Our team’s initial plan going in to Grand Prix Minneapolis was to not test the format at all. As unlikely as it sounds, that wasn’t even because of laziness, but because of two legitimate reasons:
1) The release of Journey into Nyx did not significantly alter the Modern landscape. We all were well-acquainted with Modern, and knew which decks we could each play without much preparation.
2) The Pro Tour was the following week, and spending time testing for a Grand Prix instead of a Pro Tour is a misallocation of resources. Attending the Grand Prix was already debatable, but enough people on our team felt they needed the points enough to justify it.
Given that we didn’t intend to test and the format was already pretty explored, it’s surprising that many of us ended up playing a very different take on one of the known decks. The day before the Grand Prix, Shuhei posted in our team forum that he had gotten a list from Yuuta Takahashi, Faeries master extraordinaire, and that he was going to play it. Here’s the list Shuhei posted:
At first blush, this doesn’t look that different from a normal Melira Pod deck. After all, it has Pods, Chords, Birds, Abrupt Decays, a bunch of 1-ofs, and so on. What it doesn’t have is the card Melira, which is a huge departure from a normal Pod deck. The deck is even called Melira Pod, so clearly Melira is a big piece, right?
As it turns out, that isn’t entirely accurate. While the Melira + Viscera Seer + persist creature combo is a loud part of the deck, and a good way to end games quickly, it isn’t the end-all be-all way to win with Pod. In fact, I like siding out Melira + Seer against many common matchups, and instead prefer to lean on the natural card advantage engines in the deck to win games. Birthing Pod is the actual best card in the deck, but even without Pod you can still accumulate a ton of value from all the different pieces that provide card advantage. That even extends to the lands, with Gavony Township providing a very realistic win condition when all else fails. Because of the depth and resilience the deck has, it doesn’t sound too crazy to take out an infinite combo now that Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder provide a backup combo.
The benefits of removing Melira extend well past just the one slot Melira frees up. You also get to cut Viscera Seer (note that Seer is decent if you have Phyrexian Metamorph and Reveillark to combo with, which we didn’t), Ranger of Eos, and all the Kitchen Finks but one. Finks is a fine card to have access to, but without the combo, you really don’t need or want four.
After talking about the different slots, here’s the final list we settled on:
(From here on out I’m going to call it Angel Pod, both because it has a lot more Angels than normal Melira Pod and because Sam Pardee thinks Archangel of Thune is the worst card he’s ever seen.)
The main changes between “normal” Melira and Angel Pod are the following:
(While I played Spike Feeder/Archangel in Richmond, the stock lists of Melira don’t include that combo, much to their regret.)
The reason to include Spike Feeder and Archangel over the Melira combo is that both Feeder and Archangel are much better than Melira/Viscera Seer on their own, and that the whole combo is two slots instead of 6-7.
How does this affect your matchups?
This whole swap is not something I’m behind unequivocally. Modern might be a relatively stable format overall, but that’s in terms of what the different decks look like, not necessarily how popular they all are, and there are definitely fields where Melira Pod is better than Angel Pod. We thought that Minneapolis was going to have more of the decks where Angel Pod is better, and again, bear in mind that both Angel Pod and Melira Pod are the same base deck. They are both mainly trying to win by activating Birthing Pod a lot, and that’s really their strength. The combo you use to actually kill the opponent is more window dressing than anything else.
Still, having less Finks and more Abrupt Decays and Thoughtseizes (plus a couple extra 1-ofs) is good in some matchups and less good in others, and I suppose I should go over them, or at least the reasoning that led us to believe in the swaps.
The biggest reason to make this change is the Twin matchup. Splinter Twin doesn’t care about the Melira combo, and if you were to name the best cards in the format, not even just this deck, they would be Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize. Having more of those instead of your worst cards is awesome, and since Twin is one of the best and most-played Modern decks, this is a huge incentive to play Angel Pod.
The mirror is another place where I’d rather be on Angel Pod. While you do win with the combo a decent amount, getting to the point where you can combo is the real battle. Thoughtseize taking a Pod or a combo piece is huge, and way more effective than Kitchen Finks (which is tangential to the actual fight). Resource denial is big in the mirror too, with Orzhov Pontiff and Linvala being the most important cards in stopping the opponent from doing anything, so having more copies of those is always awesome (I’d definitely play a second Pontiff in the sideboard). Every time I cast or Podded out the second Linvala, my opponents were not happy.
Against UWR Control, Abrupt Decay is close to your worst card, but the 3 extra Thoughtseizes are way better than the Melira combo as a whole. I do like Finks in this matchup, but losing 3 Finks for 3 Thoughtseizes and getting an extra Voice of Resurgence/Restoration Angel does make up for that. I’d put this matchup as a slight positive for Angel Pod compared to Melira Pod.
Jund is tough for either version of Pod. It’s not a horrendous matchup, as Pod is good in grindy games, but if they play a quick Goyf or Dark Confidant and have 2-3 spot removal spells, they can often kill or overpower you before you really get anything going. Even though Angel Pod has fewer Kitchen Finks, I don’t like the combo against this much removal, and Finks aren’t enough to make up for that (plus, Finks doesn’t really line up well against anything but Liliana).
Affinity is the biggest reason to play Melira Pod over Angel Pod. You lose a lot of percentage by not having the combo here, because assembling the Melira combo quickly is your best game one strategy. Archangel is too slow, and point removal plus Thoughtseize is typically very bad against the average Affinity draw. If you expect a lot of Affinity, do not play Angel Pod.
Tron is bad news for either version of Pod, but at least the Melira version has a faster goldfish. I sigh whenever my opponent leads with an Urza land, and if for some reason you expect a lot of Tron, just play another deck entirely.
I’d much rather be on Angel Pod than Melira Pod when facing Storm, just because of how good Decay and Thoughtseize are. Game one is still tough, but you even have the maindeck Sin Collector as a bonus hate card.
We constructed this sideboard based on a couple of assumptions. The first is that Affinity is legitimately a bad matchup, and having a lot of cards to board in is necessary if you want a hope of beating them. I think that the two Corrosions, two Lingering Souls, and cheap removal accomplish that, though I never got to test it out.
Lingering Souls was in our last flex slot, and the idea is that it’s good in all the attrition-based matchups (UWR, Jund) as well as pulling double-duty against Affinity.
Past that, it’s got the bullets you’d expect (though I wasn’t very happy with Forge-Tender) and some extra removal spells to fight against Twin, the mirror, and Dark Confidant decks.
Bear in mind that 3s are better to tutor for, because the deck has multiple Wall of Roots and 3 Voice of Resurgence. Between the casting cost and the extra toughness, that makes the question of Eidolon or Ethersworn Canonist a rhetorical one.
Grand Prix Minneapolis
I did not regret my deck choice at the Grand Prix, though I really wish I’d won my last round. Still, playing Pod of one form or another at the last two Modern GPs has worked out well, and I certainly feel dumb for not just playing it at the Pro Tour.
Some interesting happenings from GP Minneapolis:
• I finally broke down and got a set of Beta Birds of Paradise as an investment (in my personal happiness). It has been paying off handsomely.
• I played against John Penick in round 7, on camera. After losing game one to his Gavony Township, I busted out the big guns. I started playing with my lands above my spells, and easily took the next two games. I also really impressed Pat Cox in this match by my refusal to activate Pod when Penick had 3 open mana, which perfectly played around the Aven Mindcensor that he ended up playing at the end of my turn.
• I started 8-0 before losing to Splinter Twin, in a match where my opponent mulled to 5 game one and I mulled to 5 game two. I lost the match 2-0.
• On Day 2, I started a game at 13 life (Marsh Flats into Overgrown Tomb into Dismember will do that). Luckily, it was the mirror, so Stone Raining my opponent was awesome, and I ended up winning that game. Winning via mana denial is common in the mirror, and having two Linvalas and more Dismembers helps.
• Multiple times in the mirror, I made the following play: Sacrifice Orzhov Pontiff to Birthing Pod, haunt the opponent’s Kitchen Finks. Get Murderous Redcap, kill Finks, Finks persists, then Pontiff haunt gives the enemy team -1/-1 and kills the Finks for good.
• Restoration Angel did a ton of awesome things, from blinking Shriekmaw for a Terror, Spike Feeder for 2 extra life, resetting persist, and finally, blinking Reveillark for the full combo. I wouldn’t dream of playing Pod without Restoration Angel anymore.
• It wasn’t very apparent that I didn’t have Melira in my deck, which is a nice advantage. It isn’t a huge deal, but it made things like opposing graveyard hate a lot less relevant, and my opponents may have played differently than they would have with full knowledge of my deck list.
• Pat Cox lost to Willy Edel’s Bow of Nylea, a card Pat tried to read (but it was in Portuguese). I expected to see Bow at the Pro Tour, but Willy got a head start and put it in his Jund sideboard.
• I beat RG Tron with the stunning curve of Voice of Resurgence into Eternal Witness (returning nothing) into Restoration Angel into Reveillark. Vanilla beatdowns are sometimes good enough. For additional value, my opponent had Torpor Orb and Relic of Progenitus in play, cards I wasn’t unhappy to see on the other side.
• I was 12-2 going into the last round, but drawing into Top 8 is no longer a thing that exists, unless you manage to go 13-1 or something. I got promptly smashed by Jund, ending my dream of back-to-back Top 8s with Birthing Pod. I was really hoping to become known as a Modern Master, but I guess that will have to wait.
Sadly, the Pro Tour did not go as well. I went 10-6, with a 5-1 in Limited and a less-exciting 5-5 in Constructed. I liked our Constructed deck, liked how my drafts went, and just wish I’d won a few more matches. I’m heading back to Atlanta soon after writing this to try and spike a Grand Prix, but the outlook for Platinum is pretty grim. If I make Top 8 at one of the three Grands Prix I have left, Top 16 becomes live, but otherwise I’m going to need a Top 8 in Portland to hit. I got there last year after a 1-3 start at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, and history does have a way of repeating itself, so I haven’t given up yet. If I do end up missing Platinum (or Gold, for that matter), I’m obviously going to be disappointed, but I guess it’s the price I pay for playing less Magic. I’ve still put in plenty of time this year, but that’s not a guarantee of success by any means, and all I can do is keep battling.
Sample hand from Angel Pod: