I did a video set with KCI about a year ago, way back before the delve mechanic chewed up Modern and spat it out again.
At the time, I thought KCI (standing for Krark-Clan Ironworks) was viable but not broken, and dropped it to chase the next hot thing like a dog chases a squirrel. Recently, I started remembering all of the different variations I wanted to test. I had never gotten a chance to try out Ancient Stirrings, and I’d wanted to see if a Through the Breach sideboard plan could solve some problems for the deck.
Here’s my current list:
Deck difficulty: 3/5
In the land of KCI, this is one of the more forgiving versions, featuring a fail-safe to blow up the world and an “oops, I win” draw that requires very few Open the Vaults looping (sometimes none at all).
Tight play matters, but most of it is fairly standard plan-out-the-next-turn-or-two-type stuff where you think about your land drops and choose what card to discard with Thirst for Knowledge. One of the only non-intuitive bits of sequencing you have to do with the deck is to keep in mind the difference between Chromatic Sphere and Chromatic Star. If the opponent might play a removal spell (say Abrupt Decay), then passing the turn with Star might make more sense. On the other hand, if you know that you need to filter for colored mana then it might be better to hold the Star since that’s the better one to sacrifice to Krark-Clan Ironworks.
I haven’t tested Through the Breach yet, which is interesting because it wins through Stony Silence. I have put Ancient Stirrings through its paces, however, and the card is performing really well—it even lets you build the deck a little differently. You see your important colorless cards more often, which is sweet because “important colorless cards” describes the bulk of the deck.
I worried that it might be awkward mid-KCI combo, but there are some explosive hits, and Chromatic Star is even a mana-neutral cantrip (mana positive when you draw it naturally). Other times you have an excess of colorless mana, and finding Ichor Wellspring or even Emrakul is appropriate. The only time that Stirrings is awkward is when you’re short on colored mana.
I knew that Stirrings would help Tron lands fall into place more often, but I underestimated how much more. Before, it happened a reasonable amount, and I treated it like a freeroll. Now, it happens often enough that the alternate win condition-type cards can be legitimately beefy in and of their own right.
Which brings us to Ugin and Wurmcoil Engine. The original Magic Online list ran 2 Tezzeret as both an alternate win condition and as a tutor for Krark-Clan Ironworks. With Stirrings, we’re finding Ironworks more consistently than ever, and we can afford to play alternate win conditions that have a bit more impact on the board and have a higher chance to steal losing games.
I started with Thopter Foundry as my alternate win con of choice, with the idea being that if you don’t have a KCI in play you can use it to crack Ichor Wellsprings and dig deeper into the deck, and it matches up well against a few of the more commonly played threats in Modern (Vendilion Clique comes to mind). Unfortunately, I lost with it in my hand a few too many times. While Foundry has some utility and works well with Open the Vaults, it’s also color-intensive and can’t be found with Stirrings.
I had the opposite experience with Ugin, which fits well as a bridge between early-game-setup mana and Emrakul. You can consistently cast it by turn 4 off of either Tron or KCI (no Open the Vaults required), and a resolved Ugin is concession-worthy in most matchups.
That said, Ugin isn’t really a backup win condition. To be fair, I don’t think the deck actually needs one, as Emrakul has yet to fail me. Even if the opponent can live through the first swing (say with a Deceiver Exarch), all you have to do is draw into the second Emrakul and keep taking extra turns.
I haven’t tested Wurmcoil Engine as much as I’d like, but it has some nice synergy with the rest of the deck and can stabilize losing board states, which is what I look for in a flex slot. With Wurmcoil Engine + KCI, it doesn’t take many Open the Vaults to build up a relatively unbeatable Wurm army. It has shown up in various sideboards before, but I think it’s powerful enough to merit a maindeck slot.
Why Play this Version Over Faith’s Reward KCI?
In general, it’s helpful to think of this deck as a ramp shell for Emrakul, and it plays out closer to the old Cloudpost decks than to regular Tron or more combo-focused KCI. That said, comparisons to those two decks make up the bulk of questions that I got about it while streaming, and it makes sense to answer them here.
Here, if Open the Vaults gets Remanded, there’s a decent chance you can untap next turn and win. With Open the Vaults, you don’t care when the cards hit the bin, which lets you cycle baubles more liberally to piece things together.
The Urzatron allows you to simply pay for Mana Leak or recast a Remanded KCI, and Emrakul is particularly well-suited against counters. In fact, Emrakul can sometimes win games against the slower blue decks where it’s the only real card that resolves. Eventually, you’ll cantrip into Tron and hit 15 mana, which is some pretty great inevitability that other forms of KCI simply don’t have.
The other huge benefit of Emrakul over other win conditions is that it “only” costs 15 mana. You don’t need to draw your deck, you don’t need to demonstrate a loop, and you don’t need however much mana it takes to win with a Fireball effect. This means that your odds of fizzling are way lower than with a typical Eggs deck.
Normal KCI can’t beat a resolved Rest in Peace without a removal spell for it, not to mention Eidolon of Rhetoric. While we don’t want to see those cards either, the simple curve of KCI into Ugin can beat most hate cards.
Basing your engine around Open the Vaults instead of Faith’s Reward gives you a lot of natural resiliency, too. Destroy effects like Shatterstorm or Ancient Grudge are more relevant against the Faith’s Reward deck because they need to get their things back that turn, while Open the Vaults is more flexible about when you cast it.
Why Play KCI Over Tron?
This deck is great at hard casting Emrakul by turn 4. Sometimes it takes until turn 5, and every now and then you can sneak a turn 3 off the back of Mox Opal and/or Mind Stone. Because of that, your matchups are way less polarizing than Tron’s, and you can actually race faster decks like Zoo, Twin, and Affinity, all of which give Tron fits.
Tron depends on its namesake land triumvirate to be competitive. This deck takes advantage of the Urzatron, but doesn’t rely on it, and some builds have even sideboarded Blood Moon (similar to how Affinity will board it despite using manlands).
What this means is that a lot of people will over-board against the Urzatron package and slow themselves down.
Note that Darksteel Citadel is still an artifact even with Blood Moon in play.
I’m not going to go too far into this since a lot of your hands look similar, but basically you want something that can produce 2 mana to start cantripping by turn 2. There are a few keepable 1-landers that involve Ancient Stirrings and/or Mox Opal. The new mulligan scry rule helped this deck out considerably, and there are even more 1-landers that you can keep on 6, especially on the draw.
Something that helps is to plan out the first several turns. If the hand does nothing, send it back.
The other day, I kept the following on the draw against Affinity:
I would never keep that hand in the dark, but I knew that on the draw against Affinity I might need to go off on turn 3. The hand has some real risk in that it might not do anything, but if you expect your opponent to kill you before you get a turn 4 then a riskier hand with the tools to win on turn 3 (Mind Stone, Mox Opal) looks a lot more attractive.
When it comes to sideboarding, I try to restrict it to bringing in 2-3 cards, 5 maximum, as any more than that can make it difficult to combo. This explains the fragmented nature of the sideboard.
Matchups-wise, you’re targeting the slower and more fair decks in Modern. So far, I’ve had the easiest time against Jund, Blue Moon, and Elves. You win around the same turn as Elves, but have all these matchup breakers like Ugin and Pyroclasm.
The worst matchups are the ones where the opponent casts relevant disruption while applying pressure. GW Hate Bears has a lot of strong cards like Thalia, Ghost Quarter, and Qasali Pridemage. Post-board, they always have specific hosers like Stony Silence or Rest in Peace, and overall the matchup is a nightmare.
If you have questions about card choices or how to sideboard for a certain matchup, feel free to ask in the comments.