Hi everyone! I rarely talk about specific decks and gameplay in my articles, but today I'm going to make an exception for Kennadins. In my completely unbiased and neutral opinion, I think that Kennadins is definitely one of the strongest decks in the current format, but also one of the most ridiculously complex and difficult decks to play. One single mistake in your first few turns can easily cost you the whole game without you knowing. Moreover, there are often a lot of good lines with the deck, but only one truly best line and even after piloting this deck for the majority of this month to the top of Masters and finishing Top 4 in the ETS with it, I can say with certainty that I am misplaying a fair portion of my games (including throwing my final Top 4 game on stream).
This article will be split into the following sections:
- Deck History
- The Core of the Deck
- The Flexible Slots
- The Game Plan
- General Gamplay Advice
- Match-Up Discussions
- Closing Thoughts
1. DECK HISTORY
Kennadins was actually a deck long before Kenna and End of Hostilities was a thing. Isomorphic first came up with the concept in Set 3, shaking up the standard Stonescar Grenadins list by going Skycrag instead for better draw (Strategize, Wisdom of the Elders) and a more powerful top end (Molot and Nakova (M&N)). That deck (Dragoncrunch) never really caught on, but it got a whole bunch of new tools in Set 4.
End of Hostilities (EoH) and Kenna, Shaman of the Scales made for a ridiculous top end to replace the old top end of Gearcruncher and Molot and Nokova. More importantly though, Markets allowed the deck to effectively run 7 copies of Combustion Cell, a centerpiece of the deck. This boost in consistency is what really pushed the deck over the edge and into the tier of competitive viability. The deck has gone through many iterations, first modified for Set 4 by Isomorphic, then adapted to tournaments by BassoonBuffoon and finally popularized by LightsOutAce.
For the purposes of this article, I will be using my recent ETS Top 4 decklist as a reference.
2. THE CORE OF THE DECK
These cards make up what I consider to be the core of the deck. Without some really good reasons, I would not even begin considering changing up any of the cards here because I believe they are critical for the deck to function.
3 Main, 1 Market
This is the lynch-pin of the deck and almost always the first thing you get from your market (unless you already have a copy in hand). The ability to ramp for 2 power allowing you to power out Kenna and EoH while activating tribute is borderline broken! Because of how impactful Combustion Cell is, I center most of my mulligan decisions around it. It is definitely not an overestimation (and might even be an underestimation) to say that I mulligan 90% of my hands without Combustion Cell/Merchant in it, and I keep 90% of my hands with a Combustion Cell/Merchant and 2~4 power. The amount of explosive starts that Combustion Cell gives you is worth risking it with the mulligan system.
However, despite Combustion Cell being a critical component of the deck, this does not mean that the deck simply folds to relic hate. Firstly, most relic hate can be played around. Face Aegis from Cobalt Waystone is extremely troublesome for most relic hate to deal with, and you can always try to draw your second copy of Combustion Cell. Secondly, even if your opponent connects with relic hate, that also means that your opponent has spent significant power investment and often had to "waste" a Merchant that could have grabbed a finisher instead. The deck can still function without Cell since you can do cool tricks like attacking to sacrifice a Grenadin or Torch/Snowball your own Grenadin to activate tribute. It's definitely harder to win without Combustion Cell, but it is nowhere near as insurmountable as most people think.
Another critical mistake that I've often seen players make (and was also guilty of initially) is that players tend to use combustion cell way too liberally. Unlike the Stonescar variant, this deck has fewer Grenadins. Grenadins are also much more important, as you often want to sacrifice Grenadins to activate tribute even if you have enough power to cast the cards without activating cell. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make with this deck is to sacrifice a Grenadin simply to play Assembly Line or Spark Hatcher. In slower matchups, I would rarely activate Combustion Cell except to trigger Tribute for Kenna and EoH or to ramp out M&N. That being said, in faster matchups, you might need to activate Combustion Cell early to cast Wisdom or other draw spells to help guarantee the turn 5 EoH or Kenna.
4 Strategize, 4 Wisdom of the Elders
This is your main draw engine and very crucial for this deck to function. I would never touch any of these 8 cards.
4 Torch is a no-brainer in any Fire deck, but it becomes much more powerful in this deck because it double ups as a tribute enabler by targetting your own Grenadin.
4 Grenadin Drones, 4 Spark Hatchers, 4 Assembly Lines
The standard 12 pack of Grenadins available in Fire is another quintessential part of this deck and again, something that I would never touch. I know there are some lists recently that have taken to cutting Spark Hatchers for Tripwire Grenadin, but I believe that to be a bad choice. Tripwire Grenadin does something that you already have Snowballs, Torches and Unstable Forms for, whereas Spark Hatchers provide you something much more important; resilience to board wipes and also the ability to apply early pressure. In my opinion, Spark Hatchers is critical to this deck and would never cut them. There are only two matchups that I would really want Tripwire Grenadins (Praxis Tokens: to kill Initiates/Trail Makers pre-Obelisk and spark M&N, Hooru Flier: to pop Shelterwing Aegis), but even then, I would look at the flex spots for cuts rather than touch Spark Hatchers.
Assembly Line is also the worst token generator in this deck because it is too clunky to combo with at 3 cost, so I often run it out aggressively. Of course, it is worth holding it if you have a decent board and you suspect a Harsh Rule or Hailstorm. In contrast, it is often correct to hold a Grenadin Drone or Token in hand so as to ensure that you can enable tribute on your big finishers.
4 Kenna, 4 End of Hostilities
These cards are the main reasons to play this deck. They are insane tribute payoffs. Everyone was on the Kenna hype train since spoiler season; a 5/6 killer made it a perfect answer to Icaria. However, that is merely the cherry on top of the cake in this deck, because the main reason for running Kenna is her tribute ability. Being able to bring back EoH from the void allows you to keep making copies of the biggest unit on the board. Moreover, Kenna can sometimes simply close out games when she gets flying and +2/+2 for every spell you cast. I've had a game where my opponent was on 18 health with a full board and I was able to Torch face twice, snowball face and bash in with a 11/12 Kenna for lethal.
As powerful as Kenna is, she is actually not the most powerful card in this deck. The true star of this deck is End of Hostilities. This card is insane when tribute is enabled,and it allows you win almost all board states since you can make two copies of the best unit on the board. You can do all sorts of crazy shenanigans with it, including but not limited to:
- Creating an infinite loop by EoHing Kenna, and then getting back EoH and another spell from Kenna's tribute.
- Make two copies of Heart of the Vault, draw two cards and kill two units!
- Shoot down your opponent's Rizahn by EoHing it and using both summon abilities on it
- Make two copies of your opponent's GIANT icarias like below
Nice Icaria bro! I'll take two =D
3. THE FLEX SLOTS
These slots are much more negotiable and I would definitely be open to tweaking the numbers or cards in this section, especially if the meta shifts significantly. However, I do feel that the current configuration is optimal for the meta that I've encountered in both ETS and ladder.
4 Permafrost, 2 Jotun Hurler, 1 Unstable Form
4 Permafrost would probably have been sketchy before the Accelerated Evolution nerf, but now it is your best pseudo-removal. You even benefit because you can Permafrost your opponent's giant unit and EoH it in future! It is slightly weaker against Combrei Alessi because they are able to bounce to remove the Permafrost, or simply silence it off with Valkyrie Enforcer. However, it often still buys you enough time to stabilize and get to your combo. Making the opponent waste a bounce effect is also valuable, because it makes it more likely for your EoH to connect on future turns.
The next 3 cards serve a dual purpose. Firstly, having echo/fate effects allows us to get a slight card advantage which we can abuse with our Merchant and Strategize. Secondly, all 3 cards have the ability to pop aegis, something that can be relevant if you wish to copy the opponent's unit. The 2/1 split arose because I wanted an additional answer (Unstable Form) to turn 2 Teacher. While being hit with Disciplinary Weights is not the end of the world, it often turns the game into an uphill slog that I would much rather avoid. Unstable form also provides a unique answer to Alessi and Awakened Student since the average 2 or 3 drop is orders of magnitude worse. Snowballs, on the other hand, are extremely good at answering stuff like turn 1 Initiate of the Sands or triggering tribute/spark by snowballing your own Grenadin or opponent's face respectively.
1 Molot and Nokova
In my talks with Isomorphic about this deck, we've always agreed that we wanted a 9th finisher in one of the flex slots. We mostly been oscillating between Aeva, Eilyn's Elite and Gearcruncher, but we've never really been satisfied with either. I decided to try M&N main after SecondBlue suggested it to me, and I've been very impressed with it. The card definitely felt strong enough to justify it's slot. As illustrated above, is extremely powerful at breaking open a board stall. Moreover, being both a big boy and having Aegis also makes him a pain for Control orientated decks to deal with. Importantly, it also flies so it's also great for chumping the dreaded 20/20 Icaria topndeck. However, I wouldn't run more than 1 main because I still prefer both Kenna and EoH, and I feel that running more than 9 finishers is too greedy.
1 Skycrag Banner, 1 Molot and Nokova, 1 Flamestoker, 1 Kaleb's Choice
The market slots are somewhat up for discussion, and so I've decided to list them according to how important I feel they are. The Skycrag Banner and Molot and Nokova are two cards that I will NEVER remove from this market. This deck is both influence and power hungry, wanting to hit FFFFPPP. Thus, having the option to fetch the banner is huge and I definitely think the banner is easily my second most fetched card from my market. M&N has already been pretty much talked to death above, so similarily I would never cut it.
Flamestoker is another powerful card that helps in the slower matchups. It helps you to grind through control and pressure them before they are able to stabilize and turn the corner on you. HOWEVER, it is nowhere close to the silver bullet that most people think it is. In my opinion, the card is actually insanely slow at closing out games. I would almost always fetch Combustion Cell over it, or even M&N, against most control decks because pulling off your combos or just slamming M&N ends the game much faster than Flamestoker. In only very specific matchups and hands (power flooded, or missing triple Primal with Combustion Cell in hand) that I consider fetching Flamestoker instead.
Kaleb's Choice is another idea that both Isomorphic and SecondBlue suggested to me and I've liked a lot. This card is surprisingly flexible and shines in a variety of match-ups. It is surprisingly decent against tokens because you can remove Obelisk at fast speed or use it to counter a Rally. It also does well against Control because countering a Harsh Rule or a Channel the Tempest is often game-winning. Most importantly though, I think this card is the mirror breaker. Firstly, you can use it to destroy the opponent's Combustion Cell early on and just out-tempo them hard. Later on, you can play Kenna and bring it back so that you can hold it up to prevent your opponent from EoHing your Kenna.
NOTABLE EXCLUSION: GEARCRUNCHER
Gearcruncher, the last relic of the former Dragoncrunch deck, was often played as the 9th finisher or the 5th market slot. However, I feel like the card just doesn't give enough bang for its buck. Kennadins is already lower on Grenadin tokens than most previous Grenadin decks. Moreover, as most Stonescar Grenadins players would tell you, it's not the first Gearcruncher for (insert tiny number) Grenadins that kills you, its the following Gearcrunchers with a full board of Grenadins that kills you. As a further compounding factor, the main matchup where Gearcruncher shines is the Time decks, but I think that the Time matchup is already super favorable, so running Gearcrunchers does not help the deck at all.
NOTABLE EXCLUSION: KALEB, UNCROWNED PRINCE
Camat0 originally suggested this idea to me, especially since Kaleb made for a good sideboard/market card in standard Stonescar Grenadins. However, after trying it out for myself, I have been less than impressed by Kaleb. The two main issues with it is that firstly, you don't generate as many tokens as Stonescar Grenadins, so Kaleb is already much less impressive. Moreover, the base case of 1/1 units is pretty depressing to play weapons on and you really need to highroll your weapons before Kaleb is worth running over any of the other Market cards. Most importantly though, why do you need to play your own Kaleb when you can just copy your opponent's?
4. THE GAME PLAN
I think that one of the reasons that a lot of players struggle to play Kennadins well is because they mistakenly identify Kennadins as a Control deck, or a Combo deck that simply goes over the top of Control. Neither of those statements are true. Kennadins, while sometimes able to outgrind aggro and aggressive midrange decks, should not approach most games with the intention of draining your opponent of resources. The biggest, grindiest controls, such as Owl Ramp, 4F Mask, can also often go over the top of Kennadins.
In my opinion, Kennadins is a reactive combo deck that has a very specific and insane power spike. I use the word reactive, because I believe that your entire game play, not just game plan, should change based on what sort of deck you are playing against. Against faster decks, your objective is to try and survive until you hit your combo and simply go off and close the game in a few turns. In contrast, you have to be much more careful with your resources against control decks but also make sure to keep the pressure up and end the game before they can turn the corner. Moreover, because EoH is often used on enemy units and the value of Kenna fluctuates depending on the quality of targets it can kill, your win conditions and play style would also vary even against different decks of similar speed.
I will try and give some general gameplay advice, and follow up with specific advice for each of the popular decks, but honestly, I think that this barely scratches the surface, and a lot of the intricacies can only be picked up through playing the deck repeatedly and evaluating each turn carefully.
5. GENERAL GAMEPLAY ADVICE
1) Hard mull for cell or merchant
This is probably the most important piece of advice to doing well with this deck. As I've said above, and I want to stress: You should be redraw 90% of hands that don't have cell and keeping 90% of hands that have cell and functional power. There is always a risk in throwing back perfectly acceptable hands, but I think that the explosive starts that Combustion Cell offers is worth it. Moreover, with 4 Strategize, 4 Wisdoms and 4 Crests, you are often able to draw yourself out of most bad mulligans.
The main exception to this rule is if you are against a grindy control deck and you open with something like 3 power, 2 Wisdoms, 1 Strategize and 1 Kenna. Seeing 6 extra cards is almost as good as a mulligan in this case and so you would much rather have the extra draw in slower matchups. This obviously doesn't apply to most ladder matches, but is important in competitive play.
2) Loot as late as possible
This is another important aspect of playing this deck. While you want to hit your power peak as fast as possible, every card in your deck is valuable in the right situation and you really need to draw the right combination of cards for the deck to function. As such, I would often hold my loot-like effects (Strategize, Crests and Merchants) for as long as possible and ideally, after I have used my card draw effects. For example, on turn 3, I will almost always cast Wisdom over Merchant. Similarly, if I open with Wisdom and Strategize in my hand, I will almost always do something else on 2, or even pass turn 2 because it is just so costly if I bottom the wrong card. Merchants are also always the last loot effect that I would play from my hand. This is because you really want to draw your first Combustion Cell. However, drawing multiple Combustion Cells is not ideal and thus, you want to exhaust your draw effects to see if you could draw Combustion Cell naturally instead of having to use Merchant for it.
It is important to note the amount of qualifiers that I'm using in this section though, because none of this is a hard and fast rule. Sometimes you just have to cast Strategize on 2 for curve reasons, or you really want to go turn 3 Merchant, into turn 4 Cell+Grenadin and turn 5 Kenna/EoH. While this serves as a general principle to use to guide which spell to use first, it is important to evaluate the board state and plan out your following turns.
3) Have a BIG PICTURE plan
This is probably one of the hardest, but also the most important, aspect of playing Kennadins. Whenever you head into a matchup, you need to evaluate your position (Are you the beatdown? Or do you have the inevitability?) and your win-conditions (EoH on their biggest unit? Kenna looping EoH to outvalue them?). On top of that, you need to think about the other deck's win condition and how to stop that (Holding Kenna to kill Icaria; EoH on Heart of the Vault/Marisan's Disciple to match a Token's board; EoH on opposing units to prevent them from outsizing you).
You need to envision how the game would play out and sculpt your turns around it. For example, if you think that your opponent is trying to run you down, forget about holding cards for value, it's much more important to just get your combo out as fast as possible and stabilize. This also ties in to the end of the previous point where you need to be able to see what you are going to do for the next few turns and sequence your plays properly.
4) an eoh in the void is worth two in hand
One common misconception that players have is that you need to EoH for insane value every time in order for it to be worth it. That is actually very wrong. End of Hostilities is insane value when you cast it on a big unit, yes, but 50%, if not more, of Kenna's value arises from her ability to bring back EoH from her void. Moreover, using your first EoH liberally can often bait out fast speed removal or bounce effects before you hit your critical power spike, and so sets you up much better.
For example, let us look at the above game between me and BassoonBuffoon on stream. Unfortunately, BassoonBuffoon had some power issues, and this game was basically over even if I played badly. However, let's just think over the plays available to us here:
- I could sacrifice a Grenadin token and summon Kenna
- I could sacrifice a Grenadin token and play EoH on my own Merchant
- I could sacrifice a Grenadin token, snowball to pop his Merchant's Aegis and EoH on his Merchant
- I could just play Assembly Line and pass.
Now, all of these options sound appealing, but lets examine each of them in turn. Firstly, BassoonBuffoon has shown quite a few pauses at 2 power, including a long pause on turn 3 when I swung in with Spark Hatcher. This made me strongly suspect that he had an Annihilate in hand. As such, this made Option 1 much less appealing. Moreover, I had no powerful spells in the void, so Kenna's Tribute ability would be wasted. If I had played Kenna and gotten it annihilated, BassoonBuffoon could easily scream something for a bunch of damage and I would be stuck with a weak board and no good EoH targets still. Worse still, if he has a second Annihilate, he can blow out the subsequent EoH and my hand would basically be out of gas.
Option 2 was what I decided to go with, because I suspected the Annihilate. By casting EoH on my merchant, I create a very scary dilemma for BassoonBuffoon. If he were to let it resolve, I will definitely pick up M&N from my market and basically seal up the game on the following turn with an A+space into M&N's Spark Trigger. In contrast, Annihilating it also feels bad because he has already wasted 1 removal spell on the Merchant, and now he has to invest his best removal spell against a useless Merchant. Moreover, after burning the Annihilate, this sets me up for the next turn Kenna and bringing back EoH play. As such, even if BassoonBuffoon had a second Annihilate and answers my Kenna, I would still be able to continue pumping out gas because I've gotten the EoH back into my hand.
Option 3 was another interesting line that I think most players would've missed and contemplating this option was the main reason why I took so long for that turn. It seems like a clearly superior line, since Jennev Merchant could also fetch M&N from my board, and BassoonBuffoon would have to annihilate his own Merchant to deny my access. However, the main argument against that line is that if BassoonBuffoon allowed the EoH to resolve, I had to pitch a card to the Market for M&N, and using up the snowball meant I would have to pitch the Assembly Line, which while less exciting than both Kenna and Permafrost, is still a fine card in this matchup. It is not entirely improbable that I might need the Assembly Line in future, and that was my main argument against this line. Moreover, him killing his own Merchant is of little benefit to me since I would be targetting it with Kenna's Killer effect anyway.
Option 4 is definitely the safest option, but given that BassoonBuffoon has been stuck on 3 power, I was pretty sure his entire hand was gas, and putting the least amount of pressure on board is not a good idea against a Scream Beserk deck that can easily go from 0 to 100 in a turn.
Regardless, the main point is that getting a EoH in the void makes your future turns a lot more powerful and as such, it is often correct to cast your first EoH liberally, especially so if you have Kenna in hand.
5) EOH on Merchant is often great
This point ties into the previous example and also the previous point. The one sad thing about Kennadins is that it is only running 4 merchants when all 5 of your Market slots are powerful and high impact cards. As such, it is often great to make copies of Merchants so that you get to dip into your Market again. Moreover, with 3 Skycrag cards in your market, you don't even have to copy an Ixutun Merchant, a Jennev Merchant would do too!
I was up against JPS removal pile in the above picture, and being able to pitch two irrelevant cards (Jotun Hurler and 3rd Assembly Line) for a Kaleb's Choice and M&N was insane value and definitely a key contributing factor to my eventual victory.
6) Activated waystones are amazing
As I have previously emphasized, this deck is running a pretty low amount of Grenadins for how critical and hungry the deck is for Grenadins. Grenadins are great early because they help to chump block, but they also ramp you up so that you can hit your power spikes earlier. Moving into the late game, they are cheap sacrifice fodder that you need to activate Tribute, so even after hitting 8+ power, you still need Grenadins. Grenadins are an extremely valuable resource in this deck and as such getting extra free Grenadins from your Waystone is huge.
In grindy matchups where your opponent would be looking for relic hate, Cobalt Waystone also does wonders. While those decks would also run ways to pop face aegis (Equivocate, Torch, Sabotage, etc), it still represents additional resources invested by the opponent while you get the Face Aegis at no cost. This might seem like a very minor card advantage, but I've had games against control where it simply boiled down to the fact that they ran out of resources to stop my combos because they had to use an equivocate earlier on to pop my Face Aegis and Vision my Flamestoker.
7) Hold 1-COST grenadins in the late game
Another important thing to be aware of is that unlike typical Stonescar Grenadins, Kennadins is much more susceptible to a board wipe. Between the lack of Gearcruncher to refill your board and needing to activate Tribute for your big finishers, it is often important to ensure that you have enough Grenadins to fuel your Tribute. Upon hitting 5+ power, I tend to hold at least 1, if not 2, 1-cost Grenadins (either Grenadin Drone or Grenadin token from Granite Waystone) in my hand. As such, I can always play a 1-cost Grenadin on the turn itself, sacrifice it and then play either EoH or Kenna. Of course, this means that I only get a ramp effect for 1 (since the token costs 1 to summon), and sometimes, it might be worth the risk of running out the token 1 turn prior if you know that you need to ramp for 2 on your following turn.
8) Choose the correct grenadin to sacrifice
Imagine you go turn 1 Grenadin Drone, turn 2 Spark Hatcher, turn 3 Combustion Cell. Now, you want to activate Combustion Cell on 4 for EoH, so which Grenadin do you sacrifice? Or a more general question, which Grenadin is most important to keep alive and which Grenadin is most dispensable?
This is kind of a trick question, because there isn't really a correct answer. The correct Grenadin to sacrifice depends on what you are up against. Against decks with board wipes (Harsh Rule, Hailstorm), Spark Hatcher is your best friend and I will sacrifice all other Grenadin drones before it. This allows you to play around board wipes since Spark Hatcher leaves behind a sweet 1/1 Grenadin when it dies. In contrast, I would sacrifice Spark Hatcher as soon as possible against decks with silence (Valkyrie Enforcer, Purify) since silence effectively removes a token from my arsenal. In all cases though, I will always sacrifice the 1/1 Grenadin Token over the 1/1 Grenadin Drone. This is because having a Grenadin Drone on board and a Combustion Cell allows you to turn your EoH into effectively a 4 cost Assembly Line (you get 4 tokens, but you had to sacrifice 1 for Tribute). Again, this might seem like a minor factor, but I want to stress that Kennadins is a deck that has so much play and often rewards all these small optimizations in the long run.
Tagging onto this point, I also want to stress that it is often fine to take a bunch of face damage in the early game against most decks. Since you only have a finite number of Grenadins and they have to both chump the bigger units and enable Tribute later, its not worth chumping in the early game simply to avoid 4 or 5 damage. Against most decks with removal, it is also important to keep multiple Grenadins alive if you desperately need it to activate Combustion Cell the next turn. For example, if you were at 4 power against Praxis Midrange and you have 2 Grenadin tokens on board, it is generally a bad idea to chump block with 1 Grenadin since they can easily torch your other Grenadin post combat and now you are stranded with EoH in hand and no way to ramp it.
9) avoid Casting EoH/Kenna into open power
This seems like a very obvious point, but still an important point nonetheless. Also, it is often unavoidable that you have to cast your finishers into open power, but you should try your best to minimize the amount you get blown out by. Firstly, you can attack or cast a spell to gain more information about the presence or absence of fast spells. Secondly, you should think about what are the possible fast spells and how does each line play out if your opponent has or doesn't have a fast spell. For example, it is often beneficial to target your opponent's units with EoH if you suspect that they have an Equivocate or bounce effect. In that case, even if you get "blown out" by Equivocate, it isn't a huge loss, since you are simply trading EoH for Equivocate, and your opponent suffers a tempo loss since they had to return a unit to hand (and probably even downgrades it). There are also times when you should just sit back and do nothing if your opponent is just holding up their power every turn, especially if you feel that you have the inevitability.
10) Don't simply take EoH using Kenna's tribute
The biggest danger with playing Kennadins is having too much fun. The second biggest danger with playing Kennadins is going onto auto-pilot mode. EoH is definitely the strongest card in the deck, but that does not simply mean that you should always take it over everything else. For example, if you are stuck on FFPPP influence with M&N in hand, taking a Seek Power back with Kenna to ensure that you can reliably cast M&N might be the correct move, especially if you suspect that Kenna is going to get removed. There are also times where you would want to get back Torch simply because you need the fast spell to ensure that you win the Killer combat. Lastly, keep your eye out for any surprise lethal opportunities, since if you have an active Kenna, that turns every Torch into +5 burn damage, so there will be times where you can simply go Torch opponent's face; cast EoH on Kenna; get back 2 Torch and Torch opponent's face twice; and swing in with a gigantic Kenna for a surprise 22 burst damage.
11) Kenna doesn't have to killer immediately
Sometimes, you would want to play Kenna simply for value because her tribute text is amazing. Other times, you play Kenna onto a board with exactly 7 power and find her staring down a Sandstorm Titan. In those cases, it's important to remember that you dont have to use the Killer effect immediately. You could cast Kenna this turn, cast Wisdom/EoH on the following turn and THEN killer a Worldbearer Behemoth or Sandstorm Titan. Of course, this does leave some window for your opponent to counterplay, so if you have the power to do the entire sequence on the following turn, it might be a better idea to sit back and just do nothing if you aren't under heavy pressure.
12) Cell-less games are not win-less games
Another misconception that players have is that Kennadins is a deck that cannot function without cell. That is very wrong. Firstly, as I've pointed out before, if your opponent spent their merchant fishing for relic hate, and even more-so if they spend extra resources going through Face Aegis, then it's perfectly fine to lose your Combustion Cell since your opponent has also expended significant resources.
Not drawing cell naturally though, would be slightly rougher since that does put you on the backfoot on a lot of matchups. However, not all is lost! There are also a variety of ways that you can trigger tribute without Combustion Cell. Firstly, A+space with a wide board multiple times is often a great way to put pressure on the opponent and sooner or later, your opponent will need to block to alleviate the pressure. The brilliant thing about Grenadins is that they are all 1 health units, so they basically die to a stiff breeze and activate tribute for you. Secondly, Casting Snowball/Torch on your own unit is also a pretty decent line, especially in slower matchups. Lastly, even without Tribute, Kennadins is still a functional deck. You can run over people by going wide with Grenadins, you can simply eat Icaria with an untributed Kenna, you can still make one copy of your opponent's best unit and then remove their unit with Permafrost or Unstable form. In my opinion, it is pretty similar to Icaria decks never drawing Icaria, or Feln never drawing Champion of Cunning. The games get much harder, but they are nowhere near unwinnable.
In fact, I think that cell-less games are some of the most interesting Kennadin games that I've played. The lack of Combustion Cell really forces you to think outside the box and find very unconventional lines. Moreover, you can abuse your opponent's reluctance to give you tribute to sneak in free damage. A great example would be my game 3 against SooNo in the ETS. This is probably one of the games that I was actually satisfied with all my lines except one of the final turns where I play Merchant BEFORE Wisdom *facepalm*.
For example, on Turn 6, I made sure to play my power first to alert SooNo to the fact that if he blocks this Spark Hatcher, I would be able to tribute EoH. While I'm happy to EoH the Enforcer here, I would definitely much prefer to just Wisdom and Assembly Line because I really want to draw into Combustion Cell or simply more power. Regardless, this attack is good because it often just nets me 2 damage most of the time. I sneak another 4 damage the following turn with the same attacks, and I definitely think this 6 bonus damage helped pressure SooNo into blocking more proactively in future turns.
13) Think through each and every line, no matter how non-intuitive it seems
Kennadins has some of the most unconventional lines among all the decks that I've played so far, and it is definitely one of the hardest. In part, this is why I went in depth with so many of the general gameplay guidelines, but even then, I wanted to end off with a note that Kennadins often has a lot of lines, and a fair chunk of them are good lines, but it really takes a lot of thought to identify the truly optimal line. As such, it is very important to take your time to think through each play and plan out the possible outcomes. Moreover, you also need to think about your future turns and how you can best set up for your inevitable victory.
6. MATCH-UP DISCUSSIONS
For the next section, I will talk about how Kennadins matches up with some of the popular archetypes in the format and try to give an honest evaluation of how I expect the matchup to go. More importantly, I will highlight the key cards to look out for and how you should try to play each match up.
ARGENPORT MIDRANGE (Favored)
Oh, how the mighty has fallen! What was once widely acknowledged to be the best deck in format is now merely a shadow of it's former dominance. Trying to just play fair, overstated units in the current fast paced, explosive meta is not a good look, and a great way to lose to Kennadins. The only real threat that Argenport decks possess in this MU is multiple huge fliers. As such, it is important to hold your Torches and Permafrost for Unseen Commando, Valkyrie Enforcer and Impending Doom. Versions that run Inquisitor Blade can sometimes steal the victory, but at the end of the day, Tarvod doesn't fair well into a swarm of Grenadins, and 3 Kennas are often a quick way to reduce your opponent's life total to zero.
One cool thing that you can do in this matchup is use fast speed spells and Kenna to "ambush" fliers. One of the biggest blowouts I had was when my opponent swung in with Valkyrie Enforcer and Impending Doom against my Kenna. I responded with a Torch on the Enforcer and ate the Impending Doom with my Kenna.
CHARGE ROD (favored)
Charge Rod is another favored matchup. In fact, I even joked that I was sad that Answer the Call got nerfed, and thus making Charge Rod worse and less popular. (I'm not btw, I got highrolled out of top 8 the week before by Charge Rod, and I'm definitely happy to see this nerf). The reason why this matchup is so lopsided is because all your answers line up so well with their threats. Kenna eats Icaria for breakfast and as long as you are able to survive the Kaleb turn, you can simply EoH their Kaleb and often win on the crackback.
The crux to this matchup boils down to 2 things: 1) Once your opponent has enough power to play Answer the Call or Kaleb, you should always hold back 2 or 3 Grenadins to ensure you don't get highrolled 5 ways to heaven and 2) hope that your opponent doesn't roll unblockable and flying and all his big units and burst you down before you can react. M&N is also a card that I would fetch aggressively in this matchup because it is a great flying (chump) blocker and can help you dodge some lethal bursts.
COMBREI ALESSI (even)
This is probably one of the hardest matchups to navigate. While Combrei Alessi is not an aggro deck in the truest sense, it is still capable of pressuring you hard with growing threats. Moreover, it is hard to connect with EoH because they run up to 11 counter-spells (4 Safe Return, 4 Stand Together, 3 Temple Standard)! In order to play this match-up, it's important to keep track of their fast spell pauses and try your best to ensure that your EoH connects. You can do so by casting EoH when they are tapped out or targeting your own units before they reach 5 power. However, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and run into a potential Stand Together simply because you will fall too far behind if you do nothing.
Importantly, your target for EoH should vary depending on the amount of open power. I think that at 3 open power, it is best to copy your own Kenna since only 3 specific cards blow you out. At 2 open power, I would be more inclined to EoH aggressively on my opponent's unit, since while it has increased odds of getting blown out (7 outs vs 3 outs), forcing your opponent to temple tactic their own unit can be favorable since the matchup is very tempo orientated. At 1 power, you again swap back to targetting your own unit since they can't blow you out. Killering something (especially Alessi) with Kenna also carries with it a huge risk, and this is definitely one of the matchups where I would often take a Torch back from my void simply to ensure that I win the unit combat.
This is a very tempo-orientated matchup, and you can't really afford to take your time to set up. One big trap that players tend to fall into is attempt to play around everything. Unfortunately, you can't afford to do that here; you need to get on board fast and try to answer their threats while they are still torchable. If you are able to keep their board small or clear, you become a heavy favorite in this matchup. Unstable form is the best card in this matchup, because not only does it provide you with 2 aegis poppers, you can also use them to effectively "remove" Awakened Students and Alessi. On their side, Sword of Unity is perhaps the most annoying card because you are not able to chump the Overwhelm unit and Lifesteal makes it hard for you to threaten surprise lethal.
FELN/JPS CONTROL (Favored)
Their decks are very slow and often give you ample time to set up your combos. Champion of Cunning suffers from the same problem as Icaria (Food for Kenna) and they don't really have any good finishers. Most decks only run 1 relic hate card, so not only do they have to go through Face Aegis, they have to choose between removing Flamestoker or Combustion Cell (a choice that I do not envy). Their critical units are just great EoH targets (Jotun Feast-Caller, Black Sky Harbringer) and have fun trying to resolve Harsh Rules/Channel the Tempest/Sword of the Sky King against Kaleb's Choice. And in case you were wondering how does a single Choice do so much, remember what Kenna does!
HOORU/TJP FLIERS (UNFAVORED)
Now, if you hate Kennadins with a burning passion (but really, why would you?), you can check out my Top 4 games against BBG. It was a brutal 3-0 sweep, but I don't think that is representative of the MU because I played the entire series terribly. Still, this matchup does feels pretty unfavored, namely because 90% of their deck flies. As such, you are unable to block their attacks and you really need to get your combo out as soon as possible if you want to have any chance of winning. Moreover, Amilli is one tough cookie, and you really need Permafrost to answer her. She is also a pretty sub-par unit to copy, since your copy is unable to kill it unless you double block and each swing also generates an additional token, making even more threats that you have to answer. In this matchup, I would worry much less about conserving resources and more about simply getting my combo out as fast as possible (since Killer is the only real way for me to interact with fliers) and dig for Permafrosts to answer Amilli.
I haven't actually played against TJP fliers much, but I would suspect the gist of the gameplay would be very similar. Kennadins generally does not fair well in a match where the tokens are unable to generate chump value.
ICARIA BLACK (Favored)
I've spoken at length about how Kenna matches up well against Icaria, so it is no surprise that I consider Kennadins favorites against most Icaria decks. Icaria Black is not exception. To make matters worse, the tokens alone are a pain for Icaria Black to deal with. Thus, it is often correct to swarm the board aggressively with tokens in the early turns to soften the opponent up and force them to Harsh Rule early. This taxes their removal suite heavily and can easily run them out of answers to your Kennas and M&Ns.
The actual way for Icaria Black (courtesy of Camat0) to actually have a leg in this matchup is running out Statuary Maiden and Ixtun Merchant and load up cudgels on the Merchant. The overwhelm prevents the tokens from chumping, and a 2/4 is somewhat hard for Kennadins to deal with since Permafrost does not remove the ability. However, I think that is still an insufficient win-con, since you can just Permafrost the Merchant or Unstable/Snowball+Torch/trade a token+torch for the Maiden. The general gist is that while the Merchant+Maiden is the best line for Icaria Black to take, it is still a bad matchup unless the Kennadins player has a very lethargic draw.
One key thing to be aware of in this matchup is that you should probably fetch M&N or Kaleb's Choice after Combustion Cell rather than Flamestoker. Playing both Flamestoker and Combustion Cell out gives Icaria Black an easy 2-for-1 opportunity with Bore. Moreover, every Infernus gives them a Cudgel, making it possible for them to make a big enough Merchant to either continuously eat subsequent Infernus or simply crack back for lethal. Instead, M&N is a faster and difficult to deal with card for Icaria Black. Kaleb's Choice helps to counter either Bore to protect your Cell, or simply protect your board against a Harsh Rule.
ICARIA BLUE (Favored)
While Kennadins is favored against both Icaria Black and Icaria Blue, I think that the way the matchup plays out is different enough to warrant it's own section. Firstly, token swarms are much less effective against them because they have an additional 4 hailstorms that deal with your tokens effectively. Secondly, they now have an actual win-condition, in the form of playing Icaria and holding up Eilyn's Choice for EoH or Kenna. Unfortunately, that is a 10 power play, and often way too slow to matter. However, losing Maiden is a huge blow and the lack of a proper speed bump means you tend to curve out very well against them. You need to pressure them with your big units (similar to against Icaria Black) and you need to try to get them to commit Eilyn's Choices. M&N again is stellar in this MU since Icaria Blue runs about the same amount of removal as Icaria Black. Try not to get your EoH countered by Eilyn's Choice, but occasionally it can be good to get it out of their hand if you have nothing else to do with your power anyway. It's also important to note that this is one of the matchups that you really need to be careful about your Grenadins and constantly hold at least 1 token, if not more, to ensure that you can always activate Tribute.
OWL RAMP (Even)
This is a very interesting matchup that I've had the chance to play for the first time in Top 8 and it was definitely a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, when the only units your opponent plays are 4/4 flying tokens and 3/5 Minotaur Ambassadors, End of Hostilities start to lose a lot of its gleen. Similarly, Kenna becomes a lot weaker without a good Killer Target.
The key moving pieces in this matchup is to hopefully land an early Flamestoker to apply pressure. You can take your time to set up because the opponent's deck is glacially slow, so try to maximize value by looting as late as possible and getting all possible value out of your Waystones. You also want to play out small clusters of Grenadins to apply pressure while also not committing too hard into board wipes. I would also always keep a Snowball/Torch in hand once the game goes late because they combine well with M&N to act as a one-sided board wipe after your opponent casts Aid of the Hooru and the Great Parliament. That said, you definitely become unfavored once the game drags on, so do try your best to close out games as soon as possible. Kaleb's Choice again shines in this matchup because it protects your board from Harsh Rule.
All in all, I think the Owl Ramp matchup requires a lot of altering of conventional play, and is definitely one of the harder matchups to navigate given that you actually have to pressure and try to end the game before they get to resolve their Aid of the Hooru. Sometimes, you also have to think outside of the box to try and sneak an edge. For example, in Game 5 against Gozuu, I was in the following situation:
Now, the natural thought process would be to simply play Crest this turn so that I can safely Flamestoker with Face Aegis the following turn (since I am 90% sure that he grabbed a Visions of Austerity from his Market). However, I also know that he runs 4 equivocate and having seen the fast spell pause with only 1 P influence, I am sure that he would be able to equivocate my unit to pop my Face Aegis. As such, I decided to go for a more aggressive line by running out the Combustion Cell without protection this turn. Now, that might seem like an unnecessary risk, but the nice thing about doing so is that I can bait him to use the Vision of Austerity on the Combustion Cell instead (which he did) and fully "protect" the Flamestoker to come down next turn. On the other hand, if he were to ignore my Combustion Cell, I could simply ramp out Kenna to apply a ton of pressure on board the following turn. This creates a painful dilemma for my opponent, since both options were not great for him.
PRAXIS TOKENS (Even to Slightly Unfavored)
This is probably one of the matchups that I am least sure about. I've always felt like it should be slightly unfavored, but I have definitely won more games against Praxis Tokens than I have lost so I'm coming round to the idea that it is an even matchup. Secondblue also agrees that the matchup is roughly even.
Regardless, the matchup is definitely an interesting one to navigate. Firstly, you should trade your tokens aggressively, since they are going to get outclassed the moment your opponent lands an Obelisk. However, remember to keep enough tokens to act as sacrifice fodder for Combustion Cell. Secondly, your opponent's units are often better targets for EoH because you get the Summon effect as well. EoH on Heart of the Vault is amazing, because that draws you two cards, generates two blockers AND remove two attackers from the opponent's side of the field. Marisan's Disciple is another great EoH target, because you get 4 tokens out of it! In terms of the summon, I generally take the deadly scorpion since that will always trade for your opponent's best unit regardless of how many Obelisks they have on you. However, on occasion, it is worth getting the flier because it can trade with opposing fliers and spark M&N.
Who's the tokens' deck now!
One important thing to remember about the tokens matchup is that you are never really stabilized and you should look to close out the game as soon as possible. You can achieve this by either creating 3 copies of Kenna and simply flying over all your opponent's tokens for burst lethal or completely wiping your opponent's board by sparking M&N. Having an additional maindeck M&N has definitely helped this matchup a ton.
RAKANO VALKYRIES (Slightly unfavored)
Icaria on her own isn't a problem. Rizahn alone is not either. However, when they start off with a 2-drop baby Icaria and continuously pump out fliers, the matchup gets much more iffy. If possible, I would torch the 2-drop Icaria just to deny my opponent the ramp. Similarly, I would also torch bulletshaper when my opponent is hitting 5 power next turn to deny him the ability to cheat out Big Icaria (unless I have an answer in hand).
This matchup is slightly easier than the Hooru fliers MU because most of the valkyries die to Torch. In addition, Rizahn is also an amazing EoH Target since you can kill the Rizahn that you targetted with EoH using both of your Rizahn's summon. Moreover, Rizahn's lifesteal effect is great for stabilizing and negating the chip damage that the cheap fliers have done. Icaria, as I've repeatedly said, just died to Kenna, so is not a huge problem either. Your main task is to simply prevent him from overwhelming you with fliers in the early game.
SKYCRAG/STONESCAR AGGRO (Favored)
This deck, like all decks running a bunch of tokens, has a ridiculously good Aggro matchup. As it turns out, Oni Ronin doesnt line up well into Grenadin Drones or Assembly Lines. Skycrag's Aegis units also does little in the face of Kenna's killer effect and while Bandit Queen is a pain to block against, Vicious Highwayman is probably the best EoH target against Stonescar Aggro since it either kills the Vicious Highwayman or 2 1 health units and gain you 8 health!
In these MUs, setting up your combo is secondary. Your main objective is simply to swarm the board with tokens and dig for your torches and Permafrost so that you opponent cannot attack into you easily. Also, this is one of the matchups where I usually would not loot away Jotun Hurler since it has a decent body that you can block with and can come down a turn earlier than EoH and two turns earlier than Kenna.
TIME MIDRANGE (Heavily Favored)
Outside of getting stuck on 2 for multiple turns or not drawing a single EoH/Kenna, I don't think I have ever lost a Kennadins vs Time Midrange matchup. This matchup is just too ridicuously lopsided. Outside of Worldbearer Behemoth and occasionally Thundering Kerasaur, there is no way for Time decks to attack through a board of tokens so you basically have infinite time to set up. Time units are also all just a big ball of stats, so they are some of the best EoH targets. Funnily enough, I actually completed my deal 200 damage with Time units quest with Kennadins!
In this matchup, you often want to wait for 8+ power before you cast Kenna since you will often need to use a 1-power spell (Seek Power/Torch) to use Kenna to killer something. You can also play Kenna on turn 7 and wait a turn to EoH it and killer 3 big things at one go, but be wary that your opponent might have an answer (Vanquish, Equivocate, Carnosaur, etc) so I wouldn't recommend this line unless you feel really pressurized or don't mind simply losing your Kenna. Another unsuspecting All-star in this matchup is M&N. Some Time decks run Obelisk, and even those that don't can simple bounce Titans and Worldbearer Behemoths off each other. However, you can then just slam M&N post-combat (sparked either by pushing through some damage or Torch/Snowball) and it basically turns into a one-sided Harsh Rule.
MONO-TIME: This is probably the easiest matchup of all since they don't have any way to interact with your board besides Xenan Initiation and Carnosaur. Don't worry about playing spells into Thundering Kerasaur, you can let your opponent draw a million cards and they still have no way to win the game.
ELYSIAN: The main threats that Elysian possess are Cirso and Equivocate. Cirso is annoying because you can't killer it with Kenna, so Permafrost is your best answer. You can also simply EoH their Cirso and trade Cirsos if they attack. Equivocate is harder to deal with, so I like to try and force it out early by triple blocking their Cirsos into an obvious Equivocate blowout. You should try to avoid casting EoH into open power but if it's unavoidable, target opposing units with EoH so that you effectively trade 1-for-1 while downgrading their unit and costing them tempo.
PRAXIS: Similar to Praxis Tokens, Heart of the Vault is a great EoH Target. Praxis also doesn't have ways to deal with 7 health units, so I also like to cast EoH on Worldbearer Behemoth since I know they can't answer it. The two main things to take note of in this matchup is; 1) they might run Crismon Firemaws, so I always try to keep an answer in hand if possible (Permafrost, Kenna) and 2) some lists run Purify, so I would generally sacrifice Spark Hatcher over a random Grenadin Drone.
THE DREADED MIRROR (favored if you can draw cells on demand)
Full disclaimer: I have not played the mirror much and what I'm saying is mostly a result of theory-crafting and my experience from a few matches.
I think a lot of the mirror boils down to who can get the first Combustion Cell. If you are able to resolve your Cell before your opponent, you can simply slam Kenna on turn 5, EoH it on turn 6, and roll over your opponent. Being on the play helps a lot, because it prevents your opponent from responding to turn 5 Kenna by turn 6 surprise Combustion Cell, sacrifice a Grenadin and EoH your Kenna and double killer it. If both players have Combustion Cells out, I think that you should try to avoid casting the first Kenna, unless you are sure that you can win the EoH war. Fast spells are also very important for blowing out Kenna vs Kenna combat. Also, remember that if you cast EoH on the opposing Kenna, your Kennas do not get a buff, so they are still 5/6s. Lastly, you should NEVER, EVER play M&N in this matchup unless you are sure your opponent doesn't have a way to pop it's Aegis, deal damage to your face and EoH it because that is the fastest way to lose the game, staring down 2 M&Ns with no board.
My theory and experience is that Kaleb's Choice is the mirror breaker. Early on, you can use it to remove your opponent's Combustion Cell and ensure that you are ahead or at parity. Later on, you can cast Kenna to get back Kaleb's Choice, and then hold it up to blow out your opponent's EoH. If you are able to negate your opponent's turn and then resolve EoH on your own Kenna, I think that basically wins you the game since Kennadins does not have a board wipe outside of M&N, which is also insufficient in this case. In fact, I think that Kaleb's Choice is so important that it might be correct to fetch Kaleb's Choice with your first Merchant if your opponent already has a Combustion Cell up.
7. CLOSING THOUGHTS
Wow, this article went wayyyyyyyyyyyyy longer than I expected, but I hope that you've found it useful! Kennadins is a very strong deck, but it is also one of the trickiest decks to pilot in my opinion. The best advice that I can give is to play the deck a lot, fail with the deck a lot and then think about what mistakes you've made. Sometimes, the mistake might be extremely inconspicuous but actually extremely costly. Simple things like casting Permafrost over Assembly Line here and bottoming a Strategize and Merchant with Crest here can actually cost you the whole game. Even in games that you win, it is often worth thinking about what you could've done better, since there might have been an even better line available. I also want to give a shoutout to Isomorphic who recommended this deck to me and also took the time to discuss deck modifications and various lines with me, as well as the numerous players who discussed matchups and lines with me! Let me know your experiences with Kennadins! And share your most epic EoH screenshots in the reddit thread!
Why play good units when you can just copy your opponent's?