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Atalya for Life

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This week’s experiment isn’t the same type as what I usually perform. Rather than build around a combo, I am responding to a challenge from Mike Linnemann from a couple weeks ago: for readers to rebuild their original decklists.

In the article, he went over what his original deck was like, and he then rebuilt it using modern options, with pricing relative to what his collection was like at that time. My deck today doesn’t have instant-win combos as much as it has a strong life-gain theme and some powerful synergies that come along with it.

Samite Master

To start off, let me give you an idea of what my original deck was like. I don’t still have it around, but here are cards that stand out in my memory.

Venerable Monk
Venerable Monk I’ve always thought Monks were cool. When my Magic evolution took me to the point that I realized this card was bad, I was pretty disappointed. Khans of Tarkir has pleased me with the influx of new, interesting Monks.

Spiritual Guardian The beginning of my Magic collection came in the form of Portal cards. My friend who introduced me to the game gave them all to me as a free first hit, so to speak. As he was no longer a beginner, he didn’t feel he needed them anymore. I liked the Spiritual Guardian as a bigger, beefier Venerable Monk.

Silent Attendant For only 3 mana, I could gain 1 life every turn for the rest of the game. And it even blocks 1/1s! This card represents the average power level of the cards in my original deck. Silent Attendant also stands out in my memory for being illustrated by Rebecca Guay, my favorite Magic artist.

Panacea Panacea was from the newest block when I started playing, and it was very powerful. You see, we didn’t know how to parse xx, so I only ever had to pay X in our games. In double-retrospect, even that imaginary version of the card isn’t actually that powerful.

Atalya, Samite Master And here was the ringer. Though I’d inevitably lose to my friend’s deck full of Urza's Armor, Lifeline, and Lifeline-related combos, Atalya is what satisfactorily frustrated him along the way. Atalya can gain a lot of life and prevent a lot of damage, and no single card to this day—to my recollection—stands up to the protection potential of the Samite Master.

I think you can see the theme here. My first deck was a mono-white life-gain deck, and I did steal some games with Celestial Convergence once it came out in Prophecy a few months later. As a nod to my first deck, I thought I’d put a contemporary casual spin on it by assembling a Commander list—and at the helm, of course, is Atalya, Samite Master.

Atalya for Life ? Commander | Andrew Wilson

The mono-white and life-gain elements are what transferred from my first deck to this list, as did a few specific cards. Other cards earned their spots for being reminiscent of old cards, for fitting with the theme, or just for being generally beneficial to the game plan.

Celestial Convergence
Ajani Goldmane and Ajani Steadfast Each of these has a +1 ability that can gain us life, and the +1/+1 counter potential might be how we’re able to win games—though that’s not likely. In addition, they both have emblem-granting ultimates that are really what I’m looking for. A defensive deck just might be the perfect breeding ground for Planeswalker ultimate activations; one sets up more defense while the other creates a virtual Serra Avatar token, which we can hope will be huge.

Celestial Convergence, Felidar Sovereign, Test of Endurance When people realize our deck doesn’t have much teeth to it, they may just let us be, especially given how hard we can make it for opponents to hurt us. But these three permanents will change that quickly, as given a little bit of time, our upkeep will spell doom for all but us.

Celestial Mantle This card is super-cute. Doubling our life total may be a bit excessive, but it’s really fun. We may not win the game, but let’s see how high we can get that sucker. Of course, people tend not to enjoy taking to the face the damage we’ll have to deal to trigger this Aura’s superpower, but that just makes it all the more interesting of a challenge.

Chalice of Life I always like making room for silly little cards like this. Though not illustrated by Rebecca Guay, it’s functionally similar to a Silent Attendant—until we resolve its activation with 50 or more life, at which point it becomes a tap-to-activate Lava Axe. This might be a good secret weapon for later in the game, when other players’ life totals have dwindled. Chalice of Death probably won’t get much work done if we start activating early, as it will give other players a good reason to gun for us.

Cover of Winter Finding the occasional snow card to try out is always interesting, as they don’t tend to see much battlefield time. This is another permanent that, despite its low cost, should be held for the right time. Its best use is probably to ratchet its age counters up a bit to provide a couple crucial turns’ worth of Fogs.

Atalya, Samite Master
Oriss, Samite Guardian and Orim, Samite Healer These two ladies are here mostly for the Samite theme, though they’re also particularly potent defenses.

Scroll of Avacyn, Well of Lost Dreams, Sword of Light and Shadow White has the roughest time with card advantage, so here are three life-gain-related card-draw effects. I think we have enough Angels to gain the life with the Scroll, and with Sun Titan, it offers its effects repeatedly. Well of Lost Dreams is probably the most notable card-draw engine for our deck, and Sword of Light and Shadow’s light side justifies the card’s inclusion through theme while giving us the card advantage we need on the shadow side.

Serra Avatar and Storm Herd These finishers summarily reward us for our life-gain efforts. Putting +1/+1 counters on Storm Herd tokens will, we hope, be overkill, but Serra Avatar (and its Clone in the form of an Ajani Goldmane token) desperately needs that Rogue's Passage.

Sunbond and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx These two are for working particularly well with Atalya, Samite Master. Nykthos is around to make a ton of mana, as usual, but that white mana can be spent with Atalya to be converted into life. Sunbond can potentially make her massive in one late-game expenditure. Give Atalya Batterskull, attack with vigilance, and activate her during combat for a Serra Avatar lite.




Life-gain is often the way to go with Atalya because of the ability to overpay (relative to preventing a given amount of damage), but against Stigma Lasher, Larceny, and infect creatures, consider preventing that damage instead.

If you’ve never been at a noninfinite life total over 200, give this deck a try.

Andrew Wilson

@Silent7Seven

fissionessence at hotmail dot com


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