Standard Brawl Showcase: Kinnan’s Menagerie
This week, we’re taking a crack at one of the scariest decks that we’ve likely all seen in the Brawl queue at one point or another. So let’s talk about how to play it!
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy Brawl Deck
The plane of Ikoria is ravaged by horrifying and brutal monsters outside the city of Drannith. A crack unit of elite military are tasked with hunting these beasts before they can even begin to threaten the city. That is until, mysteriously, some find they can bond with the nightmares they intend to destroy.
Bonders are humans that form a mental connection, called eludha, with these frightful foes-turned ally. This mystical bond enables the humans to feel their monster’s sensations and emotions, even influencing their actions. This new magic, along with mutations, is bought about by the formation of a monumental crystal known as The Ozolith – and this is where our Commander comes in.
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is a modern-day Mowgli from Jungle Book, having a unique ability among the bonders of Ikoria. Most have one companion, yet Kinnan can bond with all sorts of weird wonders of the natural world, and that is shown off to great effect in how he plays out in Brawl. Not much is known about Kinnan before bonding emerged and, when asked by even the beloved planeswalker Vivien how he manages this feat, Kinnan snarls a unwelcoming growl before jetting away on one of his fierce friends. Truly the ‘Law of the Wolves’ ensures the strength of Kinnan’s menagerie, just as they strengthen him.
Since Kinnan increases the ramp provided by mana dorks and rocks, having them en masse is key to a huge pay-off. Personally, I opted to not use Gilded Goose, but the full complement of 2 drop dorks that produce green or blue make an appearance. The rocks have an important advantage here against control decks that look to wipe our board, often several times a game. Gyre Engineer and Maraleaf Pixie get special shout-outs, since they’re one of our few extra blue sources other than Paradise Druid. We don’t need a ton of blue mana, but when we do, it’s well worth it.
Early stages of the game will most likely be spent developing the mana base and ramp creatures, though if we get some lucky draws, the likes of Yorvo can apply early pressure alongside Questing Beast and even Vivien.
Given that we’re playing so many low-cost spells, drawing early and often is just as important, so I added a suite of repeatable card advantage sources, such as Guardian Project, Beast Whisperer, and The Great Henge. Getting these out, even if it means slowing the aggressive board state, can make the difference against decks not focused on creature advantages. Bonders’ Enclave appears as a phenomenal mana sink, easily enabled by our big beasties.
I debated whether Wilderness Reclamation was worth the slot in this deck as it only untaps our lands – the 4 drop slot is often the most important when it comes to game changing spells, even in Brawl. I made the decision that if we manage to get the mana available to play out a spell or two, activating Kinnan on our opponent’s end step is just amazing gas to dig for the huge payoffs. This also lets us play defensively, activating Kinnan in our opponents’ attack steps or newly changed board states, and with additional buffs from Leyline of Abundance. Worst case scenario, pulling out one of our big bodies in response to an alpha strike attempt can keep us alive to attack back and win the game. Nothing quite says “abandon all hope” like Thorn Mammoth coming in save the day!
Gargos was an interesting card to add in, not only as a huge body that enables a massive Hydroid Krasis, but his real purpose here is to punish targeted removal. Not many creatures can stand up to his massive 8/7 frame which paves the way to drop our opponents planeswalkers or lower their life total.
While not as beefy as the Vicious Watcher, Kogla is a titan in every way while providing some of the best interaction in the list. Kogla fights on entry, taking out threats, of course smashes artifacts and enchantments when it attacks, and importantly protects Kinnan. The two mana ability provides a secondary effect that feels grossly abusive against most other decks. Not only does Kogla get indestructible, but it bounces the only other human in the 60 cards, Agent of Treachery. Agent quickly turns pawns into threats to close the game out quickly. This interaction is easily the best way to completely take over the game, be it hijacking the opposing commander, making the opponents threats our own, or even increasing our mana base which only leads to more thievery.
Finally, Thorn Mammoth finds a good home in Brawl. Usually I found it too big and unwieldy to cast reliably or effectively, but Kinnan makes light work of 7 mana and, with 20 creature spells, not much stands in its way – be it Shivering Wren or Towering Giant.
This deck applies pressure quickly, and with the majority of our spells being green, that comes with a large amount of power. Yorvo comes down quickly to benefit off the ramp creatures. Nyxbloom Ancient can lead to game ending sizes of Stonecoil Serpent and Hydroid Krasis, both of those having trample and protecting the skies from those pesky fliers.
On top of our friendly neighborhood ape stealing everything in sight, with all that ramp and creature aggression, Mass Manipulation is easily cast for x equaling 3-4. If it resolves for either of these mana costs, the game won’t last much longer.
God-Eternal Rhonas hold a place in my heart in this deck. Doubling the attack power and granting vigilance to our horde is only half the benefit of the snake god. Death touch allows us to trade him very willingly, only to dredge him back with Kinnan again for more unrelenting punishment.
But for me, the biggest threats are slamming End-Raze Forerunners off the back of a huge Finale of Devastation. Suddenly the mana dorks are mana beasts, stampeding right over the field in front of them!
I want to find room for Elder Gargaroth really, but since it doesn’t have haste, some of the other spells felt more game-ending to me. This would also be a good deck to let Nylea, Keen-Eyed come forth and do some work – there are instances where we have mana left over, but not enough to activate Kinnan or increase board presence, leaving Nylea as a fantastic mana sink.
I also debated on Nessian Boar very extensively. Not only does the card not see much play, but given the sheer magnitude of most of our other creatures, this slab of bacon could lead to alpha strike blow-outs.
We don’t play a lot of blue creatures, but a few worth mentioning you may find success with include Cavalier of Gales, Dream Eater, and for the janky brewer in all of us, Sphinx Mindbreaker. The Cavalier gives us excellent card draw, a big body in the air, and is repeatable if it dies. Dream Eater can lead to huge blow outs bouncing a permanent, and the surveil trigger sets up your next draw or Kinnan activation amazingly. Mindbreaker speaks for itself. In a singleton format, it feels really bad being denied a sixth of your deck as they get milled away, leaving a hefty flier in its wake.
I saw a list playing Impervious Greatwurm once. To say I was shocked is an understatement. It’s a 16/16 indestructible powerhouse! Ideally we could cast it if drawn, but the lack of trample left me wanting. Aggressive Mammoth could fix that easily, but I felt that was taking the deck into a direction that was too greedy and didn’t offer enough consistency.
Roalesk is a great possible addition to the list specifically with Kogla being such a great creature. I opted to not use it because we don’t have a ton of ways to introduce +1/+1 counters onto creatures in the current build, but if you built in that direction, its a must-have.
Arasta of the Endless Web and Shifting Ceratops both got cut in my final version, but as I’ve said before, they are both great against spell centric decks and can generate a ton of value. Wizards of the Coast has stated they’ll be adjusting matchmaking to pit certain popular commanders against each other, specifically Nicol Bolas, Dragon God and Niv-Mizzet Reborn. If Kinnan ends up facing those decks more often, these two will be essential in the fight against the dragons.
Pros and Cons
In a fair match-up, we get to cheat on mana, bypass counterspells, and steal our opponents stuff, but who plays Brawl to play fair?
The pros are pretty easy to see. We get advantage from every card available, double or even triple our mana production, bring the biggest bodies Standard allows, and outdraw opponents at every step.
The hardest part of playing Kinnan is knowing when to activate his ability. We present a lot of big threats efficiently and quickly, so tempering our aggression with restraint against some of the more controlling match-ups is absolutely key. I recommend keeping track of how many big threats are left in the deck versus the likelihood of drawing potent spells like Mass Manipulation and Finale of Destruction. It feels really bad pushing too hard only to see those game changers go to the bottom of your library.
The cons on the other hand can be pretty devastating. In my testing, control decks can be a testament to our force of will if defeated. With Teferi banned, we have a better match-up against UWx decks, yet boardwipes always present problems. Jeskai Narset decks should not be underestimated in a format with access to 5-6 wipes and an array of counterspells. This is where we focus on the threats we have in play and how to succeed with them, while holding up creatures to rebuild with should we face the wrath. Playing smart and not overextending is key to these match-ups.
Nicol Bolas presents a whole different set of threats. While they lack the raw destructive power of Time Wipe and Shatter the Sky, the Dragon God has easy access to Ritual of Soot and Storms Wrath to eat away at not only Kinnan, but our mana dorks as well. Even less desirable is the arsenal of targeted removal for our biggest lackeys. Luckily for us, some of our best creatures punish these attempts with fights or indestructible triggers, and most of our creatures are, by and large, bigger and better than Grixis can muster. That alone that should lead us to victory.
Hands down the hardest deck for us to pair up against is Niv Mizzet Reborn. The decks tool box is just so varied, Niv is so big, and sadly the winged goliath can quickly outvalue us. I’ve found the strategy against this is to activate Kinnan aggressively and force the opponent into a reactive state. Ideally, in the early to mid game, the Niv player is casting one spell per turn while we are casting multiple to set up an early lead, while mid to late game we can offer trades in our favor. Vivien gives us a steady stream of blockers against the flying foe, along with Stonecoil Serpent being key to bypassing most of the deck’s threats.
I’ve played against many versions of this Commander again and again since Ikoria came about, from more control-oriented variants to even combo shenanigans, but mono green splashing blue just feels so good, letting our inner Timmy shine. From casting huge creatures with over-the-top abilities to getting value out of every single draw spell, Kinnan has been a blast to play while not feeling too linear and dull.
Feel like you know of some great inclusions I missed out on? What about other brawl decks you want to see featured on MTG Arena Zone, or even those you don’t think can be made to work, but would love to see me try? Let me know in the comments below and help me make more content you want to see!
Check some of my Brawl decks out in person during my streams!