I was fortunate to be able to sit down with Brian recently to talk about his recent victory. He wrote a nice tournament report, which you can find here (pops).
Here's his list:
Kiki Pod, by Brian Liu
If you're wondering how this deck works and you've got an Insider subscription, you can check out Paul Nemeth's video guide and sample matches here.
In general, what are your good matches and what do you really not like to sit down against?
Good matches are UWR Control, Hatebears, Merfolk – any type of “bear” deck. The most scary matchup is definitely Scapeshift or Tron. Anything that runs Anger of the Gods is scary.
Now you mentioned that UWR Control is one of your good matchups, but that’s a deck that’s running Anger of the Gods.
I did build the deck with Anger of the Gods in mind and a lot of the cards are Lightning Bolt-proof – like Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence. Restoration Angel is bolt-proof. So a lot of the creatures are good against their removal suite.
You mentioned that Soul Sisters was a good match. On paper, that looks like a tough match because their Soul Wardens can really stop the infinite combo.
Well I’ll talk about Hate Bears as well here. In theory, it’s a very bad matchup but I have a very high win percentage against them because these decks can’t really mount an offensive against you.
For example, against Aven Mindcensor or Leonin Arbiter, one Restoration Angel can really blank their offensive.
For Soul Sisters, they really have to have quite a few Sisters out to stop the combo. Restoration Angel has 3 power so one Sister can’t help them. They only gain two life off of an Angel loop.
And their deck, they don’t really have a lot of removal, either. They can’t really interact with what you’re doing so that allows you to combo off pretty safely.
So against them, it’s basically if they have Path to Exile or nothing, right?
I remember a few months ago when Ari Lax did well with this deck, he said that he thought the deck was very weak to Tarmogoyf - that’s why he ran some on the board to bring them in. When I was playing the deck, I found that an early Goyf with a little bit of disruption felt like a real threat against that deck. Did you have any fear of that card?
Goyf is the main problem card from Jund decks. Most other Kiki Pod decks I’ve found run only one Scavenging Ooze. The reason I ran two is because it can grow past Anger of the Gods and it beats Tarmogoyf.
I had not considered that – that’s a really good angle to attack Tarmogoyf with.
It’s also not bad against Splinter Twin because it shuts down their Goyfs and also Snapcaster Mage. Getting an early threat against Twin is also good. The Twin match is all about tempo, so having a creature come down early on and start attacking is pretty important.
I asked the QS Twitter followers what I should ask you and someone wanted to know why you chose to play Kiki Pod over Melira Pod, which has also been putting up good results lately.
A lot of Modern depends on your experience with the deck. I considered Melira before the GP but I’d played Kiki Pod for well over two years. Me knowing Kiki Pod would get me more wins.
In the Mana Deprived article, I did outline some advantages over Melira. It has a much stronger beatdown plan due to the Restoration Angels – we play the same number of beatdown creatures, but we have four Angels. And the combo is much stronger – it kills faster. The tradeoff is the weaker manabase, of course having four colors.
Suppose you’re playing against Melira Pod, one of the strongest cards you have against each other is Linvala, Keeper of Silence. The Melira deck postboard might have a Shriekmaw to get out, but you don’t run anything maindeck aside from maybe Zealous Conscripts to beat Melira. How does your game change against a resolved Melira?
I played LSV in the semifinals and he got one out in the first game. My only real way to beat it is to beat down around it or steal it with Zealous Conscripts. I can steal it and sacrifice it if I have my own Linvala due to the Legend rule. So I actually did do that in the semi-finals. That is essentially the only way. Against Melira Pod game one, you can race turn 4 combo kill. They have nearly zero disruption. That’s your plan game one.
You’d mentioned that Melira doesn’t seem to combo out any more – at Valencia, the top 8 players didn’t actually combo off at all. I was watching you play and it looked like frequently, you were comboing off. How often do you combo off?
It’s actually pretty high that I combo off. I usually try and advance both game plans, but against unfair decks – your main path to victory is comboing them off.
I’d say it’s pretty high.
That makes sense because you said you advance both plans and both those involve Restoration Angel – Melira has these awkward creatures for beating down.
Yeah! They have all those bad combo creatures. You’ve got Angels. Many times during matches, my opponents were thinking more about my plays than their plays. At any time, I can Chord for any creature in my deck and they have to respect that.
I heard that Kiki punishes opponents who tap out.
Certainly, they have to respect it.
I love that you’re running four Restoration Angels, I love that card – it’s like a white Cryptic Command. You’ve moved up to the full set when a lot of Kiki decks dropped down to a pair.
I think it’s essentially the best creature in the deck. It beats down, it buys time, it combos. It does all the roles in the deck. Resetting Kitchen Finks or Eternal Witness is great – it does all that.
One of the things it does is that you can play it out on turn 3 with a Wall of Roots and reset it.
You run three Wall of Roots – that’s two more than most lists are running. Is that because you feared Zoo or just to make Chords better?
Well I thought Zoo was going to show up so I did cut one Hierarch for a Wall. Going ahead, I’d consider running the fourth Hierarch. However, Wall of Roots does blank a lot of decks sideboard plans and it does make Chord so much better [note: you can both put a counter on it and tap Wall for Chord, getting two mana effectively from it for Convoke]
You also run this beautiful, dreamer’s manabase. Why can the deck get away with taking 4-6 damage off its own lands in a game?
This deck does do a lot of damage to itself so I’d advise people to really pay attention when they play this deck. The manabase is one of the harder things. You are playing four colors. The reason why you’re playing four color is the amount of power you gain from the fourth color. Against many of the unfair decks, Glen Elendra Archmage is game. Scapeshift can’t beat it. The tradeoff for a weaker manabase is a much more powerful deck. Which is why I think this deck is much more powerful than Melira Pod.
Did you find those Fire-Lit Thickets helped?
For people who are unfamiliar with Modern, they’re gonna look at those Grove of the Burnwillows and say “why is he giving his opponent life when he wants to attack?”
Grove is one of the best cards in this deck. The deck already deals a lot of damage to itself and you want a land you can play a Birds off of. The one life point for the opponent doesn’t matter as much. You are already going to lose a lot of life to Birthing Pod.
Why would you run Grove over Copperline Gorge?
I did think about running Razorverge Thicket over Arid Mesa or Misty Rainforest, but hitting land drops and having them come in untapped is very important. This deck uses a lot of mana, whether it’s activating Birthing Pod, Chording or using Gavony Township.
Wall of Roots is kind of like a Black Lotus because you can use it three times in a turn cycle with the Convoke.
I have seen games where the Kiki Pod player will play fetchland on their first turn, then an Eternal Witness to get that land back the next turn, then Restoration Angel blinking the Witness to get the land back again. It seems like a very mana hungry deck!
Yes, when they’re doing that, it’s because they have Chord in hand and really want to get to 8 for that Chord for Kiki.
I see in that manabase, you’ve got a Forest and Plains, which you can fetch, but you didn’t run into Blood Moon, did you?
I did run into Blood Moon but I don’t think it’s as good any more. Against my deck, I’ve got a lot of non land mana sources. About two years ago, I actually ran Magus of the Moon in my deck because of how good it is against Scapeshift and Tron.
You are playing a mostly G/W deck but you’ve got some blue mana symbols and a card with triple-red!
Now I notice that you do dip into blue, but you dip into it a lot less than many of the Kiki pod lists going around. You don’t run a second Exarch, you don’t have Phantasmal Image or Izzet Staticaster. A lot of people like that Exarch and Image because they allow you to kill out of nowhere. Why did you cut those?
Well those are essentially combo pieces- they’re only good when you have Birthing Pod. They let you combo if you have just a one drop or a two drop. But that chain, that’s usually 8 damage and 4 mana and sacrificing your whole board. That’s a very risky play. I wanted overall more creatures. I added another Ooze, another Voice of Resurgence. They’re easier on your manabase and more solid in all matches.
Staticaster isn’t good right now. You kill Dark Confidant and after that, it’s just sitting there.
You had mentioned you like Voice of Resurgence. It’s really reinvigorated Pod. Melira was running four at one point. You’ve got two. What’s your opinion on Voice?
It really helps your UWR and Twin matchup. It makes all the blue cards very bad. Remand is a very good card against this deck and Voice helps you beat that. It is also good against Lightning Bolt – I think that’s the defining card of the format. I want to make all my creatures beat Bolt. It’s also good for beatdown.
One thing the commentators brought up was that if you just have Chord of Calling, you can combo off over a number of turns. Can you explain that?
If you have 6 permanents, you can Chord for Eternal Witness to get back Chord. Then you Chord up Restoration Angel, blinking Witness for Chord again. Then you Chord up Kiki Jiki. This is a play that many players think is too slow, but it’s a very common thing you do with Chord. If you’re not Chording for a specific hate card or a Kiki, you’re usually Chording for Witness, just advancing your board without spending a card.
I had seen you do that in several matches – the board would be stalled and you’d have Chord for Witness and the game would just about be over at that point.
What does your opponent do about that? If they attack, you can Chord up a Restoration Angel and blank their attack. Then what can they do? They spend a Bolt but you’re up a card. So it’s frustrating to play against.
Do you ever sideboard out Witness?
I never side it out. It’s a very good card. It can return all your hate cards. I have often returned Path or Fiery Justice multiple times and just wiped my opponent’s creatures. Another use is when you’re activating Pod, you can turn a 2 into a 3. Usually, you go for Kitchen Finks. If you think your opponent has Path, though, you can return that 2-drop and no matter what, you have a creature for your Pod.
And those are the matches, where if you had a Pod active, you’re going to beat them.
You said you were playing Pod for awhile and what you said about returning that piece of hate for a second time, that really seems to me like something you figure out after playing for awhile.
You have these moments where you say “oh my God, this is a really good interaction!” Against my Scapeshift opponent in Rd. 15, I Podded into Avalanche Riders. On my upkeep, I tried to Restoration Angel it but he had an answer for it. To lock up the game, though, I Podded into Witness and got Riders into play again and it was over then.
Looking at the sideboard, you have a couple of silver bullets, the Avalanche Riders and a few others like Kataki and Ethersworn Canonist. I see you’ve got Thragtusk there –that makes me think of Standard past when people would use Restoration Angel on that. Tell me about your experience with it!
A lot of people played Obstinate Baloth, but I thought now that Jund is worse and Zoo is better, I thought Tragtusk is much more effective. It allows me no matter what to block. And it usually ends the game against any creature-based fair deck. It’s even good against Jund and UWR because they can’t really take it out.
Thrun has been getting a lot of attention lately. Did Thrun work out for you against the control decks?
It most certainly did. It comes in against Zoo because they lack a way to deal with it. UWR can’t really deal with it.
How do you sideboard with this deck?
You actually sideboard quite a few cards. I bring in seven cards on average. Modern has a lot of linear decks, so you can make your deck the beatdown plan or the combo plan. You can then just take out the other half. A lot of the sideboard is powerful, so you can bring in a lot.
Against Twin, I’d bring in Combust and Path. I don’t think I’d bring in Thrun or Negate. Maybe three Path and two Combust. You’re already beating down enough that you don’t need Thrun. It comes down too late anyway. You want to disrupt them from playing turn 3 Pestermite into Splinter Twin. With Negate, if it’s more combo-centric I bring Negate in.
You’d also mentioned you go for Spellskite-Linvala or Canonist-Spellskite to lock down the board?
Against these decks that combo you, you just try to lock down the board. Ethersworn Canonist and Restoration Angel in hand – the opponent just can’t beat that. Game one, a Spellskite against Twin or a Linvala against Melira Pod is just game. With four copies of Birthing Pod and three Chords, it essentially gives you eight copies of any piece of hate.
What do you bring out typically?
Usually either one of the Persist creatures – they’re targeted to either creature decks or combo. Against removal-heavy decks, you take out one Kiki. Wall of Roots comes out against decks that don’t really attack you. I played against two Hate Bears opponents and both asked me if I took out Birthing Pods and I didn’t. It’s your best card, you never take that out, even if they have Mindcensor or Arbiter in their deck. You do trim Voices, there are a lot of specific silver bullets you take out.
You play one Fiery Justice on the sideboard and that is a years-long favorite card of mine –
What decks out there do you bring it in against?
Affinity, Pod, hatebears. I even bring it in against Jund because it can kill an Olivia or a Tarmogoyf.
Are there any decks where someone would think to bring it in against but shouldn’t?
Zoo. A lot of the creatures have three toughness so doing 5 damage doesn’t do a whole lot. In that matchup, a Path or another creature would be much better.
I see that Shatterstorm there – obviously it worked out for you but would you swap it out for something else?
During the grinders, I saw a lot of Affinity. I’d take the Shatterstorm out going forward. Your affinity hate is already pretty strong. As to what to replace it with? That really depends on the metagame locally.
Would you play this deck again?
What has to change in the metagame for this to be a bad deck to play?
Other than the banning of Birthing Pod… well. There’s already a lot of hate against Kiki Pod and it still can attack on two plans. It’s a powerful deck and it’s hard to really hate it. If you go the way Hate Bears does and bring in Mindcensors, you just get killed by Kitchen Finks and Restoration Angel!
One thing I’m very scared of is Phyrexian Obliterator. Jund usually puts it out and your beatdown plan is just stopped cold. They have enough disruption that you can’t really combo out.
Do you keep a hand with good acceleration but no combos?
I get mocked by my friends for keeping really sketchy keeps! This deck gives you a lot of hands where you’re not sure what to keep. Like a hand with one land and several Birds. It’s a hand most people mulligan but that’s still very much a keeper. A hand with a Gavony Township and a few Birds and four lands – you keep that. The reason is that the deck has all these high value cards, so you only have to draw two cards to win. One of the rules of thumb is if you don’t have a play on turn one or two, it’s definitely a mulligan.
And that’s because it would be too slow?
Yes, if you know you’re against a creature deck and you’ve got a Voice or Scavenging Ooze, you’re fine – you don’t need a Birds.
Spellskite is the exception, it blanks a lot of decks. I would say you can keep Spellskite in a hand without mana accelerants.
So you’d keep a hand that was just lands and accelerants?
You don’t have things like Nature’s Claim or Seal of Primordium on the board – why don’t you care about things like Torpor Orb?
If they’re bringing those in, they’re making their deck weaker. They are playing a Grafdigger’s Cage to hopefully shut off a card in your hand. I never blindly side in Ancient Grudge, though.
Are you bringing in Grudge against Melira Pod?
No, actually! A lot of people ask me that. If they don’t have Pod, it’s just a dead card in your hand.
You might bring in Path against them?
Three Path, two Combust and a Fiery Justice. The thing is, you have multiple ways to kill Pod with Pridemage – you’ve got Pods and Chords.
I really want to play this deck because it seems like it just crushes them game one.
Yeah, it’s definitely favored. They can’t stop your combo.
What are your least favorite decks to play against?
Scapeshift has Remand and Anger of the Gods, that really hurts. Tron can get a turn-3 Karn and that’s problematic. That’s one of the rare cases where you really want a Deceiver Exarch in hand so you can tap their Tron land. If they don’t have Karn, you can typically combo off on them. This is made to combo out on turn 4.
Against Tron, do you bring in Path for their Wurmcoil Engine?
I don’t worry about Wurmcoil Engine. Usually you’re comboing off against them. Restoration Angel is good because you can flash it in after you block so they don’t gain life. Usually you’re more scared of Karn and Oblivion Stone.
Is there anything you’d change maindeck or sideboard?
In the maindeck, no. In the sideboard, maybe take the Shatterstorm out for Sowing Salt.
Another last-minute change I made was Combust. You need something against Twin and sometimes Path isn’t enough. You feel really comfortable with Combust in hand.
Thank you for the interview, Brian! I wish you luck at the Pro Tour!
Thanks, I've already started preparing!
-Good luck to Brian Liu at PT: Journey into Nyx and thanks to Brian for taking the time to do the interview!