Today I want to look at openers from Angel Pod, which is the non-Melira version of WBG Birthing Pod that LSV championed in Modern. I have been playing this deck in recent weeks and prefer it to the Melira version as it plays a much more value-oriented game, which I find more enjoyable. Regardless, Melira and non-Melira Pod decks are looking for similar attributes in their opening hands so this should be useful for all Junk Pod players out there regardless of the list.
Unlike Affinity, which I looked at last week, Pod is not trying to end the game in as short a number of turns as possible. Its games will go on much longer, meaning you can and should plan on drawing into action. That allows a more flexible approach to your keeps. However, there are still certain components that a Pod player will look for in an opening hand. I’ve generated some hands for discussion today that encompass some of the most common scenarios a Pod player faces.
If there is a “god draw” in Pod it is a relatively simple one: two lands including a green source, a 1-drop mana dork (either Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch) and Birthing Pod. Other cards are gravy. This hand gives you a turn 2 Birthing Pod play, which always sets you up very well for any game. Angel Pod can start tutoring pieces relevant for the matchup and Melira Pod can start assembling its combo.
Of course, there can be problems with this hand. The primary one being that people like to try to kill your mana dorks—for good reason. As such, you need the rest of your opening hand not to suck. Consider this hand for example:
Given that Lightning Bolt is played in almost 50% of lists in Modern I have to at least plan for the significant chance that my Bird does not live. In that scenario, the hand above is now absolutely terrible. Even if I draw a third mana source and can play Pod, I have no creatures to Pod with! So while this hand has the components of the nut draw you really should consider sending it back to try for a six with a better-projected outcome that doesn’t instantly fold to a single Lightning Bolt.
Pod mulligans pretty well, so you should never be afraid of going to six to try for a better draw.
This hand is just so much better than the previous example. Here you have the “god hand” components but in a hand with an early-game focus. If the Hierarch dies then you can play Voice or Skite into Pod and you are going to feel very well set up for the game ahead.
The “Three Birds in Hand is Worth a Land in the Deck”
This is a good example of the vast number of tempting hands Pod can generate that boil down to “a green source and a mana dude.” Alas, I have tried keeping hands of this sort and it so rarely works out and the defeat is short, swift, and painful because you spend the whole time berating yourself for not mulliganing.
What is so wrong with this hand? Well, you really need to draw that second land on turn two. Assume we are on the play. We play land, Bird, go. Even if the Bird survives, our follow-up play isn’t Pod unless we draw the land. It’s two more Birds. If the Bird doesn’t survive and we don’t draw a land then we only get to play one more Bird before saying go. It’s just so slow and unwieldy. Once we eventually get the Pod online on turn three, we get to start Podding away our lands(!) into 2-drops.
The amount of tempo this hand is likely to lose is just too painful in Modern. Of course, if you do draw the land, everything is perfect—I know that will tempt many people to say they would keep it. However, you are less than 50% to draw a land in that crucial draw step. I reckon if you don’t hit that land on turn 2 you are odds-on to lose more often than not. I would rather take the mulligan than take those odds. Even on the draw, although you get 2 draw steps rather than 1, your opponent is still just so far ahead if you miss, and has so many more potential answers to your multiple Bird hand than just the Bolt (e.g. any number of 2-CMC removal spells to complement any lack of Bolt; a turn 3 Electrolyze on two Birds…) that it’s still not worth it.
The “Nothing Special”
This is an easy mulligan for me, even though it might look playable.
When I am playing Pod, there are certain things I want from a hand. While the “god hand” is the ultimate desire you can’t expect to get it every time. As such I am prepared to mulligan mediocre hands to attempt to find it or the better part of it.
This hand doesn’t have a mana-dork, which is immediately a bad sign for me. In Modern, everyone is doing powerful things. I really want to accelerate my game plan (or at least force my opponent to spend a turn and a card to remove my Bird) and for that I need a mana-dork. There is also no Pod, which would make the hand much more tempting.
If the Gavony were a Bird/Noble I would snap-keep this. If the Witness were a Pod I would keep it just as quickly. With neither of this deck’s defining cards I want to mulligan to find them.
There are a couple of other points against this hand. While it has a curve I don’t like the components. Thoughtseize on one is great, but Scavenging Ooze performs best as a late-game card; here it is just a bear. If it were a Voice this hand would be much more resilient, though still somewhat unexciting. On three you get Eternal Witness. Now, if we are against control, then getting that Thoughtseize back is going to be sweet—but otherwise you aren’t even going to want to run it out. Witness is another late-game card/Pod tutor target and I find having it in my opening hand to be very disappointing. Restoration Angel is fine but the only value target is the Witness that I didn’t want to play on three! If Witness were Finks it would against make the hand much better.
Since I’m speaking about alternatives, would I keep the following?
Yes. While I don’t have a mana dude or a Pod this curve is very nice. It’ll easily keep me alive against most matchups; however, I have cherry-picked this hand somewhat, so it’s probably the exception.
I know I’ll never convince some of you to not keep the first hand in this segment. Some of the comments last week made my heart sink. Yes, when you mulligan, you risk going to 4. But when you keep sub-standard hands you are setting yourself up to lose. It’s all about percentages. When my starting hand is low percentage to win I’d rather take risk of mulliganing because I know I can find many higher percentage hands at 6. And I really really like winning! I see so many people blaming their losses on luck; yet, when I watch them, I know they are losing far more through their own mulligan choices than any mystical luck. If you want to get better, learn to realize when your losses are because of your choices and learn the lesson each loss teaches you. I’ve played enough hands like this one to know I will more often lose than win if I keep it.
The “Solid Keep”
I like this hand. It’s going to need to draw some more action like some Angels or a Pod, but it has a solid early game plan. That Orzhov Pontiff may be a flop depending on the matchup but you can always use the +1/+1 mode to get some use out of it.
This hand reminds me to raise an important issue for Pod decks: Your mana is a really important consideration when mulliganing. I have kept Birds of Paradise, Forest, Township only to have my Birds killed, leaving me never being able to cast anything else in my hand for the rest of the game. This deck’s spells are very color-heavy. Your opening hand should always have access to green and then, ideally, access to both black and white mana. Depending on your spells in hand, you can miss one of those colors and still have it be a keep. Obviously you can’t always have everything in your opening hand, but access to some or all of your colors is an important check for this deck. If the above hand had Forest, Gavony instead of Rainforest, Woodland Cemetery, you have to send it back because a dead Bird leaves you casting Wall of Roots and then being sad.
The “But It Has a Pod!”
My final hand for today is another mulligan. Players can be tempted to keep any hand with lands and a Birthing Pod. I can sympathize with that position—Pod is the best card in the deck—however, this hand does nothing until turn three and doesn’t really enter the game until turn 4 or 5. Moreover, the hand is so top-heavy that the Pod isn’t even going to be of use. You can either Pod your creature or play out more, but not both. Even worse, you don’t even have the mana to cast the Redcap and that Witness will probably be returning nothing! Yuck, yuck, yuck, send it back or be prepared to lose.
I hope you have learned something from the hands today. It was good to see so much discussion after last week’s example hands. Mulligan choices are so interesting and always vulnerable to the top of the deck. There will always be one-land hands that would have been keepable because there were, indeed, the three lands you needed on top—but that’s not what mulligans are about. In a vacuum, does the hand put you in a good position to win? If no, put it back. Understanding whether a hand positions you well comes from experience and understanding your deck. Anyway, that’s all for this week. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @onionpixie and I’ll see you next week.