Off to a strong start
Despite being a defensive color, Celestial Light has the potential to hit the ground with incredible alacrity. Early game Soul Wardens, Pridemates, Ascendants, and the like can quickly grow out of control, giving most decks little recourse but to take the beating (usually while you gain life in the process).
Unfortunately, these explosive openings aren’t always possible. Bad draws are always in the mix, but more likely you’ll find your opponent has answers to your early game plan. Fast decks like Goblin Gangland can force trades (removing your vital tools) or chip your life below 30 (preventing the Serra Ascendant from reaching its full potential). Slower decks like Crosswinds or Ancient Wilds can undo your progress with instant bounce or removal. Before you know it, your once powerful army is cowering in fear of much larger, more permanent threats.
For this reason, I find it’s foolish to rely too much on early game aggro. Building the deck around too many 1- and 2-turn drops is suicidal, since they won’t have any relevance lategame. Instead, your early plays should be focused on stabilizing the board, purposely drawing out removal (to ensure your angels’ safety later), and establishing a life cushion that will let you ride through stormy turns with a few extra hours on your clock.
Born… born to be alive
In the midgame, your ability to carefully evaluate threats and use utility cards like Swords to Plowshares, Day of Judgment, and Solemn Offering will be paramount to success. It’s always important to remember when playing Celestial Light that life is of little consequence, as there is always more to be gained. Wiping the board may yield card advantage, but it can be stalled quite far before it’s strictly necessary (and inherently more devastating).
In a lot of circumstances, the mere threat of a Day of Judgment, Recumbent Bliss, etc., will be enough to keep the scariest monsters away from the battlefield. As with slower decks, you must always play the metagame of extra cards in hand, extra land untapped, and extra “thinking time” to make your foes question your gameplan. Celestial Light has plenty of ways to bait card disadvantage (including White Sun’s Zenith and Swell of Courage), so don’t be afraid to bluff occasionally, as long as you don’t push your luck.
Means to an end
What Celestial Light lacks most is win conditions, i.e. viable methods of closing out the game. This has always been the downside of lifegain-based strategies; there’s no point in living forever if you can’t actually kill your opponent. Yes, there are a few powerful early and late game options for bashing your foe’s face in, but the fact that so few exists greatly limits how you can successfully build Celestial Light.
Obvious cards like Loxodon Warhammer, Baneslayer Angel, and Ajani’s Pridemate are essentially auto-include. If not dealt with quickly, these threats will pound your opponent into submission. Of course, all of them (save the hammer) are fairly easy to deal with for white, blue, and black decks – all very common in online play.
To that effect, I feel the inclusion of both copies of White Sun’s Zenith are strictly necessary. If you can stall to the late game (and you most certainly can with so much life gain), the ability to drop four or more creatures as a surprise is huge. They’re not easily dealt with by bounce or regular removal, necessitating a clean sweep. But since Infest, Day of Judgment, and the like aren’t instants, your foe will be taking a big hit at least one turn.
Another (albeit uncommon) use for White Sun’s Zenith is that it prevents loss by insanity (mill). If you’re about to draw from an empty deck, simply play WSZ and it’ll become the new top (and only) card of your deck. It won’t always work against Dream Puppets, but it could be a viable stall if the game goes super long and you’re racing your enemy to the bottom of each other’s library.
Aside from the cards mentioned, the only other ways to win are via Serra Ascendant or Felidar Sovereign. These are certainly powerful cards, but their conditional nature makes them hard to rely on. Against fast decks, you will most likely be whittled far below 30/40 life early on. Against control decks, these threats are easily removed or stolen. Still, I’ve kept at least some of them in to force an opposing play, least the game be one in short order… the cheesy way!
Celestial Light deck list
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 2 Serra Ascendant (or -1 Ascendant, +1 Warden)
- 3 Soul Warden (or -1 Warden, +1 Ascendant)
- 2 Swords to Plowshares
- 4 Ajani’s Pridemate
- 2 Knight of Meadowgrain
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 2 Recumbent Bliss
- 2 Solemn Offering (or 2 Kemba’s Skyguard)
- 2 White Sun’s Zenith
- 2 Chastise
- 2 Day of Judgment (or 2 Chastise)
- 1 Marshal’s Anthem
- 1 Rhox Faithmender
- 3 Seraph of Dawn
- 1 Well of Lost Dreams
- 2 Baneslayer Angel
- 1 Swell of Courage
- 1 Felidar Sovereign
- 25 Plains
Celestial Light card-by-card analysis