Conditions Allow - Gabriel Angelfire

(Gabriel Angelfire | Art by Daniel Gelon)

A Vial of Angel Fire

Welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take a commander with a downside and try to turn it into a strength. Last article, I focused almost as much around a mechanic, Splice onto Arcane, as I did a legendary creature, Atemsis, All-Seeing. This week's article is similar, but we have a much larger set of mechanics to choose from with Gabriel Angelfire.

Gabriel Angelfire has an ability that lets him choose between flying, first strike, trample, or Rampage 3 every turn. Most of these are pretty typical for Angels, so it seems a little unfair for Gabriel to have to choose between them every turn, especially since he costs seven mana. What sets Gabriel apart is his ability to gain Rampage 3. This means that when he is blocked, Gabriel will gain +3/+3 for each creature blocking him after the first. Against a large enough field, Gabriel can quickly gain huge amounts of power, making him a tempting Voltron commander with a few unique wrinkles in the usual formula.

First, Rampage doesn't do anything if our opponents choose to block with only one creature. We need to force as many creatures to block our commander as possible. This means manipulating how creatures block and giving creatures away for our opponents to block with. We also need to ensure Gabriel will survive combat. Creatures need to be small so we aren't stuck perpetually re-casting our commander. And, of course, we have the usual concerns: protecting against removal, and including enough ramp for the inevitable few times that Gabriel does die. With those concerns laid out, though, I think we can start brainstorming how to build around Gabriel Angelfire and Rampage.

None Shall Pass

Almost every Voltron deck will have at least a few cards dedicated to making sure its commander can't be blocked. Gabriel thrives in the opposite scenario, gaining huge amounts of power when blocked by numerous creatures. His EDHREC page illustrates this right from the start with cards that will force all creatures to block our commander. Some instants and sorceries, like Roar of Challenge, can do this for a single round only, while enchantments like Indrik Umbra last through the whole game, and don't target our opponents or their creatures. These two cards in particular are also great picks because they protect our commander for a round, fulfilling two needs in one sweet package.

The most fun option, however, is Odric, Master Tactician. In token decks and some Voltron decks, Odric effectively gives multiple creatures unblockable. In this case, however, you will always put as many creatures as you can squarely in front of your commander. Odric also gives some extra utility to mana dorks, since this deck won't be running many creatures more expensive than Llanowar Elves.

Giving Creatures

Speaking of creatures, we're going to need to make sure our opponents always have a couple. Some sorceries, like Sylvan Offering and Mercy Killing, can do this in large bursts, while enchantments like Seed the Land will dole out a slow stream of tokens. Dual Nature essentially doubles the number of creatures in each opponent's deck, but it's a double-edged sword. Dualcaster Mage and other strong ETB effects get twice as good, which makes this enchantment the riskiest way to generate creatures for our opponents.

The most efficient way for us to create creatures, however, is to manipulate a resource our opponents will already have: every commander deck is guaranteed to have at least one or two lands, and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and Jolrael, Empress of Beasts turn those lands into creatures. In conjunction with Terra Eternal those lands won't die either, so we can repeatedly slam damage through the awakened landscape. The great thing about this is most players won't expect this approach the first time they see it. To ensure that they don't catch on and, in response, start tapping their lands before they can be declared as blockers, wait to transform their lands until the last possible moment in combat. There is no way to really prevent anyone from tapping their land creatures so they don't have to block, but even then, you're still getting damage through.

Keeping the Fire Burning

Of course, this all falls apart if Gabriel Angelfire dies a couple times. He is already very expensive to cast and can quickly become nearly uncastable. Protection is very important, especially because we are hoping to have him be blocked as often as possible, by as many creatures as possible.

The Hammer of Nazahn does everything this deck wants. Giving Gabriel Angelfire indestructible lets him weather board wipes and massive rounds of combat alike, while the additional power pushes through that much more damage. Additionally, the Hammer discounts us mana by auto-attaching any later Equipment we cast. Paired with Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots, Gabriel becomes nearly unstoppable. For any tricky business on the stack, however, we have both Heroic Intervention and Veil of Summer.

Combat damage is also something we have to take into consideration. Making Gabriel Angelfire indestructible is one way to avoid dying to damage, but it isn't the only way. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite cuts a large chunk out of the power and toughness of opposing creatures. Fyndhorn Pollen doesn't reduce toughness, but will ensure they can't kill our commander. This is the most important part, since as long as those creatures have less than 3 power, they won't be able to kill Gabriel with damage because of the +3/+3 boost he gets from Rampage. That boost also helps offset the power Gabriel himself will lose to Fyndhorn Pollen, and ensure we can still deal lethal damage to players in a round or two.

Is it possible to take this power reduction too far? Maybe. Be careful when pairing Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite with Kamahl, First of Krosa, as that will quickly destroy lands even if they are indestructible. I also initially thought of Humility as a way to make creatures as small as possible. Unfortunately, Humility also makes Gabriel Angelfire into a 1/1 with no abilities. It also garners an emphatic negative reaction from most tables, which is probably not worth the cost of the card. Overwhelming Splendor does a slightly more tame impression of Humility, one you can point at a single opponent. This is great when your game of Commander turns into Archenemy, but could still push games in a direction you may not want to go.

Angelic Smite

Gabriel may not seem like much, as far as Voltron commanders go. He only has a base power and toughness of 4, without a clear way of gaining more. Rampage can be a little difficult to understand, especially without the reminder text. For every blocker beyond the first, he will get +3/+3. This means, even with just five blockers in combat, Gabriel will sit at an impressive 16/16 power and toughness. With the help of Jolrael and Kamahl, we can regularly expect many more than five blockers. This means power isn’t the problem we face; rather, our task is to give our commander trample.

Of course, trample is another keyword Gabriel can give himself, so Strionic Resonator is an option to double his trigger and select an additional keyword. Several Equipment also solve this problem for us: Chariot of Victory and Haunted Cloak grant a long list of keywords each, and are very cheap to equip. O-Naginata is also both cheap to cast and to equip, as is Horned Helm.

Another keyword that works beautifully with both trample and Rampage is double strike. This helps as much damage as possible get through blockers. In the above example, the 16 damage would be absorbed by blockers, even with trample. Add in double strike and there is another 16 damage coming entirely unhindered. It also makes it much easier for Gabriel to survive (or at least trade with) a group of larger creatures if Elesh Norn or Fyndhorn Pollen aren’t in play.

The last important areas to consider are ramp and card draw. Ramp is easy in green, but I’m still going to throw in a few artifact sources because this deck does want to push up to seven or eight mana as quickly as possible. Card draw can be a little trickier, but we do still have a few options. Keen Sense and Snake Umbra will do work, but the real value comes from Greater Good. This turns the power gained from Gabriel’s Rampage into more cards, and the large amount of ramp in the deck should allow us to sacrifice and recast our commander once or twice if we're really starved for cards.

Time for the list!

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This deck is a fun twist on a Voltron strategy. Instead of avoiding blockers, you are forcing creatures to block. Your Equipment don't directly grant power, but create a volatile cocktail of keywords. In this version of the deck, most of Gabriel Angelfire's power comes from Rampage. Once your playgroup starts to realize how to counter the land creature strategy built around Jolrael, you may want to include some more Equipment that directly buffs Gabriel's power, and a few ways to recur spells like Sylvan Offering and Mercy Killing.

What do you think? Is it possible to win a game on the back of Rampage? Let me know if I missed anything down in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.