures. Keep your head on your shoulders and you should be fine.
Happy Shards of Alara release week,