Going Deep – Control? In 2017?!

 

statuary-maiden

Hey friends! I took a bit off from my content creation responsibilities, over the holidays, but I’m back now with a new take on an old deck that I’m sure many people will be interested to try out. I told you my next article would be a follow up with my draft article, but I think taking the time to share this deck while it is still good is important. Let’s get straight to it!

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3 Permafrost (Set1 #193)

3 Seek Power (Set1 #408)

4 Torch (Set1 #8)

4 Annihilate (Set1 #269)

4 Lightning Storm (Set1 #206)

3 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)

2 Champion of Chaos (Set1 #402)

4 Feln Bloodcaster (Set1 #386)

4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)

4 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)

3 Statuary Maiden (Set1 #387)

2 Steward of the Past (Set1 #287)

2 Staff of Stories (Set1 #234)

3 Withering Witch (Set1 #368)

4 Black-Sky Harbinger (Set1 #385)

3 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)

3 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)

4 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)

2 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)

4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)

4 Seat of Cunning (Set0 #62)

4 Seat of Fury (Set0 #53)

1 Skycrag Banner (Set0 #65)

1 Stonescar Banner (Set1 #419)

I have recently been battling with this brew at the top of Master. I would describe this list as Feln Control splashing a few key Fire cards. I’m not going to describe the bones of the Feln Control shell, since I don’t think I need to explain why Deathstrike and Wisdom of the Elders are good cards. If you want more background on that, check out LightsOutAce’s article.

The Fire splash is surprisingly light, especially considering how easy it would be to go harder into Fire. The sum total is 4 Torch, 2 Champion of Chaos and 3 Statuary Maiden gives 9 cards (one short of the 10 cards needed to have a deck qualify as a Fire-based deck). Although the splash is light, I feel it is essential to improving two of the most important match ups in the field. To understand the purpose of these cards, let’s talk about the bad match ups for Feln Control, and see how the Fire cards help in fixing them.

Rakano

Rakano has been a consistently poor match up for most Feln control variants for as long as I have been playing. The combination of Relic Weapons, Aegis units, and a fast clock has always been a weak spot. One of the challenges has always been the mix of removal spells. Premafrost and Annihilate are great against Rakano Outlaw but poor against Champion of Glory. Unbuffed units can be easily dispatched with Suffocate, but as soon as they get some pants or a Warcry bonus they are outside it’s range. Feeding time hits everything, but is too clunky and slow to feel good. Getting the mix perfect for any given meta game is near impossible.

To get a sense of how to attack these decks, we must consider the most recent Rakano builds. Looking at the most recent stock list, there are some changes to the archetype worth noting. First, more people are running Finest Hour then ever before. This card is exceptional against strategies that are planning to defend themselves via blocking, though it is poor against decks that have a good deal of fast removal (like us). Second, the most recent builds of Rakano tend to be a little bit slower than most decks from the previous few seasons. They are running fewer 1-drops, fewer Shogun’s Sceptres, and more 5-drops. Although we have tools that can answer each type of strategy, the faster versions of the deck gives us less time to find them and deploy them.

The Fire splash is actually exceptional in this match up. Deadly units like Statuary Maiden are a pain for Rakano to deal with, as they must spend one of their heavily taxed Silence effects to remove the Deadly ability from the Maiden, or they must 2-for-1 themselves in the form of unit + Finest Hour or Torch to remove her. The Steward of the Past is similarly great in this match up as a Deadly unit with a big butt, although the Cudgel ability of Maiden is great in the Rakano match up. Turning your 2/5 or 1/4 into a 4/7 or 3/6 makes attacking with small Warcry units even more difficult. One important warning – it is usually best by the mid-game to assume the opponent has a copy of Vanquish rotting in their hand. There are very few targets in your deck, and your opponent will be itching to make use of a card like this. Lets say you are in a game state where you have done a reasonable job exchanging resources but are at a low life total with Maiden as your only remaining blocker. By Cudgelling her to a 4/6 she enters Vanquish range, allowing your opponent to clear the way for their attackers. Obviously it is difficult to set hard and fast rules of when to suit up your units and when to hold back the Cudgels, but be sure to consider playing around Vanquish.

The other card that is a spectacular addition to this deck for the Rakano match up is Torch. The early turns of the game are all about tempo and power-efficiency. By turn 5 or 6 you will have much more powerful plays than your opponent, but you will only get there is you have made some power-efficient trades turns 1 through 3. Torch is the pinnacle of early-game interaction. It is particularly useful against Champion of Glory. As a 3/3 multifaction card with endurance it is able to dodge Premafrost, Annihilate, and Lightning Storm. Torch is one of the few efficient answers to remove the card. The other major application of Torch to this match-up is killing Relic Weapons. Anyone who has had significant experience with Feln Control variants, knows there are some games where you opponent lands a Relic Weapon that you have no answer to and it just beats you up all game long. Having a turn 3 Sword of Icaria deal 6-9 damage, generate 3 Warcry Triggers, and trade with a card is just not a reasonable exchange of resources. Torch allows you to kill Relic Weapons like Sword of Icaria with ease, and at a power advantage.

Some of you may be saying now “Hold on, you know that Lightning Strike is a card right? Why not just use that and cut the Fire?” Although I feel this is a valid perspective, Lightning Strike has a lot of problems. First, costing 1 is a super-power that cannot be overstated. Leaving 1 power open to interact with your opponent is much easier than leaving 2 open. Second, the fact that the window on Lightning Strike is so limited really comes up. Let’s say you opponent plays a Champion of Glory on their turn 3 and then equip it with a Hammer of Might on turn 4. There is literally no window in which to Lightning Strike the Champ before it gets “hammered”, while Torch could easily answer this card either at the end of their turn 3, or on your turn. Torch is just a spectacular tool in the match up, and is infinitely more flexible than Lightning Strike.

Before moving on to discuss Shimmerpack, I would argue that the Rakano match up is actually slightly positive somehow. This might be a function of opponents not knowing how to play the match up, or just running hot. Who knows? What I do know is that I have never felt better playing a Feln based control deck against Rakano, which is important as this has been a weakness of the deck for any other variant I have played.

Shimmerpack

This is really an interesting match up. On paper, it would seem that Feln should crush Shimmerpack, as 4 Lightning Storm and 4 Black Sky Harbinger should be super effective against them. When actually playing the match up, this is really not the case. Xenan Obelisk is a huge problem. I would argue that without Obelisk Feln is a favorite, but as soon as the Obelisk shows up Shimmerpack is in the driver’s seat. A patient Shimmerpack player that waits to deploy their Scouting Party until Yetis reach 3/3 or larger will demolish a standard Feln deck. So, how do we answer this challenge?

The Fire splash is really important for fixing this match up. First, we need to understand that our control deck must take on a more aggressive. If we are planning to just grind out card advantage and ride a Black Sky Harbinger to victory we will get overpowered by multiple Obelisks. So how do we turn up the heat, and how does this relate to the Fire splash?

I’m going to take a bit of a step back and talk about finishers in control decks. Most good control lists spend the majority of their deck space with a mix of card draw, removal and defensive units. Although these cards are all good, they don’t actually win you the game. It is possible to ride 2/5’s and 3/5’s to victory, but it will take a while, and you give your opponent a chance to out top-deck you. Therefore, a control deck will often run some number of “finisher” cards in order to actually end the game. Most of the best control finishers actually serve a dual role as a tool for answering the opponent’s threats as well as actually killing the opponent. Take for example Sword of the Sky King in decks like Armory or Icaria Blue. On the one hand they answer an opponent’s cards, but on the other hand they can be used to actually finish the game. Sounds like a great addition to the deck right?

Well, things are not as simple as adding a card to your deck and just calling it a finisher. If the finisher does not actually finish the match, you are going to be in trouble, especially because most finishers are expensive and clunky. This Felnscar control deck actually runs a collection of cards that can each function as a finisher in different match ups. Black Sky Harbinger is great against aggressive decks, since the 3-10 life you gain from the first turn or two it is in play can get you outside of burn range, while cleaning up the board. Staff of Stories is a great finisher against any deck looking to out-value you, as you can easily protect in such match ups. Both of these finishers are kinda nonsense in the Shimmerpack math up though. “You have a 3/5 Lifesteal? Cute. Well now it is a 4/4, up against my army of 6/6s.” “Staff of Stories? More like 5 power gain 5!” We clearly need another tool for the Shimmerpack match up, as these cards are not able to generate enough advantage when we are trying to beat an Obelisk.

The two-card combo that I think is best against Shimmerpack is Champion of Chaos and Statuary Maiden. To beat Shimmerpack you must clear the board multiple times to actually win a pure control game. A deck with 4 Storm and 4 Harsh Rule can hope to sweep the board several times, but that is really not a practical strategy for most decks. By combining Statuary Maiden with sweepers you are able to turn a Lightning Storm from a strong play to a crushing play. Furthermore, most Shimmerpack lists have essentially no way to actually clear the Statuary Maiden. Some run Polymorph, but I would expect maybe an average of 1 per Shimmerpack deck, meaning you are favoured to not even see one in the course of a game. Without polymorph the Maiden will just sit on the table accumulating value, maybe under a Permafrost, but who cares? The advantage she generates over the course of the game will make a huge difference moving forward.

So where does Champion of Chaos figure into this? Well, as everyone knows, a 5/5 Overwhelm Deadly cannot be chump blocked efficiently, but when there is a Maiden fuelling it, Cha Cha rapidly become a giant killing machine that is a truly crushing finisher. A curve of Bloodcaster into Maiden into Champion + Storm will end most games against Shimmerpack. They often have to blow a Permafrost on Statuary Maiden, which clears the way for Champion to come down and wreck face. Opponents that attempt to line up multi-blocks against Champion of Chaos can easily be punished with any of our potent fast removal spells. With the combo of Champion of Chaos and Statuary Maiden we now have a finisher that really matters in this specific match up. As I said above, if the opponent does not hit an Obelisk we can win on the back of almost any combination of cards, but if they do have Obelisk active, Champion of Chaos allows us to punch in damage and really lay down some pressure so that we can whittle down their board before a Shimmerpack is able to land.

Other Match Ups

Most midrange decks are a joke. The main challenge there is understanding which removal lines up well against which threats. For example, Withering Witch + Storm is a spectacular combo against Combrei, while it is too slow against decks like Burn. How many good Torch targets are in their deck? Is it worth 2-for-1ing myself against a Titan to stop the aggression or should I can I take damage now to better set-up shop? Although it takes some keen understanding of both players decks, with practice battling against midrange decks like Combrei and Burn will be trivial.

Xenan has had a recent renaissance of popularity owing to strong tournament results. If you are on the draw with a clunky opener you can get run over by their more aggressive starts, but your deck is certainly favoured in the match up. 5 copies of void-disrupting 4 drops makes a huge difference, as it will stop Reaper entombs and Copper Conduit Shenanigans. This is the match-up where I find the split between Steward and Maiden most interesting. The Summon ability of Steward matter a lot here, as it will Silence any Dawnwalkers or Copper Conduits already in the Void, but allowing them to Dark Return a 0 power 6/6 is not exactly perfect. On the flip side, Maiden totally stops units from entering the Void, meaning no future Dark Return targets, but you she does nothing for the units already there, and matches up poorly against Dawnwalker in combat. One way or another, if you can stick one of these 4-drops on the field for several turns you will probably win the game.

Armory is basically an unwinnable match up. I’m not a fan of that deck right now in general, so I haven’t even included cards to try and fix the match up, but of the times I have played against it with this Felnscar list (which was maybe half a dozen times) I only won games where my opponent drew way too many or too few power. Every deck is allowed to punt some lower popularity match ups, and this is the one we are punting. Decks like Feln control are more popular as control decks, and many builds of such decks will be favoured against you because of access to cards like Gift, but you can still win if they don’t land the card in a timely manner. I imagine such match ups are fixable, but why bother when most of the meta is some variant of Fire-based aggro or Tokens?

Cards I Did Not Include

Sabotage/Treachery

I think the meta is just too fast. Both are tempting as solutions to various cards in Shimmerpack, as well as being passable in other match ups, but I have often felt the wins achieved by this deck require very careful resource management through the early-to-mid game. Playing off-curve to try and land a Sabotage or Treachery while they are still relevant is often game losing. Given that there are other more versatile ways to solve the problems these discard effects are trying to answer, I tend to favour the alternative approaches.

Obliterate

This is a deck that is splashing Fire at the end of the day. Champion of Chaos is really only central to your strategy against the Shimmerpack decks, and other than that you don’t really need even double Fire influence. Beyond that, the card is really only better than Feeding Time if you are playing against a lot of big Relic Weapons, or you are planning to actually kill your opponents. Relic Weapon heavy strategies are not particularly popular, and burning out our opponents is really not a priority, so why bother? Feeding Time is actually a consideration, and I would certainly be jamming some of these in a certain meta, but for now I’m fairly happy with my balance between removal and units, so I have not made room for Feeding Time.

Suffocate

This card is so close to being excellent, but it has just underperformed a little too much for my taste. One of the arguments for including a card like this would be the combo with Maiden, as it allows a Turn 5 Maiden + Suffocate. That is good, not question, but how often do you really need the Cudgel? Permafrost and Torch are just so efficient as removal that I give the nod to them, and there is only so much room you can give to situational removal.

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, I’m not convinced that this take on the deck is perfect. There is certainly room for improvement and customization, but this deck has been treating me quite well on the ladder. I would encourage people to try it out while it is still good, as countering this deck is relatively trivial. Overall, I feel Feln control variants are actually underplayed right now, as they have a lot more power than people give them credit for. This current list having a significantly better Rakano match up than I have ever experienced as a Feln control player is a big selling point, but I could see that totally changing with some minor tweaks to the Rakano decks. As always, please leave me comments here or in the Reddit thread to let me know what you think about the deck, or questions about card choices!

Oh, and Happy New Year to you all, from RNG Eternal 😀

3 thoughts on “Going Deep – Control? In 2017?!

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