Kiora Redesigns the Simic Ramp
- Gianluca Aicardi
Ramping in green is easy, but choosing the right payoff can be as crucial as sculpting the perfect curve. A big unkillable monster? A mass effect that dismantles the opponent's board? A permanent theft? How about all of the above? Enter Kiora Bests the Sea God, depicting our planeswalker's greatest achievement.
First, some flavor background. Kiora is a Merfolk planeswalker from Zendikar. She's quite the character, to the point that reading stories focusing on her point of view, one might be excused for thinking she was black-red aligned instead of green-blue. Her greatest accomplishment was pilfering the Bident of Thassa, a feat the good people of Theros thought deserving of being immortalized in bas-relief, despite being ultimately the tale of an insolent fishgirl from outer space who made their goddess look like a guppy. Or perhaps they all worship Kiora now, as they should. Here's the card from Theros Beyond Death that recounts the whole incident:
The only mythic Saga from the set, it appears straight away as an intriguing option to spend 7 mana. Is it worth the investment of our hard-earned ramp, though? I myself was doubtful of it. After all, it's the same cost that gives you Agent of Treachery, and only 1 mana short from stealing two permanents via Mass Manipulation. Those are immediate rewards that can shift the balance of a game in our favor, whereas Kiora Bests the Sea God takes two full turn cycles to complete. Also, that token suspiciously resembles something you'd order at the all-you-can-eat buffet of a seafood restaurant.
I do worship Kiora, though. She never got very good cards until her deceitfully simple War of the Spark incarnation, but she's amusingly feisty and her Arena voice lines always make me smile. So I couldn't kelp putting her namesake Saga into a Simic Ramp shell in Standard — and the results surprised me.
Against aggro and midrange, it went like this: the opponent would do their thing, inflicting severe hits to my life total, before I would finally cast Kiora Bests the Sea God and pass. Once you get to that point, they'll have to decide whether to suicide their best ground creature against an 8/8 they can't really interact with, or stop the assault altogether — give or take the occasional deathtoucher. But then in your turn their entire board gets tapped, so the Kraken will connect. And with at least seven mana available by then, you can cast a Nissa, Who Shakes the World, cranking up the first stream of damage literally to 11, or drop a big Hydroid Krasis, or escape an Uro, Titan's of Nature Wrath. So you do that, and now the ball's in their court again, but their permanents are still tapped, so they'll have to put something down to block Kiora's pet or else they'll take lethal next turn. But unless that something is a hexproof blocker — and be aware, Dream Trawler wouldn't work — the third chapter of our Saga will grab it, opening the path for the alpha strike. Good game, opponent. Kiora bested you, too.
This same scenario repeated itself several times in testing, especially while battling monored, monowhite, and monoblack in best of one. As for control decks, they certainly have the tools to get ahead of this situation, but a hexproof finisher is inherently threatening to them, greatly reducing their options. Basically, they'll need a sweeper right away, and a red one won't do — our Kraken won't even feel the first Storm's Wrath, it'd take two of those to send it back into the deep.
Of course if aggro starts too fast, or if the Saga gets countered, it all crashes down and fades away like a backwash wave, but that's bound to happen to any version of Simic Ramp. The different payoff doesn't change the deck's weaknesses, though it seems to me it can swerve an uncertain game firmly in our direction, by creating an inevitability that sometimes isn't readily apparent. In fact, most of my opponents looked at the overgrown crustacean and didn't feel threatened there and then; and yet they had lost the game the very moment the Saga resolved and they couldn't either remove it or win the game the next turn.
The thing is, aggro typically overcommits against Simic because Simic doesn't have access to wrath effects, but Kiora Bests the Sea God's second chapter essentially clears the board, while the third chapter also punishes putting all eggs in one basket.
One Drop Ripples and Grows
Let's have a look at a the list I've been toying with.
|Kiora's Triumph: A Simic Ramp Marine Trial|
We can break down the deck into three stages of ramp, plus the payoffs. And the overlap between these sections is currently one of the main strengths of Simic.
You might notice there aren't mana dorks in the list. The deck runs 27 lands so Spiral has very good odds of ramping on turn two, while doubling as a redraw later, so we can move past what has become a bad topdeck in a way that something like Paradise Druid won't allow. Similarly, the Haven is a sweep-proof way to increase our mana count, although an Aura certainly has the downside of being potentially wrecked by Casualties of War. On the other hand, we have enough basic lands to enchant, so we don't have to fear the return of Field of Ruin. The Haven can also turn into a body in the late game; it almost never comes up, but it's nice to have the option.
It wouldn't be a Kiora-centered deck if the impetuous mergirl herself wasn't around to reenact her own legendary achievement. Her 3-mana avatar feels very at home in this list. Her activation interacts with Wolfwillow Haven and her passive ability with every single creature we run. There are 18 cards that put a 4-powered body onto the battlefield, chief among them Uro, which is bound to trigger Kiora's card-drawing multiple times. Of course the Titan is one of the main reasons to play Simic right now. It's just that good.
They both double as win condition, particularly Nissa with her steady flow of hasty creature lands. The Cavalier is more often employed as an imposing bodyguard protecting our life total — there are very few things that can get past it — as well as an enabler for Uro's escape. Its death trigger shouldn't be underestimated either, as the deck can certainly use the recursion of one of its key pieces. The thorny elemental is almost acting as a Tamiyo, Collector of Tales that also shields us from attacks.
The Krasis is still the best card in the Simic pool, and no ramp deck should leave home without it. As for the Kiora Saga, we said enough already. Bring on the high tide!
Miscellaneous: Questing Beast
These are the flex slots. Turn-three Questing Beast is a good way to establish a board presence, giving the opponent something to worry about, and pressuring their planeswalkers. One of the deck's issues in this configuration is the lack of early blockers. Questy fills that role to some extent, and replaces itself if Kiora is around. A reasonable alternative is Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft, or even some main-deck countermagic.
Consider this sequence. Turn one: land, ideally a Temple of Mystery, which is our best turn-one play. Turn two: land, cast Haven, ideally enchanting a Forest. Turn three: land, cast Kiora, use Kiora to untap the Haven-enchanted land, cast Uro, draw two cards, gain 3 life, drop another land. Turn four: a fifth land, which means we now have access to a grand total of 8 mana. We tap the Haven land twice plus another land to cast Nissa. Three lands remain untapped and we untap the Haven land again, this time with Nissa. If two of the untapped lands are Forests, we generate 7 mana and cast Kiora Bests the Sea God. That should induce a sinking feeling in our opponent.
I really believe this Saga has the potential to make a splash — pun intended. Maybe it's being discovered right this moment by some pro who'll show it off at some big tournament. Or maybe it'll keep being dismissed and underrated. Either way, you should give it a try, master the mysteries of the deep, and make your opponent salty. Or crabby. Or whatever terrible sea-related wisecrack Kiora would make in her best sassy delivery. You know, there are people who went out of their way to turn themselves into everyone's favorite cheeky planeswalker. The least we can do is help her serve the most indigestible lobster salad ever.
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