Insider Information – The Kentucky Open

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Friday, July 24th – Cedric Phillips did his level best to avoid playing Kithkin at the recent Kentucky Open. He tried Five-Color Control, Combo Elves, and even Mono-Green Awakener Druid. In the end, he picked up the Little White Men and went to town. While he didn’t make the final table, today’s article sees him explain his choice and run through his own metagame predictions.

I’ve just got back from the Kentucky Open. It was a great tournament, as usual and I am extremely pleased that Bluegrass Magic was able to run it again. Attendance was a little lower than normal, which was fairly unexpected, but a great time was had by all nonetheless.

I did a pretty good amount of testing for the Kentucky Open this year. With Nationals coming up the following week, the Kentucky Open seemed like a great tournament to test any fringe decks I had been working on, or just to try an established deck and see if it was what I was looking for.

The testing process was lengthy.

And unsuccessful.

First, I tried playing Five-Color Control. I figured, with Kithkin getting all of the press lately, Five-Color Control would be able to capitalize on the abundance of little White creatures and take advantage of the lack of Anathemancers and other problem cards that used to be rampant. However, I ran into a few problems:

1.) There are only 34 slots in the maindeck, and I wanted to play about 70 different cards. I wanted to play Firespout, but needed to play Volcanic Fallout to keep Faeries and Combo Elves honest. I wanted to play Kitchen Finks or Rhox War Monk, but Plumeveil is so good against Kithkin that you cannot cut it from your deck. I had no idea what I wanted my win conditions to be. Is Primal Command even good here? I had so many questions and not enough answers. Even worse, I didn’t have enough time to figure it all out.

2.) I felt like if I didn’t draw Esper Charm, I couldn’t win the game. Now this may or may not be true, but in the test games I played, it was so frustrating relying on my draw step to get me out of problems. The deck does play 26-27 lands. There are games where it is definitely going to mana flood, because its lands don’t do anything extra, like those of Kithkin or Faeries (Mutavault, Windbrisk Heights)

3.) The matchup wasn’t that good against Kithkin anyway. You have to play Firespout to have a great matchup against Kithkin. There is really no way around it. Honor of the Pure trumps Volcanic Fallout, and if you are relying on Hallowed Burial to get you out of trouble, you simply are not going to win that game. I believe Five-Color Control is favored against Kithkin, but the matchup is so much closer than I thought because Five-Color Control players have to build their deck to beat Combo Elves, Faeries, and other Five-Color Control decks in addition to Kithkin.

Much like people come to me for Kithkin advice, you probably should not come to me for Five-Color Control advice. You are going to want to talk to Chapin about that. But what I am sure of is that Five-Color Control is a real player in this format. It is just very difficult to build Five-Color Control to beat all of the frontrunners of the format (Combo Elves, Faeries, Kithkin, mirror match.)

Next I tried playing Combo Elves. I actually liked playing the deck because there was synergy through the roof, and Elvish Archdruid was a gigantic boost to the deck, but I ran into problems here too:

1.) I did not like how the deck played against Faeries. I’m not sure if this matchup is supposed to be good or bad, but it felt like Faeries against Combo Elves saw Combo Elves gets dismantled if the Faeries player is competent or has a decent draw. I was getting destroyed every game, and I did not like it at all. Great Sable Stag was nice, but I was not putting enough pressure on the table in addition to it. And as everyone knows, Faeries is ridiculously good at racing, so although Great Sable Stag was a problem, a timely block with a Mutavault would really screw things up for me while I was getting assaulted by Mistbind Clique and friends.

2.) I did not like how the deck played against Volcanic Fallout. Yes, you can certainly deal with Volcanic Fallout by searching for Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, but you will not always get the opportunity to do that. I got tired of my opponent watching me go off and then interrupt me with a timely Volcanic Fallout. It is very frustrating.

I think that Combo Elves is a really good deck, but I think it has holes. Big ones. With Kenji doing so well with the deck, it is inevitable that people are going to want to play it. And because Kenji did so well with the deck, it is inevitable that people are going to want to beat it. I do not think that Combo Elves is a deck that wants to have a target on its back. Combo Elves from Extended was not comfortable with a target on its back, but it could overcome it because the deck was so ridiculously powerful. That is not the case this time around.

Next, I busted out the fringe decks. I was tired of losing with the real decks of the format, so I tried random crappy decks to see if they were better than they seemed. Decks like U/W/G Time Walk Savor the Moment decks. Decks with Time Sieve and many Borderposts. Mono-Green Aggro with Awakener Druid (it’s like Giant Solifuge ya know!)…

None of this was successful. What a big surprise!

I knew one thing. I did not want to play Kithkin. I did not like having the big bullseye on my back. In fact, I hated it. I did not want to play against Firespout. I did not want to play against Hallowed Burial. I did not want to play against Stillmoon Cavalier from Faeries. These things are extremely difficult to overcome.

So guess what happened?

I. Played. Kithkin.

Why, you ask?

It came down to one very simple thing. I can play that deck with my eyes closed.

When I’m stuck trying to figure out what deck to play for a tournament, I stress out for about a week trying out a bunch of different decks. Then I figure out that I hate every deck, and just play the one I was playing before. None of the other decks in the format really grabbed hold of me. They were all good, but so was Kithkin. And I’m better off playing a good deck that I know how to play great. That’s the key.

Whenever someone asks me what deck they should play in a tournament, I always tell them to play the deck they know how to play best. You will have a better tournament result if you play the deck you know how to play inside and out even if it isn’t that good in the metagame, because you know what you are doing and you are not making mistakes. This time, I decided to follow my own advice.

And then I went 0-2 drop…

Okay, I actually lost playing for Top 8 to Steve Sadin. His Five Color Cascade deck was a nightmare matchup for me and one I do not ever expect to win.

The tournament itself was uneventful. I lost round 2 to a Five Color Control deck with a Makeshift Mannequin engine because I mulliganed to five game three. It is extremely hard to beat any Five Color Control deck if you mulligan once, let alone twice. I won the next five rounds, could not draw with Steve, and got destroyed in a very quick two games.

I did beat two Five Color Control decks, a Jund deck, a G/W Tokens deck, and a RWu Reveillark deck along the way. I realized, even with all the hate in the format, Kithkin can wade through it. It is certainly an uphill battle, but it can be done. With Combo Elves rising in popularity, it is going to be even more difficult, but I think I’m up for the challenge.

I guess there was one cool game that did occur. Round seven, game three, I am against the RWu Reveillark deck. He has access to Firespout, Volcanic Fallout, Kitchen Finks, Path to Exile, Ajani Vengeant, Sower of Temptation, Cryptic Command, Siege-Gang Commander, Reveillark, Hallowed Burial and some other spells I cannot remember. Basically, it is the nightmare matchup. Turn 1, I play Goldmeadow Stalwart and pass. Turn 2, I play Goldmeadow Stalwart and Figure of Destiny, attack for two, and pass.

I draw my card and it is a land. At this point, my hand is Wizened Cenn and lands. I have to make a decision right now. I can slowroll the Wizened Cenn and just hope that the guys on the board can get him low enough, have him cast some sort of Wrath effect and rebuild, or I can just go for it. However, his turn three plays are Firespout, Kitchen Finks, PLUMEVEIL (that’s the one I forgot), and Volcanic Fallout. None of these I can beat since I do not have a Cloudgoat Ranger or a Spectral Procession in the holster.

I decide to just go for it. Here’s why.

At this juncture of the game, I am all in. The only way I am going to win is if he does not have it. It being one of those three drops I rattled off. Is it unlikely? Of course it is! But, I don’t really have any better options. I have to get him dead, and I have to do it now.

I play the Wizened Cenn and smash on in. He Path to Exiles the Wizened Cenn and takes some damage. He draws his card, shakes his head, plays a land, and passes the turn. I attack him again, make my Figure of Destiny a 4/4, and pass back. He plays Ajani Vengeant, kills a Goldmeadow Stalwart. I play my sixth land, put Figure of Destiny into the skies, and finish him off.

What am I illustrating here? Sometimes, you just have to know when to go for it!

And then lose next round playing for Top 8 and have it not matter! That’s the life of a grinder.

To those of you who did well with Kithkin in your Nationals, congrats! You chose the right tribe!

To those of you who did well with Combo Elves, BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Sorry to keep it short this week. I’m recovering from some random food poisoning, and am getting ready for Nationals in Kansas City this weekend. Hopefully it turns out great!

Next week, I will have a full report about Nationals before I head out to Grand Prix: Boston.

See, I told you this wouldn’t be an article about Kithkin!

Cedric Phillips

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