Multiple Angles of Attack: Mid-range Kiki-Jiki

June 7, 2018

Dear readers, I haven’t been so excited about a deck for a long while, so much that I thought about not writing this article and saving this deck to Grand Prix Antwerp instead. However, my current work doesn’t let me make personal arrangements more than 15 days ahead and I also don’t think I would be able to hold my enthusiasm until the end of the month. Hopefully this article will be able to convince some of you to play it.

The last and only time I played Modern was in Grand Prix Bilbao and the weeks preceding it in January 2013. While testing the format I played some GP Trials with Geist-Zoo and Jund, but would eventually play the Grand Prix with a UWR deck whose starting point was Larry Swasey’s MTGO PTQ Winning decklist.

For reference this was Larry Swasey’s decklist.

Like I said, Larry won a PTQ online with this list, but more impressive is, his friend, Brandon Large, won the other online PTQ on the very next day with the same decklist. Take in mind this was a new deck by then and many players just went along and switched to it. The deck went on to Win Grand Prix Bilbao the following week.

I tried the deck briefly and wasn’t satisfied with 2 things:
 Playing 4 Geist of Saint Traft when all Jund decks were playing 4 Liliana of the Veil.
 The situational permanents like 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, 1 Thundermaw Hellkite, 2 Aven Mindcensor.

I replaced the Geist of Saint Traft with Blade Splicer because they were a better 3 drop creature to play the turn before or after Liliana of the Veil. Having Blade Splicer along with Snapcaster Mage and Vendilion Clique it seemed only natural to replace the situational “one/two of’s” creatures with Restoration Angel. I rounded up the deck with a couple of Cryptic Command and that’s how I ended up with a deck whose starting point was Larry Swasey’s deck but turned out entirely different. I would say Larry is a “Geist.dec” while mine was a “Restoration Angel.dec”. This is the list I played to a Top 32 finish at Grand Prix Bilbao.

I finished Grand Prix Bilbao with 11 wins, 3 Losses, 1 Draw. My losses were to 2 Pod decks and 1 Jund, while my draw was to Martyr Proclamation.

While I wasn’t upset about my loss against Jund because it sometimes happen and I had beaten several other Jund decks, I realized the deck had problems against decks with powerful engines, the best examples to show you this are the Birthing Pod engine and the Urzatron engine. This deck is not fast enough to kill them before their engines start going and out-power / out-resource you, but at the same time this deck is not controlish enough to be able to shut down their engines long enough for you to win. I was happy I could trace and locate the problem, but did nothing to try to fix it since I wasn’t going to play Modern for a long time.

October 2013

For the Autumn of 2013 my main Magic focus is the Theros Limited format which will be used in PTQ’s and some Grand Prixs I might attend like Hong Kong or Valencia. However, there was a tournament I wanted to play next to Lisbon. A large and new Magic store was celebrating their anniversary and organized a Modern tournament whose prizes were 1200 Euros cash distributed for the Top 8, and 50 Theros Boosters distributed for the Top 16.

I wasn’t planning to spend a large amount of time testing for a single cash tournament and besides I had the Bilbao decklist which I really enjoyed playing. I was slightly worried because Pod.decks are winning a lot of major tournaments and it’s popularity is growing. Meanwhile there were some cards released that fit into the deck making it one of the top decks of the format.

I thought about the problem in the abstract, and I realized I couldn’t go faster in these colors and type of deck, and I couldn’t be more controlish because by adding control elements I was removing pressure and I would just end up with a pure Control UWR deck with almost no creatures. When I tied it all together I realized my only chance to beat engines was to GO OVER THE TOP.

This deck was already not only playing 4 copies, but built much around Restoration Angel, which is one half of a 2 card immediate win combo in Modern. The question was if I could fit the other half of the combo in this deck, and now I’m sure the answer is Yes.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

1- The “Legend Rule” changed. With the old rule, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker was a 2 card combo with the 4 Restoration Angel, would generate some value with the 3 Blade Splicer, and if you managed to untap your lands with it in play, it could re-use your spells in the graveyard with the 4 Snapcaster Mage. With the new “Legend Rule” it is also useful with the 3 Vendilion Clique, allowing you to control every of your opponent’s draw step or cycle a card from your hand a turn. Which means Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker interacts well with every single other creature in the deck. [Editor note: The interaction with Vendilion Clique doesn’t work because Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker can only target nonlegendery creatures]

2- The deck has now a whole different reach level, it is now capable of winning games from positions it could never have before. Sometimes you will not be able to deal enough damage to your opponent, sometimes you fall behind and need to concentrate all your resources in staying alive, sometimes the board will be in a such a disadvantage to you that there isn’t a combination of cards in the deck that could save you. But just by having the capability of dealing infinite combat damage inside your deck, it can switch the game plan and dynamics of certain matchups.

Remember the draw I told you against Martyr.dec when my opponent was at 100 life and I had to keep adding pressure into his board sweepers? That was a very unfavorable matchup, that just by adding a single card becomes impossible to lose. You let him win as much as life as he wants, until you sculpt your hand for a safe kill, for example multiple copies of Vendilion CliqueRestoration Angel and a single Kiki-Jiki.

This is the decklist I have at the moment.

The changes weren’t many but are impactful in the way you approach matchups even if you don’t draw the cards immediatly. Take for example a Tron deck with 2 copies of Mindslaver. Now think of exactly of the same decklist but with 1 Academy Ruins instead of another land. Just by having the Academy Ruins in your deck, it allows you to approach certain matchups with different long term back up plans even if you don’t draw it.

The starting move was to add Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, remove Cryptic Command because of mana issues, adjust the mana base to support more Red, and upgrade the Sideboard: I wanted to try Anger of the Gods over Pyroclasm because it can deal with Voice of Resurgence and Kitchen Finks as well as a 3/3 Scavenging Ooze, and I cut the Batterskull since Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker seemed like a better win condition.

The question you are probably asking is:

“Why should we play a Mid-range Kiki-Jiki deck instead of a pure Kiki-Jiki combo deck or a UWR Mid-Range control?”

And the answer is: – Multiple Angles of Attack –

1- Efficient, with comes into play abilities card advantage creatures, backed up with disruption to simultaneous slow down the opponent and attack his life totals. This is your game plan A, Aggro-Control Mid-range.

2- Ten Burn spells, re-usable with 4 Snapcaster Mage. Eleven creatures with Flash, which can be compared to Haste, since the opponent is not counting on being attacked when he sees no creatures in play. If a Flash creature is able to deal combat damage a single time before being dealt with, it served the same function as a Haste creature in a Burn deck. Because of this, in situations where you can’t consistently or repeatedly deal damage, you can ignore the board, and play like a Big Burn deck. The deck is often capable of dealing 2 digits worth of Burn damage between an opponent’s End Phase and your Combat Phase. This Big Burn deck plan is Plan B.

3- Kiki-Jiki Combo. Your game plan should never be to try and assemble this combo. The deck is not built to try to do it. It was adjusted to have this combo to win some games, and to minimize the situations when drawing a Kiki-Jiki without Restoration Angel would be a dead draw. This is your Plan C, in the situations where the board is out of control, when you don’t have resources to try to execute the previous plans.

By having this many angles of attack during a game, the opponent can never feel completely safe, even if they controlled the board, even if they are at a very high life total, because end of turn Restoration Angel followed by Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker can kill them out of nowhere.

The comparison I can make is with Animes like Dragon Ball, Naruto or Rurouni Kenshin.

The UWR Mid-range deck is a fighting character in the Anime. Adding Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is the character learning a new secret attack, which can only be used very few times, only in desperate situations. The character will not change his fighting pattern or stop using his previous moves. In fact, he will not even consider using his secret technique until he is very close to being beaten or his opponent has neutralized all his normal attacks. Then, under desperate situations he still possesses a last trump card, to which the opponent was not prepared for.

Since I’m willing to put my money where my words are I played the 1200 Euros Modern tournament with this deck, and I will play next week the “Multi Stores Modern League tournament #1” also with this deck. I will provide a brief tournament Report on the 1200 Euros Modern tournament.

Tournament: 1200 Euros
Format: Modern
Players: 126 (2 didn’t show up in time)
Rounds: 7 Swiss + cut to Top 8

Since one of the 2 players who didn’t show up in time was the one who was going to lend me some cards, I wasn’t able to play the exact decklist I posted. I lacked the 2 Remand which I replaced with singletons of other cheap countermagic and I lacked the 2 Sowing Salt which I replaced with Lands, and I actually boarded them in several times.

Round 1: Tron

G1: I’m able to counter his first Tron piece search, but that only delays him the full Tron to turn 4 instead of 3. I’m able to add some pressure and attack, but I need to channel my resources to his Wurmcoil Engine and lifelink token because I didn’t have Path to Exile. I’m left with no more reach, and when Emrakul comes, I scoop. If I had drawn a Kiki-Jiki I would’ve won.

G2: He mulligans and his first 2 lands are identical Tron pieces, which slowed him down a lot. He still manages to get it together later, but I’m able to attack before it gets out of control.

G3: He gets the Tron but he is kind of threats light, because I used Vendilion Clique and Restoration Angel on back to back draw steps. Time is called, I’m not sure if I can deal enough damage in turns, but I topdeck Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in extra turns to make the math simple.

1 – 0 , and that’s one Match Win for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Round 2: Eggs

G1: He suspended 2 Lotus Bloom on turn 1. I countered one when they came into play, the other resolved and he combo’d me on that same turn.

G2: No Lotus Bloom this time, I countered every Egg or spell I could whenever I had free mana with nothing to do, had Vendilion Clique + Restoration Angel to control his hand, and he was forced to try to go off with only 2 Eggs and not much mana. At some point he threatened to go off, but failed.

G3: I only played 2 cards and I won, you can guess them. I kept 5 lands, Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. I thought that if he did not suspend Lotus Bloom on turn 1, he would be in no hurry to go off if I didn’t put pressure on him. That’s how the games played out, in turns 1 to 4, he just developed his board. I only laid lands. On his turn 5 he has a board to try to go off, but decides not too, instead waiting to have more tools to fight through my countermagic which I can potentially have.

He asks me on his turn 5: “Cards in hand?”

– “Every turn I drew a card and played a land, so I guess 7” – I answered

– “Allright, it’s your turn.”

– “End of your turn, I will…”

– “Clique me?”

– “No, just Restoration Angel

I untapped, drew a card, played a land, played Kiki-Jiki. His friend started yelling:

– “You idiot! You should’ve played Silence on his Upkeep. Why didn’t you play Silence on his Upkeep? You’re dead now!”

My opponent could only answer: “How would I know?”

2 – 0 , and once again Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker won the match.

Round 3: Jund

Jund is a good matcup, the usual flow of the game is, you will both exchange resources in the early steps of the game, and then the UWR has better topdecks once everyone’s hand and table are empty. Of course you can still and will lose topdeck situations in the late game, and sometimes you will lose to an unanswered Dark ConfidantTarmogoyf or Liliana of the Veil in the early game. I won 2-0, both games I just topdecked slightly better on the late game, never drew Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker but it would’ve won me one of the games right on spot since I had Restoration Angel in play.

3 – 0

Round 4: Merfolks

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker was very helpful here even tough I never assembled the combo. With my removal I dealt with the Merfolk lords, and then since they don’t have removal I got Kiki-Jiki + Snapcaster to re-use all the spells again, and Kiki-Jiki + Vendilion Clique for a soft lock in his draw step.

4 – 0

At this point I only need one more win to Top 8, the cut was 6-1 and 5-0-2, which I can achieve by winning next round. There are 3 players with favourable matchups I want to play (Jund or Affinity), one bad matchup (UWR pure control) and one impossible matchup (Living End).

Round 5: UWR pure control

G1: I had perfect mana to spells ratio, not few, not many, exactly what I needed to operate, but the spells included plenty of useless cards. My Lightning BoltLightning Helix and Path to Exile are dead draws, while his copies are good against me.

G2: I was slightly mana screwed and his Tectonic Edge plus me failing to draw any other lands, ensured I didn’t played any other spell. Truth to be told, he had Loxodon Smiter off his sideboard on turn 3, so I didn’t have that many draw steps.

Overall, I felt by my opponent’s decisions that he thought my deck was more controlish than what it actually is, but I don’t feel this matchup to be one you want to play.

4 – 1

Round 6: Living End

To my unfortune, the Living End had also lost and I was paired against it. With the current deck configuration, the matchup is close to impossible. The only chance is, him to draw all of his copies of Living End, which actually happened on Game 2 !!!

G3: I realized the best chance I have to win this matchup is to respond to his Living End playing Izzet Charm to draw 2 cards and discard 2 cards, and discard both Kiki-Jiki and Angel. So I played according to that, because tapping out for any creature, even with Flash I was risking him having Violent Outburst for the kill.

This G3 I made a play that was highly controversial among spectators. Some thought it was a really good one, while others thought I was just plain idiot. For me the play was pretty obvious, and it was the one which gave me the best chance of winning the game, and I never had any doubts at the moment nor now about it.

I mulligan a hand with 5 lands, CounterfluxPath to Exile.

Kept a hand with lands, Izzet Charm (very important) and a mix of other creatures and spells.

Turns 1 to 3 he only cycles and cycles creatures. I only played lands. At the end of my turn 4, we both have 4 lands in play, having done nothing other than playing lands (and cycling creatures in his case). That’s when the action begins. End of my turn he plays Violent Outburst, which threatened to return I would say 4 creatures (not entirely sure but around that). He leaves one mana open which can produced Red mana.

I saw in previous Rounds he was playing Ricochet Trap in his SB. The only “countermagic” I have is Izzet Charm, but I have at least 2 creatures on my hand I can discard, altough not Kiki-Jiki yet. What would you do? Counter or draw 2 and discard 2?

I opted to draw 2 cards and discard 2 cards.

1- I tought it would be very unlikely for him, having 6 cards in hand, to just throw away one of the Cascade spells without a followup. We know he has 8 cascade spells + X copies of Ricochet Trap. Having any of these as a follow up would end the game, since I couldn’t mount a defense with only 4/5 lands and having to hard cast my creatures.

2- If I managed to find a Kiki-Jiki in the next 2 cards drawn, I would be in a very good spot, and even if I didn’t I could still discard 2 Blade Splicer or 1 Blade Splicer and an Angel, and put them in play free of mana cost, and I would even draw 2 free cards in the process. I also thought my 2 creatures would be able to defend for a while with the help of my spells in hand.

I drew 2 cards, discarded 2 Blade Splicer, but in responde he cycled Street Wraith which was one more creature I wasn’t counting on. I died after 2 or 3 attacks because my blockers weren’t enough. If you happen to be one of the people who asked me, why didn’t I simply counter the Living End instead of drawing 2 cards and discarding 2, here is the long answer.

4 – 2

Round 7: Jund

I was still playing for Top 16 and a consolation prize.

G1: I kept Steam VentsSpell Snare (single copy replacing one Remand ), Lightning BoltLightning Helix and 3 more spells. I thought this hand will certainly win the stage 1 of the Jund matchup, which is to keep Dark Confidant off the table, even if he has turn 1 discard spell, turn 2 Dark Confidant.

He did indeed had turn 1 discard, and he choose Spell Snare, signalling he is going to play Tarmogoyf next turn. I never drew a second land, and lost to his Tarmogoyf.

G2: We got empty resourced and went into long game topdecking mode. I was ahead and managed to drop him down to 4 or 5 life, with me being still around 15. But he stabilizes behind a Tarmogoyf and Raging Ravine when I only had a Blade Splicer and token. The situation is still good for me, since pretty much everything I can draw will be good, but I have to take care because he can start activating Raging Ravine and attack me. I eventually drew the best possible card, yes, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and made a 3/3 Golem a turn until I attacked for the win.

G3: Same as G2, but the late game cards I drew were spells and multiple Snapcaster Mage, the question was if I could deal enough damage before time run out, which I did.

5 – 2

Not exactly the result I was looking for but I still consider it a positive performance. The UWR Control and Living End are bad matchups, especially the Living End. I won the matchups where I felt I was slightly advantaged and the addition of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker was not disruptive for the deck’s main game plan. I felt I improved certain matchups while not disregarding matchups where I was winning before.

As for the decklist, I’m happy with the creature base. The maindeck spells are highly customizable, and I barely felt a difference of not having all the cards (altough the maindeck Remand would certainly help vs Living End). The Sideboard is only a reference, there are so many viable decks in Modern that you should build a SB for the field you expect. Currently I have a couple of high impact cards versus plenty of matchups, but after more testing I might build a new sideboard to compensate the deck’s weaknesses instead of attacking other deck’s strategies. For all the reasons I mentioned here, and for the tournament performance, I seriously believe that Mid-range Kiki-Jiki can be a Tier 1 Modern deck. Even if it’s not, it’s my pet deck and I will be playing it in future events.

As usual, thank you for reading this far, feel free to contact me, I will have all the pleasure to discuss any content inside this article.

Tiago Chan

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