Modern has continued to prove itself as format too fast for its own good. Being too proactive leaves you naked and vulnerable to combo decks, while being too reactive leaves you with an inability to clock opponents with the same kind of inevitability that Valakut, Ad Nauseum or even Burn can.
Some decks are more combo-heavy than others, but all provide some sort of interaction in order to provide protection - otherwise you end up dead on turn three or four. We see fair decks win that have the ability to do unfair things - such as the Skred Red deck that won Grand Prix Dallas - a control deck but one that had an unfair trump card in Blood Moon. In that same tournament, I managed a 12-3 finish with Jund with sideboarded Blood Moons. Playing fair is possible, but the hard part is finding that perfect balance of what I call "Unfair Flare". You want to be able to combo or disrupt in an impactful manner while still functioning within the normal confines of your archetype.
After watching the Players Championship, Jeff Hoogland's Abzan "Angel" Chord deck piqued my interest. Any rogue type deck played at a tournament of this importance usually carries some weight, as often it is extensively tested by the competitor.
Angel Chord is just the type of deck that I like to play. It appears to be a combo deck - and by all means can be one - but it's truly a fair deck with some Unfair Flare. You get the ability to end games out of nowhere with the combo of Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder, or you can play normally and disrupt opponents with a variety of Chord of Calling targets such as Spellskite, Orzhov Pontiff, Loaming Shaman, or Kataki, War's Wage. Value creatures and mana acceleration, as well as solid removal, complete a well-rounded deck. You are not the fastest or most powerful, or even the most consistent, but you are just about the least linear deck in Modern. You have the ability to play aggro, combo, midrange or control in any given matchup, which is something that can't be said for most other decks.
Angel Chord has been overshadowed by Abzan Company for a long while. Earlier this year there was even a period of time when Abzan Company was considered tier one or even the best deck. That was before the influx of Death Shadow Zoo, Dredge and Grixis Control. Residual Dredge hate like Grafdigger's Cage, Anger of the Gods and Rest in Peace also hurt a great deal, and the inability to play the deck on Magic Online due to the difficulty of clicking through the combo in a timely manner has completely destroyed the archetype. Angel Chord doesn't care as much about these hate cards, and can get around them if built correctly.
The key piece of tech to provide you with a bit more of that balance is the inclusion of Collective Brutality. This provides you with some early game flexibility in addition to being a high impact interaction in the early game against some of Modern's fastest aggressive strategies. Killing a Noble Hierarch, Delver of Secrets, Eidolon of the Great Revel, or Blighted Agent (a few among many other great targets) while also providing hand disruption can completely derail a game against a linear creature deck. The additional information about your opponent's hand is a luxury, and can help you piece together what lines to take and what to find with Chord of Calling.
The problem is that this type of card doesn't naturally fit into a deck looking to flood the board with creatures, perhaps there is a build better suited for Collective Brutality?
I decided to add Lingering Souls and an additional Gavony Township to the deck. I think that having some synergy with the Collective Brutality is nice, and the addition of Lingering Souls pushes the deck even more into the fair end of the spectrum. This fits better to what the deck is trying to accomplish with Brutality, and it's no longer a sore thumb but an integral part of the deck. I also added Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to the sideboard to supplement the Lingering Souls and to combat the midrange and control side of the format. It gives you an outlet to convert mana accelerants into a quick win that gets around hate, and with three Eternal Witness drawing one can give you access to it multiple times. Gideon is also important to combat the plethora of Anger of the Gods that are found in many Modern Sideboards.
All in all, the deck performed quite well despite my "X and Tron" performance, which is to be expected. I was surprised just how often I used Chord of Calling for Eternal Witness and went for a grindy approach. Similarly, the deck felt smooth enough where it's possible you don't even need Angel + Feeder, as you don't often have the time and resources to make it happen. The thing that surprised me the most was how often people mistook the deck for an Abzan Company deck. I saw way more Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage then I anticipated. This all seems reasonable assuming how much hate people have for Dredge, and I often found it didn't even disrupt me. I even saw Relic of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbomb which were extremely lackluster for my opponents. However, it's worth noting that Lingering Souls might be a bit worse if this is the case.
Notably, it was near impossible to consistently cast Fulminator Mage. This did not come as a surprise, but I figured the Tron matchup is poor enough where it wouldn't matter. It did matter, in a big way, and also made the card worse against other decks I was siding them in against. Moving forward, I would either attempt to improve their castability or leave them at home. I think also what was lacking from my build was a lack of diversity in removal. It's entirely possible you want some Abrupt Decay, and possibly a catchall card like Maelstrom Pulse, one that Hoogland had in the sideboard.
Even though Collective Brutality is very flexible, it's narrow in a sense that it's only insanely good against a handful of decks. For that reason, I could see moving some to the sideboard. This is the beauty of the Angel Chord deck: not only are you flexible in your roles during games, but there is endless customization to be had in deckbuilding. If you want help against a certain deck, or improve your matchup against a broader archetype as a whole, it can be easily achieved.
This deck can be extremely daunting to pilot, and I suggest many repetitions before taking it to a major tournament. I thoroughly embarrassed myself playing against Infect, and sometimes for me I need to make the mistakes with a complicated deck in order to learn from them for the future.
- Steve Rubin