That most dignified of keywords

In testing for the upcoming PTQ here in San Jose, I’ve been using this gal:
It’s awesome, by the way. It also reminded me of the same feeling I had when I was running this lady at the Superstars Standard $1K:
Specifically, exalted is a brilliant keyword. Why is that?
In his recent article Rethinking Investment Theory: Everything Has Haste, Zac Hill discussed the way in which Sorceries and Instants beat out the random beater, by dint of having an immediate effect – effectively, “they have haste.” Thus the title. I tend to agree with Zac’s concept that a straight-up, wait-a-turn investment in a creature is kind of disappointing. This is why I tend to prefer creatures that have comes-into-play effects or have some other potential immediate value (e.g. Eternal Witness and Sakura-Tribe Elder, respectively).
Exalted is, much of the time, an immediate ROI, regardless of what else is going on with the creature in question. In the case of Battlegrace Angel, the immediate value is twofold, as by buying into the 4/4 flyer for next turn, you also get +1/+1 and lifelink for whatever you had in play this turn. This was brilliant much of the time in Standard (and has me, tangentially, thinking about playing Battlegraces as finishers in Extended).
In the more subtle case of my testing with Noble Hierarch, I found that the presence of the exalted keyword changed all my late-game Hierarchs from terrible draws (cf Birds of Paradise) into value draws. Now instead of a mana developer that you no longer need, you have something that reads “G: Give a solitary attacker +1/+1.” Clearly you wouldn’t play that on its own, but it means you suddenly have a topdeck that can do all sorts of things – like, for example, winning a Tarmogoyf war.
Over on Five with Flores, Michael J referred to his old article The Breakdown of Theory, which discusses the three-phase model of a Magic game. The phases are, briefly:
Phase 1: Manascrew (aka mana development)
Phase 2: Interactive play
Phase 3: Noninteractive play
Cards that get you out of phase 1 traditionally suck when you draw them post-phase 1. The presence of the exalted keyword converts Hierarch from a phase-1-only card to a card that has some value in all phases of the game.
So that’s why I’m so high on exalted right now. All in one concise little package, it solves the dual problems of delayed ROI from a creature and of mana smoothing being a poor late-game topdeck. That’s impressive for one little keyword.

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