Why Anguished Unmaking is My Favorite Card in Magic: The Gathering

Why Anguished Unmaking is My Favorite Card in Magic: The Gathering

Patrick Albert Villegas, The Geekwave - Writer

Anguished Unmaking is my favorite MTG card

Today, I will be discussing card 242/297 of the set Shadows Over Innistrad, Anguished Unmaking. An instant card that costs one generic mana, one white mana, and one black mana. It reads “Exile target nonland permanent. You lose 3 life.” and its flavor text is such: “Sorin had created Avacyn, so it was a cruelty beyond imagining, a pain beyond description, that it fell upon him to end her forever.” In its art a gray-skinned man with pale white hair faces away from a kneeling angel, his steel blade pointed at her. She is in pain as her wings, her face, her entire body is slowly being turned into dark smoke. Above, blinding sunlight pierces through a large circular window, like a sunrise issuing a new day.


Hello readers, my name is Patrick Villegas, and today I would like to talk about my favorite card in all of Magic: The Gathering (MTG), Anguished Unmaking. I have been playing MTG for a little over two years now. Through my trials and tribulations in learning the game, the nuances of its colors, and what the hell banding is, this card has always managed to stick out to me. With each new set (the releasing of multiple different cards at once) I come across,  I try to find cards that are unique, cards that will forever stick out in my mind as memorable. And then, one night, when I was browsing the card list for Shadows Over Innistrad, it hit me. Anguished Unmaking is one of the best MTG cards in history, not because it is overpowered but because of how it combines the flavor of storytelling with the mechanics of gameplay. For me, it is the epitome of its colors in the color pie, is well-balanced, and is the defining moment in one of Magic’s most interesting story arcs in the past few years.


The Flavor

Sorin Markov, the leader of the Vampire Clans, creator of Avacyn

First, let us actually discuss the flavor of the card. Flavor in MTG is a key component of every card. The main way it is delivered is through the text on cards highlighted in italics, or through its card art. It gives context for each spell you cast and what you are doing. Although they provide no utility in terms of actual gameplay, they offer players an opportunity to become attached to specific cards and it also allows the designers to tell provide lore in a limited space. A certain combination of cards can eventually tell entire stories, showing how characters in the realm of MTG change in the course of a set or even over multiple sets. It is one of the main reasons players stay with the game, to see how a character has changed through the months or even years.

Avacyn, the symbol of justice, peace and hope for all humans living on Innistrad.

To show an example, let us look at how this relates to Anguished Unmaking. The card comes from a set known as Shadows over Innistrad. Shadows over Innistrad was released after the set titled Innistrad, the original and first time we are introduced to the plane. In it, we learn about the plane, and how its a horrid nightmare scape filled with undead, vampires, werewolves, and many more creatures. In the plane, humans fend for their lives from these monstrosities, and live in constant fear of death, as dying may mean they themselves become a part of the hordes they fight, enemies hellbent to kill the allies and friends they had only days before. However, on the plane of Innistrad, vampires have their own noble society and hierarchy, and the leaders of these clans, a vampire known as Sorin Markov, sees the struggle humans face every day in order to survive. Sorin is a planeswalker, which means he can travel to different planes of existence and has powerful magical abilities, specifically in the realm of blood magic. Sorin is known for being intelligent, emotionless, and brutal, but he is also able to look at the bigger picture. He sees the struggles humans have and how quickly they die off and realizes that if they were to all perish, his people would lose their only source of food. So, using some of his planeswalker powers, he creates the angel known as Avacyn. She is meant to be a symbol of justice and peace for the people of Innistrad, providing hope to those who are lost by being their guardian protector. And when she arrives, things start to become better for humans, for a time.

With the arrival of Avacyn, humans are able to efficiently fight back against the monsters on Innistrad. She does indeed become a savior for the humans on the plane. Avacyn’s spear even becomes a symbol in churches devoted to her teachings. Humans love her, and to an extent, the emotionless Sorin sees her as a sort of daughter, having been created by his own hands.

But if you notice, this depiction of Avacyn, in the Angel of Hope art, is slightly different from the one in Anguished Unmaking. The most glaring difference being the absence of her red-tipped wings. The reason for this change in Avacyn’s character comes from the story of Shadows Over Innistrad. In this story, Avacyn seems to have gone insane, killing the people she once protected in bloody massacres, labeling all of them as demons and devils unfitting of life.

Then she went mad and became a symbol of fear

It is later revealed that Avacyn was driven to insanity by one of Sorin’s old allies turned nemesis, Nahiri. These acts are not of Avacyn’s own free will, but it does not change the fact she has murdered countless numbers of people. Avacyn’s rampage and killings eventually culminate in the climax of the story. Sorin must personally kill Avacyn. For Sorin, a character who is a ruthless leader, someone who stabs others for pleasure, this breaks him. This is one of the only moments in the entirety of Magic’s story where Sorin shows emotion. For him to show signs of sadness, a feeling of weakness, is unbearable. When he chooses to disintegrate her, to relieve her of life, he does it while she is insane, so that she may never come to the realization that she betrayed her own people, her own worshippers, and slaughtered them without remorse. He is the only one who can stop her reign of terror, but he knows that she can never return to existence. Sorin, though still powerful, has weakened after thousands of years of fighting and no longer has the ability to create a being like Avacyn ever again. So it’s with a heavy heart, one so distraught that it breaks his composure and cool, that he chooses to unmake her.

The Function

The full art of the card really highlights the Black and White that are involved with it’s casting. The planewalkers, Jace and Tamyo, can be seen in the background too.

Every card in MTG needs to somehow affect the game and serve a purpose, a function, so to speak. Function is a card’s gameplay effects and how it is mechanically used in the card game of Magic. To go back to flavor a bit, in MTG, the colors of white represent order and justice, shown by having the best cards in the game at destroying your opponent’s spells. Black represents the motto of “greatness at any cost,” with cards designed around having great upsides, but often at the cost of your own resources. Combined, the color pairing of white-and-black (also known as Orzhov) represents, in the words of game creator Mark Rosewater, “… optimizing systems. That is, it is the color pair best at examining a system and understanding how to abuse it.” (Designing for Orzhov) And this card does exactly that. The actual effects of the card are “Exile target nonland permanent. You lose 3 life.” This means that, other than land cards, you can permanently remove a card on the battlefield from the game all for the cost of 3 life. If you are worried about a big creature that will be dangerous next turn, Anguished Unmaking it and it’s gone. Is an enchantment or artifact ruining the play experience and preventing your game plan from happening? Anguished Unmaking it.  For the cost of three mana (which, in the game of MTG, is considered low) you can get rid of a problem FOREVER. Opponents who have resurrection spells or want their cards in the graveyard for later use lose those options. It makes for the efficient removal and destruction of a single target, all at the cost of 3 life and some mana. And life in Magic is important, as, in general, the more you have, the farther away you are from losing. But one of the most important tips in learning how to be good at MTG is to realize life is just a number. Sure, it’s bad if it is low, but winning with twenty life or winning with one life is the same exact thing. Life, like mana, is a resource and can be expendable. In this sense, the card sees the system of gameplay mechanics in Magic and abuses them. Although this card is not overpowered, as it can still be countered and loses to abilities such as Hexproof, an ability where a permanent can’t be targeted by spells opponents control. Finally, the fact it can be cast at instant speed is powerful because it can be played at any time in the game, allowing players to wait until the best possible opportunity to foil their opponent’s plans.

In the alternate art for Anguished Unmaking, we see the disintegration of Avacyn from her point of view. Her last thoughts “I am Avacyn. I am to protect.” 

Concluding Thoughts

To end my commentary on this card, I just wanted to leave off on the aspects of its creation that I genuinely love. I love the fact that in the full art version of the piece, you see the symbol of Avacyn’s church lying on the floor, broken and covered in debris. I love the fact that the two main characters of the Shadows Over Innistrad short stories, Jace and Tamiyo, are in the piece, but are omitted from the actual card art because in this scene they aren’t important. What’s important is Sorin losing his daughter, probably the only thing he’s ever truly loved. I love that in the alternate promotional art of the card, you see things from Avacyn’s perspective, how Sorin cannot bear to see his own daughter fade away into black ash, and how distant he must act in order to avoid letting her see his face in genuine agony. I love that in the story “I Am Avacyn”, written by Doug Beyer, that Avacyn’s final thoughts are her motto, “I am Avacyn. I am to protect.” and how it shows that she dies still believing herself to be a heroine. 

To go further into the design aspects, the fact that you lose life when you cast this spell is amazing. It relates to all of Sorin’s planeswalker cards and how his type of magic, Sanguimancy, involves a heavy emphasis on either the loss or gaining of life. I love the fact that this card can destroy Avacyn, Angel of Hope, which is supposed to be indestructible, which highlights the fact that Sorin is stronger than his own creation.

Currently, I run the card in my death-and-taxes themed deck built around killing my own creatures for value. In Commander, the format of MTG that I play most often, this deck can be strong and powerful, but I need key pieces to be on the board before I can properly win. And in those moments, when I am building up my forces and watching what others are doing to make sure they don’t win before I do, I prepare. I love that feeling of joy I get when I see my opponents get excited because they’re about to win, about to pull off their ultimate combo, only for their plans to be foiled by my favorite card in all of Magic: The Gathering.