The Monk By The Sea by Caspar David Friedrich (1808).
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries by Anna Steinbauer.
After last week's detour into a janky deck built around a very weird tribe, I'm happy to be writing about a much more normal commander and what turns out to be a really fun and interesting deck.
When it was spoiled, today's commander was almost immediately seen as the one of the best, most exciting and potentially powerful legendary creatures ever printed for its color combination. Normally that would be a pretty bold statement, but today's commander happens to be Feather, the Redeemed and the color combination we are talking about is Boros.
Before we dive into today's deck list, let's take a closer look at Feather.
This legendary Angel costs to cast and is a three power, four toughness flyer. Her "party trick" is where things get really interesting. Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell that targets a creature you control, you exile that card instead of putting it into your graveyard as it resolves. If you do, you get to return it to your hand at the beginning of the next end step.
What that means is that Feather is the next in a short but incredibly fun line of commanders who want you to dive deep into the world of combat tricks.
Zada, Hedron Grinder wins games off the back of casting and getting extra copies of cantrips (instant spells that draw you a card). Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest is great at one-shotting people with a combination of pump spells and his ability to give a creature double-strike.
Feather is poised to join this small band of highly entertaining aggro commanders who let you gain card advantage by casting and getting back pump spells and cantrips. The question I'm going to explore today is how we can best try to break Feather.
Feather's Party Trick
Every good commander has a party trick.
Some let you cheat costs in all kinds of different ways. Some provide recursion or protection or the even holy grail of mechanics - card draw. Feather lets you exile instants and sorceries that target your creatures and you get them back at the end of the turn.
If all goes well, we will be casting a lot of instants and sorceries that target at least one creature we control. That means combat tricks. It means for once in a Boros deck we might wind up wanting no maximum hand size so we don't have to discard any of those cards we get back. Last but not least, it means we'll want to keep the CMC of those instants and sorceries as low as possible. We usually want that anyways, but in this deck we will sometimes want to blow through as much of our hand as possible since we should be getting those cards back again anyways.
Our combat tricks start with pump.
Brute Force is a great example of what we're looking for. It is cheap and it gives you a significant +3/+3 boost to target creature. Sure Strike is also in the list and will give +3/+0 and first strike. Titan's Strength gives +3/+1 and will let us Scry 1. Reckless Charge is also in the list. It is a Sorcery, but it has flashback so it gives us a little extra flexibility for those times when Feather is neither on the field nor under our control.
For a little more pump, we're running Fists of the Anvil, which gives +4/+4 and Enrage, which will let us pour any amount of mana into pumping the creature it targets. Double Cleave will combine with our instant-speed pump to double our damage output and can also serve to let a blocker kill an incoming attacker with first strike damage. Temur Battle Rage and Uncaged Fury will provide more double strike options. The former will usually give that creature trample if it targets a feature of power four or greater, and the latter will give the creature +1/+1.
We'll also want ways to protect our creatures that can benefit from Feather's ability.
Acrobatic Maneuver will exile target creature we control and then return it to the battlefield under its owner's control. It will draw us a card, which is huge, but the defensive use will be to help us dodge targeted removal. Gods Willing will give a creature protection from the color of our choice and will let us Scry 1 as an extra bonus. Sheltering Light will give target creature indestructible until end of turn and it will also let us Scry.
Scry is helpful, but card draw is obviously better so we'll be running a bunch of cantrips in this list.
A lot of our cantrips will wind up getting used on the end step of the player to our right, but these spells are definitely ones that can play a role in combat. If we use Stun on an opponent's creature, we won't get to exile it, but there may be times where that is the right play to make.
Pump, double-strike, protection and card draw are all important, but the heart of any deck I build is the fun stuff. There are always cards that fit into a deck that take advantage of your commander's ability in fun, unexpected ways.
Seize the Day is an auto-include that may only target one creature, but will occasionally let me go from threatening to lethal and again, will find its way back to my hand because it targets one of my creatures. It's probably one of the first clever tricks deck-builders got excited about when Feather was first spoiled, but it's still worth mentioning here in case you weren't aware of how well it will work with Feather.
Seismic Shift is a land destruction card. Normally that would only be a corner-case include in a deck like this. It might or might not make the cut based on what kinds of decks I play against in my local meta. With Feather I can use it on my turn, target one of my creatures, target one of my opponents' creatures, blow up a land and get the card back because it targeted one of my creatures.
Spark of Creativity will let us target one of our creatures, exile the top card of our library and we can play it until end of turn. We could instead choose to have it do damage to that creature equal to the card's CMC, but we'll usually be targeting our own creature so that wouldn't make much sense. Spark of Creativity works really well with Scry, as we can use it as removal if we know that one of our higher CMC cards is on top of our library before casting it.
The Secret Sauce
We've got a pretty robust list of instants and sorceries that we can use to make combat fun and give us an edge when we need it, but you still might not believe that our piddly little +3 pump spells and the occasional double-strike is going to really make waves in a format where removal runs rampant and creatures can get pretty huge. The next piece of today's puzzle is the matter of what kinds of threats we will be running. There are plenty of options in Red and White, but we run into some familiar problems.
If we were to try to clear a table with Feather by playing huge creatures like Giants or Angels we would find ourselves up against one basic issue - ramp. Boros has big creatures to draw from, but if you're spending 6-9 mana to drop a body on the floor, that doesn't leave much extra room for pump spells. I can see a casual, fun Feather deck built running cards like Hamletback Goliath or Akroma, Angel of Wrath, but this list is going to try to keep a lower average CMC.
If we instead tried to win by commander damage, we've got a long way to go. More traditional voltron threats like Narset, Enlightened Master, Uril, the Miststalker, and Bruna, Light of Alabaster easily show us that Feather isn't quite in their league. Narset and Uril have built-in protection but Feather just has flying. Narset and Bruna both cheat casting costs really well, but Feather just returns our instants and sorceries to our hand at the end of the turn. Feather has potential so we'll keep commander damage as an option but it isn't going to be our first choice for how to try to kill an opponent. We'll definitely swing with her, but commander damage isn't this deck's "secret sauce".
How do you feel about infect?
I hope you like it because this deck's secret sauce is poison.
I've been writing about infect a lot in recent weeks. It's a very powerful mechanic to lean on if you want to be able to kill people quickly. In some metas if you want to be able to win your share of games, you have to lean on stuff like combo and infect to get the job done. Infect simply gives us a completely legal, highly efficient way to eliminate your opponents by going to combat. It's an answer to combo and it's the bane of casual metas everywhere. It's scary, it's effective and it will sometimes turn a table against you before you can even mount a serious threat.
I've long wanted to build a deck that can make the most of some of the little White and Red infect creatures that never pose a serious threat in a format like Commander. I can't tell you how many times I've been searching through cards, went past some of the cards shown below and wished that I had a good place to use them. I think a Feather deck might be that deck.
A flyer like Shriek Raptor and Tine Shrike can swing for 2 damage through the air would be barely worth running if it were dealing regular damage. A flyer that can swing for 2 infect damage through the air with a deck that can give it haste, a +3 power boost and double-strike can kill an opponent out of nowhere. Lost Leonin and Priests of Norn round out the modest list of White infect creatures we're including in this list. With no evasion, those last two aren't bad but will work best when played right after a boardwipe.
Razor Swine has 2 power but most importantly it has first strike, so any blocker might wind up dying before it can even do combat damage. Ogre Menial might be a 0/4 but he has firebreathing, meaning that you can pump any amount of Red mana into him to increase his power until end of turn.
You might find all of these infect creatures quaint. Maybe, just maybe you can kill one player, but can you really clear a table with a hodgepodge of pump spells and a smattering of one or 2 power infect creatures?
If you're missing your infect creatures or they've gotten removed you can give Feather infect with Grafted Exoskeleton. You can drop a Grand Abolisher when you're ready to pop off, and if you have five mana left and enough pump to get a creature up to 10 power, you can just hit it with Chandra's Ignition and that's game right there.
If you can't get an infect creature up to 10 power, that's OK. You can easily get it up to five power with just one pump spell, hit it with Chandra's Ignition and then do it again on your next turn. Your opponents will be rebuilding and while you might have lost your commander and your Grand Abolisher, I like your chances of being able to close out the win at that point. Remember that all those instants and sorceries should be back in your hand if you're playing things right.
For many months I had been using my old blog site as a weekly game log, but I've come to the conclusion that I didn't like the way it was affecting my local meta. It was an excuse to write more, but my eagerness to write with candor and to include every game - even the bad ones - caused problems. I wound up with local players paying a lot more attention to my ups and downs than I had ever intended and I didn't like the feeling that I couldn't be honest about my less pleasant games without ruffling feathers, hurting feelings, or causing problems in the group I play with.
That doesn't mean I don't like to share the stories of my games, and I recently had a fantastic game with this Feather deck that is well worth sharing.
The game saw me playing Feather against The Mimeoplasm, Emmara, Soul of the Accord and partners deck led by Tana, the Bloodsower and Akiri, Line Slinger. My Feather deck was on its second game ever and hadn't yet won. The table was basically a casual one, but I didn't have a sense that anybody had a markedly stronger deck than anyone else.
In the early game I was able to get out my Feather and swing a few times, but was only doling out 3 commander damage at a time. I was mostly trying to respond to getting hit. I like to send the message that I won't just let an opponent swing at me with no repercussions. I usually let my opponents decide for me who I should go after first, though that does benefit the combo players who like to durdle and then win out of nowhere. Sometimes I just go after the "durdlers" first, but not always.
The Tana and Akiri deck got out to the best start but I was able to get a Tine Shrike out and get 2 poison counters on the Emmara player before he could get a flyer out. Once he had a blocker in place, I sent Tine Shrike at the Tana/Akiri player, getting two poison counters on her. At that point the table had seen enough of my shenanigans. I hadn't even played a pump spell yet, but I did have Enrage and Samut's Sprint in hand.
I had been able to play Swiftfoot Boots and equip it to my Tine Shrike, but the Emmara and Tana/Akiri players worked together to solve the problem I was presenting. The Tana/Akiri player blew up my boots and Emmara played a creature that could exile target creature. He chose Tine Shrike and that was that. I still had Feather on the field, but very little else. If the creature that had exiled Tine Shrike were to leave the battlefield, I'd get my pesky little flyer back, but I hadn't drawn into any removal yet.
To make matters worse, the Mimeoplasm player then took control of my Feather, leaving me with nothing.
I was obviously no longer the threat. When the Tana/Akiri player started to really blow up, she probably figured she'd leave me for last or at least not kick me when I was so clearly down. She had hit me for 10 commander damage with Tana and had 10 saprolings but she sent her next attacks at my table mates.
In casual games I often make suboptimal plays just to keep everyone in the game and having fun. I have lost plenty of games that way and have few regrets. Casual games are meant for having fun above all else, and few people have fun when they're out of the game early and the game winds up going long.
When the Tana/Akiri player made 10 Saprolings by swinging with Tana, played a Mycoloth, devoured ten Saprolings and started making 10 new Saprolings on each of her upkeeps, we started getting nervous. When she dropped a Bloodspore Thrinax, devoured another ten or twelve Saprolings and was poised to make gigantic Saprolings at the start of each of her turns, we knew we had to find an answer.
As I mentioned, the Tana/Akiri player had been swinging at my two table mates, rightly figuring that I would be easy to deal with whenever she wanted to finish me off. I hadn't been drawing or ramping much at all and only had a few creatures on the field. I had played an Oreskos Explorer and blocked an attacker with it, so I think had an empty board.
The turning point came before the Tana player had been able to untap with any of her huge Saprolings. She had a fantastic board, but was still only swinging with 1/1 attackers and with Tana. She had 10 commander damage on the Emmara player and she was poised to swing for another 10, also sending her Saproling army at the Mimeoplasm player. If combat played out as expected, Emmara would live and on her next turn the Tana/Akiri player would swing for lethal on all of us if we didn't wipe the board.
If the Emmara player were to die, the creature that exiled my Tine Shrike would be gone from the game. I had Enrage in hand and 7 mana available. The Tana/Akiri player already had two poison counters. I did the math and saw that I had a way out.
I used Samut's Sprint to give Tana +2 power, making her attack on the Emmara player lethal.
The Emmara player died, and Tine Shrike returned to my control.
The Tana/Akiri player had no flying or reach blockers. On my turn I untapped, swung Tine Shrike at the Tana/Akiri player and played Enrage for seven mana, dealing 8 more poison counters and killing her!
The Mimeoplasm player was at 2 life from multiple waves of Saprolings attacking him. I think he swung at me with some of his creatures, but I survived and on my turn I was able to play a Firebrand Archer, which pings your opponents for 1 damage when you cast a noncreature spell. I cast two spells and that was game.
I really had no right winning that game. The Tana/Akiri player had an amazing board, a great attitude, and it took some serious shenanigans for me to eke out the win. I was able to use combat tricks both on my own creatures and on an opponent's creature to position myself to where I could even have a shot at victory. The only reason I survived as long as I did was that the scariness of my infect creatures resulted in my spending much of the midgame neutered and unable to mount a threat.
It was a lot of fun but the takeaway was clearly that my list needs to have some changes made to it if I want the deck to be as effective as possible.
Let's take a look at the list I played that night.
This isn't a first draft, but it is far from a finished product. This second draft managed to win a game, and it has a lot going for it but it clearly needs board wipes. I build my decks from the cards I have on hand. At the time I threw this together all my White board wipes were in my Sydri, Galvanic Genius deck.
Broken Feather | Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Feather, the Redeemed
- Creatures (21)
- 1 Bastion Protector
- 1 Firebrand Archer
- 1 Galvanoth
- 1 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
- 1 Grand Abolisher
- 1 Guttersnipe
- 1 Highspire Mantis
- 1 Lost Leonin
- 1 Ogre Menial
- 1 Oreskos Explorer
- 1 Phalanx Leader
- 1 Priests of Norn
- 1 Razor Swine
- 1 Shriek Raptor
- 1 Silverblade Paladin
- 1 Smelt-Ward Minotaur
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Tine Shrike
- 1 Treasure Nabber
- 1 Young Pyromancer
- 1 Zada, Hedron Grinder
- Instants (26)
- 1 Acrobatic Maneuver
- 1 Boros Charm
- 1 Brute Force
- 1 Defiant Strike
- 1 Double Cleave
- 1 Enrage
- 1 Ethereal Haze
- 1 Expedite
- 1 Fists of the Anvil
- 1 Fork
- 1 Gods Willing
- 1 Invigorated Rampage
- 1 Path to Exile
- 1 Pressure Point
- 1 Reiterate
- 1 Return to Dust
- 1 Reverberate
- 1 Samut's Sprint
- 1 Sheltering Light
- 1 Stun
- 1 Sure Strike
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Temur Battle Rage
- 1 Titan's Strength
- 1 Uncaged Fury
- 1 Wing Shards
- Sorceries (9)
- 1 Chandra's Ignition
- 1 Reckless Charge
- 1 Renegade Tactics
- 1 Rile
- 1 Seething Anger
- 1 Seismic Shift
- 1 Seize the Day
- 1 Shoulder to Shoulder
- 1 Spark of Creativity
- Enchantments (9)
- 1 Boros Cluestone
- 1 Boros Keyrune
- 1 Boros Signet
- 1 Grafted Exoskeleton
- 1 Pyromancer's Goggles
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sunforger
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Thought Vessel
Is it accurate to call this list "broken"?
Probably not, but that's the direction we're trying to go in.
Solar Blaze, a new board wipe from War of the Spark, needs to be added in along with a half dozen other sweepers. Fell the Mighty is an auto-include that I'm almost embarrassed to not have in the current list, as I'd be able to use it targeting Feather and get it back again to use again. If I were able to give Feather indestructible with Bastion Protector I might even use it on an infect creature so that I could keep both it and my commander.
By the time this column gets posted I may already have swapped in some of the board wipes this deck clearly needs. Fell the Mighty is just too good a card to not throw into the mix as soon as I can get my hands on another copy of it. I may well steal it out of another deck just to get it into this list.
This deck is still in an early form. I've got a lot of tuning to do to it, but I think if our goal is to make a Boros deck that is capable of keeping up with semi-competitive decks, I'm on the right track.
I didn't mention how amazing Zada, Hedron Grinder will be if you can get a few creatures out and start using Zada to copy those instants and sorceries, and I didn't dive into how the Sunforger package in this deck can give you some fantastic flexibility. Look through the list and see if you can ferret out some of more interesting cards I've tried to build into it.
I suspect my casual tendencies probably got the better of me - as they usually do - when working up this early draft. Boardwipes are effective, but running a ton of sweepers in a casual meta with infect threats and instant speed haste behind each wave of destruction isn't the most casual-friendly approach to Commander. Most of my games are at more laid back tables where games are longer, interaction is a little less frequent, and we all want everyone - including our opponents - to have fun.
Fearless readers, this is where you come in.
What do you think? Is this a good starting point for trying to break Feather, the Redeemed? If you were to take this list and work it into as powerful a Feather deck as possible, what would you change? What sweepers would you add in? What Feather staples did I miss?
Your feedback is always welcome and is often full of great ideas, so please comment below.
That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week.