I See Blood Moon Rising: R/G Ponza in Modern

Last weekend’s Invitational provided savvy students of the metagame with some much needed perspective. Yet results from large scale, split-format tournaments are always a little bit tricky to interpret.

Whether it be a Pro Tour (10 rounds Standard, 6 rounds Draft) or Invitational (8 rounds Standard, 8 rounds Modern), the pure Top 8 results don’t always tell the true story of what a format looks like. Most people approach metagaming from a results-oriented point of reference. Players are much more likely to pick up and jump in on decks that make the Top 8 or win an event.

To be fair, winning an event is often a strong endorsement that a list is good. Also, since we know the majority of players typically just look to the Top 8 deck lists, it is predictable that whatever made Top 8 will take on the title of a “deck to beat.”

While the rest of the world clamors to replicate the success of the Top 8 deck lists, the wise metagamer should be looking to the 8-2, or 7-1 or better deck list section for data.

Making Top 8 of a huge, split-format tournament is challenging because it forces players to perform well across two formats. But when you are looking to figure out what decks are the “best” in a format, the data can be skewed by a strong performance in one format over the other.

If you look specifically at which deck lists went 7-1 or better, you get a very clear picture of what the strongest Modern decks in the tournament were.

One deck that really caught my attention:

R/G Ponza

Bernard Liberati, 26th place

If I had only looked at the Top 8 deck lists, I would have missed this gem. But it was the top performing Modern deck in the tournament and innovative to boot!

I really love this deck. It’s like a hybrid big mana ramp/mana denial deck. The deck also capitalizes on playing cards that are individually powerful and punishing.

Blood Moon is just a messed up card. It gives fits to a large number of opposing strategies and leads to free wins. They don’t make cards like this anymore, and for good reason—it turns games into non-games.

I love the way that once a Blood Moon resolves, Ponza can focus its energy on attacking those straggling basic lands. It pushes the Blood Moon angle very hard.

Also, turn-1 mana creature into turn 2 Stone Rain is a pretty crippling blow.

The deck eventually ramps out powerful monsters, but it spends the early part of the game on stunting or crippling the opponent’s mana production. The idea is that you make them stumble and then really hit them while they are floundering.

Acid-Moss, in particular, is a great way to make them stumble while progressing your mana development into a powerful bomb. Speaking of powerful bombs… the deck really delivers!

The deck has a lot of powerful threats and most of them generate card and board advantage. I love Inferno Titan, since quickly ramping one out can simply lock the low-to-the-ground decks out of the game.

It also stands to reason that even if decks can go a little bit bigger, the incidental land destruction and Blood Moon angle will keep them off those important bigger creatures long enough for the Titan to wreak havoc.

The list maindecks Bonfire of the Damned (because it plays Arbor Elves) and the spell was ridiculous in Standard. It still feels pretty depressing to have miracled against you. In fact, a lot of times it’s pretty much a wrap when it happens.

Bonfire gives the deck a fighting chance against the fast swarm decks like Affinity or Collected Company.

Ponza also has the ability to transform into more of a “wrath deck” with Anger of the Gods to pressure the swarm strategies, and it’s a house against Dredge since it exiles Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams.

Lastly, in a metagame where decks like Eldrazi Tron continue to grow in popularity and win percentage that a deck that can actively and aggressively attack their Tron and Eldrazi Temples is hot stock. Blood Moon wrecks them pretty hard since it can lock Eldrazi off of colorless mana sources.

Wizards has really made a push over the past decade to remove land destruction strategies from the forefront of competitive play. Obviously, being unable to ever cast spells is not the most fun play experience, but mana denial is still a potent part of competitive play in the Eternal formats and Modern.

I do enjoy a good Stone Rain and R/G is pretty high on my radar of decks that I’m going to be focusing on in the coming weeks. Blame it on the Moon!

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