This past weekend was a great one. One of my best friends in the world made the finals of the Pro Tour playing a deck I’d been trying to convince him to play for almost an entire year. Since Jacob covered his individual matchups and in-game decisions, I figured I’d give an overview of the testing process we used to arrive at our deck list as well as my thoughts about Modern overall.
The unbanning of [ccProd]Wild Nacatl[/ccProd] and the banning of [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd] were by far the biggest shakeups the Modern format has received in the several iterations of the ban list. Deathrite was probably the best card in Jund and really enabled a lot of its scarier draws. We still built a few Jund decks for our testing, but for the most part assumed that people wouldn’t play it and didn’t let it influence our deckbuilding much.
The story was pretty much the same with [ccProd]Bitterblossom[/ccProd]. We tried Faeries and a few other Bitterblossom decks, but they all had problems where the cards that you’d add to help synergize with ‘Blossom were too weak overall. We assumed that Faeries would not be a big part of the metagame.
Zoo, on the other hand, was very promising. The time-honored strategy of playing a Wild Nacatl and getting your opponent dead was still quite powerful and the deck had gained a few promising new additions since it was last Modern legal. [ccProd]Experiment One[/ccProd] gave the deck another one-drop that could easily reach 3 power by the time it was ready to attack on turn two in the stronger Zoo hand, while [ccProd]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/ccProd] made combat very unpleasant for decks planning to block. We figured that some but not all Zoo decks would adopt the Experiment and that a majority of Zoo decks would adopt Ghor-Clan.
Ghor-Clan was a particularly big deal for Melira players because it made the game plan of playing creatures that were excellent at blocking every turn look a lot less impressive. Games where the Zoo player had a curve of one-drop into 2 one-drops were brutally difficult and even games where the Zoo player had a turn one play followed up by a Bolt on a mana guy and another one-drop felt very unfavorable. It was obvious that we’d need to adapt in some way or Pod would not be a great choice for the Pro Tour.
With these changes to the format in mind, myself and GP Detroit champion Josh McClain set out to build the best Pod deck we could. We started by switching the Deathrites from our original list into Noble Hierarchs. Preserving the original number of mana creatures in the deck is fairly important and while Hierarch is certainly worse than Deathrite, it’s still more than capable of getting the job done. We decided to add another [ccProd]Wall of Roots[/ccProd] as another early creature that could block Wild Nacatl that you usually don’t mind if they Ghor-Clan over.
Originally we toyed with cutting down on [ccProd]Chord of Calling[/ccProd]s because they’re a little too slow against Zoo, but you just get too many free wins by having Chord and two other combo pieces in your opening hand that we decided to cut down on a [ccProd]Viscera Seer[/ccProd] instead.
Next on our chopping block was the [ccProd]Spike Feeder[/ccProd]/[ccProd]Archangel of Thune[/ccProd] combo. The Spike Feeder half was already not very impressive so if the combo wanted to remain in the deck, it would have to be on the wings of Angels. Unfortunately Archangel was really underperforming against our Zoo decks; by the time you were able to get it into play you’d either already be in a stabilized position, in which case it didn’t matter much what 5-mana creature you were getting, or you’d be on the back foot and hoping that Archangel could catch you up. The fact that it matches up rather poorly against Ghor-Clan and [ccProd]Path to Exile[/ccProd] meant that it was rarely able to actually let you catch up. We opted to cut it for [ccProd]Shriekmaw[/ccProd], which matches up much better against Path and about as well against Ghor-Clan while also having the upside of being a cheap play when you draw it naturally.
Our last addition to the maindeck was a [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd]. Starting at 4 mana, it did a great job stabilizing you with life gain while shrinking opposing [ccProd]Tarmogoyf[/ccProd]s. It also helped add some graveyard hate back into the deck to fill the void Deathrite Shaman left. It’s rarely a card you Pod for, but it’s fantastic to draw naturally and sometimes you just need a giant creature plus a few extra life points to close out a game. We added a second copy to the sideboard to help draw it more often in matchups where it’s good.
Other changes we contemplated were cutting a [ccProd]Murderous Redcap[/ccProd] due to it’s relative lack of utility against Zoo and adding a [ccProd]Restoration Angel[/ccProd] to enable the Finks into Resto blinking Finks Pod chain for some quick life gain. Ultimately we declined these changes because we didn’t want to ruin what I consider one of Birthing Pod’s greatest strengths as a deck—it’s very strong against random creature decks. Once you start cutting the persist creatures you can really start to lose that edge and I wanted to make sure that we didn’t lose to someone who decided to show up packing Merfolk or Goblins.
The sideboard also had to adapt to the new metagame. [ccProd]Lingering Souls[/ccProd] had lost a lot of its appeal with the expected decline of [ccProd]Liliana of the Veil[/ccProd]. It was fine against UWR control and still quite good against Affinity, but being basically unable to trade for a creature against Zoo made it pretty poor in that matchup. I’ve really wanted to play [ccProd]Slaughter Pact[/ccProd] in Modern for a long time, but with Deathrite and [ccProd]Dark Confidant[/ccProd] ruling the roost for so long, [ccProd]Dismember[/ccProd] had been the go-to sideboard removal spell. We felt that Dismember was also relatively weak against Zoo while Slaughter Pacting a creature in response to a Ghor-Clan seemed really sweet. Over the course of the tournament, I know Josh was able to kill a Restoration Angel in response to a Kiki-Jiki activation, and I got a Melira with a persisting Redcap on the stack as well as a Ghor-Clan in response to bloodrush.
Path was added as supplemental sideboard removal because drawing too many Pacts gets very awkward, and [ccProd]Obstinate Baloth[/ccProd] made a return appearance as another creature that generated immediate value and matched up decently against random aggressive decks.[ccProd]Entomber Exarch[/ccProd] has always been my 16th or 17th sideboard card at Grand Prix, but at a Pro Tour I expect people to be much less shy about playing combo decks. This made the Pod chain of [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd] into [ccProd]Entomber Exarch[/ccProd] very important. Unfortunately, Entomber Exarch was not exactly on everyone’s “must bring” list when packing and we found ourselves with four teammates who wanted to play the deck and only two copies of the Exarch! After striking out at the dealer booths, we began to brainstorm some possible replacements (that honestly we’d have been equally unlikely to find) such as [ccProd]Brain Weevil[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Mindslicer[/ccProd]. Luckily, Pat Cox ended up having a set to lend to us! Thanks again Pat!
Some final sideboard consideration was given to [ccProd]Thrun, the Last Troll,[/ccProd] but we decided it had the same problem as Archangel against Zoo and we were feeling pretty cramped on sideboard space already. This lead to Josh, Jacob, and myself registering this 75 for the Pro Tour:[ccDeck]4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Godless Shrine
1 Temple Garden
1 Woodland Cemetery
3 Razorverge Thicket
3 Gavony Township
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Noble Hierarch
2 Wall of Roots
2 Voice of Resurgence
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Eternal Witness
4 Kitchen Finks
1 Orzhov Pontiff
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Murderous Redcap
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Viscera Seer
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Chord of Calling
4 Birthing Pod
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Sin Collector
1 Entomber Exarch
2 Path to Exile
2 Slaughter Pact
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Kataki, War’s Wage
1 Voice of Resurgence[/ccDeck]
Brian Braun-Duin also was on Pod, but decided to play an extra [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd] maindeck and third Ooze in the board. Our record as a team not counting intentional draws was 26-14, good for a 65% win rate. I ended up losing two win-and-ins and falling into the Top 25, while Josh was able to make Top 16 and Jacob made it all the way to the finals! I was really pleased with our list in general and I think our results show that it was a good one. Going forward, there aren’t a ton of changes I’d want to make to the deck. [ccProd]Slaughter Pact[/ccProd] certainly gets worse as more people know about it, and with Zoo performing so poorly, it might be correct to switch [ccProd]Dismember[/ccProd] back into the deck.
I’ve provided some tentative sideboard plans, with the caveat that you should always think about what you’re doing when sideboarding rather than just blindly following a guide. Be sure to present a cohesive deck that makes sense against what your opponent is doing and remember to consider what they’re going to be boarding out and in.
-3 [ccProd]Chord of Calling[/ccProd] -3 [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Orzhov Pontiff[/ccProd]
+2 [ccProd]Slaughter Pact[/ccProd] +2 [ccProd]Path to Exile[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Obstinate Baloth[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd]
The plan here is to play creatures that match up well against theirs and win with incidental attackers possibly fueled by [ccProd]Gavony Township[/ccProd]. It’s actually surprisingly easy to race them with all the damage they end up dealing themselves, so when the game gets to the point where you can attack, things usually end pretty quickly.
-1 [ccProd]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Shriekmaw[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Spellskite[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Kitchen Finks[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Murderous Redcap[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Wall of Roots[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Orzhov Pontiff[/ccProd]
+4 [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Entomber Exarch[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd]
Disrupt and beat down. Occasionally you’ll get to combo them, but it’s certainly not something you can rely on when they usually have a reasonable amount of post-board interaction. It can be tempting to bring in removal spells for Electromancer, but you win by being proactive and forcing them to stumble, not by slowing down your clock.
-1 [ccProd]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Orzhov Pontiff[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Murderous Redcap[/ccProd] -3 [ccProd]Chord of Calling[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Shriekmaw[/ccProd] -2 [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd]
+4 [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Obstinate Baloth[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Entomber Exarch[/ccProd]
This is one of the matchups where sideboarding changes the most depending on what your opponent is doing. For example, Jacob brought in [ccProd]Harmonic Sliver[/ccProd] in the finals against Shaun Mclaren because we knew he had a ton of artifacts and enchantments that he was planning on bringing in. Things also change based on if you see various Angels (either of the restorative or baneslaying variety) or Dragons. Generally though, this matchup is about attrition and it’s very hard to combo them.
-2 [ccProd]Kitchen Finks[/ccProd] -3 [ccProd]Chord of Calling[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Melira, Sylvok Outcast[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Viscera Seer[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Ranger of Eos[/ccProd]
+4 [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd] +2 [ccProd]Slaughter Pact[/ccProd] +2 [ccProd]Path to Exile[/ccProd]
This is another matchup where different Twin players will do dramatically different things and you need to adapt accordingly. Sin Collector and Entomber Exarch are stellar against some Twin lists and horrible against others so pay attention to what your opponent is up to! Generally post-board you present so much disruption that beating down is enough to win.
I know that doesn’t cover even one third of the archetypes you can expect to face over the course of your average Modern tournament, but hopefully it gives you some idea of what to expect. I’ll very likely be podding at GP Richmond next weekend, hopefully picking up the handful of points I need to lock up Platinum for the year. Thanks for reading!