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Drafting Good Decks with "Bad" Cards: Feln Control

Guide by Schaab - August 17, 2020

*The majority of this article was written prior to the format changes/updates that occurred on August 10th. I haven’t played enough recently to know the major impacts of the update, except for Changeestik, which acts as another win condition for this deck. I think most of the article is still relevant given that a major part of your plan is to kill your opponent with a flyer anyway. One of my goals as I write is to introduce players to different aspects of limited play/theory. I figured the concept of building good decks with bad cards is important enough to discuss even if some of the more specific information isn’t quite as accurate as it was a week ago. So if you’re wondering why I’m not referencing Changeestik every paragraph even though it’s obviously a great card in this deck, that’s why. Happy Drafting!

1. LSV Pro Tour Prep.

While preparing for Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad, MTG Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas presumably tested extensively, determined which rares were worth building around, and figured out which archetypes were the most powerful. While discussing what he was most likely to draft prior to the Pro Tour on Episode 333 of Limited Resources, however, he didn’t talk about the most powerful rares or archetypes. Instead, he talked about green/white delirium (beginning around the 15-minute mark), a fringe deck made up of cards that were picked late in the draft because they didn’t fit in to other decks. Basically, they were “bad” cards. They were enchantments and spells that didn’t impact the board. They were creatures with 0 attack power. You didn’t want these cards in most decks. But because the cards were so bad in most decks, you could get key pieces of the deck all the way up to your last pick. It was for this reason that he thought he was likely to draft it at the upcoming Pro Tour.

LSV went into great detail about how to build the green/white delirium deck including how many of each card type (e.g enablers, payoffs) you want, how each card functions in the deck, and some ways that you could pivot if you were missing pieces. This wasn’t an obvious or premier archetype, and it was clear that he had put in a fair amount of work to figure out what made it work. It was a tool that only LSV and a few select others at the Pro Tour had, which is significant when you’re playing against the best in the world. In the first draft, he 3-0ed with Black/Red Vampires, a well known archetype. In draft two, he put together a fevered visions deck, one of the strangest competitive limited decks I’ve ever seen. So he didn’t draft green/white delirium at the Pro Tour – he didn’t have to – but he put in the time to learn how to build a deck that very few other drafters were aware of. LSV sifted through the trash of the format and figured out how to make treasure just in case he had to.

Whenever I talk about a principle or concept of limited, I will do my best to provide you with an example of a great limited player either discussing or demonstrating that concept. A lot of what I know comes from years of listening to Limited Resources, a limited-focused MTG podcast that LSV cohosts with Marhsall Sutcliffe, so many of my examples will come from LSV, Ben Stark, William “Huey” Jensen and others who appear on the show. I’m not a master of limited in any way, I consider myself a student of limited, and I’ve spent many hours listening to and watching the best MTG players in the world. You can trust the principles or concepts I advocate for because I’m just regurgitating what I’ve heard excellent players say. You should consider drafting the hard way. Sometimes there’s a lot of value in figuring out how to use the “bad” draft cards, especially in deep, complex formats. These are things that the best of the best do.

When I discuss these concepts as they apply to Eternal, however, you should be much more cautious. You should consider it. It should be a data point. I’m going to get a lot of things wrong. A lot of things. What I say is one player’s opinion that should be weighed within a framework of your own experience, the experience of others you trust, and the fundamentals of limited. Trust statements like this: Finding uses for the bad cards in a limited set is a useful advantage in draft. The best MTG players in the world do this and there are examples out there of them either applying or discussing these principles. Be highly skeptical of statements like this: Feln Control is a competitive deck that you can build with late draft picks. I believe the second statement, but it’s just my opinion and might very well be wrong.

2. Early Feln Results in Argent Depths

Now that this format has had a little bit of time to develop, the latest numbers over at Farming Eternal indicate that Shadow and Primal are underrepresented among 7 win decklists. While I would expect the Primal and Shadow decks to win a little more over time, I’m not surprised that the more proactive factions have been more successful thus far. As I’ve said before, I think this format is incredibly deep. I just listened to episode #66 and found that the hosts and I evaluate a number of cards very differently. That’s awesome! I think that’s a sign of a healthy, intricate draft format.

While the format is a long way from solved, there are probably some trends we can expect to continue. I don’t anticipate Cheerful Shepherd or Valley-Clan Sage will be considered among the top commons anytime soon. Given the current limited landscape, I think we might have our version of green/white delirium: a pile of cards that you can get 7-14th pick because nobody else wants them. The heaping pile of garbage and throwaway cards that I’m referring to and adore so much in this format is Feln Control. I can’t give the same level of detail that LSV provided for green/white delirium, but my hope is to provide a general framework for this dumpster fire of a deck.

MTG Paper Boomer side note: I never thought I’d be considered a boomer, but I just learned the term MTG paper boomer and I most certainly fall in to that category. I learned to play Magic in the mid-90s when I was eight or nine and it was the obsession in my social circle for years. By the time we were teenagers, we all had a deck that we identified with. In a world where I could’ve been playing turn one birds of paradise, putting Ball Lighting damage on the stack, or casting Hymn to Tourach like a fair card, my deck had playsets of Tundra, Counterspell, and Swords to Plowshares. That’s just who I am as a player, I guess. This Feln deck is for like-minded players – the ones who diligently check how many cards are left in their library while they kill their opponent with a flyer over several turns. This deck requires a very long term gameplan and certainly doesn’t fit everyone’s play style. If you like to grind out your wins, though, Feln Control might be the deck for you.

Here’s our very complicated framework:
1. Don’t Die
2. Outvalue your opponent by drawing extra cards and/or playing your cards twice.
3. Kill your opponent with a flyer

3. Step One: Don’t Die

This a critical step. The most important, some might say. This is an actual part of my thought process while choosing between two cards: “Which card helps me not die?” A lot of the cards in your Feln deck help you not die. Only a few of them help you win. Let’s look at some cards that lose value and some that gain value while you’re not dying.

Down in value: Evangels; 2/2 creatures in general.
Pop quiz - You have a Linrei Evangel. Your opponent surges their Flameheart Patroller or Chainwhip Bludgeoner and attacks you with a 3/3. Is your Linrei Evangel helping you not die? Not really. You’re probably taking three damage. You are closer to dying. And that’s a play pattern that you’re likely to encounter often. The Feln deck doesn’t need an abundance of primal influence. Once you get to three for Ancient Serpent, you’re usually all set. If you have to play Evangels, you probably want Makkar Evangel to get you closer to activating Stealth Strike.

Late draft target: Valley-Clan Sage.
Of all the writing I’ve recently done about Eternal, this feels the closest to revealing one of my actual secrets: I love this card. It’s really good in this deck. Watch MTG Hall of Famer Ben Stark’s stream for any reasonable length of time and you’ll eventually hear him talk about how important it is to have 2-drops that aren’t dead draws in the late game. A 2-drop that can also be relevant on turn 12 twelve is a fantastic limited card. I evaluate limited cards through this framework, which is probably why I’m lower than most people on cards like Flameheart Patroller and Chainwhip Bludgeoner. I throw up a little bit when I put an Overheating Minibot in my deck.

As an 0/5, Valley-Clan Sage does an excellent job of helping you not die. Double trigger on your bludgeoner? Cool, I’ll be over here not dying with my 0/5. If your opponent uses a trick to get through on turn three, they’re most likely not playing another creature that turn. You traded a combat trick for a “bad” 2-drop and your opponent probably didn’t further develop their board. That’s a fine exchange. More on this card later.

Late draft target: Cheerful Shepherd.
There’s a reason you can get this card late. It’s fringe-filler. But it’s slightly better filler in Feln Control. You don’t have to prioritize 2-drops at all while you draft this deck because you can get the primal ones so late. In general, two bodies will help you not die more effectively than one, especially when one of your main forms of removal, Grisly Contest, involves sacrificing a creature. Plus, if your opponent has a trick to play around your Lightning Strike or Biting Winds, you’re going to be glad you had an 0/1 to throw in front of it first.

Up in Value: Towering Arachnid.
When counting all the 2-drops in your deck, please skip this card. This is not a 2-drop. Playing this on turn two just to plunder means something has gone horribly wrong. You can get this card late because it’s really bad sometimes, but there are a couple of things that make it better in this deck. First, sacrificing a unit hurts a little less thanks to Cheerful Shepherd and Mobilization. Second, we tend to think of units with high attack/low defense as aggressive units but they’re actually really effective blockers. A 5/2 trades with a 2/2 when it attacks – it trades with a 5/5 when it blocks. Ideally you can play it and another card (maybe the power you plundered away) on turn four or five and then trade it with a big attacker. In the late game, it becomes a great target for False Demise as a 5/3 flyer that will plunder and then end the game quickly.

Worth considering: Switchblade Deadeye.
This card doesn’t line up well with some of the more common early threats but it can trade with enough to be playable. Its value goes up if you’re planning to play Natural Order, at which point it becomes a great False Demise target.

Draft all of them: Lightning Strike

Make sure you have cards to play on turn two. 7-9 feels like the correct range but that’s just off the top of my head so take that for what it’s worth. Some of the cards in your 3-drop slot don’t impact the board at all (Wisdom of the Elders, Grisly Contest) and you fall way too far behind in the early game if you don’t have a turn two play. You don’t need to spend high picks on them because you can get the “bad” primal ones later in the draft but make sure you have them.

I don’t want: Yeti Taunt Patrol.
I love plunder, I really do, but it’s not enough to make me play a 2/1 in this deck. The 3-drop slot is way too crowded for the yeti and you’re not trying to kill your opponent with incidental damage. I like this card but not in this deck.

I absolutely don’t want: Galeprowler.
It doesn’t help me not die. It doesn’t trade up. It doesn’t grow over time. I don’t want this card anywhere near my Feln control decks. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve played with and lost to this card, but it doesn’t go in this deck. These are not the flyers you’re looking for.

4. Step Two: Outvalue your opponent

If my opponent can’t attack past my 0/5 and I get to cast Wisdom of the Elders at the end of turn three, I feel like I am miles ahead. There are a lot of quality cards that cost three power in this deck: Mobilization, Grisly Contest, Biting Winds, Wisdom of the Elders, etc. Mobilization is 4/8 of stats spread across four units for the cost of three power. That’s absurd. Over the course of a long game, playing some of your cards twice generates steady advantage. I dig towards my revenge cards in this deck and have played at least three Wisdom of the Elders in a list, maybe four. I love Forbidden Research not only because it digs aggressively but also because it gives me two more shadow influence towards Stealth Strike. It’s also a mini combat trick if you end up with a Fervent Siphoner in your deck.

False Demise is a win condition on its own. Sometimes it’s one of my only win conditions and that’s fine if you put the right pieces around it. You get two cards back from your void and they both get flying. Sounds great. Piloting this deck requires no shortage of patience but pure card advantage has won plenty of limited games.

Since we’re talking about value, let’s talk about my pet card, Valley-Clan Sage. If you feel ridiculous putting Valley-Clan Sage in your deck, imagine how your opponent feels using their removal on it once they realize what you’re doing. Let’s assume you’ve accomplished Step One – you didn’t die! Life total maybe not looking great, you’ve hopefully traded 1:1 with your 2-drops, Lightning Strikes and Biting Winds. You’ve blocked with some Mobilization units and this 0/5 creature that you played on turn two. Maybe you’re waiting for that Mobilization or a Grisly Contest that’s somewhere in your top 10 cards. You and your opponent are both drawing off the top of your decks. Typically, both you and your opponent have good draws and bad draws. But once the game has reached parity, a lot of the necessary cards in both of your decks are now bad draws. Excess power isn’t accomplishing a whole lot and neither are the 2-drops that you put in your deck to not die in the early game. You both keep drawing your cards, hoping for more good draws than bad draws.

The key words on Valley-Clan Sage are “Otherwise, discard it.” If it said “Pay 4 to draw the top card of your deck if it’s a spell” without the discard clause then the card would be much worse. I had to play with the card a few times to see the pattern, but I consistently watched my excess power and bad 2-drops hit the void while I got closer to my best cards. Even if you do discard an impactful unit, False Demise is one of the cards you’re already looking for with Sage and now it has a target in the void. On average, Sage is either drawing you a card or putting a card you didn’t want to draw in the void, which is almost the same thing in the late game.

Of course, there’s a downside or two to playing an 0/5. Your opponents’ attacks are all free so it’s easy to finish the Sage off with something like chemical rounds or a weapon. There are awkward times where you don’t want to telegraph your Biting Winds but it will look suspicious if you don’t activate it for a 3rd consecutive turn. But if you’re looking for a 2-drop that helps you a) Not Die and b) Outvalue your opponent, you can find it among the unplayable garbage at the end of the pack. I’ll play three sages in my deck and smile while they mill each other away.

5. Step Three: Kill your opponent with a flyer

When deciding between units, the first question I ask myself is “Does this help me not die?” But another question I ask myself is “would this kill my opponent quickly if it had flying?” That’s usually a ridiculous way to evaluate limited cards, but every card in your deck is a potential False Demise target. You don’t always have the luxury of getting back a great 5-drop with your False Demise. Sometimes you’re forced to get back the only unit in your void, so you want to make sure they’re impactful flyers.

Lurking Brute
This is an example of a card that you don’t want. It’s a 2/2 so it doesn’t block bludgeoner or patroller. It’s pretty much dead in the late game. Still, you’d much rather play this than do nothing on turn two. It still trades with a lot of other 2-drops and discourages your opponent from attacking. You can sacrifice it to Grisly Contest if you really have to. Oh yeah, and once it has flying your opponent is going to be dead very quickly unless they have an answer. I’m not actively looking to play this card but I place a high priority on accomplishing Step 1: Don’t Die, so my decks have 2-drops. Like Towering Arachnid, the fact that it’s a great 2-drop target for False Demise increases its value pretty significantly given how much more likely it is that you can get the card back and play it on the same turn.

Towering Arachnid: mentioned above because it helps you not die as a big blocker. Sacrificing a unit is a cost, of course, but a 2-power 5/3 flyer that also plunders seems reasonable and fair. Again, this is not a 2-drop in your deck. Don’t count it as one.

Vorpal Cutter: I don’t want this card in my Feln control deck. Of all the things I could be doing on turn three, playing this card is far down on the list. But I’ll play exactly one if I have to just because it kills my opponent quickly as a flyer.

Cutbrush Cartographer vs. Hearty Warrior
In my mind, the correct choice between these two cards depends on how you plan to win the game. If you plan to win the game with flyers like Brood of Eremot or Sky Serpent, Hearty Warrior can block most things forever. If you’re planning to win the game with a flyer that you got back with False Demise, go Cartographer. I’ve tried to kill my opponent with flying Hearty Warriors. I’ve done the research. Please don’t do it. You want the card that becomes an effective attacker over time and it’s especially sweet if you get the Cartographer back after it’s already traded off with a large creature on your opponent’s board.

6. Uncommons

You’re allowed to play good cards in this deck too if you’re able to draft them. You get access to great removal in pack 2 including suffocate, feeding time, and defile. There are also some shadow uncommons in the draft packs that are good enough to be your win condition with False Demise: Darkmask Stalker, Feartracker, and Direwood Prowler.

I will happily draft multiple copies of Mobilization, Acrid Scorpion, and Ancient Serpent. I like to have access to at least one copy of Forbidden Research. More than one copy of Stealth Strike becomes questionable without enough shadow fixing.

Surprisingly Valuable: Spiritweaver
This is great in any Shadow deck but I want to mention it just because it’s far better than it looks in this build. Murky Tentaclesis is a great win condition in this deck and can help you race with weaver in play. Plus it makes Towering Arachnid a lifesteal blocker in the early game or lifesteal flyer in the late game. Weaver is still great in this deck even if it’s not always obvious.

Ancient Serpent:
Casting Ancient Serpent is often the point at which you turn the game around. It’s a big flyer and whatever spell you needed from your void. It’s on the power level of a rare in this deck.

7. Rares

This is the part of the infomercial where I scream “But WAIT! There’s MORE!” While I do believe you can build a competitive Feln control deck with some leftover draft chaff, I still highly recommend playing strong rares. I normally advocate for drafting the hard way, but I cannot be reasonable when it comes to Plasma Primordial. I’m probably drafting Feln control 99% of the time if I open it. The framework of the deck is built on commons but Shadow and Primal also have access to some phenomenal rares that you can wait to draw while you’re busy not dying.

Maveloft Huntress:
As I sit here wondering where to begin, I might have to write a completely separate article called Maveloft Huntress: A love story. It’s a fantastic card on its own and is great later in the game when it has flying if I’m on that plan. I don’t build my deck any differently when I draft this card. Draft it, play it, enjoy.

Vengeful Flight:
If you’d like to speed up your False Demise plan, allow me to introduce Vengeful Flight. A lot of cards go up in value in Flight decks: Spellbound Ursine, Lurking Brute, Vorpal Cutter, Arachnid. The more aggressive cards become better in a Vengeful Flight deck because the original and clone can end the game so quickly. It’s also ridiculous with one of my favorite cards in this deck: Acrid Scorpion.

You can’t target creatures with flying when you cast this spell. You’ll find yourself without a target more often than you might think, especially with the revenge, if you’re not careful about it during deckbuilding. Make sure you have ground units.

Helio, the Skywinder:
I’m more likely to put Linrei Evangel in my deck if I have Helio, the Skywinder, but otherwise I’m already playing every primal symbol I can so having this card doesn’t really change how I build my deck in any significant way.

Jotun Iceslinger:
Don’t let the casting cost scare you away. If you’re playing Feln, you should be planning to get to eight power. You should plan to play until turn twenty. You should clear your schedule. This card and one False Demise can be your entire gameplan if your other cards are good enough at helping you not die. Makkar Evangel doesn’t go up in value just because I have this card. I’m usually trying to get to six shadow anyway for Stealth Strike or Devouring Shadow, so I already value the shadow symbols pretty highly and I absolutely love Forbidden Research in this deck for the extra influence.

Severin of the Dark:
Emphasize Step One: Don’t die. Do everything you can to not die. Literally just don’t die and you’ll probably be in good shape when you find Severin of the Dark unless he’s one of the last cards in your deck. Warning: Opponent silencing Severin of the Dark may cause excessive confusion and crying.

The Unforgiven:
Also Emphasize Step One. The ambush flyer might not stabilize the game if you’re hovering around five health or so, but it’s a bomby bomb in pretty much all other scenarios. The only thing I might do differently during deckbuilding is trim down the number of cards that don’t directly affect the board and play units in those spots instead to help me not die before I cast this monster.

Murky Tentaclesis:
Might as well be a rare or legendary in this deck, so I’ve included it here. Unlike the first two cards mentioned, this one impacts some deckbuilding choices. I’m not a huge fan of natural selection in this deck because I’m planning to play 0/5s and 1/2s, but that changes the more I’m planning to recur my creatures or if I’m playing a couple of Fervent Siphoners. Natural Order gives the unblockable unit killer and then gets it back when the revenge occurs. In general, you don’t have to do any extra work to make the Tentaclesis great in your deck. A lot of the cards you’re already planning to play, like Grisly Contest, Mobilization, and False Demise, have revenge. You shouldn’t be putting cards like Frost or Midnight Hunt in your deck just to trigger the revenge. This deck is about patience. It will happen eventually.

Plasma Primordial:
1. Cast Plasma Primordial
2. Give your opponent a few seconds to read it
3. Watch them concede

You’re on the Severin of the Dark plan. Just don’t die. You’d have to be miles behind or dying on the next turn for Plasma Primordial to not turn the game in your favor.

8. Building Feln Control

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a formula with the exact number of 2-drops, enablers, card draw spells, recursion, etc. to build this deck. The curve and distribution of units/spells look a lot like a typical midrange deck. The difference is that you're drafting defensive creatures and always planning to play a long game. I won’t lie: Feln Control isn’t an easy deck to build or pilot. The value of each individual card depends on what else is in your build. I don’t love Natural Order, but I want it in a deck with Murky Tentaclesis. Once Natural Order is in my deck, Switchblade Deadeye and Fervent Siphoner go up in value. But if I don’t have a Murky Tentaclesis, then I probably won’t play Natural Order, and I don’t want deadeye anywhere near my deck.

The best decks in this format are synergy-driven. Surge and Stonescar decks, for example, don’t plan to win games thanks to the power level of a few individual cards. I think Feln Control, however, is one of the rare exceptions. My gameplan usually revolves around buying enough time to play a handful of powerful cards (twice in some cases). So while a good Rakano deck will have cards that all synergize well with each other, a Feln deck might have five impactful cards and 21-22 cards that maximize your chances of finding and playing your best cards.

19 power has become my default for this deck and I rarely deviate from that (This is a good example of an opinion that could easily be wrong). You can’t afford to struggle with power in the early game. Excess power can be plundered, discarded to Forbidden Research, or discarded off the top with Valley-Clan Sage.

Feln control is not a premier archetype in this format. Even a good version of this deck will lose to a fast start from Rakano or Stonescar – that’s why they’re great decks. But Feln control is probably better than the numbers indicate thus far. I have a ton of fun playing it but it’s not for everyone. What this deck provides is inevitability. Eventually, I’m going to play my cards twice and you’re going to play yours once. You’re signing up to play long games and you should be cognizant of that during the entire draft process. Oh, and make sure you're checking how many cards are left in your deck once in a while.

My guess is there are a lot of “bad” cards in this format that provide value to specific decks and archetypes. If you want to master a format and maximize your draft win percentage, you should look for value in the “bad” cards at the end of draft packs. Don’t take it from me – the MTG greats do it. I think there’s value to be had in the Feln cards at the end of these Eternal packs – I could be wrong. The “bad” cards that are actually good could be in another archetype that I never discover. Maybe you will. Formats have to be pretty deep in order for building treasure out of trash to be a useful skill and I think Argent Depths might be one of them. I suspect there’s a lot more treasure to be found while you salvage the junkyard of Eternal draft packs.

Happy hunting.

- Schaab

Draft Enthusiast
#3 Ranked drafter for Chapter 41: Whispers of the Throne & Chapter 43: Argent Depths.
#10 Ranked drafter for Chapter 44: Dead or Alive
#10 Ranked drafted for Chapter 45 at time of submission

Author’s note:

Thank you to everyone for all of the positive feedback about my first article. I cannot say enough about how great this community is.

I wanted to give a shoutout to a few content creators that I’ve benefited from. I encourage everyone to check out their work.

Eternal Journey podcast: The format is based on Limited Resources, my favorite MTG podcast, so it became an instant favorite for me. Pack 1, Pick 1 discussion is excellent. Helped me level up from a top 100 drafter to top 20 drafter. Hosts are also very positive members of the community which makes supporting them and their work oh so nice and easy.

Farming Eternal podcast: Mentioned in the article. They gather 7-win decklists, analyze the data, and discuss trends on the show. It is far more entertaining than I’m making it sound. Really great insights into the format as a whole. I often hear them talk about how they used to view or evaluate certain cards and then discuss how they value them now. Those are the kind of people you want to learn from: ones who are willing to be wrong and update their opinions based on new information.

Kasendrith’s stream: The first Eternal streamer I started watching. It took all of about 2 minutes for me to learn something useful and that remains true pretty much every time i watch. Always positive and helpful, even though I usually just show up, ask a random question about a card or deck, and then lurk away.

Calebovitch’s draft guide: I don’t often catch Caleb’s stream because of the time difference, but his draft guide is incredibly well done and gives insight into how a consistently successful Eternal player approaches the format. If you want to play Eternal draft competitively, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not reading Caleb’s work. Also seems like a very positive force in the community during the few times that I’ve seen his stream.

All my Eternal writing can also be found here: Let's Talk Limited


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