All right, let’s get this out of the way now:
We good? No, no, go ahead and finish, I’ll wait…
The midnight hour had come. Unlike previous midnight hours I have experienced in my day, this one did not actually come at midnight the day before the Pro Tour. I actually approached this Pro Tour much more safely. For the months before the event, I was focused on brewing. I had moved over to Team TCGPlayer with this as my motivation, so I wanted to take advantage of a group of guys enabling me in that department.
Brew after brew came and went and while many showed promise, I could not justify them over the strong lists that the team had already arrived at—basic, metagame lists. Just to provide a few more laughs, here are some of the decks:
• A deck that used [ccProd]Quest for the Goblin Lord[/ccProd] alongside [ccProd]Mox Opal[/ccProd]s.
• A deck whose nut draw involved [ccProd]Simian Spirit Guide[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Runed Halo[/ccProd].
• A deck that killed with [ccProd]Akroma’s Memorial[/ccProd].
• A deck that contained 4 copies of [ccProd]Careful Consideration[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Jace Beleren[/ccProd].
I don’t want to give too much away about any of those decks, as a few of them still have some real potential in the format, especially with Richmond right around the corner. In the future, expect some Rogue’s Gallery content with one of more of those decks though.
I ended up not running any of those lists because I could not get them to clear every hurdle that defined the format. Basically, every deck you even considered needed to be able to handle a [ccProd]Wild Nacatl[/ccProd] on turn one and needed to hold off the many turn 4 combo decks in the format, such as Splinter Twin. Beyond that, having some game against control would be beneficial, although we did not put as much stock into that bullet point as we expected control to be significantly less of the field than the aggro and combo decks.
But when the Tuesday and Wednesday before the Pro Tour came, I was ready to move to a more traditional deck. Originally, I had simply had Storm as my go-to deck, should I fail to come up with anything stellar. Andrew Shrout had been touting the deck for literally four months, announcing back in November that if [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] was banned, he would be playing Storm. His confidence in the deck along with the results it was putting up in our mock tournaments and during testing made the deck a pretty easy choice to fall back on.
I had played Storm back at the first Modern Pro Tour in Philadelphia and finished in the Top 25, so I knew the deck relatively well, but I was sure to put in some extra games when it looked like playing the deck was the de facto choice. Playtesting is not all about what deck you are going to play, however, as the team around you needs just as much assistance in making their decision. So during this time, I began jamming a lot of games with gauntlet decks, trying to evaluate the various decks that members of the team were beginning to narrow down to.
One such session saw me playing our gauntlet Melira Pod list against Harry Corvese who was on Bogles. Harry and Marc had deemed this matchup very bad for Bogles and was one of the primary reasons that they were hesitant to play the deck. While I had not played Melira Pod much, it was certainly my kind of deck, so I figured I would work my way through it pretty quickly.
Game after game went in favor of Pod. For the first 8 games, even when I didn’t draw [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd] I was winning easily. Post-board games felt even worse somehow and the matchup was not looking promising. My Pod play was improving pretty rapidly though. Some of my team members noted that I was not even needing to tank long to come up with lines, something that is known to scare players off of Pod. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but with all of the wins going in my favor and my team being supportive, my confidence with a deck I barely had on my radar before began to grow.
It turns out that during this time, we actually managed to find a strategy that beat Pod out of the Bogles sideboard and was rather consistent at doing so. That made the testing doubly important as the Bogles players had a reason to continue working on the deck and I had a new deck to tinker with.
Pod lists are basically defined by their ability to be a gigantic toolbox. They get to run a slew of one-ofs and powerful sideboard cards that they can reliably grab due to a bunch of powerful tutors. [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd] is the card that gets the headlines, but [ccProd]Chord of Calling[/ccProd] is also very strong. In fact, the more I played with the deck, the more I was impressed with Chord.
One thing that got me curious about our Pod list was just how we had arrived at certain numbers. Things like 2 copies of [ccProd]Viscera Seer[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Murderous Redcap[/ccProd] had some value, but they were certainly not essential to what the deck was trying to do. I wanted to strip the deck down to its bare essentials to see just how much of the format I could be prepared for in game one situations.
One of the first cards that came up was [ccProd]Knight of the Reliquary[/ccProd]. While her synergy with [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd] was not particularly amazing, she is a very solid card on her own, especially in any fair matchup. While Pod had a combo it could build toward, often Pod would play a fair game, utilizing clutch one-ofs until it had a moment to maneuver, at which point it would turn and find a combo to end the game. Very rarely were you just straight-up racing another deck. If you were looking to race, plenty of other combo decks were better at that. Pod is an excellent choice because of its versatility that can transition into a powerful combo at the blink of an eye.
[ccProd]Knight of the Reliquary[/ccProd] helped to cement that strategy. Knight is one of the most powerful things you can cast on turn 2 in the format, and Melira Pod is already a deck that is built to have access to 3 mana on turn two. In addition, Pod looks to utilize some utility lands already in its list, namely [ccProd]Gavony Township[/ccProd]. Knight seemed like it could make that plan more consistent while expanding the versatility of the main deck. Originally, it made sense to try to fit four copies of the card into the deck, but unlike other lists that rely on a turn 2 Knight to hit their true potential, the card Birthing Pod made for an acceptable replacement in your opening hand. [ccProd]Kitchen Finks[/ccProd] was another card filling in the 3-drop slot that we obviously needed as well, so I adopted the Knights slowly, beginning with just one copy and going up to a total of three at one point.
Ultimately, in order to justify any sort of land package for Knight to grab, I ended up settling on 2 Knights at a minimum. This made drawing one a little more reliable as you generally spent your tutors on other things. Occasionally, Knight would just be a gigantic creature in the late game and and end of turn Chord would surprise the opponent, but more often than not you wanted to draw Knight.
With that portion of the deck figured out, I messed around with various one-ofs for awhile to see exactly what was needed in the main deck. [ccProd]Orzhov Pontiff[/ccProd], for example, was a card that many lists ran in the main deck when I felt that the metagame could easily see it moved to the side. After a lot of tweaking I arrived at a list that looked like this:
[ccdeck]4 Birds of Paradise
2 Noble Hierarch
1 Viscera Seer
1 Wall of Roots
1 Voice of Resurgence
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Qasali Pridemage
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Knight of the Reliquary
1 Eternal Witness
1 Spike Feeder
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Murderous Redcap
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Archangel of Thune
3 Abrupt Decay
3 Birthing Pod
4 Chord of Calling
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Marsh Flats
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
2 Razorverge Thicket
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Gavony Township
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Voice of Resurgence
1 Kataki, War’s Wage
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Entomber Exarch
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Orzhov Pontiff[/ccdeck]
I say very similar, because at the time, I still had four copies of Pod in my list and only three Chord of Calling. Literally every list I found online had exactly that configuration, going back as far as a year ago. One might say that that is the “correct” number, which is why it is so heavily adopted, but I don’t think that is a given. What if someone just ran that number a year or two ago and everyone took it as scripture and just ran the same amount, never bothering to question it? Besides, even if those numbers were 100% correct, my list was different in significant ways, so I should at least examine those numbers more closely.
Over the next few days, I played with lists containing 4 Pods and 3 Chords, as well as the inverse of that just to get a feel for how each played out. It would be almost impossible to tell from that alone just which was better and if those numbers were correct, but it helped to weed out extreme games in which you drew all 4 of your Chords or Pod.
Basically I found a few things that ultimately led to my decision to run 3 Pods:
• Knight of the Reliquary
Knight was proving himself more and more useful, especially due to the main deck access to [ccProd]Bojuka Bog[/ccProd] that he provided. I noticed that in almost every single case, if I had the option to play Knight on turn 2 instead of Birthing Pod, I almost always did so. You would need to know the matchup had countermagic or was a pure race to play Pod before Knight, and even in those scenarios, you would almost never know that in game 1, making Knight the safer and more consistent play.
• Crack, Fetch, Take 4
Our team had come to the conclusion that this Pro Tour would be dominated by [ccProd]Wild Nacatl[/ccProd]s and combo decks. Birthing Pod deals a lot of damage to you and exposes weak board positions against these decks. If you take 2 damage to play a turn 2 Pod against a Wild Nacatl, you are opening the door to be blown out by a removal spell while you chip away at your own life total. Occasionally, this was fine, but Chord almost provided the opposite. You get to pass the turn with a bunch of blockers available to protect your life total and you get an additional turn of information before committing to a target.
• Drawing Dos
I was also struggling in games in which I drew two copies of Birthing Pod. Whenever I drew 2 copies of Chord, I basically won the game. You Chord at the end of your opponent’s turn and then Chord again on your turn for the win. Pods tended to clutter my hand in multiples, as well as being terrible top decks when your board was already dealt with. The fact that Chord just counted as a creature made the fair games that the deck plays that much more consistent. More and more I kept viewing the deck as a midrange disruptive deck with a combo finish and less of a combo deck. Chord just kept delivering in that style.
Don’t get me wrong, Pod is clearly a very powerful card and without it, this deck would not be the powerhouse that is is, but I do not think shaving the numbers to something more suitable in this environment undermines that. Look at the UR Splinter Twin list in the Top 8. Despite having access to 8 copies of each of its combo pieces and many thinking that is correct, this list uses only 6 copies of [ccProd]Pestermite[/ccProd] and 5 copies of [ccProd]Splinter Twin[/ccProd]. Was that correct? Heck if I know, but Anssi Alkio felt it was and it served him well.
If combo decks continue to be as prevalent as they were at the Pro Tour, I like keeping Pod as the disruptive midrange deck with combo finishes more than I like isolating the combo, regardless of how many Pods you end up running. In Richmond, Pod will likely be one of the safer choices, assuming you feel comfortable piloting it. I am not quite sure what I will be running as of yet, but it is on my short list. Then again, a brewer’s gotta brew…