Hello everyone! Kevor here. I’ve been pretty vocal recently on Discord and Twitter about why I think that Ahri Kennen Shadow Isles is such a strong deck, and a lot of people have been asking me for a guide so I figured I’d give it a shot.
I also recently hit rank 1 with this exact deck…
… so I might know a thing or two about it. This is my first article, though, so please be gentle!
Why Go Hard SI?
The big question. While all of the different Ahri Kennen (which I will refer to as AK from now on) play the same core of around 33 to 35 cards, those last few slots can change the way you play the game drastically and they give you access to play patterns that other versions might not have.
I personally believe that Go Hard is the superior version of AK right now for multiple reasons:
Let’s start with the deck's namesake: Go Hard.
It’s obviously incredible at dealing with various X/1 creatures and provides much needed healing against decks like Elise Noxus…
… *but*! I never was a big fan of Go Hard in traditional Control decks like Darkness or PnZ SI, because it comes at an actual cost to the quality of your draws.
Sure, against Aggro I don’t care too much and at some point I will just have better cards than they have. But versus any kind of Midrange or Control archetype, it is often a losing plan to try and go for Pack Your Bags because your opponent will just be doing more impactful things on average.
This all changes with Ahri Kennen.
One of the main reasons why AK is such a good deck right now is because of how many actual cards you draw each game. With combos like Ahri + Droplet, Sai'nen + God-Willow Seedling or just Kinkou Wayfinder by itself, you see such a high percentage of your deck every game that stacking Go Hard becomes elementary and barely a real cost to the quality of your draws. In fact, you will be thankful that you have an easy card to get rid of cheaply when you start having too many in hand!
They do also provide way more depth to the deck in a lot of matchups. Even against Kindred Sentinels or Feel The Rush Control, they are an integral plan on how I win the game. You just do chip damage with Elusives early in the game, then draw a bunch with Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed and start stacking Go Hard from there.
Your interaction is so cheap and efficient with Recall, Deny and Homecoming that they have a very hard time killing you with their big spells such as Atrocity or Feel The Rush, and they often need to keep up more mana than you to make sure they don’t just die to an Ahri open attack.
And while they are busy trying not to die, you just quietly start working your way toward Packing their Bags. It is not unusual for me to finish a Control matchup with a 2nd or even a 3rd Pack Your Bags. The final thing with Go Hard is sometimes you are getting crushed in a game and it’s clear you are heading toward an early loss. In which case you can try and luck your way out of it by just drawing your Go Hards back to back into a super early Pack. I never want to go for that line but if I need to take maximum risk to come back in a game, it’s a nice tool to have.
Another reason why I prefer the SI version is that we get to run 3xSai'Nen. While the other versions are focusing on killing you with Relentless Pursuit, The Absolver or even Might, you just get to relax, sit back and draw a ton while making your itsy-teeny Elusives become a real threat in combat and advancing towards your inevitable Pack your Bags or Ahri lethal swing.
Sai'nen even has surprising uses vs Aggro and Midrange decks because it makes your whole board able to block Fearsome units on a key turn.
- Scouts will try to alpha-strike you with Cithria the Bold,
- Nightfall will try to go for a Nocturne or Stygian Onlooker big swing turn,
- Hell, even Elise Noxus Aggro sometimes relies on a mid-game Fearsome swing to get you into burn range.
Another great use of Sai'Nen is versus cards like Withering Wail.
I never want to be in a situation where I need to Deny a Wail, I would much rather use it on their 6+ mana spells like Vengeance or The Ruination. The fact that we have so many cheap units in the mid-game often mean I can use them as a way to soft-pass the priority back to my opponent, keep playing cheap things until just before they would actually want to cast Wail, and then just take the pass they give you to go to your turn and slam a Sai'Nen to nullify their whole plan.
The winning playstyle
Much like a Buddhist monk, you must believe in peace so repeat after me:
I will not try to go for lethal. I shall have peace and draw my whole deck before finally ending you.
Congratulations, you now have a 10% higher winrate while playing AK!
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating for comedic value here, but it is really true. We have such good and cheap reactive tools, that as long as you keep your spell mana high and try to never be the first one to act, you will come out ahead in exchanges.
Yes, this may mean that you only take an Ahri open attack on turn 4 instead of playing Kinkou Wayfinder so you deal two damage instead of six or seven, but now your opponent is in a tough spot where he needs to decide if they still want to play the passing game and hold up The Box or they want to be proactive themselves and now we get an occasion to sneak one into play.
Maybe they pass back, maybe I just play a one-drop on turn 5, asking them the same question again.
They want to pass again?
Ok, now I open-attack on turn 6 with Ahri + Droplet, do you want to commit mana to keep me from drawing more cards than you and dealing 4 damage? Sweet! I get to use my cheaper resources to be more effective than you and at the end of this whole exchange, I still get to play Kinkou.
In pretty much every slow matchup, you are actually the one with inevitability in the late game. You will draw more than them, deal more chip damage than them and have more burn.
So, why rush? If you are scared of them killing you, cards like Concussive Palm, Deny and Homecoming will keep you alive. And if you have the tempo, mana and card advantage, you will eventually find a way to convert an open attack into an inevitable win that plays around everything they could have.
It's also true that sometimes I look up at my opponent's Nexus on turn 5 and realize they’re somehow at 8 life and just finish it right there, that’s just a testament on how strong the core package of this deck is.
Having said that…
… alas, not everything is always this black and white in card games. You will need to reassess the situation every turn. This is what distinguishes a good AK player from a great AK player. Sometimes it is indeed correct to say: “Fuck it, if they have it, they have it,” and slam your two Twin Disciplines on your Ahri on turn 6.
All I want from this guide is for your default plan to be: sit back and let them do the first move. After enough knowledge and practice, you will find the exceptions to the rule and know when it’s time to pump the gas and go for it.
Important play patterns to know about
1- When to try and flip Kennen?
In any matchups that are not actively trying to kill you before turn 6, I believe Kennen is often over-valued.
I even thought about going down to 2 Kennen at some point. Crazy talk… but except against decks that are playing X/2s early in the game and are trying to kill me, I won’t keep him in the opening hand.
That being said, it's important to recognize when you have a surplus of recall effects in hand. Sometimes you have 1 Homecoming, 1 God-Willow Seedling and 1 Recall in hand and your best course of action in the midgame will be to try and bounce/replay Kennen multiple times just to generate value and get you to the late game.
The best creatures to go for a Kennen flip are, in order:
- Dancing Droplet,
- The Mourned,
- Kennen himself, and
- Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed (I assure you, it feels very good to flip Kennen with the big fox!)
Just be sure not to overvalue him -- I would much rather save my Droplet than my Kennen, so sometimes the yordle ninja has to take one for the team. It’s only the 3rd Kennen that I put some kind of value in trying to keep alive.
2- How and when to play God-Willow Seedling
God-Willow can be an awkward card to use. Sometimes we have board space issues, sometimes we have hand space issues and sometimes we would rather use our unit mana for actual units. The combo with Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed is obviously insane but you don’t always get to live the dream.
Common use versus a board-centric deck is to use all of your creatures generated by Kinkou Wayfinder to just take trades, or even chump blocks, whenever we can and then landmark him back to our hands, generating even more creatures to block with in the process and then setting up some kind of stabilization or attack when the third Kinkou comes into play.
With Sai'nen, if possible, you will want to wait to cast a couple of Go Hards or trade away some of your resources before going for the landmark so you have a lot of space in your hand. You need to have no more than 8 other cards in hand when you play Seedling, bouncing Sai'nen back to your hand and then drawing two cards. And then after that you might still need to play something to not overdraw on the next turn. So when you have Sai'nen and landmark combo, be happy trading away cards in your hand and board for maybe less value than usual, you will get them back.
It is also important to know on whose turn to cast the landmark. When you do it on your turn, the unit comes back on their turn and vice-versa. This matters very often as it is the only way to have something happen before they get an open-attack. With Kennen you can leave a Mark of the Storm on their biggest creature during your turn, and you get a Mark stun even if they decide to open-attack you. With Sai'nen it makes sure that even if they have a big Fearsome board like Iceborn Spiders with a flipped Spider Queen Elise, everything on your board except Droplet still gets to block.
Also very good versus Withering Wail and Avalanche decks where you want to cast just enough creatures on their turn for it not to be a good Avalanche with all the mana you still have but also a threatening open-attack when you get a free +1/+1 on your creatures before even drawing for the turn.
3-Do I play my 1 drops on 1?
My general rule of thumb is no.
I’d rather have the spell mana and make sure I can protect my early creatures. They are quite important at generating early value, so I try to make sure I have a backup before playing a Dancing Droplet or a Kennen on turn 1. Even when I have an Ahri + Droplet combo, I might wait until turn 3 to play my Droplet. By this time you might have drawn into Recall, Twin Disciplines or Nopeify! and with all the spell mana you have banked you can protect your board from pretty much anything your opponent might throw at you.
Against decks that have literally zero way of killing an X/1, I might go for it, not much they can do… but the other benefit of holding your one-drops on turn 1 is representing Go Hard. In the mirror match it is very tough for your opponent to play a 1 drop if you open pass on 1 because losing a The Mourned or a Dancing Droplet could disrupt their whole early gameplan.
Then again, if your opponent plays a Legion Rearguard, please just play your 2/1 and block it.
To Mourned or not to Mourned, that is the question (flex slots and card choices)
This deck is so tight for space that you don’t get to run everything you want.
For the longest time, I’ve been in the no The Mourned camp, running cards like Retreat, Sonic Wave, Eye of the Dragon or Tasty Faefolk. I still believe those are all fine to play instead of Mourned, but the only way I was losing versus more popular AK Shurima version, was when they had more Elusives than me early in the game and tried to go for two all-out attacks in a row before I could get my grip back on the game.
The Mourned helps a lot there in ensuring that you have enough blockers, or even sometimes enough creatures in your deck to tutor out with Kinkou Wayfinders while also having obvious synergy with both of your champions.
Another debate I’d like to weigh on is the third Nopeify versus the third Deny. Ultimately I like both but we don’t want to be too heavy on purely reactive cards so it’s a matter of what you’re trying to beat in your lineup or on Ladder. Deny will be more useful versus anything with Vengeance or Decimate in it, and Nopeify will be better vs burn spells like Noxian Fervor. Right now I prefer a third Deny, but this could change at any moment depending on what else I’m running in my lineup.
I’ve also seen lists that opt to go for Scattered Pod instead of Sai'nen Thousand-Tailed. In fact, the original AK Go Hard list that I first saw my teammate WhatAmI play, used to be on 2xSai'nen and 2xPod.
I’m not a big fan of the big Elusive boy. He gets chump-blocked by everything before turn 10, just draws you 1 semi-random card, and doesn’t work with God-Willow Seedling. At first it might sound enticing to tutor Go Hard but like we’ve previously discussed, I don’t try to go for Go Hards until I know I have the resources to sustain them.
The last talking point might be that he closes games pretty fast after turn 10. I agree. But why win on turn 10, when you can win on turn 56? I do like some amount of Scattered Pods in the Demacia version running only 1 copy of Relentless Pursuit, it feels at home there.
Don’t go under 2 Concussive Palm, that card is cracked and is how you will survive swing turns versus Aggro.
Mirror tips, or the secrets to my 80% winrate in the mirror.
Unless we are playing the SI mirror (and if you are, go get yourself a snack, you’ll be here for a while), we are favored the longer the game goes on. We are stacking Go Hards in our deck and Denys in our hand until we have a critical mass and go for a turn where they just can’t answer everything. But we need to get to that late game point and for that it’s important not to get overrun. You both have the same reactive tools such as Recall so it’s about finding the best way to use them.
A flipped Kennen is okay, but not game winning. A mistake I see people make is overvaluing one flipped Kennen. They try to actively spend cards to recall Kennen to flip him as soon as possible while they could have waited and done the same thing later but with a Dancing Droplet instead. The cost to your card economy is real, and if you are not running Sai'Nen like us, it will be pretty hard to keep up.
If you can manage to have two flipped Kennen on the board at the same time, then it’s pretty worth it. Keep in mind, though, that once you have two Kennen on board it becomes quite hard to actually advance his level up condition with himself because without exactly God-Willow Seedling, you will have to first recall one of them, and then use Lightning Rush to try and bounce back a Kinkou Wayfinder or the last Kennen, thus breaking the golden rule of letting them act first and exposing yourself to a Nopeify!.
Speaking of counter-magic, what is the best way to use counters in the mirror? I try to not pick a fight if I'm not at least 75% sure I’m gonna win it. Deny’s best targets are of course any other 4 mana spells, but I will often let a Concussive Palm on my Ahri resolve as I would rather make sure they don’t get +2 on Ahri with Homecoming or defend my Pack Your Bags later versus other Deny.
As for the recall effects like Recall and Homecoming, it’s pretty straightforward. Recall is great at making sure we can block an Ahri and also prevent her on-hit effect. If they’re not exactly recalling a Dancing Droplet, I’ll probably just keep it for later use as a cheap one-mana tool.
Homecoming is pretty bad. It gives them a target for their Deny and also there’s basically no creatures you want to be bouncing in the mirror. Everything gives them value! The best time to use it is whenever you can for a quick Ahri flip and the best target are usually just their Ahri or if they manage to have 2 Kennen on the board it permanently deals with one of them as he will just become a Lightning Rush in hand and that’s fine. Once we’re talking late game, like turn 8+, Homecoming can become another 4 mana tool to make sure you don’t die to The Absolver.
Please just tell me how to mulligan
For matchup specific keeps, the big lines are:
- Keep Deny versus Feel The Rush,
- Homecoming versus Turbo Thralls,
- Go Hard versus burn and Nightfall, and you can also keep one Go Hard in the mirror.
- If I already have an early play versus Spider Aggro or sometimes even Scouts, I’ll keep a Concussive Palm as it is a very good play on turn three to prevent an attack, and gives yourself a good Fearsome blocker to then play a Kinkou Wayfinder on turn 4 making sure you will never take creature damage ever again.
I’m just here so I know how to beat you
While I don’t believe this deck has true losing matchups, all the decks I would consider ok versus us share a theme: cheap backline threats that end the game quickly without having to use combat themselves.
Anything more expensive than 3 mana, we will be happy just using Homecoming. Any threat that needs to use combat, we will be happy just trading into it with creatures + Twin Disciplines or Mark of the Storm.
So if you’re looking to punish AK Go Hard as hard as you possibly can on Ladder, I would go with one of the above.
Be careful if trying to make a lineup to beat AK, though. If you give me 2 games versus unfavorable matchups, I’m confident in my odds of just drawing better cards in one of those games, basically making your lineup obsolete. In lineup construction, I would advise to just ban AK, or if you decide to leave it up, just be happy to go 1-1 against it and don’t base your entire strategy on targeting it.
I still have a lot to say about this deck, but this article is getting a bit long. This really is a deck that will reward you for the practice and the time you put in it, learning every little bit of interaction and weird combos you can do, or knowing when it’s okay to just overdraw a card. And then there's general execution, like how to order a sic-wide board with a flipped Ahri when you try to go for a kill . So I encourage you to give it a try and hopefully you will like it as much as I do.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have!
Discord : Kevor24#3124
Or on https://www.twitch.tv/kevor24 where I’ll occasionally stream a tournament run or a late night Ladder grinding session.
If you have any feedback or criticism about my writing style I would 100% appreciate it.
Until next time!
About the author
Kevor is a member of the Mastering Runeterra Pro Team, and at the moment of this writing, has reached #1 in the Americas Ladder using Ahri Kennen Go Hard (link).