The Angel of Despair from Ravnica block represents a “home run” game component — that is, an all-around success. See the extended for an explanation of game design “home runs” and discussion about how this card fits the bill.
Back when Matt Cavotta wrote Taste the Magic for Wizards, he occasionally wrote about flavor “home runs.” A flavor home run succeeds on the four key points (“bases”) of art, name, flavor text, and synergy between the choices made by the creative team and how the card works mechanically. You can read some of his past columns for examples of home runs from Time Spiral and Ravnica.
To the flavor side of the home run, I’ll add the mechanical side. For me, a card is full home run if the flavor rocks and the mechanics are cool — because I play games for both reasons. I do love good art and beautiful visualization, but that alone can’t save a game. The little ship models in Pirates of the Spanish Main are great, but the game is not. That’s why I have a little fleet of pretty ships on my bookshelf, but I’m not pushing them around on a table. Similarly, deeply abstract logic puzzles aren’t nearly as engaging as moving a squad of Stormtroopers across a table.
So it goes.
Magic has a pleasingly good track record of generating comprehensive home runs. The game itself is a home run for me, as it’s mechanically tremendously engaging, and I love the story aspects that back it up. If they published “The Making of [expansion X]” books for Magic, in the vein of “Making of / Art of” books for movies, I’d buy them (as a note, they did once publish just that kind of book for a Magic block, years ago…I’d like to see them start publishing them again).
Within the game, many cards are standouts as home runs. This blog is named after one of them, and I may talk about that in the future. This time, the star is the unfunniest angel of them all, sometimes known colloquially as Britney (from her bald phase, if that means much to you).
So why is Angel of Despair such a hit for me? Well, let’s break it down.
Here’s where Angel of Despair comes from:
This isn’t 100% accurate, as Britney’s a 5/5 sans vigilance. As it happens, there are no vanilla 5/5 flying creatures, so I gave up on the idea and just went with the best graphic.
A Vindicate creature is, itself, cool. It works around problem cards like Dovescape. A Vindicate 5/5 Flying creature is a beautiful game-ending play. It’s the ultimate control move — nail the most problematic permanent on the board, and simultaneously drop into play a creature that’s too big to Char or Sudden Death out of existence. It’s solution and threat, all in one package, and it means that you can be simultaneously responsive and, to use the competitive parlance, “asking questions.” If you don’t do something about her, the Angel will off you in four swings even if you’re still at your starting life total.
And, being black, she’s immune to a whole package of targeted removal.
This requires a little context. The Angel of Despair goes with Ravnica’s Orzhov Guild — sort of a hybrid between the mafia, the Vatican, and a deeply humorless secret police agency (or in other words, Philip Pullman’s view of organized religion generally). Their chief interests are making sure they stay in charge, and making sure nothing much else goes on in the world. Sort of “religion sans faith” in many ways. Consider the the flavor text on Angel of Despair:
“I feel in them a sense of duty and commitment, yet I can feel nothing else. It is as if their duty is to an empty void.”