The metagame move to make for Grand Prix Toronto was clearly towards big combo. Lingering Souls was a slower threat that these decks could just ignore. You could try to level all the other Jund players, but that would require a significant amount of work. Almost everyone had Thundermaw Hellkite, so you had to find a level beyond that.
Of the decks I mentioned last week, I found myself gravitating towards Birthing Pod, Tron, and Scapeshift. I dismissed Scapeshift on the grounds that I knew nothing about it and wasn't even sure where to start with it, leaving only the first two. Twin was also pretty reasonable, but it required me to want to gamble on a deck that is only marginally consistent every round.
I did some testing with both decks, but I was very wary of playing Tron in a Day 1 field I expected to be saturated with combo. If I made Day 2 I would be fine, but dodging in the early rounds was not something I wanted to count on.
I then tested Melira Pod but found it wasn't powerful enough for me. The deck was a fine midrange deck, but even in games it resolved Pod it still played out like a midrange deck and required multiple turns to create any real advantage with the card. The difference between Melira and Kiki reminded me of the upgrade from Naya or Bant Pod to the Four-Color version in Standard last year. While the first one was fine and powerful, the second one was something much more dangerous: a combo deck that wasn't forced to combo.
I had previously found Kiki Pod lacking when it didn't draw its namesake card. After about a week of tuning, this is the list I played to a 13th place finish at GP Toronto. My primary focus was building a deck that could play Magic without drawing a Pod, and to that end I feel I was successful.
- 1 Ethersworn Canonist
- 1 Spellskite
- 2 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 2 Wall of Omens
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 4 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Ways You Can Kill with Pod
First of all, before we discuss card slots, here are the ways the deck can kill with a Birthing Pod that require multiple Pod activations. Some of these are just extensions of others, but it helps to see how many ways there are to win the game with an active Birthing Pod.
Every kill requires a two-drop, a four-drop, or a Deceiver Exarch in play.
The infinite combo is Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker plus either Deceiver Exarch, Restoration Angel, or Zealous Conscripts. In every case, the trigger of the creature you copy untaps the Kiki-Jiki, letting you make another copy, which untaps the Kiki, and so on.
One-drop + two-drop + four Pod activations: Pod the two into a Deceiver Exarch, untapping Pod. Pod the one into a Phantasmal Image copying Deceiver Exarch, untapping Pod. Pod the Imaged Exarch (which has converted mana cost three) into a Restoration Angel, Blinking the real Exarch to untap Pod. Pod the Restoration Angel into a Kiki-Jiki, win with Kiki-Exarch.
Two-drop + two-drop + four Pod activations: See above, only instead of the step where you Pod the one-drop into an Imaged Exarch you turn the second two-drop into another Deceiver Exarch.
Two-drop + three-drop + three Pod activations: Pod the two-drop to Deceiver Exarch, untapping Pod. Pod the three-drop to Restoration Angel Blinking Exarch, untapping Pod. Pod the Restoration Angel into a Kiki-Jiki.
Two-drop + four-drop + two Pod activations: See two-drop + three-drop, but you can skip the part where the three-drop becomes Restoration Angel.
Four-drop with persist + two Pod activations: Same as the multiple four-drop kill, only with the second four-drop being the persisted copy of the first.
Three-drop + four-drop + three Pod activations: Pod the four-drop into a Zealous Conscripts, untapping Pod. Pod the three-drop into a Restoration Angel on Zealous Conscripts to untap the Pod. Pod the Restoration Angel into a Kiki-Jiki.
Two-drop + Zealous Conscripts + three Pod activations: Pod the two-drop into Deceiver Exarch, untapping Pod. Pod Deceiver Exarch into a Restoration Angel on Zealous Conscripts, untapping Pod. Pod the Restoration Angel into a Kiki-Jiki.
Two-drop + two Pod activations one turn + two Pod activations the next: Pod your two-drop into a Deceiver Exarch, untapping Pod. Then Pod the Exarch into a persist four-drop. Go off with the persist four-drop chain the next turn.
There are a ton of decision points in the decklist, so let's start from the bottom of the curve.
Naya Pod is extremely mana hungry. The mana curve would look at home in Standard, and we are trying to play it in a format where you can die on turn 3.
First thing: I don't think you can justify playing anything less than the full eight one-drops that make blue. Not only is color fixing a huge deal for this deck, but the extra mana on turn 2 means something. Previous lists had four Wall of Roots to support Chord of Calling, but that just makes the rest of the deck that much worse. Turn 1 Noble Hierarch into another one-drop plus a Wall of Omens works. Turn 2 Wall of Roots leaves the other two-drop Wall stranded in your hand.
With that established, we have to decide how many mana dorks we want to play. Gavony Township helps alleviate the potential for flood, so the list can push up from the previous standard of ten set from the original GP Yokohama list. Eleven isn't an exact science, but it's been enough.
With that set, how do you split the last three? Originally I started with the three Avacyn's Pilgrim's from Jonas Kostler's list, but the situation kept coming up where I would want to play Birthing Pod and turn my one-drop into something else that made mana to conserve life on the next turn's Pod chain. The first Wall of Roots made its way back in and was amazing. On top of the intended use, the blocker was a huge bonus against Jund. I'm still not sold on the full advantage over a one-drop that can also attack, hence the two Pilgrims, but this could easily change.
Given that one-drop plus two-drop is a Pod kill and that any two-drop turns into a kill the next turn, you need some number of random two-drops in your deck so you can randomly end up with them in play. Wall of Omens does this and provides just enough do nothing value in non-Pod games. Fauna Shaman is also considerable, but quite frankly I didn't try it out in time for the GP despite how much I liked it in G/W. I would assume the 2/2 body isn't amazing, but the effect is certainly powerful against decks your hate bears are good against.
Thalia is a fine Magic card. If I wasn't filling the random two slot with Wall of Omens, it would be my go to creature there. It provides marginal value against a lot of things, namely Lingering Souls and turn 3 Karn Liberated. I make no promises that the two Wall of Omens above don't turn into a 1-1 split with Thalia before the next Modern event.
Ethersworn Canonist is not about value. It is a dedicated hate card. I've won games with Storm straight through an in play Thalia using Goblin Electromancer. I've Grapeshotted it away and gone off. I have no idea how I would beat a game 1 Canonist with Storm. I'm pretty sure Eggs can combo out through a Thalia. Canonist requires them to find their Pyrite Spellbomb first.
If I'm going to be maindecking silver bullets, I want them to be made of real silver.
If you wanted to argue against this guy in the maindeck you wouldn't be crazy, but he provides good Tutor value in a format as broad as Modern. In the mirror he ends Pod fights, against Tron you can catch an Oblivion Stone or even an Expedition Map off guard, against Eggs you can choke their Baubles pre-combo, against Twin he stalls a combo, against Infect he takes down Inkmoth Nexus, and against Affinity his usage should be obvious. Nothing super special, but just enough when you need it.
Despite the fact it almost always can, this deck does not have to try to kill you once Pod is active. The main reason not to is usually playing around removal, and this card gives you another layer of protection when you need it and may not have access to Glen Elendra Archmage.
This was a huge breakthrough from the first Yokohama list of the deck. The first copy lets you kill from a one- and two-drop or jump two to four, and the second copy turns multiple two-drops into a win. It's also a fine card to draw in the non-Pod games as a way to buy time and as a combo piece.
I originally favored Cunning Sparkmage in this slot under the Michael Jacob logic that the first time you have to shoot their mana guy with Staticaster and lose yours you will want to spontaneously combust.
Then Lingering Souls happened.
There are fringe benefits to being an 0/3 over an 0/1 and having flash creature options on certain turns, but really the main reason to play Staticaster is that it colds an otherwise reasonable threat.
As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes you don't draw Birthing Pod and have to fight. Kitchen Finks does this reasonably well, especially in combination with Gavony Township. There are also occasions where you will get one Pod activation against Jund or an aggressive deck and need it to help you survive a combat step. Again, Kitchen Finks does this reasonably well.
The second Finks was a random unfilled three-drop slot in the deck for a long time that ended up turning into this after Mirror Entity didn't pan out. This was almost certainly because just getting people off a fetch with this card feels so good. Realistically it's not exciting outside a few select matchups and should probably stay in the sideboard. See also: "The Danger of Cool Things." Additional options for this slot include Mangara of Corondor and Carven Caryatid.
I have never had running out of a drop become an issue with the second Deceiver Exarch except against Path to Exile plus Snapcaster Mage, where Witness would not help at all. I had this guy in the deck for about 20 games and only once got back something better than a Wall of Omens or fetchland with it.
Note that if you play Chord of Calling, Eternal Witness does let you Chord into a kill over a long set of turns. Chord for Witness on Chord, then Chord for Restoration Angel on Witness to get back Chord, then Chord for Kiki-Jiki. Notice this takes three full turns of time invested and still doesn't beat any interaction. More on Chord later.
Almost every other list of this deck in the past has run four of this card. It is a very good card and does a lot of powerful things in non-Pod games.
That said, you don't need four of this card. The ability to combo is nice, but more often than not the non-Pod games are won with mediocre beats as opposed to infinite damage. I am playing three other four-drops, all of which I feel are phenomenal in the deck, and can't justify playing a seventh four-drop when the deck's curve is as high as it is.
In terms of beating down, this is pretty much the same as the fourth Restoration Angel. In terms of a hate card, it straight up shuts down a ton of decks. The most important one is probably Splinter Twin, which is slightly better at straight up comboing than Pod. In order to beat Twin, you have to overload them on hate cards, and between Linvala, Spellskite, Glen Elendra Archmage, and legend ruling them with Kiki-Jiki you can assemble a near hard lock or buy enough time to win.
As mentioned above, a four-drop with persist is a kill on its own. You need at least one of these two; the question is which if not both. Glen Elendra Archmage is the obvious one as it is an auto-win against a bunch of combo decks, but Murderous Redcap has quite a few selling points.
The big one is that Murderous Redcap is much better against Jund. Glen Elendra Archmage doesn't work against Deathrite Shaman, but Murderous Redcap clears it out before you go off. On a similar note, you can Pod into a Redcap to off a Dark Confidant to play a bit longer game, especially once you realize Archmage doesn't protect anything if you are going to Pod it right into the kill.
On the same note as the Deathrite Shaman interaction, there are a bunch of guys you must kill in this format. Infect is still a deck, Grim Lavamancer still sees play, and some degenerates like to show up with Soul Sisters and get wrecked by two Redcap triggers.
Against certain combo-ish decks like Tron, often you will have to burn an Archmage activation immediately and won't be able to kill them. Having another persist four drop lets you leave up the Archmage or completely use the Archmage and set up the persist kill again.
Finally, in non-Pod games, Redcap pulls a lot of weight. I've won multiple matches on Magic Online just off Kiki-Jiki targeting Murderous Redcap.
In theory, you can cut one copy of this card. I often do so post-board. That said, it's one of the cards I want to draw most when I don't have a Birthing Pod. I have fond memories of crushing people with Kiki-Jiki value when it was in Standard, and it isn't much different in this format. Naturally assembling the combo is still a thing, as is making a bunch of Murderous Redcaps, Kitchen Finks, or Wall of Omens.
Probably the only numbers in the deck I've never thought about changing or heard anyone talk about changing. Zealous Conscripts wasn't in the original list, but the persist four-drop kill was a huge upgrade to the deck.
Chord of Calling has been the standard for this and other Pod decks the entire time they have existed in Modern. Let's see what Platinum Pro Josh Utter-Leyton had to say about the card after Grand Prix Columbus:
"The worst card in the deck."
"If you are looking to improve the deck, Chord is the first card I would replace."
The problem with Chord of Calling is that while it is an action card, it is ridiculously clunky. All of your real combo pieces to find cost three, four, or five mana, making Chord a six to eight mana spell. If your opponent is attacking your creatures, good luck ever casting a Chord for a relevant amount. It also promotes Wall of Roots over Avacyn's Pilgrim, which pushes the deck even further up the curve.
The one time I miss having Chord of Calling is against decks where the single Tutor ends the game. Think matchups like Storm where Ethersworn Canonist ends the game or even the Pod mirror where Linvala is usually enough. If you expect more Storm, Scapeshift, Pod, Eggs, or similar in the future, I would consider one or two copies of Chord of Calling in the maindeck.
1 Breeding Pool, 1 Sacred Foundry, 1 Hallowed Fountain, 1 Stomping Ground, 1 Steam Vents, 1 Temple Garden
All of the pairs of duals to make all of your colors. Sacred Foundry and Breeding Pool are the worst two as they are each only fetchable by one of your fetches, but I opted to keep them both. Sacred Foundry matches up with basic Forest to cast most things, and if you have Foundry you want to have the Breeding Pool to pair with it.
Many previous lists had a ton of basics to cover each color. Unfortunately, your mana is too stretched to support more than a couple. Instead of trying to play around Blood Moon without a mana dork in play, I've opted to only play the basics I know I will want to fetch to cast a spell for minimum damage. Forest allows you to play turn 1 mana dorks without dual damage into a normal curve off tapped duals, while Mountain lets you hit triple red for Kiki-Jiki without paying three life.
With this in play, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Temple Garden, and Hallowed Fountain now tap to cast Kiki-Jiki. This is super important in matchups where your early fetches have to cover the possibility of casting white spells if your mana creatures die.
This lets basic Forest, Breeding Pool, and Wall of Roots cast Kiki-Jiki, but unlike Rugged Prairie it doesn't fix between two secondary colors. You are rarely short on green, but the ability to filter red to white comes up fairly often.
It turns out that some amount of life plus one is still low enough to be one-shot by an arbitrarily large number of Restoration Angels, while the incremental damage from Gavony Township tends to ignore small increases in opposing life totals.
I honestly have no explanation for these numbers. The only thing worth noting is that adding more makes it harder to play around Deathrite Shaman out of Jund, which is currently not unreasonable, so if you want to do anything here I would lean towards cutting some number of these lands.
Being able to win a game without the card Birthing Pod was one of the key things I needed to accomplish with this deck before playing it in an event. I took a look at the Melira Pod lists, which according to Sam Pardee were quite good at this, and it appeared Township was their key to doing so. Testing confirmed this, and Township works to counteract mana dork flood in almost the same way it did in Standard last season.
I easily found room for two in the standard 23-land mana base, but I wouldn't feel comfortable going up to a third copy without adding a land. It's possible that it is better than a Breeding Pool or the seventh fetch, but so far I've had only a minimal number of issues with it as a colorless land and want to keep it that way.
Infect is a very close matchup, and game 1 often hinges on whether they have a Blighted Agent, Apostle's Blessing, or Rancor to break through your blockers. I wanted some real help post-board to ensure I could easily beat them, and Chalice is actually the best hate card. With it in play with X=1, they are limited to resolving Plague Stinger, Blighted Agent, Apostle's Blessing, and any sideboarded Abrupt Decays they play to try to fight it.
As a bonus, it is also another layer of hate to pile on Storm and Eggs. Against Storm you set it at X=2, something you can easily do on turn 3 via a mana creature, to counter eight of their Rituals, Manamorphose, Goblin Electromancer, and Pyromancer Ascension. Against Eggs, you have the option of X=1 if they are light on Eggs or X=0 if they are relying on suspended Lotus Blooms. I've also ran into Living End once with the card in my sideboard. All of these matchups are about locking them out with a pile of hate, and Chalice is another piece of that puzzle.
That said, it's possible that you only need two given how little Infect there is and how good Ethersworn Canonist is against all of these other matchups. As the various combo decks shift around I expect this number to change frequently, even all the way down to zero.
Tron is a very losable matchup between turn 3 Karn and Oblivion Stone. Sowing Salt is the single best card against the deck, especially when you can cast it on turn 3. In fact, I would go as far as to say it's one of the few true hate cards against them, with most of what people play being light interaction.
One of these should be Avalanche Riders moving forward. Being able to have a turn 3 Pod chain into a relevant four-drop that doesn't require mana open like Glen Elendra Archmage is very nice, and Riders has additional applications against Scapeshift. Sowing Salt is definitely the better card at what it does, but Avalanche Riders provides a few additional lines of play that would be nice to have access to.
Yet another "their deck can turn 3 me, so I should play hate cards" decision. Affinity is one of the decks that can reliably punish you for the Phyrexian mana cost on Birthing Pod and has a clock faster than yours, so you want real hate cards.
There are two reasons for the split while other decks are almost all stacked on Shatterstorm effects. First, you actually want the cheaper interaction to make sure you don't die because once you start actually doing things it should be enough to kill them. Second, Ancient Grudge also helps against random haters with Torpor Orb, Damping Matrix, or Grafdigger's Cage.
Kataki was something I saw in a lot of sideboards, but as an Affinity player it was never a card I feared. It is too easy for the Affinity player to use their twelve nonartifact lands to keep threats around and play straight through the card.
3 Path to Exile, 0 Combust
Moving out of the realm of pure hate cards, Path is generally good against other green decks. It should be obvious why you want it in the mirror, Infect, Twin, and Hate Bears matchups, but it is also extremely useful against Jund. Because of Restoration Angel, Jund has a hard time beating you without applying pressure with Tarmogoyf or getting an active Olivia Voldaren. Path answers both and handles Dark Confidant when you don't have the ability to Staticaster or Redcap it.
Previous Pod lists ran some number of Combusts. Path is a more versatile card that does the same thing, and gaining edge against over a third of the metagame is well worth the slight downgrade against Splinter Twin. This is amplified by how bad Dispel, their main answer to Path, is against the rest of your deck and how many people are moving towards Mizzium Skin that counters both.
Dispel answers all of the flexible ways U/W Midrange tries to interact with Pod except Supreme Verdict. Considering their deck is about 60% do nothing, it's very easy to overload their answers. Dispel also helps stick a Pod much earlier than would otherwise be possible by turning Mana Leak into Force Spike, and U/W has absolutely no hope of racing an active Pod.
The missing hate bear to cover all the combo matchups, namely the mirror, Tron, and Scapeshift. In the future this could easily swap to the maindeck over Ethersworn Canonist as people move away from Eggs and Storm.
A much-wanted effect against Jund, especially post-board when you can't guarantee a second Pod activation through their Ancient Grudges. Burn is also a thing, as evidenced by the mirror match going on next to me round 15 of GP Toronto.
Which cards are bad where should be fairly obvious. If it kills creatures and they don't have them, it probably isn't good. One Kiki-Jiki is a flex slot when you don't need to naturally combo someone, possibly even two copies if they have Lightning Bolt. Two-drops are better than higher drop cards of similar utility against combo as they let you curve mana guy, Pod, two-drop Podded into a four. I'm also opting to not cover the combo matchups since they are all very similar only with varying hate cards.
I only have one piece of advice here: you do not have to combo against them. You can easily win grindy games. Their main way to beat you involves a Tarmogoyf attacking for a ton of damage early, so know how to play around this when keeping hands.
Sample Sideboarding Strategy: -1 Ethersworn Canonist, -1 Qasali Pridemage, -2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, +1 Obstinate Baloth, +3 Path to Exile (Dispel may also be good, but all of your other creatures are awesome in the matchup)
Similar to Jund, only don't extend Birthing Pod into Mana Leak if you can help it. Post-board they have Supreme Verdict, so know what you can and can't commit to the board. If possible, slow roll a Gavony Township until you are activating it to play around Tectonic Edge.
Sample Sideboarding Strategy: -1 Izzet Staticaster, -1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, -1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence, -1 Ethersworn Canonist, +2 Path to Exile (to break through Restoration Angels, Colonnades, and Aven Mindcensor if they have it) +2 Dispel
Their top draws beat you, their average ones don't. Don't overextend into Pyroclasm if possible, Pod should chain up to Glen Elendra Archmage, and don't keep do nothing hands (natural combo is ok though).
Post-board they likely have Nature's Claim, so playing Pod without activating it can be sketchy.
Sample Sideboarding Strategy: -1 Izzet Staticaster, -1 Ethersworn Canonist, -1 Murderous Redcap, -1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence, -1 Wall of Omens / Kitchen Finks, +1 Aven Mindcensor, +2 Sowing Salt / Avalanche Riders, +2 Ancient Grudge (catches Oblivion Stone off turn 3 Tron, sometimes can hit Expedition Map or Grafdigger's Cage if they have it)
Whoever lands the second Pod usually wins as they Tutor up a way to kill the opposing Pod, but holding Pod to try to get there is awkward since the other person could just natural combo. There are also a ton of ways to prevent them from killing Pod, especially if they don't have Harmonic Sliver and you can get Linvala. Hands without Linvala, turn 2 Izzet Staticaster, Birthing Pod, or the combo are extremely weak. Almost every game ends with someone locked on mana or dead to the combo.
Sample Sideboarding Strategy: -1 Ethersworn Canonist, -2 Wall of Omens, -2 Kitchen Fins (neither of these cards really helps you combo), +1 Aven Mindcensor, +3 Path to Exile, +1 Ancient Grudge (only one because it is still situational based on them having a Pod instead of the natural combo or hate cards)
This matchup is legitimately scary. Their countermagic is very good against all your high drops, so you have to either try to sneak in a threat early or catch them with flash spells. Remember, the difference between eighteen and nineteen life is the difference between seven and eight lands for them, but unfortunately it isn't always possible to play with this in mind (or it is downright impossible when you have Birthing Pod).
Sample Sideboarding Strategy: -1 Ethersworn Canonist, -1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence, -1 Murderous Redcap, -1 Izzet Staticaster, +2 Dispel to force through Pods, +1 Aven Mindcensor, +2 Sowing Salt / Avalanche Riders (Chalice is also considerable since setting it on two colds a lot of cards, including their answer of Ancient Grudge, but is vulnerable to Remand)
Pod is very well positioned moving forward but will require constant tweaking and very tight play. There are a ton of decision trees, and a lot of them are traps. If you decide to PTQ with Kiki Pod this upcoming season, practice will be rewarded. Play good Magic. Be conservative when very far ahead, make sure you actually can play around things when you think you can, and make every last deck slot count.
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