Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner is a favorite of ours at Faithless Brewing, and one I expect we'll be revisiting soon in both Modern and Pioneer (you know, just a hunch...). We talked a bit in Episode 24 (the follow up to Oko week) about our testing with Bonecrusher Giant and Oko, Thief of Crowns in the RG Kiora shell. The deck posted great results across four leagues (4-1, 5-0, 4-1, 4-1) with some tweaks along the way. Here are Dan's full notes on those leagues and rationale behind the updates to the build. Making this available to everyone since these are a few weeks old now, but look for more bonus content like this in the future for patrons at the $3 tier and up. Enjoy!
Starting list (no Okos):
Green Devotion -- W.W
Grixis Control -- W.W
Grixis Shadow -- L.L
Jund -- W.W
Bonecrushers were great. They made all the difference against Infect, where I needed the highest possible density of removal and tapping out for a large creature was basically just resigning to death. Also super important against the devotion deck (killing mana dorks) and bloodbraid elf. In the ohter matchups they were still solid mana sinks and good value. Played one once against Jund just as a 4/3 (my mana was pinched by removal spells) and it still closed the game out in conjunction with a 4/4 Spellbreaker.
Probably needed a Chameleon Colossus to give some hope against Grixis Shadow. Drown in the Loch looked great in that deck, hard counter mode stole my ETB value stuff, and also good in the Grixis Into the Story deck.
Questing Beast was just okay. Obstinate Baloth would maybe be better (I ran a full playset in the sideboard, to bring in against Jund and Burn; they hustled LotV game 2 against Jund). Round 1 opp also had Questing Beast, alongside Steel Leaf, Garruk, Unbound Flourishing, Walking Ballista. It was kind of scary until I landed Glorybringer and flew to safety.
Gruul Spellbreakers have been pretty Eh lately, 1GR 4/4 trample is still fine, but I haven't given one of these things haste in a long time. Went down to 2 this league and that felt like plenty.
This deck still has very little answers to a large creature (Shadow, Gurmag, Tarmogoyf). Is there any solution here?
Updated list (League #2, now with 3x Oko 1x Royal Scions:
Revamped the sideboard slightly to hedge against artifact decks.
Traverse Shadow -- W.W
Emry Ascendancy -- W.W
Humans -- W.L.W
Mono-W Taxes -- L.W.W
Jund -- W.W
So I built the deck pretty sloppily and misclicked all over the place, clicked past multiple attack steps and EOTs, miscounted my mana several times shocking for no reason, etc. Easy 5-0.
Thinking about the underperformers from last league, it seemed like many problems could be solved by just cutting those cards and jamming some Oko instead. Do I really need the 2nd Stormbreath Dragon? Is Gruul Spellbreaker really a card that moves the needle in most matchups? Problem cards out, herd of 3/3 Elk come in.
Oko hustled the Shadow guy, turning his big dudes that would normally be unkillable into stupid little 3/3s. Played Bird into Oko against Taxes guy, stole his next play, it was great (he had Prince Charming to get it back eventually but still). Made a bunch of 3/3s against humans. Oko basically hustled everyone.
Not sure about the Blood Moons, I did steal two game 1s with them on the play (vs. Traverse Shadow and vs. Jund) but mostly sided them out.
I needed another fetch land over a Forest, and probably also needed a 22nd land over maybe one of the Birds? I loved having 1 drop into 3 drop planeswalker, but I think we determined that 22 land + 11 dorks was better than 21 land + 12 dorks and I just forgot about that.
Bonecrushers continued to be great, ditto Glorybringer. I probably shouldn't have lost any games this league TBH I just kind of let a couple racing situations slip away against the white creature decks, I was super well set up against them, would take those matchups any day.
Only drew Royal Scions once. Most of the time I just sided it out b/c it never feels super essential. Of course the one time I drew it, it won the game against Jund (I was otherwise broke besides and Obstinate Baloth, but he just couldn't ever block the 6/4 first strike trample so he died).
Drew Domri a lot this league and he was great, but that's maybe just a matchup thing.
So my tentative takeaway is that this deck is improving b/c we are slowly replacing cards that hopefully matter some of the time (basically the random fatties with haste) with cards that usually do something pretty good and often do something crucial or awesome (Bonecrusher, Oko). Starting to think that swingy cards like Obstinate Baloth are actually better main deck cards than the random Questing Beast or Stormbreath or Spellbreaker or whatever.
+1 green fetch -1 forest
+1 kessig wolf run -1 Birds (?)
+1 Baloth -1 Stormbreath
+1 Baloth -1 Questing Beast
+1 Lightning Bolt -1 Spellbreaker
Tinkering a little bit more, trying out 2x Wrenn and Six just because why not. Staying on 21 lands for this reason. Pushing some sideboard slots around (Damping Sphere over Crumble, 2nd Grafdigger's over Shatterstorm, Pillage over 4th Baloth). Trying a Thragtusk over Stormbreath per your suggestions.
Ponza -- L.W.W
Mono-R Burn -- L.L
Infect -- W.W
Red Prowess -- L.W.W
Amulet -- L.W.W
It's possible I pushed the deck a little too far here, as I was instantly punished with the old Stomping Ground + Island + W6 draw game 1.
That said Wrenn was actually pretty decent overall, even though I sided down to 1 copy against the red decks and against Amulet.
Burn decks are hideously bad matchups, I just don't have that much lifegain overall in the entire deck, Oko is too mana intensive to really get much use out of the food. I thought I was in the clear game 2 against Burn with Oko in play, at 15 life with him on 5 cards, but those 5 were all 3 damage spells.
Probably should have lost to Red Prowess but he stalled on 1 land game 2.
Amulet guy, Damping Sphere let me hang around long enough to kill him with a Glorybringer + Elk. Oko turning one of his Amulets into an Elk was important, as was him screwing up and playing Azusa into Bounceland (I kill in response) when he could have played Sunhome first to get an extra land drop. He went to 5 game 3, kept double Amulet, but didn't assemble what he needed to actually get a prime time in play.
That said, while red decks are bad and big mana still iffy, I liked the Infect matchup a lot and the generic midrange matchup (Ponza in this case) was still solid, if a bit dicey b/c his BBEs and Stormbreaths kept killing my planeswalkers.
Tweaks: -1 W6 -1 Questing Beast +2 Obstinate Baloth -1 Birds +1 Goose -1 Kiora +1 Kessig Wolf Run -1 Thragtusk +1 Blood Moon
And some adjustments to the sideboard.
Idea here is to get a little more action against Burn (the Goose, 2 Baloths main) and a little more Blood Moon against the unfair stuff.
Izzet Delver -- W.L.L
Burn -- W.L.W
Tron -- W.*
Mardu Shadow -- W.W
Gifts Storm -- L.W.W
Got a bit lucky this league, not gonna lie. Examples:
Lose die roll against Tron, he leads Map + 2 Tron lands, I happen to have Elf into Blood Moon he scoops. Game 2 he mulls to 6, then scoops match, I guess he assumed I was on Ponza?
Mardu Shadow, I keep Oko + 2 dorks + nothing else, he Thoughtseizes Oko, plays out Giver, Ranger-Captain fetch Hex Parasite (must already have Shadow in hand). I topdeck blood moon, he casts no more spells. Game 2, once again I topdeck Blood Moon in a timely spot to keep him to just three spells for the whole game.
Gifts Storm guy, g3 I have Sphere holding him off but he has six Goblins. He decides to spend a turn going Ritual into flashback Past in Flames to turn on his Pyromancer Ascension, this lets me Weather the Storm for 9 and gives me time to win with fliers. If he hadn't done that Goblins would have finished me off.
Izzet Delver loss, felt like I should have had a stronger showing, just flooded out like crazy game 3 and every time I saved up for a flurry of action he had exactly enough countermagic/burn to stave it off. He kept hitting my Bonecrushers with Force of Negation which was painful. Finally by end of game I had a Scions looting and an Oko + Goose making foods to try to fend off his random tokens and attackers, but he had topdecked Bolt to get me for exacties.
Burn matchup was skin of teeth, went down to 1 in each of my wins, needed every little last ounce of life gain. Blood Moon saved me game 1. Game 3 I had to mull to 5, kept 2 land, Baloth, Bonecrusher and THE GOOSE which gained me 6 life and i needed all of it.
Blood Moon came up big this league. Lots of these matchups, my midrange cards didn't have much relevant game text. Needed the aces with specialized effects, and the sideboard bullets, to keep me in the matches.
Oko didn't have a lot to do. Gained me life against Burn once, that was cool. Little else was achieved with Oko beyond the occasional 3/3 attacker.
By extension the ramp component of the deck was not very useful this time around. I'm now only playing Glorybringers as "big" cards, so it becomes less rewarding to use my turn 2/3 to play a Kiora/Domri if my curve isn't really getting much higher than 3 anyway.
Overall results so far:
13-2 with Oko
4-1 without Oko
Deck is winning a lot, but the sample sizes are still super small, and some of these matches felt like they could/should have gone the other way.
The biggest upgrade so far seems to be Bonecrusher Giant. In the older versions nothing felt worse than having to sideboard in crappy Lightning Bolts just because your red midrange deck needed help against small creatures of all things.
Skewing the main deck to just have more play against the decks where you need removal, allows you to focus more on the interactive bullets. You no longer need a miracle out of the 4/5 slot or a dream ramp curve, you just need something solid.
Oko seems to play into this "we don't need a miracle" mentality as well. He's just pretty solid.
Re: Veil of Summer (a suggestion from Damon), I think the matches where it really shines are already pretty fine. I wouldn't bring it in against Jund (would rather have a Baloth) and blue decks are small meta share. Dilutes the creature density as well.
I think I really need the slots for Burn, artifact decks, big mana, and other misc. combo decks.
I still have 10-11 ways to trigger Kiora, but the overall curve is getting lower so maybe it's time to trim her. I went down to 2 last league.
I am liking Baloth better than Thragtusk. 4 toughness much better than 3 (especially when turning things into Elk) when lifegain matters, I want it earlier in the game.
Basic Island was pretty awkward, but Blood Moon is proving its usefulness so I dunno what to do here. If Amulet is indeed on the rise, we will need the Blood Moons, and perhaps also the Island.
Urza matchup, I usually had removal for his creatures. He had uncontested Emry for a little while game 2 but I was able to eventually kill it and then clean up the artifacts on board.
David you have prompted me to once again scour Scryfall looking for plausible creatures. I liked: Hydroid Krasis, Regisaur Alpha, Korvold, BBE, Tarmogoyf, Vantress Gargoyle, Rekindling Phoenix, Feasting Troll King, any Titan.
... to be continued? Lots more to test, and the deck is a blast to play.