SCG Daily: A Worthy Sacrifice

There’s a lot going on with Kuon’s flip trigger, and all of it is pretty challenging from a deckbuilding perspective. The most obvious step in flipping Kuon is killing at least three creatures. That’s no easy feat – though black has some built-in answers with the likes of Barter in Blood, Hideous Laughter, Echoing Decay, Death Cloud, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer. Here’s the trick, though: I don’t want Kuon himself to die. So how do we break a creature-killer in what has to be a creature-heavy deck?

Day Three and I’m halfway home! Check out Monday and Tuesday to see my musings on the Moonfolk and Human ascendants. Today I turn to the Dark Side to focus on the blackest of black creatures: Kuon, Ogre Ascendant. I’m using the same format as the past two days, focusing on the legendary creature, the “flip trigger,” and the legendary enchantment, then brainstorming Standard decks.

Why Standard? Because, sadly, it’s how my brain is wired to think.

Kuon, Ogre Ascendant

It’s impossible to look at Kuon, Ogre Ascendant and not get distracted by its casting cost. Three black. Dark Ritual mana. That is one black card. Since Ritual is long gone from Standard, I’m assuming that almost all Kuon decks are going to be monoblack, though some might also use green with its incredible color-fixing abilities or red for its board-sweeping goodness. Any other color combination is going to hamstring me and prevent me from casting Kuon early.

The reason I want to cast Kuon early is that he has very respectable stats for a three-mana creature. A 2/4 isn’t going to win any power contests – you would be better off with Blind Creeper or a host of three-mana beatsticks – but that added toughness makes him a legitimate threat and worthy defender all in one. To get that sort of body, you usually have to pay four or more mana, even in green. In fact, Kuon, Ogre Ascendant is currently the cheapest 2/4 in Standard today.

Lo and behold, Kuon is also the first Ascendant I’ve covered whose creature type actually matters. The Monk part is still useless, but the Ogre part is significant. Kuon is immune to Yukora the Prisoner deaths; Scourge of Numai, Painwracker Oni, Gutwrencher Oni, and Tomb of Urami love him too. The legendary part is, as ever, annoying, but at least there’s a (small) reason to care about the card type here.

Between Erayo, Homura, and Kuon, I am most impressed by Kuon’s creature half. He’s still not good enough on his own to make it into monoblack decks as a vanilla creature, but he’s close. The whole combination of BBB and 2/4 is different and quirky enough to keep me looking at him and humming, at least.

If Three Or More Creatures Were Put in Graveyards This Turn

There’s a lot going on with Kuon’s flip trigger, and all of it is pretty challenging from a deckbuilding perspective. The most obvious step in flipping Kuon is killing at least three creatures. That’s no easy feat – though black has some built-in answers with the likes of Barter in Blood, Hideous Laughter, Echoing Decay, Death Cloud, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer. If my opponent is playing a creature-heavy deck, then black has no trouble slapping three creatures down in a turn once the mid-game rolls around.

The problem is that I can’t assume my opponent will be playing a lot of creatures, which means a) generating my own creatures and b) somehow killing them. Just like Homura, there are self-sacrificing gems like Spawning Pit which will come in handy, as will black’s built-in baddies like Desecration Elemental, Fallen Angel, Phyrexian Plaguelord, Mind Slash, and the like. The good news is that black is also full of self-sacrificing creatures a la Bile Urchin, Deathknell Kami, and Blood Speaker. Don’t forget Horobi, Death’s Wail, too, which can be used to kill off any targetable creature. So it’s difficult – but not inconceivable – to make three of my own creatures die in a turn.

Here’s the trick, though: I don’t want Kuon himself to die. Kuon, Ogre Ascendant actually has to bear witness to all of these grisly deaths, the sick bastard. He won’t flip until end of turn, and his 2/4 body needs to be standing there in order to flip. This makes Death Pit Offering and the like bad additions to a Kuon deck, but it makes Yukora the Prisoner look a lot cooler. The result is that if I want to reliably flip Kuon, I actually need to play four creatures (including Kuon), kill off three of them, then keep Kuon from dying until the end of turn. To me, this makes Kuon the second-hardest Ascendant to flip behind Sasaya.

A bit of good news is that Kuon’s trigger is hard enough to pull off that I don’t mind dropping Kuon, Ogre Ascendant once Kuon’s Essence is on the table. Indeed, Kuon might make a good sacrificial lamb to his own essence in a pinch.

Kuon’s Essence

Once Kuon has ascended into Oni Hell, I am granted The Abyss. That’s cool, and creepily appropriate. What makes it tricky is that I’ve just established that a Kuon deck wants lots of creatures in order to reliably flip into Kuon’s Essence. Now I’m sacrificing a creature each turn. This is a bit at cross-purposes, right?

Not necessarily. As with all symmetrical effects, the key is to make the downside worse for my opponent than for me. The only difference here is that I don’t have the luxury of using a creatureless deck and thus have to find a different lever for asymmetry.

First, I can use highly expendable creatures like token creatures so that self-sacrificing doesn’t sting. An active Orochi Hatchery, for example, would be all I need. Second, I happen to be building a deck with a color expert at graveyard reanimation, so even if I’m sacrificing creatures I can load up on cards to bring them back, such as Gravedigger, Death Denied, Zombify, Soulless Revival, etc. Soulshift might be a clever way to get around the problem of sacrificing as well. Third, if my deck uses plenty of creature removal (or, to be particularly mean, Grave Pact), then although I will have a difficult time keeping creatures alive my opponent will have an impossible time doing so.

The other corollary here (in line with my soulshift comment above) is that I probably want to consider creatures who enjoy – or at least don’t mind – dying periodically. Ashen-Skin Zubera, Akuta, Born to Ash, Kokusho, the Evening Star, and Blood Speaker are good examples.

That’s my analysis/pondering of Kuon’s three important aspects. Now how about some deck ideas?

Kuon Decks

I’ve mentioned Yukora the Prisoner twice (three times now!), so I guess I should start there.

Enough tools were there for a monoblack Ogre/Demon deck even before Saviors of Kamigawa came along, and I think Kuon fits into this deck almost effortlessly. In goes Yukora, Takenuma Bleeder, and Ogre Marauder (who seems particularly good at flipping Kuon). Maybe Raving Oni-Slave makes an appearance along with Scourge of Numai, but I think at some point I have to staunch the life-loss. The rest of the deck is creature removal and maybe some reanimation. Pretty simple, and pretty straightforward.

Another fairly obvious idea is to use Kuon in a Spirits deck so that I can take advantage of Devouring Greed. I’m not sure if Hired Muscle makes it into this deck or not – but I’m sure Ashen-Skin Zubera, Wicked Akuba, and Thief of Hope are there. Horobi, Death’s Wail finds a natural home in a Kuon Spirits deck. This might be a nice place to try Infernal Kirin, too, along with the infamous Kagemaro, First to Suffer. In fact, maybe the deck doesn’t even need to stray from either black or Kamigawa Block Constructed.

In a similar vein, it occurs to me that Kuon loves Lifespinner (he loves Dark Supplicant, too, but I’m focused on Standard this week). Lifespinner, in turn, loves both Kuro, Pitlord and Iname as One. Thus a Black/Green Spirits deck is another possibility, again using Zuberas and Soulshift to buy time to set up both Kuon and Lifespinner. That’s a lot of pieces to get into place at once, but the cards are probably strong enough on their own to work even without the combo.

Another Black/Green idea is a Honden-based deck, with both Honden of Night’s Reach and the Honden of Life’s Web, Orochi Hatchery, and maybe Hideous Laughter (one of the benefits of a card like Laughter, by the way, is that Kuon is tough enough to survive it). The Zuberas are probably part of the deck, too. Hey, maybe that’s another Kamigawa Block idea.

Either that or there’s plain ol’ reanimation. Akuta, Born to Ash, Gravedigger, and Zombify all might make an appearance (as would Kagemaro) to wipe out creatures en masse. I would be relying on comes-into-play cards a la Ravenous Rats, Chittering Rats, Nekrataal, and Solemn Simulacrum.

Speaking of Rats, don’t forget about a dedicated rodent deck with Kuon in it. Marrow-Gnawer in particular becomes Kuon’s best friend as a way of killing my creatures and generating sacrificial tokens.

Okay, one more Rat idea: Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker seems to me to be a fun complement to Kuon, since I can potentially sacrifice the same creature turn after turn without losing momentum. Here’s a really basic sketch that has worked fantastically online:

One of the things I’ve appreciated about the deck is the overload on enchantments… clearly too many for any maindeck to handle. The weakest link so far is Deathknell Kami, though it’s surprisingly fun with Bile Urchin and Shirei. I can’t help but think there’s a card (Death Cloud?) that would work better and push the deck into scary territory… but take the skeleton and do what you will.

I mentioned the possibility inherent in Black/Red, mostly because red’s mass removal (like Pyroclasm) can clear the board without killing Kuon. Hearth Kami is a good addition to such a deck, as are Frostling, Pain Kami, Spark Elemental, and Shock Troops. I like Viashino Sandstalker and Glitterfang as a way of getting around Kuon’s Essence, too.

The only reason to mention Black/White, it seems to me, is Promise of Bunrei. Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker is also a pain in the tuchis in a Kuon deck, but I’m not sure it’s more effective than Grave Pact at clearing away opposing creatures. I can see a mostly-black deck splashing white via Tendo Ice Bridge, Mirrodin’s Core, and City of Brass solely for Promise of Bunrei and something like Terashi’s Grasp. After that, cards like Fallen Angel and Phyrexian Plaguelord get scaaaaary.

Does Blue offer anything to a Kuon deck? Creature-wise, there’s Daring Apprentice and Spiketail Hatchling to possibly flip Kuon on an opponent’s turn, but I’m not sure why you would want to do that. There’s also Dreamcatcher, Teardrop Kami, and Kami of Twisted Reflection, which may again make for an interesting Spirit deck. I’m not sure I see anything that really entices me into Blue, however, other than the usual lures of countermagic and bounce.

Those are some reflections on Kuon, Human Ascendant. As always, if you have additional ideas please share them in the Forums. Join me tomorrow when I look at the potential in annoyingly-defensive lifegain decks.

Think hard and have fun,