In preparation for the Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend (MCQW), I played a good amount of Standard to learn the decks and see if anything jumped out. At first, I was winning every match with Vampires, but then everyone started playing Vampires and the whole format changed. During the time everyone was trying to beat Vampires and it got beaten out of the queues, I started winning a lot with Scapeshift. At various points I was winning with a Jund Dinosaurs list I created that maindecked Legion’s End to gain edge vs Scapeshift and Vampires (list coming later in this article).
At some point along the way, I checked my notes and noticed that I was losing to Boros Feather with a wide range of decks. So I figured I better try it.
Feather, the Redeemed in Standard
I started with a standard Feather list like this one:
4 Clifftop Retreat 3 Mountain (343) 7 Plains (331) 4 Sacred Foundry 4 Temple of Triumph 4 Adanto Vanguard 4 Dreadhorde Arcanist 4 Feather, the Redeemed 3 Legion Warboss 4 Tenth District Legionnaire 4 Defiant Strike 2 Gird for Battle 4 Gods Willing 4 Reckless Rage 1 Sheltering Light 4 Shock Sideboard 3 Alpine Moon 1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice 2 Baffling End 2 Fry 3 Gideon Blackblade 2 Lava Coil 1 Legion Warboss 1 Prison Realm
The deck is very strong but has a failure mode where the opponent kills all your creatures or kills most of your creatures and has their own clock. I did not like Legion Warboss as I felt like all the removal except Legion’s End killed it, 3 mana is a lot, and the ground sometimes gets extremely gummed up when opponents are exploring, making Zombie tokens, or putting 4/4 vampires into play-I don’t really want my 3+ drops to be ground creatures. I experimented with both Sky Terror and Kinjalli’s Sunwing, but they were just mediocre cards that were almost always just okay. I saw some people splashing green, but I didn’t like the green cards all that much.
As I played the deck, I realized everything Feather had going for it. It has flying, is legendary (can’t be hit by Cast Down), costs 3 (can’t be hit by Legion’s End), and has 3+ toughness (can’t be hit by Shock). I started searching for similar cards to try and get more of that effect, and I found Kaalia (which I had recently seen on Huey’s stream, which I watch with some regularity).
Kaalia is nearly perfect for the deck. If you play 5 Angels (many Boros Feather already play an Aurelia, so that’s easy), you’re roughly 42% to draw one when casting Kaalia–and if you’ve seen 10 or so cards and don’t yet have an Angel, you’re closer to 49% to hit one, and those are the games when you most want/need to hit. If the base rate of 3/3 flying vigilance is already what the deck is in the market for, and it’s drawing you one of your absolute best cards over 40% of the time, that’s a potential gamechanger.
4 Clifftop Retreat 4 Blood Crypt 2 Plains (331) 4 Isolated Chapel 4 Godless Shrine 4 Sacred Foundry 4 Feather, the Redeemed 4 Adanto Vanguard 4 Tenth District Legionnaire 4 Dreadhorde Arcanist 2 Kaalia, Zenith Seeker 1 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice 4 Shock 1 Gird for Battle 4 Gods Willing 4 Reckless Rage 1 Sheltering Light 4 Defiant Strike 1 Duress Sideboard 4 Legion's End 3 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord 2 Despark 2 Fry 2 Mortify 2 Duress
Adding a color for just 2 Kaalia seems excessive at first glance. Your mana does get worse as you lose 3 total red sources and gain shocklands vs non-shocks (though shock vs. scry is not a straight downgrade). It has a cost, but it was working well.
Once I started to figure out how good the black sideboard cards were, that’s when things really starting humming. Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord is another nearly perfect card for what the deck is doing. People are siding in their Noxious Grasp and Fry to take down Feather or Kaalia, and you can just resurrect them and leave behind a very threatening ‘walker. You can give your squad lifelink if the opponent chose to race rather than remove, which is also important as you don’t always know in this format which type of draw a deck like Mono-Red or Vampires will have. Lastly, when bringing back Kaalia, you get another look at 6 cards to find Feather, so having 2 Kaalia and 3 Sorin post-board can give you many opportunities to find and stick Feather even if the opponent has boarded in removal.
Legion’s End was another gamechanger. Alpine Moon is so narrow, wouldn’t it be great to have another way to fight Scapeshift? With Sorins and a bunch of removal, can we sideboard into Angel Control against aggro decks?
The answer is yes.
Demystify is nearly as narrow as Alpine Moon. Despark and Mortify are big upgrades, further letting us sideboard into control but also giving us more playability against stuff like Dinos and Cavalier of Thorns–while also getting Wilderness Reclamation off the board. Sometimes you still miss Demystify when you have an Arcanist out or your opponent has Veil of Summer, but it’s worth it. Duress combines nicely with Dreadhorde Arcanist to have both a low floor (Duress them once, protect your stuff), and a high-ceiling (Duress them multiple times).
Before I get to the sideboard, another reminder: don’t keep bad hands in this Standard format. If I don’t have red mana and my spells are red, I’m likely to mulligan. If I don’t get onto the board until turn 3 against a deck where I’m not using Shock in the first 2 turns, that’s likely also a mulligan.
You are playing control after sideboard. Sorin and Gods Willing makes your stuff stickier, Feather gives you a high ceiling, and the matchup tends to be one of your best.
They usually don’t have time for Teferi + instant-speed Scapeshift as you’re putting a lot of pressure on them–don’t keep hands that don’t pressure them. Duress can pick apart important defensive measures like Time Wipe and Teferi, or the Scapeshift itself. And because Arcanist usually lives, they might get Duressed twice. It’s important to keep in all 5 pump spells because the clock matters, but also because any Defiant Strike or Gird for Battle or Aurelia you draw could allow your Arcanist to flashback Legion’s End, which can be the difference. You can make this matchup better by swapping Duresses out of the sideboard for Alpine Moon (Blood Sun is worse), but I think what Duress gives you in matchups where Shock is bad is too valuable.
Ramp (Bant ramp, UG Ramp, etc.)
I don’t like trying to Duress them because many of their important cards are creatures and if you try to be a removal deck as well as a Duress deck, your clock can disappear. The numbers here need to change based on which ramp they’re playing. This is where sideboard guides need to be used as a rough starting point, not gospel. An opponent who likely doesn’t have Cavaliers is someone you might not want Despark against. If someone has Tamiyo, Teferi, Krasis and Deputy of Detention, Fry might be good enough. There’s no singular playbook here.
The one exception to the don’t-try-to-Duress-and-removal-people rule. Duress is a removal and protection split card in the mirror and I think you have to bite the bullet and try to play control in the mirror with Sorin and Kaalia to gain an edge.
Another matchup where being the control deck makes a lot of sense, but requires that you use both Despark to contain Experimental Frenzy and sometimes Rekindling Phoenix. One of the reasons the sideboard has 2 Despark and 2 Mortify is so that you can board in 4 answers to Frenzy and remain the better deck in a long game. This matchup is one of your tougher ones, but it’s maybe a 45% or 50% matchup, at least based on my experience.
A good matchup where we are beating down in a really threatening way. Duress isn’t really even necessary to have a good matchup, but it helps if you have it.
Because we need to be able to kill creatures and don’t expect as many sweepers or haymaker spells, we can bring in 0-1 Duress and keep in 3-4 Shock to keep Hero from beating us. It’s not a perfect plan and I often deviate since Tenth District Legionnaire is especially important to have against Little Teferi on the draw, but this is roughly where I’m at.
Against less common stuff like Jeskai Walkers or Jund Dinos, hopefully you can figure out which of the tools are right, I don’t think it’s rocket science nor is my sample size large enough to provide an answer if it was rocket science.
My Jund Dinosaurs deck built to combat Vampires and Scapeshift. Note that the mana base must shift to accommodate black spells rather than just black Dinos, but I think these mana bases are generally fine in this format as the lands are so good.
4 Woodland Cemetery 3 Forest (347) 4 Blood Crypt 1 Unclaimed Territory 4 Stomping Ground 4 Overgrown Tomb 4 Rootbound Crag 2 Regisaur Alpha 3 Ghalta, Primal Hunger 4 Marauding Raptor 4 Otepec Huntmaster 4 Shifting Ceratops 4 Rotting Regisaur 4 Ripjaw Raptor 3 Legion's End 2 Savage Stomp 2 Collision/Colossus 4 Commune with Dinosaurs Sideboard 3 Cast Down 2 Flame Sweep 4 Noxious Grasp 3 Veil of Summer 3 Duress