Sometimes you run good generally someone else is running a tad bit better but every now and then you're just unstoppable. At the Somerville PTQ on March 4 I managed to pilot the Melira Pod/Project Melira deck through seven rounds of swiss and Top 8 to earn the "blue envelope." Unstoppable is exactly how I would describe that run.
When Modern was first announced I like many other players was bitter about the seemingly very conservative banned list and was unwilling to tackle the new format. Months and bans later this sentiment had not changed but my friends had managed to finally convince me to try the format with all the PTQs coming up. I took a look at how the format currently looked and picked Melira Pod almost randomly. It looked like fun to me and it had about fifteen cards in common with my Saffi Eriksdotter Commander deck. I know great reason to pick a deck to play in a format right? I managed to trade for most of the cards in the deck in the weeks prior. I had instant results when I managed to Top 8 the first Somerville PTQ on February 11th. The thing I learned from that was that the format was a lot better than I gave it credit for; there are a ton of plays and interactions making the format very fun.
I wanted to play the format and discover the interactions the cards and the "tech." I spent the next weeks learning about the format and refining a list for when Somerville PTQ number two came along. My friends were using me as their primary insight into Modern and taking everything I knew about the format. I recommended decks lists and card choices but never my Melira build; I thought Melira Pod was fun not good enough to win and definitely not the right choice when blind to the format. I was just having fun playing Magic.
My list was largely inspired by a player named Zwischenzug from Magic Online. I liked most of his choices and the basis of his build. I made a few changes for what I would expect how I play and my own testing.
Here is the list I would end up battling with:
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 3 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Harmonic Sliver
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Murderous Redcap
- 1 Ranger of Eos
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Shriekmaw
- 1 Sun Titan
- 3 Viscera Seer
- 2 Wall of Roots
- 3 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
- 1 Saffi Eriksdotter
- 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
I could write all about my card choices and numbers but that would take a while (there are 30 unique non-land cards in this list); some numbers I don't like some cards are just wrong but for the most part I liked this build a lot. There is a full primer from testing written somewhere on my computer. The deck itself has a lot of decisions and a lot of play. There are two principle gameplans in this deck: you either beat them down with Gavony Township powering all your random creatures or you find Melira Sylvok Outcast Viscera Seer and a persist creature to create an endless loop since Melira prevents the -1/-1 counter from persist ever being put on the creature. The creature's come into play effect should generally end the game as a result.
Qasali Pridemage and Sylvok Replica come in against every single deck; post-board you need to be able to answer a Grafdigger's Cage which stops both of your gameplans. A Wall of Roots generally comes out to make room for one of these cards as well since the speed drop isn't as important as being able to play through your opponent's hate post-board. If you want to combo off through Surgical Extraction or any removal spell for that matter you just need two persist creatures or a Phyrexian Metamorph on a persist creature. Most of the other hate cards people bring in can be beaten by your Tutor package. Generally when sideboarding you swap around various one-ofs depending on whether you think having that Tutor will be important in a matchup. While I am not convinced it's right I tend to board out one Pod or Chord of Calling if I am bringing in Choke or Obstinate Baloth so that I preserve the ever-important curve of the deck. I ended up taking out Harmonic Sliver a fair amount unless I was sure they had artifacts or enchantments in their deck games 2 and 3. It was probably the worst card in my maindeck and should simply have swapped places with Sylvok Replica despite opening up Dampening Matrix to be an okay answer for my combo.
Another note on Phyrexian Metamorph: have it copy a persist creature then when it persists copy Birthing Pod. This is one of the more important interactions as you can get extra Pod activations without depleting the on board creature presence making this a very powerful sequence of plays.
Generally post-board games play out far differently than pre-board games and I go for the primitive Gavony Township plan of attacking them until they die. Pre-board games if you can get a Birthing Pod in play using the chain correctly just takes over the game with triggers and the threat of your combo. Very few decks have maindeck answers to Birthing Pod or reliable ways to stop your combo so these plans are much better game 1. In sideboarding people tend to focus on this half of your strategy so squeezing out an attrition battle and combat damage becomes more do-able after sideboard. The only hate cards that you really need to play around pre-board are discard and removal spells a lot easier than what people will bring in post-board.
Round 1: Elliot Green Tron
Game 1: I won the die roll but his turn 1 play of Urza's Mine into Expedition Map caused me to slump a little bit. U/W Tron is an impossibly difficult matchup between Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite multiple Path to Exiles and the fact that they don't care about infinite life; I was not happy to be facing it round 1 of the tournament. However turn 3 he played a Forest and my eyes lit up; this matchup is much more winnable as this Green Tron runs less disruption in exchange for powering out Eldrazi faster. This came down to a race for me to find my combo before Tooth and Nail ripped my face off. I Chord of Callinged for my final combo piece on his turn 4 and took my first game of the tournament.
Game 2: I mulliganed to six and assembled an unsightly army of Grizzly Bears and Eager Cadets while he had the worst card for my deck in Grafdigger's Cage. Sylvok Replica and Sun Titan cleared the artifact and looked to crash for lethal until Tooth and Nail for Emrakul the Aeons Torn and Flame-Kin Zealot ensured the Flying Spaghetti Monster ate me alive.
Game 3: I kept a bad six-card hand but my opponent went to five cards himself. By turn 6 it looked like I was about to be crushed finding virtually nothing as my board of six lands Saffi Eriksdotter Viscera Seer Birds of Paradise and Eternal Witness looked pathetic to his nine lands Primeval Titan and two Overgrown Battlement. He entwined a Tooth and Nail looking to end my embarrassment and I went deep in the tank considering my options before playing a Chord of Calling. Turns out Reveillark Saffi Eriksdotter and Viscera Seer is also a loop and when combined with Eternal Witness this allowed me to re-buy Chord of Calling. I could use the loop to get my non-Viscera Seer creatures untapped and Chord until I had enough of my deck in play to win the game. Murderous Redcap fit nicely into this loop and allowed me to shoot my opponent to death.
I escaped round 1 by the skin of my teeth; this was going to be a long day.
Match Result 2-1; Match Record 1-0; Overall Games 2-1
Round 2: Cameron Mono-White Martyr
Game 1: I won the roll but mulled to five looking for action and lands. I played turn 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim but missed my second land drop while trading blows with his Figure of Destiny. A Phyrexian Metamorph on his Ranger of Eos pulled me back into the game but a Martyr of Sands revealed six cards putting him at 31 before two Serra's Ascendants entered the battlefield. My plan was to Murderous Redcap him to 29 taking the Serra's Ascendants off God Mode. I could chump block with Birds of Paradise to survive Figure of Destiny's final state then Chord for Melira Sylvok Outcast on my next turn to get the infinite damage combo against his hand of blanks (he revealed his entire hand to me for Martyr). He drew shrugged and played the Martyr he drew and I packed up my cards for game 2.
Game 2 and 3: All he did was look to apply pressure through powering up his one casting cost army. Murderous Redcap and Shriekmaw shined here as they undid many turns of his mana investment. These two removed a ton of pressure off of me and allowed the time to set up the combo through any hate cards my opponent might have had.
Match Result 2-1; Match Record 2-0; Overall Games 4-2
Round 3: Joe Living End
Game 1: I won the roll and had acceleration into an early Birthing Pod. He cycled a few cards and Krosan Gripped my Pod but I had the Chord of Calling and went to a few thousand life which prompted game 2.
Game 2: I keep a very suspect seven as he went to six and missed his second land drop despite a draw step and three cycles. Inquisition of Kozilek allowed me to see his hand and leverage a board position where he had to Living End. My plan was to use my Viscera Seer to sacrifice all my creatures and then get them back from Living End. His freshly drawn Faerie Macabre disagreed with my plan taking crucial creatures and leaving me for dead when the Living End actually resolved.
Game 3: A turn 2 Thalia Guardian of the Thraben was a game-changer. I comfortably found my combo while he stayed on three lands miles away from being able to get his namesake card to be played.
Match Result 2-1; Match Record 3-0; Overall Games 6-3
Round 4: Neal Loam
Game 1: I lost the roll and started playing mana dorks despite his active Flame Jab; all I wanted was to put some durable creatures into play and just needed to guarantee he didn't put me under too much pressure or Raven's Crime lock me out of the game. My opponent spent time and mana to kill my creatures with Flame Jab and this was actually very good for me because of my plan. Reveillark into Viscera Seer ensured I could combo off without a problem since Loam plays virtually zero instants pre-board.
Game 2: Post-board Obstinate Baloth protected me against the Raven's Crime engine allowing me to comfortably hit land drops until I could send a handful of creatures into play with the threat that one Gavony Township activation would make his Life from the Loam-Flame Jab engine completely useless. He died to random monsters in the red zone.
Match Result 2-0; Match Record 4-0; Overall Games 8-3
Round 5: Ryan Twin Combo
Twin is another matchup that I'm not too fond of. I have to play hard and well and I can still just die if I play around the wrong pieces. Oh yeah and Grim Lavamancer is a nightmare within a nightmare for me as a way to kill all of my key creatures. Game 1 is basically a race to see who can piece their combo together first and winning the roll puts me at a slight advantage as I'm marginally slower but generally more consistent.
Game 1: I won the roll and it was my seven versus his six-card hand led by Grim Lavamancer. Saffi Eriksdotter however was able to consume Lavamancer activations and combined with Eternal Witness I was able to go off when he ran out of fuel. He conceded unable to find an answer or Exarch effect.
Game 2: I got Kitchen Finks pressure early and had a Sylvok Replica to stop the Splinter Twin half of the plan. He played a Deceiver Exarch which started to block Kitchen Finks. Knowing I was dead to Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker I chose to Murderous Redcap the Deceiver Exarch away and continued on the beatdown plan. He had a second Deceiver Exarch to tap my remaining green source and killed me with Splinter Twin on his turn as I was unable to use the Replica after using all my mana to play Murderous Redcap.
Game 3: Early Kitchen Finks pressure came out again and an Inquisition of Kozilek on turn 3 took a Deceiver Exarch stranding him with Splinter Twin two Dispels and Echoing Truth. I followed up with Qasali Pridemage blanking the Twin and was able to beat him down while he was left with a hand of three dead cards.
It is worth noting I took out both one Birthing Pod and one Chord of Calling. Chord of Calling comes out due to the fact that they tend to leave in Dispel most of the time and this is the only target in the 75. Birthing Pod also is generally very bad when all they do is tap it down for a few turns and then kill you. Instead I like to rely on Choke which they generally don't have as good an answer to as it buys time to set up a way to kill them. Linvala Keeper of Silence tends to be important as well turning off their combo and Grim Lavamancer which is everything you could ask for from a card.
Match Result 2-1; Match Record 5-0; Overall Games 10-4
At 5-0 in a seven round tournament normally a double draw to 5-0-2 is good enough. Before I even looked at standings I knew that wasn't the case in this instance. This was a 123-person tournament where the round cut off is at 128; inevitably everyone should have been playing like this was an eight-round tournament. I wrote down the records and cutoffs and headed to see my round 6 opponent and explained to him this very unique situation. The other 5-0s had intentionally drawn but I explained that this does not guarantee a Top 8. The safest solution given a worst-case scenario is you play and get to 18 points. My opponent nodded in agreement and we made the right decision to play. One of the other 5-0s who drew was guaranteed to have to play the next round a gamble I was not willing to make with our match.
Round 6: Matt American Delver
Game 1: I lost the roll and faced pressure from Steppe Lynx Vendilion Clique and Delver of Secrets. I made interesting blocks on the Steppe Lynx in an attempt to soak up fetch land activations; I just wanted to soak up as much damage as possible and stay out of reach from Snapcaster Mage plus burn spells. I accelerated into a Murderous Redcap which took down the Insect. A chump block from Birds of Paradise in front of Vendilion Clique kept me over seven life before Redcap persisted to kill off the Faerie. A Reveillark marked the end of any offense my opponent was making and winning with my combo was elementary upon stabilizing as I took down game 1.
Game 2: He was never really able to apply any pressure as Murderous Redcap (otherwise known as the best card in this matchup) killed his only threats. Eventually I found my combo as I marched an army of Kitchen Finks through a sea of removal spells. As I went to a few thousand life my opponents conceded and I was in Top 8!
Match Result 2-0; Match Record 6-0; Overall Games 12-4
At 6-0 I could now comfortably draw in as I was the only 6-0 left standing in this round. My opponent was the lucky 5-0-1 who got paired against me as the other 5-0-1 had to play. I wanted to rest from playing and scout the top tables so I intentionally drew having no motive to try to dream crush (and math said that even if I did try to dream crush it wouldn't have mattered).
Match Result 0-0 (ID); Match Record 6-0-1; Overall Games 12-4
Back to the tournament and looking at the Top 8 I had many good matchups along with a few that I was unsure of and one bad matchup in Storm.
Top 8 Quarter Finals: Dan B/W Tokens
Game 1: I won the die roll and went to six cards unsure of what I needed to play around in the list across from me. I played a turn 2 Wall of Roots plus Avacyn's Pilgrim he passed turn 2 and I decided on turn 3 to make a bold play on my Birthing Pod activation. I could easily set up the Melira combo by turn 4 or 5 assuming he had no way to disrupt me but I had no idea what kind of removal and disruption he played and B/W is known for all kinds of hate. Instead I thought about what I knew about his list and decided that Tutoring for Thalia Guardian of Thraben would force him to move. He had to Zealous Persecution Thalia away telling me he had no Path to Exile. He later told me he didn't have a creature spell in his deck so Thalia was basically a Time Stretch. The rest of the game was me building a board of persist creatures to the point I felt comfortable being able to go off through multiple removal spells. He had nothing and conceded to persist based beatdown while I was at an unreachable 10000 or so life.
Game 2: I kept a pretty bad six-card hand which he got to see with a turn 1 Thoughtseize. I fumbled around awkwardly with my mana dorks eventually burning a Chord of Calling I drew to kill an Honor the Pure while Murderous Redcap traded blows with two-thirds of a Spectral Procession. Eventually a second Chord of Calling for Orzhov Pontiff cleared his board and with the backing of my Gavony Township I started trying to work against a freshly cast Sorin Lord of Innistrad. We were both hellbent when he drew a Spectral Procession looking to turn on his Windbrisk Heights and protect his Sorin. My topdeck was just as good; I got a Viscera Seer which allowed me to abuse Orzhov Pontiff to clear his board. Gavony Township activation in response to the Murderous Redcap's comes into play trigger allowed me to kill Sorin Lord of Innistrad from two loyalty. I now had a slow and crude gun with Gavony Township negating the Redcap's persist but it was enough. A few turns later I won and was on to the semifinals.
Match Result 2-0; Match Record 7-0-1; Overall Games 14-4
Top 8 Semi Finals: Noah American Delver
Noah and I registered our decks across from each other and we have known each other for quite a while despite this being the first time we had actually played Magic against each other. We exchanged some humor and witty banter removing the tension and getting ready to play our semifinals match.
Game 1: I won the roll and he missed his third land drop while I played around Spell Pierce. American Delver decks generally play a few copies of Spell Pierce maindeck so when sequencing it's always better to play Kitchen Finks before Birthing Pod if they have blue mana up as they have very few maindeck ways to stop your namesake artifact once it resolves. I was able to get Pod into play and beat him down with two Kitchen Finks and a Murderous Redcap putting him down to one life through his triple Lightning Helix. This line of play involved getting both my Murderous Redcaps and ended up being very bad for me as I got my second Redcap far too early without leveraging the power it had in this matchup or being able to protect it from Path to Exile with Viscera Seer depleting my potential reach.
Meanwhile he drew his third and fourth land; I had already assumed the game was over and was playing quite recklessly rather than going for a safe kill sequence from my active Pod. A Snapcaster Mage-Path to Exile combination in back to back turns was able to wipe my board (twice) and he began to start killing me while I flooded out to fourteen lands to his four lands + all gas. Eventually I drew Ranger of Eos played it motioned to my deck and found and revealed the two one-drop creatures. At this point Noah started saying in response at which point I turned to the judge. The judge stated that since the Ranger trigger resolved I had regained priority (the correct time to respond was before I started searching). I made a clear motion (even stated 'trigger') so the judge recognized along with my pause that Noah had yielded priority to the search. This was huge as I got to Birthing Pod my Ranger of Eos into Reveillark (the second best card in this matchup). This allowed me to win a game I threw away with bad decisions from assuming it was over before it actually was.
Game 2: Noah missed his third land drop again and I had a turn 2 Kitchen Finks (again!). When he found a third land he played Geist of Saint Taft. I couldn't untap my lands fast enough to slam my Choke into play locking him to a Plains. The next turn I started playing my Birthing Pod at which point he stopped me and extended his hand while telling me that I better win my next round.
Match Result 2-0; Match Record 8-0-1; Overall Games 16-4
Top 8 Finals: Matt American Delver
My finals opponent had only lost one match all day; unfortunately for him that one loss came from my hands in round 6. He had battled back for a rematch in the most important match of the day. He did me a favor by removing Storm from the Top 8 and I respected him for not pressing the situation that occurred in round 6 due to the awkward logistics of the tournament. However I was very comfortable with this matchup and knew my chances are good.
Game 1: I won the roll and two Kitchen Finks followed by Birthing Pod made it feel like he was on the back foot the entire time. When he tapped out I went to a few thousand life just in case he managed to find a way out of the hole he was in. He didn't and I was one win away from going to Pro Tour Avacyn Restored.
Game 2: I kept an awkward hand that had two mana dorks Melira Sylvok Outcast no black mana and black spells. He sent my Melira on a Path to Exile but that gave me my crucial second black source making it so I did not have to Chord for a second Birds of Paradise. A Gavony Township showed my plan to slowly pump all of my random mana creatures which pressured him to play a Vendilion Clique to try and gain tempo back in his favor. He targeted me as I showed him what can only be described as the nuts: two Murderous Redcap Shriekmaw Chord of Calling and a land. He sighed told me to ditch the Chord but a few turns of Murderous Redcap Kitchen Finks and Gavony Township revealed the inevitable.
Match Result 2-0; Match Record 9-0-1; Overall Games 18-4
I will let that record set in for a moment. As I said at the beginning I felt and was unstoppable for this tournament. I ran well and played well even though there were multiple distinct plays I should have done differently looking back on my matches in the tournament. Some mistakes were little (getting a Qasali Pridemage instead of a Harmonic Sliver to destroy Honor the Pure) others were big (getting a second Redcap instead of Metamorphing the one I had in play) but the important thing is to reflect on these decisions regardless of the match outcome to continue improving how you play. One of the things I love about this format is that every match feels winnable by making good decisions at the right times.
I mention that I kept a lot of awkward clunky or silly hands as well. The fact is the deck itself can keep any hand with a turn 1 accelerant regardless of the other five cards; the problem is the other five cards can be very awkward. The ideal hand for the deck is any one-drop mana accelerant and any of the eight Tutor cards with any assortment of lands and spells. This logic has led me to some hands that are a virtual mulligan but in theory they were better than an actual mulligan so I kept drew about average to well and could play the hands against the "fair" decks of the format. I also won the die roll a lot (7/9) and take that for face value (it comes with running good).
When playing against slower (fair) decks be patient! Focus on stopping your opponent's clock. The more time you can generate the better; this deck packs one robust late game and the longer you go the easier it is to set up multiple lines of attack and winning combinations. Your haymakers are some of the strongest in the format probably only behind various Tron decks (one of the reasons I think the matchup is bad). Being able to put pressure on your opponent with Kitchen Finks is also very important as you can draw out their removal early clearing the path for when you actually do decide to go for the combo.
Finally look at that format diversity! I was paired against eight unique archetypes and played against seven with zero mirror matches. The Top 8 had seven unique archetypes where I ended up playing against the one duplicate deck in the semifinals and finals. So many decks are capable of taking wins in this format and you can play just about anything. It's not a format that's looking to be solved any time soon and will continue to adapt and evolve. I strongly recommend people investigate and play this format more.