The KCI Diaries
This time, Toffel delves deeper into his weapon of choice in Modern and points out the key strengths and weaknesses of his Krark-Clan Ironworks deck within an ever-changing (hating) environment.
The Empire Strikes Back
It is not an easy time for a Krark-Clan Ironwork lover. Everybody is getting educated about the deck and how to attack it correctly. Unfortunately, everybody’s weapons of choice against the field are very effective against us, and Hardened Scales-Affinity winning the GP in Prague does not make it any easier. In addition, no KCI deck made it to the Top 4 of Unified Modern GP Detroit and even Matt Nass chose the green version of Affinity over his beloved pet deck. These are terrible news.
People’s sideboards are loaded with artifact hate, graveyard removals, and highly annoying cards like Stony Silence and Damping Sphere. And those are only the well-known answers! I have played against many other powerful tech cards, including Anafenza, the Foremost and Ground Seal. People are prepared and ready to fight. We used to bring guns to a knife fight, but our opponents are packing heavy artillery now.
Should we just retire the deck and move on? Possibly, but we are not going down without a fight. There are a lot of cards in Magic and we just have to find the right angle to surprise our opponents.
|3Chromatic Sphere||3Buried Ruin||2Myr Retriever||4Ancient Stirrings|
|4Chromatic Star||4Darksteel Citadel||4Scrap Trawler|
|4Krark-Clan Ironworks||4Grove of the Burnwillows|
|4Mind Stone||2Inventors' Fair|
|4Mox Opal||1Spire of Industry|
|2Abrade||2Ghirapur Aether Grid||2Guttural Response||2Lightning Bolt|
|4Nature's Claim||2Negate||1Wurmcoil Engine|
|This is the deck a friend and I played at GP Prague for 10-5 each.|
A New Hope
Let’s start with our beacon of hope: KCI is still a very impressive game 1 deck. Our opponents rely heavily on their sideboard plan, so our main focus should be on our sideboard as well.
So far, KCI has used Ghirapur Aether Grid and I still love that card. It is a powerful weapon against Humans, Mardu Pyromancer, Elves, and Hardened Scales-Affinity. It's generally a fine card, especially when you expect a lot of hate and some number of creatures. It is also decent against UW and Jeskai, since it kills their Vendilion Clique and Snapcaster Mage, who do put some pressure on the board state. It even deals with their Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. As long as those cards don't remain on the battlefield, their powerful counterspells remain only as a defensive option that you can outplay by having cheap counterspells of your own, like Guttural Response and Negate.
Starting with the Pro Tour, people mostly exchanged Ghirapur with Sai, Master Thopterist, but my opinion on him hasn't changed. When Sai becomes our best weapon against the field, we are doomed. Doomed. DOOMED! Okay, to be fair, he is fine, but he's definitely not the answer. I can see playing one Sai in the sideboard, kind of as an insurance against everything. That way, you do have an out if they use Surgical Extraction on your Scrap Trawler.
So, I started looking for other options. At first, I was looking at artifacts that do not have an activated ability. An artifact would be supreme, since we can fetch it with Inventor's Fair and Ancient Stirrings, then get it back with Buried Ruin, Scrap Trawler, and Myr Retriever. They can either win the game, like Wurmcoil Engine does, generate decent card advantage, or deal with our problems.
Those conditions are very specific, and the cards won't always be easy to find. We cannot just run Meteor Golem to kill something like Stony Silence. (Although a recent 5-0 Magic Online League decklist featured the mighty Spine of Ish Sah - not kidding.) Ideally, artifacts should cost up to four mana only, but as you might already expect, artifacts that do powerful things are not cheap.
I did find something interesting, however: Culling Scales. It is not a convenient card, but it can deal with all the annoying two mana cards that are making our lives so hard, well… at least in theory. It also kills the permanents during our upkeep, so we are guaranteed to get at least two turns of permanent-free board states – one turn where it gets destroyed and one turn where it destroys itself. It also kills off Ichor Wellspring when needed. Culling Scales is still in the testing phase. It currently seems to be just a bit too weak. It does kill your other things but it is probably too slow against creature decks. Maybe it can work in combination with another card, but I am still searching for this card.
I could not find anything else that was interesting aside from the possibility of Culling Scales. However, KCI being an artifact-based deck has the downside of well… being an artifact-based deck. People already play Abrade, Wear // Tear, and Ancient Grudge to deal with our deck, so bringing in another artifact is somewhat sketchy.
If our opponents are going to attack our artifacts and our graveyard, we need to find something that is not an artifact and does not use the graveyard. Duh. But it's the same problem as before: It is not easy to find something both powerful and cheap. However, having access to all the mana in the world gives us some options.
An obvious choice would be The Antiquities War. It gets you some artifacts then kills your opponent. I don't hate this idea, although it seems very clunky. There's also Stony Silence, but the problem with Stony Silence is that it also shuts down a lot of your mana sources from Mox Opal, Mind Stone, and Darksteel Citadel. This makes casting four-mana cards pretty difficult, since our land count is adjusted to all the cycling from Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere, and Terrarion. Getting to four mana can be rough and by that time, our opponents will already have some counterspells or other ways to deal with The Antiquities War on the battlefield. Even if you get to your big turn, they might just tap all your artifacts with Cryptic Command, and we are back at square one.
There is another four-mana card, however, that isn't an artifact but needs a lot of artifacts: Karn, Scion of Urza. This may sound much better in theory, because although he makes big creatures and lets you draw cards, he is unfortunately not the best at surviving Vendilion Clique or Celestial Colonnade. Karn is not such a bad idea and you can certainly catch your opponents off-guard, but the strategy around him still comes just a bit too short.
After that, I tried something spicy: Goblin Assault. I know, I know. Hear me out. Nobody will ever have mass removal spells against us. They are likely instead to keep spot removals because everybody is expecting Sai. And since we do play Spire of Industry and Glimmervoid, people can very well assume that we plan on bringing in some blue cards – which we indeed are, but just not Sai. So, given that they can’t deal with a lot of creatures and can’t really deal with enchantments, a hasty goblin during each turn can add up quickly. They'll just slowly flood the battlefield, while our opponent still has to worry about our combo. Then all we have to do is defend with Negate and Guttural Response. Unfortunately, despite this play being somewhat successful, I just don’t think it is worth it. This would be solely against UW and Jeskai. It's not strong enough and too narrow. It was good at making opponents not play their planeswalkers, however, which is nice.
Finally, I went for the ultimate weapon against control decks: Thrun, the Last Troll. He did his job splendidly. Opponents can’t deal with him in any reasonable way and he hits hard. If I want to specifically target UW and Jeskai, I would bring in a few Thruns, but Modern is so diverse, it might not be worth the sideboard slots. Remember, playing one Wurmcoil Engine is great because it is an artifact and we can tutor and recur it in many ways, but Thrun (as well as Sai) needs to be naturally drawn and that might not be reliable enough.
Well, that concludes my little journey. So far, we are not much closer to the Holy Grail. However, I am not ready to give up just yet. KCI is still a very good deck. It just lost a lot of its power to people who know how the deck works and how to prepare for it. If you have any ideas on how we can be one step ahead of our competition, please let me know in the comments. And if you've made it this far, you know that I am open for even the silliest stuff. I mean, what could be sillier than trying Goblin Assault?
Until then, thanks for reading.
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