I’m a big fan of customization. There’s never only a single “correct build” of a deck. There may be wrong builds, and there are certainly wrong decks, but perfect builds are, like emotion on Keanu Reeves‘ face, either mythical or simply wishful thinking. White Weenie, for example, despite being a rather basic Aggro deck, can run along any number of routes: Do you fly to victory with little birds? Do you equip at instant speed and a discount? Do you tango? The point is, what you do with your White Weenie is up to you. And the same is true with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker.
Much like the many, era-specific variants of B/G Control, R/G Kiki-Jiki decks are tremendously customizable. To be sure, you’ll find some staples, and these won’t receive much attention here, but the vast majority of specific cards are interchangeable. Although this article won’t present a perfect build of R/G Kiki-Jiki, it will navigate the different possibilities for the deck, a happy alternative to the popular netdecking and “throw-in-some-random-cards-and-run-with-it” strategies. For ease of use, we’ll look at particular cards separately and evaluate them in terms of what they can bring to certain archetypes. The archetypes in question will be Aggro, Aggro-Control, and Control. To date, the most successful versions of R/G Kiki-Jiki have been the Aggro-Control types popularized by Cabal Rogue. People may call these decks Control, but that’s only because playing Control is trendy. Much of this article is written for those who haven’t yet spent much time testing the decks, but even if you’re a minor devotee to Kiki-Jiki, there might be something for you here.
For a number of reasons, R/G Kiki-Jiki looks to be one of the stand-out decks of the upcoming Standard season. The metagame is undefined as of yet, but previous experience has shown that R/G Kiki-Jiki has the ability to succeed against a wide range of opposing decks, including Tooth and Nail. Against Mono-Blue Control, it also has the ability to play Troll Ascetic and Isao, Enlightened Bushi, not auto-win cards, perhaps, but certainly among Mono-Blue Control’s worst nightmares. R/G Kiki-Jiki’s toughest matchup will likely be White Weenie and removal-filled Black or Red decks. If, however, the format is defined by White Weenie, the latter Control decks might not have much of a chance; White Weenie has such redundancy of attackers that Red and Black can’t expect to match it with redundancy of removal without giving up against competing non-Aggro decks. In any case, everyone interested in Standard should take a serious look at the deck.
Now, let’s get down and dirty with R/G Kiki-Jiki.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
An auto-include! You heard it here first! There’s some low-level debate as to whether three or four copies are appropriate. Although harmful, Kiki-Jiki’s legendary status is no reason to play less than four it. In all but the most dire of scenarios, playing a Kiki-Jiki will immediately make up for the card disadvantage that results from having a copy stuck in your hand. Status: Staple in all archetypes.
Necessary in all archetypes as a mana fixer and accelerator, Sakura-Tribe Elder gains special power in Control builds. Replicating this Snake thins your deck and gives you the lands you need to play your finisher, whatever it may be. Status: Staple in all archetypes.
Birds of Paradise
Although lacking Sakura-Tribe Elder’s late-game usefulness, Birds of Paradise serves the same purpose early on. This is the last of the absolute staples. Status: Staple in all archetypes.
Inclusion of Solemn Simulacrum is controversial and, in my mind, highly archetype-dependent. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker’s difficult casting cost forced Cabal Rogue’s deck to play an awkward mana base (including Pinecrest Ridge). While Solemn Simulacrum will never help you get Kiki-Jiki out faster than you would with an ideal draw, it can tutor up that necessary fifth mana source of a color of your choosing. Solemn Simulacrum’s superiority over Sakura-Tribe Elder comes later in the game. I can’t agree with Solemn Simulacrum’s critics that the artifact serves only as a win-more card here. In Control builds, Solemn Simulacrum + Kiki-Jiki fuels your finisher far better than Sakura-Tribe Elder + Kiki-Jiki. Besides Rootrunner, these decks are often low on non-reactive replication targets. You can play Eternal Witness beatdown, but it’s not usually a good idea, and unless you’ve made a point of playing the Soulshiftable Pain Kami, you might not have any real methods of closing the case even after achieving the Rootrunner soft-lock. Status: Good in Control and a possibility in Aggro-Control.
We all know how amazing Eternal Witness is, yet in many Kiki-Jiki decks, it’s overrated. In Cabal Rogue’s Champs build, the only instants and sorceries were Commune with Nature and Magma Jet, the former of which is hardly an ideal Eternal Witness target once Kiki-Jiki replication has gotten underway. Of course, you’ll never complain about having a Magma Jet every turn, but in Aggro and Aggro-Control builds, I’m unsure that the Little Three-Drop that Could is all that hot. In my mind, the most significant role Eternal Witness can play here is to revive Kiki-Jiki himself, and considering that these decks have the possibility for fine beatdown action even without the Goblin, this kind of precautionary planning might be counterproductive. Look at it this way: The decks most likely to shoot down Kiki-Jiki will be Big Red, Sligh, and MBC; against all three of these decks, Troll Ascetic would be a mini-bomb. So, is Eternal Witness really the better three-drop? Once, however, you turn to Control or begin running Plow Under, everything changes. Status: Excellent in Control, a possibility in Aggro-Control, and uncertain in Aggro.
It feels good to lockdown opponents, and unlike most other locks in recent Standard history, Kiki-Jiki + Rootrunner needn’t come down on turn 1 and doesn’t involve Bringer of the White Dawn or Mindslaver. To cap it off, Rootrunner, while not stellar as a 3/3 for four mana, isn’t all that bad without Kiki-Jiki around. At the very least, its ability will buy you time against Wrath of God and Tooth and Nail. My problem with heavy reliance on Rootrunner is that, as mentioned above, this deck doesn’t always have that many methods of winning. It wasn’t so tough back when Ravager Affinity was king; then, Hearth Kami could blow away most creatures capable of combating a 3/3. Now, however, the environment is more diverse, and though there’ll probably still be plenty of targets for Hearth Kami, you can’t expect your opponent’s strongest creatures to be artifacts. One of the best things about Rootrunner is its Soulshift, but again, if you’re just fetching Hearth Kami, you shouldn’t be celebrating too much. Happily, the slower speed of post-Ravager Standard means that Pain Kami becomes considerably more playable than before, and Betrayers of Kamigawa’s Frostling provides another interesting Soulshift target. Rootrunner is, then, still highly recommended, but in what quantities? In Control, at least, we have a definitive answer: Rootrunner is such vicious Plow Under back-up that it ought to be a four-of. Status: Necessary in Aggro, good in Aggro-Control, and excellent in Control.
Once achieved, Kiki-Jiki + Pain Kami will quickly kill off all but the most Sword of Fire and Ice-y of White Weenie decks, and the Spirit has some degree of utility against every major deck other than Mono-Blue Control. Four copies of this creature should be present in every Kiki-Jiki deck. Status: Excellent in all archetypes.
Alongside Pain Kami, Frostling is my favorite recipient of Soulshift. It’s also Betrayers of Kamigawa’s biggest contribution to the deck. Although the Spirit might not look like much outside of Aggro, it’s actually strong in all archetypes. Frostling is rarely a replacement for Pain Kami, but it sure can be a good supplement to it. Status: Excellent in Aggro, good in Aggro-Control, and decent in Control.
Hearth Kami and Viridian Zealot
Hearth Kami was originally preferred over related creatures (Viridian Shaman and Viridian Zealot) in part because it was the only eminently playable creature that could be picked up by Rootrunner’s Soulshift. Now that Pain Kami is the top collaborator with Rootrunner, Hearth Kami’s stock has dropped considerably. Though certainly better here than Viridian Shaman, it faces some challenges by Viridian Zealot. Because artifact lands are no longer relevant to our discussion, Viridian Zealot will nearly always be able to remove artifacts more cheaply than Hearth Kami can. On the other hand, Hearth Kami’s activated ability requires no colored mana, and its casting cost is less problematic. The casting cost should rarely be much of a problem since R/G Kiki-Jiki decks are reliant on Green for their acceleration, but it’s doubtful how quickly you’ll be able to both cast and activate it on the same turn. If you’re playing Aether Vial, I’d immediately choose Viridian Zealot over Hearth Kami. In Aggro, I’d choose to run both creatures. For Aggro-Control, Hearth Kami might be superior, but much depends on the deck’s mana base and the presence of enchantments in your metagame. Control – which tends to be both Greener and more mana heavy – should always run Viridian Zealot. Status: Both are excellent in Aggro, Viridian Zealot is excellent in Control, and one or the other is necessary in some numbers in Aggro-Control.
Viridian Shaman is a great card, but here, it’s distinctly inferior to both Hearth Kami and Viridian Zealot, both of which can be more easily revived by Eternal Witness. Viridian Shaman makes it dangerous for your deck to run artifacts. Also, it’s important to recall that Green decks tend to have more three-drops than the landlord’s daughter.
Speaking of three-drops, Troll Ascetic (while not precisely a great companion for Kiki-Jiki) helps in match-ups with a lot of creature kill, just the matchups in which R/G Kiki-Jiki is likely to struggle.
This creature is so powerful that it’s tough to let go of it. Unfortunately, it has little place in today’s R/G Kiki-Jiki decks. Aggro versions want to curve-out with the Mirror-Breaker himself, and in Control, Plow Under will generally be more useful to the same effect. Aggro-Control could find room for a copy or two, but in other archetypes, it’s pure sideboard material. Status: Tooth and Nail sideboard option.
Always a tricky creature, Triskelion becomes even zanier when replicable. Aggro should forget about it, but this could act as a versatile finisher for Aggro-Control and, to a lesser degree, Control. Although rather slow, Triskelion gains special power in a White Weenie-dominated metagame where it can, unlike Pain Kami, kill multiple creatures in a single bound. Status: Possible in Aggro-Control and Control and unwise in Aggro.
The meanest monster of all is tempting but insufficient considering the other options. R/G Kiki-Jiki isn’t well-suited for taking advantage of its special ability, and a 4/5 for five mana just isn’t good enough for a deck that seeks to do semi-broken things. Status: Stay away.
Two Cosmic Larvae (one with Haste) are much better than just one, particularly when you only need to pay half their upkeep costs. This is a possible finisher in Aggro and Aggro-Control where it can end games much faster than Rootrunner, especially if your opponent has threats on the board. Control probably prefers Fireball. Status: Cosmic Larva is an oddball choice, but it could serve you well and, more importantly, serve you quickly.
Loam Dweller, Joiner Adept, and Rushwood Dryad
These are all rather random two-power two-drops. Loam Dweller is only vaguely synergistic with R/G Kiki-Jiki, and Joiner Adept (despite not providing acceleration) could give Aggro some much-needed color fixing. Rushwood Dryad’s main advantage is its ability to help the race against Tooth and Nail. Status: Strictly for Aggro.
Possible Non-Creature Spells
Commune with Nature and Time of Need
This is the age-old R/G Kiki-Jiki question, and the answer comes down to what you’re trying to do with your deck. When I think of the different archetypes of R/G Kiki-Jiki, I think of resiliency and broadly good match-ups. Here, narrow threats (threats only threatening when you already control Kiki-Jiki) are neglected in favor of general utility. Aggro will nearly always want Commune with Nature, a card that can fuel its early-game, and Aggro-Control will generally want the same thing. Control, meanwhile, will probably run Solemn Simulacrum, providing even more shuffle-effects that prevent you from being burned by Commune with Nature’s putting of key spells on the bottom of the library. On the other hand, if you want to play truly devastating Kiki-Jiki targets like Duplicant and Triskelion, actually finding the Goblin becomes much more important. Status: Deck dependent, but most decks want Commune with Nature.
Sensei’s Divining Top
This is truly an Aggro-Control and Control card. Aggro has no time for it. In the other archetypes though, it’s brilliant; but you already knew that. Status: Good in Aggro-Control and Control. Bad in Aggro.
Despite my inability to give Eternal Witness my unreserved blessings in all archetypes of R/G Kiki-Jiki, its most frequent target, Magma Jet is undeniably amazing. Besides making Frostling much, much better, Magma Jet clears away early threats and finds your own threats later on. Status: Due to the presence of arguably better Red removal, it can’t be called a staple. But it’s pretty close.
Fireball and Rude Awakening
Outside of Control, forget about both these cards. Fireball has a number of advantages here: It has more mid-game utility, is far better when recurred by Eternal Witness, can act as late-game mass removal, and is nearly as good as a late-late-game finisher. Rude Awakening, however, works better against Mono-Blue Control. Status: In Control, play a couple of copies of Fireball unless your metagame favors Mono-Blue Control.
You can mock Soul Foundry as a being a casual player’s card, but like Isochron Scepter and Panoptic Mirror, it can wreck unprepared opponents. A couple of copies can come out of the sideboard to act as 5th and 6th, non-Legendary Kiki-Jikis. Status: If your metagame, overjoyed by the prospect of Affinity’s demise, enters artifact-free heaven, consider Soul Foundry in Aggro-Control and Control.
Though including Fecundity might bring R/G Kiki-Jiki in a bit different of a direction than the deck is inclined to take, the enchantment has considerable synergy with Kiki-Jiki. Aggro builds could use Fecundity to draw into either the Goblin or further goblin-fodder. With a wealth of sacrifice effects (Frostling, Hearth Kami, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Viridian Zealot, Pain Kami, and Rootrunner), the deck will usually be able to take better advantage of Fecundity than opponents will. Status: Interesting possibility for Aggro, but you certainly don’t want too many in a deck. Aggro-Control and Control will surely have better things to do in the mid-game.
Aether Vial’s a great card, but is it great here? Aggro-Control and Control would seem to have too varied of a creature base to call for the artifact, but Aggro (including so many two-drops) might have use for it. Still, seeing as R/G Kiki-Jiki will always be accelerating its mana, there probably isn’t much of a point. Status: Although Aether Vial is best for Aggro, it isn’t so great even there.
Depending on the metagame, even decks running Viridian Zealot may be forced to keep extra artifact removal in the sideboard. These days, Naturalize looks much better than Oxidize. Status: A wise consideration for the sideboards of all archetypes.
The possibilities for R/G Kiki-Jiki are truly wide. There are a wide range of bizarre creatures which I haven’t mentioned but could deserve a slot in a highly specialized deck, so if I left out your personal favorite, don’t take it… er… personally.
As I’ve attempted to cover most of the bases here, it’s a bit difficult to give any idea of particular matchups. In any case, there are any number of other articles you can find offering R/G Kiki-Jiki deck play strategy. My goal now has simply been to add to the rather shallow pool of R/G Kiki-Jiki building strategy articles.