The Main Phase – Kith Long versus Justice Toast

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Monday, August 18th – I am, to my estimation, a good resource for the ins and outs of the Kithkin deck strategy ,and specifically for the latest iteration, Kith Long. I am a big fan of the Kith folk and a big proponent of its continued success, so when a big bad new deck comes along threatening to knock Kithkin off the map I am quick to try to help the poor little guys have a chance.

I’m sitting on a bed in a Marriot in downtown Washington D.C. right now. My parents were invited to a wedding so my family decided to turn it into an end of summer vacation, starting with a pair of college visits to Ithaca and Syracuse for my little sister. We camped on Lake Cayuga in upstate New York for the last few days, making the drive down to the Nation’s capital yesterday afternoon. It’s been pretty fun. But there is one big problem.

I haven’t done anything Magic-related in about a week.

I played in the PTQ in Columbus Ohio last Saturday and my family left on our trip early Sunday morning. Since that time, I haven’t so much as touched a Magic card. More than that, I wasn’t even in cell phone range for about 90% of the five or so days that I was in Taughannock State Park, tenting and hiking and what have you. I didn’t even hear that Gerry Thompson won Grand Prix: Denver (with the help of a little slice of Justice) until a text message from my friend Dale informed me on Wednesday afternoon when I was buying a bundle of firewood from the park office. Not a big deal for most Magicians I wouldn’t think, but a pretty big deal for someone who is supposed to be up on the latest news and developments on the subject.

I would love to have been able to keep up to date with everything while away. To be able to come home from a day of hiking or swimming and catch up with the latest technology from Adrian Sullivan or Patrick Chapin while a pot of water boils on the fire a few feet away, getting ready to make some hot cocoa. But alas, that was just not possible.

However, I was able to steal a glance at the Grand Prix winning monstrosity now known as Justice Toast. Seeing as I am not the man you should be talking to about the hot new control deck for Block (that would be Gerry himself) I won’t try to tell you how to play Justice Toast. However, I am, to my estimation, a good resource for the ins and outs of the Kithkin deck strategy and specifically for the latest iteration, Kith Long. I am a big fan of the Kith folk and a big proponent of its continued success, so when a big bad new deck comes along threatening to knock Kithkin off the map I am quick to try to help the poor little guys have a chance. That’s what this article is about: helping Kithkin pilots beat Justice Toast.

For reference, here’s a list of Gerry Thompson deck:

And here’s the latest list for Kith Long:

I took 74 of this 75 into battle with me last Saturday at the Columbus PTQ, where I went 5-2 and got 11th out of 99. The last card missing from my deck was a Stillmoon Cavalier because I simply couldn’t get a hold of one. They were flying off the shelves like hotcakes, filling up Kithkin decks to be sure but also taking up spots in Faeries and some Toasty decks as well. In its place I added one of the Burrenton Forge-tenders to the main and threw a Barkshell Blessing in the sideboard for old time’s sake.

I know I briefly discussed this deck in my video last week, but allow me to touch on a few of the card choices.

The main innovation (if you can even call it that) is the inclusion of a full set of Stillmoon Cavaliers in the main deck. This is because the metagame, at least in my area of the country, is a whole lot of Kithkin and Faeries and not as much Toast, Merfolk, or Rock as the rest of the country. Because of this most (if not all) of the elimination in the format is of a Black and/or White variety, meaning that the only outs to a Stillmoon Cavalier are a timely counterspell, Mistbind Clique, or Cryptic Command. Kithkin’s outs? Not so much.

… Which is, of course, why the Moonglove Extracts are in the board. During deck redesign in Chicago with Andrew and Mike we realized that while we were indeed going to be packing Stillmoons that our opponents would also have them, either pre- or post-board. We needed an answer. That’s where Moonglove Extract comes in. Basically, that’s the only reason that Moonglove is in the board. Sure, it’ll kill the occasional Sower or Reejerey and I used one to shoot the final two damage at my opponent’s face in turn 4 of turns in round 5 last weekend, but it’s really there 90% to be on Cavalier duty.

Now, on to the Kithkin versus Justice match up. Before I go any further, I have to tell you something. This isn’t a great match up for Kithkin. No matter how you slice it, Toast style decks seem to have Kithkin’s number but it’s definitely far from a blow out and it’s certainly not unwinnable. That said, it is in all likelihood the toughest task you will face in your PTQ quest.

Why is it so tough, you may enquire? Good question, and I’m glad you asked. Turns out it’s the subject of this article. How fortuitous. Anyway, the reason that this is a poor match-up for us White Weenie players is that Justice Toast is exactly the kind of deck that works well against curve style aggro decks like Kithkin: Eliminations spells, card draw, and decent evasive finishers. Nothing fancy, just business spells. For some reason, this is a particularly tough task for Kithkin decks.

Good news, bad news time, folks. The bad news: I estimate that a very good Justice pilot should win about 60% of the time in this match up. They just have so many tools at their disposal to fight Kithkin from every angle that the White Weenie player would have trouble keeping up. But here’s the good news: not everyone is as good or as practiced with the deck Gerry Thompson. You and I both know that the people at your local PTQ who have come to battle with their Justice deck are very likely to be, shall we say, underprepared.

Hey, I won’t kid you with the flip side either, since the average Kithkin player tends to neither be the most technically sound nor the best mentally prepared player of the bunch. That’s why I play it! No, seriously though. Kithkin has a propensity to be the deck that people lend out at the last second to friends who come unprepared and need a last minute 75 right before the player meeting. But that isn’t you. You’re always prepared. And since you are you already know that Kithkin has easier decisions, by and large, than the control decks you’ve studied every last detail and are fully prepared for the arduous task ahead of you. Good job.

So if it’s such a bad match-up, why even play Kithkin at all? Let me put it this way: Think about U/B ‘Tog. Think about playing the ‘Tog mirror against a better and more seasoned player than yourself. Now think about you playing Goblins against that same player playing ‘Tog. That’s basically what’s going on here. You give yourself a better chance to beat better players when you play with a deck like Kithkin.

Now that we have the table set, let’s take a look as the specifics. First, we will look at Kith Long’s strengths against Justice Toast.

Strength #1: Speed

On the creature front, while I wouldn’t necessarily call Justice Toast ‘slow,’ they are at heart a control deck and one of the traditional weaknesses of the control archetype is the first few turns of the game. In Justice Toast, one particularly slow element they have to contend with is the fact that a full eleven lands come into play tapped. The quickest a creature is going to come into play on the Justice side is on turn 3. Therefore, all of the particularly aggressive creatures like Stalwarts, Figures, Cenns, and Knights of Meadowgrain are solid performers in this matchup.

Strength #2: Stillmoon Cavalier

Stillmoon Cavalier, while clearly vulnerable to a stray Firespout, is also particularly important in this match up since it is able to stealthily avoid Kitchen Finks and the deck’s namesake, Archon of Justice, on the attack long after random 1/1 and 2/2 dorks can no longer enter the fray without dying unnecessary (and presumably quite painful) deaths. In fact, I would say that Stillmoon Cavalier is the most important card in the Kithkin deck to get into play against Justice Toast because the only elimination it dies to are the Wrath effects in the form of Austere Command and Firespout. While Procession tokens, Stalwarts, and Cenns are dying left and right from Shriekmaws and mid-combat Mannequins and what have you, the Stillmoon Cavalier sticks around again and again. Just make sure you don’t jump him right into an evoked ‘Thresher. That would be really awkward for you.

Strength #3: Mirrorweave

In terms of non-creature spells, Mirrorweave is an all-star here. Even the threat of a Mirrorweave is quite solid here since all of the win conditions in Justice Toast, particularly Cloudthresher and Archon, are juicy targets for a lethal ‘Weave. Often you can leave Mirrorweave mana up through the combat phase (even on the defensive end) and buy yourself a few more draw steps to get back in the game. Having Mirrorweave be a strength is a little awkward though because the best partners with Mirrorweave, the token generators, aren’t particularly spicy in this match up.

Those are the three main advantages that Kithkin has over Justice Toast. You may notice that some of the best cards in some other match ups weren’t mentioned at all.

Spectral Procession is, as always, really good early but unfortunately in this match up it doesn’t keep its luster after about the fifth turn or so. Often, in the late game it’s little more than Delay, preventing attacks from a big angry monster for three turns via chumps before it eats your lunch. Cloudgoat Ranger is slightly better (if it resolves) since it comes in with a bigger body attached.

Unmake is good and is a necessary cog in the machine in our plan against Toast, but not nearly as good as against decks that have things like Sower of Temptation or Lords of any kind, where the creature in question only has an effect on the game while it is in play. By contrast, a lot of the time the Justice Toast player actually wants a given creature to die, either to become a Mannequin target or to remove something from the game with Archon.

So we know what we are looking for when dealing our opening hands: Speed, Stillmoon Cavaliers, and/or Mirrorweave. So if you sit down across you opponent and you have a stone cold read on him that he is Justice Toast (or maybe he accidentally flipped up an Archon of Justice or Runed Halo mid pile shuffle) you know what you’re looking for. Now let’s take a look at what the game looks like from the other side of the table.

Strength #1: Midgame Thunder

Remember before when I said that Justice Toast is at heart a control deck? Well, I kinda lied. To be more specific, what I should have said is that Justice is more like a racing deck that starts the race after turn 6. Before that, it is indeed a control deck. Justice Toast is well equipped to deal with Kithkin’s many threats but the sustained pressure that a Kithkin player has at their disposal in the form of Cloudgoat Rangers, Mutavaults and the like means that the Toast player can’t just sit back forever and kill the opponent whenever they feel like it. That’s where the midgame thunder comes in, in the form of quick cheap threats like Kitchen Finks and also in the form of a cheap Wrath effect in Firespout. The ability to tangle with Kith as early as the third turn before any serious damage can be done is key to the Justice strategy, and something that the can do very well. From the Toast player’s perspective, Kithkin is a good match-up, and most of the cards have effects that are relevant to the game state. But sometimes Kithkin can just go Affinity on you and win the game before you even know what happened. But for the games that are ‘fair,’ the midgame is the most important part of this match up.

Strength #2: Counter Magic

Broken Ambitions in particular is very string against Kithkin, since it is a deck designed to tap out every turn for the first five or so turns of the game. While it has fallen out of favor for many Faerie players and other control decks, it remains a useful tool against both the Red decks and Kithkin, able to counter just about anything played in the first few turns by either deck as well as essentially Scrying for 1, digging for more gasoline or answers. Turning the tides on a Kith pilot with Ambitions on the second of third turn, particularly on a Stillmoon Cavalier, can often mean the game. Sometimes the ‘fog and cantrip’ effect on Cryptic Command is necessary, but by the time the Justice player has four mana it’s often too late to get anything going.

Strength #3: Flexibility

Justice Toast, unlike its predecessors of the Quick, Burnt or whatever variety, is much more flexible to be able to contain different types of situations. Runed Halo and Archon of Justice in particular add an element of flexibility not seen before. That’s what you get when you have add a pair of cards to the deck that have the phrases ‘name a card’ and ‘target permanent’ on them. I’m no Rhodes Scholar, but by my estimation nearly everything in the game of Magic is either a card or a permanent, meaning that just about any problem that comes across the Justice player’s path can be solved one way or another. Now, Runed Halo and Archon of Justice aren’t particularly good against Kithkin in general but in combination with other control elements they aren’t dead either.

So now we know what is best for the Justice Toast player to see when facing down a Kithkin army. You can see that the strengths are much more general for Justice as compared to Kithkin, meaning that they can be confidant in a wider variety of hands in this match up and thus lets them have a somewhat favorable match up.

… But that’s just game 1. What about after sideboarding?

Let’s start with Kithkin’s plan. Just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back up to the top of the page, here’s another look at Kith Long’s sideboard:

4 Moonglove Extract
4 Ajani Goldmane
3 Order of Whiteclay
2 Rise of the Hobgoblins
2 Burrenton Forge-tender

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a lot here to help the cause. An underprepared Kithkin player might be confused after game 1 against Justice Toast, particularly if they hadn’t been paying much attention to the GP coverage. However, a few things stick out.

First, Moonglove Extract does just about nothing for us in this match up. It can kill a Mulldrifter or a Kitchen Finks (once) or take down a Mannequin target but other than those few examples there’s nothing. It’s in our sideboard to deal with Stillmoon Cavaliers, Sower of Temptations and a random Lord or two. Justice has none of the above so we can scratch it off our list of sideboard options.

Next, Ajani Goldmane. Mostly in our sideboard for the mirror match but also to counteract the counter act done by Soul Snuffers. Justice Toast has neither. Cross it off.

Order of Whiteclay is an interesting one. I personally would bring them in, as the 4 toughness is huge against a deck packing Firespouts and if it isn’t dealt with quickly it can get quite out of hand. It can block Kitchen Finks all day while also attacking for 1 every turn… and bringing a dead friend back from the dead along the way. If Justice Toast ran Nameless Inversions too then it wouldn’t even be an issue, but unfortunately here the Order is basically only for Firespout insurance.

Rise of the Hobgoblins might be a better choice in games 2 and 3 than Cloudgoat Ranger since it is less vulnerable to Broken Ambitions but the 3/3 body is relevant, particularly in the absence of Sower in Justice Toast. Personally I would just take out both Rises and Rangers, but if you must have some top-end token generation it’s a toss up between the two.

The only no-brainer here is to bring in Forge-Tenders, not only as a way to combat Firespouts but also as additional one-drops. As I said earlier, speed is of the utmost importance for the Kithkin deck against Toast, so getting up to 11 one-drop creatures is not necessarily a bad thing.

So now, what to take out. I think that removing the Rangers and the miser’s Rise is the right way to go. We have to capitalize on the speed that Kithkin arms us with instead of trying to go large with Rangers and Rise. I also think that Unmake is a candidate to be removed, but sometimes removing a Kitchen Finks or a Cloudthresher before it can do too much damage is the way to go, so removing them all is a poor decision. I would probably take out only 1 and take out something else, perhaps a Knight of Meadowgrain or, since the curve is dropping significantly with the removal of the high-end of the curve, a land.

Sideboard plan for Kithkin against Justice Toast:

+3 Order of Whiteclay, +2 Burrenton Forge-tender, -2 Cloudgoat Ranger, -1 Rise of the Hobgoblins, -1 Unmake, -1 ?

In certain situations it may be correct to take out Mirrorweave instead of Unmake, depending on the particular build or situation. It’s a gut thing.

While it appears that there is a dearth of good sideboard cards for Kithkin in the Kith Long board, the Justice deck has a plethora of options at its disposal. Here is Gerry’s sideboard once again for reference:

4 Wispmare
3 Chameleon Colossus
2 Plumeveil
2 Runed Halo
2 Hallowed Burial
1 Cloudthresher
1 Shriekmaw

We don’t want Wispmare. Enough said.

You don’t want Chameleon Colossus either. It’s a big Unmake-proof body to be sure, but it is too slow for the job that you want it to do, that being the job of holding down the fort in the face of a ton of little dudes. It’s also really fun to Mirrorweave. Not a good sideboard choice in my opinion.

Plumeveil, on the other hand, is. It’s very tough for a Kithkin player to deal with a surprise 4/4 flying blocker. While it doesn’t deal with Stillmoon Cavalier it does kill nearly everything else while living to stand guard the next turn. A little awkward because it’s a possible Mirrorweave target but still pretty darn good at getting to the midgame.

Runed Halo is so odd. I doubt it comes in here, as Justice has better answers to just about every problem than a Halo, which is much more for Mistbind Clique or Demigod of Revenge.

More Wraths? Yes please. After board, Justice will have 8 board clearers for the Kithkin pilot to contend with. Goodie.

I do believe that the singleton Shriekmaw comes in. I hear it’s quite good against Kithkin. The Cloudthresher does not, in my opinion. The ability to kill Spectral Procession tokens isn’t of the utmost importance since there are so many other answers (Plumeveil, Archon, etc.) and the danger of Mirrorweave is at its highest when there’s a Cloudthresher on the stack.

The most likely cards to come out in this match up are the Cloudthreshers and the Runed Halos or perhaps a smattering of other things such as the 1-of Oona’s Grace. Here’s what I would do:

+2 Plumeveil, +2 Hallowed Burial, +1 Shriekmaw, -3 Cloudthresher, -2 Runed Halo

Well, looks like after all that Justice had 5 cards to bring in just like Kithkin. Preboard, the match up isn’t particularly good for the little guys and after board things don’t really change too much in their favor. The control deck gets even more controlly, while we don’t really have the option of getting any more aggressive. I’d say that the match up gets slightly worse, down to only about 30 or 35% for Kithkin.

Well, things do sure look bleak when you break it down like that. Luckily, I think that the impact of Justice Toast won’t be as dire as it appears in this article, as the Toast player has many more opportunities to make a mistake. When you find yourself facing down Justice Toast at your next PTQ you won’t necessarily be playmat-to-playmat with the man with the blue skullcap, meaning that they’re likely to make more of those mistakes. All you have to do is capitalize on them.

Seems so simple when you say it like that.

Happy Battles.

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AIM: clevermonikerman

Top 5 Playlist:
Nothing this week.

Hey, I was in the woods for a week. Gimme a break.