The three largest creatures in my Esper-colored Commander deck are 5/5, 3/6, and 3/4. My commander is a 1/2 with a damage-prevention tap effect. The deck wins games. Welcome to the bizarre world of Lady Evangela.
As I’ve written many times, I latched on to the B/W Cleric theme from Onslaught when I started playing, and the Zombie subtheme made for some cool flavor as well. Thankfully for that love, New Phyrexia and Innistrad are rife with awesome Zombies and Clerics, and I’ve been able to feed this deck a lot of good cards. Good isn’t the same as powerful; the Decktagon would rate Power at about a 2, laughable for Commander. But I can lay tons of defensive measures, sit there for ages, offend nobody, build up a ridiculously resilient board state, and wait for someone to get weak so I can poke them to death.
Lady Evangela is primarily Cleric tribal with a smaller Zombie tribal theme; the overlapping cards are key components whose abilities focus the deck generally. Only 7 spells including the Lady care about blue mana, though a few of them are critical. The deck has a low curve from all its utility dorks, so it doesn’t need a host of mana rocks; three Signets and Armillary Sphere do fine enough. Of the 37 lands, the only interesting ones are the tribal-themed Starlit Sanctum and Unholy Grotto, both of which are useful at different times. So what are the roles of the other 58 cards?
There aren’t that many non-changeling Zombie Clerics printed, and most of them are in here, not only for critical mass of each tribe but for their utility. In spirit, Withered Wretch is more the commander than Lady Evangela is. It’s in two relevant tribes, it’s an efficiently-costed 2/2, and its graveyard-exile ability is as important as ever. A turn 2 Wretch goes a lot farther toward a game win than players unfamiliar with it would give it credit for.
Boneknitter is similarly underrated, as regenerating a large chunk of your creatures (including itself) for 1B apiece tells opponents not to bother swinging at you. Shepherd of Rot takes advantage of these defenses and can eat around 3 life a turn from everyone, getting around targeting and damage prevention. Last but possibly most, Rotlung Reanimator lets you go on the offensive after a sweeper kills your defenses. With Unholy Grotto recurring the Reanimator, you can do this far too many times.
4 other Zombies and 2 pseudo-Zombies round out the theme, but they do so in a way that allows more of the deck to interact with the theme than normal. Cemetery Reaper furthers Withered Wretch’s graveyard exile theme while creating and pumping a Zombie army. Skinrender is the fourth-biggest creature in the deck (no, really!) and good removal, killing something annoying or bringing a larger creature down to your defenses’ level. Tidehollow Sculler does its normal job here. So does Geth, not only as the beef of the deck but as an annoying card advantage machine. Like Rotlung Reanimator, Geth is super-frustrating with Unholy Grotto.
The pseudo-Zombies give the theme more heft than the other 8 cards would have you believe. Necromancer’s Covenant, like Cemetery Reaper, is a flat-out good idea in decks that can run it, exiling important bits of graveyards and giving you creatures for it. Unlike many decks, however, the Covenant is useful after its tokens have left, giving future Zombies lifelink that can add up quickly.
This deck also cares that Nim Deathmantle turns things into Zombies, besides being one of the few ways I can recur non-Zombies. Stick the Deathmantle on an evasive dork and suddenly you’re beating down for more than people thought you could; it’s even better with the Covenant giving lifelink. Deathmantle’s a good card for Commander regardless of deck, but Lady Evangela is far more synergistic with it than most.
Ah, the meat and potatoes. I bet you couldn’t name 32 Commander-playable Clerics off the top of your head, but put a few of them out and they can surprise you. Rather than put the Gatherer search in the Clerics link, I’ve broken the links up by converted mana cost so you’re not digesting 32 creatures at once.
CMC 1 and 2 (10) – These plus the Zombies mentioned above give me 13 2-drops and Mikaeus (who, like Nim Deathmantle, is good tons of places but is extra-useful here). 13 2-drops that don’t make mana probably sounds excessive, but the curve is important to establish enough Clerics to mount a defense, and it’s not like the competition’s heavy beyond 2 mana.
Suture Priest stops a few infinite combos from succeeding; if you can drop it early, you’ll gain about 3 life and make other people lose a total of 5 for its normal lifespan, which is just fine for 1W. Auriok Champion gains tons of life while having protection from two colors; for what this deck’s doing you can’t beat that. Beloved Chaplain doesn’t gain you life, but it has protection from creatures, which is fine at any point in the game.
Meanwhile, there’s basic utility in War Priest of Thune and Leonin Relic-Warder, more protection in the form of evasive beaters Soltari Monk and Soltari Priest (I heart shadow), and fellow tough nuts Grand Abolisher (which gives some decks major fits) and Skirsdag High Priest, whose ability is ridiculous in any form of multiplayer. You normally have the creatures sitting there for the High Priest to tap when it’s convenient, and the High Priest looking at your opponents’ creatures dying puts it over the top for awesome. Thanks for the bloody combat over there; I think I’ll get a 5/5 flyer about it.
In the early game, these 2-drops can give an aggressive slant until the board state disallows, at which point they fuel the bigger creatures’ desire for Clerics. It’s a good system.
CMC 3 (10) – If you thought my 2-drops were excessive, how about adding similar creatures one mana up? These aren’t as important as the 2-drops as a group, but there are several key players. Blinding Souleater’s tap ability is underestimated, but Phyrexian mana is useful in a three-color deck, as is being an artifact creature; in a deck where my early drops tend to cost WW or BB, being able to do something matters. Kor Sanctifiers and Fiend Hunter fulfill the utility removal role well enough; Devout Lightcaster can do the same thing while also blocking black creatures all day. Besides, giving a pro-black creature Nim Deathmantle is all too good. Blind Zealot is evasion and creature destruction, but it most importantly is stupid on a Deathmantle. Swing for 4 intimidate, kill a creature, pay 4 mana, and do it again next turn? Good by me!
The other 5 creatures demonstrate a wider range of abilities. I recommend Soltari Visionary to any white deck, as 2 shadow that also destroys enchantments is perpetually useful. He also happens to be a Cleric. Wandering Mage is a three-color Cleric that mattered more when I had a Wizard sub-subtheme. Frankly, it’s not very good, even here, but there are still times when he screws up combat enough. You know what is very good, though? Geist of Saint Traft. Many people got excited because of Standard applications; I got excited for a W/U mythic Cleric. Geist packs a wallop relative to this deck, fitting right in to most everything I want to do. Noble Benefactor is not only a blue Cleric but one that lets everyone tutor when it dies. If you can figure out what everyone else is likely to tutor for, you can game it and get the thing that works them over. Most decks are more predictable in its toolbox than my deck; it’s an advantage.
Few readers will have had cause to play with Edgewalker, but it’s amazing. Edgewalker remains the only card throughout Magic that explicitly reduces colored costs of spells, in this case reducing Cleric spells by WB. This not only makes my Commander cost U but also lets my bevy of double-costed dorks flood the board quickly. Suddenly, those two Plains and Swamp you had to cast Edgewalker turns into Auriok Champion for W, Grand Abolisher for W, and War Priest of Thune for 1 next turn. Lady Evangela provides Edgewalker a unique chance to shine, and shine it does.
CMC 4 (6)– Now we’re getting into more familiar Commander creature territory. False Prophet and Academy Rector see plenty of play in decks that don’t care about their Clericdom; here, I respect their job. Entomber Exarch is solid utility on either end; I don’t know how much Commander players have adopted it, but they ought to, and not just because I’m heavily biased toward it. Infernal Caretaker returns your Zombies when morphed; this ability hasn’t come up often yet, but it’s a Cleric if nothing else, and it at least means that you have more than one morph creature in the deck (which I consider important as a rule of thumb).
The other 2 are basically only for Cleric-themed decks. Doubtless One is one of the least famous of the Onslaught Avatars, but old lifelink and potentially being quite large has uses on offense and defense. Vile Deacon is a house here, as you might expect, and one of the few Clerics who doesn’t defend well. It’s okay when you have a 6/6 or 9/9 beatstick for 4 mana.
CMC 5 and 6 (6) – My biggest Cleric beaters are Doubtless One and Vile Deacon. So what do the more expensive creatures do? Master Healer is underrated; blocking a midrange attacker while preventing 4 damage from another is solid, and an excellent defense against a troublesome Commander. Turning a 7-power Commander into a 3-power relative to you says they should swing elsewhere. Ancestor’s Prophet blocks just fine, but more importantly can be a great source of lifegain if the board state forces others to spend their resources on killing actual threats. Let everyone join the slugfest while you gain 10 life every round. Besides, you can go a long way in Commander by synergizing with no-reputation creatures, as it seems stupid to point precious spot removal at them. Not that everyone leaves the Prophet alive for that long, but I’d pay 5 mana to gain 20 or 30 life and so would you.
Celestial Gatekeeper resurrects two Clerics when it dies; if they’re, say, False Prophet and Rotlung Reanimator after board sweep kills the Gatekeeper, you see why this deck can be so annoyingly resilient. Noble Templar has an important 6 toughness while also plainscycling, which is critical with all the WW costs.
But the heart and soul of this deck’s beef are with the last two Clerics, Battletide Alchemist and Glarecaster. Battletide Alchemist with enough Clerics says you don’t have to get involved in combat ever; just leave things unblocked and prevent the damage from each source. Each source! Alchemist also lets you prevent damage to other players should you be politically inclined.
Glarecaster is super-expensive to use, a 6-mana creature with a 6-mana activated ability. But the trick with Glarecaster’s damage-redirection ability is that it treats regular combat damage as a single source. If someone swings 200-power of creatures at you, just pay 5W and send all 200 back at their face. Lethal commander damage coming in? Redirect the death to its controller. Someone tries to burn Glarecaster? 5W works there too. Glarecaster can win games singlehandedly. It would be great if it weren’t a Cleric, as it’s splashable and powerful, but being a Cleric is even better for me.
The deck’s offense comes largely from these support spells. As you’d expect, Lady Evangela plays a looooong game, and finding these is what speeds things up. Of course, some of them are just more annoying defenses. You can’t have enough rattlesnakes…
Diabolic Tutor, Ambition’s Cost, Unburial Rites, and Leyline of the Void need no explanation. Rites has been particularly helpful in giving the deck some extra oomph in the late game. Esper Charm and Etherwrought Page are right at home in Utility.dec. So are defensive gems Norn’s Annex and Batwing Brume. Often, with as many protection creatures and damage prevention as I have, you need to commit more resources than normal to push through combat; Annex and Brume both punish such commitment.
Two more defensive measures are vital, some of the best cards in the deck. Cloud Cover, more than any other card here, is the reason to keep this deck in blue. It’s an old junk rare, but if you’re playing W/U Commander and have a lot of permanents you should consider it, as it lets you bounce any of your non-Cloud Cover permanents when an opponent targets them. For as many frustrating creatures as I run, it’s far worse when they can vanish for free. I don’t have that many enters-the-battlefield abilities to abuse with it, but that line of defense is great all the same.
It’s Divine Presence that takes the cake here, though. Another junk-rare enchantment, Divine Presence replaces any source’s damage greater than 3 with exactly 3. Uril, the Miststalker? 3 damage. Those things with Overrun on them? 3 damage apiece. My creatures aren’t large enough to care about Divine Presence, but everyone else’s are. Even better, Divine Presence with Battletide Alchemist means you never take damage. Replace the huge damage with 3, control at least 3 Clerics, and then prevent the 3 damage with the Alchemist. Now you see why it’s good to have so many shadow and intimidate guys; with Presence and Alchemist, suddenly I’m the only player whose deck works.
Divine Presence factors into criminally underrated sweeper Retribution of the Meek. 2W to Wrath most of the board? Good deal to me! Of course, given that I only have one creature with 4+ power, Retribution pulls a Plague Wind impersonation for me. Decree of Pain is a staple black sweeper, but since I run so many creatures I tend to draw more cards than normal off it.
The last 4 stop the whole defense thing and start killing people. Akroma’s Memorial goes in many Commander decks, but those decks often had big things to swing in the first place. Here, it promotes my board into a swarm of threats instead of a swarm of blockers while granting protection to some of my defensive pieces. Sadistic Sacrament is a great long-game card for a deck like this; take the most dangerous opponent, strip their deck of 15 things that would most devastate your board, and feel better about life. Baneful Omen is normally what you get with Academy Rector, though there’s no shame in getting Necromancer’s Covenant or Leyline of the Void. Like Shepherd of Rot, Omen involves life loss and doesn’t target, so it’s difficult to play around. Unholy Grottoing Geth to the top of your library in response to the Omen trigger earns you dirty looks from dying players.
But it’s the last card that ties all this together: Repay in Kind. Biorhythm is banned in Commander. Repay in Kind is cheaper and does similar things. Let one player go to 5-15 life, preferably sending your shadow beaters at them to chip in that extra bit of damage, and cast Repay in Kind. Yes, your life total goes down too, but you have plenty of ways to make that up, from lifelinking Zombies to Ancestor’s Chosen. More importantly, some of your defenses become lethal at low life totals. You with the creatures and the 5 life? Norn’s Annex says you don’t swing at me. Ever. If not, Batwing Brume will kill you before declare blockers. When your defenses are running right, it’s hard for an opponent to get any amount of damage, 5 or 50, through to you, and once you’ve brought everybody down to a low life total your evasion weenies do the rest of the damage. I do a lot of my winning through Repay in Kind, and while I think it’s a generally playable if risky Commander card, here it says you’re going to kill a couple people in short order.
Oh yeah, and Lady Evangela’s damage prevention ability is more relevant than you think. Really, she just takes her place with the other defensive Clerics. Nothing special, but there isn’t a better commander for these misfits.
Many are drawn to Commander for its raw power level and splashy plays. This deck has neither, which probably is why I enjoy it so much. Instead, it’s stacked to the back with cagey defenses, resilience, and 2-power shadow creatures. You easily could take some Clerics or Zombies out and up the power level of your support spells if you wanted. For now, though, Lady Evangela’s power lies in creating a thicket of Clerics and enchantments that force opponents to attack and kill each other instead of you. There’s a lot to be said for that.