Flavor of the Month: Serra's Angel Food Cake
Serra the Benevolent and Dockside Chef | Illustrated by Magli Villeneuve & Steven Belledin
Welcome to Flavor of the Month, where we use the flavor of cards as a recipe for building spicy decks. Today I'm doing my best Hozier impression and taking us to church: the Church of Serra.
I'm a poet in my life outside of Magic, so whenever I see a word like "canto" in the flavor text of a card, I take notice. That's what drew my attention way back in the day (I'm talking Urza's Saga, back in 1998) to a series of cards that included cantos from something called the "Song of All."
For those who don't know, a canto is a section of a long poem, often numbered, that serves to provide breaks in the piece much like chapters do in a modern novel. If you've encountered cantos before, it'll probably have been in Dante's Inferno or the other books in his Divine Comedy. The canto's first use in English literature was in Edmund Spencer's The Faerie Queene, which has been quoted in MTG flavor text in the past, itself! I wish Wizards of the Coast would go back to pulling real-world text like literature quotes in flavor text as frequently as they used to, but that's a topic for another article.
The Song of All, as it appeared across a number of flavor texts at the time, seems to be a long, religious poem. More specifically, it appears to be either an ode to the planeswalker Serra, founder of the Church of Serra (a major religion on the plane of Dominaria), or the actual religious text of that Church. It tells the story of Serra and the myths and stories that surround her, along with providing a suggested set of morals to live by. (It's worth noting here that, despite the fact that we focus more on its literary influence rather than its religious import today, Dante's Divine Comedy and all its cantos were heavily religious in their goals and subject matter; it's basically a lecture on Christianity and Why You Better Get With It Or Burn In Hell, albeit a literary one).
For example, Canto 904, as printed on Serra Avenger, reads "Those who endure in the face of suffering, those whose faith shines long in evil days, they shall see salvation." Compare that to any of the many biblical passages on suffering, such as James 1:12 (New International Edition): "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." Yeah, not exactly subtle, but in what little space flavor text has, this gets the job done. We know what the Song of All represents for the people of Dominaria, and we can work with that.
While we only had a handful of cards giving us sections of the Song of All before--13 by my count--we've received a few more in fits and starts in recent years thanks to our return trips to Dominaria and supplementary releases like Modern Horizons 2 and Secret Lair drops. Enough to sketch out the foundation of a religion-themed Commander deck, I'd say!
All told, we have 20 cards as of the time of writing that include cantos from the Song of All. A lot of them are niche or underpowered, as is often the case with older cards, but we can work around most. A couple, though, are too niche (Abiding Grace, Defensive Formation) or just plain weak (Cessation) and we can do without them. Three-quarters of the cantos will do.
Naturally, we will be including a bunch of Angels, and the planeswalker at the center of the religion herself, Serra the Benevolent. Urza's Saga, Urza's Destiny, and Nemesis gave us a cycle of Song of All Angels that each have protection from one of Magic's five colors; though they're a little rough on rate, protection is a very powerful keyword and some opponents will be unexpectedly stymied when you happen to line up protection against their primary (or only) color. Of course, we also have some all-star Angels across Magic's history, so let's throw a gaggle of them in, too. Is gaggle the right collective noun for Angels? Maybe it's "a chorus of Angels." Or a "flock." Or an "after-church brunch." Religious scholars, don't @ me.
But wait, who's going to lead this holy Angel army, anyway? Angels, with few exceptions, are notoriously mana-intensive creatures, so we could go a long way toward getting around that downside by reanimating them. There is one legendary Angel who reanimates them routinely, in fact: Reya Dawnbringer.
Before you hit up the comment section, yes, I see the irony of wanting to cheat out seven- and eight-mana Angels with a nine-mana one. But hear me out: not only does Reya's reanimation mechanic fit flavorfully--resurrection in some form is a major part of quite a few religions--but we have some help in getting her out. And further, filling up the graveyard and choosing the big, splashy Angel we need at that moment is a more reliable gameplan than just drawing them at random and casting them.
We're going to ramp as fast as mono-white will allow us--which, granted, is easier now than it ever has been. Cards like Oketra's Monument, Battle Angels of Tyr, Starnheim Aspirant, and the best rocks colorless mana can buy help us get Reya on the battlefield far ahead of schedule. Extraplanar Lens really shines here, and we're playing snow basics instead of plain old Plains to try and keep from benefiting our opponents with that particular artifact, and thanks to Geode Golem, we won't necessarily need to pay our commander's hefty mana cost.
Of course, since running a nine-mana commander Commander deck, much like a church, is very expensive, so we should take a page out of the playbook of major religions and do some tithing ourselves.
We're relying on white's recently pushed ability to flood the board with Treasure tokens (ark not included, though you could probably pay for one with Smothering Tithe out against a blue player) and its ages-old propensity for "catch-up" mechanics that get us lands or put them out when an opponent has more than we do. For the latter, we're using the two bounce-lands available in mono-white, Karoo and Guildless Commons, as well as Lotus Field to cheat the numbers a little bit and keep those effects online while still increasing mana production.
Granted, we will be a little vulnerable to aggression while we develop our resources, so the next thematic part of our deck comes in handy: wrathful and unyielding judgment. We have a number of board wipes here, and while we do have a few smaller value creatures, they'll either have done their job already or we can get them back later. Ever since the original Wrath of God, from which the term "wrath", meaning to remove all creatures from the battlefield, derives, board wipes are often flavored as judgment being passed down by deities. Deities who seem none too happy.
Hey, that's more of the Song of All on Purify! Indeed, we're wiping not just creatures, but artifacts, enchantments, and yes--the most salt-inducing move in Commander--lands. We're running Armageddon and Catastrophe. We'd run Ravages of War too, but please don't spend hundreds of dollars just to make your playgroup mad. It will be under ten bucks within a few months of its inevitable reprint.
Look, I can't tell you what to do, and as far as I know there are no Commandments about this, but I feel like Armageddon and its ilk are only to be used in situations where they end games. We run one of the best Angels in existence, Avacyn, Angel of Hope, and we can also hold priority after casting the mass land removal spell and zip out of there before the calamity with Teferi's Protection. This should be enough to end a game unless an opponent's board state is already threatening a manaless win, so my feeling is it's fair to go that route if it quickly ends the game and everyone can start a new one. Don't be that person casting the no-no spell if you aren't able to close it out and it's just going to add another 90 minutes to the game.
Avacyn will also protect our creatures from our own wraths, as will Sephara, Sky's Blade. Brought Back might be enough on its own, even if your board isn't protected.
And what kind of a religion- and Angel-flavored deck would this be without resurrection, anyway? Thanks to some mill synergies, we're going to have a 'yard full of Angels to reanimate. Perpetual Timepiece keeps the millstone humming turn after turn, Millikin gives us mana and stocks our graveyard, and Altar of Dementia makes it so any Angel our opponents try to deal with goes out on its own terms, and brings a few friends from the top of your library with it for future reanimating. Don't discount the value of having a free sacrifice outlet, either: when your opponent attempts to use exile-based removal to keep you from just bringing your Angel back on your next upkeep, you'll thank Serra for that Altar.
Creatures aren't all we can reanimate, either. Brought Back can get anything that got taken out that turn, and with us milling ourselves it's good to have a few things that can play our lands from the graveyard, like Crucible of Worlds and Planar Birth. This might be the only deck in the world that wants to play Planar Birth: we run a lot of basics, they'll be in our graveyard, and floating two mana for this to follow up an Armageddon is effective and might feel a little less mean, depending on how greedy your opponents' mana bases are.
As a bonus, the borderless version of Crucible of Worlds comes with a new canto from the Song of All, and the gorgeous art depicts Serra creating her very own plane...which is apparently something she can do.
Serra's Angel Food CakeView on Archidekt
View this decklist on Archidekt
That'll do it for this installment of Flavor of the Month. I had to leave some Angels on the cutting room floor to get this deck down to 100; which of your favorites would you swap in? (I know cutting Lyra Dawnbringer hurt the most for me.) What other religion-themed cards are viable options for the deck? Tell me in the comments along with what a bad person I am for suggesting people can play the hated land destruction spell!