ast week we saw the biggest Constructed tournament in Magic's history take place in Richmond, and I somehow found myself in 8th place after the Swiss. While I did go 13–2, which is more than enough to Top 8 most Grand Prix, in this case only two people with that record made it out of a possible twelve, and I was one of the lucky two. My only goal was to do well enough that I could write about myself in this column, and I succeeded wildly!
Ok, maybe that wasn't my only goal, but now that we're here, I have to at least mention the deck I played, especially since it was one of five Birthing Pod decks in the Top 8 (and one of four Melira Pod decks). I actually want to look at some of the interesting decks that didn't make Top 8, especially since the cutoff was mainly tiebreaker-based, but first let's see what the Top 8 looked like:
GP Richmond truly was the return of the Pod people, with twenty Birthing Pods in the Top 8, four of which were in the winning deck.
Brian Liu - Kiki Pod
Grand Prix Richmond Top 8 - Modern
Thanks to a timely Shatterstorm, Brian Liu emerged victorious, although I'd imagine that the reason he was in the finals to begin with is the heavier combo aspect of Kiki Pod. Like Melira Pod, Kiki Pod uses Birthing Pod as a split card of Demonic Tutor and Jayemdae Tome (it either tutors up the exact card the deck needs or just generates value each turn), but unlike Melira Pod, it's way more focused on the combo aspect. I won many more games in the tournament by attacking with random creatures than I did comboing off, especially in post-board games, although I doubt that Brian Liu can say the same. Kiki Pod is capable of fighting a decent fair game, but with fewer Kitchen Finks, fewer removal spells, and fewer Gavony Townships than Melira, it leans on the Restoration Angel/Deceiver Exarch plus Kiki-Jiki combo more than anything else.
Kiki Pod hasn't substantially changed since when I played it at Grand Prix Columbus in 2012, with Voice of Resurgence and Scavenging Ooze being the biggest additions. Both do help the deck win via beats more than it used to, but ultimately, these are still cards used to fight against opponents' answers more than provide game-ending threats. Kiki Pod is a good deck, and if you expect more decks you want to race, it's a solid choice. Requiring only two creatures to kill the opponent is something (most) Melira decks don't have, and is worth making the overall deck a little more fragile.
The four other Pod decks in the Top 8 were all very similar, although the deck I played had a two-card exception.
Luis Scott-Vargas - Melira Pod
Grand Prix Richmond Top 8 - Modern
The main combo in the deck is still that of its namesake, as Melira plus a persist creature plus Viscera Seer equals infinite life (Kitchen Finks) or infinite damage (Murderous Redcap), but this deck goes one better. After discussing the deck with Josh Utter-Leyton, Eric Froehlich, and Pat Cox (who went with his beloved Wild Nacatls instead of broken cards like Viscera Seer), EFro and I decided to play the Archangel of Thune/Spike Feeder combo. Pat also liked it, although Josh went with Sam Pardee's opinion and left it out.
Activating Spike Feeder with Archangel of Thune in play refreshes the +1/+1 counter on Feeder, allowing you to gain infinite life and make all your creatures infinitely large, which is usually good enough. The reason we liked this combo is that Archangel of Thune is a surprisingly good card. Even in a format as powerful as Modern, sometimes Archangel would just flat out win you the game. Assembling the combo is only two cards, and I actually Podded up Archangel of Thune twice without needing Spike Feeder. Overall, I won more games with Archangel and no Feeder than by comboing (although I did win two games with the actual combo).
The rest of the deck I played was almost card for card the same as the other Melira Pod decks, as we all kept the core of Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence, silver bullets, and combo pieces together. We also all had the exact same spell count of 4 Birthing Pod, 3 Chord of Calling, and 2 Abrupt Decay.
Melira Pod is a great deck, and incredibly versatile and interactive. I'd recommend it to anyone who feels they have enough time to practice with it, as it is very difficult to play. When you are essentially playing with a thirty-card hand at all times (thanks to Chord and Pod), making decisions can be tough. There are also a ton of strange little interactions present in the deck, and knowing all of them is crucial to success. The deck can be soft to combo decks, but a sideboard full of Thoughtseizes and Sin Collector/Entomber Exarch helps a decent amount.
Enough with the Top 8, it's time to investigate a couple of the other 13-2 decks that tiebreakers kept on the wrong side of the fence.
Alex Sittner - UB Faeries
Grand Prix Richmond - Modern
I've played against Alex a ton of times, starting from my loss to him at 2006 US Nationals, and currently ending at my win against him at Grand Prix Sacramento just a few weeks ago, and he always brings sweet decks to the table. He was one of the few players championing Faeries (in both the literal and figurative sense) at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and liked his deck well enough to run it back in Richmond to a 13–2 finish.
This is very close to what most people imagined Faeries would look like when Bitterblossom got unbanned. The combination of Bitterblossom, Mutavault, Spellstutter Sprite, and Mistbind Clique gives the deck access to a cheap threat/source of Faeries, cheap disruption, and a win condition that further disrupts the opponent. Vendilion Clique is also an important piece of the puzzle, but is way less dependent on synergy than the other Faeries in the deck.
What I like about this deck is that Alex found a good balance between going all-in on Faeries and playing a good mix of spells. Some of the Faeries decks we built for Pro Tour Born of the Gods just had too many slots taken up by the Faeries engine, with Scion of Oona and the fourth Mistbind Clique, which didn't leave us enough room to put in all the answers we wanted. Alex is playing what I imagine is close to the minimum number of Faeries synergy cards the deck can play and still take advantage of those synergies, which apparently worked out well for him.
That gave him room for an extensive removal/counter suite, along with a pair of Thoughtseizes and a pair of Sword of Feast and Famine. Sword is an incredibly powerful card, and one of the reasons I'd look to play this deck. In a deck full of counterspells and disruptive cards like Mistbind/Vendilion Cliques, hitting with Sword doubles your effective mana, and the discard aspect plays into exactly what this deck is trying to do. I especially like the combination of Sword + Creeping Tar Pit or Mutavault, where the expensive activation/equip costs are balanced by getting to untap all of your lands.
There are two things to keep in mind if you are interested in playing this deck. The first is that the numbers on all the removal should likely change from tournament to tournament. Cards like Spell Snare, Go for the Throat, Tragic Slip, and Mana Leak don't retain their value in a vacuum, and figuring out what you expect to play against and adapting to it is critical. The second is to be acquainted with Mistbind tricks, because the card does about a million different things.
A brief sampling of them:
- The "normal" use is to cast this on upkeep and deny your opponent mana for the turn. Against sorcery-speed decks, this is often the best option.
- If you suspect your opponent is going to attack before playing spells, wait until he or she does. Not only can you ambush a smaller creature, it might disrupt plans your opponent has made after seeing that you didn't Clique him or her on upkeep.
- It can save a Faerie from removal by championing it. Conversely, if you have a Spellstutter or Vendilion under a Mistbind, you might have to Go for the Throat your own Mistbind to get another Spellstutter trigger. Desperate times and all that.
- There are a ton of other abnormal times when it is good to cast this. Keep your options (and your mind) open and look for them.
I hope Faeries becomes a bigger part of the metagame. As excited as I was about Wild Nacatl being unbanned, Bitterblossom wasn't too far behind, and seeing Alex have success with the deck is inspiring.
The last deck I want to take a look at today is Shaheen Soorani's WU Control deck (there's no actual red in the deck at all).
Shaheen Soorani - WUR Control
Grand Prix Richmond - Modern
Shaheen has long been known for his love of expensive sorceries, and I'd say that a deck with Supreme Verdict; Jace Beleren; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; and Gideon Jura certainly qualifies, especially if you consider the speed of the format.
For this deck, Shaheen left out the red splash that's so common among Celestial Colonnade/Cryptic Command decks, instead going with a more consistent and less painful mana base. He plays only two Scalding Tarns and two Hallowed Fountains, with Seachrome Coast and Mystic Gate making sure his mana works, which probably gained him around 3 life on average per game. That's not an insignificant gain, although it is funny that this deck isn't particularly resistant to Blood Moon, despite being only two colors.
He made some interesting spell decisions as well. Not only is he playing the aforementioned six Planeswalkers, he has Detention Spheres and a Repeal to protect them, along with Vendilion Clique to run interference. Detention Sphere is not a card that's seen a ton of Modern play, but it kills Birthing Pod and Cranial Plating as well as any random creature, making it a more flexible removal spell than most. The Planeswalkers make up for the lack of raw card draw, as there are no Sphinx's Revelations to be found here. I guess it isn't a sorcery, so it wasn't even on Shaheen's list of playables. It doesn't take many turns with any of these 'walkers in play before you've essentially drawn a couple extra cards, and the deck has ample ways to protect them.
I'm not in love with the Mana Leak + Path to Exile interaction, as Path makes your opponent resistant to Mana Leak fairly quickly, but if you view Mana Leak as an early drop and Path as a mid- to late-game card, it makes more sense. I might play a mix of Mana Leaks and Remands, just because of how powerful Remand can be. A deck like this, that is trying to go to the late game, does want to just counter a spell for good, but Remand plus Planeswalkers gets out of control quickly, and Snapcaster Remand is almost as good. I'd just look to minimize the risk of having a Mana Leak in hand against an opponent with seven lands in play, and Remand has a ton of additional utility in blue mirrors. Remanding your own spells against Cryptic Command is a time-honored tradition, and one I'd expect to happen fairly often if the deck was playing a few Remands.
One of the biggest reasons to play a Colonnade deck is the sideboard. If you can accurately predict the metagame, white has access to probably three out of the best five sideboard cards in the format:
Locking out Storm, graveyard decks, and Affinity, respectively, I love being able to side in such swingy cards. I'm not saying that you always want these cards, or that you necessarily want four of each, but that these are among the highest-impact cards available. Playing any of these on turn two against the appropriate deck just ends the game unless removed, and not many sideboard cards can say the same.
Besides a mix of those three, Shaheen played some other awesome cards, with Aven Mindcensor coming in against Pod and Scapeshift, Grafdigger's Cage as Pod plus graveyard hate, Meddling Mage against combo of all flavors, and Baneslayer Angel against everything that attacks. I love having a card like Baneslayer to lean on (which you can probably deduce from my main-deck Archangel of Thune), and it's even more effective when you side it in against matchups where they are likely cutting their Path to Exiles.
I actually think GP Richmond demonstrated the diversity of Modern more than the reverse, and before we go, just take a look at the list of decks with 13–2 records or better (which paints a more accurate view than just drawing the line at Top 8):
Those numbers look a lot more balanced. Yes, there are more Affinity/Pod decks than anything else, but there's nothing wrong with having some best decks, and I wouldn't expect Affinity to have quite this level of success moving forward. It is the sort of deck that can be hated out, and now people should realize that they have to. Pod is a bit trickier to hate, which is actually one of the reasons I played it, but four Melira Pod decks and one Kiki Pod deck out of eighteen decks is not a terrible balance. There are also ways to take advantage of a Pod-heavy field, whether that's to play combo decks like RG Tron (it's worst matchup) or to adjust your control deck to deal with Finks and Voice, which Shaheen did.
The next couple weeks are going to be filled with Standard as I prepare for GP Cincinnati, after which I hope to have an excuse to write about whatever deck I played there as well!
Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).