White has been on a bit of a roller coaster in Limited (and Commander and Standard) for the past couple years, occasionally rising to prominence but often struggling to be as relevant as the other four colors. This issue largely stemmed from white’s advantage of being the jack-of-all-trades color—since it has access to a wide variety of effects (notably except straightforward card advantage), it tends to be worse than other colors at these shared effects.

White removal tends to be fragile (Pacifism and Banishing Light can be answered midcombat for huge blowouts), be expensive, or have numerical restrictions (Collar the Culprit, Puncturing Light). These numerical restrictions also apply to white’s creatures (its common creatures were long prohibited from having 4+ power) and white combat tricks and anthems (restricted to +2/+2 or less). Once upon a time, this power differential wasn’t a problem; but as common creatures got progressively stronger, white’s restrictions became increasingly constraining. This trend was bucked at the start of 2020 with Captivating Unicorn breaking white’s power cap and continues with our namesake card.

Anointed Chorister is a surprisingly novel card. While white has historically had plenty of creatures that increase their own (or other creatures’) stats, these bonuses tended to be +1/+1 (Infantry Veteran, Charging Griffin) or focus on toughness (Affa Guard hound). When bonuses did exceed white’s normal bounds of +2/+2, you had to jump through some hoops, either committing to a strategy (Auriok Bladewarden, Cloudgoat Ranger, Vigilant Sentry); being restricted to defense (Guardian of the Gateless, Jareth, Leonine Titan); using a ton of mana on a rare (Loxodon Lifechanter, Resplendant Angel); or employing a different color (Knight of the Skyward Eye).

Instead, Anointed Chorister gets one the biggest bonuses white has ever gotten, making it a common 4/4. Yes, five mana to pump it up is so restrictive that it not having Rootwalla‘s restriction doesn’t really matter. It’s hard to threaten an activation without being forced to do so by a block, but this is still an innovation for white. White now gets to share a bit more space with green, gaining access to larger pump effects. This makes sense, given that white is supposed to be best at small creatures but green two drops have often outclassed white two drops for years.

It’s hard to look at Anointed Chorister and not compare it to Almighty Brushwagg. The brushwagg came out in the prior set, has the some mana cost, and has a much more cost-efficient method of getting +3/+3. Both cards exist to enable build-up strategies—Almighty Brushwagg is a cheap nonhuman to Mutate onto and Anointed Chorister is a cheap creature to put +1/+1 counters onto. However, these weren’t the first one mana creatures that grant themselves +3/+3 in Standard. Knight of the Ebon Legion puts them both to shame. Yes, it’s a rare and gets to be much stronger, but three colors all having the same fairly unique set of numbers is fascinating. Perhaps we’ll soon see a red creature join this club, given that red also has plentiful self-modifying creatures and strong cheap threats.

Anointed Chorister‘s is curious within the white-black “gaining 3 life matters” theme, as both it and Blood Glutton overshoot the requisite amount of life. There are scant cards like Markov Patrician to repeatedly provide the exact amount of lifegain you need—instead, you have cards like Archfiend’s Vessel and Indulging Patrician that need other cards to help get them over the threshold. This was surely done to make the archetype more aspirational and less facile to enable—if it’s easy to reliably gain 3 life, there’s no challenge and everyone that can play these cards will. But by making Anointed Chorister a bigger, but less mana efficient threat, Wizards increases the odds that she’ll go to a player that needs her and not just be a fine curve-filler for all white decks.

It’s cool seeing all the little innovations white has gained over the past year to regain its ground. While the most visible battleground for white is almost certainly in Commander, we’re also seeing cards like Siege Striker that can turn into massive threats and larger token makers like Valorous Steed. It’s worth looking at the incremental gains (and losses) as the color pie evolves with the times, even when the louder ones like Verge Rangers are easiest to focus on. Perhaps Anointed Chorister is a one-off, the kind of thing we might not see again for a while, or perhaps it’s the harbinger of white no longer being bound by the numbers 3 (for power) and 2 (for power modification). Time will tell and it’ll be interesting seeing all the new bits of innovation as Zendikar Rising spoiler season begins next week.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance gatame design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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