A confluence of factors lead to me being unusually prepared for GP Columbus—not the least of which was how much I enjoyed playing with my deck. My preparation paid off with a Top 16 finish, and while I can’t promise you that this is the best possible deck to play in Modern, it was exactly what I wanted for the GP. It’s a powerful, resilient, proactive deck, so it has game against pretty much everything and doesn’t struggle against random decks. Yet, it’s interactive and full of tricky spells. The deck allows you to consistently play Magic with your opponent. Here’s the list that Luis, Ocho, and I played at the GP, which I would still endorse:
For those unfamiliar with the deck, this is a Kiki-Jiki combo deck. [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] plus any one of Deceiver Exarch, Restoration Angel, or Zealous Conscripts combine to make an arbitrarily large number of creatures to attack with. Birthing Pod gives the deck an extremely reliable and resilient way of assembling the combo.
So why this deck over Splinter Twin, which is both a little faster at goldfishing and a little better at protecting its combo? Twin is undoubtedly better at playing a non-interactive combo game, but it has only a single angle of attack, whereas Birthing Pod gives you a whole new dimension. Birthing Pod is your plan A, with the combo mostly serving to give you a coherent deck in the games you don’t have a Pod, and to make your Pods extremely lethal.
So why this list in particular? Let’s break it down:
The cards the deck is built around, you want as many of these as allowed.
One neat interaction with [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] and Restoration Angel that comes up is that if you don’t “go for it,” then you you can copy Restoration Angel in response to removal to counter it. Even if they say, Path to Exile Angel in your second main phase, you can copy the Angel and untap Kiki-Jiki, and then in your end step before the copy dies, make a new copy. Repeat in your opponent’s end step, and you get to kill them with many Angel tokens, despite your original Angel being exiled. Another end-step trick with Kiki-Jiki is that if your opponent is tapped out and you plan on copying a creature to chump block with, you can make the copy in your end step to ensure your opponent can’t kill the target in response.
The next most important cards. The deck revolves around expensive spells, and without these accelerants could not hope to compete. And once they are done speeding you up, they still have an important role to play as Pod fodder. Almost any hand without one of these is a mulligan. Given that, only 11 accelerants is embarrassingly low. The problem is that the deck already has 34 mana sources, making it very prone to flooding. You need these guys for acceleration, but since you can’t rely on them surviving, you are forced to play more mana sources than is ideal.
The deck really wants an (on-color) Preordain: something that can dig for mana early and gas late. This is the card that [card chord of calling]Chord[/card] aspires to be, but it’s so expensive that it only qualifies as a business spell. I never got around to trying Commune with Nature, but it could be exactly what the deck is looking for.
The worst card in the deck. It’s such a perfect fit, as far as what it does, but it’s just not efficient. Against opponents that aren’t touching your creatures, it’s good since you can afford to pay the premium, and it allows you to interact with them, or just find your missing combo piece and get them dead. When your creatures are under fire, though, [card chord of calling]Chord[/card] is unacceptably expensive and is the card most often boarded out. If you are looking to improve the deck, Chord is the first card I would replace. That said, Chord does function as a gas spell, giving you something powerful to do with your mana when you are flooded, so its replacement should also help mitigate flood.
This isn’t really in the deck as a tutor target (though Podding for it does happen often enough), but just as a good card that you want to draw. It does great work fueling Chord and Pod, all the while serving as a speed bump. Powering up your Restoration Angels to cantrip puts it over the top. In my eyes, Wall of Omens fulfills all the roles Kitchen Finks does, but better. If I could have found space for them, I would have loved to play more Walls.
A good card to draw (as evidenced by Splinter Twin playing a bunch of them), it serves as an important bullet against Splinter Twin and Burn, and is relevant as a two-drop to Chord for, that protects the combo.
These greatly accelerate Pod chains up from mana creatures. They let you immediately assemble the combo from just a Pod, a one-drop, and a two-drop:
• Pod the two-drop into [card deceiver exarch]Exarch[/card], untapping Pod.
• Pod the one-drop into [card phantasmal image]Image[/card], copying Exarch and untapping Pod.
• Pod the Image (copying Exarch) into Restoration Angel, blinking the Exarch and untapping Pod.
• Pod the Angel for [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card], and kill with that plus the Exarch.
Without these two cards, Podding up from mana creatures is too slow, so Kitchen Finks has a place. With Exarch, though, you get to skip straight from a two-drop to a four-drop with persist, and no longer need the random body of Finks. Image is also a key target for killing off legends, most notably Geist of Saint Traft and Linvala, Keeper of Silence. The cost of adding these to the deck is very small (namely, the Steam Vents), and easily worth the huge power boost they give your Birthing Pods.
Killing Birthing Pods is an important enough function for an common matchup that you want to have a bullet for it (and obviously there are other uses). Harmonic Sliver is better than Qasali Pridemage, because the deck makes such effective use of the body that gets left behind between Pod, Image, Angel, and Chord. Pridemage only has a spot in the board as a concession to Torpor Orb.
A fine draw, and a fine target to Pod into for value, but that isn’t enough to justify the slot. What makes Witness indispensable is that it turns Chord of Calling into a one-card combo: Chord for Witness, returning Chord; then Chord for Angel, blink Witness and return Chord; and finally Chord for Kiki-Jiki. Yes, that chain is slow, but it is very relevant in any kind of attrition-based matchup (like Jund), and is a big part of why the deck is so effective at grinding through removal despite playing so many mana sources.
Absolutely devastating in the mirror and against Twin—in these matchups your goal is to get Linvala into play as quickly as possible.
Zealous Conscripts was a glaring omission from the original Naya Pod lists, and by GP Columbus pretty much everyone on Pod had figured it out. Conscripts has one essential purpose in the deck: it lets you kill from an untapped Pod and a four-drop persister (Redcap, or, in this list’s case, Archmage) by Podding away the four-drop for Conscripts, untapping Pod, and then fetching Kiki-Jiki.
Without Conscripts, the deck’s Pod chain was based on Kitchen Finks, as you wanted to Pod Finks into two Restoration Angels, and then one of the Angels into [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card]. While that Pod chain is a lot of value (four life and a Restoration Angel every turn), it gets your opponent dead one turn slower. Additionally, it relies on having a Finks as your starting point, whereas when you are using the four-drop persister to assemble two pieces, you can start with any three-drop. With Exarch, that means you can start with any two-drop and still present lethal the following turn.
Most Pod lists play four Finks, and I feel that is a big mistake. Once you have Exarch and Conscripts in the deck, and no longer need Finks to fuel your Pods, what is it doing for you exactly? This deck is not interested in a random body that just attacks and blocks! When you have a Pod, Finks is superfluous; when you don’t have a Pod, you want to be a focused combo deck, and Finks contributes nothing to that game plan. As a blocker, it’s only effective against attackers that your Walls are already great against, and the Walls are furthering your own strategy rather than leaving you down a card. While you do win a fair share of games by just attacking normally with creatures, those are almost always grindier games where both you and your opponent had plenty of disruption. In those games, it’s not terribly important whether you are killing them with a Restoration Angel and a Finks or just the Angel. It’s much more important to have an extra card to force more interaction than to have that card shorten the clock. Finks is a good card with good synergy here, but strategically is a poor fit. You want the one Finks as a tutor target, but you should seriously be playing Wall of Omens over any additional copies.
I’d like to show you how I typically board to explain why each card has its place, and to highlight what’s important in each matchup.
Quick aside on sideboard guides, largely directed at my friends who love to justify not providing sideboard plans by saying things like:
“I advocate sideboarding on the fly, since having a pre-written sideboarding guide can stifle the last-minute adjustments you often have to make, depending on the individual card choices or play styles of your opponents.” – LSV
That’s bull! I mean, it’s true, but I also trust you to understand that without it needing to be said at this point. What that sentiment ignores is that there is valuable information about matchups encoded in sideboard guides, and that having a guide is incredibly useful as a starting point.
The mirror revolves around exactly two cards: Birthing Pod and [card linvala, keeper of silence]Linvala[/card]. Everything else is largely irrelevant, or rather is only relevant when neither player has a Pod or Linvala. You want to board in every single answer you have to these two cards, and be sure not to board out Chord, which serves as a cheap(ish) solution to either, thanks to Image and Pridemage.
Note that Spellskite does almost nothing in the mirror. [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card], Restoration Angel, and Deceiver Exarch (untapping) can’t target an opponent’s creature, so Spellskite only affects Zealous Conscripts.
They have so much removal that you aren’t really looking to combo them. You are the control deck, trying to stabilize the board (thus boarding in Linvala simply as a 3/4 flying blocker) and out-value them going long. They generally are on [card gifts ungiven]Gifts[/card] for [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] post-board, but between [card phantasmal image]Image[/card] and [card zealous conscripts]Conscripts[/card] that is not terribly problematic if you play around it.
An entirely different matchup than UWR Delver. You aren’t the control deck here, and don’t want to deal with their creatures with one-for-one answers. Fortunately, you are under far less pressure, and can afford to answer threats only “accidentally” with blockers. Their scariest card is Blood Moon, but it is very high variance. If they are able to keep you off of any mana creatures, Blood Moon is likely lethal, but if even one accelerant lives, Blood Moon is mostly blanked. Changing the mana to be Misty Rainforest-based, with a basic Forest, would help a ton here, but I don’t know that it’s worth it overall. This is the one place where Blood Moon is relevant, since no other Blood Moon deck is good enough at killing your mana creatures for it to matter.
This matchup is entirely attrition based. You aren’t going to get a quick combo kill against their vast supply of removal, and their creatures are pretty ineffective at attacking into yours. As such, the cards that matter are the ones that provide card advantage: Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling for you; and Dark Confidant, Liliana of the Veil, and Grim Lavamancer for them.
Grafdigger’s Cage is a huge beating since you are super-reliant on both Pod and Chord, but you also can’t afford to draw blank Grudges if they don’t have Cage. I wasn’t boarding in Grudge in the dark before, but with Orrin’s Top 8 list playing 3 Cages it might be right.
You can’t afford to turn islandwalk on, so Steam Vents is just about a dead draw (and potentially worse than that if you aren’t careful). I expect Merfolk to have lots of Cages post-board—between those and Aether Vial, the Grudges are put to good use. Chord underperforms in the matchup since it’s a race, not a grind, and you have no good cheap bullet creature.
This matchup improves a ton with Image and Conscripts, as those neatly trump Eldrazi and Karn respectively. Chord for Image even beats [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul[/card]! The land death is probably not even necessary in the board at this point—but like Conley always says: it’s better to blow up lands than to not blow up lands.
Speaking of Conley, I can only imagine how awesome it would be watching him play this matchup.
Keep in Image as a two-drop to Chord for to break up Kiki-Jiki plus Exarch, since Spellskite does not do the trick.
Your combo is trumped by their faster goldfish, so instead you want to just focus on disrupting them as much as possible. Your “combo” post-board is hate bear plus Archmage. Note that Chording for Canonist in the middle of their combo will get them, even if they have removal. Also note that Storm often sideboards into Splinter Twin, but fortunately the Thalia-plus-land death-plus-Archmage plan is pretty effective, regardless of what combo they are on. You definitely don’t want Linvala or Combust in the dark. Mulligan any hand that doesn’t present disruption by turn three; most hands do, since Chord and Pod are usually live by then. If you don’t get a third turn, good beats.
Well that about does it. If you are at all interested in playing something sweet in Modern, I really cannot recommend this deck enough. And I’m not just saying that due to an unfortunately large investment in Kiki-Jikis after losing the flip for who had to buy them at the GP for $25 apiece.
One final reason to play this deck: great sample hands!