Hey there, Soldiers and Soldierettes! Welcome to Under the Hood, the article series where I take a look into the mechanics of Magic and have a root around to see what I can see! This week, I’ve got the oft requested mechanic of Exalted.
We first saw Exalted all the way back at the start of the Mythic era of Magic – all the way back in Shards of Alara. It was introduced as the mechanic of the Green-White-Blue shard of Bant, the white-centred, knightly society in which disputes are sorted by single champions in a caste-based system. Thus, Exalted was formed. Instead of an army clashing with an enemy, a super-powerful champion would instead fight with the full support of their allies. In theory this seems fine, though in practice it tends itself towards board stalls, where only one attacker leads to a lot of left up blockers, and matchups heavy in exalted are decided by who can churn out the most blocking material. Nevertheless, from a flavour perspective this suited the shard to no end, and is a pleasing representation from a mechanical standpoint.
Being a mechanic of fairly high regard, it saw a resurgence with Magic 2013, colour-shifted into Black-White. For black, it was flavoured less towards picking a champion and more gearing up somebody to do the work on your behalf, which fits the underhanded nature of Black while still allowing the pre-existing flavour of White-Exalted, which was elegant in its execution.
For its first stint in standard it saw moderate use, and while no decks were building hard for it, a pleasing smattering of exalted cards made it in the standard scene. Despite the format-wide Jund heyday that enveloped the block (when 5 colour control didn’t have its hooks in the format), cards such as Noble Hierarch were used as a 1 mana accelerant to churn out the more greedily costed threats of the deck (that Bloodbraid Elf ain’t gonna cast itself, you know). Outside of the Jund overlord, Naya decks also made use of Exalted, using Aven Squires and often Battlegrace Angels in both the mainboard and sideboard as ways the survive the in the aggressive format that cascade (And Wild Nacatl) spawned.
On its second go around the block, Exalted had a decidedly more anaemic showing. Despite powerful instances of the keyword on cards like Sublime Archangel and Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis, the mechanic didn’t seem to manifest in any major form for its entire run in this standard (though in its defense, its legality spanned from Scars of Mirrodin block (and Birthing Pod, and Praetors, and Mental Misstep), right the way through to the current standard of rose-tinted past, INN-RTR (and its Thragtusks, Restoration Angels, Snapcaster Mages, Abrupt Decays, you get the gist). Overall, its standard impact has been unremarkable, if not a promising show for the mechanic. Surely it can find a place amongst the greats?
…well, technically. The exalted deck as a whole never truly worked out, but it did spawn some true powerhouse cards for 60 card constructed formats that see use to this day. While often a sideboard choice, Qasali Pridemage sees use in GWx decks in modern such as Junk or Kiki chord, due to its passive buffing of creature threats while also being a competitively costed naturalize effect. It finds itself outshone by Modern and Legacy mainstay Noble Hierarch however, who sees use as a 4 of accelerant in many decks; while her exalted isn’t often relevant, the ownership of the keyword makes her an impressive turn 1-2 play in both Modern and Legacy strains of Infect.
Implications in EDH
Despite a slightly disappointing show in competitive constructed, I feel vindicated by the fact that exalted shows a lot more promise in EDH. In multiplayer, holding up blockers is more relevant – often leading to lone attackers with some kind of evasion. This plays right into how exalted aims to work, and allows decks in this situation to eke out extra value, with cards such as Battlegrace Angel giving ‘Exalted with benefits’.
With heavy rewards towards solo attackers, it should come as no surprise that exalted also lends itself well to voltron decks (Voltron being the type of strategy to suit up one creature – often the commander – and swing until everybody is dead). This sentiment is embodied by Rafiq of the Many, a voltron commander infamous for his explosive capabilities with little help. With exalted on your side, a lot of voltron strategies become stronger, such as Double Strike or Infect.
It’s worth noting that despite Exalted being a way for a defensive deck to go wide, the creatures are incredibly small, due to their potential to become ginormous at a moment’s notice. Because of this, an exalted deck will either require some support against counterattacks (such as Crawlspace or Silent arbiter), or will need to be built low to the ground enough to kill quickly (very difficult, in my experience).
Sublime Archangel – an absolute stellar alpha-strike card, this little angel effectively doubles your champion’s damage output for very little investment. She’s probably only good for the alpha strike, because a threat this size usually triggers the nearest board wipe before you can truly go to town. Some protection can go a long way with this bombshell. She even has applications outside of a voltron deck – being able to go wide and give exalted to a whole host of creatures in a token deck, for example. Though, given that token decks often aim to swarm out, this is a more situational (but still great) option.
Finest Hour – cards like this are why naturalize effects are mandatory for a commander deck. A criminally undercosted source of additional combat phases (sure, it’s only one a turn, but it’s easy to power this out early), Finest Hour can make sure you’re always in the position to take an aggressive stance, allowing a creature to swing twice a turn – though it is VERY notable that there is no restriction on what can attack in the second phase, either. Prod an open opponent to trigger the extra phase, then alpha strike with your entire team! It also gives a creature pseudo-vigilance, offering the choice to not use the second combat to just get a free attack in. As if I couldn’t gush any more about this card either, it’s worth mentioning that where there’s extra combat, there are extra exalted triggers! With a decent build-up of exalted creatures (or other permanents, this one included), that second strike will be INCREDIBLY difficult to safely block.
Sovereigns of Lost Alara – my final all-star is an expensive relic that crops up occasionally in UW voltron builds. The Sovereigns are insanely powerful in the right deck, able to power out any aura you can fit into your list without caring about the mana cost. Worried about an imminent board wipe? The Sovereigns have your back: Have a Shield of the Oversoul! Need some life? They have a Spirit Link with your name on It. Don’t mention It! See the opportunity to blow a player out of the water? They better be packing Eldrazi Conscription insurance. While it’s probably ill-advised to centre a build around them, they can work incredibly well with a small toolbox In a voltron deck, or even to support a UW enchantress deck that compliments the strategy, like Bruna, Light of Alabaster or Geist of Saint Traft.
So, you want to build with exalted cards? That can be arranged. I got what you need, bro.
Exalted decks want to build a field and provide a single pressure, so a commander that fits the bill of ‘single pressure’ Is naturally going to stand head and shoulders over the rest. The first that comes to mind is Rafiq of the Many – a commander with Exalted ensures you always see your theme in a game. Plus, his effect benefits the exalted strategy, giving your lone attacker the most aggressive keyword in Magic. Notably he gives it to anyone too, not just himself – allowing pseudo haste by giving it to another creature the turn he comes in!
Another consideration in the Bant combination is Jenara, Asura of War. She is an aggressive commander with evasion, that comes down early and can keep pressure on. Her ability to grow over time is often less than relevant, but can soak up excess mana to give her additional firepower, even if your board of exalted guys don’t manifest.
As a quirky way to build exalted, I’d like to put forward Obzedat, Ghost Council. While lacking green or blue, it makes up for it by having access to the black exalted cards from M13. In addition to this, they have the effect to just straight not exist during your opponents’ turns, making them a tall order to be dealt with at sorcery speed. Then when your turn rolls back around, you have a 5 power haste to capitalise on your exalted effects! Quite a nice pick, and not what everyone expects from the Ghost council.
It wouldn’t be an Under the Hood without a deck, and I’m happy to present to you:
Now, I would have LOVED to make this deck 4 colour (I almost did!), but the early game pressure on colours were so great that I had to let my dream of shoving Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis through a Finest Hour die. Nevertheless…
The deck features all the tools a creature based aggro deck needs to set up and throw down; lots of cheap acceleration in dorks and rocks, plenty of draw and tutor to set up a boardstate, and a couple of VERY scary bombs to close out games before your opponents know what hit them.
One of the main quirks with the deck I wanted to fit in was Spinebiter and Putrefax. These infect threats can come out quickly and can brutally take down an unprepared player or two before they’re dealt with. While infect is generally not deemed popular at EDH tables, these guys in the hands of Rafiq have ended me more times than I can count (isn’t that right, Crazy?) and are well worth the inclusion.
The removal suite is tooled to deal with a flexible amount of threats while leaving you largely untouched; exalted cards are typically incredibly small, so Retribution of the Meek or Fell the Mighty aim to deal with the big boys that can effectively block your champion while leaving your forces untouched!
As mentioned earlier, Sovereigns of Lost Alara make an appearance with an aura toolbox to keep the table guessing. Featuring 4 auras, it’s unlikely you’ll see them (unless you’re finding them with Enlightened Tutor or Open the Armory), but grabbing a couple of these can make your threat incredibly difficult to deal with, and make an outright win condition very quickly when combined with Finest Hour (swinging for Eldrazi Conscription first swing then Shield of the Oversoul second swing is pretty unassailable on its own).
That should just about cover me this time round guys, thanks for reading! What do you think? Too aggressive? Not enough quality creatures? Be sure to drop us a message, I love hearing your feedback! For now though, Unmistakable out.