The Feather deck has existed for a while, and it’s always been on the fringe of playability. It posted some good results (like a Grand Prix Top 8 and some Top 16s), but it never quite made it to tier 1. With the release of Core Set 2020, things got much better for it, and it just might have broken through. Right now, I believe there are two possible builds of Feather, and I’ll discuss the merits and downsides of each.
The first version you can play is straight red-white with a build similar to the one that already existed. “But Paulo,” you might be wondering, “why is this build good now when it wasn’t that great before?”
First, Feather is a metagame deck. You are very good against other creature decks since you have cheap removal spells like Reckless Rage that you can play over and over again. The part where you fall short is against people interacting with your creatures, or against opponents who have no creatures of their own. Basically, you’d much rather face Legion’s Landing or Llanowar Elves than Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Nexus of Fate. The previous metagame was all about Teferis and Nexus of Fates, which meant Feather wasn’t the optimal choice, but this metagame seems to be more about creature decks—Vampires, Elementals, Dinosaurs, and even Spirits. If people are just goldfishing each other rather than interacting with the opposing plan, Feather will beat any other creature deck with a reasonable draw.
Second, there are a couple of new cards that vastly improve the deck: Gods Willing and Temple of Triumph. Gods Willing might seem like a small upgrade to Sheltering Light, but it’s a much bigger upgrade as it protects your creatures from removal that exiles, and, more importantly, it lets you attack through opposing blockers. When you have some overgrown attackers (like a Tenth District Legionnaire that you’ve been pumping the entire game), this is very relevant. It also lets you block indiscriminately (which comes up), especially if you have Feather making it effectively free.
The one downside of Gods Willing compared to Sheltering Light is that it doesn’t protect you from Kaya’s Wrath, but I believe this is a risk worth taking based on how much better Gods Willing is everywhere else.
It’s also worth noting that while you can’t save a creature from Teferi, Time Raveler (since its passive stops you from playing the Gods Willing once it’s on the board), you can still cast Gods Willing in response to Teferi, which delays the bounce for a turn. And if you have enough power to attack Teferi off the board, it might mean the bounce never actually happens.
The second addition also seems unimportant, but it is quite an upgrade. The mana in Boros Feather pre-M20 could have used some help (I was already playing a bunch of Boros Guildgates, since the Feather turns are very color-intensive), and the scry from Temple of Triumph is deceptively impactful. First, because you don’t have that many two-drops in your deck, it helps you hit them on turn two. Second, and more importantly, because the cards in the deck range wildly in power level depending on the situation you find yourself in, it helps by giving you more control over what you draw and when. You really want to draw a combination of lands, creatures, and spells, and drawing just two of the three is very bad. Consider, for example, the difference between drawing two copies of Feather, the Redeemed, two copies of Reckless Rage, or one each Feather, the Redeemed and Reckless Rage—it’s night and day. Being able to scry away that second copy of either card in search for the other half of your “combo” is very important. On top of that, the deck runs no one-drops, so playing a Temple on turn 1 doesn’t cost you anything.
This is the list I’d play:
4 Clifftop Retreat 4 Sacred Foundry 4 Temple of Triumph 3 Mountain 6 Plains 4 Feather, the Redeemed 1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice 4 Dreadhorde Arcanist 4 Tenth District Legionnaire 2 Tocatli Honor Guard 3 Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin 4 Adanto Vanguard 1 Tomik, Distinguished Advokist 4 Reckless Rage 2 Shock 4 Defiant Strike 2 Samut's Sprint 4 Gods Willing Sideboard 2 Tocatli Honor Guard 2 Healing Grace 3 Fry 2 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 2 Lava Coil 4 Gideon Blackblade
Not all cards here are locked, and numbers may shift around, but I’ve seen a lot of lists with fewer than four Reckless Rages and I think that is outrageous. Reckless Rage is not only part of the reason the deck works, it’s part of the reason to play this deck over a deck like Mono W Aggro. If you think Reckless Rage isn’t going to be good enough to play as a four-of, then I suggest you simply play a different deck, because it’s not worth playing the Feather shell without it.
Incidentally, this is also part of the reason I’m playing Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin over Legion Warboss. I think Legion Warboss is better in matchups where people are going to have a ton of removal spells (such as Esper), but Krenko is better if they can’t interact with your creatures very much. If I’m playing Feather, I’m already banking on their lack of interaction, so I might as well exploit that.
The other flex slots are the two-drops. For a RW build, I think Adanto Vanguard is probably the next best choice after Dreadhorde Arcanist and Tenth District Legionnaire, but I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as some people think, and I have in fact played zero copies of Adanto Vanguard in my builds before. It’s probably the card I side out the most as well since it’s weak versus other creature decks.
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist and Tocatli Honor Guard are two other very interesting choices. Tomik is a flying creature that stops Nissa, Who Shakes the World from working, and its three toughness means it can survive Reckless Rage. Tocatli Honor Guard is very bad versus some decks, but incredible versus others (such as Elementals, where it stops basically all of their creatures). With the popularity of Risen Reef, I don’t mind maindecking the Honor Guard. It’s also randomly good versus cards like Goblin Chainwhirler, Venerated Loxodon, Champion of Dusk, the explore creatures, and Frilled Mystic, so it wouldn’t surprise me if more copies in the main deck were correct.
One card I’ve seen some people play that I don’t like is Burning Prophet. I think it’s a totally valid card to play (and I did spend an entire paragraph exalting the virtues of scrying in this deck), but I simply prefer the other two-drops to it. I think the scry for Prophet comes a bit too late, and doesn’t help setting up your winning combinations nearly as much. But it’s by no means bad, and in a different metagame, where Tocatli and Tomik aren’t as useful, I could see playing it. It’s also better against aggro than Adanto Vanguard, so if the metagame changes completely in this direction I can see making this swap. Essentially, I believe you have access to 6-8 slots for extra two-drops, and you can switch them around depending on what you expect to play against.
The next version you can play is Naya, and that’s actually my preferred version of the two and the one I’ve been playing the most. The biggest draw to adding the color green is the new card Season of Growth. Season of Growth is incredible in this deck, and by itself it bridges all the gaps between creatures and spells; your creatures will help you find spells (since they all let you scry) and your spells will make sure you never run out of gas. It works with Feather but also works as a second Feather, so to speak, since it helps you keep going.
Some of your starts with Season of Growth are ridiculous. Not because your opponent is dead on turn three, but because you generate so much value that it’s hard for anyone to keep up, especially when so many spells in your deck are so cheap. Consider, for example, the very normal sequence of:
Turn 2: Dreadhorde Arcanist
This turns Defiant Strike into W: +2/+0, draw four cards!
For a while, I toyed around with other green cards. Gruul Spellbreaker and Paradise Druid were two of the ones that caught my attention the most, as the hexproof was very valuable when casting pump spells. Ultimately, though, I thought the mana wasn’t good enough to play green as a main color, and I decided to leave it as a splash only.
Partially because of this, I’m playing Thrash // Threat instead of Domri’s Ambush since it can be cast off of RR (or GG if you have two GW duals). On top of that, It’s an instant, which means it works much better with Feather because you can cast it twice in a turn cycle (as opposed to once with a sorcery). Also, it has the hidden mode of making a creature if necessary. The downside, of course, is that it works much worse with Dreadhorde Arcanist since it costs 6 mana, whereas Domri’s Ambush only costs two and by itself enables Dreadhorde Arcanist to flash it back. Both have pros and cons for sure, but I’ve liked Thrash // Threat better for now. If I add more green sources maybe I’ll go back to Ambush.
The other green card I like is Collision // Colossus. It actually works fine with Arcanist (it costs 4, so it can always be flashed back if you target the Arcanist with Collision), and it also works very well with Krenko and with big Tenth Street Legionnaires. On top of that, there are a number of flying creatures around (Crackling Drake, opposing Feathers, Kefnet, Lyra) that are worth killing.
Once we play green, our two drops change. Most notably, we have fewer of them because Season of Growth costs 2. Also, you also can’t realistically maindeck Tocatli Honor Guard now that it stops the front half of Season of Growth. You can still sideboard it (since the most important part of Season is the second part anyway), but I think maindecking it becomes a liability.
This is my latest Naya build:
4 Clifftop Retreat 2 Sunpetal Grove 4 Sacred Foundry 3 Temple Garden 2 Temple of Triumph 4 Stomping Ground 1 Rootbound Crag 2 Plains 4 Feather, the Redeemed 4 Dreadhorde Arcanist 4 Tenth District Legionnaire 2 Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin 2 Adanto Vanguard 4 Season of Growth 2 Samut's Sprint 4 Reckless Rage 2 Thrash/Threat 4 Defiant Strike 4 Gods Willing 2 Collision/Colossus Sideboard 4 Tocatli Honor Guard 3 Gideon Blackblade 2 Healing Grace 2 Fry 2 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator 2 Lava Coil
Having Season of Growth makes Samut’s Sprint much better, not only because it turns it into a cantrip but also because you draw a lot of cards, so having a cheap spell that you can cast for huge impact is valuable. I have one copy in the RW version because it works so well with Krenko, but here I have two.
The biggest problem with this list is the mana base because there’s no real way to make it perfect. I’m not even playing all four Temples of Triumph since your lands will enter the battlefield tapped too much if you do that (not only the Temple itself but the checklands become worse, too). Even though I’m playing an extra land here over the RW version I still lose games to the mana sometimes, either because it’s too painful or because I don’t have the right colors.
So, are the mana base issues worth it? In my opinion, yes. Season of Growth is too strong, and I’d rather lose some number of games because that card is in my deck than not have it at all. If you haven’t played with it in this shell, you should try it. It makes sure your deck is firing on all cylinders. Even if the list itself isn’t perfect, I believe Naya is the way to go from now on.
Moving forward, I expect Feather to be a good deck until the rotation. Once that happens, we’ll lose Reckless Rage, and then all bets are off. While I do consider the card to be instrumental to the deck’s viability, it’s possible there are enough new tools for the deck in the next set to offset its loss if you just replace it with Thrash // Threat.
See you soon.