In this head to head, we'll look at Righteous vs. Holy Day. Personally I prefer the Legends printing of Holy Day (the "Jesus card"); however, subsequent editions' rules text are clearer so I chose a later edition.
In the last head to head, we explored Bonesplitter and Trusty Machete, two cards which are identical in cost and offensive power. This time, we'll look at two cards which each cost . Yet these cards do very different things.
Fundamentally, these are both defensive cards. Righteousness states "target blocking creature," and Holy Day's "prevent all combat damage" is rarely used by the attacker unless his attack goes sideways in a bad way. Yet, I've been torn between these two cards for a quite some time. The reasoning which follows will be more general in nature and we won't go into turn-by-turn specifics as we did when looking at Bonesplitter and Trusty Machete.
What does Righteousness do? Well, that's pretty clear. Target blocking creature gains +7/+7 until end of turn. +7/+7 is enormous. If the attacker does not have destruction it's unlikely that the defender will lose; that is, this card is a probable battle winner.1
Holy Day prevents all combat damage that would be dealt this turn. It doesn't win — merely stalemates. It says, "back to your stations." It can stave off defeat. I have played and seen many games where one player is down to a few life points, and his opponent taps out for an alpha attack.2 The defender plays Holy Day, and responds next turn with his own decisive alpha attack.
These two cards can also be used in multiplayer situations to save one creature from being destroyed or one player from losing the game. For example, Player A could use Holy Day to cancel Player B's attack against Player C if Player A judges that he needs Player C in the game. Or, I might play Righteousness on an opponent's lowly defender such as
Holy Day has two functions. First, it cancels an attack against you. Second, it cancels an attack against an opponent which you may want to stay in the game. But Holy Day's major drawback is that it's not really a battle-winner. It doesn't destroy attacking creatures — or help to do so by giving creatures a bonus. It simply says, "battle over, try again later." The argument that I can counter with an alpha attack isn't persuasive, because it is an elementary error to alpha attack in the first place against a comparably sized army, for the reasons above. If I play Holy Day in the face of a strong attack, I may likely lose anyway. It's hard to argue for a card that simply delays defeat by one turn.
Righteousness has the drawback that it can only be played on one creature. Wizards fixed that with
As a defensive card, Righteousness is one of the best in the game. More often than not it is unanswerable and the attacker hits the discard pile. It can take the sting out of first strike or trample, since an 8/8 or a 9/9 beats a big 5/5 first strike or 5/5 trample every time. Righteousness is outstanding when played on lifelinked defenders such as
Verdict: In this head to head, Righteousness carries the day. Holy Day at best staves off defeat for a turn or two. It doesn't affect your opponent's army. Unless you draw a miracle on your next turn you are still likely to lose. Righteousness on the other hand can help kill big creatures, and when played in the earlier part of the game can even turn the game around. If you need Righteousness on all your creatures, I'd suggest Hold the Line, but again, three mana is a lot. I prefer Righteousness for spot removal.
1 "Battle" is defined as one creature attacks and one or more creatures block to defend.
2 An "alpha attack" is attacking with all your available creatures, so that none are left for defense.