This weekend I attended GP Antwerp. I haven’t played Modern in quite some time, but I really didn’t think long about my deck choice.
Jund is still a major part of the meta. Whichever way you look at it, the BG shell of hand disruption via [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card], [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] combined with efficient creatures like [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and [card]Dark Confidant[/card] is what Jund is all about.
If you want to play Jund you now get three choices: run it as straight BG to have an easier mana base, with red for [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], or with white for [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. The choice is yours—but not mine. I still refuse to touch Jund-esque decks with a barge pole.
I finally realized exactly why Jund annoys me this weekend. Your victory against it depends on what they draw. Very little of a given game versus Jund feels like it’s down to your deck or your quality of play. They have a variety of answers against different decks, some of which are stronger than others in a given situation. They also need to draw their spells in the correct order. If they draw the right parts of their deck at the right times, you are probably done for. I, thankfully, only played the menace twice this weekend, but every game I felt like I did roughly the same things while Jund decided if I got to win. Which is a rubbish feeling. Playing versus decks like Hexproof often feels like this as well, but the significant difference is that, if you want to, you can board a ton of silver bullets against Hexproof and watch them weep in games 2 and 3 as they have no chance of winning. You can’t do this against Jund. It’s basically designed to not have a weakness or a strength. It’s a very strange deck and often very dull to face.
Anyway, Jund rant done. Moving on.
I have always wanted to play a Pod deck in Modern but never gotten around to it, so I decided now was the time.
There are two major Pod archetypes: Kiki Pod and Melira Pod. In case you don’t know how these two decks work, here is Carrie’s Guide to Pod Decks.
Of the two Pod decks, this one is much more dedicated to combo. Unlike Melira Pod that can win by aggression, Kiki Pod essentially always wins by assembling its combo.
Kiki Pod’s combo makes infinite creatures by using [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki’s[/card] ability to target a creature, the copy of which can allow you to untap him in some way. This creates an infinitely repeatable loop to generate as many creatures as you like, all of which have haste. There are actually a whole selection of creatures that can do this, but Kiki Pod uses [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card].
Melira Pod and Kiki Pod both use [card]Birthing Pod[/card] to tutor up their combo pieces. The cool thing about Kiki Pod is that it is carefully designed to be able to assemble its combo once it has a Pod in play from an incredibly large subsection of its creatures. Several excellent primers have been written on all the Pod chains in the deck, so I suggest you check those out if you are serious about playing Kiki Pod. But let me give you an example of one of the most common chains that demonstrates how they can go from nothing to a win in one turn:
You have on board one [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] and one [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] together with a Birthing Pod. With a minimum of 4 mana and 8 life, you can assemble the full combo as follows:
Pod [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] into [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card], use its ability to untap the [card]Birthing Pod[/card]. Pod [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] into [card]Phantasmal Image[/card], copy [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] and untap [card]Birthing Pod[/card] again. Pod the Illusion Exarch into [card]Restoration Angel[/card], flicker [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card], then untap Pod again. Pod [card]Restoration Angel[/card] into [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card], and then you can combo. This chain requires 4 Pod activations hence 4-8 mana and 0-8 life. If you have to pay that much life it can be a risk, but can also kill your opponent out of nowhere. Letting a Kiki player untap with a [card]Birthing Pod[/card] in play will spell almost instant doom if they know what they are doing (many people don’t).
Of course, if you represent a point removal spell they might not risk it. Instead, they will take a few extra turns to get protection like [card]Spellskite[/card] into play first.
I really like Kiki-Pod because it can so reliably assemble its combo once it gets a Pod in play. However, it depends much more on finding Pod. It’s a combo deck and it has to find the pieces of said combo to win. That makes it too fragile for my tastes even though it looks the most fun ever.
Recent builds of Melira Pod have a two-pronged strategy. They can either play an aggro game or they can combo. I think this is a really nice balance. It makes you much less reliant on [card]Birthing Pod[/card] itself, so if you don’t find it then no problem, but your opponent will still feel the need to board hate in, which can be a bit of a free win when they have hate and you have beatdowns. It is a bit more frustrating than Kiki-Pod when you need to resort to combo-ing, as it can often require several turns of Pod activations to get the combo set up, as you have no ability to untap your Pod, so it can feel very slow.
One of the major weakness of Melira Pod, until recently, was its reliance on the graveyard. The traditional Melira combo involves [card melira, sylvok outcast]Melira[/card] and her synergy with persist creatures. If you have Melira in play and a creature with persist dies it will re-enter the battlefield from the graveyard, but the -1/-1 counter is not placed upon it. This means it can die over and over again and keep coming back. This works well with persist creatures with ETB effects on them—most notably [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] and [card]Murderous Redcap[/card]. When you combine Melira and persist creatures with a sacrifice outlet such as [card]Viscera Seer[/card], you can repeatedly “kill” off your creatures to gain infinite life or deal infinite damage to an opponent.
Side note: you have to actually name a number when you loop Kitchen Finks. You can’t just say “infinite” as life totals must be kept accurate at all times. Here is an example of my life total this weekend:
My opponent tried to insist I stop but I pointed to the judge who was watching and stated that he would happily give me a game rule violation for not doing so. You must keep track of your life total and any changes to it at all times, and it must be a defined numerical value. Also, the life you gain has to be a multiple of 2.
Back on topic: Unfortunately, with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], many decks have maindeck graveyard hate and can remove the persist creature from the graveyard with the persist trigger on the stack to stop the combo. Thanks to M14, Melira Pod now contains two combos, and the second does not require the graveyard. The second uses [card]Archangel of Thune[/card] and her synergy with [card]Spike Feeder[/card].
You can remove a counter from [card]Spike Feeder[/card], gaining 2 life, which triggers Archangel’s ability putting +1/+1 counters onto all your creatures including [card]Spike Feeder[/card], which you can then remove again. You can repeat this loop to gain infinite life and make all your creatures (except the [card]Spike Feeder[/card]) infinitely large.
The addition of this second combo to Melira Pod has really helped it against the [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]-heavy meta. This, plus the fact it is also happy to just play an aggressive game makes it a resilient and interesting deck to play, and the reason I chose to run it this weekend.
Here was my 75:[deck]Main Deck
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Deathrite Shaman
2 Visera Seer
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Qasali Pridemage
2 Voice of Resurgence
1 Wall of Roots
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Eternal Witness
1 Spike Feeder
4 Kitchen Finks
1 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
3 Chord of Calling
2 Murderous Redcap
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Birthing Pod
1 Archangel of Thune
2 Temple Garden
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Godless Shrine
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Razorverge Thicket
3 Gavony Township
1 Woodland Cemetery
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Sin Collector
1 Orzhov Pontiff
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Harmonic Sliver
Melira Pod lists are pretty standardized, but I have a few quirky differences I want to highlight. I have a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] in the main and a second in the board. These are essentially a concession to the Jund decks. The best card to hold off [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] beatdown is, in fact, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. It’s also a naturally aggressive creature if you happen to draw it at another time. I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but I was pretty happy with it when it came up.
The second key difference is the addition of [card varolz, the scar-striped]Varolz[/card]. This has been done before, but it drops in and out of fashion. I really like it here. The [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] has been cut, giving you fewer ways to tutor up [card]Viscera Seer[/card], as you have to have a token in order to be able to Pod into it. By adding Varolz, you get to Pod into a sac outlet from 2 CMC creatures with gives you a bit more flexibility. Plus, Varolz’s ability to give all creature cards in the graveyard scavenge is really nice in long games. If you have the combo assembled but they have a [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], they can’t afford to tap it to remove creatures for your to scavenge so you get to just make a huge, regenerating creature.
A quick shout out to Danny Batterman for suggesting these changes to the list, they worked well!
Here is a quick overview the sideboard choices:[card]Thoughtseize[/card] is mostly for combo decks to take key pieces from their hand, but is also reasonable vs. control. [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] is essential against Jund as they tend to board in [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]s and such. It’s also generally useful against other decks running sideboard hate, and has utility against Affinity and Twin. [card]Sin Collector[/card] is good against control as well as some combo decks. [card]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/card] is for the mirror, where she is completely nuts. She’s also very good against Jund, as they rely heavily on [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], and [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] to beat you. [card]Dismember[/card] is another mirror card as you have to be able to kill the opposing [card linvala, keeper of silence]Linvala[/card] that will be present in the 75 (sometimes in the main). Also another essential against Jund, as [card olivia voldaren]Olivia[/card] is really scary. [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] is good against Tron, Scapeshift and the mirror—any deck requiring tutor effects—though it’s not worth it just to hate on fetch lands. [card]Orzhov Pontiff[/card] is sweet against Affinity and [card]Lingering Souls[/card] decks. Anything with multiple 1-toughness creatures. [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] is a good all-purpose spell. You can bring it in when you want to deal with planeswalkers or if you aren’t sure what hate pieces they will have, or just as another answer to Olivia. [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], as discussed, is good against Tarmogoyf decks, but also matchups where you want to race, like against Tron, where it also has the advantage of not dying to [card]Pyroclasm[/card]. [card]Harmonic Sliver[/card] comes in almost every match as you can expect some sideboard hate and it deals with many of the common ones except [card]Torpor Orb[/card]. I default board it, though you don’t need it versus Living End unless you expect [card]Leyline of the Void[/card]. [card]Shriekmaw[/card] is a good all-purpose Pod target, but I didn’t actually board him. Good against Linvala in the mirror though.
I actually really enjoyed playing the deck. I did sadly go 6-3 and certainly lost one game due to inexperience with the deck. On the whole though, Melira Pod actually feels like a nice, interactive and skill-testing deck to play, and your Jund matchup doesn’t suck, so that’s a plus.
I was surprised at how diverse the metagame was this weekend. I faced: Not-Mono-Red (Burn), Living End, BG, Tron, Affinity, Jund, and Restore Balance. I haven’t seen a [card]Restore Balance[/card] deck in ages but unfortunately for my opponent it’s still incredibly unstable. There was definitely less Jund around in general. It’s still strong, but I guess the average person is bored with it. I also saw a far amount of Merfolk decks, which I think have finally been given the push they need in Modern thanks to [card thassa, god of the sea]Thassa[/card] and [card]Master of Waves[/card]. However, none of the Merfolk lists made the Top 16, which was a shame.
Many of my games were fun and challenging. Living End (of which there were 2(!) in the Top 8) is fascinating. If you have an instant-speed sacrifice outlet when they cascade, then you can also return all of your creatures to the table making this kind of a priority to find against them. Despite having no dedicated hate for this matchup I did win it easily (and on camera if you want to go find the coverage) though I admit I have never tested against the deck so it could be I just got lucky.
If you have questions about the deck or the matchups I played then feel free to poke me on Twitter @onionpixie or on Facebook, and I’ll happily answer them.