Last week I presented a five-color beatdown deck that maindecked Firespout and Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers alongside such tantalizing plays as turn 2 Smokebraider, turn 3 Horde of Notions. After reading Adrian Sullivan article last week, which sung the merits of Oversoul of Dusk (I was underrating it against Faeries) but lamented its harsh mana requirements, I decided to swap my Smokebraiders for Leaf Gilders and Hordes of Notions for Oversouls.
The result was that I sacrificed my most explosive draws (Smokebraider into turn 3 Horde, or turn 4 Cloudthresher) for more consistently aggressive draws and a superior threat against Quick n’ Toast. I initially considered Horde the superior threat, as the only way QnT can deal with it is to bounce it with Cryptic Command, Austere Command it away, or block it with Cloudthresher. The Oversoul’s immunity to Cryptic Command, coupled with its comparable ease of casting (QnT would routinely kill off all my Smokebraiders, so I almost always needed to draw a Vivid land to cast Horde), made me reconsider its merit in the matchup over Horde.
The bigger bonus was getting to trade Smokebraider for Leaf Gilder. Not only is the point of power upgrade often significant, the fact that he is an Elf helps make Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Gilt-Leaf Palace more consistent. The most important part, though, is that Leaf Gilder lets me keep two-land hands far more often than Smokebraider did. Land, land, Leaf Gilder, Doran, Brion Stoutarm, for example, does not require a mulligan, and is less risky than even the same hand with Chameleon Colossus in Stoutarm’s place playing Smokebraider; opponents are far more likely to burn a removal spell on Smokebraider than on Leaf Gilder, given that they do not know whether or not you have a third land.
Here’s the updated list.
- 3 Brion Stoutarm
- 3 Cloudthresher
- 3 Doran, the Siege Tower
- 4 Leaf Gilder
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
- 4 Chameleon Colossus
- 3 Oversoul of Dusk
- 4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
If you take a quick look at the manabase, you’ll see why I named the deck Triple Tribe. Murmuring Bosk, Ancient Amphitheater, and Gilt-Leaf Palace are the critical tribal elements that allow me to get away with a four-color manabase from 24 lands. Thanks to Chameleon Colossus and Nameless Inversion, I have at least eight members of each of the three tribes through Changeling. Doran brings the Treefolk count up to 11, Stoutarm puts the Giant tally to 11, and Leaf Gilder, Vanquisher, and Cavaliers boost the number of Elves in the deck to an absurd 20.
The creature base also works out to allow maindeck Firespout. Only Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Leaf Gilder die to Firespout against Kithkin. Against Faeries, none of my guys ever die to it, as all of my lands that tap for Red mana also tap for a non-Red color, so against Fae I will always choose to have it deal three damage to flyers only. Being able to maindeck Firespout is like being pre-boarded for the creature mirror, except that the Wrath effect in this case is one-sided and therefore even more devastating (not to mention actually useful against control’s chump-blockers).
Adrian Sullivan spoke last week of the importance of dodging Mirrorweave in this format, and he was not kidding. Mirrorweave is the primary reason I am playing Brion Stoutarm over Wilt-Leaf Liege, believe it or not. If not for its existence in Kithkin, I might very well make do with three fewer Giants to power Ancient Amphitheater and enjoy some 5/6 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, and 7/7 Dorans and Oversouls. However, if I play Wilt-Leaf Liege and my opponent reacts with Spectral Procession into Mirrorweave, I will take 24 from those three unblocked Spirit tokens alone.
I considered boarding Wilt-Leaf Liege, but decided against it because it seems relatively poor as a board card against the Big Three decks. Against Faeries, the problem is never that my creatures aren’t big enough, but rather that the Fae find ways to counter, chump block, and tap down the creatures I do have long enough to sneak in evasive damage for the win. Wilt-Leaf doesn’t really help with that. Against Quick n’ Toast, he would be a very minor Brion Stoutarm upgrade; when I resolved him with a Doran out or something, I’d be happy to have the additional two damage for that turn, but he’d be biting the dust within a turn to Shriekmaw or Cryptic Command into Austere Command or whatever else, just like the Stoutarm I removed for him.
Speaking of Mirrorweave, its most common target in this deck is Chameleon Colossus, turning Kithkin’s dudes into 4/4s for a turn. Cloudthresher would be a more tempting target at 7/7, but it tends to come in on the opponent’s end step and do its damage before the opponent can do anything productive with it (whenever you are tempted to cast a mid-combat Cloudthresher for a surprise block, make sure to consider what will happen if the opponent is holding Mirrorweave; I have rarely determined it was worth the risk). Once the Thresher has cleared out all the Spirit tokens and whatever creature chump-blocked it on the attack (they usually have to), it’s often a relatively poor Mirrorweave target.
The rest of the deck, though, has few good Mirrorweave targets. None of the Elves are terribly exciting Mirrorweave targets, Oversoul has protection from Blue, and Brion and Doran are legends. Mirrorweave-proofing my deck as much as I can is how I get away with playing a fatty deck in a format where Mirrorweave Kithkin is a top deck.
This week I did ten-game sets against each the Big Three decks and went 6-4 against Kithkin, 6-4 against Faeries, and 6-4 against Quick â€˜n’ Toast. Not a bad start!
Naturally, as most writers (myself included) will be quick to point out, three ten-game sets do not show that I have a favorable matchup against all three archetypes. There’s a lot more to it than that, but now I have a good idea how the matchups play out, and what cards are important.
Usually, the deciding factor in the Kithkin matchup is the number of creatures the Kithkin player has and the size of those creatures. They can beat you if they flood the board with tokens and you can’t race because they are chump-blocking, they can beat you if they stick a number of pump creatures so that theirs can actually compete with yours on size, and they can beat you if they use Mirrorweave to spontaneously magnify their entire team to proportions you can’t handle.
Fortunately, you can generally keep their creature count manageable with Firespout and Cloudthresher (surprisingly, one of the most important cards in the matchup, chiefly for its ability to kill Spirit tokens), keep their Lords down with Firespout and Nameless Inversion, and keep a size advantage over their team by being mindful of Mirrorweave and using your inherently larger creature composition to your advantage.
Naturally, you have to watch out for blowouts via tricks like Rustic Clachan, Surge of Thoughtweft, and a mid-combat Liege, but the only times a seemingly reckless attack will really tend to give you pause is when they have Mirrorweave mana up or are swinging with a Knight of Meadowgrain into creatures whose toughness are just one point higher than his first-striking power (and when you lack Nameless Inversion to punish the opponent for trying to pump his Knight after it is blocked).
Finally, it is usually worth it to keep Windbrisk Heights deactivated if you can. Remembering that one of the ways Kithkin can beat you is to have considerably more creatures than you do, a Windbrisk activation is often the turning point in the games that Kithkin ends up winning. If you have the choice, for example, between casting Nameless Inversion on a Spirit token to keep the opponent below three creatures or holding it for a better target, I will almost always kill the Spirit when there is a loaded Heights in play.
Conceivably, Kithkin might board in just about any card you saw in the Top 8 of Birmingham: Pollen Lullaby, Thoughtweft Gambit, Reveillark, Oversoul, Ajani, Brigid, Kinsbaile Borderguard, and definitely Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender if they didn’t have him main. So far I have not been impressed by Lullaby or Thoughtweft Gambit’s impact on the matchup. Reveillark and Oversoul seem like they would be a downgrade from Cloudgoat Ranger if they replaced him, and would have a very negative impact on the deck’s ability to apply quick pressure if included in addition to the Cloudgoats. I can’t imagine Brigid helping much; I suspect she will usually slow down the curve and die to removal almost immediately.
Basically, that leaves Ajani and Kinsbaile Borderguard as sideboard cards that actually concern me from Kithkin. The Borderguard strikes me as a miniature Cloudgoat Ranger most often in this matchup. Unless a Firespout has happened, I would expect the Borderguard to come down as a 3/3 or 4/4 most of the time, meaning he would leave behind two or three additional Kithkin upon his death. That’s not quite devastating, but it is very strong.
Easily the scariest of the sideboard cards in the Kithkin arsenal is Ajani. Imagine a board with Wizened Cenn, Goldmeadow Stalwart, and Knight of Meadowgrain. Down comes Ajani, pumping up the team to a 4/4 Stalwart, 3/3 Cenn, and 4/4 Meadowgrain. The two 4/4s attack with Vigilance, offering me trades with my four-drops, or a pile of damage for my life total. Even if I take the hit, I am in no position to attack Ajani next turn because the turn of Vigilance means my opponent’s men are still ready to defend. This means that on the following turn I will be facing down a 5/5 Stalwart, 4/4 Cenn, and a 5/5 Meadowgrain, and suddenly I will be lucky if I can trade Doran for my opponent’s one-drop.
Primarily out of respect for Ajani, I will be trying out the following sideboard plan.
Honestly, I am not one hundred percent sold on this strategy; I may be boarding in too many or too few Thoughtseizes, and if Ajani or Borderguard prove too much of a problem, I may need Oblivion Ring instead of Shriekmaw as well. (Then again, casting Oblivion Ring on Ajani after he has been activated once only solves half the problem, which is why I’m trying the more flexible and aggressive Shriekmaw first.)
The Fae almost always beat you by countering too many of your men or by clogging your hand with uncastables. Bitterblossom is not the threat in this matchup that it is in most, as it is almost exclusively relegated to Forcefield duty. However, it does fill two minor aggressive roles that can contribute to your demise: fueling Mistbind Clique, and piling up attackers while Sprite, Broken Ambitions, and Cryptic Command keep your threats at bay.
One of the worst ostensibly keepable hands you can have against Faeries is one that plays one threat per turn. If your board does not contain a sizeable threat by the end of your third turn, you will often find yourself buried under Mistbind Cliques and Spellstutter Sprites soon thereafter.
The good news is that while Mistbind Clique is still a beating, it is less consistently strong in this matchup than it is against most control or creature-based decks. As Leaf Gilder and Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers (when Doran is not in play, that is) are the only creatures it can block and live to tell the tale, often it comes in just to tap your lands for the turn and then declines to block, hoping to race while the Faeries player chumps with other creatures.
Saving removal for Sower of Temptation is critical in this matchup. Early-game Vendilion Cliques and Pestermites can present tempting targets because you are fearful of getting behind on life, but it is far more important that Sower of Temptation is immediately removed whenever it hits. It will wreck you if it sticks.
I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating: always cast your Firespouts with purely Green mana against Faeries. As only Ancient Amphitheater and the Vivid lands tap for Red mana, you will never be in a situation in which you must hit ground creatures with Firespout, and unless the Faeries player is playing a surprise non-Flyer, you should always be activating this such that it does not hurt your own guys.
As Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers is practically Trained Armodon in this matchup, it will definitely be coming out post-board. However, beyond that it gets tricky. I certainly want to bring in the fourth Cloudthresher, and probably three or four Thoughtseizes. Do I want the fourth Oversoul? Do I want Shriekmaw? Based on what I have seen of the matchup, a fourth Oversoul is probably wrong; one of the most common ways I lose is by having a hand clogged with uncastable expensive cards. As that is actually a reasonable argument for bringing one out to fit the fourth Thoughtseize, and as I am bringing in another finisher (the fourth Thresher) already, I’m going to try that plan and see if it seems I have an Oversoul deficit.
That puts us here:
If cutting an Oversoul does not work, Brion Stoutarm is probably be next on my list…but I am wary of boarding in Thoughtseizes at the same time as I board out my lifegain component in a matchup where racing is important. (Of course, it could turn out that I only want 3 Thoughtseizes for that very reason.)
Quick n’ Toast
The key to this matchup is resolving hearty threats and getting them past the opponent’s chump blockers. If the opponent has tapped too low to counter (this usually happens when he runs out of gas and needs to start drawing cards), the best threats to resolve are Chameleon Colossus and Oversoul of Dusk, as they are Shriekmaw-proof (and, in the case of Oversoul, Cryptic Command-proof). QnT will usually deal with either of these threats by throwing Kitchen Finks in front of them until they can build up enough mana to summon and block with a Cloudthresher or wipe the board with Austere Command.
As chumping your big threats is an integral part of QnT’s strategy in this matchup, you want to engineer situations where you can use any Firespouts you draw as removal spells for their chump-blockers without killing your own men in the process. For example, if you have only Spout for removal and Chameleon Colossus in play, and have the choice of adding a Wren’s Run Vanquisher to go with it, you probably want to hold off. If the opponent plays Kitchen Finks within the next two turns, you will either have to trade your Vanquisher for it, or at least decline to attack with it. Even if the opponent then immediately chumps the Colossus with the Finks, you will not be able to remove them next turn without Firespouting away your own Vanquisher (unless you topdeck Nameless Inversion), meaning the Finks will be able to chump block the Colossus again, potentially saving the opponent sixteen points of damage in chumped Chameleon Colossus attacks simply because you played the Vanquisher while holding Firespout. This is not to say that you cannot ever play a Vanquisher or Leaf Gilder when holding Firespout, but keep the potential consequences in mind when considering which threats to play.
Another choice that comes up a lot is whether or not to activate Chameleon Colossus when the opponent has no blockers but has Cryptic Command mana up. If you activate it and get the Colossus bounced, you’ll wish you had kept your mana open to re-play the Colossus in your second main. If you don’t activate him, and the opponent didn’t have the Command, you potentially missed out on an extra four to the dome. How do you decide?
If you have no more than one spell to play post-combat, it’s a no-brainer: activate away! If you don’t activate him, and the opponent takes four despite holding a Command, then when you play your post-combat threat, it will be countered and your Colossus will end up in your hand. Much better to make the opponent Repulse the 8/8 so that you still have the threat you were going to play in-hand while the opponent has only gained a random card off the top of his deck.
A trickier situation is when you have not one threat to play post-combat, but two. In that case, it really depends on what the board position will look like if he counters one of the threats and then bounces your Colossus. If you have, for example, a Wren’s Run Vanquisher and a Doran that you can both cast, or perhaps two Dorans, then you have to weigh the cost of getting one of them countered (when the opponent uses Cryptic Command as Repulse, he sacrifices an answer to one of your threats for the sake of his life total) versus the upside of getting to end the turn with a creature in play. Where is the opponent’s life total? If it’s low, you might want to go for sticking a Doran on the table even if it means getting another one countered.
Usually, though, you will be better off costing the opponent an answer, forcing him to Repulse the Colossus or else take eight damage. This principle also answers the question of how to handle the situation where you don’t have any threats to play post-combat; better to force the opponent to blow his Command as a Repulse than to sacrifice a potential four extra damage on the chance that he will bounce your Colossus. Besides, if you are out of gas like that and he really wants to bounce and counter your Colossus, he will probably just take four anyway and bounce it on your end step if you decline to pump.
Finally, try to keep the opponent’s Firespouts from being better than a one-for-one for him. Try to include a Vanquisher or Leaf Gilder alongside your big guy when you have the choice between that or two big guys (though be careful if your only in-hand removal spell is Firespout, as mentioned before), as a big part of running the opponent out of gas is keeping him off two-for-ones. That said, it can be worth it to bait the opponent to cast Firespout if doing so would leave him tapped too low for him to counter your Chameleon Colossus or Oversoul next turn.
As with Faeries, you immediately know what to take out in this matchup: those very non-threatening Firespouts of yours.
Crib Swap is a minor upgrade over Nameless Inversion here (without lowering your Changeling count), as it can kill Cloudthresher and is better against Finks – albeit slightly more expensive – because it turns them into a 1/1 instead of a 2/1, removes them from later Mannequin eligibility, and costs the opponent two points of life that he would have otherwise gained. I am leery of including a fourth copy, as it is an incredibly worthless removal spell against, say, a Mulldrifter that is going to chump-block anyway (to be fair, the opponent will not get the token if the Mulldrifter was reanimated by Makeshift Mannequin), but if it proves its worth, I could see making room for it in the sideboard.
I have not tried out the Mind Shatters yet, but considering how often the opponent taps out to Mind Spring his way to victory, having a response that potentially neuters the hand he just drew seems powerful. Plus, if I can resolve the Shatter to clear his hand when he has mana untapped but no counters, so much the better!
First, I am not sure if Shriekmaw should perhaps be replaced with Festercreep in the sideboard. Festercreep has a more productive two-for-one, as I’d usually rather kill two of my opponent’s guys than kill one and get a 3/2 Fear (though Creep can also accidentally off my Leaf Gilder), but it takes longer to come online, which can put me back too far on tempo against Kithkin – especially if they have Wizened Cenn to trump and I don’t have removal to counter-trump. It is essentially bonus Wraths against Faeries, except against Sower of Temptation, one of the most critical creatures for me to kill in that matchup. All these things considered, Shriekmaw seems the safer choice, but I may experiment with the Creep later.
However, what really interests me is an idea I had in the course of writing this article: moving Thoughtseize to the maindeck. Though I’ve designed many decks which correctly boarded in a card in every matchup, but did not include the card in the main, the situation seems to support Thoughtseize as a maindeck card. Specifically, the realization that I might want to board out Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers against Quick â€˜n’ Toast out of respect for Plumeveil led me to question if I should really be boarding out Cavaliers for Thoughtseize in two out of three of the most important matchups in the format. That, in turn, led me to wonder what the deck’s Kithkin matchup would look like if I replaced my ace Cavaliers with Thoughtseize.
While the loss of life (and topdeck potential) from Thoughtseize hurts most against Kithkin, that is a matchup in which I am very interested in killing off my opponent’s men, and if nothing else, Thoughtseize does usually allow me to decrease my opponent’s creature count. Beyond that, it also trades for cards that are tougher to answer with rest of my deck – particularly Mirrorweave, Spectral Procession, and Cloudgoat Ranger. If I were to try this, I would cut (or sideboard) Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers or perhaps Oversoul of Dusk to make room, or possibly a combination of the two. As Cavaliers are poor against Faeries, and Oversoul is on the expensive side against Kithkin, they are the two cards in the deck that most suffer from being subpar in at least one of the Big Three matchups.
While Oversoul has always been a bit slow for the Kithkin matchup, Seizing critical cards like Mirrorweave and Cloudgoat Ranger could prove far more valuable. Seize also has the potential to be better against QnT and Faeries; while Oversoul is admittedly a house against the Fae once it is in play, the way I usually lose to them is by having too many things countered at a tempo loss, or by ending up with a hand clogged full of spells I don’t have time to cast while the board is filled up with creatures. Thoughtseize can help that by taking a Mistbind Clique or counterspell, which might actually be more valuable than an unblockable, untargetable five-drop 5/5. Again against Quick â€˜n’ Toast, I would lose my best threat, but I would gain the ability to strip critical cards like Austere Command and Mind Spring from the opponent’s hand in game 1.
Cutting Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers instead of Oversoul, on the other hand, would most likely have a detrimental effect on the Kithkin matchup, but a positive effect on both the Faeries and Quick n’ Toast matchups. The Cavaliers have never been strong against Faeries, and Oversoul is easily the superior card against QnT. A package of 3 Thoughtseize, 2 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, 2 Oversoul would be a compromise I would consider if the 4 Thoughtseize, 3 Oversoul package or the 3-4 Thoughtseize, 3-4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers packages proved unsuccessful against Kithkin.
Given these options, it makes sense to me to try out the 3 Oversoul, 4 Thoughtseize package on the Kithkin matchup; if that matchup still seems acceptable, then I will have identified a package that should give me the best value against the other two decks as well. If it doesn’t work out, I can at least figure out what kind of a configuration would have a better shot, based on which cards are causing me to fail.
As I just rattled off a promising 7-3 set against Kithkin with exactly that configuration, I feel confident in presenting the following revised list for your consideration.
- 3 Brion Stoutarm
- 3 Cloudthresher
- 3 Doran, the Siege Tower
- 4 Leaf Gilder
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
- 4 Chameleon Colossus
- 3 Oversoul of Dusk
Amusingly, this deck may be on the road to solving The Problem with Midrange in Lorwyn Block that I discussed two weeks ago. We’ll see how this new plan fares against the Big Three.
See you next week!