Deconstructing Constructed – Kithkin in Block Constructed

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Tuesday, August 12th – Following up from last week’s commentary on Doran, we now move onto Kithkin, which have posted quite the numbers at both Grand Prix tournaments, Kobe and Denver. Let’s take a look at what actually worked: both Kithkin decks that made Top 8 at their respective Grand Prix, and the two Day 1 undefeated Kithkin builds.

Following up from last week’s commentary on Doran, we now move onto Kithkin, which have posted quite the numbers at both Grand Prix tournaments, Kobe and Denver. Before we continue, I’d like to give a shout-out to the guys from California -Walter Shatford, Orie Guo, and Lucas Siow, all of whom showed up at Denver and won Trials for byes, two of whom made Day 2 (way to punt, Orie), and Walter who went undefeated Day 1. Congrats, guys!

Speaking of undefeated decks, you’ll note both of them were Kithkin, and although neither made the Top 8, yet another Kithkin deck did get there. So with both Grand Prix results, I think we can safely say Kithkin is one of the best decks in the format. Yes, perhaps it isn’t as techy as Archon of Justice Quick n’ Toast, or the single River Kelpie deck that made Day 2 in Denver, but by god playing 1/1 dorks and attacking just wins games. In fact, it would seem White’s popularity has reached the point where it may be worthwhile to start polishing off some of the mirror tech for maindeck play, instead worrying about the new sweepers in Soul Snuffers and Hallowed Burial, all of which now see play.

At this point, let’s take a look at what actually worked: both Kithkin decks that made Top 8 at their respective Grand Prix, and the two Day 1 undefeated Kithkin builds. This is just for maindecks:

Tournament Denver Denver Denver Kobe
Finish: Undef. Day 1 Undef. Day 1 Top 8 Top 8
Name Walter S. Jarvis Yu Nathan E. Masayasu T.
Plains 15 15 14 15
Rustic Clachan 4 4 4 4
Windbrisk Heights 4 4 4 4
Mutavault 3 3 4 3
Total Lands: 26 26 26 26
Goldmeadow Stalwart 4 4 4 4
Figure of Destiny 4 4 4 4
Knight of Meadowgrain 4 4 4 4
Wizened Cenn 4 4 4 4
Thistledown Liege 1 0 2 0
Cloudgoat Ranger 4 4 4 4
Mirror Entity 1 0 0 0
Stillmoon Cavalier 0 3 0 0
Total Creatures: 22 23 22 20
Ajani Goldmane 2 2 2 2
Mirrorweave 2 1 2 2
Spectral Procession 4 4 4 4
Unmake 3 4 0 4
Crib Swap 0 0 4 0
Surge of Thoughtweft 1 0 0 2
Total Spells: 12 11 12 14

Since all of these decks finished with a notable record, I feel they should be given equal billing. First, let’s look at the totals… every single person agreed on 26 mana sources. In addition, the extra configurations all matched, save Nathan’s switch of one Plains for the final Mutavault. From my personal experience I prefer 2-3 Mutavault so I can hit WWW with a touch more consistency, and so mulligans don’t hurt quite as much. You’ll notice Nathan runs 4 Crib Swap maindeck, which could be a slight concession to the 4th Vault to keep down the WWW costs (along with the typical uses, such as killing Chameleon Colossus and friends). Otherwise I’d expect the 15, 4, 4, 3 configuration to remain the most popular until the end of the season.

As far as the creature base goes, we have the expected Stalwart, Knight, Cenn, Figure, Cloudgoat sets, but then we have a few unique choices being thrown in. Thistledown Liege is almost non-existent in the maindeck of these builds. There’s still two located in Nathan’s list, but for the most part they’ve been moved to the board. Part of this could be linked to the lack of surprise value anymore, not to mention the sheer inadequacy of the Liege as a threat.

Mirror Entity saw much more play pre-Eventide, and much of that has to do with the amount of removal that saw play during that period. If you read the coverage of the Grand Prix events, you’ll notice many more copies of Tarfire, Peppersmoke, and other cheap removal flying around, to get rid of 1/1s before they can become a legitimate threat. Stillmoon Cavalier is an interesting choice against Faeries and Kithkin, filling the old Paladin En-Vec niche. Not quite a superior threat to other creatures, but very obnoxious and difficult to handle. It certainly has potential to be a maindeck option, though I think it just has problems competing with the other options in the maindeck. That said, as a sideboard option? Definitely expect it for games 2 and 3.

Spell-wise was another yawn-fest… everyone agreed on the number of Ajani maindeck, for the mirror and to increase the dangerousness of the token hordes. Spectral Procession is probably a top 10 card in the format, so no more needs to be said. Every Kithkin player similarly agreed on having a set of three-mana removal spell to deal with the ubiquitous Mistbind Clique and other large creatures in the format. Unmake was the popular choice.

Mirrorweave was another agreed-upon number, with everyone avoiding running too many. This is partially from the cutting back of the number of Lieges, but also due to the clunkiness of the card. Much like the Liege itself, people have become much more aware of the card and many of the tricks that it has at its disposal, so the value drops. The final choice was Surge of Thoughtweft, which seemed like an ‘if we had room, we ran a few for kicks’ type of addition. It isn’t particularly good in any circumstance, but it comes in handy in random combat or racing situations.

Sideboard-wise is a bit more cut and dry. Wispmare and Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender were the cards that were being run as sets (or as three-ofs in Wispmare’s case) as answers to some obvious issues. A single Ajani Goldmane was run as well, for the additional assistance in the mirror, giving the deck a bit more redundancy. After that, the sideboard choices tended to break down and become more scattershot. Hallowed Burial was the next most popular choice, coming in as three-ofs for bigger aggro and the mirror. The next choices are all split between Last Breath, Reveillark, Stillmoon Cavalier, Order of Whiteclay, etc. I like some combo of Cavalier, Order of Whiteclay, and Hallowed Burial, but this is making some assumptions over the make-up of the field you expect to play against.

Match-up wise, Faeries has become a much more reasonable match for the Kithkin player, with Unmake and Figure of Destiny coming into the fold. The addition of a really good one-drop changed how the match plays out and how much aggression you can afford to just throw out. You can make choices toward mana and board development that simply didn’t exist before Figure of Destiny. Now you can choose to make your existing creature more of a threat, or force the issue of counters if you’d rather focus their efforts somewhere other than the board.

Of course, without the maindeck Forge-Tender, against any deck running Firespout you’ll likely be a dog game 1. You can still overwhelm a deck relying on it and nothing else for defense, but being able to utilize Hallowed Burial and defensive creatures like Archon of Justice or Soul Snuffers makes it much more difficult than before. It becomes a give and take in balancing the number of cards you want to devote to control players, especially considering the inherit instability present in those decks and the average skill of the opponent using it. In how many players’ hands is the control deck truly scary? I’d say very few.

One way or another, you absolutely need to be able to deal with the Kithkin hordes now. They’ve become an aggro force that can apply early pressure with the best of them through Stalwart and Figure; with a solid mid-game in Cloudgoat, Procession, and Windbrisk; while having a few unique cards such as Mirrorweave. The deck will likely be everywhere soon, and you need to be prepared for it, especially if you haven’t gotten a chance to test against the newer builds.

The other noteworthy thing from Denver was Red failing to really make an impact, unlike in Kobe. Oh sure, some Red decks made Day 2, and I’m sure we’ll see more of them at the PTQ level, but it just comes as a surprise after the sudden surge just a week before. And the whole Runed Halo in control idea makes the concept of running out Demigod of Revenge and Flame Javelin just to dome the opponent a lot more difficult.

Tomoharu Saito also showed off his Bloom Tender Elementals deck again… I really wish we had the full list for this. From the coverage we’ve gathered the following for the list: Bloom Tender, Chameleon Colossus, Mulldrifter, Smokebraider, Horde of Notions, Cloudthresher, Ashenmoor Gouger, Firespout, and Thoughtseize.

The sheer amount of acceleration and power of the threats makes this deck very unique in a sea of similar ‘attack the opponent with arbitrarily high number of 1/1’s or Chameleon Colossus or a Mistbind Clique’. This deck basically just says if you can’t kill all the acceleration, you’ll need to start dealing with creatures starting at 4/4 and rising up with various abilities until they’re stuck in topdeck mode or dead. I realize that it still suffers from some of the same issues as the older Elemental decks, but it does have 8 two-drops does provide acceleration redundancy and Gouger + Chameleon Colossus are legitimate threats that have to be dealt with.

I do think the fallout from the double GPs will bring a few more metagame buster decks, now that there’s a little more variety involved and Fae can’t just dedicate everything. There’s a chunk of space for the midrange decks to shine, or even decks a like Accelerated Blue, which just try to power out oversized threats backed with sweepers and removal. Some Stillmoon Cavaliers, Fulminator Mages, and Soul Snuffers can be a major pain for Faeries or Kithkin, and easily recurred via Makeshift Mannequin / Reveillark. Throw in the new Wrath in Hallowed Burial, Unmake, and Archon of Justice and suddenly you trump a large quantity of the format. Oh, and you’ve still stayed in just two colors so you don’t have to be as ridiculously greedy if you don’t want to be. On the other hand, you can get greedy and not have it hurt a lot, and run Doran, The Siege Tower or throw in Chameleon Colossus of your own!

My point is that if you want to look outside the box to mess with decks, you might want to follow the Alex Kim and Kyle Goodman example of just going after mana. Or you could follow the Faeries idea of backing threats with counters and Thoughtseize, except use bigger threats and Profane Command / Mannequin to keep them beating. Or… power out huge guys like Gouger, Crag Puca, Ashling and others that completely negate normal damage-based removal and sweepers (even Inversion!), and back it up with a bit of burn and recursive power. The plain-jane format has been spiced up a bit… the two most popular and effective decks still might be Kithkin and Faeries, but at least now you have some valid alternatives.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
E-mail me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom